What better place to start immersing yourself in the world of James Bond than the very locations where his creator lived, worked and penned the now legendary 007 novels? Here, LLM writer Chloe Govan takes readers on a journey through some of the best London landmarks seen in the Bond movies and books.
First things first: the St Ermin’s Hotel is an absolutely essential stop on any 007 fan’s journey. For the full Bond experience, there is nowhere that carries quite so much historical authenticity.
It might be a luxury hotel now, but its history was very different. In the 1930s, the building served as a military intelligence base for SIS/MI6. In fact, St Ermin’s played such a vital and frequent role in British espionage that a secret underground tunnel is rumoured to have been built, taking VIPs discreetly, securely and, above all, undetectably from the hotel directly to the Houses of Parliament.
The entrance is said to lurk beneath the grand staircase in the gleaming white lobby, although guests will have to use their imagination to picture what it might look like as access is, of course, out of bounds. The most guests can hope for is a key to their rooms, not one to unlock clandestine state secrets, although the former is in itself a satisfying prospect enough.
Himself a naval intelligence officer who worked within the building, James Bond’s creator Ian Fleming used the experiences he had within these four walls as inspiration for many of the 007 scenes found in his books today. Though Ian mingled with politicians, secret agents and even the then Prime Minister Winston Churchill himself in the bar, today the location merely serves as a license to chill for guests hoping for Bond history within luxurious surroundings.
Fleming worked on the clandestine Operation Goldeneye with his agents here, while Winston Churchill fuelled the flames of the Second World War here by giving the orders to “set Europe ablaze” right within what is now the Caxton Bar. Of course, a meal here today is much less dramatic and has some of the most delicious food in town. The 24-hour-roasted pork dish is mouth-watering.
With New Scotland Yard right across the street, plus Downing Street and the Houses of Parliament within walking distance, the location is second to none. Plus the Passport Office at nearby Petty France once carried a listening post on its rooftop. Then, just across the river lies the new headquarters of the British Secret Service. Plus for an attraction that’s directly accessible, why not visit the Churchill War Rooms, a mere few minutes away from the hotel? Once the underground headquarters where he lived and worked during the second world war, it has now been converted into an extensive museum detailing his life and the secret codes and mapping techniques that enabled Britain to plot their route to victory against the Nazis.
Once you’ve had a further insight into espionage there, head back to the hotel. The comfortable suites are great for families, and Bond-themed code cracking puzzles can be handed out to keep children entertained throughout the stay.
If the budget doesn’t stretch to St Ermin’s, an alternative nearby that delivers luxury for a price that’s a little lower is the Guardsman Hotel. It features the same great location, plus boasts the benefits of a boutique hotel with the vibe of a members’ club. Whichever option you choose, before leaving, don’t miss a stroll in St James’ Park. Here, among the living space of the resident pelicans, scenes were filmed for Die Another Day (2002). In the movie, villainous Gustav Graves parachutes his way to Buckingham Palace via the park, en route to receiving his knighthood from the Queen.
From here, in front of the Victoria Memorial, it’s an equally easy walk past the horseback riders and along the Mall to Charing Cross tube station. The abandoned Jubilee Line platform is no longer in action and therefore out of bounds to standard commuters, but it’s a thrilling slice of history for those who’ve secured tickets for a behind the scenes tour.
TFL’s Hidden London runs the tours, unveiling the eerily empty station platform without a single passenger, while guests will even be played a video clip of a more action-packed moment when James Bond slides down the escalator in Skyfall. (Anyone who has ever tried to emulate his moves has, unsurprisingly, ended up in hospital!) Then there’s a ladder stunt and a moment where Bond traverses through a tunnel. Production staff hired this section of the station for an entire five months merely to perfect ten minutes of film footage – but the results are impressive.
Booking a TFL Hidden London Tour is highly recommended and, from here, it takes less than 15 minutes by foot across the river to your next destination: Marriott County Hall Hotel. By car, it’s even quicker, barely scraping five minutes out of your itinerary, but the scenic riverside setting makes it worth the walk.
Book a room with a view for a fantastic postcard-worthy aesthetic by the River Thames, with the likes of Big Ben and the twinkling lights of the London traffic and skyline all right outside your window. Then step into the delicious in-house restaurant, Gilray’s Steakhouse and Bar, for an excellent view over the London Eye. Even if you don’t fancy a Bond-style martini at the time, guests can take their pick from over 100 different varieties of gin.
This is indisputably one of the top five best hotels in London in the views department – and it has all of the uncompromising luxury you might expect from the Marriott brand.
It is one of the most imposing buildings in an already aesthetically stunning area, but beside that, it’s directly relevant to your James Bond tour of London, as scenes from Spectre were filmed right inside the hotel – ask staff for the lowdown on the indoor locations.
