Serviced accommodation in London has become an increasing popular alternative to staying in hotels. In fact, it’s the fastest growing sector within the hospitality industry.

The latest figures from the GSAIR estimates there are now in excess of 1,022,984 serviced apartments worldwide (with a further 73,563 corporate housing units) in more than 13,164 locations. This compares to 826,759 apartments (with 70,300 corporate housing units) in 10,777 locations two years ago. These figures represent a significant increase in available inventory; 23.7 per cent growth compared to 10.5 per cent growth as published in the 6th edition.

But why is that?

Merino Hospitality decided to throw the spotlight on the whole topic of holiday and business accommodation choices. In particular, the pros and cons of hotel stays.

In a follow-up blog later this summer, we will look at the behaviour of hotel guests and some of the crazy and bizarre things that vacationers and business travellers get up to.

How hotels are trying to compete

The hotel industry has recognised that increasingly visitors opt for the home comforts, flexibility and privacy of serviced accommodation. This means that the big players are determined to wow them back, going all out to try to tempt people to book with them.

Ploys include creating uber chic lobbies and other public areas, adding a wide range of amenities in-house from masseuses to beauty stylists, and making dining experiences as memorable as possible.  While this is great for some with great (chic) lobbies, comes increased cost for the guest.

Another hotel development to impress guests, is the appearance of bedding menus! Yes really. You get a list of pillow and sheet options to choose from, including Egyptian cotton, linen or silk, and goose or duck down. Or how about pillows infused with lavender or camomile, or filled with water to regulate temperature?

However, for many visitors to London, having even more decisions to make is not always welcome!

Or, how about a bath butler? Some top hotels have introduced these to help guests create the perfect bathing experience. They also pass you a towel or robe when you have finished.  Apparently, some modern hotel guests are not interested in turning on their own taps and don’t mind strangers lurking while they bathe!

What are the best features of standard hotels?

To be honest, sometimes it’s the simple things that make hotel stays attractive.

In one survey by one holiday company, guests were asked to rate what they most appreciated from a hotel.

The most popular benefit on the list, was a free breakfast. Second was having a restaurant on site in general, and third was free wi-fi.

(Of course, the latter two are mute points for Merino’s many loyal guests, who know they get wi-fi as standard. And that they can prepare their own food or have meals delivered very easily.)

Next on the league table of hotel benefits, was parking and a 24-hour concierge desk. Swimming pools and bars also appeared in the top ten of things guests liked about hotel stays. Strangely free tea or coffee also made the list!

Interesting, the survey took this further and asked about in-room preferences. Guests put free Wi-Fi as the best hotel feature, followed by a shower, ample space, TV, air conditioning and then free tea and coffee. Having your room cleaned for you, premium bedding and a quality mattress also made the list.

Can serviced accommodation compete?

In case you didn’t guess, most of those things are true for serviced accommodation too, though you also get considerable additional space! On average, around 30% more room to relax in than hotel bedrooms offer.

Service apartments also generally work out a great deal more cost effective. Particularly as you enjoy well equipped kitchens, where you can prepare your own meal choices from the wonderful local produce available (for delivery) in London.  If you want to eat-in the rise of restaurant delivery services throughout London means that you can order from literally any restaurant.

For companies booking staff or business contacts into London accommodation, serviced apartments and houses can save them a huge amount over the course of a year.   They also provide a more amenable environment that is much closer to working from ‘home’.

In 2016, UK serviced apartments enjoyed 81% occupancy, which meant they outperformed hotel rooms (77.2%) There’s every reason to believe that this gap grew last year and will continue to expand in 2018.

So, I guess those free breakfasts (which you pay for in the price of your hotel anyway) are not such a big draw after all!!

What people hate about hotels

Other surveys have looked at what people DON’T like about staying in hotels.

One of the biggest complaints from experts in the industry may surprise you. Towel art! Yes really. Those swans and fans are considered by hospitality pundits to be way over the top. Fluffy, clean and luxurious towels should be placed in bathrooms, not screwed up to make cheesy sculptures.

The hospitality experts have also condemned the practice of bathtubs in bedrooms which creates unwelcome moisture and a lack of privacy.  Another complaint is the ancient practice of providing trouser presses. Who actually uses those?

Technology Allows us to Travel Farther, Easier and Faster

Technology has made it much easier for travellers to put together their own tailormade holiday experience, well ahead of travel dates.

The need to always settle for package holidays to save money and for convenience is long gone, as would-be holidaymakers can research all sorts of information online and the most cost-effective solutions.

There are now five billion mobile phones in operation globally, putting internet access at people’s fingertips. According to Google, 70% of travellers with smartphones have used them to research holiday ideas and information.   If anyone knows of any data sources around actual vacation booking statistics via a mobile, please let us know.  pr@merinohospitality.com

An ever-increasing number of those smartphone users will then go on to make a booking using their device, rather than switching to another booking mechanism.

Which is why, one in every two holiday bookings is now via mobile technology (source: booking.com)

This means that travellers can easily research everything from destination profiles, excursions, transport arrangements and so forth, right down to which is the best serviced accommodation in London.

Having this amount of information and control means holidaymakers can choose with confidence and put together highly personalised vacation experiences.

People can also vary the times of day they book their holidays. They are no longer tied to office opening hours.

According to a tourism software company Trekksoft, tour and activity websites see most traffic from searches during evenings.  You may not be surprised to learn that Sunday and Monday evenings are particularly popular for holiday research – because who likes the start of the working week!

The prediction is that internet bookings for holidays and short breaks will continue to climb. According to travel research company Phocuswright, gross bookings for online tours and attractions is set to more than double from $9 billion in 2015 to $21 billion in 2020.

Main Holidays vs Short Breaks

Not all vacation experiences are planned well ahead though, of course.

