What to See and Do in London
1 – Windsor Castle
In just half an hour, a train from London will deliver you to the royal town of Windsor, site of England’s most legendary castle. The first castle here was ordered built by William the Conqueror, and much of English history has unfolded within its walls. If you skipped the Changing of the Guard ceremony in London, you can see an even more exciting pageant here, though it takes place only from April to July Monday to Saturday at 11am (winter hours differ slightly). On a first visit to the castle, don’t miss its greatest attraction, St. George’s Chapel, where British monarchs are entombed and try to budget enough time to see the state apartments, including George IV’s elegant chambers. No, you can’t go into the Queen’s present bedchamber. Before leaving the castle precincts, wander the beautifully landscaped Jubilee Garden spread over 8 hectares (2 acres).
Since you’ll need 2 hours to explore Windsor Castle, this will put you in the little town for lunch, which, incidentally, is not a gourmet citadel.
Take a Break
2 – House on the Bridge
This charming restaurant lies adjacent to the bridge that links Windsor with the exclusive prep school of Eton. The school itself has turned out some of England’s greatest men, including the Duke of Wellington and the poet known as “mad Shelley” to his fellow pupils. In atmospheric surroundings, you can enjoy the restaurant’s fixed-price lunch of English and international dishes. In summer, opt for one of the outdoor tables in a garden leading down to the Thames. We’d recommend both the oak-smoked salmon and the grilled Dover sole, rushed here fresh every day from the southern coast. Windsor Bridge tel. 01753/860914.
After lunch, with your precious time fading, we suggest an immediate return to London, arriving at Waterloo or Paddington Station, where you can hook up with the Tube leading to:
3 – Hyde Park
Adjoining Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park (Tube: Marble Arch) was the former deer-hunting ground of Henry VIII. Allow at least 30 minutes for a stroll through the scenic grandeur of London’s “green lung.” Our favorite oasis in the park is a miniature lake known as the Serpentine, where you can row, sail model boats, or even swim. In the northeast corner of the park, at Speakers Corner, you can hear everything from protesters calling for the overthrow of the monarchy to sex advocates demanding legalization of child prostitution in Britain. Any point of view goes here. You can even make a speech of your own. After taking in the landmark Marble Arch (a gate originally designed as the entrance to Buckingham Palace), stroll east along Upper Brook Street to:
4 – Grosvenor Square
In the heart of Mayfair, and one of the world’s most famous squares, this was the grandest of all London addresses for two centuries. In modern times, its former allure has been diminished by Eero Saarinen’s outsized and grandiose U.S. Embassy (1956), which led to the demolition of the west side of the square. As you cross the square through the garden, take in William Reid Dick’s bronze statue of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who honeymooned with Eleanor at Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair.
Time out for some ritzy shopping (or at least window shopping) along:
5 – Oxford Street
From Grosvenor Square (northeast corner), cut north up Duke Street until you reach the junction of Oxford Street, at which point you can head east, moving deeper into the heart of commercial and theatrical London. A shopping mecca since 1908 when the American retail magnate, Gordon Selfridge, opened Selfridge’s Department Store, this is the most popular street in London for out-of-town shoppers. It is no longer a “lurking place for cut-throats,” as an early-18th-century writer called Oxford Street, although with the present pound-to-dollar ratio, you might indeed consider some of todays merchants highway robbers. Many of the fruit-and-flower vendors you encounter along Oxford Street are the great-grandchildren of former traders, their style of making a living passed on from one generation to the next. When you come to New Bond Street, cut southeast along:
6 – New & Old Bond Streets
London’s most luxurious shopping street, consisting of both Old and New Bond streets (Tube: Bond St.), links Piccadilly with Oxford Street. “The Bonds” have both traditional old English shops and outlets for the latest and hottest international designers. In the Georgian era, the beau monde of London promenaded here, window shopping. Young rakes hung out here “looking for virgins.” Later, the fun-loving set ranging from the Prince of Wales to the celebrated photographer Cecil Beaton and others, could be seen parading up and down the tiny Old Bond Street, with its deluxe art galleries. Today this dazzling thoroughfare of shops is celebrated for Haute everything, from couture to jewelry.
Once you reach the intersection with Piccadilly, continue east, passing on your left the:
7 – Burlington Arcade
The Burlington Arcade (Tube: Piccadilly Circus) closes at 5:30pm, so, of course, try to get there before then. The blueprint for all London arcades, the Burlington Arcade opened back in 1815, and it’s been going strong ever since. The glass-roofed, Regency-style passage is lined with exclusive shops and boutiques and lit by wrought-iron lamps. Luxury items such as jewelry and designer cashmere is sold here. Look for the Beadles, London’s representative of Britain’s oldest police force.
On the opposite side of Piccadilly, you enter the precincts of the world’s most famous food department store:
Take a Break
8 – Fortnum & Mason
Founded in 1707, this deluxe purveyor of fancy foodstuffs is still grocer to the Queen. “Mr. Fortnum” and “Mr. Mason” still present a footman’s show on the outside clock every hour. You can enjoy an elegant tea in St. James Restaurant, 181 Piccadilly. tel. 020/7734-8040.
After tea, continue walking east into:
9 – Piccadilly Circus
What Times Square is to New York, Piccadilly Circus is to London. Dating from 1819, the circus (or square) centers on a statue of Eros from 1893. That symbol of love is about the only thing that occasionally brings together the diverse group of people who converge on the circus. This is the traffic hub of London, and you’re at the doorway to “theaterland” if you’d like to cap your visit to the West End with a final show.
At the end of 3 days, realize that the time was ridiculously short to take in the allure of London — and promise yourself some future visit, when you can discover such London neighborhoods as trendy Chelsea or aristocratic Belgravia and take a day trip on a boat sailing down the river to Hampton Court.