City Life: London
England | October 19, 2021 | Joanna Booth
With the capital's shows and attractions open once more and a host of luxury hotels launching, there's never been a better time to visit, says Joanna Booth
More than 20 million people can't be wrong. This volume of international visitors flowed into London in 2019, drawn by the capital's history, culture and cosmopolitan lifestyle.
Now, with inbound tourism still somewhat curtailed by Covid restrictions, the field has been left open for UK visitors to enjoy London's delights with far fewer crowds.
Whether they're keen to head back for a West End show, a major new exhibition or a Christmas shopping trip, each client will have a London wish list they haven't been able to fulfil for a year or two.
And the city hasn't stagnated during lockdown - visitors will find a clutch of new luxury accommodation options open to them and old favourites that have undergone significant refurbishments and are ready to welcome guests back.
The restaurant scene remains as fresh and innovative as ever, and the nightlife is buzzing once more - London is well and truly back open for business.
Why sell it?
While clients may be willing to endure the cost and inconvenience of Covid-19 tests for a trip abroad of a week or more, bolting these on to a quick weekend away is less appealing. UK short breaks are the simple solution, and nowhere can match London for sheer sophistication and variety.
There's never been a better time to sell London to the home market. While UK beach resorts have been creaking at the seams over the summer with domestic tourists, the traditional influx of international visitors, which usually make London the most-visited city in Europe, have been absent.
The capital's world-class shows, attractions and restaurants are relatively uncrowded, primed to welcome guests from our own shores.
Lockdowns haven't deterred a handful of luxury hotels from making their debut over the past 18 months. In 2020 openings included The Mayfair Townhouse, a colourful, Oscar Wilde-inspired property from the group responsible for Cliveden House and Chewton Glen; Nobu Portman Square, bringing Japanese minimalism and a destination restaurant to Marylebone; and The Guardsman, where the highlight is its sprawling one, two and three-bedroom residences, within five minutes' walk of Buckingham Palace.
In May, the Piccadilly Hotel reopened after a major renovation as The Dilly, retaining period features but introducing innovations such as dog-friendly rooms, an in-house dance studio and a Peter Rabbit afternoon tea for kids.
This month saw the doors open at the 350-room hotel The Lon doner in Leicester Square, which features a 24-hour private members' club exclusively for guests with a restaurant, bar and workspace.
For something more intimate, the new Beaverbrook Town House on Sloane Street has just 14 luxury suites and is a sister property to the Surrey country house hotel of the same name.
When to go
There's something magical about London at Christmastime, and it's not solely down to the shopping opportunities.
Clients can admire the array of twinkling festive lights at Kew Gardens, enjoy a classic performance of The Nutcracker by the English National Ballet at The Coliseum or try to keep their balance while ice-skating on one of the seasonal rinks situated at some of the city's most famous landmarks, including the Natural History Museum, the Tower of London, Somerset House and Hampton Court.
Clients may also want to build a break around tickets for one of the major performances or exhibitions opening in the coming months.
Performances of La Traviata at the Royal Opera House start on October 27; the Victoria & Albert's Faberge exhibition launches on November 20; and the Royal Academy's collection of works by Francis Bacon runs from January 29 next year.
Where to stay
Clients seeking traditional London luxury won't go far wrong in Mayfair.
Claridges has unveiled two new suites - clients can choose between an art deco and a Victorian look - and The Beaumont Hotel emerged this summer from a lengthy renovation with a new bar, alfresco dining terrace and all-day dining lounge.
Across Hyde Park in Knightsbridge, The Lanesborough has launched wellness retreats with specialists Bodhimaya and a Little VIP Club for its youngest guests, offering a range of perks from mocktail classes and in-room treasure hunts to meetand-greets with Lilibet, the hotel's Siberian forest cat and special Splash Hours in the spa pool.
For clients looking for more space and privacy, consider private home rental through Onefinestay, or hotels with luxury apartments such as 11 Cadogan Gardens.
What to do
Whether clients are looking for authenticity or escapism, there are London experiences to suit.
Tours by Locals offers private, commissionable tours led by expert guides, with more general options taking in famous sights, plus a wide range of themed tours, from rock 'n' roll history or street art to filming locations from movie franchises including Harry Potter and James Bond.
Thames Limo, which offers commissionable luxury private motor yacht journeys on the river, has seen a rise in bookings from high-end British tourists over the past year, particularly for its more experiential trips, which include a chef's table-style dinner on board provided by famed steakhouse Gaucho and an immersive murder mystery cruise.
After months of shopping online, clients will love the more tactile experience of being in store. Make it extra special by booking a personal shopping appointment with a stylist, offered by department stores including Selfridges, Liberty and Fenwick.
Spa treatments are also likely to be in high demand, and with many of London's best spas to be found in its luxury hotels, it makes sense to book rooms just a bath-robed shuffle from the massage table.
For a spa with penthouse views, suggest Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane, or for clients who want to be cocooned in a dramatically lit, subterranean space, go for the Corinthia.
Where to dine
If Michelin stars shone, London would glow like the Milky Way. This year saw two restaurants gain their third star; Helene Darroze at The Connaught, and Core by Clare Smyth, while A. Wong in Pimlico became the first Chinese restaurant in Britain to be awarded two stars.
New openings attaining a first star have been small and intimate; the 25-cover Muse by Tom Aikens in Belgravia and the 18-cover Behind in Hackney both serve multi-course tasting menus of seasonal British produce.
For drinks or less formal bites, suggest Side Hustle, the bar of the new NoMad hotel in Covent Garden, which serves southern Californian plates alongside agave cocktails, or 12th Knot, the rooftop bar of Sea Containers London that reopened this summer with DJs, live music and a terrace overlooking the Thames.
11 Cadogan Gardens
For those seeking extended privacy during their stay in the city, Relais & Chateaux's new villa collection makes a wise choice.
The portfolio includes historic Chelsea hotel 11 Cadogan Gardens, which added six standalone apartments earlier this year.
Located in a separate, red-bricked townhouse two minutes from the main property, the one to three-bedroom apartments offer all the amenities of a hotel - think sumptuous bath robes, room service and a safe - while offering a more spacious and homely base for longer stays.
Our one-bedroom apartment on the ground floor had a high-ceilinged, open-plan living and dining room, two bathrooms, a well-equipped kitchen and - perhaps the best bit - doors opening out onto a leafy, residents-only garden.
Guests can cook for themselves, hire a private chef or dine at the hotel's restaurant, Hans' Bar & Grill, which offers an all-day, seasonal menu.
lf the weather permits, opt for an alfresco table on the newly pedestrianised Pavilion Road and watch the world go by over sharing plates and a glass of wine.
In the morning, advise clients to opt in for the breakfast hamper, packed with freshly squeezed orange juice, pastries, Jam and eggs.
After exploring nearby Sloane Square and Knoghtsbridge, retreat to the main hotel for a negrono in the Chelsea Bar or afternoon tea in the drawing room. This is city living at its most opulent.
Book it: A one-bedroom apartment starts from (£550 per night) 11gadogangardens.com