London is always exciting, but in the run up to Christmas it takes on a special magic. Christmas lights (LED of course) shine brightly and the feeling of anticipation permeates the busy streets and bars. When it comes to staying over there is of course an overwhelming choice, but where better really than on The Strand, a step away from the chic shops of Covent Garden, with theatres galore all on your doorstep and, when the shopping becomes too much, a myriad of bars and restaurants to help you soak up some festive cheer.
The Strand Palace takes Christmas very seriously, and their multi-cultural guest list makes for a truly cosmopolitan feel. Over 30,000 visitors make their way to the hotel over the period – the equivalent of 500 packed London buses which, end-to-end would stretch for five miles! The hotel itself has had a facelift, and with a sparkling new lobby and public areas, new rooms with an Art Deco feel, and a revamped Haxells Restaurant, it’s a bright, cheery (and very comfortable) place to be.
We are there in October but can already feel the excitement building. The hotel is busy (in a nice way) and big enough that you wonder over breakfast where all the guests could possibly have appeared from. Check in is fast and efficient and our room, we discover, is one of the new ones. Decorated in a contemporary style, with touches of Art Deco which the hotel is renowned for, there’s a large bed, a vital (in my book) Nespresso machine, a vast TV and luxury White Company goodies in the ensuite shower room.
Already inspired by the hotel’s close proximity to Covent Garden, we swiftly unpacked and headed out to explore. It doesn’t matter how often you visit, simply walking the streets of London when you have the time to take it all in is absorbing. And a stroll round the cobbles of Covent Garden, poking into the many small shops and wandering through Theatreland is a treat in itself.
After enjoying a tipple or two in a cute bar we found on nearby Henrietta Street, we head back to the Strand Palace to spruce up for dinner. We’re meeting friends in the hotel’s Gin Palace bar which turns out to be a popular place. A strange mix of ‘70s decor with the now-familiar Art Deco touches works well, and we settle in to wait for our guests. It serves over 30 gins and 20 whiskeys alongside a huge cocktail list, and is the perfect place for a pre-show drink or post-show nightcap as its buzzy atmosphere lasts well into the night.
The Haxells Restaurant has just had an overhaul and so has its menu. The emphasis is on quality and the passion for provenance is clear as we scan the not-overly-complex menu. If I had one comment it would be that the lighting – as it is in so many hotel restaurants – was rather too bright, leaving the atmosphere more one of efficiency than intimacy. It didn’t really matter though, and the lights were dimmed as the evening wore on.
Breakfast is served in the same space and consists of the expected cooked British breakfast, healthier options, plus – with a nod to its many overseas guests – a smorgasbord of Scandinavian cheese and cold meats, exotic pastries, fruit and different breads. We love the fact breakfast lasts until 10.30 – so civilised when opportunities to sleep in a little later are few and far between.
Talking of sleep, despite being on the busy Strand, not a squeak came through the windows of our room and we slept peacefully and without interruption, waking only because of a pressing rugby fixture (why does The Rugby World Cup seem such a long time ago?).
A post-breakfast amble takes us down to Somerset House where preparations are underway for the Christmas ice rink, and Embankment and along the river, before we loop back via Trafalgar Square and through the now very busy Covent Garden, which only serves to emphasise the Strand Palace’s ideal location for exploring some of London’s most historic landmarks and chic shopping streets in this most cosmopolitan of cities.
Strand Palace Hotel
372 The Strand, London WC2R 0JJ
020 7379 4737