According to a Google and Phocuswright travel study in 2017, 55% of travellers take one or two major holiday each year.  These are the ones that require most thought and planning. People map out major vacations in advance, from a couple of months ahead of time, to anywhere up to a year before travel dates. Honeymoons and other once in a lifetime holidays are sometimes booked two years in advance.

The research found that short breaks are a different story.  Many travellers see these as a more spontaneous thing. Of those surveyed, 30% admitted to taking unplanned, last minute breaks inspired by promotional offers they came across.

Singles, Couples and Families – All Want Different Things…Imagine!

The main factor that determines the pattern of holiday planning, is the size of your holiday party!  Experience has taught us that planning a last minute trip for any group over 6 people will likely end in tears… Planning such a trip over long haul distances could result in far worse than tears!

Clearly, single people are likely to be in a far better position to hop on the next flight to anywhere and see where the universe and their budget takes them.

Couples are usually slightly less spontaneous, planning holidays a few weeks in advance to blend their preferences and interests.   Even in this situation both parties need to ensure that work or other factors (pets, plants etc) are in sync before ‘pushing-the-button’.

Travelling with a family often requires months of careful planning, particularly if your ‘team’ is larger than four.   For example, many hotels and transport arrangements are only suitable for keeping a group of four together.   Most family friendly holiday destinations will cater to special requirements for larger groups but always check and never assume, especially if your visiting a new culture.

Merino is a very family friendly company so we are in-tune with the trials and tribulations of moving the ‘herd’ from one place to another in as simple a manner as possible.   Merino Hospitality features our 3 bed Mews houses in Bloomsbury, central London.   Many of our family and group guests love that once they arrive in London their serviced accommodation is as spacious and agreeable as their own homes.   Hence our tagline: “Your home in central London”.

You may also be more inclined to travel with your extended family these days – such as an elderly parent in your group. Or, it’s increasingly popular to travel with another family, for twice the fun.   Wheelchair access and other safety elements are incorporated to all our properties to take any of the worry out of your stay.

Travelling with children always requires more forward thinking, no matter whether it’s one baby or a brood of moody teenagers.  For example; planning ahead enables you to find the perfect places to stay in London, close to the sort of attractions and amenities that suit the ages and preferences of any family.

Global Differences in Holiday Booking Patterns

Is there a difference in the way people from different continents book their holiday breaks?

Many of the guests that visit Merino from further afield, say North America and Asia-Pacific tend to book their serviced accommodation in London at least 6 months in advance.  Since London is super busy in the high-season (June-Sept) it makes sense to plan-in-advance to ensure you secure your desired accommodation and vacation itinerary.

However, beyond that, the differences between nationalities have largely smoothed out.   Travellers across the globe rely on the internet more, especially on mobiles, and have similar needs and aspirations.

Although vacation budgets are not increasing dramatically we are seeing a genuine willingness to invest in a quality holiday experience.

For example, people from emerging economies such as China and India are increasingly likely to save up and plan a visit to London.  Travellers from Asia are beginning to rival Americans in their love of British holidays.

In 2016, over 100,000 Chinese tourists visited London on holiday. As the exchange-rate has been favourable, that figure is likely to be larger for 2017.

Well Planned and High Cost Holidays Bring Industry Change

As holidays across such distances do involve considerable cost and planning, it’s shaping some of the changes taking place in the industry.

For example, travel industry reports show that demand for less stops on long flights is higher than ever. This is putting pressure on airlines to develop more direct flight routes*.

The world’s longest single flight was formerly by Qantas, a 17-hour non-stop journey going between Perth and London.  At the time of going to press, that had been superseded by a Singapore Airlines flight lasting 19 hours, to travel from Singapore to Newark, New Jersey.

Travellers are willing to pay the higher costs of direct flights, and other improvements, to gain a better holiday experiences.

The ‘Trade’ refers to it as the “experience economy”.  This describes people willing to plan and save for holidays that are highly memorable and involve a considerable luxury element to them.

We have considerable experience of guest staying in a Merino Serviced Accommodation who are enjoying a ‘bucket list’ vacation in London, which often includes travels to other great European destinations.

We understand that after you’ve invested both energy and money in your vacation you need it to be perfect, that is why we offer a personalised approach to your accommodation needs.   From first contact our experts will work with you to ensure your adventure in London exceeds your expectations.

The impact on Serviced Accommodation in central London

The Merino Team work hard to cater not just for the needs of today’s travellers, but also people planning holidays for the years ahead.

That’s why we have a mobile friendly booking system for our central London serviced accommodation.   We are delighted to offer discounts to those booking in advance, please ask when you enquire reservations@merinohospitality.com.

As our beautiful and uniquely designed serviced accommodation in London are so in demand, last minute bookings are scarce during the high-season. However, if the urge takes you to make a spontaneous trip to London, get in touch for the latest availability.

Otherwise, we look forward to being part of your holiday plans in the months or even years ahead!

Booking a holiday or short break is one of the greatest pleasures in life. Motivation can range from desire to “get away from it all”, to seeking new activities or experiences, stimulation and fun.
Top of the list of goals – whatever your perfect holiday looks like – is making memories to enjoy for the rest of the year. Or for a lifetime. Team Merino thought it would be interesting to review the recent state-of-play around changes in motivation and methods for booking holidays.
For example, what are the benefits of booking your holiday to England early? And how do people now research and arrange the best possible holiday for them?
We have focused primarily on leisure vacations as we know that business travel (including Bleisure travel) has very different criteria around booking and this would and should be an entire blog of its own.
Planning ahead for “bucket list” holidays 
What is clear is that holidays and short breaks are now more important than ever, in the “pressure cooker” times we live in. In an informal survey of friends and colleagues, we determined that even having a holiday booked, regardless of how far in the future; has a significant positive influence on both the quality of their life and work and overall mental state. By planning well ahead, you can savour every minute of this important break, including the joys of finding the best possible arrangements.
According to one piece of research into holiday booking trends, 45%* of people develop a “bucket list” of places they want to visit. Of those, 82%* work hard to tick another destination off their list each year.
This sort of holiday usually requires extensive pre-planning. This is rarely a “snatched” break in a busy year. Typically; a ‘bucket list’ holiday is likely to include; new places – countries, cities etc, enjoying new experiences and soaking up the local ambience with once in a lifetime activities.
If you’re planning your ‘bucket list’ vacation to London, we would suggest booking well in advance. Booking 3-6 months in advance will ensure you find the perfect central London accommodation you need, alongside tickets for the best shows and tourist attractions and table bookings at aspirational restaurants. London is a busy city if you are planning your trip during the high-season and like the idea of ‘winging it’… pack a tent.
Why come to London for your much-anticipated bucket list holiday, unless you can do it in style and comfort!

