To commemorate Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee this year (50-year reign), many of London’s historic Royal Palaces and landmarks are opening their banqueting halls and staterooms to the group and meetings market. Kensington Palace, in the heart of London, hosts 50 to 60 events each year in two venues. The Orangery at Kensington Palace, situated adjacent to the palace in private formal gardens, provides a tranquil setting for a reception for 250 or dinner for 150. On the ground floor of the palace, the Victorian Garden Rooms holds smaller dinners and receptions. A private tour through the State Apartments and an exhibit of dresses worn by Queens Elizabeth and Victoria is included. Kensington Palace, like other Royal venues, has a list of "approved" caterers and suppliers.
Further south on the River Thames, at Hampton Court Palace, the 16th-century home of King Henry VIII and his six wives, an event will begin with a guide in period costume escorting groups on a tour. Cocktails take place in the Tudor Kitchens, followed by dinner in The Great Hall, with its Flemish tapestries and stained-glass windows, or the more intimate Banqueting House. During the summer months, the palace’s gardens are the setting for events. (www.hrp.org.uk)
Henry’s boyhood home in southeast London, Eltham Palace, is now an Art Deco mansion with a range of function rooms. (www.heritagehospitality.org.uk) Spencer House, another English Heritage property, was built by an ancestor of Princess Diana in 1756-1766. The antique-filled mansion has eight staterooms that can accommodate 100 people for seminars and 350 for a cocktail party. (www.spencerhouse.co.uk or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org)
Downstairs at St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Conference Suite at St. Paul’s, with its vaulted ceiling and golden stone walls, has two meeting rooms. The suite can accommodate between 12 and 48 for board meetings, seminars, off-site training, receptions and lunches. A/V equipment, including video recorders, a presentation point for laptop computers, slide projectors, screens and overhead projectors are provided. (e-mail email@example.com).
Groups dining at the Tower of London, the oldest of the Historic Royal Palaces (it dates back to William the Conqueror in the 11th century) have the chance to peek at the English Crown Jewels and speak to "beefeaters." The Tower was once a Royal Palace, fortress, prison, arsenal and treasury. Atmospheric venues here are open for daytime conferences, as well as evening cocktail receptions and dinners.(www.hrp.org.uk).
London’s Thames River has been rejuvenated with pubs, museums and theaters. A spectacular, must-see, off-site attraction on the river is the British Airways London Eye wheel. Groups of 20 enjoy a Royal view and a champagne breakfast in one of the Eye’s 32 capsules as it slowly rises above the city. (www.ba-londoneye.com)
London’s business hotels have geared up for the 21st century with 24-hour business centers, in-room modems, fax machines, ISDN lines and Internet access. A premier business hotel, Le Meridien Grosvenor House, located on Park Lane, is upgrading many of its rooms with 42-inch plasma screen TVs for Internet use via an ISDN line or modem point. For meetings, the hotel has three luxurious ballrooms, including the 1,500-capacity The Great Room, one of Europe’s largest hotel conference and banqueting venues. Also on Park Lane, the Dorchester Hotel’s 250 rooms and suites have been upgraded with new interactive PC/TV entertainment and business systems, enabling word processing, e-mail and Internet use. Laptops can be connected to the system, facilitating printing of documents. Rooms have three telephone points for fax machines and laptops, and in-room videoconferencing is possible at the hotel. (www.dorchesterhotel.com) Across Hyde Park, the chic Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park (mandarinoriental.com) offers 200 restored rooms and suites, two executive meeting rooms and a stunning new spa and gymnasium.
For additional information about meetings in London, visit the website of the London Tourist Board and Convention Bureau at Website: www.londonconventionbureau.com.