Exclusive London’s Top Attractions

Admiralty Arch, London, England
Admiralty Arch, London, England // Photo by rabbit75_ist/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

 

Big Ben
Big Ben, the iconic clock tower at the Palace of Westminster in London.

 

We’re just back from a whirlwind tour of London, where we got exclusive behind-the-scenes access to some of the city’s top attractions...and tips on how VIP clients can have the same experiences.

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For a tour of the city, we set off with tour operator smallcarBIGCITY, which drives visitors around in classic Mini Coopers. Beyond the coolness factor of zipping around in an old-fashioned Mini—and quoting lines from The Italian Job —these cars can get into small alleyways where larger ones can’t, giving guests a real look at the hidden gems of the city. For bookings, contact Robert Welsh ([email protected]).  

Where to Stay

While in London, we took a quick late-night tour of 51 Buckingham Gate, a Taj Hotels property with a private courtyard (we hear there are barbecues in the summer) and some over-the-top suites.

All of the suites at the hotel come with butler and room service included, as well as full kitchens for preparing one’s own meals if one so chooses. The two-bedroom Jaguar Suite is inspired by the iconic cars, and has lots of energetic (and rather playful) touches. Overseen by Jaguar Design Director Ian Callum and his in-house team, the suite has specially commissioned, auto-inspired artwork and displays, and uses materials taken from the cars, such as leather, metal and high gloss veneer. Best of all: Residents of the Jaguar Suite can use a chauffeur-driven Jaguar for airport transfers and transportation within London.

The Cinema Suite, meanwhile, is all about the movies, and has an 82-inch HD 3D TV as its focal point. (Great for private screenings, we say—and being able to even have a focal point in an 1,800-square-foot suite is impressive). Each room has its own theme, from Bollywood (think classic Indian décor) to the silent era. Cool Touch: The powder room just off the living room has a plush little chair that can be used for pedicures so that guests don’t have to go down to the spa.

Contact Assistant Director of Sales Prashanth Ayyagari ([email protected]) with any questions or requests.

 

One of the newest major attractions is The Shard, the brand-new building that towers over the Tower and its Bridge, offering views of the city that can only be topped by an airplane. Later this year, Shangri-La Hotels will make its UK debut on several floors within the building. The View from The Shard is the official name of the viewing platform on the upper floors, and it is an absolute must for anyone who wants a bird’s-eye view of the city. Once on the designated floors, visitors can walk 360 degrees around the building and gaze out through the floor-to-ceiling glass walls. Sadly, we arrived in the evening and in the rain, so our view was a bit dark and blurry. Fortunately, visitors can use special “telescopes,” flat screens hooked up to cameras that display either the live video or pre-recorded shots of the scene at sunrise, in bright daylight or at night. (The machine can sense where the camera is aimed and display the right image in real time.) Cool Touch: The upper level is partially open to the elements. On a warm, sunny day, there would be no better spot to look over the city. The View can be booked for private viewing. Contact Ana Araque ([email protected]) with any questions or requests. 

A trip to London these days is not complete without a ride on the London Eye, so we nabbed Fast Track tickets to skip the lines (or queues, as it were). VIP clients will, of course, want a Private Capsule for a really special experience (think champagne flights), so contact Enora Le-goff ([email protected]) with any special requests. 

We also enjoyed an early, ahead-of-opening-hours visit to the Tower of London and a private tour of the Crown Jewels, courtesy of Historic Royal Palaces. Seeing the Crown Jewels without a crowd around meant that we had plenty of time to ooh and aah and ask lots of questions about the priceless treasures, making it absolutely worthwhile to get up early and get in before everyone else. Ann Wilson ([email protected]) is head of sales at HRP, and should be your go-to person for exclusive access at the Tower and at just about every palace throughout the UK. 

We stopped for Afternoon Tea in The Orangery by Kensington Palace, a lovely light-filled restaurant next to the palace. Encourage your clients to block off at least two hours to relax and enjoy the ambiance and the scones.

As far as tennis goes, Wimbledon is pretty much the be-all and end-all for true fans of the game. Private tours of the grounds can be arranged through Travel Trade and Marketing Manager Eric White ([email protected]). These tours are led by professional London Blue Badge Tourist Guides and take guests all around the grounds, including No. 1 Court, the Picnic Terraces, the Millennium Building (which contains some of the players’ facilities), the Press Interview Room and the Private Members’ Enclosure, before finishing in Centre Court. Entrance to the Tennis Museum is also included.

London is also a shopping haven, so a visit to Harrods is a must for any fashionista. Or even a gourmand: Harrods has a high-end grocery store stocking all kinds of meats, produce and fancy store-brand jellies. Need special snacks for a cocktail reception? Talk to John O’Brien ([email protected]), the store’s resident caviar and foie gras specialist. Good to know: Top clients will absolutely want to book Harrods By Appointment, a personal shopping service. And for something even more special at Harrods, book The Penthouse, where clients get private access to the finest designers and other top-notch fashion professionals. (Think exclusive couture fashion presentations and one-on-one designer appointments, or even launches for fine jewelry and watches and bespoke creation consultations...or just a super-swank private dinner.) 

Advisor Insight:

Carol Naquin of Protravel was part of the tour, and we touched base with her to get her insights on how to arrange a top-notch London experience.

“People tend to do everything on their own when they’re [in London] just because of the language,” Naquin said, noting that the ease of communication can lead to many other things becoming easier. “London is just one of those places where we do not get this type of request.”

But when guests do need someone on-site to help show them around, Naquin likes Sincerely Paul. “They have their own guides and are one of our Virtuoso members,” she said. She also recommends Abercrombie & Kent for local sightseeing.

As for hotels, Naquin likes working with Celebrated Experiences, although she acknowledges that there are as many kinds of properties in the city as there are visitors. “There’s a lot in the theater district.

The Soho Hotel has a viewing theater and caters to a lot of stars. It’s one of those hotels not a lot of people know about, but it’s a member of Design Hotels.”

  

And, of course, there’s the theater. London is the biggest theater city in the world (more shows than New York City), so we caught Singin’ in the Rain at the Palace Theatre. Before the performance and during intermission, Made organized a private reception for us in a secluded section of the theater’s bar area. We could leave our coats and bags there, and our host Paul Mount ([email protected]) of Nimax Theatres (which includes the Palace, Lyric, Apollo, Garrick, Vaudeville and Duchess theaters throughout the city) said that he can organize all kinds of events within Nimax’s network. To arrange events with Made, contact Jonathan Mountford ([email protected]).  

 

 

Harrods
London is a shopping mecca, so a visit to Harrods is a must for any fashionista.

 

Tower of London
Enjoy an ahead-of-opening-hours visit to the Tower of London and a private tour of the Crown Jewels, courtesy of Historic Royal Palaces.

 

51 Buckingham Gate’s Cinema Suite
51 Buckingham Gate’s Cinema Suite is all about the movies, and has an 82-inch HD 3D TV as its focal point.

 

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