With a bumper crop of hotel openings, star-fueled West End plays, and a Christian Dior show at the V+A, London’s spring season is in full bloom.
Brexit may be dominating the news from London, with Megs & Harry’s royal baby running a close second, but what you may not have heard is that now is the time to visit London. The political uncertainty doesn’t get in the way of spring flowers and kinder temperatures, or the new hotels, theater, and art exhibits around town at this time of year. Another rosy bit of news? Airfares to Europe are as low as they’ve been for a while, so take advantage, pack your bag, and hop the pond.
Choose from a fresh crop of hotels
Situated between St. Paul’s Cathedral and the River Thames, the brand new Vintry & Mercer presents a charming mix of old London (views of St. Paul’s dome and the skyline beyond can be enjoyed from the rooftop restaurant) and new (92 guest rooms dressed in sleek modern livery). The hotel, which opened in February 2019, has two restaurants—Vintry serving East Asian cuisine, and the Mercer Rooftop Terrace serving updated British classics—as well as a speakeasy-style basement bar with an Asian accent, Do Not Disturb, already stirring up the City’s cocktail scene. The City; vintryandmercer.com
Over in Chelsea, the 130-year-old Belmond Cadogan Hotel reopened at the end of February 2019, all polished up and now part of the luxury Belmond brand. The historic property—Oscar Wilde was a frequent guest, as were many of the literary set of his time—underwent a complete reimagining and modernization, without losing its British charms.
The five Queen Anne–style buildings have been seamlessly joined with 52 newly lavish guest rooms with hardwood floors and wool rugs and posh fittings; formerly cramped public spaces have been opened up and are now sunlit and inviting. Guests have access to the gardens and tennis courts of the private Cadogan Estate, an unexpected hotel perk in a crowded city. The two-hour tea service has been nudged into a more modern sensibility by the hotel’s executive chef, Adam Handling, a 30-year-old firebrand in the U.K. cooking scene. (He already heads the kitchens at six London restaurants.) Handling oversees the tea, the bar, and an on-site eponymous restaurant, which will undoubtedly join his several well-regarded Frog bistros around the city in becoming a must-have reservation. Chelsea; belmond.com
Finally, the recently renovated Academy Hotel in Bloomsbury, features interior designs by the firm of Alexandria Champalimaud, which means the five joined Georgian houses exude a homey warmth—if your home is an extraordinarily elegant one. Comfortable sofas, divine wallpaper, some working fireplaces, and bookcases (with the works of the Bloomsbury Group well represented) may be cause to linger inside the property, even while the wonders of the nearby British Museum beckon. The hotel, now operated by YTL Hotels, is intimate—there are only 50 guest rooms—but if you can’t snag a reservation, come anyway and enjoy a cocktail at the charmingly dark and cozy Alchemy Bar. The Caduceus, a mint-infused gin with lemon juice, prosecco, and simple syrup, is recommended for a buzzy taste of spring. Bloomsbury; theacademyhotel.co.uk
Get some culture in a West End theater
While autumn is usually considered the season for exciting theater openings, spring and early summer are shaping up nicely in London this year.
- Playwright Lynn Nottage won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Sweat, which—after a sold-out run at the Donmar Warehouse—is moving to the Gielgud Theater for just 50 performances beginning June 7. Martha Plimpton leads the cast. gielgudtheatre.co.uk
- David Mamet has drawn inspiration from the horrible story of Harvey Weinstein for his new play, Bitter Wheat, with John Malkovich as a predatory movie studio head. The play opens on June 19 at the Garrick Theatre and marks Malkovich’s first appearance on the London stage after a 30-year absence. nimaxtheatres.com
- The bittersweet musical Sweet Charity opened April 6 at the Donmar Warehouse and runs through June 8. (Theatergoers under 25 can join a lottery for free Friday performances between April 19 and May 31.) donmarwarehouse.com
The ever-enjoyable Victoria and Albert Museum is hosting two concurrent exhibits this spring focused on a pair of fashion greats. Mary Quant, whose swinging designs put miniskirts, Twiggy, and London at the forefront of the ’60s pop fashion, is the subject of a show that opened April 6. The museum’s blockbuster, Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams, opened in February and runs through the first of September. The extensive exhibit explores the glamorous work of the French designer as well as his relationship with British fashion. The Dior show has already sold out, but if you buy a V&A membership (from £79, or around US$102) or arrive early to join the daily queue for a limited number of timed tickets, you can still slip in to see galleries filled with fabulous frocks. Mary Quant, through February 16, 2020; Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams, through September 1; Knightsbridge;vam.ac.uk
Enjoy the season’s beauty without “springing” for tickets to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show
The world arrives in London for the famous Chelsea Flower Show, so snagging a ticket sometimes means nerve-wracking waits for cancellations. A free alternative show, Chelsea in Bloom, produced with the cooperation of the Royal Horticulture Society, is a floral design competition between local shops and restaurants. Each participating business will create a wildly imaginative floral display (this year’s theme is “Under the Sea”), and visitors vote for their favorites after walking the neighborhood streets—either in guided groups, via complimentary rickshaw ride, or with map in hand—to judge all the entries. Free, Chelsea; May 21–25, chelseainbloom.co.uk
Of course, there are many more reasons to visit (the Easter-themed provisions in Fortnum & Mason, are an over-the-top, pastel-colored eyeful, for instance). And fans of the Great British Bake Off should not miss a chance to have a spot of tea on a glamorous Pullman train with series judge Mary Berry.