Elegant London in Winter

Vintage & Elegant London

In our continuing coverage of elegant travel, today we bring you an article about enjoying classic London in the cold months of the year. With intense heat waves striking big cities more frequently in the summer, and many attractions indoors, visiting a large city such as London in the winter has distinct appeal. Think twinkling lights, mild temperatures and a plethora of charm. Here at the Gentleman’s Gazette, we consider elegant travel to include plenty of opportunity to exercise one’s wardrobe, eat fine food, experience interesting cultural attractions, and shop.  Furthermore, elegant travel should allow one to set their own pace and be accessible to a range of budgets, tastes, and interests. Now on to London.

Big Ben & London Eye

Big Ben & London Eye

Elegant Accommodations

London is famously expensive, and accommodations are definitely the one of the biggest expenditures to consider. Famous hotels such as the Dorchester, the Lanesborough, the Goring Hotel and the St. James are opulent destinations in themselves and are well worth consideration if they suit your budget. After looking at numerous hotels, apartment rentals through companies like FlipKey, and smaller B&Bs or boutique hotels that we usually prefer, the options were all still pricey for the value. For many, the hotel is a key part of the travel experience, and while we agree, we tend to spend most of our time outside the hotel at museums and restaurants. Accommodations do need to be well located, comfortable, visually appealing, and as elegant as one’s budget will allow.

Luckily, one of our kind readers directed us to London Connection, an American firm based in Utah that owns a multitude of private properties in the core neighborhoods of London. The company has owned London properties for nearly 3 decades, and they offer a wide range of accommodations, including properties large enough to sleep 8 or more. This company offers a definite advantage for those wanting the comfort of a home, relative quiet, and a more “native” experience, while offering a range of choices under one roof. The service is also more personalized, and the staff helped direct us to a 2-bedroom, 2-bedroom Covent Garden flat that would comfortably house a couple and a friend in an energetic neighborhood close to London’s many famous sights for under $200 a night. Perfect for those that are happily self-guided (i.e. no concierge/front desk on the premises), the kitchen also allowed us to simplify some daily travel annoyances by being able to keep breakfast items, coffee, and snacks in the flat as well as do the occasional load of laundry. Reliable, uncongested WiFi was also a benefit.

Once we arrived in London, we were met by our pre-arranged driver (for an extra 55 pounds) and he took us directly to our flat. A London Connection staff member met us soon after and walked us through the flat. Other than feeling a little smaller than pictured, everything else looked exactly like the property listing showed. Once unpacked, we quickly realized that Covent Garden was packed with shops and restaurants within easy walking distance. In fact, distances between the sights and our flat were manageable to the point that we only took a cab on one occasion that week (and it wasn’t much faster than walking) and on some days, we were able to skip using the Tube entirely.

Overall, the London Connection accommodations offer much better value than many hotels or other B&B’s we could find, and the flats look much nicer.  Although our flat was priced at just under $200 a night, London Connection also offers budget options for around $100 a night as well as luxury homes with 5 bedrooms for under $600 a night. At every price point, it seems like you get much more than a hotels or B&B offer, as long as the hands-off management approach works for you, all in addition to staying in prime locations in London. It definitely saved some time, stress, and money. Altogether, we would definitely recommend looking at their rates next time you’re in London.

At the British Museum

At the British Museum

Sights

Even if you haven’t been to London, the major sights are probably not difficult to name. Once you get settled it’s nice to first have an overview before deciding where to invest your time. Given about a week in a major city, we usually like to spend a day getting oriented with a self-guided walking tour, about three days visiting the sights, about two days shopping, and finally one day at a day trip destination, mixed and matched as needed depending on the mood, weather, and energy.

