My Favourite Area of London

This is a journal about the area and attractions around Westminster and the Victoria Embankment in London, an area I never get tired of visiting!

A Stroll through the Sights

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by eilidhcatriona on July 22, 2009

My favourite part of London is the Embankment, or to be precise, the Victoria Embankment. This runs from Blackfriars Bridge to Westminster Bridge, but my favourite section is from Waterloo Bridge to Westminster. It is a wide tree lined street which runs right alongside the Thames, and is the ideal place for a stroll, to see some sights and to have a drink and something to eat.

You can travel here on the Underground, and there are a number of stations you can use – Westminster, Embankment, Temple, Charing Cross, Covent Garden and Waterloo are all within walking distance. I usually use Embankment, but that is because in addition to enjoying a walk along the Embankment itself, I like to stroll up Villiers Street towards the Strand – there are a number of nice pubs and cafes on this street (there are a choice of two exits from Embankment station, one takes you out beside the river and the other will take you onto Villiers Street).

In general terms, the Victoria Embankment is a fantastic place for a walk. When it’s a sunny day, there isn’t anywhere I prefer to be. There is shade under the trees, and despite the busy road alongside the wide pavement, it’s very relaxing and there is plenty to see.

I’ll start this story from Waterloo Bridge, and then go towards Westminster. Moored beside Waterloo Bridge is one of my favourite London pubs, the Queen Mary. Yes, moored – it is an old paddle steamer which is now a pub. The interior is adorned with old black and white Glasgow pensioners on board the Queen Mary for its trips up the Clyde. The food is good, the drinks are good, and you can sit on deck and watch the river go by. Even sitting inside there are large windows so you can see what is going on.

Between the Queen Mary and Embankment station, you pass Cleopatra’s Needle. This is an Ancient Egyptian obelisk given to the UK in 1819 and moved here from Alexandria in 1877, erected in 1878. There is a plaque on the plinth on which the obelisk stands in memory of those who lost their lives bringing it here – it was quite an undertaking, towed behind a boat and meeting a storm in the Bay of Biscay. My favourite part of the Cleopatra’s Needle story however, is about the two bronze sphinxes which sit on either side of the Needle. They were placed there to guard the Needle - but someone messed up and instead of looking outwards for danger, they sit gazing at the Needle!

Along the length of the Victoria Embankment you will find raised benches under the trees. These are ideal spot to sit and have a rest, get out of the sun and watch the life of the river. There is always something passing by, something to look at, so as part of your walk along the Embankment I would suggest you take a minute to sit down and see what is happening.

Beside Embankment station, there is the Embankment Pier. From here you can take boat trips up and down the Thames, something which is a wonderful relaxing experience in good weather. After you pass the pier you go under the Hungerford Bridge, which is the rail bridge leading into Charing Cross station. It also has foot bridges on either side, so you can cross to the South Bank from here.

Once you’ve gone under the bridge, you will be met with a fantastic view of the London Eye. It’s so big, it’s quite breathtaking – even after I’ve lived here over two and a half years, I’m not used to it and I have to stop and look. You can see the Eye from along the Embankment, and from a lot of central London, but between the Hungerford and Westminster Bridges are the best views, and of course there is one spot on the Victoria Embankment where you are directly opposite the Eye.

As soon as you emerge from under the Hungerford Bridge, there is a street to your right called Northumberland Avenue which leads up to Trafalgar Square – another spot which is worth a visit. On your left, moored on the river you will see two boats. These are more pub-boats like the Queen Mary. The first one is called the Hispaniola and I can’t tell you much as I have never visited, but it seems to be more of a restaurant than a pub. The second is the Tattershall Castle, and this another of my favourites. It has a larger deck area and more parasols than the Queen Mary, so it’s a great place to go in good weather. The food is really very good, and the interior is very nice as well. Highly recommended.

