UK Hotels Make Conde Nast Traveler 16th Annual Hot List

Conde Nast Traveler, a US-based travel magazine that is famous for its exclusive hotel listings, has announced its 2012 annual May Hot List, offering its opinion on what are the hottest new hotels, spas, and restaurants for this year, with around 13 properties from the UK featuring on the list.

The magazine editors have visited 49 countries and anonymously rated new hotels, spas, and restaurants, on a range of criteria including food quality, service, ambience and amenities. The list includes seven new hotels in the UK. The 45-room ’45 Park Lane’, a part of the Dorchester Collection in London, makes it to the top of the list; followed by the 294-room Corinthia Hotel, in London; the 39-room Eccleston Square Hotel, in London; the 331-room St Ermin’s Hotel, in London; the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, in London – with 38 rooms in its historic wing and a new 207-room annex; The Pig, in Hampshire with 26 guest rooms in a seventeenth-century manor house; and the Zetter Townhouse, in London with 13 rooms.

While 35 new spas have made it to the hottest new spas of 2012, the list includes two spas from the UK, the ESPAlife at Corinthia, in the Corinthia Hotel in London; and the St Pancras Spa, at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, also in London.

The 2012 Best New Restaurants from the magazine include the London eateries the St John Restaurant; Quo Vadis; the Young Turks at Ten Bells; and Dinner by Heston Blumenthal.

The magazine, which is yet to hit the stands, will be available at the end of this month.

TripAdvisor Announces Top Five Classic Luxury Hotels in London

TripAdvisor, an online travel community offering user-generated travel information, has announced its list of top five classic luxury hotels in London, UK.

The hotels are ranked on traveller reviews, and have been winners of the 2012 Travellers’ Choice Hotel awards, which were initiated by the company.

1) The Dorchester, a classical luxury hotel located in Mayfair, London, tops the list. A hotel from the Dorchester Collection, a UK-based hotel management company, it has 250 room and 49 suites, and boasts a clientele that has included celebrities, royalty, and political leaders.

2) Claridge’s is also located in Mayfair, and its frontage is considered to be an Art Deco masterpiece. Offering 203 rooms with 67 suites, and two penthouse suites with terraces, room rates at the hotel commence from £299 per night, with breakfast and Champaign at the weekend.

3) Threadneedles Hotel is claimed to be a luxurious boutique hotel located on Threadneedle Street, London. It has 69 rooms with contemporary designs, for a nightly rate commencing at around £490. For the price visitors can experience the textures and tones of this former Victorian banking hall.

4) The Langham, a classical luxury hotel in London’s West End, has been in business since 1865. The hotel underwent its most recent facelift in 2009, for an estimated cost of £80 million, and is claimed to maintain high standards of luxurious living.

5) The Ritz London hotel is located in Piccadilly, with 133 rooms and three restaurants. The opulent Louis XVI design makes it vintage in looks and classical in ambience. At nightly rates of £500 and above, the hotel offers a choice of many promotional packages.

World Shakespeare Festival begins in April

With just 26 days to go until the launch of the World Shakespeare Festival, which begins on Monday 23rd April and runs until November 2012 as part of the London 2012 Festival, audiences can look forward to the biggest celebration of the world famous playwright ever staged. Thousands of artists from around the world will take part and anyone who wants to stay in London for the festival can book one of the London hotels on the website LondonTown.com.

It’s an ambitious project on a scale never seen before featuring collaborations with leading UK and international arts organisations and over a million tickets available for a programme which includes 23 brand new productions – 21 of which were commissioned specially for the festival. With almost 70 productions, events and exhibitions taking place across the UK, including London, the World Shakespeare Festival has something of interest for all ages and all nationalities.

In London, Shakespeare’s Globe theatre is staging Globe to Globe in which 37 of Shakespeare’s plays are performed in 37 languages in six weeks. Further highlights include Nicholas Hytner directing Simon Russell Beale in Timon of Athens at the National Theatre, Michael Attenborough directing Jonathan Pryce in King Lear at the Almeida Theatre, and Gregory Doran – who will succeed Michael Boyd as Artistic Director at the Royal Shakespeare Company, it has recently been announced – who stages a production of Julius Caesar at the Roundhouse.

Doran’s Julius Caesar is one of two Royal Shakespeare Company productions which will premiere in Stratford-upon-Avon during the summer and then transfer to London’s West End. Iqbal Khan’s Much Ado About Nothing, with Meera Syal in the leading role of Beatrice, will also transfer to the Noel Coward Theatre from August.

From 19th July, visitors to the British Museum will be treated to Staging the World, a major exhibition – complemented by a 20-part BBC Radio 4 series to be broadcast in April – which illustrates the emerging role of London as a world city 400 years ago through the perspective of Shakespeare’s plays.