Retro holidays to the UK
Other people booking holidays in London are often motivated by nostalgia. Around 34% of holiday makers questioned in the research mentioned above spend time putting together vacations to revisit childhood magic or other previous life experience.
This could include for example, staying in central London while you journey out to theme parks and the wonderful British seaside resorts.
These days, looking backwards for holidays is sometimes part of forward thinking!
Saving money by planning holidays in advance
Economic pressures are on everyone’s mind, including the more affluent travellers.
The common rationale for booking in advance for many people is that it can mean saving money on all elements of your holidays. Even if the holiday isn’t going to be that much less expensive it will often provide the opportunity to amortize the payment over a longer period thus reducing the impact of the financial burden.
In the research referred to above, 47%* of travellers admitted that the exchange rate influences their global holiday plans. The economic climate of their destination country was felt to be important too, according to 48%* of those surveyed.
These are some of the significant advantages to booking holidays months ahead of time, if not a full year in advance.
This includes substantial savings on air fares, which tend to go up nearer to travel dates. You also have more chance of paying published prices for such things as theatre and event tickets in London, rather than inflated costs through ticket touts/scalpers.
Living like the locals
Another factor in booking holidays well ahead of time, is the modern trend for preferring a more immersive experience.
Growing numbers of travellers are realising that the best sort of holidays are not ones in which you are isolated from your surroundings. Instead, you can live with the locals to see and experience your holiday as if from their point of view.
This is why staying in serviced accommodation properties in London and other destinations is such a growing trend. In fact, around 1/3 of all travellers now prefer the option of renting serviced accommodation while on holiday rather than staying in hotels. Advances in digital accommodation solutions, like AirBnB have initially driven this change.   The resulting change in booking habits, has led to a massive increase in the serviced accommodation industry in London specifically but also globally.
While hotels will likely maintain their sway for the time being, based on amenities and on-site services; the serviced apartment/house offers the chance to immerse the traveller in the local culture while maintaining their privacy and security.
The increases in digital technology has allowed holiday bookers to visually experience their accommodation prior to booking, often taking the guesswork out of the equation. Usually with hotels, one knows what one is getting but historically that wasn’t always the case with a serviced accommodation.
AirBnB has opened the door and made serviced accommodation much more acceptable, even ‘cool’  and when combined with the digital revolution this has taken all the guesswork and existing hang-ups out of booking serviced accommodation.

(* source: booking.com).

Iconic London taxis and the complex web of this magnificent city’s Tube train system are known the world over.

However, what if you want a different way to explore the streets of London? Can you visit its array of heritage sites, glorious green spaces and head spinning selection of tourist attractions without cabs or public transport?

It’s a wonderful city for walking of course, but getting about London on foot means only focusing on one area at a time. Some of the city’s splendours are well spaced out. If you have a passion to explore London’s fashion, gardens, historic sites or literary connections for example, you will need to cover a lot of ground.

Which is why the team at Merino Hospitality has put together information on alternatives forms of transport in London. Methods to explore England’s capital in new ways, from new angles.

Bicycles

Having seen how incredibly busy London’s roads get, you may imagine that using a bike to get around the capital involves sticking to the abundant parks or taking your life in to your hands on main roads.

In fact, London’s cycle ways are excellent. As part of the city’s determination to encourage environmentally friendly transport and reduce traffic, London has created a network of safe and practical cycling routes.

This includes “cycle superhighways” – direct and quick routes around outer and central London. There are new ones planned too, to make it even more possible to cover larger parts on London by bicycle.

How do you hire a bike in London? There are numerous companies who specialise in short term bike hire, for as little as 30 minutes or for a couple of weeks.

Such is the city’s devotion to this carbon neutral transport system, there is a widespread scheme in London to enable you to select a bike from one place, then drop it off at your destination.   There are two different types of ‘systems’ for these shared bikes.

The original shared bikes employed a docking stations around the city for collection and return.  The newer versions of shared bike are ‘dockless’ meaning that you can collect them from wherever you find them and leave them when you are done.  If it’s a short trip you could pay as little as £2 but prices vary depending on where you are in the city and the length of your ride.  There are several  shared bicycle currently in London including:  Santander Bikes, Mobike, Ofo and Urbo.

Rickshaw

If you don’t want to do the leg work yourself, then one unusual and exciting way to explore London is from within a rickshaw!

This cosmopolitan city offers inspiration and activities from across the globe and that even extends to alternative transport in London. It’s a great way to support environmentally friendly London travel options and local employment too.

The city’s rickshaw operators are largely based in the West End. Their friendly (and energetic) operators can take you from A to B or provide you with rickshaw tours that feature the top London attractions.

There are even options for gourmet, comedy, Sherlock Holmes and Jack the Ripper rickshaw tours.

Note to the wise though, make sure you use a reputable rickshaw or “pedicab” company and that you agree a price in advance.   This is really important as during some times of the day and during special events Rickshaw ‘drivers’ sometimes will charge by the block!

Boats

There’s a great choice of ways to see London using its network of waterways.

One of the best ways to explore the capital in a leisurely way over a period of days, is to hire a colourful barge to meander along the 14km Regent’s Canal.

