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Gallivanting In London

LGBTQ+ London Past and Present

by Jimmy Im
London (Photo by Travelling Jack)

Don't miss a ride on the London Eye for breathtaking views of the city's skyline and the River Thames.

London (Photo by Travelling Jack)

On a recent trip to London, I’m reminded of Peter Ackroyd’s Queer City: Gay London from the Romans to the Present Day: “London goes beyond any boundary or convention. It contains every wish or word ever spoken, every action or gesture ever made, every harsh or noble statement ever expressed. It is illimitable. It is infinite London.”

For me, London stirs up icons that have inspired not just me but the LGBTQ community, from theatre (Shakespeare) and music (Freddy Mercury) to literature (Oscar Wilde) to royalty (Princess Diana). Centuries of rich, formidable history are well-preserved in this city that continues to thrive as a future-forward destination without losing its cultural heart. Yes, London rises above boundaries and conventions into the “infinite London” it’s known for, and the city is well prepared for the expected 40 million visitors this year with plenty of wonderful new attractions seamlessly blending in with historic, famed institutions and landmarks.

When planning your visit to London, you will have a plethora of excellent hotels from which to choose. Most luxury hotels keep up the tradition of exceeding guest expectations, and while nearly a dozen luxury hotels have opened in the past three years, I chose The Savoy (thesavoylondon.com), a landmark, turn-of-the-century (1889) hotel located in the Strand in central London and the only 5-star hotel on the Thames River.

This “Grand Dame” hotel closed in December 2007 for a $275 million renovation that completely reimagined and upgraded the iconic hotel while preserving its legendary history when it reopened in 2010. Famous faces, from Edward VII to Oscar Wilde, Charlie Chaplin to Barbra Streisand, have graced the property.

The Savoy isn’t just a 267-room hotel with an award-winning Gordon Ramsey restaurant and decadent spa; it’s a visually-stunning, carefully designed museum, and inevitable time warp. Inside The Savoy is the oldest elevator in London, and Guccio Gucci, founder of Gucci, used to be a luggage porter here. Not only is there a Gucci shop inside to pay tribute, the hotel unveiled the 3,000-square-foot Royal Suite by Gucci in November 2022.

View From The Suite At The Savoy (Photo Courtesy Fairmont Hotels & Resort)

View From The Suite At The Savoy (Photo Courtesy Fairmont Hotels & Resort)

During my visit, I stayed in a One-Bedroom Suite with river view. I’d encourage any visitor to splurge as the views alone are worth the upgrade (suites face the famous London Eye). The suite is as elegant as you would expect, featuring a separate living space with a chandelier; gold-framed oversized paintings; claw-foot bath; decorative entrance foyer; and of course butler service. I had a busy few days of sightseeing, and my butler, without my having to ask, arranged the best routes via metro and ferry, which I didn’t realize was an option, and it saved me at least an hour in travel time. Before or after exploring the city, enjoy the indoor heated pool and spa, then head next door to the historic Savoy Theatre (thesavoytheatre.com) for a show.

Lyceum Theatre (Photo by Eyematter)

Lyceum Theatre (Photo by Eyematter)

Speaking of theater, The Savoy is within walking distance to many of the famous theaters in London, including The Lyceum (thelyceumtheatre.com), home to The Lion King, and Theatre Royal Drury Lane (lwtheatres.co.uk), an 1812 theatre that has hosted fan favorites like The Lord of the Rings, The Witches of Eastwick, and My Fair Lady with original Broadway cast of Julie Andrews and Rex Harrison.

Also nearby is The British Museum (Britishmuseum.org), considered the first national public museum of the world (opened in June 1753), with a permanent collection of eight million works, marking it the largest collection in the world. Here, the Rosetta Stone is the equivalent to the Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris, but with my fascination of ancient civilizations, I was thrilled to finally check out the Aztec serpent from the Aztec empire. For travelers who adore dinosaurs like me, The Natural History Museum (nhm.ac.uk), the most-visited London attraction in 2022 with 4.65 million visitors, offers pre-historic specimen and dinosaur bones. Go late in the day when it’s not as busy.

Blue Whale Skeleton In The Main Hall Of The Natural History Museum Of London (Photo by elRoce)

Blue Whale Skeleton In The Main Hall Of The Natural History Museum Of London (Photo by elRoce)

Centuries of rich, formidable history are well-preserved in this city that continues to thrive as a future-forward destination without losing its cultural heart.

William Shakespeare will finally get the museum he’s deserved since his time of glory in the late 1500s. The Museum of Shakespeare will open in 2025 on the foundations of the Curtain Playhouse in Shoreditch (thestageshoreditch.com), which was home to many Shakespearian plays and where “the Bard” himself was in residence during his renowned plays Henry V and Romeo And Juliet. Shakespeare lovers can also spend an afternoon at Shakespeare’s Globe (shakespearesglobe.com), built in 1599, and continuously reconstructed through the centuries, this open-air Elizabethan playhouse provides one of the most unique setting for his plays.