There’s a grass roots aspect to the festival with over 260 amateur groups involving 7200 people (aged from 6 to 90) taking part in Open Stages, a project coordinated by the Royal Shakespeare Company and nine partner theatres. These amateur productions will be staged in castles, churches, parks and pubs, and some will perform at the RSC’s Stratford-upon-Avon home.

Thousands of teachers and young people will take also part in the festival which will create a legacy for young people through a number of projects including Worlds Together, an international conference that explores the influence of Shakespeare who is already studied by 50% of the world’s school children.

World Shakespeare Festival events are taking place across the UK, not only in London but also in Shakespeare’s home of Stratford-upon-Avon as well as Newcastle/Gateshead, Birmingham, Brighton, Wales and Scotland. For the full festival guide visit www.worldshakespearefestival.org.uk and for more information on planning a trip to London visit LondonTown.com, a useful resource for visitors and local residents with listings on everything from Shakespeare to shopping. Find and book hotels and restaurants, and discover the best festivals and events happening in London this spring and summer.

Kensington Palace now open after a £12m makeover

Following a £12million transformation, Kensington Palace has now reopened to the public. This will allow the public to view some of the palace’s private areas that have gone on display for the first time. 

There is also a special exhibition dedicated to Queen Victoria, who was born at the royal home and lived there until she was 18.

There will also be an exhibition of some of Princess Diana’s dresses and people will be able to wonder through the beautiful Queen’s State Apartments. 

The Palace’s gardens have now been opened out. Now only the original gold gates remain, the iron railings have been removed.

The grounds landscaped by Charles Bridgeman in the early 18th century, can now be seen uncluttered by railings or large trees. The statue of Queen Victoria has also been spruced up and sits in pride of place in the gardens.

Replacing the ‘Golden Gates’ as the public entrance will be the new Jubilee Garden.

Visitors will enter into ‘The White Court’ where they can view a light sculpture called Luminous Lace, which apparently replicates a royal lace pattern.

Visitors will then go on to the grand ticket office, where they can choose from four different exhibitions spanning across four centuries.

The revamp team are hoping the new look Kensington Palace will appeal to all ages and are hope visitor numbers by at least 100,000.

‘We’ve set out to awaken a sleeping beauty,’ announced Charles Mackay, the chairman of Historic Royal Palaces, the independent charity which runs the place.

Tickets will cost £14.50 for adults, £12 for concessions and children will get in free. Visit www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace

Celebrating 60 years of the Queen’s reign at Buckingham Palace

The Queen ascended to the throne on 6 February 1952 and her coronation took place on 2 June 1953. She observed her Silver Jubilee (25 years) in 1977 and her Golden Jubilee (50 years) in 2002. 2012 is a very special year indeed; it is the year of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, an extraordinary occasion. The Diamond Jubilee marks an incredible 60 years of the Queen’s reign. Make the most of this remarkable occasion.

The very first British sovereign to commemorate 50 years on the throne in a noteworthy and momentous fashion was George III. The only other British queen to observe a Diamond Jubilee was Queen Victoria in 1897. The revels of the Diamond Jubilee will focus around an extended weekend in 2012 on 2, 3, 4 and 5 June. Why not visit the UK during the festivities and take a thrilling London tour – discover just what is being planned for the Diamond Jubilee and see how you can become involved.

Even before June, many Diamond Jubilee related activities will take place both inside and outside of London. For example, the Diamond Jubilee Pageant, taking place on the 10, 11 and 13 May, promises a range of entertainment coming from musicians and dancers, as well as military and equestrian displays from all over the globe. This will all take place in the private grounds of spectacular Windsor Castle.

Similarly, there will be a Parade and Muster at Windsor on Saturday 19 May. Almost 2,500 troops from the Army, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force will march through Windsor Castle and the town before the Queen. They will then gather in the castle grounds in front of an audience of over 3,000 Armed Forces personnel, their families, and veterans for a distinctive and singular event.

A range of diverse exhibitions also mark the Queen’s Jubilee. The Royal Collection has exhibitions at Buckingham Palace, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Windsor Castle, and various other regal venues in the United Kingdom to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee. Take a Buckingham Palace tour for a truly majestic experience. Or perhaps visit Windsor Castle and marvel at ‘The Queen: Sixty Photographs for Sixty Years’ exhibition.

The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich is due to open an intriguing exhibition entitled ‘Royal River: Power, Pageantry and the Thames’ in April 2012. It will explore the affiliations between the Queen, the City of London and the River Thames. The illustrious National Portrait Gallery will display ‘The Queen: Art and Image’, a touring collection of images of the Queen. Additionally to this, the eminent Victoria and Albert Museum is showcasing a selection of portraits of The Queen by photographer Cecil Beaton, which will also tour around the UK.

