Ah, London. One of the world’s most exciting, cosmopolitan, culture-rich and diverse cities. If you’ve never been, this sprawling mass of fun, fashion, food and high living should definitely be on your bucket list. But what to do when you arrive? Well, luckily for you, there are plenty of luxurious experiences to immerse yourself in. Here’s our pick of the finest…
1. Shopping at Harrods
Based in the heart of Knightsbridge and oozing class, the world’s most famous (and largest) department store has a wealth to offer well-heeled shoppers. Here’s where you can stock up on lush designer clothes, hard-to-find perfumes and high-end cosmetics – and don’t forget to visit the Food Hall. If you could spend all day grazing at deli counters, be prepared to part with a small fortune here. Founded in 1834, the store has stood the test of time, and up to 300,000 people visit during peak shopping times. There are 330 departments to peruse and a number of haute services on offer, including a to-die-for personal shopping service called ‘By Appointment’, a tailor, a wine steward and a watch repair service. You can even buy gold bars off the shelf at Harrods Bank. Don’t worry if you regret your purchase, though – you can always sell your bar back to Harrods at a later date.
2. Picnic in Hyde Park
We’re not talking about a rug laid on the ground and a hastily-assembled selection of sandwiches bought from a supermarket. Oh, no. To picnic in style, indulge in a Fortnum & Mason hamper and feast in style. The Belgravia Hamper will set you back a cool £500, but when it includes foods like wild Scottish smoked salmon, venison salami, organic Stilton, and a suitably outsized tin of Chocolossus Biscuits, not to mention vintage Champagne, how can you argue? If money’s no object and you fancy delighting someone you love during the festive season, for a cool £1,000 you can get your hands on The Windsor Hamper. It includes triple-smoked ham, salmon, preserves, a magnum of vintage Champagne, rich Christmas puddings and whiskies. We’d recommend picking a day when it’s fairly dry and wrapping up warmly if you’re going to enjoy a winter picnic, but they’re just as romantic as summer ones, if not more so.
3. Stay at Claridge’s
This hotel is, quite simply, the best place to stay in London. Frequented by the creme de la creme of London society, referenced in American Psycho and the hotel of choice for honeymooning A-listers, this is the place where your every whim will be catered for. Expect unparalleled service and the softest bed you’ve ever encountered. If you’re feeling lazy, you don’t even have to leave the hotel to be entertained – there’s a state-of-the-art gym to enjoy, and there’s even a spa. If you fancy really pushing the boat out, book the Deluxe King room; it’s 50 sq. m of unrivalled decadence. There’s a king sized bed, a marble en-suite bathroom and flatscreen TVs in each room. Fera, the hotel’s new restaurant, is run by Michelin-starred chef Simon Rogan, who offers a ‘creative and natural take on modern British cuisine’.
4. See opera at the Royal Opera House
From Madame Butterfly to La Bohème, the Royal Opera House is the only place to watch world-renowned performances. The best bit? It’s located in the heart of Covent Garden, so you’ll be in the heart of the West End when the performance is over. Current performances include Don Quixote, Tristan und Isolde, and Swan Lake. A seat in the orchestera stalls will set you back around £115. Don’t forget to watch out for the ‘phantom’ that supposedly stalks the building – in 1999, workmen on the site reported being hit by flying objects.
5. Enjoy a tipple at Kettner’s
This Soho restaurant boasts a Champagne bar that can obliterate any hangover in the blink of an eye. This stylish 1920s-themed bar will transport you back to a bygone age when glamour ruled, so make sure you dress appropriately. Don’t be fooled into thinking Kettner’s is a one-trick pony; their traditional Sunday roast is spectacular (the saddle of Welsh lamb is especially good) and their afternoon tea is a wonderful post-shopping treat. Traditional finger sandwiches, homemade scones and a mouthwatering selection of sweet treats, including lemon meringue pie and coconut parfait, are on offer.
6. Make time for a spa
The Agua Spa at Sanderson, tucked away in the heart of Fitzrovia, is the last word in decadent relaxation – and provides ‘pampering, spiritual relief, and tranquility to all who enter’. Sounds good to us. This 10,000 square-foot idyll has 14 all-white treatment rooms, a chill-out zone and meditation beds. Their specialities are their facials and massages – bliss. A 75-minute hot stone massage will set you back £135, and the Eve Lom Signature Facial, which lasts two hours, costs £270.
7. Enjoy Dinner with Heston Blumenthal
Dinner is Heston’s London offering, and while the Fat Duck celebrates flamboyant, hi-tech dishes, the meals on offer here are historic dishes with a professional twist. Crowd-pleasing favourites include roast marrowbone, cod in cider and Hereford ribeye steak – and don’t miss the brown bread ice cream. If you’re looking to impress, book a seat at the Chef’s Table, where you and up to five of your dining companions can observe Dinner’s ‘inner sanctum’ and watch the chefs at work. They’ll even explain to you the methods they’re using and how each dish is created, so if you’re looking to improve your culinary flair, pay close attention.
8. Leave the Tube for everyone else
Public transport can be a nightmare in London, and taxis nearly always have the aroma of boozy businessmen. Splash out and book yourself a chauffeur-driven car for the length of your stay – and don’t forget to order some Champagne for the drive. Hic.
9. Shop till someone else drops
If your retail therapy is taking it out of you, you can hire personal shoppers to do the hard work for you. Harvey Nichols and Selfridges both offer this service – as do Westfield – so if you’re looking for that perfect outfit for the opera, someone is sure to be able to help you. If you’d like the man in your life to smarten up his act, Daniel Johnson, who has worked with Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell and Gerard Butler, works exclusively with men. Expect your other half to arrive back at the hotel looking totally transformed.
10. Get a sugar high on the London Eye
If you’d like to indulge your love of fine chocolates, delight someone special and enjoy a few glasses of fizz, you can hire one of the London Eye’s pods for a chocolate-tasting tour. You’ll even be given a luxury goody bag to take home. If you’re after something a little more intimate, book the Cupid’s Capsule. For £350, you can enjoy priority boarding, a 30-minute trip on the London Eye, a bottle of Pommery Brut Royal Champagne and a luxury box of Hotel Chocolat Pink Champagne Truffles.
Vicky Anscombe is Editor-in-Chief at Columbus Direct.