A Festive Weekend in London


I can just about make out my daughter, despite the inky darkness. Her silhouette’s thrashing around, frothy waves dwarfing her tiny frame. Fear-stricken sailors watch on from their doomed vessel, as she’s hurled around the raging sea like a limp rag doll. Suddenly, the eerie blues are replaced by a riot of colour; fiery yellows and bloody reds abound. She’s wide-eyed, jets of molten lava shooting high above her, into the night sky.

Writhing between the two perilous lands, she’s euphoric; feeling utterly insignificant, engulfed by the power of nature. I am snapped out of my philosophical trance as her friend Cora, unceremoniously marches into the eruption and drags her back to ‘safety’… by one foot. And with that heroic (albeit undignified) rescue, we bid Rembrandt and Wright farewell, as the girls sprint off, desperate to reach Signac’s infamous pastel hues (well, there’s 7 words I never thought I’d write).

By the time we catch up, the painting is but a memory, a digital confetti, lying in thousands of pieces on the gallery’s floor. That is until our daughters recklessly skid across it at full speed, cartwheeling the baby blue and peachy pink flecks across the ground, into the air and up the walls. Realisation dawns on the tiny faces pockmarking the gallery and soon they’re all joining in, blazing their own trails across this priceless piece of artwork. I picture Signac, turning in his grave, desperate to restore order, but alas, the children are in charge now.

This is the joy of Frameless; London’s first permanent digital immersive arts experience. The pieces don’t hang there, looking pretty, hoping you’ll stop for them. They drag you into their worlds, worlds you can feel, touch, see, hear and most importantly… change. Exhausted, we collapse in the café, listening to the girls embark on a feisty debate over which artist is best, Klimt or Dali. Now I really do feel like I have been transported into another universe.

Alas, there was no time for debate, for we had a date with another fearless little girl, destined to change the world around her: Matilda. Granted, Mr Dahl is a deeply problematic chap. But whilst his personal views are, to use his own language, absolute ‘trogglehumpers’ (that’s a ‘horrible nightmare’ to you and I), you can’t deny that man knew how to catapult little chidlers into brave new worlds; from escaping evil aunts and outwitting stub-toed, wart-nosed, scalp-scratching witches to taking on cannybully giants. Dahl’s works have a wonderful way of making anything seem possible – and, having escaped a Vesuvian eruption and the stormy Sea of Galilee before lunch, who are we to disagree.

Delumptious frobscottle in hand, we watched a fearless troupe of Royal Shakespeare Company’s finest chatbags and gigglers launch into a pitch-perfect performance of “Miracle” – and it was. From start to finish, our eponymous pint-size heroine took us on a heart-tugging, eye-watering, stomach-clenching emotional rollercoaster, with Matilda and her classmates pulling together to defeat the terrifying Miss Trunchbull. Having wowed London theatregoers for over a decade, this thrilling show still feels fresh and exciting; when children fall out of thin air or confetti explodes from the gods, it has all of the magic it did during that very first run. And, once again, the performance closed to a raucous standing ovation, with glassy-eyed parents on their feet and inspired children whooping in every cranny of The Cambridge Theatre, presumably plotting their own revolutions.

Stepping onto Covent Garden’s frosted cobbles with new sense of vigour, we hopped into our festive chariot, bound for The Landmark London hotel. A landmark, in its simplest form, is something instantly recognisable. But it’s more than this. Clocking a landmark is like seeing a familiar face in a crowded room; it grounds you and as if by magic, the world around you, the streets, the spires, they suddenly make more sense.

And what a landmark it is; a stone’s throw from Marylebone Station, the glorious Victorian pile, crowned by a soaring clock tower, is all flicking flags and fairy-tale turrets. But the grand red brick façade of this historic railway hotel is just the warm-up act, the real star hides inside: The Winter Garden. I saw a look of confusion wash over Rosie’s face as she clocked the hotel’s famous atrium. It was a Narnia moment, you know, when they step into a wardrobe and somehow find themselves in another world, sharing dusty sweets with a chatty fawn. She noticed the pianist first, then the towering palms, her eyes gradually making their way up eight glorious floors of majestic foliage, theatrical drapes and elegant balconies, right up to the glass ceiling and out to the stars beyond.

Our room was the stuff of dreams too; bedtime milk & cookies, a teddy to take home and even her very own teepee, nestled between the two double beds. “Do you think the BFG could fit in there?” she asked, face glued to our bedroom window, gazing at the tropical oasis. I nodded. “I bet he’d catch some posh dreams,” she giggled, launching into tales of gold, silver and diamonds before drifting off, holding her dreams tight – well, after the thrills and spills of today, it would be a golden phizzwizard of a dream.

Having enjoyed a swim in the hotel’s subterranean pool (another jaw-dropping hidden gem), we headed to breakfast in The Winter Garden. We were in good company; Emily Pankhurst and the suffragettes were thrown a “Welcome Back from Prison” breakfast here in 1908. In fact, The Landmark’s illustrious legacy features royals, soldiers and a punchy refurb courtesy of a Japanese popstar, but that’s a story for another time.

From the sublime, to the ridiculous, we bid farewell to The Landmark’s glittering chandeliers and discombobulating palms, bound for Dopamine Land; another of the capital’s highly-hyped and instantly-Instagrammed immersive experiences.

Thanks to its smattering of long-established world-class museums, South Ken has proved a mecca for tourists visiting the capital for many a moon. But as the history buffs flock to the boas and bones which fill the Natural History Museum and art fanatics dash towards the V&A, a new generation of culture-vultures queue, day-in day-out, for a very different experience. Yes, the ‘gram gang, keen to get the viral money shot; them posed in a kaleidoscopic world of endless lights (in reality, them in a mirrored box with multi-coloured lights hanging from the ceiling), can’t get enough of this happiness haven (so much so, that the day we visited they launched their newest attraction: Bubble Planet).

Here, visitors of all ages venture apprehensively through a series of whimsically-named, playfully-themed rooms, each designed to intrigue, delight and well, get that dopamine pumping. From writhing around in a ball pit of mammoth proportions and leaping through a magical forest to my personal favourite; smashing the crap out of each other with pillows, as a dramatic pre-recorded thunderstorm rages; lightening-illuminating the faux windows and eardrum-perforating music blaring, further fuelling the mayhem (and, in my case, tachycardia).

So, is it as good as it looks on the ‘gram? Granted, some will simply see the raw components; the lights strung up, the mirrors glued and what is essentially a toddler’s softplay ball pit, albeit a big one. Others go in looking for the magic, thirsty for the LOLs; they find enchanting forests, psychedelic worlds and a fun-filled, feather-fuelled rave. As I watch Rosie and her friend sneak out of the bubble-themed café, past the NO ENTRY sign and back into the stormy pillow fight room, I knew which goggles they had on.

As I followed them into the inky darkness a wave of déjà vu hit me. I could just about see my daughter. Her silhouette was writhing around on the floor as the storm raged around her. Whilst one part of me wanted to march in and drag her back to reality, unceremoniously, by one foot, the other part of me, the bigger part of me, wanted to stay… and bash the crap out of her with a pillow.

“Sometimes you’ve got to be a little bit naughty” – Matilda Wormwood, 1988

The Landmark London, 222 Marylebone Road, London NW1 6JQ. The property features in the Leading Hotels of the World portfolio. For more information, and for bookings, please visit www.landmarklondon.co.uk.