Sven Raphael Schneider

Sven Raphael Schneider

Since London offers so many ways to entertain, here are a few highlights. For museums, the British Museum could easily keep a history buff occupied for a full day or more. Collections spanning from ancient to modern offer a fascinating glimpse into how human culture has evolved over the centuries. For those interested in British history, tour ancient Roman collections for a true deep dive and then proceed to the impressive Greek and Egyptian collections for a taste of modern Britain’s exploratory obsessions. The National Portrait Gallery deserves no less attention, and it is especially enjoyable for those interested in both history and art. The museum offers an interesting means of putting famous names and faces together, including the only known portrait of Shakespeare and some impressive pieces of the royal family through the years. The Gallery is also positioned conveniently on Trafalgar Square, not far from the Thames. The Tate Modern, though more sparsely hung with art, is a perfect counterpoint to the often heavy, dense art found in other major museums. Happily, most major museums are free, but they are rather large. Because of their size, you can avoid museum burn out by visiting one per day, and mixing in other classic London sights such as the Tower of London, the London Bridge, Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, Parliament Square & Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, or the famous department stores or parks. As always, choose what interests you the most.

Day Trip

For an interesting day trip, consider Blenheim Palace. It’s a splendid English country estate that is the seat of the Duke of Marlborough, and the childhood home of Winston Churchill. Though some of the exhibits in the house are a bit dated, the palace offers a fascinating view into centuries of aristocratic English heritage, the ebbs and flows of fortunes (including the famous marriage of American Consuelo Vanderbilt with the Duke of Marlborough), and the lives of the upper classes. Enjoy the spectacular grounds, painting collections, and the sheer size of the property. Start the morning at Blenheim, enjoy high tea with a view of the fountains, and then spend the afternoon exploring the quaint villages of the nearby Cotswolds. Charming towns in this region feature still active high streets lined with 500 year old Tudor and thatch roof cottages built by virtue of a booming wool trade in centuries past.   

Blenheim Palace

Dining

My guess is that many of you will agree with the statement that a vacation without good food is not a good vacation at all. While I understand that many destinations, such as an isolated national park, simply don’t have the infrastructure or proximity to offer great food, an international destination like London should overwhelm you with noteworthy choices. That being said, England doesn’t have a good reputation for food, and while many say it is improving, our experience only confirmed it. Not wanting to miss out on a traditionally English experience, we did opt for an afternoon Champagne Tea, but even that left us unimpressed (aside from the raisin scones) and out forty pounds. We gave other classic British food a try to be fair, but we can only recommend that in London you enjoy the many, many other food options that aren’t British.

The food in London was a surprise. Not only were we spoiled for choice with many restaurants within easy walking distance of our flat, but the variety of international flavors to choose from was quite deep. Furthermore, food prices were rather reasonable compared to museum entry fees and accommodations. A few recommendations:

Dishoom is hard to praise enough. With a full house even at 10:30 at night, this popular modern cafe style Indian was intensely flavorful and neatly presented. Try the Chicken Ruby and you won’t be disappointed. Covent Garden.

Pierre Victoire is a small French cafe that serves impeccable cuisine de Francais in a homey atmosphere. Expect close quarters and brusque service but with food that doesn’t disappoint.   Covent Garden.

The Library Bar at the Lanesborough Hotel

The Library Bar at the Lanesborough Hotel

Pearl Liang is a Chinese restaurant worth the jaunt. Offers a nice range of excellent Dim Sum, and the Szechuan Green Beans were an absolute highlight. Paddington.

L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon is the place to go if you like fine dining on a Michelin star level. Considering that it will take months to get a reservation at the Paris restaurant we were surprised that you could walk right in to the London outpost on a weekday, though I wouldn’t try that on a Saturday night. For a culinary experience extraordinaire, sit by the bar downstairs and watch how your food is prepared or for classic white table cloth dining, go upstairs.

If you fancy a drink in a quintessential British Upper Class environment, you can’t go wrong with the Library Bar at the Lanesborough Hotel. Currently, the hotel is undergoing renovation but it really is a splendid place to enjoy a gentlemanly drink! If you prefer a more modern ambiance, the Long Bar at the Sanderson Hotel is probably the right place for you. Expect to pay at least $20 for a standard drink but bear in mind that it is the experience that counts, not just the drink.

Ray Frensham

Ray Frensham – our Vintage London tour guide

Vintage London Shopping

Shopping in London is an absolute delight for the classic men’s clothing enthusiast, especially considering that England is “home” to many classic garments, fabrics, and cuts. Shopping ranges from true bespoke tailoring on the inimitable Savile Row to vintage shopping in the Old Spitalfields market. Gentlemanly accessories such as hats, canes, cuff jewelry, hats, ties and pocket squares are all offered by a range of new, high-quality and vintage stores. Aside from fashion, antiques, food and home design are also wide ranging and readily available. Leave plenty of time to browse! Here is a selection of interesting shops and destinations.

