Dr. Samuel Johnson had it right, way back in 1777: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
London is a remarkable city because it is a cosmopolitan world capital, yet it manages to remain friendly and appealing rather than coldly austere. It has great museums filled with the masters, but visitors throng to friendly street markets such as Bermondsey or Portobello Road to haggle over vintage silver teapots or trinkets from another age. London has exceptional restaurants such as China Tang in the Dorchester Hotel, yet visitors delight in fish and chips from street vendors.
And, as Laura Citron of Visit London shares, “With the dollar currently sitting strong against the pound, there’s never been a better time to book a trip to the UK capital.”
Virgin Atlantic just debuted a non-stop from Tampa International Airport to Heathrow Airport in London. Tampa’s residents have wasted no time making use of this new route.
Debra Williams, local Tampanian and VP of Kimmins Contracting, has traveled to London regularly since her first trip as a child in 1985, and for her, the city hasn’t lost an ounce of its luster.
“I’m very happy Virgin made Tampa ground zero for their new planes—seamless, so very posh and gracious, and welcoming to the UK from the moment of boarding,” says Williams. “And it goes to Heathrow, where even big lines go quickly and the express train into Paddington is just 15 minutes.”
Emily Nipps, Director of Communications at Tampa International Airport, underlines those sentiments.
“It’s huge for two different airlines (Virgin Atlantic and British Airways) to come to Tampa and serve one major international city with nonstops,” she says. “British Airways services London Gatwick, but Virgin is a different experience owing to the larger size of Heathrow.” She notes that it also makes for seamless connections throughout Europe, which couldn’t come at a better time as TPA continues to see the number of travelers go up and up.
Since Tampa’s travelers can touch down in London town in under 9 hours, let’s look at how to make the most of the new Virgin nonstop and a few days in London.
Where to Stay
The Lanesborough is within walking distance of Harrods, Harvey Nichols and the Sloane Street boutique shops. Here, you get your very own ‘round-the-clock butler and a set of personalized business cards.
Williams suggests Claridge’s or The Connaught (sister hotels with absolutely special bars), the Ham Yard Hotel, The Twenty Two, and Beaverbrook Town House on Sloane Street.
Where to Eat
British cuisine is no longer something you tolerate. In London, you can savor amazing Indian curries, Lebanese sfeeha (meat pies), pasta Bolognese from Italy and soufflés from France.
Bacchanalia in Mayfair is new, opulent, serious dining and tongue-in-cheek fun with murals and Grecian maiden sculptures flowing overhead. Don’t leave without hitting Simpson’s in the Strand for fab prime rib cut tableside, or high tea (champers, finger sandwiches and pastries) at The Savoy or The Ritz. Be sure to ask for scones with Devon clotted cream.
“We never miss Scott’s or Le Petite Maison for lunch in Mayfair and Twenty Two for dinner.” adds Williams. “Oysters, first and foremost. Dover sole is a UK tradition. Give it a go for traditional things, such as fish and chips, bangers and mash. There’s nothing more important to the Brits than cocktails: try cucumber gimlets. Nothing says English tradition more than high tea: Brown’s Hotel, Claridge’s, The Berkeley.”
What To See
Getting around is easy–black taxis abound, and they were designed so a gentleman can wear his top hat inside, but don’t miss riding on the Underground or catching a red double-decker bus.
If you’re not sure where to start, you can use a guide. Grace Barrett and Caroline Piper have been used by locals and have the legendary Blue Badge, signifying in-depth knowledge of London. They have led Tampa locals to all the major sites from Windsor Castle to Westminster Abbey, from the ancient artifacts in the British Museum to a private after-hours tour for the six-century-old Ceremony of the Keys in the Tower of London.
Grace Barrett says Westminster Abbey is her favorite: “From 1066, when William the Conqueror was crowned King of England here, it has been the site of every coronation and, this May will see Charles III wear the crown. The Abbey is the resting place of incredible Britons from Chaucer to Dickens, Sir Isaac Newton to Stephen Hawking, so you’ll find a story you can connect with.”
Bond Street is the Rodeo Drive of London with world-class shopping, but first-timers must see Harrods (tip: savor the food court) and Harvey Nichols, both in Knightsbridge.
Bermondsey Antique Market opens at 6am on Fridays and it’s said that antique dealers buy here on Friday to resell at a big mark-up on Portobello over the weekend. Set your clock and grab a flashlight!
Outside of London
Want a fun overnighter in another city? Take the Caledonian Sleeper train from London to Edinburgh in Scotland. It takes between seven and eight hours (depending on sheep on the tracks!) and be sure to book a sleeper cabin so you drift off to the clickety-clack and awake refreshed to explore Scotland’s capital, with its cobbled streets, castles, and art.
Driving out to Ascot, Windsor for the day, or the Cotswolds (where Downton Abbey and Harry Potter were filmed) are other day-trip options.
If you’re craving an Orient Express experience, The British Pullman, by Belmond has wonderful day trips from Victoria Station. Savor tea and lunch while speeding through beautiful countryside..sometimes behind a steam locomotive…to Bath or Leeds Castle or many more.
Visitors may enjoy London’s West End for plays and musicals. Not to be missed is The Mousetrap, Agatha Christie’s murder mystery play that has had more than 28,000 performances since 1952 at St. Martin’s Theater.
Too many museums, too little time. The National Gallery, Tate, and Tate Modern are all special. For accessible urban art, stroll Bayswater Rd. on the edge of Hyde Park on Sundays where artists hang their works on the fences
London is a very late-night place, so it’s as acceptable to go to dinner at 7 as at 10 p.m. To make travel absolutely seamless, consider a single carry-on and sending other luggage ahead for door-to-door service.
Oh, The Places You’ll Go
More International Nonstops From Tampa Bay
- Aguadilla, Puerto Rico
- Cancun, Mexico
- Frankfurt, Germany
- Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
- Halifax, Nova Scotia
- Havana, Cuba
- Marsh Harbour, Bahamas
- Montego Bay, Jamaica
- Montreal, Canada
- Nassau, Bahamas
- Ottawa, Canada
- Panama City, Panama
- San Juan, Puerto Rico
- St. Johns, Canada
- Toronto, Canada
- Zurich, Switzerland
St. Pete–Clearwater International Airport
- Hamilton, Canada
- Tampa is the embarkation point for various vessels from Carnival Cruise Line, Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line, which all offer Caribbean and transatlantic cruises.
Author Chris Caswell and his wife, Rhea, are frequent London visitors and contributed their London knowledge to this piece.
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