Pick a weekday to walk along Westminster Bridge, literally seconds from the hotel’s front entrance, when you can appreciate the scenery without the crowds. Perhaps you can picture Daniel Craig dashing past you down the steps, gun in hand, as he did while playing 007. Alternatively, imagine the high speed boat chase down the River Thames from The World Is Not Enough, starting by the MI6 building, and then passing by Tower Bridge, Docklands and Greenwich’s 02. Companies such as Thamesjet can offer a replica of Bond’s journey at adrenalin-boosting speeds.
Back at the hotel, for a bite to eat in luxurious surroundings, popping into the Library for afternoon tea is an absolute must. Not only is it perfectly positioned to offer views of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben from your seat, but even the bookshelves here are historic – they once belonged to the offices of the London Government. There’s a huge array of teas to choose from and guests are invited to sample the scent of each one before making a final decision.
Once the feasting is finished, head back outside and follow the Bond trail further to a secret spot directly opposite Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Here, a clandestine door represents the gateway to a secret MI6 spot inside an abandoned tube station, Vauxhall Cross. Of the millions passing through each year, most don’t notice the tucked away location at all – but it’s where Pierce Brosnan can be found sneaking into during Die Another Day.
Yet why be content with merely passing a doorway if you can also have your own dramatic abandoned tube station experience, a la Bond? The route to this experience is Mission Breakout, an escape game company which facilitates your journey into a real-life disused train station. Those up for the challenge enter through the original doorway of South Kentish Town station, which has been out of operation for almost 100 years. As part of the heart-pumping game The Lost Passenger, you’ll head underground and walk amid authentic train controls equipment, some of which may date back to the 1800s and is untouched since the station was abandoned back in 1924.
The story centres around the real-life tale of a lost passenger who accidentally stepped out onto the platform soon after the station had been permanently closed, and disappeared into the darkness, never to be seen again. Or was he? With trains no longer stopping on the forsaken platform that time forgot, his careless decision to alight in the wrong place caused him to dice with death. It has been claimed that he was discovered after a week, having lit a match in desperation to attract the attention of a passing train driver, but no-one seems certain exactly what happened.
Meanwhile in the escape game, participants are lured underground after hearing the mournful cries of the tortured soul whose ghost is now haunting the station – and are compelled to solve a series of puzzles, using logic, quick thinking and teamwork to get out. With 60 minutes on the clock to crack the codes, groups of three to six people face a suspenseful wait to find out if they can free themselves in time.
After surviving entrapment in a lift, and a ghostly encounter with a skeleton in the pitch black darkness, they are then confronted with a room functioning as the train driver’s cab. Provided no-one in your group suffers from claustrophobia or serious health conditions, this is one of the best and most unique escape game experiences around.
Once you emerge from the darkness, it’s time to return to the Bond trail with a journey back to the heart of London. Somerset House, less than five minutes away from the Marriott County Hall by taxi, has appeared in two movies – Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies. In the former, it masqueraded as a Russian location in the city of St Petersburg, while in the latter it portrays the fictional ‘War Office’ that Bond pulls up to in his Aston Martin DB5.
From some angles, the building mirrors St Petersburg’s State Hermitage Museum – albeit a less colourful version – making a convincing claim for the the courtyard being the city’s main square in the movie. Somerset House is famous for its exhibitions and the legendary winter ice rink, which will return for public use in November 2022.
Just half a mile away by foot from this location is the National Gallery, which made an appearance in Skyfall. Take a walk to room 34, where Bond first meets Q over a mutual viewing of Turner painting The Fighting Temeraire, depicting a gunship used in the Battle of Trafalgar.
For an overnight stay in the area, there are two excellent hotels worth a visit. Wilde Hotel Covent Garden by Staycity enjoys a prime location right in the heart of London’s theatre district, ideal for anyone minded to catch a musical during their stay, while The Resident Covent Garden is equally close to the action.
The former boasts cosy and romantic rooms with an emphasis on charm rather than large open spaces, so it makes the perfect love nest. The rooms have quirky features like pistachio green mini Smeg fridges. Meanwhile The Resident, which is ideal for a trip with friends, offers views out onto the bustling Strand.
Both are aparthotels, meaning there’s no dining area, but that’s no barrier to entertainment when the legendary Rules restaurant – another important landmark on the Bond trail – is within such easy reach. Three minutes walk away, this is London’s oldest restaurant, established more than two centuries ago in 1798. Bond, Moneypenny, M and Q all dined here together in Spectre. It has an emphasis on game dishes, but there’s something suitable for everyone’s palate on its much-celebrated menus.
A trip only slightly further afield will take you to Scott’s in Mayfair, a renowned seafood restaurant which appeared in 007 novel Diamonds Are Forever and allegedly the location where Bond’s creator Ian Fleming first discovered the notorious martini – ‘shaken, not stirred’. During the second world war, Fleming chose the location to quiz two captured German officers in an attempt to extract intelligence out of them, only for Special Branch Officers to storm the restaurant and arrest all three of them!
