Share this page:
Follow Choice on Social Media:
Get the most out of life


Doing The Strand

Simon Evans takes time out to enjoy the sights during a stay on London's iconic thoroughfare

For a child from the provinces, growing up in the Sixties, London was a magical place, full of fog, beefeaters, guardsmen in funny hats and people, lots of people.

In those days, a trip to the capital was a major event, from choosing a bundle of comics to read on the train journey that seemed to last forever to the thrill of riding on the tube for the first time.

Travelling to London takes a lot less time these days- if you can dodge the strikes- but if you haven't visited for a while it can be an intimidating experience. 

Having recently suffered a family bereavement we were spending a couple of days in London to recuperate and gain some perspective on what had been a difficult few years. London is perhaps not the most obvious choice for a bout of reflection, but there is something about its constant hustle and bustle that can be exhausting, but also strangely exhilarating.

Our base was the Strand Palace Hotel, a one time art deco icon that has been welcoming visitors through its doors since 1909. Although the hotel is situated on the Strand, opposite the Savoy Theatre and its iconic hotel, our room provided a welcome sanctuary from the noise of the constant traffic outside. The hotel is an excellent, and affordable, base for exploring the many attractions of central London and with Theatreland close by it would be a good choice for anyone looking to extend a visit to one of the many nearby theatres into a weekend break. The theatre Royal, Coliseum, Lyceum and Adelhi are all just a short walk away.

For us, however, the one night stay was an opportunity to relax and take advantage of what the hotel had to offer. So after a quick freshen up it was time to sample afternoon tea in the hotel's intimate Lounge Bar.

Delicious finger sandwiches, scones with jam and clotted cream, tempting selection of cakes and pastries are accompanied bu a range of loose-leaf and herbal teas. AS £29,95 it might seem a bit steep, but this is central London,l where a Coca-Cola can set you back £15 or more, as we discovered to our cost.

A cheeky alternative to afternoon tea can be found in the stylish Gin Palace bar, where the G and Tea menu is on offer adding a cocktail twist to this British institution. The bar stocks more than 30 gins, 20 whiskies, and extensive cocktail list and a range of bar food, including fancy sharing plates. 

Then there's the New Zealand- themes Sacred Cafe, situated right on The Strand, which offers speciality teas and coffees, traditional English Breakfasts, smoothies, freshly-squeezed juices, soups, salads, sandwiches and afternoon teas with indulgent cakes.

And if, after all that, you want to keep in shape over to Covent Garden, just ten minutes away, which, on this particular summer Sunday afternoon, was buzzing with activity and thronged with tourists.

The atmosphere is quite unique, and there is usually some street entertainment to enjoy. While we were visiting Pete Anderson was performing all sorts of remarkable feats, seemingly defying the laws of gravity using nothing more than an unsupported ten foot ladder. We also took time to explore some of the quirky shops in the area, that range from the Segar and Snuff Parlour, peddling more than 200 different types of pipes, lighters and other tobacco related paraphernalia, to the Moomins shop, a must visit for the young at the heart, where you can pick up all manner of memorabilia related to Tove Jansson's lovable creations. A must visit attraction is the London Transport Museum, housed in Covent Garden piazza, which tells the story of 200 years of London's transport system.

the collection originated in the Twenties, when the London General Omnibus Company decided to preserve two Victorian horse buses and an early motorbus for future generations.

The Museum of British Transport opened in an old bus garage in Clapham,, south London, during the Sixties, before moving to Syon Park in west London in 1973 as the London Transport Collection. In 1980, the public display moved again, this ime to the Victorian Flower Marke building in Covent Garden as London Transport Museum just as the area was shaking off its past and becoming a magnet for tourists. The museum now cares for more than 450,000 items, preserving researching and acquiring objects to use in its galleries, exhibitions and other activities.

That evening we took dinner in the ~Strand Palace Hotel's Carvery and Grill, where you can sample either and a la carte menu- including such delights as roast scallops, gin and tonic cured and grilled salon, pistachio lam cutlet and grilled asparagus salad- or the Carvery, which offers a variety of salads, two roasts and all the trimmings and a choice of dessert.

We opted for the Carvery option, which at £21.50 for two courses and £26.50 for three courses,, was excellent value.

Suitably replete, we took a short post-prandial stroll down to nearby Waterloo Bridge and, with Somerset House fully illuminated, and the lights of the South Bank beckoning form the other side of the Thames, enjoyed out very own,,, magical, Waterloo sunset.

Back at the hotel we were glad to sink into the large comfortable bed in our Executive King room, which also included free wi-fi and LCD television (as do all rooms in the hotel). The room had a convenient en-suite bathroom, sitting area and a handy Nespresso machine.

The next morning,after breakfast in the Lounge Bar- a beautifully cooked full English for me and smoked salmon for my wife- we took a short ride up The Strand to busy, heaving Trafalgar Square.

If you need some respite from the hordes of tourists that gather at this national landmark then the National Gallery and adjoining national Portrait Gallery are perfect places to while away a couple of hours or more, and, even better, admission to both galleries is free, except for major loan exhibitions and some special exhibitions and events. The National Gallery has more than 2000 Western European paintings on display, dating from the Middle Ages to the 20th century and including works by Botticelli, Leonardo Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Gainsborough, Turner, Renoir and Van Gogh.

Most major developments in Western art are covered bu the important works on display in the museum and there are free guided tours, audio guides available in multiple languages and free family activities for children of all ages.

The National Portrait Galley houses the world's largest collection of personalities and faces, from the late Middle Ages to the present day, featuring many of the people who have shaped British Library, from kings and queens to musicians and film stars. Artists featured in the collection range from Holbein to Hockney.

The collection includes work across all media, from painting and sculpture to photography and video, and when we visited the portrait of The Duchess of Cambridge was, not surprisingly, attracting particular interest. you can also see Annigoni's notable 1969 portrait of Francis Bacon and striking representations of figures as diverse as Amy Winehouse, Sid James, Pail McCartney and Arthur Scargill. 

As well as the permanent displays, the National Portrait Gallery  has a wide ranging programme of exhibitions and free events, and its stunning rooftop restaurant offers spectacular views across the London skyline. The perfect way to conclude a visit to the capital that will stay long in the memory.

Have you stayed on The Strand? What did you get up to when you were there?

To keep up to date with all the latest from Choice, or if you have something you want to share with our team, follow us on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, Instagram and YouTube

Current Issue

What's new

Walks by the sea

Fred Olsen's Cruise lines for 2025

Christmas books reviews

DVD reviews

Doctor Who

Our new website - Enjoy Britain online

New CD releases

Discover Knightsbridge, London

Birdwatching and more