What to do in London: Platinum Jubilee, Bridgerton events and more
London comes back to life. Heathrow Airport reports that March 2022 was its busiest month since the start of the pandemic, with passenger travel from North America in particular increasing by more than 60% compared to January 2022.
The uptick is linked to the UK government’s recent elimination of coronavirus restrictions, a welcome move for many travelers keen to get their fill of British culture, including unique Platinum Jubilee events and experiences based on “Bridgerton “, Netflix’s heady hit show.
“We love ‘Bridgerton’ and all things royal,” said Tasha Gelling, a Chicago-based teacher who, with her 16-year-old daughter Ruth, booked afternoon tea on their six-day trip in Britain this month. The duo also visited the Tower of London and Hyde Park, and spent an afternoon in Bath.
Even with new coronavirus variants brewing and a war raging in Ukraine, many other American travelers are planning trips to the British capital.
“London has remained the second most popular international travel destination for Americans – only behind Cancun – for recent vacation periods,” said Jen Moyse, vice president of product for TripIt, a travel planning app with 19 million users. The volume of flight bookings to London, she said, increased by 300% comparing TripIt’s booking data over the four-month period from April-July to December-March.
Some city stalwarts have closed during the pandemic. Among them: Café de Paris, West End cabaret since 1924; Le Caprice at St James’s, once a favorite haunt of Princess Diana; and the physical locations of Debenham’s, the 242-year-old department store. But across London, other cafes and shops are bustling, loads of new bars and restaurants have opened and the town squares swarm with everyday life. Many royal parks are ablaze with daffodils and teeming with picnickers, while live theater is back in the West End. The return of in-person events lends to the vibrancy of the Platinum Jubilee ‘Central Weekend’ in June, when public celebrations will mark Queen Elizabeth’s 70-year reign.
Here’s more about what’s new and noteworthy in London.
The latest in catering
It’s a testament to London’s vitality that new restaurants have managed to open and even thrive during the pandemic. One of the liveliest spots is the Sessions Arts Club in Clerkenwell, a reimagined 18th-century courthouse where crumbling artwork and dramatic decor give a whimsical patina to chef Florence Knight’s dishes. Dishes like sea bream with parsley and eel in crème fraîche are deliciously British with hints of France and Italy (dishes range from 10 to 25 pounds, or around $13 to $32).
Another new hit is KOL, Britain’s first Michelin-starred Mexican restaurant, where chef Santiago Lastra prepares dishes like pork belly carnitas with mashed cabbage. Downstairs is The Mezcaleria, which serves energetic cocktails with a focus on mezcal (six- and nine-course tasting menus are £90 and £125, with no wine or mezcal pairings; cocktails at Mezclaria are £15 ).
Vegans and meat-eaters alike might be delighted with Gauthier Soho restaurant’s pivot from classic French fine dining to fine plant-based cuisine. One dish, rice with truffle ‘cream’, offers the richness of dairy through a combination of potato and lentil starch (the tasting menu starts at £50, with no wine pairings).
When Leroy in Shoreditch embraced take-out roast chicken as a pandemic survival maneuver, the Michelin-starred restaurant might not have imagined the side hustle would evolve into a stand-alone restaurant. Now Royale sells whole or half-corn-fed Chicken d’Anjou, sides like leek vinaigrette and hazelnut parfait (whole chickens are £30, sides around £10).
In his bar Lyaness, inspired by the 1970s and facing the Thames, bartender Ryan Chetiyawardana concocts cocktails around offbeat ingredients. A springtime drink called 21st Daisy blends vodka, passion fruit and crystallized verbena with a homemade ‘Green Sauce Liqueur’ (£14.5), but this South Bank location also serves up a ‘Spirited Weekend Tea” (£55 for the full selection of teas, paired cocktails, cakes and sandwiches).
