London and relaxation are not normally words that are uttered in the same sentence, but the city is so big and varied that it is perfectly possible to get away from the noise and bustle or at least to take the edge off it.
The following itinerary is just one of the many ways to explore London at a more leisurely pace, with relaxation the number one priority.
The Athenaeum Spa
If you’re planning on taking it easy, what better way to start than with a relaxing spa. Of course, there are thousands of spas scattered across London, but the one located in the small, family-owned Athenaeum Hotel has a good reputation and a great location in Mayfair, between Green Park and Hyde Park. If your budget doesn’t stretch to a room at this five-star, you could stay somewhere less expensive (for example, the peaceful Lancaster), and walk down in the morning (the spa opens at eight to eight-thirty).
For extra pampering, choose from a menu of luxurious Elemis treatments, from pro-collagen crystal facials to cellutox aroma ocean wraps; a Moroccan rose ritual; massage and Gelish nail treatments. When you’re well and truly in chillax mode, it’s time to step outside and visit some Royal Parks. If you are resident at the Athenaeum, you can borrow (all for free) a bicycle to get you to the park, a kite to fly when you arrive there and a blanket on which to enjoy a leisurely lunchtime picnic.
Hyde Park & Kensington Gardens
Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens are next to one another and are ideal locations for a relaxing morning in central London. Once a hunting ground, Hyde Park is now a haven for leisure with everything from open air swimming and tennis to jogging, horse-riding and tai chi going on among its 350 acres of trees and grass. The Serpentine Lake is one of the park’s highlights, as are Speaker’s Corner and the Princess Diana Memorial Garden.
In 1689, 212 acres of Hyde Park were acquired by William III as a peaceful haven, and Queen Anne obtained another 30 acres and added an orangery. Today, the tree-lined avenues and flower beds of Kensington Gardens are popular backdrops for walking and picnics and boisterous games are discouraged. The light and airy Serpentine Galleries include the futuristic Magazine restaurant, the perfect venue for a restful lunch (although it is closed on Mondays). Outside, the Peter Pan statue lends a magical charm, while other sights include the Albert Memorial, Henry Moore’s Arch and the Italian Gardens.
A Stroll to Westminster
When you’re ready for some different scenery, take a nice leisurely stroll past Buckingham Palace and St James’ Park towards Parliament Square where you can take in the magnificent architecture of the Palace of Westminster which contains the famous Houses of Parliament: the House of Commons and House of Lords; Elizabeth Tower with grand old ‘Big Ben’. The walk itself should take you around 45 minutes (if you are taking it as easy as you should be) but if you have spent too long lazing in the Parks, the tube can get you down in 15 minutes ready for the next leg of your leisurely outing.
A Trip on the Thames
How can you see the bulk of the main tourist landmarks without pushing through the crowds and exerting yourself too much? By booking the 45 minute Thames City Cruise from Westminster Pier to Greenwich. With boats departing every thirty minutes throughout the year you won’t have to wait long or you can book in advance for ten per cent off. Some of the sights you will sail past include the London Eye, St Paul’s Cathedral, Shakespeare’s Globe, the Tower of London and Canary Wharf. You will also be passing underneath several of the capital’s iconic bridges: Waterloo, Blackfriars, Southwark, Tower and London. Prices at the time of writing were just over £12 for a single, and £16 for a return (about half for a child). There are bars on every boat, giving you a choice of snacks and hot and cold drinks, and there are also toilet facilities. Whilst most vessels are wheelchair accessible, it is best to enquire ahead of time to make sure.
Alighting at Greenwich pier offers the first glimpse of this beautiful, historic part of London, a World Heritage site, which is seen by many tourists and locals alike as offering an oasis of calm. To start with, there’s Greenwich Park, London’s oldest Royal Park, created back in 1427 and hosting the Greenwich Observatory and the Meridian Line that joins the east and west hemispheres. You can also visit the impressive Cutty Sark, the world’s only surviving tea-clipper, but bear in mind that the last entry is at 4pm. Make sure you leave enough time to browse the vintage goods and independent craftwork stalls of Greenwich Market and explore the National Maritime Museum and the Turners and Hogarths of the charming Queen’s House. The nearby Isle of Dogs is also worth a visit where you can see the strange sight of a working farm, complete with grazing sheep at Mudchute Park & Farm.
Even following a relaxing itinerary such as the one above will expend a fair bit of energy and you could well find yourself ready to put your feet up again as the day draws to an end. Rather than endure the long tube ride back to the city centre (although there are express return boat trips if you want more of the Thames), you might prefer to book a night in the Hotel Ibis or similar. This would leave you free to enjoy the hospitality of the local Lord Hood which provides traditional food and regular jazz nights, the perfect way to enjoy the close of a very relaxing day in London