Hip yet historical, London is a top international meetings hub
English author and social critic Charles Dickens wrote A Tale of Two Cities about London in 1859. More than 150 years later, it still has a dual personality. On one hand, it is a hip and cosmopolitan innovator and pioneer of modern trends. Yet it also boasts a long and proud history as the storied home of royal Buckingham Palace and the Gothic Westminster Abbey, among many other historical attractions.
TripAdvisor selected London the world’s top destination in its 2016 Travelers’ Choice Destination awards. The vibrant international hub is the most talked-about travel destination on Twitter, and London Eye observation wheel—which is perched near the River Thames and receives more visitors on average per year than the Taj Mahal and the Great Pyramids—is its most tweeted attraction.
While London has always been a desirable tourist spot, special events scheduled in 2016 to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s 90th birthday, 400 years of William Shakespeare’s legacy and the first-ever Rolling Stones art exhibition are bound to attract even more sightseers.
With plenty of famous landmarks, there is never a shortage of things to do in this exciting metropolis. According to the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA), more than 65 million people visited attractions in London in 2015, an increase of 1.61 percent from 2014. Days can be spent exploring the city’s many museums, most of which are free. At night, visitors can catch a play in London’s historic West End and then mingle with locals at a traditional pub or pulsating nightclub.
A Meetings Mecca
“London is a world-class destination for meetings, events and incentive travel, so much so that the city’s events industry has been named the leading European city for meetings and events by American Express,” says Tracy Halliwell, director of business tourism and major events at London & Partners. The city’s official convention bureau, London & Partners offers free advice, guidance and support to event planners, associations and convention organizers.
One of the reasons London is a key meeting center is its location, with direct flights from 348 destinations. “London’s connectivity and ease of access is a major draw for both event organizers and delegates,” Halliwell says. The city boasts more than 116,000 hotel rooms in all price categories, and plenty of interesting venues to host events.
Those looking to stage large-scale events should explore ExCeL London, the city’s premier convention and exhibition center. Located on the waterfront of Royal Victoria Dock, it can accommodate up to 45,000 delegates. Last year, ExCeL London played host to the European Society of Cardiology Congress, experiencing record-breaking attendance with more than 32,773 delegates from 140 countries. QEII Centre is the largest dedicated conference and exhibition space in central London. The venue is in the midst of a $17 million renovation and rebranding project.
Smaller events can be staged in historic venues such as Abbey Road Studios, where The Beatles recorded, or guests can dine in a haunted castle.
Floor 42 of the Leadenhall Building, which opened in summer 2015, is London’s highest dedicated event space. Nicknamed the Cheesegrater, this contemporary space offers panoramic views and more than 5,000 sq. ft. of space for up to 300.
Sky Garden, at the top of the 38-story building on 20 Fenchurch Street (aka the Walkie-Talkie), is another impressive event space with spectacular views. It boasts a unique glass dome, landscaped gardens, observation decks and an open-air terrace. Planners can do a buyout and host up to 450 guests.
IET London: Savoy Place reopened in December following a two-year, $42.8 million refurbishment. Located next to the historic Savoy Hotel alongside the River Thames, this iconic venue has a roof terrace that can accommodate more than 200 attendees.
London boasts some of the best museums in the world, and many have event space. The National Gallery on Trafalgar Square houses more than 2,300 of the world’s finest paintings. With 5.9 million visitors in 2015, it is the city’s second most popular attraction. The new Tate Modern, opening in June, is projected to be the most important new cultural building unveiled in the United Kingdom in two decades. The 10-story, pyramid-shaped structure will feature work from artists around the world. Planners will also be able to do buyouts of the contemporary event space.
London offers a wide variety of accommodations, in all price ranges. The luxurious InterContinental London-The O2 opened its doors in Greenwich in December. The 18-story hotel and conference center features 453 guest rooms, 20 multifunctional meeting rooms and a pillar-free 32,291-square-foot ballroom that can accommodate up to 3,000. The property is located near London’s popular music venue, O2 Arena.
Hilton London Bankside, which opened in November, is just a stone’s throw from must-see attractions such as Shakespeare’s Globe theater, Tower of London, Tower Bridge and Tate Modern museum. The contemporary hotel features 292 guest rooms and 10,000 sq. ft. of event space.
Heathrow Airport (LHR) is one of the busiest in the world. In 2015, it served 74.95 million people, an increase of 2.2 percent from 2014. It will become even more accessible when the new Crossrail project is completed in 2019, trimming travel time from LHR to downtown London to 34 minutes.
“There is no other city on the planet that matches London for energy, diversity, creativity and constant reinvention,” Halliwell says. “There is no better time to visit.”
The British Museum
The British Museum has been the most popular attraction in London for the past nine years, according to Association of Leading Visitors Attractions. In 2015, it welcomed 6,820,686 visitors. Its collection includes the Rosetta Stone, which was discovered in 1799 and is the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics.
KERB photo by The Grilling Greek – Gaztronome – BSFASaturdays
With 270 different nationalities living in London, the city boasts an eclectic culinary mix. KERB, which can be hired for catering, is a multicultural street vendor dishing up ethnic cuisine in food trucks at locations around the city. Borough Market is a must see for any foodie, offering British and international fare.
Rolling Stones Exhibit
Saatchi Gallery, London photo by Matthew Booth, 2009 Credit line: Rolling Stones Archive
The Rolling Stones have been rocking for more than five decades. In April, London’s Saatchi Gallery mounted Exhibitionism, the first art exhibition about the British band. More than 500 original artifacts are spread over nine galleries. The groundbreaking show will run for five months.
English poet and playwright William Shakespeare (1564–1616) is widely regarded as one of the greatest writers ever. Fans are celebrating 400 years of his enduring legacy throughout 2016. Watch one of his famous plays, Hamlet, performed in Shakespeare’s Globe, one of London’s most iconic theaters. The British Library unveiled a major new exhibition April 15 called Shakespeare in Ten Acts. Special commemorations will take place in his birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon, which is located about 100 miles northwest of London.