The Challenge: To have as much spontaneous fun over two days in London as possible.
Armed with a bag of letters to pick out at random to direct me, here’s my guide to spending the May Bank Holiday weekend in the capital with no prior planning.
Choosing a hotel:I had the opportunity to really experience high end hotels in London and see if I could get a discount at the last minute. Looking on lastminute.com, my eye was immediately drawn to the Sofitel St James hotel just off Pall Mall.
Cost: – Usual Price: £378 (Superior Room)
Cost: – What I paid: £293
Discount: 23% off
The hotel: Understated, elegant and definitely luxurious. And the bed? Easy to get in to, difficult to get out of. There’s a gym, a spa and free Wifi as well. In the morning the breakfast was substantial; I counted at least five separate buffet tables, each one offering more food than you could ever possibly eat in one meal.
Choosing a hotel:After spending so much on a luxurious hotel stay I did have a taste for it, but not the wallet so I tried lastminute.coms Top Secret Hotels, and was very proud of the deal I got.
Cost: – Usual Price: £289 (Standard Room)
Cost: – What I paid: £172
Discount: 41% off
The hotel: After booking I found out it was the W Leicester Square. Our room had a lovely huge shower, free movies and another vast, comfy bed. Free wifi, 24/7 gym and a spa were also to hand. The luxurious modern decor of the W feels like the set of a futuristic movie. You don’t just have a light switch – oh no – you have four light switches next to each other, each one with a different preset.
Top Tip: Most of London’s attractions are within walking distance of each other, so plan a route and you’ll rarely need public transport or taxis.
Need to Know: If you do get a taxi, black cabs are by far the most expensive. Using Hailo or Uber can save you a few quid when you’re feeling a touch lazy or it’s raining outside.
Spontaneous Saving: I’m a new one to this, but Barclays (Boris) Bikes are actually really great, though they are not built for speed. This way you can see the city and find places you’d never have found otherwise.
Entertainment London Style:
Top Tip: London is without a doubt one of the world’s best cities for museums and galleries. And the best thing about most of them? They’re FREE!
West End shows: On Monday night we saw the excellent, award-winning production of Handbagged at the Vaudeville Theatre on the Strand. With lastminute.com’s ‘May Fever’ deals we managed to get tickets for next to nothing.
Budget Blown: It was raining, we happened to be back in Leicester Square and before we knew it the big, flashing lights of the cinema had pulled us in. Two hours later we re-emerged from X-Men: Days of Future Past, rejuvenated and a little bit dizzy from the 3D. Admittedly, £18 per person is steep for the cinema though.
Spontaneous Saving: Sunday’s letter was ‘F’. The lastminute.com blog came to the rescue here, suggesting The Soho Flea Market. Live music, amazing food and loads of shops selling really cool, unusual items, from T-shirts to jewellery.
‘Y’ was the letter of the day for Monday. Despite Twitter’s best efforts to help (Yachting?! Yodeling?!), by lunch I was worried that I was going to fail abysmally. Then out of nowhere came The Southbank Centre, where they were putting on ‘Yuva’ – Southern Asian music and dance in the Clore Ballroom.
Eating and drinking in London:
Pru and I started the weekend with ‘Pink Afternoon Tea’ at the 5* Radisson Blu Edwardian in Leicester Square. Set in the decadent surroundings of the lounge, for just £49 we were presented with a towering offering of cakes, macaroons, muffins, sandwiches and much more.
It might be worth booking a room here as well as you’ll probably need a sleep afterwards!
My spontaneous letter on Sunday was ‘I’.
While walking down Regent Street I remembered that tucked just behind it was the Ice Bar.
For £18 you get thirty minutes in sub-zero temperatures in a room in which nearly everything, including the glasses and the bar, are made of ice. Great fun, and nice cocktails, but thirty minutes is definitely enough.
Cheap and cheerful: The Southbank Centre had some amazing pop-up food stalls as part of their ‘Alchemy’ festival. For £6 each Pru and I both had an amazing lamb wrap with cumin, coriander, salad in a homemade chapati. Delicious.
On Sunday and Monday evenings we wanted somewhere cheap, quick and easy. We went to Maxwells in Covent Garden, which had a deal: two courses for £13.95. We tucked into vast portions of wings, ribs, steak and sides. And since it was Sunday all the drinks were happy hour prices too!
On Monday we went to a restaurant called Hi Sushi Izakaya on Catherine Street, which was ‘All you can eat’ for £19.80.
You get given a list of everything they have and tick ten things. Then when you’ve finished, you can start again…as many times as you like. By the time we’d eaten, I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to walk the 500 yards to the theatre.
Twitter help: One of the weekend’s highlights came from a very useful Tweet recommending free daily London guided walks. We were just in time to catch the 6:30pm ‘Ghost Tour’, meeting outside Embankment Tube.
Over the next two hours our guide Andrew took us on a genuinely excellent tour up towards Lincoln’s Inn Fields through tiny back streets, stopping every few minutes to tell us stories specific to that spot.
— Jamie Bezencenet (@BezencenetJamie) May 26, 2014
— Jamie Bezencenet (@BezencenetJamie) May 25, 2014
While the weather could have been a bit kinder, I think we managed to pack in a lot of cool stuff in a short time. By being brave enough to wait and “stay on the day”, I was really chuffed with the deals I got and a five star stay in London is something everyone should try once!
I’d love to hear what your perfect weekend in London would be. Get in touch by leaving a comment below, or give me some spontaneous tips on Twitter. And remember while some of the fun is in the planning, winging it can take you to places you wouldn’t think of going!