Like New York, London doesn’t disappoint when it comes to things to see and do. With such a melting pot of cultures and people, it’s easy to find something new in a city that still somehow seems so rooted in the past.
There’s nothing like wandering around a town like a local and discovering areas and places only the locals go. With the growing popularity of tours that do just that, we tasked Jacada Travel to show us London like a local, as the luxury travel operator has just begun tours in the city, it seemed like a good fit.
While Jacada Travel is well-known for its tours that take people from the glaciers of Iceland to the forests of Japan, London has always had a special place in founder Alex Malcom’s heart. Born and raised in the city, he has always wanted to bring the brand’s luxury, personal touring experience back to Europe. “There are just so many layers to London. It’s easy to walk around and just scratch the surface. Most of our clients will have been to London many times before, perhaps on business or even touring. So, what we can offer is a truly in-depth experience that gets you under the skin of the city,” says Malcolm.
So we took the new tour out for a test drive with Jane Petit, a former lawyer who has a close connection to our own shores, having helped open the Singapore office of law firm Clifford and Chance over 20 years ago.
The tour we embarked on was set for nine hours. Who knew that by the five hour mark we would have walked 12 kilometres? Having said that, the city is a beauty to walk in, easily going from cultural and historical, to the ultimate in luxury and retail in a second. Our tour took us from Embankment all the way up to Mayfair, passing iconic buildings, museums and shopping areas along the way.
Shopping through the centuries
We started at Embankment and walked in the direction of Trafalgar, passing by Admiralty Arch, the area which Petit says is soon to become another luxury hotel, and began our walk north towards Bond Street. We stopped to browse Burlington Arcade, London’s first shopping “mall” built in 1719.
Strolling through the arcade gives you a sense of how London’s elite must have shopped back in the day. The story goes that the owners of Burlington House (the present day Royal Academy of Art) next door, Lord George Cavendish, had the arcade built to prevent passer-bys from throwing garbage over the wall into his home. All the better for us now who can now enjoy big name brands such as Manolo Blahnik, Chanel, not to mention more unique additions such as Hancocks for jewellery and Roja Dové for perfumes in the area.
We continued our shopping expedition on Mount Street, home to a range of elegant boutiques from the likes of Jenny Packham to Dior. This elegant district with its red brick buildings and diverse interiors courtesy of brands like Roksanda and Christopher Kane is designed for a lovely stroll, whether you’re looking to make a purchase or not.
A taste of history
Crossing Bond Street we headed down a small alleyway (right beside the H&M) called St Christopher’s Place — difficult to find if you don’t know it’s there. The secretive Harry Potter feel gives way quickly to a more cosmopolitan atmosphere, with small boutiques and restaurants lining the lane until you reach Wigmore Street.
From there, we continued our walk to Manchester Square which houses the Wallace Collection — known for a showcase of French furniture and paintings done better than anywhere in France. With the works of the likes of Peter Paul Reubens as well as a world famous collection of armour, nothing can be removed or brought into the house museum as it remains the home of the collector.
From Manchester Square we returned to the present and hit up one of London’s hottest areas of the moment — Chiltern Street of the famous firehouse. While it was a little early in the days to party it up celebrity-style, we instead focused on the shops ahead including Bharti Vyas Centre, known to be one of the most famous facialists in London. The area is also known for Howarth, go-to for woodwind and brass instruments, as Skandium, a cool, sleek design store focused on Scandinavian, minimalist design.
We stopped at La Fromagerie on Moxon Street for a quick lunch and Petit explained how the area used to be a popular place for French expats in London. The restaurant/store is a local favourite and see’s a very mixed stream of people passing through its doors for access to its walk-in cheese room. The restaurant’s other claim to fame comes courtesy of designer Joe Richards, who worked at Dior Haute Couture and Lanvin before joining Phoebe Philo at Celine. The former employee has come back to the restaurant to design an apron in his signature denim featuring a dark indigo finish with herringbone cotton tapes. The aprons are made exclusively in London for La Fromagerie and are limited to just 60.
To walk off the charcuterie and cheese, we headed to Marylebone High Street to see the work that the Howard de Walden estate started. The family made a conscious effort ten years ago to give the street a more upmarket feel — which is clearly succeeded in doing. A mix of cafes and shops, you can see that the area is popular with the fashionable and trendy, out on the hunt for designer wares for the home (or themselves). Along the way we passed Cafe Caldesi, which Petit claims, has the best steak in London (and will also teach you how to make them, in their hosted cooking classes).
The art of shopping
Finally, we headed back to Embankment, our 12km round of London’s coolest neighbourhoods completed. Along the way, we pass the Royal Academy of Arts which was at the time, showcasing its Summer Exhibition. A chance for art lovers to see (and buy) works by renowned and emerging artists, the Summer Exhibition is as much an opportunity to indulge in a classy art affair as it is a shopping experience.
It might seem strange to spend a good five hours in the company of someone you barely know, but Petit was an engaging and interesting tour guide, and made the journey as much an experience as the destinations she had chosen for us to visit. Many of the shops we visited were her personal favourites, and for anyone looking to go beyond the obvious Selfridges and Harrods, these arcades and elegant streets is the way to go.
To find out more about Jacada Travel, please visit www.jacadatravel.com