Carrying on past the boats, the Houses of Parliament will start to become visible ahead through the trees. Before you reach them however, you will come across a very moving war memorial. London is full of memorials, understandably, and so many of them move me – another favourite is the one in memory of animals in war on Park Lane, they also deserve our remembrance. But this one on the Victoria Embankment is for the Battle of Britain, in memory of the few who gave their lives for so many – Winston Churchill’s moving words are inscribed on the memorial, and it never fails to stop me in my tracks. There are lists of those who died in the Battle of Britain, and also friezes of wartime images. Stop and look, and reflect on what they did for Britain.

Moving on from the memorial, you will very shortly reach the Westminster Pier, where you can also take boat trips along the river – a lot of the trips start from here so I would advise coming here rather than Embankment Pier as the boat fills up at the start.

At this point, you’re at the Westminster Bridge and right beside the Houses of Parliament. This is one of my favourite London landmarks as it is so recognisable, and every time I see it remember where I am, and that I am so lucky to live here, in amongst all this history and incredible architecture! I also love Parliament Square, which is behind Parliament, as there are some wonderful statues of notable figures.

So there you have my favourite London experience. It’s not particularly fancy, and it is just a short walk – but what a walk. Go to Embankment on a lovely sunny day, and you won’t regret it.
Victoria Embankment
Villiers Street
London, England

Another View of a Beautiful City

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by eilidhcatriona on July 21, 2009

The London Eye is one attraction in London that’s hard to miss. It dominates the skyline, and on a clear day there are even points in Acton from which it can be seen. When you’re near it you can’t help but find your eyes drawn to it – although you have to watch very closely to see it moving, as it goes so slowly.

I first saw the London Eye 10 years ago, when it was under construction. It was laid out across the river, and it really was quite a sight. However, the first time I saw it after I moved to London in 2006, it was at night and it was all lit up. It was stunning. It really does look fantastic at night.

I’ve now been on the Eye twice, and I loved both times. A standard "flight" as they call it costs £17 for adults and £8.50 for children, but if you book on the website in advance you can save 10%. By doing this you can also select which time you want to go on the Eye. For both my visits the tickets were pre-booked, and you simply collect them from the ticket office half an hour before the time you are due to board.

When boarding, the wheel continues moving but it is going so slowly that you barely notice. For wheelchair users they do stop the wheel. The capsules each hold around 10 people, so at busy times you do have to share with others – unless you’re there in a large group. But quiet times you may be lucky enough to get a capsule to yourselves, or with only a couple of others. There are special tickets available where you can book a private capsule or a champagne flight for a special occasion.

Once we had boarded, before I knew it we had moved out over the river, and already we were starting to get wonderful views. I’m not scared of heights, or of rides of any sort – I love rollercoasters and all sorts, so I had no worries about the Eye. However I was a little disconcerted during the first quarter of the flight, and I think this is because we were moving upwards and further out over the river, with nothing between us and the river. Once you are a little further up, the machinery and structure of the Eye are below you, and so it gives you some sense of security I think. This is of course just me – no one else I’ve been on it with had this feeling, and then of course there are those who will have a much worse reaction. In this situation there is an emergency button and you can talk to a member of staff. If you’re not too far round the wheel they will reverse it, but if you’re halfway round there’s no point so you just have to finish the flight. I have been on it while it has reversed, so it does happen.

As soon as you’re a quarter of the way up, the views become rather special. Before long you can see any number of landmark buildings, including Buckingham Palace, St Pauls, Canary Wharf, the BT Tower, the Gherkin…the list goes on. If it’s a sunny day the views are incredible, but even if it’s cloudy you can still see far and wide. I’ve never been on it in the rain, so I don’t know how the views are affected in rain. Personally, my favourites are Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament. The Palace looks wonderful from above, set in amongst so much greenery. And although the Houses of Parliament are in fact the closest landmark to the Eye, it is such an incredible building that to see it from above is wonderful.

