The Strand Palace is just steps away from well-known London landmarks and all the theatrical excellence of the West End. But in a city this size, close to a hotel this central, there are hidden gems that are just as compelling and reveal a different side to the capital. Here are four of the finest secrets near the Strand:
Tucked away behind Regent’s Street, Carnaby was built in 1682 and has been in vogue ever since. In the Sixties, it was the definition of that decade’s swinging ambience and has remained in the forefront of fashion consciousness ever since, thanks to its tradition of music and cutting-edge designers. Kingly Court is the contemporary version of this verve, an all but hidden courtyard with three floors of buzz and bars beside funky boutiques. The fact that the beautiful Tudor-building that is Liberty’s is around the corner adds to the charm – inside ancient walls and under wooden beams, this landmark is at the vanguard of all that’s eccentric and original in British style.
Covent Garden is seconds from the Strand Palace Hotel and has been a famous destination for decades. It’s still full of distractions that are a major draw, but not everyone discovers the diminutive and distinct courtyard that is Neal’s Yard. Named after Thomas Neale, who developed much of London in the 17th century, this is no more than a small, secret alley opening on to a courtyard. Yet it’s crammed with independent enterprises and artisan charm. These include one of the best cheese shops in the country and Neal’s Yards Remedies, who offer some of the best massages in town. Cafés galore and a communal holistic spirit add to the feel-good factor, as do the creative artwork and a surprising amount of greenery for such a central location. It’s all rather peaceful, a place to linger in without any need to be a consumer.
St Paul’s Cathedral is close to the Strand Palace, as is Westminster Abbey. But a short stroll down the Strand leads to a secluded and special church that is as London as it gets. It isn’t the first church built on the site – a succession goes back a millennium. The original was founded the Romans, was later entwined with the growth of the City of London, then ravaged by the Great Fire before Christopher Wren rebuilt it and created its wedding cake spire. The Second World War took the roof off, but recent excavations have revealed foundations of all the churches built on this site.
Now it’s an unexpected delight, a simple turn off the main thoroughfare into a church entwined with Fleet Street and all the newspapers that flourished there. This is where many journalists still exchange wedding vows, this is where many foreign correspondents have been remembered in memorial services. Within its welcoming walls, the history of the British press can be found, under its floors, there’s the chance to explore an older London still. As well as all that, it’s a delightful place to escape the pace, with a sweet and small garden, and uplifting choral services open to all.
Only a few steps away from the Strand Palace, local commuters and tourists alike stride past a tube station of old. Opened in 1907, with the name Strand, this now barricaded tube station was part of the Piccadilly Line, but being in a tube equivalent of a cul-de-sac was reduced to becoming an infrequent shuttle service. A temporary closure during the Second World War saw it used as a shelter from the Blitz and a place to safeguard treasures such as the Elgin Marbles. It was closed again in the 1990s after the lifts broke down (and escalators were deemed too expensive). This lack of investment has preserved it as a period piece and a Grade II listed building, used extensively in films – the station has appeared in Sherlock, V for Vendetta and Atonement amongst others. The London Transport Museum organizes tours so visitors can enjoy the vintage posters and architecture.