Top Travel News from London

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London is always a frenzy of activity, so it may be difficult to keep your notes straight. Fear not. We're filtering through the latest news and giving it to you right here to help keep you up-to-date on what's happening across the pond.

Big news from London, where the InterContinental Hotels Group opened its first UK hotel in over 36 years on November 27. The InterContinental London Westminster is located alongside New Scotland Yard and the Ministry of Justice injecting a new lease on life into an historic former government building. The hotel has six guest floors with 256 rooms including a Penthouse, 14 one-bedroom suites, and 30 studio suites. A short walk from Parliament and within sight of Westminster Abbey, Blue Boar Smokehouse and Bar will be the centerpiece of the hotel’s food and drink offering. Taking inspiration from the best American pit masters (but with a distinctly British influence), the menu uses authentic smoke house techniques. On-site charcoal and smoking ovens will produce classic comfort food using great British produce. (Good to know: The restaurant, formed of one busy central chamber, will have a private dining area for a more exclusive meal.) The Blue Boar Bar will bring an upscale vibe to the traditional British pub, offering everything from local ale to a signature cocktail. The Lobby Lounge, meanwhile, will be a prime spot for a traditional tea with homemade cakes and savories. The hotel also has a Club InterContinental Executive Lounge and a 24-hour gym for exclusive guest use. The eight state-of-the-art meeting and event rooms will be the go-to place to do business in Westminster, providing a secure environment for privacy and confidentiality, with the support of a comprehensive business centre. InterContinental London Westminster will be the second UK hotel within the brand, joining the InterContinental London Park Lane.

Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts will make its debut in Europe's tallest building, The Shard, in March, according to Hotelier Middle East. The 202-room Shangri-La at The Shard, London will occupy floors 34 to 53 of the 1,016-foot tower. Of those 202 rooms, 17 will be suites, and all rooms will have a "Shangri-La Bed" with patented body-contouring technology (we can't wait to find out the details on that) and designer LCD televisions. The hotel will have a good range of business and communication features, a fine-dining restaurant as well as an indoor infinity swimming pool and a fitness center with panoramic views of the London skyline. The Shard itself was designed by Architect Renzo Piano and is due to open on February 1. To book tickets to the Shard's Observatory, visit www.theviewfromtheshard.com. 

On the culinary beat, London’ stellar restaurant scene keeps getting better. In February, the Halkin Hotel in Belgravia will welcome the award-winning team behind Arzak in San Sebastien, the Michelin three-starred restaurant that’s also ranked eighth on the World's 50 Best List. Called “Ametsa with Arzak Instruction”, the new Basque restaurant will replace the hotel’s celebrated Thai restaurant nahm. (Chef David Thompson will continue to helm nahm at the Metropolitan by COMO in Bangkok.) The original Arzak nabbed its third Michelin star in 1987 and has been in the same family for four generations; Arzak Instruction was created by a five-chef team (including the father and daughter duo, Juan Mari Arzak and Elena Arzak) to champion the restaurant’s "New Basque Cuisine," rooted in the traditions of the Basque country.

Finally, royal fans in London have a new reason to swing by the city's iconic National Portrait Gallery: The first official painted portrait of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge has been commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery, and was unveiled for the public. The National Portrait Gallery’s painting of its Patron was commissioned by the Gallery, and given by Sir Hugh Leggatt, in memory of Sir Denis Mahon, through the Art Fund.  The Duchess was involved in the selection process, from which artist Paul Emsley, the 2007 winner of the Gallery’s BP Portrait Award competition, was chosen by Director Sandy Nairne to paint her official portrait. The Duchess took part in an initial meeting to talk through the process of the painting. This was followed by two sittings, in May and June 2012, at the artist's studio in the West Country, England, and Kensington Palace. Emsley later made use of a series of photographs produced during the sittings. Following three-and-a-half months of painting, the completed portrait was presented to the Gallery’s Trustees at their November 2012 meeting. HRH The Duchess of Cambridge by Paul Emsley is on display now as part of the Contemporary Collections in the Lerner Galleries, Room 36, Ground Floor, National Portrait Gallery, Admission, as ever, is free, although donations upon entering are appropriate.

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