I recently stayed for five nights on points at the Marriott London County Hall, having done so once before last fall. I cannot say enough about how well I was treated and most of all the spectacular upgrade to a suite. One of my windows overlooked the BA Eye, the other the Thames and Parliament. The rooms had two televisions and all the modern Marriott bedding. I ate twice at the restaurant and the staff was extraordinarily helpful and the food very good (though the menu is somewhat limited). I was also given two complimentary gifts on arrival.
If there is any downside, it is the Executive Lounge. It is minimalist. There are fruits, croissants, juices and coffee/tea for breakfast, but little else. In the evening they offer wine and beer for a price. There is a computer but the printer doesn't work (as far as I could tell from my talks with others, it hadn't during anyone's experience) and you have to go to the business center to print boarding passes, etc.
Beyond the great suite, the location is phenomenal. You can easily do the South Bank walk all the way to Tower Bridge (I wouldn't suggest the same on the Westminster side unless you walk a lot -- I did it once), passing various book markets, the Tate Modern, Southwark Cathedral along with a lot of nice pubs and restaurants.
Unless you are loaded down with luggage, don't take a taxi from Heathrow. It cost a little more than 2 pounds coming in on the line, with a change to the Jubilee Line at Green Park to Westminster. Although crossing Westminster Bridge to the County Hall can be a hassle because of so many tourists, it is not a long walk. The Heathrow express is another option. For various reasons, I took a cab coming home and it cost 66 pounds without including the tip.
Also, there's a lovely pub between Parliament and Trafalgar Square - the Red Lion - which I highly recommend.
As usual the Professor is really right.
Having had the same experiences, you are really in for a great time. The location will allow you to walk to most popular spots. I would so agree about the tube from Heathrow to CF. Avoid the express and just enjoy the ride to the Thames and walk across the bridge.
You will see pictures from my room and some of my favorites. Please use the Big Red Bus, which stops right in front of CF. For a great pub time, go over to Audley, by the US Embassy (Behind another great Marriott property, Grosvenor House,) and go the The Audley.
Have a wonderful time!
I'd also suggest a cruise on the Thames. Ideally, if they're still running, spend 3-4 hours going against the current to Hampton Court, which is amazing. You can take the train back after spending several wonderful hours there. There's currently a Henry VIII special, but I'm not sure how long it runs. Regular river cruises are fairly inexpensive and a good introduction (at least in good weather, which London has had a lot of most times I've been there recently). Greenwich is a good destination, with stops in between, though I'll always take Hampton Court. You can get good views of the Tower of London on the all year cruises that go in the 'right' direction. Do buy a special pass offered by VisitBritain.com -- you can get an Oyster pass for tube fares, free or discounted entry to the Tower of London -- an absolute must -- I will hold you to that :) -- as well as 24-48 hour on and off bus trips throughout London. Between those, you have most of your travel covered as well as lots of sightseeing.
If it's your first London trip, I'd recommend sightseeing tours that combine one or more of the following day trips: 1) Salisbury Cathedral; Stonehenge; Bath; 2) Leeds; Dover; Canterbury. I must say in regards to the latter, which I took early in the year that Leeds was disappointing in that there was only a limited amount to see and too much sightseeing alone time; by contrast Stonehenge, which so many of my colleagues told me was disappointing, was amazing. I had a great guide, which didn't hurt. Bath may be more interesting to literary and modern types than it was to me. Canterbury you can get to on your own, but a combined tour is often a good choice. Since I'd oddly never been to Windsor Castle, I booked the Windsor/Runnymede tour this recent trip. It was disappointing for me in that we didn't stop in Runnymede (1215 Magna Carta, King John) but simply passed it, but the cost of the tour actually was the admission price to Windsor and transportation and little more -- so I would say it was worth tour price.
And if you're in a ghoulish mood, take one of the better Jack the Ripper tours. I admit to taking a couple, since I teach a history of fear course, but the best was the most recent, simply www.discovery-walks.com. It's cheaper than the first tour I took at 7 pounds, which I pre-reserved from the US, and both Richard Jones, Philip and John have all written books and/or given extensive talks. And truly it's not as ghoulish as it sounds (or shouldn't be). 1888 East End London was an amalgam of incredibly interesting yet horrible/informative social history about immigration from Russia and Poland, with religious conflict with new Jewish immigrants, prostitution on a massive scale in a small area, calls of murder being so common that no one paid them heed, etc. I recommend this tour in particular, but not for the squeamish. Oddly, most of the participants seem to be women!
The museums in London are almost entirely free, which is a pleasant surprise from the continent -- especially Rome, where once or twice a year they have a free 'all museum' night and so many hundreds of thousands pack in that people give up. Frankly, in London, it's hard to find a famous museum that charges you a fee.
On a less happy note, as someone who spends most of her time on the Continent, I do not like not being able to take inside photos thanks to Her Majesty's prerogative (which one tour guide even admitted was simply to sell more books). At places like Canterbury and Southwark you can pay for photo passes, but in a lot of places like Windsor, Westminster Abbey, and Hampton Court, you are not allowed to take photographs. Anonymously, I will admit that I have deviously figured out a system of photography to elude the guards. Figure out what they look like and what they most don't want you to take pictures of, then go ahead. I got some fabulous ones from Westminster Abbey as well as Hampton Court, without confiscation.
And the Catholic Cathedral of the UK, Westminster Cathedral, near Victoria, is gorgeous. No problems with photos except at mass. It's largely based on San Marco, Venice.
Let me know if I can help. I am not a London or UK expert though I've spent some time there. France and Italy are my places.
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