April 14, 2022
One of the big advantages of a city centre hotel is that you spend less time and money travelling to the best sights and venues. Happily, it also opens up more opportunities to discover the hidden delights of London. Delve into mind–bending art, compelling theatre, the mysterious past, and curious gardens.
With so many Central London hotel deals this Spring, it’s tempting to take the plunge, book a London break and explore the treasures of the city. Here’s a peek at some of the surprises on offer.
The Secret Gardens of London
Seething Lane Gardens
City of London, EC3
Close to Tower Hill Garden and the Tower itself is Seething Lane Gardens: Samuel Pepys once lived here, and scenes from his life and from the Great Fire of London are carved into the paving stones (his house burned down 400 years ago). Even further back in 1381 this garden was the subject of a land dispute that was resolved by the ‘payment’ of one red rose to the Lord Mayor every year (it’s being paid to this day).
St Dustan in the East
St Dunstan's Hill, EC3
Near Seething Lane is this most picturesque of church ruins. After the Great Fire of 1666 St Dustan’s was rebuilt by Christopher Wren, only to be bombed during the Blitz of 1941. Happily, the Wren tower and spire survived, as did the north and south walls. It’s now Grade I listed and a superb, leafy public garden.
King Edward St, EC1
Intriguing public garden just north of St Paul’s Cathedral. Famous for its wall of pretty (but mournful) ceramic plaques that date back to the 1900s. Each one marks the untimely but heroic death of ordinary men and women.
St Anne and St Agnes Church Gardens
Gresham St, EC2
An attractive church opposite Postman’s Park, this was another of Christopher Wren’s rebuilds after 1666. When it rose from the ashes it was built, atypically, in red brick. It survived WWII and the churchyard adjoins a quiet public space with seating and trees.
St Pancras Church Gardens
Near Cheapside, access from Pancras Lane
A hidden space containing delightful Romanesque–style carved benches within a paved and planted courtyard. The church is long gone but the modern benches recall church pews and medieval misericords. Skilfully carved by the City & Guilds of London Art School, each bench is entirely individual.
King Edward St, EC1
Four minutes’ walk from St Paul’s Cathedral is this peaceful spot which was replanted in 2011 to increase biodiversity. It also provides a lovely display of blooms when in season. Yet another church destroyed by fire and rebuilt by Christopher Wren, but after WWII only the west tower survived.
Red Cross Garden Southwark
50 Redcross Way, SE1
Award–winning garden with Arts and Crafts cottages in Southwark. Once a Victorian slum, the cottages were transformed by philanthropist Olivia Hill. The garden dates back to 1887 and was described as an ‘open air sitting room.’ for the public. Near Union St, up the road from Borough Market.
21 Stacey St, WC2
A surprising community park in Covent Garden, which provides sanctuary for frogs. The nearest tube is Tottenham Court Road, so it’s a stone’s throw from Oxford Street (shops) and Great Russell Street (British Museum).
Westminster Abbey, SW1
After you’ve seen Big Ben, why not walk up Broad Sanctuary to Westminster Abbey and seek out Dean’s Yard. It’s a private square, but fully accessible via a street called (naturally) The Sanctuary. Trees, grass and serene medieval architecture.
The Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Walk
This is a 7 mile stroll across all four Royal Parks (St James’s Park, Green Park, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens). You can follow 90 plaques set in the ground to mark the route, each one linked to the iconic People’s Princess. It will keep you busy for most of the day.
The Elfin Oak
The Peter Pan Statue in Kensington Garden is rightly famous for its charming magical creatures. Less well known is the equally delightful Elfin Oak. Head for the Diana Memorial Playground (find the Round Pond and keep going North towards Bayswater Road and Queensway tube). Sculpted from an ancient oak by Ivor Innes in 1930, it has beguiling figures of fairies and other critters. The oak now sits within an outsized “birdcage” to protect it from over–affectionate hands.
Kyoto Japanese Garden
Holland Park, Ilchester Place, W8
Often overlooked, this long, narrow park near Kensington High Street is a mixture of woodland, tennis courts, formal gardens and the peaceful Kyoto Japanese Garden. The Design Museum is near the South Entrance.
Hidden City: Real-World Adventure Games
Discover a different version of London on foot. This adventure game delivers cryptic clues to your phone and takes you (and your friends) through the streets and buildings of London. Solve riddles and challenges linked to the surrounding streets. Three games on offer.
