British Isles Getaway

London is perfect, pre- or post-cruise

By: Maryann Hammers

London is as sophisticated as high tea and as quaint as a red double-decker bus. It has a big-city cosmopolitan buzz, yet is so compact that its great landmarks, from Big Ben to Buckingham Palace, can be seen on foot.

So when my cruise on a luxury small ship ended with a dramatic sailing under the Tower Bridge, I couldn’t wait to explore the great city. Your clients who embark (or disembark) in Dover or Southampton both about two hours away by car or train will want to do the same.

Covent Garden is my favorite part of town, especially after sunset when it really comes alive. A centuries-old farmers market until the mid-’70s, today it is lined with cafes, pubs, boutiques, flower stalls and specialty shops. (I can never resist Lush for hand-carved soaps and fizzy bath bombs.) For an only-in-England experience, visitors can try a fresh-baked meat-and-potato or vegetable pie at West Cornwall Pasty. While not exactly fine dining, this traditional snack is hot, filling and tasty, and you can’t beat the price of just a few pounds. Rules in Covent Garden is London’s oldest restaurant , and Wiltons has been serving oysters since 1742.

For a true farmer’s market experience, take the tube to Borough Market at the South Bank (near London Bridge Station), a huge international open-air market where vendors hawk just-picked fruits and veggies, fresh-baked breads, gourmet foods and crafts. Open Thursday through Saturday.

Leicester Square has a similar, albeit more youthful and grittier vibe. By day, it’s a great place to people watch, sip a cappuccino or catch a matinee. Tell your clients to stop at the Society of London Theatre “tkts” building for half-price, same-day theatre tickets.

The ultra-posh Knightsbridge District requires a very plump wallet or high-limit credit card. The chic Harvey Nichols and most of the city’s designer shops and pricey boutiques are clustered here, as is Harrods. The latter, of course, is a destination in itself, and shoppers are advised to pick up a store guide (or you can download one at Must-sees include the chocolate/coffee/tea section, Egyptian escalator, and the Dodi & Diana memorial.

Some of London’s most traditional shops (especially for the gents) are clustered on Jermyn Street in the St. James area. Bates has sold gentlemen’s hats and caps since the turn of the century; Geo. F. Trumper, a 129-year-old “Gentlemen’s Perfumery” gives chaps an old-fashioned shave; and Davidoff of London stocks vintage Havana cigars. Also on Jermyn, Waterstone’s Piccadilly, Europe’s largest bookstore, has a convivial bar on the fifth floor. It’s a great place for sightseers to cap a long day with a glass of wine and view of Big Ben.

If your clients are feeling a tad more adventurous, make sure to encourage them to “Fly the Eye.” The giant Ferris-wheel-like contraption with glass-walled pods provides a 360-degree bird’s-eye view stretching 25 miles in all directions, high above the London skyline. . They won’t quite be able to see their cruise ship, but the view is nonetheless spectacular.


Your clients will probably want to spend a day or two in London before or after their cruise. Here are some hotel suggestions in London’s best neighborhoods: Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park is in the heart of London’s most fashionable shopping and homes, directly across the road from Harrods and Harvey Nichols. Rooms overlook leafy Hyde Park or chic Knightsbridge.
44-20-7235-2000; 800-526-6566

The Savoy, a Fairmont Hotel, on the banks of the River Thames, a five-minute walk to Covent Garden, boasts a long and glamorous past. This is where Laurence Olivier met Vivien Leigh, Elizabeth Taylor honeymooned with Nicky Hilton, and Hugh Grant’s “Notting Hill” character proposed to Julia Roberts. Tom Mix and Gene Autrey rode horseback in the ballroom in 1925 and 1939 respectively; Caruso sung arias in a party attended by a baby elephant; and the Beatles ordered porridge and pea sandwiches while visiting Bob Dylan.
44-20-7836-4343; 800-257-7544

Sofitel St. James London, in the theater district near Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square, is housed in the old Cox & Kings Bank building. The elegant bar is reminiscent of a traditional “Gentleman’s Club,” and its restaurant, Brasserie Roux, is popular with the theater crowd. The hotel is a three-minute stroll to St. James’ fashionable shops and 19th-century arcades.