Need some quiet London places that enrich the mind, body and soul? Here are suggestions to soak up the cultural atmosphere that makes London, well, London but keep your sanity.
Leighton House is an unassuming yet charming small museum, nestled quite close to Holland Park. It was built as a studio and home by the eminent British artist Frederic Leighton, president of the Royal Academy of Arts (1878) and a leading cultural figure in the Victorian era.
The house is a snapshot of this very private yet diligent and productive man, the only British artist elevated to Great Britain’s peerage.
Leighton’s interests spanned sculpture, architecture, Italian Renaissance art and his ceramic collection from the Mid-East adorn rooms an otherwise traditional Victorian living space.
The showpiece is Arab Hall which displays Leighton’s passion for and pride in his Middle Eastern art. Leighton collected aggressively: ceramics, including prodigious amounts of tiles from Syria, fabrics, woodwork and lattice from Cairo.
The upshot is a soothing, meditative space in which the visitor feels transported to another time and place. Along the staircase brilliant blue tile work matches a symbol of the Victorian era’s Aesthetic Movement: a taxidermic peacock, holding court at the base of the stairway.
A lovely back garden allows for a quiet moment before venturing on.
I’m recommending the Babylon Bar and Roof Garden at 99 Kensington High Street (entrance on Derry Street) across from St. Mary Abbots Church.
Book for the restaurant as it can be busy with locals (+44(0)207 368 3993 or email@example.com.). If you’re shut out, Plan B is delicious seafood – such as smoked halibut – available on the delightful terrace. A great light lunch.
Don’t miss this spot, even for a drink. And, if open, check out the 6th floor, a spectacular garden event space.
The building is also home to Time Warner, Sony and Equinox Gym so you’ll feel very much the Insider as you enter the attended lobby and head for the discreet elevator.
The Wallace Collection (& Restaurant)
Thus fortified, head over to Marylebone and a bit north of Oxford Street, on Manchester Square, sits a lovely Georgian townhouse – Hertford House – and within the manageable Wallace Collection .
The Duke of Manchester built the home in the latter half of the 18th century, choosing the marshy site for its access to duck-hunting. It was used as the Spanish Embassy and later by the French for the same purpose.
The 4th Marquess of Hertford initiated the vast collection, using the house to store his treasures acquired while living in France. Later his beneficiary, an illegitimate son raised in France, shrewdly added to the collection with the timely acquisition of period French painting, furniture, decorative art and armory available after the revolutionary fever. A good bit of Marie Antoinette’s and other royals’ household goods found their way to this collection.
Old Masters abound in the collection, too: Velázquez, Reubens and Delacroix. In the mid-19th century the gallery was widely acknowledged as the world’s greatest collection of paintings. It remains significant to this day.
As a national museum the Wallace Collection is admission-free; the excellent, informative ‘highlights’ tour is well worth the time (about 45 minutes, suggested donation £5).
The Wallace Restaurant located within Hertford House is known as one of London’s best secrets for lunch or tea – French-inspired fare (bien sur!) and well away from the fray. Unfortunately a Sky TV production was underway when I visited and the restaurant unavailable. However, it comes highly recommended from trusted third parties.
Mayfair to Grosvenor Square
On the way to Mayfair and Grosvenor Square, passing well-groomed doorways, is Mr. Selfridge’s emporium (Netflix fans, your namesake program). Might be worth a stop, if the crush of 21st century life is acceptable. If not, Selfridge’s will be there tomorrow. And the day after that, etc.
The 9/11 Memorial – Grosvenor Square
The U.S. Embassy sits at attention at the western edge of Grosvenor Square. Across the park
is the simple, moving 9/11 Memorial and silent tribute to the Britons lost that day. Time to sit in a moment of reflection.
Roughly the same size as Hyde Park, Regent’s Park is an oasis of sanity. If you’ve got the time for a stroll and contemplation, check out Queen Mary’s Rose Garden in the Inner Circle. You’ll be saying ‘Ommmmmm’ in no time.
Primrose Hill – on a clear day, you can see (London) forever
Part of the lovely Regent’s Park, Primrose Hill provides a lovely vantage point of London’s skyline and tremendous building boom.
Here’s a preview of the entire vista:
Tea time at the Grosvenor House
Past the embassy, at the dead-end with Park Lane is the timeless Grosvenor House. It’s tea time – there is no more restorative end to a ‘quiet’ day in London than that.
Please share your favorite quiet spots in London – both in the comments section below and via the social media links – it’s better when it’s shared!
Check back soon for FREE PDF on these locations with maps!
P.S. Here’s the short list, linked to maps:
Leighton House and Garden – 12 Holland Park Road
The Wallace Collection, Hertford House on Manchester Square
Grosvenor Square (9/11 Memorial)
Regent’s Park/Queen Mary’s Rose Garden
Along the way, for refreshment:
Babylon Bar and Roof Garden – 99 Kensington
Wallace Restaurant, Hertford House on Manchester Square
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