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London Vacation Rentals: Insider’s Guide

Madelyn Byrne Willems | April 6, 2015

The insider advice on this page is from Wendy’s Trusted Travel Expert for London Apartment Rentals, Madelyn Byrne Willems of London Perfect.

Trusted Travel Expert
Madelyn Byrne Willems

As children, the Byrne sisters—Pat, Madelyn, and Lisa—spent many years in Europe, where their father was a U.S. Air Force pilot, honing their travel skills on family road trips in a Volkswagen bus. In 2000, they started a small family business, its mission to help travelers find a fabulous London apartment and experience the fun of living like a native. Since then, they have established offices in Paris and Italy as well. (Pat and Lisa live in Italy; Madelyn divides her time between London and Paris). Only apartments in top locations and excellent condition make the grade, selected for various tastes and preferences and furnished with fine amenities: high-thread-count linens, plush towels, modern kitchen appliances, comfortable beds and sofas, a supply of drinks and snacks to tide you over until you can get to the grocery store. Unlike an à la carte listing site with thousands of rentals, the London Perfect team knows its properties well and can answer questions about location, local transport, quality of beds, kind of coffee machine, whether guests can control heating, and so on. Each party is met by a greeter who gives a thorough orientation and leaves behind his or her phone number, along with a thick file containing all the information a guest could possibly need. Madelyn was also included in Wendy’s prestigious list of top villa specialists, which was published annually in Condé Nast Traveler magazine from 2006 to 2013.

Weekly rentals start at $1,950 in low season (one-bedroom apartment suitable for 2 guests) and most range from $2,350 to $6,000 during the high season (for one to five bedrooms).
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Master bedroom of The Victoria

Master bedroom of The Victoria. Photo courtesy London Perfect.

Where to Rent

Most overrated location
The West End is great for theater but not for a peaceful stay. We prefer to hop on the tube after a show and go back to a charming neighborhood like South Kensington or Notting Hill, where there are tons of restaurants, bistros, and pubs to enjoy.

Most underrated location
Kensington, a neighborhood of quaint streets lined with Victorian homes, is prized by Londoners but often overlooked as a vacation base. Yet within a short walk of our Kensington properties are Kensington Gardens, shopping along Kensington High Street, the Victoria and Albert and Natural History museums, and the Royal Albert Hall. With buses crisscrossing the area and easy tube connections to all of London, it’s one of the best spots for a holiday rental.

Most vibrant location
Chelsea is one of the city’s best shopping areas, as well as a mecca for foodies. The Duke of York Square, just off King’s Road, hosts a cute farmer’s market on Saturday mornings; you can stock your fridge with a selection of British cheeses and organic meats or try some traditional pies. From refreshing fresh juices at the Triyoga Café on King’s Road to a splurge at the three-Michelin-starred restaurant Gordon Ramsay, there’s something for every taste and budget in Chelsea.

Best location for romance
Notting Hill is undeniably romantic, with its quirky vibe, intimate restaurants, and rows of pastel houses. There are plenty of little shops to wander in and out of (don’t miss Ledbury Road and Westbourne Grove), as well as peaceful spots for strolling hand in hand.

Best location for a family
South Kensington is the place to be for families. Take the kids to the Natural History Museum to ooh and aah over the dinosaurs, the Science Museum to wonder at the cosmos. Entrance is free, so you can pop in and out at will; when the kids get restless, head over to Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. The latter’s many attractions include the Diana Memorial Fountain and a whimsical playground that also honors the princess; during the summer you can paddle a boat around the Serpentine or just enjoy a picnic by the water.

Best location for home cooks
London is dotted with great farmers’ markets, so you’re rarely far from organic produce and UK meats and cheeses. Foodies simply must make a trip (or two or three) to Borough Market, which has made a name for itself in recent years. Go hungry, and let the yummy-looking displays inspire your menu.

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge, London. Photo courtesy Visit London.