The flight around the Eye takes about half an hour. When you approach the end, watch out for cameras which will take your picture – you can buy it as a souvenir if you want, but sometimes the capsule itself makes the photo come out badly. I bought one from one of my visits, but it’s not brilliant. There is a souvenir shop with the usual keyrings and stationery, and more interesting gifts such as models of the Eye and books on the construction. I’ve never bought any of these, but if you are interested there is a reasonable selection.

I thoroughly enjoyed both my visits to the Eye, and I see no reason why I won’t go again some day – it’s an experience you can keep going back to. Whether you’re a visitor or a resident I would recommend you take a flight on the Eye, it gives you a completely different perspective on London.
The London Eye
South Bank of the River Thames
London, England, SE1 9TA
+44 (870) 500 0600

A Heady Day Out in the Company of Monarchs

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by eilidhcatriona on July 25, 2009

For many years, ever since I became interested in royal history, and particularly Mary Queens of Scots, I was keen to visit Westminster Abbey, where so many British monarchs are buried. Following my move to London, I finally got my chance and visited with my mum, who is even more interested in royal history than I am, and is always useful to have around when visiting places like this – she’s a walking encyclopaedia of Scottish and subsequently British monarchs.

Adult entry to the Abbey is currently £15, £12 for over 60s, age 11-18 is £6 and free for under 11. There are also family tickets available. The Abbey is open Monday to Saturday, but Sundays are for worship only and so tourists cannot visit. Travelling to the Abbey is very easy – it is located on Parliament Square and is right beside Westminster Underground Station.

You enter the Abbey through the side door, and not from the front. Even so, the scale of the building and the beauty of the architecture is immediately apparent. It really is quite a breathtaking building. I am not religious, but even so I can appreciate the beauty of religious buildings, and Westminster Abbey really is one of the most stunning. It was begun in the eleventh century by Edward the Confessor. Building continued over the next five centuries, and the most recent addition was in the eighteenth century. As always, the sheer scale of the architecture which was created in a time before heavy machinery is simply astounding.

Similarly, think of the age of this building – back to the eleventh century. And then think about the number of monarchs England and Britain have had since then, the number of coronations and royal weddings which have taken place here. As I walked around the Abbey, I was standing on flagstones which people like Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, James I, and our own Elizabeth II have quite possibly walked on. That’s quite a heady feeling, and it followed me all the way through the Abbey.

Following our guide leaflet, my mum and I saw far more than I can possibly tell you about in a review. We saw numerous royal tombs and memorials, all of which my mum was able to give me some information about. The highlight for us of the royal tombs were those of Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots. Elizabeth had Mary executed as a threat to the English throne, but was in such anguish over having murdered a fellow queen that she had Mary buried with much ceremony in Peterborough Cathedral. When Mary’s son, James VI of Scotland, became James I of Great Britain, he had his mother’s remains brought to Westminster and had a wonderful tomb erected in her memory. I had been eager to visit Mary’s tomb and pay homage to our most famous monarch, but I didn’t expect to feel as moved by it as I did.

Another section of the Abbey that I found very moving was the Royal Air Force chapel. This is a small chapel created in memory of those who flew with the RAF during the Second World War. It features stained glass with the badges of the fighter squadrons who took part in the Battle of Britain, and has a memorial roll of those who died in it. This does not only include Brits, but those from British colonies and other countries such as the USA who flew with the RAF. The chapel is a beautiful and fitting memorial to those who fought, and it’s worth stopping and reflecting. There is even a preserved area of bomb damage to really bring home what happened.

We saw the Coronation Chair, which was of some interest to us, but having seen the Stone of Scone in Edinburgh Castle a few years before, we weren’t overly interested in the ancient chair of the English monarchs. It is fascinating that it is 700 years old – I wouldn’t expect a wooden chair to last that long, but it is looked after very well and doesn’t exactly get used very often. There is a nice gap underneath the seat where the Stone of Scone used to sit. I must admit though that the chair would probably look more impressive with the Stone in it – as it is, it is just a very old wooden chair.

