If you’ve seen Notting Hill — the Hugh Grant/Julia Roberts rom-com that won a handful of British film honors a decade ago — you likely recall a sweet little movie with a London setting every bit as endearing as the plot. Here, in a city known for sophistication and bustle, for Selfridge’s and Harrods, for soaring architecture and world-famous landmarks, you can still wander down winding streets to find the Notting Hill where the Roberts and Grant characters fell into unlikely love. With its multicolored shop fronts, couch-lined cafes and cozy pubs, the place comes off — not unlike Grant — less polished than quirkily romantic, a city where humor, edge and charm converge in the antiques stores, the private gardens, the local bookshop. Meanwhile, the lights of that sleeker and shinier London gleam just around the corner.
In the movie, Roberts stayed at the Ritz, near Picadilly and Savile Row — granted, traditional London destinations. But the newly renovated Langham, in the lively West End, is a stone’s throw from Soho, where cool boutiques and bars and independent restaurants thrive. (Also: It’s a short taxi ride from Notting Hill.) After 140 years of serving patrons, the immense luxury hotel has thought of — and provides — everything: weather conditions delivered to your room; daily high tea; and, thoughtfully, multi-national electrical outlets for your American hair dryer and whatnot. Rates from around $320 per night (1c Portland Place, Regent Street, langhamlondon.co.uk).
In addition to staples like Buckingham Palace’s Changing the Guard and a trip to Harrods, you should really ride the London Eye on the South Bank, which offers breathtaking views of the whole city. For something slightly less touristy, weave your way through Notting Hill with the locals, starting at the neighborhood gates and wandering on and off winding Portobello Road. On weekends, the street’s noted antiques market fills up to the brim. If you’re not into crowds (or antiques), wait for a weekday, when you can easily hit up the shops and cafes that make N.H. so delightful.
The Food Scene
You would be remiss to stay at the Langham and not eat one night in the Landau, where the majestic ambience is only outdone by the seasonal European dishes. Try the “Grazing Menu” and taste a bit of everything here. If you find yourself hungry on the West End, pop into Tibits (12-14 Heddon Street) for fresh, locally sourced sandwiches, salads and veggie dishes (plus great outdoor seating). For a more exotic night, head to cool Langham neighbor Momo (25 Heddon Street) for North African cuisine, to be followed by a trip downstairs to the private mixology lounge, Kemia Bar, for after-dinner drinks.
The Photo Op
The Hempel Hotel has gardens — you may recognize them from the movie — that are pretty … and public!
Fly direct from PHL or Newark to Heathrow in about seven hours. (The return trip is eight.)
Tip: Spring for one of the iconic London cabs from Heathrow (starting at 60 pounds, or about $96) to the hotel, or for the Langham’s chauffeur service (about $145). The London Tube is easy to use and a great way to get around the city, but not so great if you’re toting bags.
What to Get Before You Go
A small, strong umbrella. For the incessant London mist. Try a cute and capable Marimekko bumbershoot.
Open House, 107 South 13th Street, 215-922-1415.
A trench, and a trendy hat. Regarding that mist: This is how Londoners keep clothes and hair looking so nice.
Barbour, Suburban Square, Ardmore, 610-649-8450.