Or do you fancy something faster and more powerful?  A very popular option for stag and hen party breaks in London is the Thames Jet boat tour.

This supersonic speed boat is a powerful vessel and not for the faint hearted.  However, it offers various exhilarating options for travelling around the capital’s waterways and includes the potential for private hire. Known as “extreme sightseeing”, there is a 50-minute trip to see some of the sights while you experience a huge adrenalin rush.

You could also avoid congestion and join commuters and tourists on the Thames Clippers river bus service.  They are relatively fast-moving boats that run regular services from such places at Canary Wharf, Tower Hill and London Bridge. These streamlined vessels offer a range of additional services including audio tour guides about riverside sights, free Wi Fi and onboard refreshments.

London from the sky

As London has a series of airports and plenty of helipads, it’s also possible to get around the city via the sky; either pleasure flights or super speedy commuting.  Helicopters can land at specific areas in central London and can provide a brilliant alternative for those looking for a truly memorable experience.

This includes options to see the main London sights from a new angle. Or, Helicopter experience tours that travel outwards to beautiful English countryside such as Buckinghamshire too.

This can be a group activity or there are companies offering private helicopter charters too. There are also hot air balloon companies operating in and around London for those who are really not in a hurry and but want a top-down experience.

Horse Drawn Carriages

Some of London’s parks and green spaces still clearly show the wide avenues reserved for lone horse riders and horses and carriages to travel – or simply parade – in days gone by.

Exploring London in this gentle, romantic fashion is still possible and enjoyable.

Horse drawn carriage companies operate in and around several Royal Parks in London. There is even one in Richmond Park that involves being pulled along by magnificent Shire horses.

There are also options that take you on a leisurely tour of top attractions such as Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye. You can even pull up at the doors of the world-famous Harrods in a horse drawn carriage.

Segway Tours

How about zooming (safely) around on a highly manoeuvrable and fun Segway?

These two wheeled, self-balancing motorised scooters are springing up in cities and tourist destinations across the globe, and London is no exception.

There are several companies and places in London you can hire Segway’s from. This includes a chance to ride around the beautiful Battersea Park or Alexandra Palace, after some training and safety guidance.   These tours are all conducted off the streets and safety is paramount.

As Segway tours are done in small groups, if you are exploring London on your own or as a couple, you will need to be ready to share your adventure with other people.

The Emirates Airline Cable Cars

Okay, so you don’t get far in London using this form of transport, but you do enjoy the most incredible views of the city as you glide through the air.

The Emirates Airline is the city’s only cable car system. It connects the two sides of the River Thames at the Royal Victoria Docks and the Greenwich Peninsula.

One of its aims was to ease river congestion and get people across the water quickly.    This is a great way to see London from a height but without the expense of other methods and can be included into your ‘London Experience’.   For first time visitors to London it provides an eagle’s eye view of major regeneration projects in the city and some of the best known sights, including the Cutty Sark, Royal Observatory, Thames Barrier and O2 Arena. It’s also definitely transport with a difference!

If you have any questions about these exciting methods of enjoying London or anything else about your upcoming visit, please don’t hesiate to ask anyone on Team Merino, we are all trained and ready to help you make your trip the best trip!

 

What could be better, when staying in London for business or pleasure, than al fresco dining in one of the capital’s abundant picnic spots.

This is a quintessential English experience.

Which means your picnic is best served from a wicker basket, on a tartan rug and should include fine finger food and chilled beverages.

Curled up sandwiches and a flask of British “bricklayers tea” will not suffice. A true English picnic should be brimming with delicious morsels, as carefully prepared as any in-door culinary extravaganza.

There are blogs elsewhere on Merino Hospitality’s website to help you to narrow down a great location for a picnic in London, including the city’s stunning royal parks and hidden gardens. But what should you include in a London picnic to make your meal a special occasion?

You may be delighted to learn that if you are enjoying a relaxed break in central London accommodation, there are plenty of places to buy a ready-made picnic. Complete with a wicker basket to keep!

Fortum and Mason Hamper

If you want a London luxury picnic that will be an unforgettable feast, then look no further than this world-famous store.

A Fortum and Mason picnic hamper could include the “ultimate banquet” for £320, which includes caviar, lobster, beef wellington, handmade chocolates and fine wine. Even the lovely picnic rug, seasoning shakers and glasses are provided.

Fortum and Mason also have a range of less costly hampers too, including a signature cool bag with containing a champagne and strawberries ramblers picnic for one.

Harrods Hamper

Of course, globally renown store Harrods also offers hampers of top notch food for picnic pleasure in London. This includes options to select your own contents from the unmissably wonderful Harrods food hall, with its banquet of world delicacies and delights.

Deli Delivery

Staying in serviced accommodation in central London also puts you close to a smorgasbord of wonderful deli shops, many of which deliver. You could select your own delicious finger food for your picnic, whether its luxury delicacies, sushi, vegan cuisine or even a detox feast in the fresh air.

Local produce

If you are staying in well-equipped and centrally located Merino Hospitality accommodation, you also have a great selection of shops and markets selling fresh produce nearby. That means you can start the fun by compiling your picnic in your kitchen.

There are several London shops that sell picnic supplies; wicker baskets, cool boxes and picnic cutlery and plates.  This includes John Lewis, a retailer offering a great selection of picnic equipment including a handy rucksack for if you want to explore London before you break for lunch.

Traditional Picnic food ideas

When putting together your own London picnic feast you might want to include some traditional British favourites.

Scotch eggs are boiled eggs surrounded in sausage meat and then seasoned bread-crumbs.  These British delicacies really have to be experienced while you are in London.   You won’t find these savoury treats anywhere else.

The British love their pies too – often meat ones like steak’n’Guinness – covered in a shortcrust or puff pastry. Mini pies are perfect picnic nibbles. Or you could include mini Cornish Pasties – a semi-oval meat and vegetable favourite and another uniquely British snackable food.

