Follow in the footsteps of Virginia Woolf and her celebrated Bloomsbury Set in the most historic part of London's West End
Standing on the junction of Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street, traffic and people swirl noisily around. But a few yards away down Great Russell Street, you suddenly find yourself in a serene and soothing world. Welcome to Bloomsbury, one of London's most a fashionable residential areas since the 18th century.
It is still lined with elegant Georgian terraces and has lush garden squares where tall trees shade benches and discreet statuary. Blue plaques spot the streets, denoting the former homes of the Bloomsbury based writers and artists of the 1920s - Virginia Woolf, E.M.Forster, Lytton Strachey, Roger Fry, Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell.
Today many of the buildings are offices or occupied by departments of the University of London. The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art is here too but the area leans towards medical sciences being home to the BMA, The School of Pharmacy and Great Ormond Street Hospital among others.
But its great jewel is the British Museum (www.britishmuseum.org). Founded in 1753 to house the collections of physician Sir Hans Sloane, it has been freely open to the public since 1759. Among the sumptuous items on show are the Rosetta Stone, helmets from the Sutton Hoo burial ship, the controversial Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon (room 18), the world’s largest collection of coins, a new medieval gallery and a fascinating timeline from the industrial revolution to satellite communications.
As well as permanent collections, this autumn the museum will feature an exhibition on Aztec ruler Moctezuma, (24 September - 24 January), with many items loaned from Mexico. Another intriguing exhibition will be The Power of Dogu (10 September - 22 November), 67 ceramic figures from Japan classed as national treasures.
With a staggering eight million objects to view, you can’t rush the British Museum. The best days to wander in wonder around the museum is Thursdays and Fridays when it is open until 8.30pm - while The Great Court general grounds stay open until 11pm.
The Great Court is Europe’s largest covered public place, stretching two acres around the old reading room and shielded by Norman Foster's roof of 3,312 panes of glass. Meals can be taken in the court including afternoon tea - a Viennese style ‘tea’ with coffee and Demel chocolate cake is £14. Private dining costs £28 for a set menu and at weekends and there’s an area for family picnics during school holidays.
The nearby Bloomsbury Hotel was reopened this summer. Set in a Georgian-listed building designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, much of the original building has been retained despite the modern and technological updates in the rooms. Comfort is the key with neutral muted soft furnishings spiked with scarlet chaise longues beside super-sized flat-screen TVs. Mirrors and lighting have been carefully thought out for guests’ comfort and the Edwardian free-standing tubs in the marble-lined bathrooms have a wall TVs to watch while wallowing. Ironing board and tea maker as well as chic coffee machines are also included. Room service is prompt and smiley and the continental breakfast offers a generous selection of dishes, making it excellent value for money. Prices start at £165 per room.
The Lansdeer restaurant (Landseer was Lutyen’s middle name) is termed retro-British - emphasising fresh seasonal products used in dishes such as carpaccio of Hebridean scallops, prawn cocktail and pot-roasted guinea fowl. There's the added attraction of an outdoor terrace for summer dining. The hotel has a listed chapel which is licensed for weddings.