Since Savile Row has been well covered on the web, I decided to explore a few paths less traveled by focusing on antiques and vintage goods. I met with Ray Frensham, a fellow clothes horse who was also featured in I am Dandyand he graciously took some time to show me some of London’s hidden gems.

Hand carved canes

Hand carved canes

Antique Canes

First, we began at the rather exotic Michael German Antiques shop, which specializes in vintage canes, arms and armor. It was a pleasure to chat with the staff and I was introduced to a number interesting walking canes. In Victorian times, a cane was a gentleman’s necessity and purely decorative. As such, it wasn’t unusual to own 50 or more canes – one for every occasion. Some of them were made of rare materials such as hand carved ivory, or precious metals, cloisonné enamel, rare woods such as ebony and even stones. Because they were basically a men’s accessory like cufflinks or a tie, Victorian gentleman had specific cane cases for travelling. Today, canes are mostly a collector’s item that can be found all over the world but I have never seen such a quality selection anywhere else. Apart from intricately carved handles and stunning craftsmanship, we could also admire a rather simple cane that belonged to the always elegant Jack Buchanan. If you wear white tie with gloves and boutonniere, you may want to top off your outfit with a beautiful cane. When off duty, it can be used for decoration in an umbrella stand. Now, if you are more interested in canes, I can only recommend the book Vertical Art, which is filled with exceptional photographs of over 400 canes. To preview a few pictures, click here.

Vintage Shops

Right next door to Michael German, we visited Hornets Kensington, a vintage shop with all kinds of interesting English garments and accessories that you will likely not find outside of England. Located at 2 & 4 Kensington Church Walk , London W8 4NB this little space is packed with clothes and on the wall you can see the alleged first Barbour Cape ever made, various memorabilia, boater hats, striped blazers and hunting tailcoats in “pink” (which looks in fact red). There you can find all kinds of jackets, tweed suits, morning coats top hats and tennis sweaters  as well as all kinds of other accessories. It reminded me a lot of Rudolph Beaufays in Hamburg, Germany, but Hornets is considerably smaller.

Vintage British shoes, jackets & suits

Vintage British shoes, jackets & suits

Because of size limitations, they just opened another store that at 36b Kensington Church Street , London W8 4BX which is within 2 minutes walking distance. This store is packed with vintage men’s clothing just like the other store, which requires some digging.  If you are in the area, definitely stop by and take a look.

Hornets Storefront

Hornets Storefront

From there we took the tube to visit David Saxby in Fulham. We wrote about them in the past and it seems like their vintage section is shrinking, while the selection of new clothes is growing. When we stopped by, David was present and we had a nice chat. One of his assistants had worked at Old England in Paris before and now moved to London – you could tell that he was very passionate about men’s clothing and that they want to provide you with a garment that suits you and makes you happy. Sadly, you won’t find this kind of store very often anymore.

Flea Markets

One of the things you definitely have to visit while in London is flea markets. If you have any appreciation for antiques or vintage goods, you will love them. This time, we visited Old Spitalsfields Market where we had some Caribbean food for lunch and my wife found a beautiful fur coat for £95. I picked up a doeskin vest in camel for a few pounds. Also recommended are the Camden Passage Markets as well as Brighton & Lewes markets. If you are in town on Friday morning, definitely check out Bermondsey Antique Market, which is considered by many to be the number one antiques market in London.

Flea Market in London Spitalsfields

Flea Market in London Spitalsfields

More Vintage London

Of course, you will find all kinds of other stores in London, most of which offer fantastic products. Just think of Burlington Arcade or Piccadilly Arcade. You will find many antiques or vintage pieces. I suggest, you spend a day just strolling around London’s shopping streets and posh neighborhoods and you will come across all kinds of interesting and unique little stores. Of course, with rents being astronomically high, the items are sometimes very pricey but every once in a while you will find something inexpensive.

