When I married my Yankee husband 40 years ago, I told him that every time I said, “I need shoes,” it meant I was homesick for fish and chips and wanted to visit Great Britain.
I’ve been blessed to go back three or four times a year, and always buy shoes. My younger sister is a university professor in London, and is great fun to explore with.
We’ve stayed in many hotels together over the years and she contributes to my report about each property. There are many wonderful hotels in the city, but my favorites are Milestone, Montague, Jumeirah’s Carlton Towers, and the Goring.
I use this material when I give classes to travel agents on Great Britain. I also share my knowledge with two large travel conferences held in Las Vegas, the Luxury Travel Expo, and the Signature Travel Network which has over 3,000 travel professionals in attendance each year. This article is to share with you a different side of London, that perhaps you don’t know about.
Over the centuries, small villages that once lay on the outskirts of London became engulfed as the city expanded in a tide of bricks and mortar. Although these quiet villages have melded with London, they have managed to retain their character. Steeped in history, these villages remain hidden gems within the city’s boundaries. Their charms should not be overlooked.
Villages of the North: With its exclusive shops, street side cafes and fine Georgian houses, Hampstead has a distinct village atmosphere. Writers and artists frequented the town during the 18th century. English landscape painter John Constable is buried in St. John’s church. Hampstead’s most famous resident was John Keats, whose home is now a museum. Nearby is architect Erno Goldfinger’s 1930 terraced house, preserved with its original furnishings. Hampstead is the home of Fenton House with its collections of early keyboard instruments and the Freud Museum where you can see the couch belonging to the world’s most renowned psychoanalyst.
Highgate: Neighboring Highgate is famous for its cemetery, the resting place of social philosopher and economist Karl Marx and author George Eliot. Take a guided tour to visit the more atmospheric West Cemetery’s Egyptian Avenue and terraced catacombs.
In Hampstead Heath the Robert Adam Mansion of Kenwood House showcases impressive paintings and has been used as a location for films such as Notting Hill. A great local pub is the The Spaniard's Inn, recalling the days when highwaymen haunted the heath.
Treasure on the Thames: West London has been the chosen home of monarchs and their courtiers because of its proximity to the Royal Court. Designed by Lord Burlington for extravagant parties set in lovely gardens, Chiswick House is one of the finest examples of Palladian architecture in England. Upstream is Syon House, where Robert Adam remodeled a riverside Tudor monastery to create a London home for the Duke of Northumberland. Kew’s Royal Botanic Gardens hold the world’s largest collection of plant life with 35,000 different species. Travel to Kew by riverboat and return by the tube, London’s underground train. The town of Richmond has the largest Royal Park and plenty of great antique shops to explore.
Maritime Heritage: Greenwich, the playground of Kings and Queens, is where Sir Walter Raleigh supposedly placed his cloak over a puddle so Queen Elizabeth wouldn’t get her feet wet. The royal residence is now the National Maritime Museum, tracing Britain’s seafaring history.
One of the best ways to see London is from the top deck of a bus. Routes like the No. 11 take travelers to a multitude of landmarks. A daily bus pass gives passengers unlimited travel for two pounds. Cruise along the leafy waters of Regents Canal on “Jason’s Trip” a one and a half hour canal boat journey. It runs from aptly names Little Venice to Camden Lock and its famous market.
From museums to historic houses, you can’t go wrong visiting some of London’s hidden treasures.
Maureen Jones is president of All Horizons Travel at 160 Main Street in Los Altos. Members of her staff are experts in business travel, cruises, and all types of leisure.