I was surprised and delighted to learn that the Abbey has a Poets Corner, where a number of literary figures are buried and remembered. I enjoyed seeing the resting places of wonderful writers such as Dickens, Chaucer and Hardy, and there are memorials to many others including Wordsworth, Keats, Austen and the Bronte sisters. I was pleased to see the Scots Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott also had memorials. I don’t know why, maybe it was the light or the open and slightly higgledy-piggeldy layout of Poets Corner, but I found it quite an uplifting area, and very pleasant to visit. It did not feel sombre, but rather celebratory of these great figures. In addition to writers, the composer Handel is also buried here.

From Poets Corner we headed to the front of the Abbey, and looked up the Nave. From the main door, looking up the nave, the interior of the building is instantly recognisable as it is the section which is seen on television. In this area there is also a memorial to the great Winston Churchill, which rather appropriately is near the grave of the Unknown Soldier.

Throughout the Abbey there are statues and memorials to numerous other figures from history, and more recent years, including Darwin, Brunel, and Martin Luther King. One which was of particular interest to me was a statue of Grand Duchess Elizabeth. I have a great interest in the last Tsars of Russia, and as the wife of the Tsar’s brother, and sister to the Tsarina, Elizabeth or Ella was very much a part of this. Following the death of her husband, she set up a convent and became a nun in her new order of the Sisters of Martha and Mary. She was murdered by the Bolsheviks along with the rest of the royal family, however she was created a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church in the 1980s. Hers is a happy and sad story, and it is nice to see her remembered so far from her home.

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the Abbey, and despite the high entrance price I would like to go back – I think the entrance is definitely worth it for all the history that is contained in the Abbey. My mum and I didn’t visit every section and we spent two hours there, and I haven’t even covered everything we did see in this review as there is just too much, so I do intend to go back. I would strongly recommend a visit to locals and visitors alike, as you there is just so much to see and learn.
Westminster Abbey
20 Dean's Yard
London, England, SW1P 3PA
+44 (20) 7222 5152

The Queen Mary Floats My Boat

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by eilidhcatriona on July 27, 2009

One day a couple of years ago, I discovered that some of the boats moored along the Victoria Embankment in London were not, in fact, simply decorative. Some of them are pubs. What a brilliant idea I thought. All the fun of a boat trip without actually going anywhere!

The first of these pubs which I visited was the Queen Mary. Since discovering it I have been back numerous times, and it remains one of my favourites. Access, however, may not be ideal for the disabled or those with mobility problems. My parents and I chose not to visit, as there are stairs up from the pavement to the gangway onto the boat, and at that time the tide was out – so although it would have been downwards slope into the pub, when leaving my mum would have seriously struggled to get back up the steeply sloping gangway.

The Queen Mary is an old paddle steamer, and is full of interesting photos from its heyday, including loads of old photos of groups of Glaswegian pensioners off on their day trips on the Clyde! Inside, the engine as been preserved and you can view this through a viewing gallery – a nice touch which adds to the feeling of authenticity which is prevalent on board the Queen Mary.

You can reach the Queen Mary easily from Embankment, Charing Cross and Temple stations, and it isn’t far from Westminster or Covent Garden either.

The main bar area has a selection of tables of varying sizes, so you can get a table just for your group or you can take a section of one of the larger tables. The interior isn’t pristine, but it’s not dirty. There is also a small deck area where you can take your drink outside, but I’ve never eaten out here.

The drink selection is fairly standard, and you can expect to pay standard London prices. Pints are upwards of £3, and soft drinks aren’t exactly cheap either. I’ve never had any problems with drinks from the Queen Mary – the draught cider and lagers are always fresh and fizzy, as are the soft drinks.

