|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.
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]).
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.)
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]).
|London is a shopping mecca, so a visit to Harrods is a must for any fashionista.|
|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 is all about the movies, and has an 82-inch HD 3D TV as its focal point.|