Scotland on Sunday Travel Wishlist: hotel hopping in London

An aerial view of the Thames from Tower Bridge looking westAn aerial view of the Thames from Tower Bridge looking west
An aerial view of the Thames from Tower Bridge looking west
Emma Newlands rounds up of the best the English capital has to tempt us post lockdown

Novelist, philanthropist and Londoner Sir Walter Besant is quoted as saying that after walking around the city for 30 years, he found “something fresh in it every day”. As a big fan myself of the constantly evolving Big Smoke, I would agree with this sentiment wholeheartedly and I am dreaming of the day when I can return to some of its wonderful hotels that provide both a sanctuary and a springboard from which to explore their excellent, central locations – and find something new around almost every street corner.

In fact I’ve got a dream trip all mapped out, with my adventure starting by getting the train to London, with a quick hop on the Tube’s Piccadilly Line taking me direct from King’s Cross to Covent Garden. After a wander around, say, the high-end shops of King Street and Seven Dials, I would check myself into the nearby Strand Palace Hotel, which dates back to 1909, aiming to offer “the maximum of luxury and comfort with the minimum of expense”. Indeed, when it opened it charged 27p in today’s money for a single room with breakfast.

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A collection of hotel artefacts are held in the V&A museum’s archives, including a room key recovered from a First World War trench in Normandy. But the 785-guestroom hotel’s décor is well and truly up to date, having undergone a dazzling makeover giving it the feel of a grand Manhattan hotel or an ocean liner .It is also home to the legendary actors’ hangout Joe Allen Restaurant, which is billed as the “West End’s canteen” and whose walls I bet could tell some stories. (It’s currently fundraising to survive).

Part of the cubic, crouching self-portrait sculpture ROOM by artist Antony Gormley, in which guests can stay, from outside The Beaumont hotelPart of the cubic, crouching self-portrait sculpture ROOM by artist Antony Gormley, in which guests can stay, from outside The Beaumont hotel
Part of the cubic, crouching self-portrait sculpture ROOM by artist Antony Gormley, in which guests can stay, from outside The Beaumont hotel

Stepping outside the hotel, there is plenty on its doorstep to enjoy, such as arts hub Somerset House and Waterloo Bridge leading across to the South Bank. When I stayed, my room came complete with a book titled Strand Palace’s 500 Hidden Secrets Of London that you could buy from reception. It invited the reader to “leave the beaten track and explore unknown and surprising places” – such as “mudlarking” for Roman coins on the shores of the Thames. I would then make my way along The Strand, through Trafalgar Square and down The Mall, before taking a right through the regal surroundings of St James, home to the timelessly elegant DUKES LONDON.

The hotel is billed as a “country house in the heart of London”, and has served as the retreat of writers, musicians, politicians and royalty. It is also home to the famous DUKES Bar, where Bond author Ian Fleming enjoyed its martinis. Indeed, ordering such a drink sees it prepared in expert, hypnotic, theatrical style by one of the renowned bartending team. The hotel also features a quiet alcove where Princess Diana apparently used to pop in regularly to read in peace.

From there I would drop into Fortnum & Mason to stock up on biscuits before crossing Piccadilly for a bit of luxury window shopping in Burlington Arcade.

Next I would check in at The Westbury Mayfair, which can lay claim to being the only hotel on Bond Street, and first opened its doors in 1955. The classically decorated lobby has light brown marble columns and furnishings in complementary colours, and offers a glimpse of the Swarovski crystal and Fendi touches of the Polo Bar. I would happily repeat the experience of staying in one of the hotel’s 63 suites (there are 225 guest rooms in total), with my accommodation enjoying a stunning panoramic view from its corner location as well as a bathroom kitted out in Italian marble. The hotel is also within easy range of many of the area’s art galleries.

A room at the Hyatt Regency London  The Churchill, which overlooks Portman SquareA room at the Hyatt Regency London  The Churchill, which overlooks Portman Square
A room at the Hyatt Regency London The Churchill, which overlooks Portman Square

Also located in Mayfair – and partly a work of art in its own right – is The Beaumont hotel. Tucked away on a garden square, it is an understated but unmistakable presence, its exterior showcasing the cubic, crouching self-portrait sculpture ROOM by artist Antony Gormley that spans three storeys and forms the bedroom of a prestigious suite in the hotel. The suite’s living area is how I imagine James Bond’s living room to look. But there is plenty more to see, and it leads to the vast bathroom, the brightness of which heightens the contrast with the pièce de résistance that is the bedroom.

The space is accessed through heavy curtains and has a quiet but immediately detectable presence, magnified by the fact that it is home to only a bed clad in white. Once my eyes adjust to the low lighting, I look up and see the cavernous interior – the hollow inside of the sculpture visible outside.

Gormley aimed to allow the guest to “enter a different state of consciousness, to enjoy at the very least a meditative pause, and the chance to withdraw, for a while, from the busy world outside”.

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That has certainly been achieved, in my view, and although the room’s almost tomb-like atmosphere would not be to all tastes, I welcome its sanctuary, free of distractions.

After a lengthy spending spree in Selfridges, I would then make my way – laden with its distinctive yellow shopping bags and perhaps having had a manicure/blow dry – to the final hotel in this imaginary tour.

The holder of that title is the Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill, located just a few minutes from the Marble Arch end of Oxford Street, and overlooking Portman Square. The hotel, whose former guests include Barack Obama, pays tribute to its namesake in elegant style, perhaps most obviously at The Churchill Bar & Terrace on the ground floor, one of the nicest bars I’ve visited in London. The terrace even boasts affectionate illustrations of the wartime leader and a specially commissioned life-size bronze of him entitled In Conversation.

The bar has also put together a range of cocktails each named after “distinguishing aspects of Churchill’s complex personality”. I sample The Writer, a nod to Churchill’s oeuvre – he picked up the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953. The drink combines rhubarb and custard, including rhubarb and apple gin, in a delicious, much lighter and less sweet combination than it sounds. Indeed, the hotel highlights Churchill’s proclamation that he was “easily satisfied with the very best”.

I am too, and indeed any of these hotels, their in-house facilities, and surrounding attractions offer their own distinctively luxurious platform to see the city.

While I’d have to settle for getting back on the Tube to start my journey home – no James Bond Aston Martin for me – the transport network’s convenience is another feather in the cap of London, with the city offering a world-beating cinematic backdrop, happy to let the visitor be the star.


Check hotel websites for current Covid-19 restrictions and booking information

Strand Palace Hotel



The Westbury Mayfair (

The Beaumont (

Hyatt Regency London – The Churchill



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