Royal wedding pushes Westminster Abbey into top 10 UK attractions

Thanks to the ‘Royal Wedding effect’ Westminster Abbey has made it into the top ten most visited attractions in the UK.

Visitor numbers to the abbey have increased massively since the Royal wedding that was watched by billions of people around the globe.

The Abbey has seen a 36 per cent rise in visitor numbers since 2010, according to the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (Alva).

The 700-year-old building saw nearly 1.9 million people walk through its doors, wanting to see not only the place of the Royal Wedding but also the places many royals, poets and leaders are buried and the famous resting place of the Unknown Soldier.

The Abbey was ranked eighth in the top ten visitor attractions; the British Museum took the top spot with the National Gallery in second place.

The British Museum saw 5.84 million visitors last year, 0.01 per cent increase on last year.

The iconic Tower of London also saw an increase, up by 2.55 million on last year, whilst the national portrait gallery rose by 1.88 million.

Alva director Bernard Donoghue said: ‘The figures demonstrate that, for Brits who holidayed at home in record numbers last year, and for overseas visitors who came to the UK in record numbers last year, our iconic attractions are a ‘must see’ and a ‘must experience’.’

‘Even at a time of economic restraint, those attractions which have invested in refurbishment, new exhibitions, new marketing, new catering and retail products have seen a real return on investment and more money for the visitor economy.

‘Domestic visitors have prioritised visits to free attractions but not exclusively; they are mindful of getting value for money and experiencing great quality and they are finding plenty of examples of both.’

1.   British Museum
2.   National Gallery
3.   Tate Modern
4.   Natural History Museum
5.   Science Museum
6.   V&A
7.   Tower of London
8.   Westminster Abbey
9.   National Portrait Gallery
10. St Paul’s Cathedral

 

Coach tour of the M25 is a hit

For many drivers spending four hours sat on London’s M25 can be a frustrating experience. However there are tourists willing to spend £15 on a tour of the road.

Visitors are escorted around the ‘highlights’ of the London Orbital in this unusual coach tour. Surprisingly the tour has been so popular that extra dates have been added to meet the ‘huge’ demand. According to the Brighton and Hove Bus and Coach Company tickets had sold out for the trip along the 117 mile ring road within just two months.

The trip takes visitors to Heathrow Airport’s Terminal Five, Epping Forest, Essex’s Lakeside Shopping Centre and the Dartford River Crossing Bridge.  The driver’s route will depend on the result of a coin toss, resulting in whether the driver travels clockwise or anti-clockwise. During the tour passengers are treated to a commentary on ‘interesting facts about the motorway’s evolution’.

Passengers are encouraged to take part in the coach’s competition where travellers have to guess the distanced travelled by the coach. The winner is then treated to a bottle of champagne. Roger French, the company’s spokesman described the motorway as ‘fascinating’ and ‘ironic’. The M25 first opened in October 1986 – costing an estimated £909 million – and has been mocked as ‘Britain’s biggest car park’ due to its congestion and on-going roadwork’s.

The company’s website said: “The M25 has been named the least entertaining and most boring road in Britain over the years.

“Let us try to prove these judgements wrong with a ‘flight of fancy’ around the London Orbital”. The bus company revealed that, one of the popular attractions for tourists is the chance to see Cobham’s newest services being built in Surrey. The services are set to include a McDonald’s, KFC and a Shell garage. The lot is set to be completed by the end of the summer.

Simon Ashcroft, a spokesman for the coach firm said that the first tour – which is set to take place in March – has sold out, and new dates have been added in April and May due to ‘huge public demand’.

Article by Charlotte Greenhalgh

Queen’s Diamond Jubilee plans are revealed

As the country marks the day 60 years ago the Queen found out she would be ascending to the thrown, it has be unveiled that more than a million people are expected to line the River Thames for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee river pageant.

The celebrations will fall on the Bank Holiday weekend from June 2 to 5 will be focal point of the 2012 Jubilee celebrations. The Queen’s 60-year reign will be marked with a river pageant featuring 1,000-strong flotilla on the River Thames.

It has been predicted that at least a million people will line to river to watch the Queen’s royal barge go by.

The celebrations will not be confined to the UK, members of the Royal Family will be travelling to countries including Canada, Belize and Jamaica where the monarch is head of state, and the wider Commonwealth.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh will also be travelling around every region of the UK between March and July to visit as many people as possible.

Pageant master Adrian Evans has set an outline of the event which will see the extended Diamond Jubilee bank holiday weekend at its centre the summer.

He said: ‘We’re planning for well over a million people to congregate on the Thames bridges, on balconies and riverside properties and the river’s edge to watch the pageant and salute the Queen, resplendent on the Thames in her glittering royal barge.

‘We’ll be placing just under 50 big screens along the pageant’s route to help people get the most of the day.