For dessert there are few sweet treats more iconically English than fresh strawberries and cream.

For a wonderful history of picnics and more inspiration, the BBC has compiled lots of interesting information here.

Picnic Hacks

Let’s face it picnics can be tough, there are so many different components that need to align in order to ensure success.   Once you decided on your picnic kit and established that the weather will be sufficient you still have to deal with insects, potential injuries, food storage etc etc anyone of these can impact the success of your picnic.   We ran a quick poll around the office and came up with these ‘hacks’ that I hope you might find helpful.

    1. Dips always go down well at a picnic and can be stored in seal tight jars in your picnic basket, then served with strips of cucumber, carrots and pepper. Jars are also handy for mini personal salads or desserts.
    2. To avoid having a sharp knife (avoid accidents!), pre-slice apples, cheese, watermelon and so on, then seal them in plastic boxes in a cool bag to stay fresh.  The image below demonstrates a great way to keep apples fresh but easily handled by everyone.

    1. Mason jars are great for no spill drinking glasses or to seal up chopped items too.
    2. Put soft drinks or water in the freezer the night before your picnic. Then when you put them in your basket or bag, they not only stay refreshingly cold they also help to keep the rest of your food chilled.
    3. Frozen grapes are great to have along, to pop in to your fizzy wine. Not to be used in children’s drinks though, as they represent a chocking hazard.
    4. England – just like everywhere – does feature pesky insects. So, take cupcake cases to slip on top of drinks glasses and some handy netting or a paper cloth to place over your food spread. Shops in London also sell food covers – pyramid or domed shaped devices to protect food when you are outdoors.
    5. If you are worried about being overwhelmed by fly’s another great trick is to add 4-5 tarnished pennies to a glass of water (or 3) and place around the food.  It requires a PHD to understand ‘why’ but it works so that’s all that matters.
    6. Use wax paper and kitchen cord to bind sandwiches and hotdogs to ensure they don’t fall apart en route.  This is especially handy for baguettes.
    7. Muffin cooking trays can be quite handy for transporting and serving things like devilled eggs or condiments for burgers or hotdogs.

  1. Pop some baby wipes in your picnic bag and antiseptic hand gel, to cope with sticky fingers and to clean up children before they sit to eat.
  2. If there is a chance the grass may be damp (and there are no handy picnic tables) opt for a plastic backed picnic rug. Or take along a separate plastic sheet to place on the ground.   Ironically a shower curtain works brilliantly for this and they are easy to find.

London’s Hidden Gardens

May 30th, 2018

England’s capital city is richly served by a tapestry of beautifully designed and maintained Royal Parks. It also has many other natural spaces, meaning that around 47% of London is green!

One organisation has even put a value on this “priceless” green space. Apparently, London’s parks and other pockets of greenery have the equivalent of £91 billion of economic value.  That’s because they are so important to health, social resilience and tourism.

For many London visitors, the joy is to journey on roads less travelled, to find the city’s hidden gardens.

Random Beautiful Flower

Here are just six of London’s green spaces that generally only locals know about.

Chelsea Physic Garden

This intriguing title refers to a little oasis of calm and tranquillity tucked behind walls, on the banks of the River Thames. It’s the oldest botanic garden in London and home to over 5,000 species of medicinal, edible and herbal plants.

The original purpose – when it was planted in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries – was to teach apprentices which plants healed and which ones poisoned. Being by the river meant plants from around the world could be transported there easily.

This makes it a fascinating spot for anyone interested in gardening, but also wonderfully soothing as a hidden green space too.

Phoenix Garden 

This is also away from the busier routes and locations, providing the perfect spot for quiet contemplation or a relaxed picnic.

It is situated off Charing Cross Road, so it is popular for lunch time breaks from nearby offices. However, its lovingly maintained conservation makes it a wonderful green retreat for everyone to enjoy. You can even hire it for private parties.

Camley Street Natural Park

This urban oasis of plant life is currently the subject of major investment and will be re-opened in Spring 2019 with a brand new visitor centre.

It will be well worth a visit during your London holiday or business trip next year.  Sandwiched between two of London’s busiest railway stations and the Regent’s Canal, Camley Street Natural Park provides a patchwork woodland, grassland and wetland habitats. It includes ponds, reedbeds and marshes teeming with wildlife – including butterflies and birds.

Japanese Roof Garden

Okay so this one is not so much green space, as tranquillity space.

As you wander the city’s wonderful streets, you will be largely unaware of the glorious gardens above your head. Londoners have been creative in carving themselves space to relax and breathe on hotel, office and apartment buildings.

The Japanese Roof Garden at SOAS University of London is the perfect example.  A short walk from Merino’s colonnade properties.

On the garden’s granite water feature is the character for Forgiveness, which is the theme of this beguiling spot.  It was crafted by using Japanese garden design ideas, adapted to thrive in the British climate.

It’s a wonderful place to visit for meditation while in London. It also houses artistic activities for its neighbouring Brunei Gallery and outdoor theatre performances.

Rembrandt Gardens

Continuing the link between nature and art, the Rembrandt Gardens in Little Venice are well worth a visit too. One of the attractions is well thought out seating, that provides the perfect vantage point for a picturesque canal side.

This decades old green space has delighted locals for some years, but it gained its current name and some interesting tulip plants in 1975, when the City of Westminster was linked with the City of Amsterdam in Holland.

St. Mary’s Secret Garden

With a title like that, this beautiful and accessible community garden had to be on the list.

One of the things that makes this spot in Hackney, London, so special though, is that it is lovingly maintained by gardeners who have special needs. It is also a safe, friendly place for people in the local community to enjoy inclusion, alongside the joys of gardening.

Random Beautiful Flower

For more local information and insights, please contact the team at Merino Hospitality.  We are always happy to share out knowledge and love of the city, with guests at our discrete and private serviced accommodation in central London.