Final Tips

Keep a final few tips in mind. London’s damp, gloomy reputation has surely preceded it, so bring with shoes that can handle both the walking and the frequent rain. The sun also sets relatively early in the day in the winter, so concentrate outside experiences in the morning or early afternoon. Carrying an umbrella daily is a wise idea – the stereotype of the London business man with a suit and an umbrella exists for a reason! Buy a new SIM card for your phone. You can buy them at vending machines conveniently located at the exit of the airport terminal, so you can maintain a data connection for looking up attraction hours, public transportation routes, and restaurant reviews. Even if you plan on having your phone, don’t hesitate to buy a small city guide book. We’ve had good experiences with Top 10 books because they break chapters down into neighborhoods, among other reasons. Alternately, carry your tablet with you and connect with WiFi as it’s available. Since it’s Europe, carry a water bottle to avoid shelling out 2 pounds each time you’re thirsty.

What is your favorite spot or shop in London? What travel guides do you recommend and what are the best London restaurants in your opinion? Please let us know in the comments below!

Just in case you were wondering, this article was a collaborative effort of my wife, Teresa Schneider and I…

36 replies
  1. Jim Rose
    Jim Rose says:

    For the best English Breakfast or Dinner visit the Wolsey in Piccadilly be prepared to book. The decor is amazing. Finish with drinks at The American Bar at The Savoy (recently refurbished)

  2. Tauseef Farooq
    Tauseef Farooq says:

    It was nice to look at all the collection!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I wish I knew the places in London!!!!!!!!!
    have never been to England, may be one day!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Lee
    Lee says:

    You have sampled Lomdon, but there is so much more to explore. It def does not have to cost the kind of prices you paid and you can still go in style.

  4. Rob Hill
    Rob Hill says:

    A couple of hidden gems. The John Soane museum, the townhouse of an 18th century architect and the Wallace Collection. Superb paintings and a very nice restaurant. For a drink try the Zetter Townhouse in Clerkenwell. I have lived and worked in London for about forty years and I am still discovering new and interesting places.

  5. Douglas. Dopp
    Douglas. Dopp says:

    Many yeas have passed since my wife and would spend our Thanksgivings in London. However, there were two establishments always on our must list. Due to their age at the time, I feel confident that both still exist. For classic English dining, we would go to Simpsons-on-the-Strand. I would buy my suits from W. Bill where quality tailoring and service were the rule.

  6. Ed
    Ed says:

    My wife and I went to the Harrods food court and picked up several items and a bottle of wine and had a picnic in Hyde Park in June. Great people watching and the food selections at Harrods was endless.

  7. Derek Shakespeare
    Derek Shakespeare says:

    Noticeably you haven’t mentioned Portobello Road market, which has some great shops and stalls, particularly on Friday and Saturday, along with a plethora of eating places etc. Lots of antiques and curiosities for thosr who like such things

  8. Jim Hunter
    Jim Hunter says:

    Sven,

    I very much enjoyed the article. Regarding accommodations, I have found another reasonable alternative to the high cost hotels. My club in Pittsburgh has a number of reciprocal agreements with several of the London clubs, including the Lansdowne Club, the East India Club and the Oxford and Cambridge Club, all with sleeping accommodations as well as first class food and drink. On my last visit to London in September I stayed at the Lansdowne Club in the heart of Mayfair. This stay, while not as cost effective as your’s, was outstanding for the venue and the service.

    Additionally in years past I often would fly from the States on the first night, then while waiting for my connection to South Africa the following evening I would take a day room at one of the clubs (very cost effective) and pick an activity for the day, such as the National Gallery or the British Museum.

    Regards,

    Jim

  9. NCJack
    NCJack says:

    I found the hop-on/hop-off tour bus great value for dollar (pound). A good quick overview, very convenient (lots of buses and stops).

  10. Paul
    Paul says:

    Very nice article Sven! Any chance for a similar guide on Paris? I’ll be travelling there for my first time at the end of May, and it’s always good to hear different perspectives on these European cities. My apologies if I’ve missed a previous post—I searched the site and nothing relevant came up.

