The Southbank is where we normally stay on our London trips – this time was no different. What differed was our choice of abode for the night. Having dabbled with the Premier Inn chain in the summer we decided to try out their place at County Hall. It was the price that initially tempted us – £128 for the room and breakfast in central London – pretty darned good. By the time we left we were in agreement it wasn’t all about the price – everything else was spot on too. First up the location – in the magnificent County Hall building with the London Eye right outside and Big Ben just over the bridge. Add to that proximity to tube stops and within walking distance to most of the capital’s attractions, it is a location nothing short of perfect.
Our room on the 6th floor was spacious (ginormous in London terms) and verging on the smart. No wardrobe but open hanging space, tea and coffee, a monster TV, bathroom with bath and shower and the most comfortable bed I have slept in for a very long time. Breakfast though busy was impressive. All you can eat and buffet style, the choice was excellent – almost unbelievable for the price. Son, normally showing a complete disinterest in food (unless it’s ice-cream or chocolate) made good use of the under 16’s eat free rule and packed away a hearty feast. The Premier Inn definitely seems to be making waves in the budget hotel world and definitely gives the (far) more expensive chains a run for their money. Their slogan “A Good Night Guaranteed” was certainly our experience.
County Hall is one of the Southbank’s iconic landmarks. Not too shabby from the outside, this building opened in 1922 as the headquarters of London County Council and then the GLC but now has two hotels and various entertainment options taking up the interior.
Our Saturday evening was spent with Willy Wonka at the Theatre Royal but we had a short while in Covent Garden beforehand – an easy 20 minute walk from the hotel. A (too short) browse in the shops for me then we dined at Fire And Stone which turned out to be the perfect pre-theatre dining spot. Trendy, contemporary but with a relaxed atmosphere we all loved it. Their motto is “a deliciously different pizza restaurant” and that just about sums it all up.
We passed their gigantic wood fired oven on the way to our table and struggled to choose a pizza from the impressive menu. Based on different cities and cuisines from around the world – from Canberra to Cape Town, there were over 20 pizzas to choose and all were unusual, definitely not your normal pizza toppings. Son, living on the edge, asked if he could have a Margherita and they were happy to oblige. Husband and I chose the Lisbon and Montego Bay respectively. No complaints, happy diners all round. Happy too when the bill arrived – surprisingly reasonable, this was a great place.
Sunday morning we headed over the bridge to Westminster Abbey and then spent a couple of hours strolling along the Southbank. The gushing River Thames on one side, no end of interesting buildings to look at and best of all a vast expanse of pavement and no traffic to contend with, this is the perfect place for a Sunday afternoon walk.
Plenty going on, we were entertained by a plethora of street artists and buskers with our favourites being some lithe limbo dancers / acrobats who we could have watched all day. Icy temperatures drove us onward as far as the Royal Festival Hall where we took sanctuary inside to warm up. Primarily a hall for major concerts, the foyer was buzzing and we found an interesting (and free) exhibition on the 1951 Festival of Britain.
Tucked under Waterloo Bridge we spent a while at the Southbank Book Market – row upon row of dusty old books, our idea of heaven so browsing had to be done.
Our stroll took us just short of St Paul’s Cathedral. Son had a quick ten minutes skimming stones on the beach then it was time to retrace our steps. A short stop to watch the BMX bikers and skateboarders show off their considerable skills at the skate park under the Queen Elizabeth Hall and some time in the playground by the London Eye, then all too soon our time in London was up and it was time for the train home.