DISCLAIMER: This post was published as part of a paid project with Marriott UK.
Staycation. It’s a thing. But if you’re from London, chances are you don’t realise that London can actually be the best Staycation around. I know this because I did it recently, at Aloft London Excel in the heart of The Docklands.
Brits are funny beasts. Every year, we get all excited when the weatherman announces it’s finally ‘hotter than Spain’, then we race to places like Brighton and Bournemouth on crowded, million-degree trains to share cubic meters of space with total strangers. Just to ‘make the most of it’. It’s not big, it’s not clever, and it certainly isn’t relaxing. So I’ve a new suggestion: a London Staycation – whether you’re a Londoner, a visitor, or en route to somewhere else. The new place to stay (and play) is London Docklands. Here’s how to do it.
London Docklands is an area of riverfront (roughly 9 square miles) sprawling across boroughs from Tower Bridge to Woolwich. The area has a pretty epic history – for centuries, the Docklands served the trading power of the British Empire, before the many abandoned manufacturing plants and wharves became attractive options for residential and commercial developments. The regeneration of the area has seen the development of several recreational hubs, making Docklands a destination in its own right. Within this, probably the best place to explore is the Royal Docks, made up of the Royal Albert Dock, the Royal Victoria Dock, and the King George V Dock.
Where to stay
Aloft London Excel is where I chose to base myself for my 48hr staycation, for many reasons – the location, the facilities and the vibe to name a few.
Because of it’s close proximity to London City Airport (I went on a run on Saturday morning to explore the area and ended up in the private charter jet part. Faaancy af, in case you were wondering), Aloft London Excel has been a staple for business travel since it opened in 2011. And consequently, the focus in the hotel is on great service and convenience, without the fluff of a more traditional hotel set-up. My room overlooked the Thames, the temperature was set to perfectly crisp when I arrived, and I had the option to turn down the turn-down service if I wanted to help save the planet (and get a £5 drinks voucher to say thanks). So it’s modern and fresh – with just enough luxury details. The re: fuel pod (see below) is open 24hrs a day, even for drinks, and there’s an emergency vending machine for all your inevitable left-behinds.
For me, that was toothbrush and toothpaste, but there is literally everything else, too – plasters, phone chargers, batteries…. I genuinely think there should be one of these on every street corner. Check-in was a breeze, and everything is done by keycard, so you don’t have to remember cryptic entry codes or carry chunky keys.
The convenience factor is perfect for the discerning staycation-er – especially if it’s a last-minute jaunt. Which, let’s be honest, it usually is in the UK, since good weather has a tendency to strike when you least expect it. This extraordinary summer notwithstanding, obviously.
What to do?
Aloft’s infamous Splash Pool is an11-metre long indoor pool on the hotel’s ground floor. The unique floor-to-ceiling windows flood the room with natural daylight (or sunrise, sunset and dusky twilight – it’s open 6.30am-11pm daily), and the feature wall is peppered with pink neon light strips. They do swimming lessons, and there’s also a separate sauna and steam room.
Probably one of the best-equipped hotel gyms I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a lot), Aloft’s re:charge gym has a full cardio section (bikes, treadmills and elliptical trainers), plus a generous free weights section. There’s battle ropes too, if that’s your thing… Similar to the pool, the Thames-facing wall side is a vast window, which is great for mid-workout distractions.
The main activity hub along the Royal Victoria Dock is about a 15 minute walk from Aloft London Excel along the toe-path, or you can get the DLR from Prince Regent (literally moments from the hotel) to Royal Victoria. I’d recommend the walk, since door to door they take roughly similar times, and you see so much more en route. The Docklands as an area has a heavy emphasis on history, and if you take the pedestrian elevator up onto the Royal Victoria Dock Bridge, you get a great view of period features like the dock cranes and vast warehouse windows encased in recent developments.
Along the front is a series of activity centers – Docklands beach & lido is a man-made chill zone; Royal Docks offers Open Water Swimming in the filtered Thames flow; and WakeUp Docklands is paddle boarding and wakeboarding. Plus there’s a load of barge bars in-between, one of which sells posh hot dogs and WakeUp’s very own tiki bar. Exactly.