Having visited the Queen Mary many times, I have sampled the food a lot and the standard never varies. It is not anything special, but it is good pub grub, and you won’t go wrong with it. The portions are of a decent size, and the sides are always very good quality (chips, salad and vegetables). I normally go for a fish dish when I’m eating in a pub, as I think that you just can’t beat pub fish and chips or scampi. I’ve never been disappointed at the Queen Mary, and in fact when I have the fish, the size is so generous that I am unable to finish it! And I do have a reasonable appetite. The various friends I have visited with have sampled other dishes, including burgers, steaks and sandwiches, and no one has ever been let down. In fact, the burgers come very highly recommended.

The food is good and the drinks are good, but for me the real selling point of the Queen Mary is the location. From the windows you can see the London Eye, the Houses of Parliament, the South Bank, and if you’re in the right spot you can see east towards the Gherkin and St Pauls. Even just watching the river is fun – it can be very relaxing watching the boats and clippers going past, and I find the large glass dinner cruise boats hilarious, they look like floating greenhouses. There’s always something to see – from the Queen Mary I once saw the river police chasing a kayaker at a very slow speed.

The Queen Mary is not, in my opinion, the best of the Embankment boat pubs (more on that to come), but that doesn’t mean it’s bad, far from it. It is definitely worth a visit if you are in the area.

A Castle on the Thames

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by eilidhcatriona on July 28, 2009

The Tattershall Castle is one of the "boat-pubs" moored on the Thames along the Victoria Embankment. It is an attractive navy and white boat, and has an enviable spot on the Westminster side of the Hungerford Bridge.

You can reach the Tattershall Castle from a number of tube stations. It is right beside Embankment station, but is also very close to Westminster, Charing Cross and Temple, and can be easily reached from Covent Garden as well.

The Tattershall Castle has indoor and outdoor areas, with a very large deck area. There are plenty of tables with benches here, some with parasols for those hot summer days. There are also higher tables which you can stand at with a drink, and as icing on the cake, there is a deck bar, removing the need to go downstairs to the indoor bar! There are on deck barbecues in summer time, but I have never sampled these.

Inside, the Tattershall Castle is very nice and clean, and appears to have been refurbished within the last few years. It has plenty of standard tables and chairs, and some lower tables with comfy sofas and armchairs for a lazy drink when you can’t stay outdoors.

The view from the Tattershall Castle has to be its biggest draw for me. From the outside deck, you have a spectacular view of the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament. I’ve been living in London for over two and a half years, and I’m still not tired of these views – so they are bound to be appreciated by visitors as well! From the inside bar, there are large windows along the river side of the boat so you can see the Eye and watch the activity on the river.

The drinks on offer are fairly standard pub fare, with nothing too interesting to report. A pint of Strongbow is around £3.30, so expect to pay normal London prices. In June there was an offer of a free glass of wine with any pasta dish, an offer I have seen before, so if you are planning to eat check out the menu before you get your drinks!

The menu is very good. There are plenty of pub dishes, such as fish and chips, steak sandwich, lasagne etc. There are also plenty of salads and sandwiches. On my most recent visit I had fish and chips, which was delicious. The fish is a very generous size, there were more chips than I could eat, the mushy peas are spot on, and you even get a portion of bread and butter with it. My friend had a leek risotto, which she thoroughly enjoyed. In the past I have visited with friends and family who have sampled burgers, steak sandwich and salads, and all have been delighted with the food. Main courses are on the whole around £9, salads and sandwiches are a little less.

A note on accessibility: as with all the boat pubs, the Tattershall Castle is not necessarily ideal for those in wheelchairs or with mobility problems. If the tide is out, the boat and subsequently the gangway can drop significantly, meaning a steep uphill walk when leaving the pub. This is also not ideal after a few drinks...!!!

The Tattershall Castle is my favourite of the boat-pubs, for the quality of its food, the lovely interior and large deck, and its amazing position on the Thames. I would strongly recommend you include a visit here in a day out in the area – have a stroll along the Embankment, check out Parliament Square and walk up Whitehall, see the lions in Trafalgar Square and do some shopping in Covent Garden. It’s amazing how much there is to see and do in this area.
The Tattershall Castle
Victoria Embankment
London, England

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