  11. Michael Sold
    Michael Sold says:

    Unfortunately I have to say that some of your Statements are very informative other are definetely out of date or should be corrected. As a matter of fact there is only one place on earth which can’t cook and that is your homecountry. Travelling for years around the world I must say that London and Britain at all has improved a lot in cooking ( I do not speak of those Youngsters) Simply try the fairly new Fivefieldsrestaurant.co.uk and you will be swept away by the experience where fine cuisine is available. You may also check my Ratings under Totalrescue in Tripadvisor. The translation from German to English may not represent the true aspects.

    • Sven Raphael Schneider
      Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      Hello Michael, thanks for your comment. While in England this time, I ate at 5 different restaurants in various price categories, and I was disappointed every time. It’s not like I didn’t try.
      As you may know, there is no such thing as German cuisine, because the food is very different in each state. I am from Baden Württemberg and our food is very different from Bavarian. That being said you are the first one I know to complain about German cuisine, I am certainly not the first to complain about English food, but each to his own.
      Btw, the Link you provided is not working…

      • Michael
        Michael says:

        Hello Sven
        I regret for the link. This might be working. http://www.fivefieldsrestaurant.com/ . I am also originally from BW. However food in BW lost its touch in recent 20 years and is devaluating to cheap meals and big portions. There is English Cuisne, which we barely would distinguish as the fine art of cooking. I totally agree. Despite the fact that England does want to change the European Community it received its biggest profits since the 70ies in Cuisine. Then again all those little veggie and potatoe shops vanished for big Supermarketchains displaying one or two different potatoes and less variety of English grown veggies. I would say the loss of the Continental heritage gained Britain in variety.
        Your accommodation infromation and the shop references are of great value. That is very much appreciated.
        I do like my Taylor in Savile row. For tweed suits and garments I am just trying a new address called Intweed. I will have a first fitting next week and if requested I am happy to share my experiences within this page. http://www.intweed.co.uk/tweed-clothing
        Once again I appreciate this page and I am happy that I have found it.

  12. Dan Malin
    Dan Malin says:

    Sven,

    You indeed visited some lovely places and some classic shops. I am only sorry that you didn’t enjoy the Champagne Tea but would also highly recommend the Wolseley in Piccadilly for Afternoon Tea. As for the terrible weather and the need of an umbrella may I point you in the direction of James Smith and Sons umbrella shop on New Oxford Street, a very fine and ancient umbrella and cane shop.

  13. Markku
    Markku says:

    Sven, you must have been at Spitalerfields Market at the same time as I was. Some sort of dejá-vu when I was reading your article: I also had the Caribbean food there. Great place and I recommend it to all readers. A great selection of vintage clothing.

  14. Chris
    Chris says:

    With all the rain and damp cold, it’s easy to forget all the attractions that London offers the discerning gentleman … thanks for the reminder!

  15. Reverend Richard de Meath
    Reverend Richard de Meath says:

    Thank you Sven for the tips on ‘Vintage Clothing’. I plan to travel up to London before Easter for a long weekend and shall make ‘Hornets’ a highlight of the visit. I’m especially looking for a Top Hat and replacement Dinner Suit. This is very much my neck of the woods, for I once owned a lovely Regency house right around the corner, just off Kensington Church Street. Happy days!

  16. Julián
    Julián says:

    Great article, as usual. There is a possibility I might find myself in London for New Year’s Eve, I definitely have to go to Saxby’s. If not for any other reason, then just to gawp at their pile of vintage silk toppers…
    Thank you very much for writing this.

  17. Thomas R. Leslie IV
    Thomas R. Leslie IV says:

    Wilton’s on Jermyn Street is one of the very best seafood restaurants that I have enjoyed in the world. High end , but worth it. Right in the middle of the greatest men’s shops in London.

    • Hal
      Hal says:

      A recommendation I endorse. Been there a couple of times and liked: good wine, port and sherry and a unique ambiance.

  18. Michael Gery
    Michael Gery says:

    Sven, Another great article.. Well done. Whilst visiting London I always pay a visit to the following establishments as they have a long history and many royal warrants when it comes to fine menswear.
    Anderson & Sheppard (suits), Turnbull & Asser (shirts,ties), Lock Hatters, Crocket & Jones (shoes), and for the ultimate wet shave, Geo F.Trumper. A walk around the old Burlington Arcade which runs behind Bond Street from Piccadiliy and for fine luxury leather goods and umbrellas Swaine Adeney Brigg has a world class selection.

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