What a difference a year makes. The last time I was in London the price tab was extra high as a result of the low status of the dollar against the British pound. Like other travelers, I winced at the London prices with the exchange rate at about $2 to a pound. But on a recent trip to London the dollar had gained more than 25% in value. In addition, as a result of the poor economy worldwide, hotels were offering special rates and packages.
This is true for a hotel my wife and I like to frequent, The May Fair, in Stratton Street, just off Piccadilly. The May Fair Hotel, which has undergone renovation and modernization, has a great location that we find perfect for our interests. It is near the Green Park tube station, a pivotal point for getting about. For example, there are only two stops to Waterloo on the South Bank, where the National Theatre and other popular cultural attractions are located. One can also conveniently reach the theaters in London’s West End.
A short walk away from the May Fair is the Royal Academy of Arts, one of the key institutions for important exhibits. During my recent trip I viewed an exhibition of Byzantine Art (Byzantium) and another spotlighting works of Alexander Calder and Joan Miró, fascinating because of the interplay. One can also easily get to the Tate, the Tate Modern, the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery, for example, from the May Fair Hotel location. The National Portrait Gallery, located at Trafalgar Square, had an intriguing photo exhibit of work by photographer Annie Leibovitz.
Another advantage my wife and I find staying at the May Fair is the 24-hour business center, which is free of charge and which has computers where one can check e-mail or do other pressing work. The staff at the hotel is very friendly and makes every effort to be helpful, including Michael Cheung, Deputy General Manager, and Leona Ostra, Guest Relations Manager.
It helps if you can arrange a rate with breakfast included, as breakfasts at London Hotels tend to increase costs substantially if ordered separately. The May Fair has an attractive breakfast room with a generously stocked buffet and orders that can be had from the kitchen, whether a full English breakfast or such specialties as kippers—what would breakfast in London be without kippers?—or haddock.
All the breakfast staff is helpful, and with repeat visits we have gotten to know in particular friendly and efficient waitresses Phil and Pauline, who make dining there particularly pleasurable.
A further advantage of the hotel location is access to some excellent restaurants. A few steps away on Stratton Street is he popular Langan’s Brasserie, where we had an excellent meal. Right on Piccadilly is The Wolseley, which also has a broad menu and is open late for after-theater dining. Along Arlington Street is the ever-popular Le Caprice, where we count on a signature dessert, semi-frozen mixed berries topped with hot white chocolate sauce. One can also choose to have high tea at the nearby Ritz Hotel. One day we had an excellent seafood lunch at Bentley’s, located on Swallow Street, a short walk from our hotel toward Piccadilly Circus.
As for shopping, I like to stroll down nearby Jermyn Street, with its elegant shops for men’s shirts, ties, jackets and shoes. Our location is also near the renowned Fortnum and Mason, with everything from culinary goodies to women’s clothing. The famous shops on Bond Street, Oxford Street and Regent Street are also close. I came away with a several unusual ties, a shirt and a pocket square from Turnbull & Asser.
London has its many diverse attractions, not the least of which is just being in the wonderful city. And American travelers, especially those who may have been put off by the exchange rate, can take heart. Things have been improving steadily on that count.