Do’s and Don’ts

Worth the splurge
Afternoon tea in the elegant Orangery at Kensington Palace, followed by a stroll through Kensington Gardens. Created for Queen Anne in 1704, the Orangery is the perfect spot in which to enjoy this wonderfully British custom.

A driver to meet you at the airport or train station. London street names can be trickier than you’d think, and there’s nothing worse after a long flight than to end up in a taxi that’s going in circles as the meter ticks. While the train into town from the airport may seem like a good option, you’re likely to exhaust yourself lugging suitcases up and down stairs, since many train and tube stations don’t have escalators or elevators.

Not worth the splurge
Air-conditioning: London doesn’t get very hot even in the peak of the summer, and air-conditioned apartments are rare. Unless you like it cold, cold, cold, you won’t need more than a fan or two.

Bragging rights
Get an intimate view of the London fashion scene in private sessions with top designers. Home to both the fine-tailoring traditions of Savile Row and a wellspring of avant-garde design, London is the perfect blend of classic and cutting-edge. Our exclusive shopping tour opens up a fascinating world, introducing you to such leading lights as jewelry designer Theo Fennell and London-based fashion designer Alice Temperley, a favorite of Kate Middleton, Sarah Jessica Parker, and some of the biggest stars of Hollywood.

The perfect souvenir
Hunter rain boots, made by the company that outfits the royal family.

Don’t forget to pack
Rain gear. Londoners don’t let the weather stop them from being out and about, and we recommend that you pack with the same attitude. Layers are the best advice—include a lightweight jacket and a quilted vest.

Contact Madelyn

Best Times to Go

March in London is glorious: There’s nothing quite like the fields of daffodils in Kensington Gardens or strolling through Chelsea when everything’s in bloom. Autumn is an ideal time for museum lovers, as many of the blockbuster exhibitions open then; and Christmas is irresistibly festive, with holiday lights on all the shopping streets, a plethora of Christmas markets, high tea at gorgeous hotels, and holiday cheer everywhere.

Worst Times to Go

Skip late summer if you want to avoid lines at museums and historic sights. That said, the perks of visiting in July and August are warm weather and long summer evenings when the sun doesn’t set until almost 10 p.m. Such pleasures as strolling through St. James’s Park on a balmy evening make up for the longer lines.

Biggest Rookie Mistakes

Stepping off the curb into oncoming traffic. Even though you know that Londoners drive on the left, it can be hard to remember—especially when there’s so much to gawk at. Look right before crossing!

Choosing an inconvenient location. That dream pad may look perfect, but not if you have to spend hours every day walking to the tube, sitting on a train, or hiking to a grocery store. Among the most convenient locations are Chelsea, Kensington and South Kensington, Notting Hill, and Mayfair. It’s essential to be near good bus lines within zone 1 of the tube.

Crucial Questions to Ask Before Renting

Is help available in an emergency? Be sure that someone who really knows the property is only a phone call away if, say, a pipe bursts, the radiators stop working, or you can’t figure out how to switch on the washing machine.

How noisy is it? Many people lose sleep if they’re above a busy street. Questions like this are why it’s essential to talk with someone who knows the ins and outs of every apartment.

Is it safe for toddlers? People traveling with young children, or anyone with impaired mobility, should inquire about potential hazards—staircases, balconies, slippery floors, etc.—as well as proximity to public transport, parks, and recreational areas.

What about an A/C? Air-conditioning is not common in London because it’s cool here for most of the year. However, if you really can’t live without it, inquire before making a decision.

Does each appliance have up-to-date and easy-to-follow instructions?

Is there a neighborhood primer? You’ll want to hit the ground running, not waste precious vacation time in online searches or stomping the pavement in pursuit of a grocery store, only to find one that closed a half-hour ago. That’s no fun!

What’s the kitchen like? London kitchens tend to be compact, so if cooking is a passion and certain appliances are essential (five gas burners, a full-size fridge), be sure to specify.


My family rated the trip

Karyn Sallus | March 30, 2017

You NEVER find them in Europe.

Christine Hrib-Karpinski | March 7, 2017

The BEST vacation

Kent Schneider | June 5, 2016
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