Marble Arch is the majestic, 19th-century landmark originally constructed as the state entrance for Buckingham Palace on the Mall, designed by renowned architect John Nash. Made of white Carrara marble and standing close to the famous Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park, the Arch was moved in 1851 due to an extension of the Palace now stands just down from the West End, Oxford Street and Leicester Square, home to all that is theatrical and unmissable in the heart of London.
Set off for a bracing walk in the expansive, gorgeously green Hyde Park right on the doorstep. There are enough acres of space here to pass the entire day without having to do anything other than wandering aimlessly, but that would be to miss some of the park’s most interesting nooks and crannies. Just beside Marble Arch itself is Speakers’ Corner, symbolising the very spirit of free speech, the right to assembly and the right to vote and which has provided a platform for dissent, protest and opinion since the mid-1800s. On any given day at any time you will find someone here, expounding their views on the state of the world, be these enlightening or alarming… Onwards through the park is the Diana Memorial Fountain, a calming, bubbling sculpture that you can wander the length of, cross over into the centre and indulge in a little quiet contemplation. Make sure not to miss the Serpentine Galleries and Pavilion (open until October 18th): the Serpentine is well-known and much-loved for its avant-garde, innovative and immersive exhibitions, projects and performances, and there is guaranteed to be something happening while you are in town.
By now you’ll have (presumably) worked up an appetite, if not yet for lunch then at least for your next caffeine fix of the day. Markus Coffee has occupied the same building on Connaught Street since it opened in 1957, run by Hungarian refugees and Holocaust survivors George and Eva Markus. Roasted and blended on the premises, the coffee beans here are so legendarily good they are the go-to exporters for a range of shops, restaurants and hotels in the area. Once you’re on the go again, the mammoth trail of shops that is Oxford Street (and the adjacent Regent and Bond Streets) are ready to welcome you to explore their unfathomable range of wares. From perennial favourite Selfridges to a whole range of boutique, unique shops on nearby Chiltern Street as well, if you can’t find what you’re looking for here, there’s a safe bet you should just give up the search entirely.
For some afternoon peace, quiet and solitude to recover from the hoards of Oxford Street, the nearby Tyburn Convent is a safe bet. A Benedictine Monastery which houses 26 nuns who have solemnly vowed never to take a step outside, this is a quietly fascinating little convent that you can explore for free and even swing by in the early morning hours (around 5.30am) to hear the nuns commencing their first chants of the day. If you’re not partial to rising quite so early in the morning, make sure you stop by the Wallace Collection to immerse yourself in the personal collection of the first four Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace. Situated in an historic London town house, this national museum houses some of the most extraordinary paintings from the 18th Century France, Sevres porcelain and French furniture. Old Masters line the walls in the Great Gallery, whose grandeur never fails to impress – no matter how many times you’ve been. Once you’ve taken it all in, make sure you decide for yourself whether Frans Hals’ Laughing Cavalier’s laugh is actually more of a smirk. Lastly, you can wander through the Collection’s world-class armoury and marvel at the inventiveness of the foot-soldiers of their day in making their own helmets. Open from 10am to 5pm every day and with entry free of charge, you’re guaranteed to get your money’s worth.
For a more contemporary culture look no further than Ambika P3. Developed from the vast former concrete construction hall at the University of Westminister’s School of Engineering, this 14,00 sq ft space for contemporary art and architecture presents a varied programme of curated exhibitions, education projects and talks in one of London’s most unexpected locations. Check the website before you visit to make sure you’re up to date with its ever-evolving, eclectic range of events. If moving images are more up your street, you need only walk around some corners to get to one of central London’s most charming cinemas. Everyman Baker Street has 2 screens, a café, cocktail bar and lounge which will make for a comfortably intimate setting for you to enjoy a selection of the best contemporary independent film with a loved one.
By now you’ll be ready for your third feeding of the day, presumably, or at least your third filling-stop, and your best bet all round for this and more is Portman Village. For a proper sit-down meal, look no further than London’s finest US restaurant, The Lockhart. Featuring furniture from vintage antique markets, including old railway benches and antique sideboards, you will be transported to the Southern States. If you’re just after a drink and a think, The Carpenter’s Arms will accommodate you from early morning until late night and the debatable hours within its cosy, wood-paneled interior. Another atmospheric option is Purl – one of London’s first speakeasy-type bars, located in a cavernous Victorian basement. With each and every cocktail satisfying on a multi-sensory level through the use of aroma, fog, airs, foams, food, bespoke serviceware and liquid nitrogen, you’ll find yourself in another space or time before you know it. And if you do find your way to the door on Blandford Street that leads to this underground oasis, just don’t forget the password: ‘Hair of the Dog’.
Now you know all the secret spots and unmissable areas of this amazing part of town, all you need do is book your stay Amba Hotel Marble Arch so you can collapse in your super comfy bed and treat yourself to your complimentary in room mini bar. Amba Hotel Marble Arch opens November 2015.