The world’s most prestigious and colourful horticultural event is only days away.

Once again, the RHS Chelsea Flower Show is set to bedazzle visitors with a vast array of floral displays and innovative gardening ideas.

From Tuesday May 22nd to Saturday May 26th, tens of thousands of people will flock to this part of London to wander amongst the fabulous exhibits, take part in Gardening Question Time and pick up the best tips and products for their own outdoor projects.

There will be 500 exhibitors and landscapes on the 23-acre site, including Show Gardens, Artisan Gardens and Fresh Gardens. The Great Pavilion will house around 300 displays and stands.

So how did the Royal Horticultural Society nurture and grow the Chelsea Flower show, into this globally recognised event?

 Seeds are sown

The origins of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show were a one tent event in 1862, in the organisation’s garden in Kensington. Known as the Great Spring Show, it proved a hit and recorded a £88 profit.

The show became an annual fixture, and in 1913 moved to the grounds of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, to acquire more space.

This much anticipated event for gardeners and horticulturists continued during the First World War. However, it was forced to halt some years later, when The Second World War meant the land was needed as an anti-aircraft site.

The Chelsea Flower Show resumed in 1947 and gradually grew to be the wonderous event it is now.

Floral facts

There are many interesting anecdotes and kernels of information branching off with the Chelsea Flower Show.

One is that “shows of flowers” only started to appear from 1948! Until then it was planted gardens then everyone came to look at.

The focal point of the event is the fabulous Pavilion – large enough to house 500 London buses – which officially opened in 2000. Before that, the show was supported by what was officially recognised in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest tent. Once it became redundant, the tent was recycled in to 7,000 aprons, bags and jackets.

And did you know that gnomes are a “no-go” at the Chelsea Flower Show? Exhibitors have been known to sneak them in and hide them in their foliage.

London is packed full of cultural experiences and is home to some of the world’s most visited and admired museums.

Within stunning buildings, it beautifully presents vast curated collections of items from every era and culture.  Many smaller venue display quirky and specialist artefacts too. This brings the total number of museums in London to well over 170!

They range from the traditional and historic, to snapshots of social history, and to windows into contemporary arts. Some are free and let’s be honest, some are just plain weird!

However, even on the rainiest and coldest days, London has an incredible undercover world for you to explore, within its globally significant museums.

British Museum

No list of ten best museums would be complete without this incredible institution up at the top.

A vast collection of ancient treasures and items with immeasurable cultural significance puts the British Museum high on the “to do” list for millions of London visitors each year.

It’s collections are from across the world and all of time; specimens and antiquities that are unique and unmissable. It’s magnificent glass-roofed Great Court connects you to a series of galleries divided in to historical periods and geographic locations such as Ancient Egypt and The Roman Empire.

One of the key features of the enthralling experience of visiting the British Museum is that it is – and always has been – free of charge.

 V & A

Formally more often referred to as the Victoria & Albert Museum, this Knightsbridge institution is famous across the globe. It houses what is widely believed to be the world’s largest collection of decorative art, design, fashion and textiles.

Well informed and patient staff can help guide you through its 150 grand galleries, spread decoratively across seven floors.  You could find both the historical significance and contemporary context for interior design, clothing and the world of art.

The V&A offers 2.3 million items to look at, so it may take all day! Fortunately, you can break up your browsing with superb refreshment facilities and a particularly tempting shop.

Natural History Museum

Another of London’s most talked about and visited museums, this is one of the most family friendly and interactive visitor attractions in the capital.

Free to enter, the Natural History Museum offers 36 galleries containing a mind blowing 80 million individual items.  This is animal, plant, fossil, rock and mineral specimens from every part of the globe.

It includes everything from the world’s largest collection of coloured diamonds, to highly impressive dinosaur skeletons that will enrapture most children.  There is also ‘Archie’ one of rarest creatures on earth the giant squid and don’t miss the earthquake simulator!

Tate Modern

Even approaching this iconic riverside structure can be uplifting and inspirational. Step inside the architecturally fascinating building and you can soak up the wonders of contemporary art collections from the great and the magnificent.

The Turbine Hall has hosted some of the world’s most memorable and acclaimed works of contemporary art. And the way artists have interpreted this vast industrial space has revolutionised public perceptions of contemporary art in the twenty-first century.”

The free permanent collection housed at Tate Modern includes pieces by the likes of Warhol, Dalí and Hockney, to name but a few.  A visit puts you up close to 800 works of art by artists from more than 50 different countries.

It will be no surprise that five million London visitors pass through the doors of Tate Modern London each year.

National Gallery

If you prefer your art to be a touch more traditional than modern, then the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square offers you 2,300 curated works from world renowned artists such Michelangelo, da Vinci, van Gogh, Rembrandt, Turner, Matisse, Picasso, and Cézanne.

Once more, you may be surprised to find that this world class art museum is free to enter.

The National Gallery also provides a year-round programme of events and concerts, special exhibitions and workshops for those who like to dabble in art creation themselves.

Museum of Brands

There are people who would argue that just as significant in art terms is the creative and innovative imagery and wording used in packaging and advertising through the ages.

Which is why just a few minutes’ walk away from the world-famous Portobello Road Market, you can find this incredible treasure trove of brand, packaging and advertising memories.

It is particularly perfect if you are a fan of retro designs or you love soaking up some nostalgia about your childhood influences.  The Museum of Brands includes product promotional materials from Rimmel cosmetics in the 1890s, First World War food products, 1930s chocolate bars to the must-have toys of the 1970s.

It’s also great fun on a visit to marvel at how politically incorrect advertising used to be too!

Magic Circle Museum

This is one lesser known London museum that can truly be described as offering a magical experience.  Any budding magicians or even those with a slight interest in magic will love the Magic Circle Museum.

