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Rubbing Shoulders with the Royals at the Best Address in Town – St James’s:
If money is no object, where should you choose to live in London? There are a few obvious answers – Mayfair of course, Knightsbridge, Kensington or Chelsea. If you are happy to be a little further out, perhaps Hampstead, Richmond or Holland Park. But, how about rubbing shoulders with Royalty – move to St James’s and you’ll be on the doorstep of Buckingham Palace.
Once very much a business district, St James’s is increasingly becoming somewhere to come home to nest. Developments may be on sites that were previously offices or academic institutions, not known for residential property. The proximity to beautiful green spaces, to shops, restaurants and to the River make this part of London an increasingly popular area for those looking for excellent quality accommodation in the centre of town. You’ll find high-quality office and residential developments side by side with some of London’s quirkiest historic buildings like Blewcoats School -built in 1709 by a London brewer to provide education for poor children. It actually remained a school until 1926 – and as the name suggests pupils wore a distinctive blue coat. Now, it’s home to a rather upmarket wedding boutique!
May was National Walking Month so I set off to explore the area on foot and was genuinely surprised how close everything was. Even a die-hard Londoner like me sometimes doesn’t realise how accessible most of Central London is on foot. Starting at the luxurious VI Castle Lane, just a few minutes from St James’s Park tube station, I wandered a few yards up the road to Buckingham Gate.
You can’t really miss the Palace. But, it’s not until you walk up to it that you really appreciate the scale and grandeur of Buckingham Palace, built in 1703.
Did you know that you can go in during the summer? While Buckingham Palace has been the official London residence of the Kings and Queens of the UK since 1837, the State Rooms have been open to visitors every summer, in August and September when the Queen is not in residence, since 1993. Of course, you only get to see a few of the 775 rooms – but there are 19 Staterooms in total and you can also walk through the gardens (about a half-mile in total) and stop for tea at the cafe!
If the Palace itself is not open, I’d recommend taking a stroll along The Mall. You can just dream of being driven in your carriage, waving to the crowds. If you’ve ever wondered why unlike most of the streets in London it is a strange red, you might be interested to learn that it is intentional – to look like a red carpet leading to the Palace. Pop into the free to enter Mall Gallery where you’ll find quirky exhibitions and an excellent coffee shop.
Visitors to London are sometimes surprised by the amount of green space in our city centre. Buckingham Palace is surrounded by parks on three sides – Buckingham Palace Gardens, Green Park and St James’s Park. Buckingham Palace Gardens are only open to the public by ticket during August and September, but both Green Park and St James’s are free to visit and open all the year round.
One of the prettiest parks in London, the 57 acres of St James’s has a large lake running through the middle. Stand at the Buckingham Palace end and look along the lake to see Horseguards in the distance at the far end, with Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye to the right.
The view is interrupted only by the numerous birds who live there, by a stunning fountain and by what is known as the ‘blue bridge’ because the architect who built it recommended painting it blue so that it blended in with the rest of the surroundings.
The exclusive shops, restaurants and bars of Picadilly are just a stroll away across Green Park. Walk along a tree-lined avenue to find yourself in the heart of historic Piccadilly, with, for example, your own rather special grocer (Fortnum & Mason), traditional shopping in the Picadilly and Burlington arcades or men’s tailoring on Jermyn Street.
If you get tired, well, you’ll find there are plenty of opportunities to stop and sit down!
If you want to leave town in a hurry, you can walk to Victoria and be at the Airport in just half an hour thanks to the Gatwick Express. Victoria train station has great connections to the South Coast, so you could be in Brighton in just an hour! If you happen to be keen on security, well, Royal Horseguards is just across from St James’s Park and you’ll find the Ministry of Defence building just across the road from there too.
You certainly won’t go hungry. You’ll find there are plenty of options for dining – just five minutes away you can enjoy Michelin starred Indian food at Quilon for example or classic British cuisine at the Caxton Grill.
You could wander over to Green Park and enjoy more fine dining in the intimate setting of William Drabble’s 28 seater Michelin Starred restaurant, Seven Park Place.
For more casual dining there are plenty of options. I’d recommend trying Iberica, where you can enjoy a range of authentic tapas in a stunningly recreated Spanish bar. There are some rather special Japanese restaurants in the area too, like Kouzu and Umi if you are looking for Sushi!
There are no shortage of cafes and bars in the area. How about the elegant roof terrace at St Ermins Hotel, where in summer you can enjoy al-fresco cocktails.
Throughout the summer you can enjoy your afternoon tea there and it’s just as pretty indoors with the glamorous surroundings of their tea lounge. For a more casual setting, St James’s Cafe has a stunning rooftop bar where you can sip on Pimms till the sun goes down.
Downstairs, there’s a well-managed cafe serving a range of healthy salads and hot food too. It’s the perfect place to meet friends for lunch and a stroll in the park.
There are plenty of traditional pubs in the area and you’ll find a comprehensive selection of wines available by the glass at upmarket bars like M Victoria Street, which happens to have a private club too. If you start to feel hungry you’ll find they also serve excellent steak and have an extensive raw bar.
And new restaurants are opening up all the time – we love Chez Antoinette, a charming Lyonnaise style bistro restaurant near Victoria station.
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Disclosure: This post was written in conjunction with VI Castle Lane.