We visited WakeUp Docklands London twice over the weekend – first for wakeboarding (I find the more adrenaline-fuelled activities are better pre-lunch), and second for a Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) tour of the Docklands. The wakeboarding has two options – total beginners are with John on the left, beginners, cable, learning the basics right up to some pretty spectacular runs. On the right is a little more technical, with obstacles and larger turning circles on the bends. Wake up Docklands also has a sister brand, Riderr Sports, which promotes the transformational health benefits of ride sports. The tag-line is ride, rest, reconnect, and they aim to provide respite from the pressures of modern life.
It was my second time paddle-boarding – I’d come back from Lake Como the weekend before with the SUP bug. I was a little wobbly to start with, and with some gentle goading, got standing circa ten meters off the shore, just as we passed our second party of geese. The WakeUp Docklands team feel very close to the geese – they’ve watched them grow up from fluffy little things to ‘adolescents’. Apparently there was a very emotional moment when one little gosling got separated from then reunited with the fam. Cue melting hearts.
Climb The o2
There’s nothing quite like nailing a challenge in the great outdoors to get endorphins buzzing. Which is exactly what you get when you experience Up at The o2. Because there’s no lifts and no escalator, and despite being lead by an experienced guide you are 100% self-sufficient. They call it Urban Mountaineering, and it’s easy to see why. The hour and a half hike up then down is an exhilarating way to see London from a different perspective – up to 52m above ground, to be precise (not a coincidence that this is the number of weeks in a year, btw. The circumference of the o2 is also a significant 365m) – and as an added bonus, you can burn up to 450 calories per go.
Where to eat & drink
The main options for eating in situ at Aloft London Excel are a grab-and-go at the resident snack bar re: fuel, small plates on the Corona Terrace (please please please order the nachos and pardon peppers. Next level), or the main Docksider Grill restaurant, which is also where breakfast is severed each morning.
We ate dinner in Docksider on our first night, as we were getting our bearing of the area. The main focus is the grill, which is amazing – salmon, rib eye, chicken… beware, portions are generous. And you won’t want to not finish your plate. We started with chorizo bites and olives, then chicken salad and burrata, then a grill dish each. Turning down desert was a genuine struggle, but there simply wasn’t space.
Possibly the best bit about the Corona Terrace is the frozen margaritas and daiquiris, available on tap. Much like an adult slush puppy. Start here, then make your way to the W XYZ bar for cocktails, home to Live @ Aloft, a series of cool gigs by emerging artists that runs across the year
On the second night, we got a bit more adventurous and booked a table at Craft, which is a vibe-y, 3 floor restaurant over-looking the o2. We started upstairs on the balcony for sundowners, then headed downstairs to our booth for food. The style is very much sharing plates, and again we completely over-ordered, but it was absolutely worth it.
For our mid-watersport lunch break, we chose Nakhon Thai. I say chose. It’s almost chosen for you, since it is literally a stone’s throw from WakeUp Docklands. The setting is stunning – authentic Thai décor, and a beautiful secret decked garden if you fancy venturing out of the AC. Again, we ordered practically everything…
How to get around
Aloft London Excel is literally next to Prince Regent on the DLR, which is connected to the London Underground’s Jubilee Line via Canning Town. Probably the most fun way to get around, though is the Emirates Cable Car, which runs from 7am on weekdays, 8am on Saturdays, and 9am on Sundays. It’s a genuine method of transport that whisks you over the river, but is also an experience in itself because of the stunning views, and handy voice-overs within the cars that tell you a little more about the local area. Every Thursday-Saturday you can take a slightly longer trip which includes a champagne flight and the most insane sunset views on the Thames.
There’s so much to do around London Docklands, which makes it an awesome choice for a weekend (or week!) staycation. With action-packed adventures fast becoming the latest trend in travel, 48hrs with Aloft London Excel is the perfect way to escape the city without having to travel far.
Check out all the different things to see and do when you stay at Aloft London Excel here!
Here’s to the new way to travel – #stayandplay