While still protecting its secrets and ancient arts, The Magic Circle has curated a fascinating collection of equipment, gadgets, gizmos and historical reference material. It also includes profiles of some of greatest magicians through the years, bringing their entertainment credentials to life. For example, you can see handcuffs used by the world-renowned Harry Houdini but also listen to his voice, recorded for posterity.

Bookings for the “house of 1,000 secrets” museum are by appointment only.

Grants Zoological Museum

Have you ever wondered what 50 Moles look like preserved in a jar?  Or perhaps why scientists used to store specimens in this fashion.  The answers and a treasure trove of other brilliant – slightly macabre – spectacles await for example: The Negus Collection of Bisected Heads, African python skeletons, The Brain Collection and so much more.

The Micrarium is somewhere to come and explore some of the 20,000 microscope slides at the Grant Museum.  Ironically most ‘life’ is smaller than your thumb, Grants Museum felt that the tiny wasn’t being properly represented in modern museums so they converted an old office/storeroom into a lovely back-lit cave displaying 2,323 of the tiniest specimens in the collection.

Flying lizards, giant starfish, duck-billed platypuses, thorny devils and spiny anteaters, the Grant Museum is home to some Weird and Wonderful Wildlife.

There is a myriad of fun and structured activities for families or adults in groups including ‘Creature Creations‘ when families can flex their creativity muscles by designing and building creatures using paper, markers, scissors and glue.

A great experience for kids and the eternally curious alike.

Freud Museum

Perhaps your historical interest extends more to mental health than surgical prowess.  This is also a great stop off if you are just curious about how people lived in the past.  A visit to the former Hampstead home of the father of psychoanalysis is fascinating.  Although the visit would require a day trip from London, for those interested in Freudian psychology this is a must!

The museum boast a brilliant collection of photo take by and of Freud and his family as well as his library and examples of his collection of antiquities.

The Freud Museum is packed with family memorabilia and antiques. This includes Freud’s writing desk and of course his iconic Berggasse psychoanalytic couch.

Ragged School Museum

For another window in to the past and social history, this lesser known museum is another interesting option. Children will find it particularly great to contrast education now with the past.

This canal side structure used to be the largest “free” school in London. Also known as “ragged schools”, these establishments were the brainchild of Thomas Barnardo, the medical philanthropist who founded the UK children’s charity Barnardos.

A visit to this former warehouse then school shows you not just the history of that movement, but also the general harsh reality of life in London’s East End during the Victorian era.

You can even join in a Victorian school lesson, to get a true historical perspective. But fortunately, no whips or canes are allowed.

If you would like to know more about any of the capital’s 170 plus museums in preparation for staying in our quality serviced accommodation in London, contact Merino Hospitality. We are always happy to provide information to make your stay here an unforgettable part of your personal history.

Museums At Night is an annual UK-wide celebration of the education and entertainment packed in to these invaluable buildings. The original goal was to diversify the museums and offer a more ‘adults only’ experience but this was quickly expanded to include activities for all ages and some specific family events, like Regents Park open theatre performance of Peter Pan.  It’s particularly significant in London, as the city boasts an incredible array of institutions with collections of artefacts and memorabilia stretching back through millions of years.

The Museums At Night festival is being held this year from 16th – 19th of May and includes invitations to explore some of amazing collections housed in London late in to the evening, including many that are completely free of charge.  By combining elements of childhood education with wonderful architecture and specialist activities there is something for everyone.

Museums At Night includes special events and projects to make the festival even more attractive to visitors of all ages and interests. This includes meet and greet sessions with resident artists in some of the hallowed museums of art, and opportunities to see behind the scenes at methodology for curating world famous collections.

The project is run by a charity We Are Culture24 which works tirelessly to bring people closer to culture through innovative and exclusive events and festivals.   “We are a small and dynamic team of writers, thinkers, producers and publishers who love arts and culture, understand digital and believe that cultural organisations have a vital place in a better world.”

The Merino Hospitality team thought this was the perfect opportunity to add a review of some of the best – and quirkiest – museums to our library of lively visitor information for London.   Stay tuned to next week’s blog for this list.

Remember though, it’s all a matter of personal taste. The trick is to find the one that most interests you. If you decide to come to London for Museum At Night you can make your own mind up which fascinating London establishment makes your top ten.

Just like our beautifully furnished serviced accommodation in London, the capital’s museums are always being updated and improved, so why not make a return visit to a long-standing favourite?  The festival also offers the opportunity to explore eclectic Museums all over the country.   What a great reason for a day-trip out of London.

Incidentally, if you wanted to see one of the locations for the film “A Night at the Museum”, then head to The British Museum.

In the video below you can find out more about how you can move from side to side in the English capital. We have also added some extra tips to the information provided from sources like: Visit London and London & Partners that should help you in making the most of your time in the English capital.

 

1 – When visiting any city for the first time, it is perfectly understandable that one might feel intimidated in using its public transport network.  The London public transport network currently consists of Trains, Tubes, Buses, Boats & Bikes!  London offers a very comprehensive public transportation system and by combining the different modes of transport you will never find yourself sitting in a traffic jam in the middle of town!  There are overland trains, underground tubes, double decker buses, commuter boats and public hire bikes.   Each mode of transport is designed for ease of use so there you can always ‘go another way’.   Using the Thames Clipper is a great way to see the city from a unique perspective -the river Thames – and is really quick and comfortable.  Key to ensuring your ease of travel is understanding the different payment methods.   London currently has a complete listing for travel payment options at Transport for London (TFL).

 

One of the best and simplest forms of payment is an Oyster Card there is also the option of using: an NFC-enabled bank card, Apple Pay and Google Pay. While contactless may be the easiest it is worthwhile to confirm that your cards and phone app is compatible to avoid any embarrassment at the ticket barriers.  It is possible to pre-order your visitor Oyster card online so you can have it to hand right from the beginning of your trip – this is especially useful if you plan to get from the airport (Heathrow) to the city by tube.  If you prefer to play ‘fast and loose’ you can get one at any ticket booth (tube or train stations) within a tube stations around the city and recharge it with financial credits (Top-up) at any of the ticket machines located on the network.