Churchill War Rooms
Clive Steps, King Charles Street, SW1
Around the corner from Downing Street, St James’s Park and Horse Guards Parade is the Churchill War Rooms. Part of the Imperial War Museum, this underground maze was the real centre of UK operations during WWII. Books, maps and calendars left in place since the last time they were used in August 1945. Very Marie Celeste.
Stonehenge: The British Museum
Great Russell St, WC1
The public galleries are free, but the current special exhibition features one of Britain’s great mysteries: The World of Stonehenge. Continues until July 17th, admission fee. Winner of five star reviews.
Seeing is Believing
Until June 2023
Highly popular show now continuing into 2023 due to public demand. No VR headsets, just mirrors and the human eye. Mind bending.
A Century of the Artists’s Studio: 1920-2020
Until 5th June
Art as alchemy. From the blazing turmoil of Francis Bacon’s studio to a reconstruction of Matisse’s bedroom–studio. The artist’s crucible displayed via film, photo and painting. Fascinating.
Business Design Centre
20th to 24th April
Modern and contemporary art: 129 galleries from 14 different countries, offering everything from prints to major pieces, from David Bomberg to street artist Bambi. This year’s museum partner is New Hall Art Collection (Cambridge) including Paula Rego, Miriam Shapiro and Gayle Chong Kwan.
Land of the Lions
Zoological Society of London (ZSL)
An interactive ‘Indian adventure’ featuring themed areas to explore (a train station, a crumbling temple clearing, a high street and a guard hut). Three walkways over a 2,500 sqm exhibit where ZSL’s forest rangers enact a lion ‘emergency’.
Our Broken Planet
Until 31st August 2022
Show focusing on the impact of our species’ need for food, energy and materials, and its cost to the natural world. The full title of this show is: Our Broken Planet: How We Got Here and Ways to Fix It. The museum’s 300 scientists are the unseen workforce behind the museum’s remarkable displays. Free
The Corn is Green
Opens 14th April
Lyttelton Theatre, The National, South Bank
Starring Nicola Walker (‘Unforgotten’) in Emlyn Williams’ play about an English school teacher who is sent off to ‘educate’ Welsh miners and is faced with an angry, resistant community.
Opens 27th April
Harold Pinter Theatre, Panton St. SW1
Jodie Comer (‘Killing Eve’) as Tessa, a young barrister who has worked her way up to the top, only to be dealt the cards that are stacked against her.
28th April to 7th August 2022
Apollo Theatre, 31 Shaftesbury Avenue, W1
Return of a legendary production starring Mark Rylance and Mackenzie Crook. Jez Butterworth’s play is about Johnny “Rooster” Byron, living in a caravan in the woods, caught between eviction, alcohol and his son. Rylance won the Laurence Olivier Award for best actor when ‘Jerusalem’ first appeared. Described in 2019 as “the greatest British play of the century.”
Straight Line Crazy
Until 18th June 2022
The Bridge Theatre, SE2
Starring Ralph Fiennes, directed by Nicholas Hytner. New play by David Hare about Robert Moses, the man who shaped New York. Fiennes is always an extraordinary presence, and his Moses is a complex character: Kubla Khan in Manhattan. Blue Orchid suites is handy for an after show drink in its Skyline London rooftop bar and restaurant, or indeed for a City break with its boutique Tower Suites.
Until 22nd October
Victoria Palace Theatre, Victoria St, SW1
Alexander Hamilton, the American Founding Father that time forgot. This is the US smash hit musical that restored a man of colour to his rightful place in history.
The Apollo Victoria Theatre, Wilton Road, Pimlico SW1
Before Dorothy, there were the Witches of Oz. ‘Wicked’ has now joined the ranks of London’s popular, long–running musical theatre shows. Spellbinding.
Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of “The War of the Worlds”
Until 30th April 2022
Old Metal Exchange, Leadenhall Street, EC3
A Martian invasion of Victorian London. An immersive take on the prog rock album that actually scared some of the reviewers! Analogue and AR (augmented reality); great set designs and set pieces. Dystopia mon amour… Fenchurch St. Station or Monument tube.
Grab a deal with affordable 5 star hotels in Central London: take in a show, explore the lesser known sights, uncover the culture and the history. April could turn out to be the kindest month.