It’s quite rare for a magazine to become a restaurant, but as Peter Ackroyd stated, London is “illimitable.” I found this true with Noble Rot, a funky food and culture magazine founded in 2013 that evolved into a restaurant in 2015. Now, there are three award-winning locations, including the latest location Noble Rot Lambs Conduit (noblerot.co.uk) in Mayfair. The vibe was high-end “artsy,” with affluent, cultured diners to boot, and the framed photos of colorful artwork is a comforting visual splash straight out of (wait for it) a food magazine. The seasonal, forward-thinking classic British menu celebrates the best from land and sea. My Roast Swaledale Lamb with coco de paimpol and tapenade was rich, succulent and plated with visual allure.

I was also a fan of Spring (springrestaurant.co.uk), inside a restored 19th century “drawing room” with gorgeous outdoor terrace, helmed by Chef Skye Gygnell (formerly of Michelin-starred Petersham Nurseries). The atmosphere had a fine dining flair—white tablecloths, buttoned up waiters, low ambient music—and featured simple dishes packed with rich flavor, texture, and the freshest ingredients, including beetroot with crème fraiche and herbs and vegetables with cucumber yoghurt.

Scarfes Bar (Photo courtesy Rosewood London)

Scarfes Bar (Photo courtesy Rosewood London)

My favorite bar was Scarfes Bar at Rosewood London (Scarfes-bar.com). With the high level of security, you’d think it was a secret private members club (reservations are necessary unless you’re a hotel guest). The bar is designed as a gentlemen’s jazz club with plenty of gold and red adding glitz and glam, as well as a singing pianist. Creative bar bites go well with the hand-crafted cocktails served with unique and unexpected presentations, each with carefully thought-out backstories. I don’t want to ruin the surprise, so get thyself to this bar.

When the moon was full, I snuck over to The Yard Bar (yardbar.co.uk), the dive-y, campy “anything-goes” storied gay bar that skews more Gen-Z/millennial (yes, I may have been the oldest person there). I was relieved when I met friends my age in the enchanting back courtyard. It’s quite whimsical with stringed lights over trees and a fountain statues—the perfect setting for a nightcap.

One of the newest hotels in the city, Raffles London at The OWO (raffles.com), took over the famous Old War Office, a famously historic building where Winston Churchill commanded the British Armed Forces and Sir Ian Fleming conceived James Bond (fans of The Crown and James Bond films will easily recognize the property). Featuring 120 rooms and suites, nine restaurants, three bars, and an indoor pool and spa, this is a great choice for anyone who enjoys historic architecture, luxury accommodations, and fine dining.

Windsor Castle (Photo by Mistervlad)

Windsor Castle (Photo by Mistervlad)

With all the attention around the Royal family in recent years, including King Charles III coronation, I decided to take the hour-trek up to Windsor, home to the Royal Family, to explore Windsor Castle (rct.uk/visit/windsor-castle). Built in the 11th century, it’s the largest and oldest occupied castle in the world. For fans of the royal family this is a must-visit, and while I didn’t find it as commanding as Buckingham Palace, it was still worth a lovely afternoon.

My day trip transformed to a night trip when I discovered Oakley Court (oakleycourt.co.uk), an incredibly rare gem just minutes away from the castle. The hotel is right on the River Thames. History doesn’t just resonate within these walls, it pounds. For decades, the hotel served as the filming location for some of the most popular films ever produced, including The Theory of Everything, Dracula, and Rocky Horror Picture Show. Oakley Court is affiliated with Soho House, whose members have access to the Soho River House on site. Every guest room has signature Cowshed amenities, and the restaurant rotates guest star chefs, including Shimizu Akira of AKIRA and “the pasta man” Matt Zielonka.

That night, I watched the full moon over the river, inspired and reflective, as I’m certain many other notable Brits in history have done, and I know I won’t be the last. Because London is illimitable. It’s infinite. And it will continue to be the city that exceeds expectations as an unforgettable destination.

Airlinere in flight
British Airways offers direct flights from New York City, and their Business Class on a Boeing 777-300ER has been completely upgraded. All lie-flat seats have direct aisle access and a respective overhead compartment, while the flight crew provided bright and cheerful British hospitality. ba.com

Fly Norse offers direct fights to London Gatwick from various cities in the USA. The budget airline offers economy and “premium” seats, which provide priority check-in and boarding, complimentary carry-on bag, drinks and meals, and extra leg room and recline. flynorse.com

Iceland Air also offers flights from a variety of cities in the USA to London Gatwick and Heathrow with stopovers in Reykjavik, Iceland. icelandair.com

SWISS International Air Lines is our favorite ways to get to London when making a connection in Europe. Fly to Zurich in SWISS Business and arrive in London via City Airport. This airport is close to central London and easy to navigate. On the way back home, spend a few Days in Switzerland and enjoy the best of both worlds! Swiss.com

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