Brown’s Clocks is London’s oldest hotel, opening in 1837, but bartender Salvatore Calabrese is inventing new ways to revisit the property’s history through cocktails. The First Call pays homage to Alexander Graham Bell (who made Brown’s first phone call) with Elephant gin, pistachio pesto, verjuice, coconut syrup, egg white and white port ( £23). Another drink, the Winston – like at Churchill – is whiskey-based and spiked with coriander, lime juice and a swirl of smoke (£25).
New hotels and accommodations
In Covent Garden, New York design firm Roman and Williams has transformed a 19th-century magistrate’s court into Europe’s first nomadic hotel. Selected art and textured materials imbue the spaces with a contemporary flair and the restaurant is housed in a three-storey glass atrium (rates from £409).
Two interconnected Georgian townhouses now form the 14-suite Beaverbrook Town House in Chelsea, where Nicola Harding-designed interiors feature bold color combinations, vivid prints and fringed upholstery inspired by London’s great theaters (prices from from £495). Hotel guests can access the leafy, residents-only Cadogan Gardens, as well as enjoy “Bridgerton” themed experiences with sister property Beaverbrook Estate in Surrey.
Kingsland Locke has unveiled 124 stylish apartment-style rooms in East London’s Dalston area, with a cafe, microbrewery and kebab restaurant on the ground floor (rates from £123).
West End Deals
The lights are back in the West End with hit musicals like ‘Moulin Rouge! The Musical’ and ‘Six’, a modern chronicle of the fate of Henry VIII’s wives. There’s “Much Ado About Nothing” at the Shakespeare Globe (until October 23) and West End openings include “The Glass Menagerie” with Amy Adams (May 23-August 27) and “Prima Facie” with Jodie Comer from “Killing Eve” fame (until June 18).
Ticket prices vary for various shows, from £5 (standing room only) to around £90, and can be sold out for popular shows. Weekday tickets and matinees are cheaper and the TKTS stand in Leicester Square offers discounted daytime tickets. Note that some theaters have their own vaccine requirements, so check back to see what documentation is required for entry.
At the Victoria & Albert Museum, the exhibition “Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear” brings together historical and contemporary sets to highlight the concept of gender fluidity. Expect to see 18th century frock coats and suits worn by the Beatles to dresses sported by singer Harry Styles and drag performer Bimini Bon-Boulash (entrance to the museum is free and there is no timed entry; “Fashioning Masculinities” runs through November).
“Surrealism Beyond Borders” at the Tate Modern explores the global reach of the surrealist movement with works by lesser-known artists from Osaka, Japan, and Bogotá, Colombia, juxtaposed with paintings by Dali, Miro and Magritte (entrance free and paying at the museum and advance reservations recommended; “Surrealism Beyond Borders” runs until August).
At King’s Cross, Britain’s first museum dedicated to LGBTQ people, Queer Britain, opens May 5 with an exhibition of paintings, photographs and paintings assembled by Matthew Storey, curator of art, design and design. LGBTQ story for historic royal palaces.
The Platinum Jubilee and Other Live Events
Britain celebrates Platinum Jubilee, marking Queen Elizabeth as the first British monarch to spend 70 years on the throne, full year. But from June 2-5, events like “Trooping the Colour,” a ceremonial parade featuring 1,400 soldiers, 200 horses and 400 musicians, will take place. The parade will march from Buckingham Palace to the Mall with members of the Royal Family; other festivities this weekend include a concert at Buckingham Palace and a series of street parties.
The hotels are also celebrating. Berkeley’s ‘Prêt-à-Portea’ Jubilee Edition features Her Majesty’s most iconic looks in petit fours and other pastries (£79 pp, available May 30-June 12) and on June 5, the Connaught will throw a Jubilee street party, with an English marching band, garlands and family tables offering tea sandwiches.
Other non-royal and high-profile events welcoming spectators back are the Chelsea Flower Show (May 24-28); Royal Ascot (June 14-18) and Wimbledon (June 27-July 10) horse races.