‘BBC, ITV and Sky will be broadcasting the event live and distributing their feed worldwide, taking the pageant’s audience into the hundreds of millions.

‘We hope the buildings along the pageant route will dress out in appropriate jubilee style, with bunting, Union flags and red, white and blue.

‘The pageant is a once-in-a-lifetime event, one that will reclaim the Thames as a royal route.’

 

The pageant will take place on Sunday June 3 and travel under 14 road and rail bridges and will feature 20,000 people on the water.

The flotilla will be divided into 10 sections, with the music barges separating each section.

Mr Evans, the event’s pageant master, said 115 boats, which carry tourists up and down the Thames, would be included in the festivities.

He added that he was aware that boat operators would be losing a day’s trade but did not want to see the public charged excessive prices and thought that prices asked for New Year’s Eve river trips were a suitable equivalent.

Mr Evans said: ‘We don’t want them to profiteer – we think it’s inappropriate.’

Marking her 60 years on February 6, the Queen released a statement saying:

‘I am writing to thank you for the wonderful support and encouragement that you have given to me and Prince Phillip over these years,’ she wrote in a message to the nation.

‘In this special year, as I dedicate myself anew to your service, I hope that we will all be reminded of the power of togetherness and the convening strength of family, friendship and good neighborliness, examples of which I have been fortunate to see throughout my reign.’

Tourists flock to Britain to spend a record £17.7bn at tourist attractions

The UK’s place as a top tourist destination has been firmly cemented as figures reveal that foreign tourists spent a record £17.7bn in 2011.

Last year also saw a record number of visitors to the UK for holidays, rather than business trips or those visiting family, a massive 12 million people, according to the Tourism organisation VisitBritain.

Totaling a massive 30.61 million visits to the UK by overseas residents, with the majority of these visiting in the first three-quarters of 2011. This was a rise of three per cent on last year, and the highest level seen since 2008.

Last year also saw a five per cent increase on North American visitors, a total of 3.57 million. On the other hand Brits made 56.05 million visits abroad in 2011, increasing just one per cent on the previous year. And the amount they spend shrank two per cent.

VisitBritain strategy and communications director Patricia Yates said: ‘As we look back on a positive 2011 for both holiday visits and spending, we want to make sure we capitalise on these gains by helping boost jobs across the country and create a lasting tourism legacy for many years to come.

‘We are encouraged that…the number of visitors coming to Britain from North America has risen. This is significant as we earn very nearly twice as much from US visitors than we do from any other source market.’

The news came as VisitBritain’s largest advertising campaign was launched in the capital by Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

It hoes to attract a further 4.6 million tourists to the UK over the next four years, with the aim of securing an extra £2.3 billion in visitor spending.

 

‘Fantastic’ HS2 will go ahead

Today’s decision by the government to go give the green light to HS2 was greeted as “a fantastic day for the West Midlands” by business leaders in Birmingham but warned that the government must introduce legislation to start the project this year.

Jerry Blackett, chief executive of Birmingham Chamber of Commerce Group (BCCG), said HS2, part of a larger High Speed Network, would create a fundamental change to the way people travel.

He said: “This is a fantastic day for the West Midlands. However, the imperative is to press ahead with all speed because delay will simply stall the impetus that today’s announcement has given.

“The transport secretary Justine Greening has indicated that it could be another two years before Parliament even votes on the proposition. This must not been allowed to happen. Delay would be damaging for the project and it would push it into the heart of an election campaign.

“The national interest must come first and business in Birmingham urges the government to press on with HS2 now so that it does not become bogged down in unnecessary Parliamentary procedures.

“The Government must look towards not only with pressing with the London-Birmingham HS2 link but publishing a plan soon for the route of the line north of Birmingham.

“HS2 will mean it will take just 39 minutes to travel from London to Birmingham and will help erode the north south divide by drawing investment and skilled workers away from the economic stranglehold of the south east.

“With rail growing at six per cent a year, and with no sign of abating, the Chamber applauds the Secretary of State for her decision to back the only viable solution to this looming capacity crunch.

“We have the Victorian’s to thank for our current railway network and it has served us well, but we are now well into the 21st Century and it’s about time we left our mark on the UK’s railway network.”

He added that HS2 has the potential to provide a huge to boost the region’s economy by creating jobs and making it easier for businesses to access markets quickly and efficiently.  In backing HS2 today the Secretary of State will help create 22,000 jobs in the West Midlands and boost the regional economy by £1.5 billion per annum.

HS2 forms part of a larger High Speed Network that will eventually link the main cities of the UK to one another and provide a fundamental change in the way people travel.  The Birmingham Chamber of Commerce Group and the business community in general has been a vocal advocate of HS2.  Indeed a survey of Chamber members found that over 70 per cent of businesses in Birmingham and Solihull support HS2.