As a youngster if there was one aspect of the Christmas season that I looked forward to was watching movies and shows about the holidays. Particularly the British productions such as Alistair Sim as Mr. Scrooge. It did not matter that I had seen the movie numerous times and knew the story backwards and forwards but it gave me what I considered the ultimate experience, London at Christmas time. An escape of sorts to experience and see the iconic brick row houses, chimneys, maybe some snow and classic holiday traditions. I always told myself that one day I would get my chance to have my experience with a London Christmas. Years later I got my wish.
Christmas decorations on Oxford Street, London
So, where is a great place to start the Christmas holidays? There are numerous great places to stay in London but if you want do it in style here are a couple of places to begin it all:
The Browns Hotel
My Christmas holiday took me first to the heart of Mayfair and Browns Hotel on Albemarle Street W1S. This hotel has been serving guests since its opening in 1837 by James and Sarah Brown. Its location makes it a good choice as it is close to Bond and Regent streets and walking distance towards Piccadilly and Green Park. It’s been the hotel of choice for such well known guests as Alexander Graham Bell in 1876 to show his new invention, the telephone, allowing him to make his first call in Great Britain from the Browns. Additional guests have included Agatha Christie, Napoleon III with Empress Eugenie in 1871 and Theodore Roosevelt in 1886. The hotel is not only known for its great attention to its patrons but for its traditional afternoon tea service in the English Tea Room which is well worth the visit.
In 2003 the Rocco Forte hotel group took over Browns and the hotel was renovated in 2004 reopening in 2005 at a cost of £24 million. It previously had been a property of the Raffles International Hotels.
There are 117 bedrooms and suites of various sizes which were designed by Olga Polizzi with an emphasis of mixing classic and modern styles. The Hix Mayfair restaurant and the Donavan Bar help provide for an excellent stay.
From the Browns you can walk over to Piccadilly and be at the Green Park tube station and within minutes on the Piccadilly Line be in Knightsbridge known for its world class shopping. Also on Piccadilly you can stroll and within minutes be at the famed grocers, Fortnum & Mason. Their store front windows are famously decorated every year for the Christmas holidays. Inside the grocer provides any and all things necessary to make your holiday traditionally English.
If there is one hotel that can provide all that can be expected for a unique London Christmas visit is The Ritz Hotel on 150 Piccadilly. The hotel was opened in May 1906 by Cesar Ritz. For years Mr. Ritz managed and oversaw the day to day operations in the neoclassical styled property designed by architect Charles Mewes. The hotel has had its share of famous visitors including Charlie Chaplin, Judy Garland and HM The Queen. The hotel became well known for its high standard of service and also for its rooms, suites and restaurants. Today, The Ritz has 111 rooms and 23 suites. The suites consist of two bedrooms and as many as five bedrooms. Like Browns the hotel serves a traditional afternoon tea service in the Palm Court at £50.00 per person and also available is the Celebration Tea with Champagne at £77.00 per person. Reservations should be made in advance. Restaurants include The Ritz Restaurant known for its cuisine and its decor of marble columns, tall windows, chandeliers and ceiling frescoes. Be advised the Ritz enforces a dress code for visiting its bars and restaurants. Christmas time at The Ritz is always a great time to visit as the hotel decorates its guest areas to reflect the traditions of the holidays. As for location it’s within a very brief walk to Fortnum & Mason and Green Park Tube Station.
No matter where you go in and around London Christmas is everywhere. But this is also true throughout the U.K. During my stay the weather was typically London-cloudy and cold. To me this being the Christmas holiday it seemed appropriate. From Harrods to pubs the Christmas spirit was exactly like I had hoped it would be as I had seen in my childhood days in old movies on TV. But will these great traditions that Britain is famous for continue, especially in London, where the community is becoming more diverse with it attracting so many people from so many countries and cultures? My feeling is that it would be a national tragedy to lose what the whole of the United Kingdom is about and based on, its great traditions, especially the ones that are celebrated at Christmas.
Article by: Kevin Murphy