Want a quick winter holiday break in London, but don’t want to go overboard? For an element of quaint neighborhood charm, with a good dose of festivities, head west!
By west, I mean Fulham, the area that flanks the more popular and pricey neighborhoods of Chelsea and South Kensington. You are only a short bus ride, a few tube stops, or actually a very lovely walk away from these more ‘tarted-up’ neighborhoods. Just beyond, you’ll stumble upon Knightsbridge, home to famous Harrods and Harvey Nichols Department Stores. Focus on just those areas for a few days. Take it slow, and really enjoy the unique pre-holiday festivities.
The more I know London, the more I find its size daunting, the pace increasing, and the traffic incessant. You can easily get frustrated wasting a lot of time in traffic, trying to see and do everything. So don’t. Focus on a small area.
With abundant low cost flights to London, the most expensive part of a trip will be your hotel. I recently stumbled upon lastminute.com, and came upon a ‘secret fare’ for a 4* hotel on the Fulham/Chelsea border. There are not many hotels fitting that description, in fact, only one. So I knew exactly which hotel it was – the Millennium, and I booked a room for £98 ($122) a night – a 47% discount. Well done, me.
This hotel is typically full when the Chelsea Football team is playing, because it’s right on the Chelsea Football grounds, but when the team is not playing, that place has a lot of vacant beds. It’s connected to the Copthorne Hotel just next door and together they have 281 beds. It’s in a great location on Fulham Road, with several bus lines out front, and a 5-minute walk to the Fulham Broadway Tube Station. The Chelsea boys only have so many more days left to play this year before they take a break, and the hotel will undoubtedly continue to discount beds, so check that site and play with the dates.
Other options for reasonably-priced hotels are La Reserve, just next door, which is a modest, clean, 3* hotel, and The Malt House, which is actually a pub with six luxurious rooms above the bar. They fill up quick, but they are in the heart of Fulham Broadway and the rooms are quite lovely.
My favorite breakfast haunt is Megan’s Cafe on King’s Road. From the Millennium, cross over Fulham Road and continue straight (south) one block to King’s Road and Megan’s is right there. Megan’s offers a great selection of baked goods, eggs, eggs benedict and brunch selections. They have an extensive menu selection. All very healthy and delicious. And they have a lovely covered back garden. Great for chilling on a Sunday morning. Otherwise, it’s Labi’s Deli on Fulham Road. They offer a substantial mix of European flavors morning, noon and night. Big ole bowl of Greek yogurt, honey, mixed fruits on top for just £4.50 ($5.60).
From any stretch along Fulham Road, you can take bus number 211 to the heart of Chelsea in about 20 minutes. From King’s Road, you take bus numbers 22 or 11 and you will arrive at the same stop as the 211. Get off at the Duke of York Square, one stop before Sloane Square, and do a bit of snooping around. Many of the buildings there used to be part of an old military barracks. Now they are part of a chic shopping area, and the holiday decorations are just lovely. On Saturdays, there is an ever-growing Fine Food market in the Duke of York Square curated by Partridges supermarket with yummy baked goods, ready-made organic dishes, meats, poultry, coucous – you name it. There are usually around 70 stalls with something for everyone, and it’s quite reasonable and unique. There are several nice restaurants at the Duke of York Square; some modestly priced and some more expensive.
You’ll also find the Saatchi Gallery at the Duke of York Square. Admission is free so stop in and see the latest installations. This gallery is actually the 15th most visited in London and it’s really quite interesting.
From there, go back out to The Kings Road, and you are in the heart of Chelsea at the iconic Sloane Square. There, you can see the beautiful blanket of lights covering the 7-story John Lewis department store, an icon of Chelsea, or stop in Tiffany’s, Hugo Boss, or Jo Malone, just down Sloane Street. It’s really lovely, and I’ve always loved the holiday season because of this. It’s magical.
From the north end of Sloane Square, you can either walk up Sloane Avenue or take the No. 22 or 19 bus for three stops to the Knightsbridge Station. Get off there. To your right will be Harvey Nichols. To the left will be Harrods. Check out the new holiday windows of Harvey Nichols’ Department Store, which are sponsored by Britalia this year. They showcase the newest collections of Italian design. It’s titled, ‘Italy. Curated by Harvey Nichols.’ In one of the windows, you see a subtitled film celebrating Italian culture. It’s quite funny when you watch it and read the subtitles, but when you visit their website and hear the actual Italian version of the film, the subtitles don’t match the actual film at all, and it’s really quite comical.
Then walk the opposite direction from Harvey Nichols down Brompton Road. You can’t miss the beautifully illuminated Harrods, the icon of Knightsbridge. Their shop windows are sponsored by Burberry, and this is the first time they have ever collaborated with a brand for their holiday windows. I say ‘holiday windows,’ because there is nothing Christmas-y about these windows or Harvey Nichols’. If you didn’t know it was Christmas, you’d certainly not know from looking at these windows. It just looks like a major sponsored fashion installation, which it is. But, they are lovely, none the less. They did have something looking like Santa coming down a chimney, but he’s dressed in pink! Nice try.
Once you are done gazing at the store windows, continue further along Brompton Road for another 15/20 minutes until you come across the Natural History Museum Skating Rink on your right. From late October until early January they have a lovely ice skating rink out front, where you can spend an hour skating around a beautiful Swarovski-sponsored Christmas tree. The museum itself is free to get in, but it’s such a special treat to skate there and have a glass of mulled wine in their adjacent café bar. You can even go the bar if you haven’t booked a skating session. It’s really nice to watch the skaters, no matter their skill.
Tickets to skate are £12.65 ($16) for adults and £8.80 ($11) for children, and booking online is highly recommended. When I was there, the lines were long so book in advance.
Once you are done, you walk a couple blocks back toward the South Kensington Tube station and get back on a Number 14 or 414 bus that will take you directly back to the Millennium. Very easy and stress free.
Given the holiday windows are not specifically Christmas windows, they should be up even in January for a bit of time. Currently neither store’s website provides a ‘tear-down’ date. Have fun!