 

It is worth noting that cash payments are not accepted on buses, so make sure that you top-up your Oyster if you want to hop on a Thames Clipper, London bus, Train or Tube. The tube can get very muggy and sticky on hot days, especially during peak (rush) hours.   This really depends on where you are in town, the direction you are travelling and which tube line you are using. Buses often benefit from their own exclusive lanes throughout the city making them more effective in traffic and you can at least take in some of the beautiful scenery London has to offer.  Although buses don’t have air-conditioning with the windows open they are usually quite comfortable outside peak-time usage.

 

2 – When travelling throughout the transport network, stand to the right-hand side of escalators, keeping the left clear for those in a hurry.  This is especially important when traveling down escalators and is implied on stairways as well.   Be aware of others coming up beside you as people may be moving quickly.

 

3 – If you have a question, we will be happy to help! Londoners are usually extremely reserved and unlikely to start a random chit-chat with a stranger.   One of the interesting pecidillos about London is that for a major global city it is extremely quiet, most North Americans are stunned at the tranquillity of the city centre.  Most Londoners can be found engrossed in their phones during travel but as a tourist you are entitled to a “guilt-free pass” so take advantage of it.  Choose carefully and identify yourself as a tourist for best results.   It is probably a good idea to download a mapping app on your phone to get your bearings. Our personal favourites are Citymapper or GoogleMaps.   You should also be aware that Londoners may not engage at all and don’t be offended just choose carefully and make sure you let your ‘target’ know you are not a local.  Sometimes having a foreign accent isn’t sufficient don’t be afraid to mentioning that you are just visiting.

 

4 – As expected in a busy city such as London, queues are everywhere! (queue = line-up). Don’t be surprised to find people even queueing at a bus stop and politely awaiting their turn into the bus. Tourist attractions are especially prone to long waiting times. If you wish to avoid some of these queues, depending on which attractions you wish to visit, is worth looking into getting a London Pass. This combines entrances for various attractions at discounted rates (and even fast track entry at some of them), and other special offers.  The other option would be to sign up with a concierge service for your stay if you are interested in getting access to some great clubs, bars, west-end shows and restaurants.   We partner with Innerplace Concierge.

 

5 – It is worth checking in advance of your trip for any special events happening in London during the dates of your stay. You might not only get more than what you expected from your visit but it will also prevent potential disappointments, as certain places might experience closures and other disruptions that might have a negative impact in your enjoyment.  There are rarely any events that will cause more than 1 day’s disruption to travel around the city.   Even during the London marathon all the tube lines are running so it’s generally only surface movement that is limited.   Another great reason to check for special events is that very often you can pre-register or book tickets and experience something that wouldn’t normally be available to all but the most canny tourists.

 

6 – Quick maths lesson: 1 Pint = 20oz ≈ 0.57L  If you are a light drinker, it is probably well worth keeping that in mind before you order a new round.  For drivers 1 pint = 2 units of alcohol so just one pint can be enough to take you over the legal drink/drive limit.  As a tradition, most pubs will ring a bell at the bar announcing that it is time for “last call” as last orders are being served. Each establishment has a license granted by the government that allows them to serve alcohol up until a certain time, historically that has been 11pm for pubs but these licenses can be extended and often are.  Most pubs will close at 2300 Sunday – Wednesday but most now have extended hours for other days, check at the bar for more information about your favourite ‘watering hole’.   All clubs or discos are licensed into the small hours so you can dance the night away!

 

 

7 – London offers a plethora of free guided walks . London is a city where you can comfortably walk around, particularly within Central London. For instance, our mews houses  have, on a 20-minute walking radius, most attractions and landmarks including King’s Cross/St Pancras International stationBritish MuseumBritish LibrarySt Paul’s CathedralThe CityTheatrelandCharles Dickens MuseumThe Foundling MuseumCovent GardenSohoChinatownLeicester SquarePiccadilly CircusOxford StreetRegent StreetBond Streetthe StrandSouthbank CentreNational TheatreThe National GallerySomerset HouseRoyal Opera HouseRoyal Courts of Justice and Madame Tussauds just to mention but a few. As scientists have found, just a 20-minute daily stroll can considerably improve your health!

 

8 – Cycling certainly is fun but please remember that London is a very busy city and the traffic is dangerous, especially for cyclists. You can hire Santander bikes all across the city for only £2/day and have as many 30-minute cycles as you want.  These ‘nearly’ free bikes are a great way to see London and get around town.   With docking stations located all over the city you can plan and combine trains, bikes and boats.

 

9 – In London and the United Kingdom we drive on the left-side of the road so please keep your eyes peeled for oncoming traffic and, when in doubt, always look both ways just to be sure it is safe to cross.  For people visiting from North America you need to understand that you are forgoing your pedestrian rights.   In principle, pedestrians have the priority over vehicles only at zebra crossings and the vast majority of drivers will stop for you.  We would recommend waiting for the driver to acknowledge your presence and come to a full stop before you proceed. According to the UK Department of Transport there were 3,449 reported pedestrian casualties in 2013 on pedestrian crossings, refuge or central island, and another 2,356 casualties within 50 metres of a pedestrian crossing. London is one of the busiest cities in the world, so naturally things can get ugly so please take care out there and look after your children.

 

10 – Think outside the box. London has so many different things, off the beaten path places and activities, that whilst sticking just to the traditional and most well-known attractions is a guarantee of a good time, the little secrets the city has to offer will give you an unique perspective of this amazing and vibrant city.  In the days and weeks before your visit we would always suggest that you spend some time investigating the latest events and opportunities.   Keep your eyes peeled for the little things around the corners and you might even spot a few noses and ears here and there…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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