Today, thankfully, a meal at Scott’s may not be anywhere as dramatic, but it’s sure to be tasty – and the restaurant even launched a special martini in Bond’s name – a ‘blend of Dà Mhìle Seaweed Gin, Cinzano Bianchi, rosemary bitters and olive brine, shaken (naturally) over ice, and garnished with an orange twist’. They promise that they firmly believe Bond ‘would approve’.
Also in Mayfair is 27 Green Street – Fleming’s birthplace. Sadly it was never made into a museum and so remains inaccessible to the public, but it’s worth a peek if passing.
Fleming moved frequently in his life, but another of his residences can be found at 5 Montagu Place in Marylebone, where he relocated for proximity to his mistress, Lady Rothermere – she lived just around the corner. The location is ironic as Marylebone Village is also the traditional home of another beloved detective/spy – Sherlock Holmes. Here fans of spies and investigators will relish the chance to extend the theme and visit the the museum bearing Sherlock’s name. If you choose to make this a part of your itinerary, two locations are absolutely unmissable.
The Holmes Hotel, as its name might suggest, is dedicated to the legendary detective, with bedrooms containing artwork of the character’s famous pipe above the bed. Meanwhile, the location features perhaps the best afternoon tea in all of London, with egg and truffle sandwiches to die for – or, according to the theme of the hotel, to spy for!
The detective theme will be obvious from the beginning, as guests are instantly presented with one of Holmes’ trademark magnifying glasses and a riddle to solve while they eat. The tea is served in an antique chest box, and its launch late last year was a celebration of the 129th anniversary of Arthur Conan Doyle’s renowned novel The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.
Every item on the menu is worth a bite, however the piece de resistance comes from in-house mixologist Peppe Corello, whose hospitality skills are second to none, when he brings out the Sherlock’s Pipe. The drink comes served in an authentic looking pipe-shaped container which is a dead ringer for the one that once perpetually hung from Sherlock’s lips – and, even better, it genuinely billows smoke. Novelty aside, the sandwiches and sweet treats are delicious, making this an unmissable accompaniment to a stay here.
Another residence worth staying at in the area is the super luxurious Landmark London hotel. Its iconic atrium, featuring tall palm trees which light flows onto from the glass ceiling above, houses its delicious Winter Garden restaurant. Come rain or shine, the ‘garden’ will always exude an exotic vibe, offering blissful escapism from the British winter. The spacious and elegant rooms are a delight in this building, dating back to 1899 and conveniently situated directly opposite the train station. Despite the busy location, they remain calm and peaceful, eliminating any need for concern about noise.
Moving on from Marylebone, a lesser known secret location for the Bond loyalists is Brompton Cemetery, which doubles as the exterior of the Russian church seen in Goldeneye. (The interior, where Natalya meets with Boris in St Petersburg, is actually St Sophia Church in Bayswater, a Greek Orthodox cathedral!)
The graveyard can also be seen in Johnny English footage – and notably in the first ever Sherlock Holmes movie with Robert Downey Jr.
If stopping in the area and seeking somewhere to sleep, you can do no better than No 1 The Mansions by Mansley. These serviced apartments are less than a five minute walk from the Bond location and feature large, spacious and impeccably clean self-contained accommodation. The three-bedroom options are perfect for families. The residence has recently introduced later check-in options to offer maximum flexibility for guests and is close to the Earls Court tube station.
Now that you’ve navigated this far west, it’s not much further to round off your journey at Hammersmith Bridge, which brings things up to the moment by presenting a location seen at the most recent Bond movie of all, No Time To Die.
The scene in question, where James and M Meet, was shot right outside the Rutland Arms, a legendary riverside pub. Also in the area is the Dove pub, which is in a charming, picturesque setting, plus Brasserie Blanc, an eatery chain which is the brainchild of Michelin-starred chef Raymond Blanc and a stone’s throw from the river.
If you’re looking to lay your head down near this Bond location, the Princess Victoria gastropub on Uxbridge Road – previously owned by Richard Branson – is a characterful and colourful location which was built in 1829 and describes itself as one of the original gin palaces. The martinis might not be the main focus, but there’s an impressive list of over 100 gins, both big name and artisan varieties – and it seems certain that James Bond would relish something on the list. The culinary emphasis is on sustainably sourced, organic food, including free-range meat, while there are also vegetarian and vegan options which the owners boast ‘could convince the staunchest of carnivores’.
With just five comfortable bedrooms, featuring gin-inspired artwork and floral paintings, the pub has the feel of a local village quite unlike the hustle and bustle of central London – and the greeting at the bar is the same as you might receive from a much-loved local pub.
This brings you to the end of your James Bond tour of London. Although not every single location is covered, it’s a great introduction to the majority of the main sights, which could easily take a week to enjoy at leisure. The itinerary has a license to thrill, so enjoy!
Article Source: Luxury Lifestyle Magazine