x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

The seat of British royalty, Westminster offers a taste of the good life

My Kind of Place The Westminster area holds many of the sights most closely associated with London, as well as boasting some of the city's finest hotels and restaurants.

The clock tower of Westminster Palace, seen from Trafalgar Square. Justin Guariglia / Eightfish
The clock tower of Westminster Palace, seen from Trafalgar Square. Justin Guariglia / Eightfish

Why Westminster?

Next week more than 1.5 million visitors will surge into London to celebrate the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. The focus of their attention will be Westminster, the area of central London that has housed Britain's rulers for 10 centuries. It is also home to some of the city's most famous landmarks, from Westminster Abbey in the City of Westminster where the royal couple will marry and where English monarchs have been crowned since 1066, to Buckingham Palace, the London residence of Queen Elizabeth down the Mall.

Visitors to Westminster are surrounded by some of the most recognisable images London has to offer: red-uniformed guards in fuzzy bearskin hats guarding royal palaces (avoid the crowds at Buckingham Palace and get a better photograph at nearby St James's Palace; find out about entry to the royal residences at www.royal.gov.uk); the soaring Victorian architecture of the Palace of Westminster, where the British parliament sits and which can be toured on Saturdays and during the Summer Opening; and the clock tower that houses the bell nicknamed Big Ben. For information, visit www.parliament.uk.

It's also worth taking time to explore some of the less obvious attractions, such as the Jewel Tower, which was built around 1365 as a treasure house and is one of only two medieval buildings that survived the 19th-century fire that destroyed the rest of the Palace of Westminster. Tickets cost £3.20; Dh19 (www.english-heritage.org.uk).

A comfortable bed

Miss Middleton will spend her last night as a commoner in the Goring Hotel's luxurious new royal suite (www.thegoring.com; 00 44 20 7396 9000), which runs the length of the hotel's fifth floor and is fitted out with a baby grand piano. The suite has not yet been revealed to the public - that's due to happen in May - but is reported to cost £5,000 per night (Dh29,976).

Other options at the hotel include its "Most Splendid Silk Rooms", which are decorated in historic silks from British royal palaces (£800; Dh4,796) and the 1940s-style Nina Campbell suite, complete with a silvered slipper bath (£950; Dh5,695).

The Chesterfield (www.chesterfieldmayfair.com; 00 44 20 7491 2622), a pleasant walk through Green Park from Buckingham Palace, has put together a "live like royalty" package that includes accommodation and tickets to the Queen's Gallery, which showcases an impressive collection of art, porcelain, Fabergé jewellery and furniture (from £182; Dh1,091) from the royal collection.

For a more contemporary feel, take a look at the Corinthia in Whitehall Place (www.corinthia.com; 00 44 207 321 3000), which opens this week. The rooms (from £339; Dh2,032) are richly decorated, while the suites, which are named after British figures from history, each have unique characteristics. For example, the Lady Hamilton suite (opening in August, from £7,200; Dh43,165) has rose marble floors, a spiral staircase, crystal chandelier and a double-height dining room.

If you are here for the wedding and determined to get a good view of the royal couple, consider joining the enthusiasts who will sleep outside to ensure they get a good spot. If you really want to fit in, carry a Union Jack, or 12.

Find your feet

The best way to get a real sense of Westminster is on foot. The big-name attractions are undoubtedly impressive but if you walk between them, rather than catching a bus or the Underground (known as the Tube), you will be rewarded with the opportunity to step down side streets and investigate any curious little shops or architectural oddities that catch your eye. For example, if you wander along Lord North Street, just south of Parliament, it's possible to spot faded signs from the 1940s directing people towards public bomb shelters.

If you decide to go farther afield the Underground is the quickest and easiest option, although staying above ground and hopping on a red double-decker bus allows for even more sightseeing. A rechargeable ticket known as an Oyster card, available from Tube stations or in advance through www.visitlondonoffers.com/oyster-card/index.htm, can be used on both as well as London's overland trains.

Meet the locals

Westminster is such a draw for international visitors that you're as likely to hear a Russian or Australian accent as an English one when admiring the sites. One guaranteed way to meet locals is to wait outside the clock tower and spot out-of-breath people who have just climbed up to see Big Ben: security considerations mean only British residents who request a tour through their MP or a member of the House of Lords are allowed in.

Book a table

London has 53 Michelin-starred restaurants and plenty of them are in or near Westminster. Try the beautifully presented French fare at Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester (www.alainducasse-dorchester.com; book up to two months in advance on 00 44 20 7629 5566), where dishes such as lobster with truffled chicken quenelles on the tasting menu (£115; Dh686) and Anjou pigeon à la broche (£78; Dh465 with appetiser and dessert) have won the restaurant three stars. Just a couple of streets away is Le Gavroche (www.le-gavroche.co.uk; 00 44 20 7408 0881), which provides stiff competition in the gourmet stakes - try the menu exceptionnel (£100; Dh600) which includes foie gras and crispy pancake of duck flavoured with cinnamon.

If you fancy something a little more low-key, try William's Bar and Bistro at St James's Hotel and Club (www.stjamesclubandhotel.co.uk; 00 44 20 7316 1600). It's led by William Drabble, the same chef who oversees the delicious food at Seven Park Place, the hotel's fancy (and very well regarded) Michelin-starred restaurant, but offers a simpler menu of dishes such as grilled sea bass (£20.50; Dh122) and wild mushroom risotto (£16.50; Dh98) in less formal surroundings.

Shopper's paradise

The City of Westminster rather lets the side down when it comes to shopping - it's as if there is so much serious work being done running the country that no one has time to browse. Fortunately there are some excellent emporiums a short Tube ride away. Head north along Regent Street for another landmark, the department store, Liberty, but stop before you reach the crowded ugliness of Oxford Street. Going west to Miss Middleton's old stomping ground, the King's Road in Chelsea, is another good bet, offering three kilometres of shopping heaven. Independent clothes and shoe boutiques tend be found at the western end, farthest from Sloane Square.

What to avoid

False hopes. Attractions such as the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace are not open to the public at all times; for example, it is only possible to watch debates when parliament is sitting, while the State Rooms in Buckingham Palace are open to the public only between July 23 and October 3. Check and book where possible before you fly to avoid long ticket queues, frustration and disappointment.

Don't miss

The newly-weds' kiss on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. Recreate the moment by walking along the flag-draped Mall before stopping outside the palace, imagining that there is a crowd of thousands cheering the happy couple.