It’s always fun to spend time in London especially at Christmas and with exceptionally good timing we just managed to squeeze in a short break days before the Government announced stricter COVID-19 measures. Hotel rates had dropped significantly in recent months meaning that we were able to book a bargain stay in the affluent borough of Kensington & Chelsea.
We’d arrived late the previous evening, giving us two full days to soak up the festive atmosphere. Our hotel, the Ibis Styles London Kensington offered a grab and go breakfast comprising of a croissant, chocolate muffin, oatcakes, fruit and a carton of juice to take back to our room plus free use of the hot drinks machine until 10.00 a.m.
It was a bright, sunny morning and rather than take the underground we decided to start the day with a walk along to the Natural History Museum on Cromwell Road. The museum is housed in a magnificent Romanesque style building with gothic arches and terracotta ceilings which has been described as a cathedral to natural history.
It’s a museum that we’ve had the pleasure of visiting many times and as it’s so big we tend to turn our focus to specific galleries. The Volcanoes and Earthquakes section had been redesigned since my son’s last visit so we decided to head there. In COVID-19 times it was pleasing to find that many of the interactive exhibits could still be used so we had fun pressing buttons trying to work out some of the answers. There’s even an earthquake simulator demonstrating what it felt like during the 1995 Japanese earthquake in Kobe. Three years ago we visited Taiwan which is located in the Pacific Ring of Fire. Near the top of the Taipei 101 building we inspected the world’s largest and heaviest damper that acts as a giant pendulum to counter any motion to the building. You might be interested to read about my visit here.
Both the Science Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum were closed so we strolled past these fine buildings and continued along to the Royal Albert Hall. This magnificent Grade II listed building is famous for hosting such events as The Proms, a world famous 8 week summer season of daily classical music concerts. I have fond memories of attending my son’s graduation ceremonies on two occasions in the Royal Albert Hall which were very proud moments in such a marvellous setting.
Just across the road are the entrance gates to Kensington Gardens and as the weather was so nice, it was a perfect opportunity for a stroll through one of the capital’s eight Royal Parks.
The park covers 265 acres and with miles of paths and bridleways to be explored ranging from formal avenues lined with magnificent trees to narrow paths crossing open grassland there’s plenty of room for everyone. Our walk took us to Kensington Palace, the official residence of the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge. Queen Victoria was born in the palace and Diana, Princess of Wales also had an apartment there.
The state apartments and gardens are usually open to the public but temporarily closed, more information on visiting can be found on the Historic Royal Palaces website. To the front of Kensington Palace lies the Round Pond, a large ornamental lake created in 1730 by George II and home to large numbers of wildfowl.
Our stroll continued through the park to West Carriage Drive where we crossed the road into Hyde Park, the largest Royal Park in central London stretching from the edge of Kensington Gardens as far as Hyde Park Corner.
The Serpentine Bridge marks the boundary of Kensington Gardens, with the upper western part of the lake being called the Long Water. Near the Italian Gardens close to Lancaster Gate we spotted some bright green parakeets sitting on the top of a low fence and even eating nuts out of people’s hands. These birds are not native to the British Isles but don’t appear to have a problem with our cool climate as they actually seem to thrive in our chilly conditions.
Moving on, we continued to the Diana Memorial Fountain, a loop of water created from Cornish granite. This unusual fountain was opened in 2004 as a memorial to the People’s Princess. The fountain wells up from its highest point creating a water table from where it flows in both directions cascading over small ridges until it reaches the calm pool at its base.
Before leaving the park we enjoyed a stroll by the side of the Serpentine, finding a sunny bench to sit down on to eat some sandwiches we’d bought earlier from a nearby Waitrose. The Serpentine was the world’s first artificial recreational lake and was used as a venue for the Triathlon and marathon swimming events at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Just south of Hyde Park lies Knightsbridge, synonymous with luxury with its upscale hotels and high-end shops. Harrods, one of the world’s largest and most famous department stores is located on Brompton Road and is the epitome of luxury. Established in 1849 by Charles Henry Harrod, it started life with humble beginnings in a single room with just two assistants and a messenger boy selling tea and groceries. It’s now owned by the Qatari Royal family, and employs 4,000 staff.
We popped in for a look around and for some much needed Christmas shopping inspiration which has been sadly lacking in recent months. Although it brands itself a luxury retailer, it sells reasonably priced goods too, fulfilling its motto ‘Omnia Omnibus Ubique’ which is Latin for ‘all things for all people everywhere’. Another claim to fame is that the store featured one of the world’s first escalators in 1898, known in those days as moving staircases.
It’s very easy to get lost in such a vast emporium so we just looked in the Christmas Shop and magnificent food halls which were perhaps not quite as busy as in more normal times but still had a reasonable number of shoppers around.
A little more window shopping in Knightsbridge followed before taking the underground the short distance back to our hotel near Earls Court Station. Rooms at the Ibis Styles Kensington are compact but well equipped and of a reasonable size just as long as you don’t bring along some large suitcases.
After about an hour’s rest we were raring to go again, enjoying an evening meal in the Oyster Rooms at Fulham Broadway. We then took the underground across to Piccadilly Circus to view the Christmas lights.
Feeling festive, we continued along to Leicester Square and Chinatown before ending our evening at Covent Garden with its vibrant atmosphere, twinkling lights and street entertainers.
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