I have a lot of journals that feature London but this one is to put it all in one place. Here are some of my favourites (hotels, restaurants, attractions) and some (hopefully) helpful hints.
by tvordj on September 14, 2010
London is my favourite city, so far. I can't imagine ever not loving it no matter how many other cities I get to visit during my lifetime. It all stems from an early love of the history of the U.K., London in particular. The pomp, the royalty, the events, all going back more than two millenia, I find it all fascinating. Modern London is very diverse, with many, many different things to see and do. When people say there's something there for pretty much everyone, they aren't lying. This journal is going to be a central "bucket" for a round up and summary of my experiences in London. There will be general tips, summaries of what's in a few different areas that people don't think of as the top things to do in London, and some off the beaten track and lesser known things to do, mainly galleries and museums for the most part. I'll include some of my reviews that were originally attached to other journals but won't to put every one of them here. There are also places and things I haven't seen/done yet but really would like to some day or places that have been recommended by friends in London. Those are described mainly from information gathered from websites or word of mouth. Since I am mainly a budget traveler, there are also descriptions of my experiences and thoughts on how to do London for less. I've been to London nearly a dozen times to date and there is still a list of things I haven't managed to see/do and there's a second list of things that I have seen/done that I want to do again! In some cases, the initial visit was quite some time ago so an update is required. In other cases, I just enjoyed it so much, I want to do/see it again (or something similar). Most of my visits were only two to three days with two other visits lasting a week each. My first visit was in 1993 as part of a tour of the U.K. and the next visit was in 1996, a few days spent here before a tour of Italy. Since 2000, I've managed to stay in London at least overnight nearly every year. (two airport hotel-only stays don't count.) I don't consider myself an expert on London by any means but I'm familiar enough with it to know the lay of the land and am able to answer questions when friends or co-workers are heading there. I've got a number of friends that live there, as well, so I always have someone to contact for answers to my own questions.
Now, the first thing you need to know about London is how to get there! Airports are the most common point of entry for most people and the trains are the next most used arrival points. Almost all my airport experience is through Heathrow which is the closer of the two big airports, the other being Gatwick (in addition to London City and Stanstead, but I have absolutely no idea about them.) Arrival through Gatwick is probably less stressful. It's a big airport but not monstrous like Heathrow is. It's more modern and open. They have rail links between the terminals and the two main ways to get into central London are the National Express bus and the train. Both will bring you to Victoria train station, which is in the southwest part of London north of the Thames river. It's a large transportation hub with links to the city busses and the tube (i.e. underground or "subway" for us North Americans. Oh, and don't call it the Subway when you're there. They use that term for underground pedestrian tunnels!) Gatwick Express trains to Victoria Station take about a half hour and are non-stop. There are trains to several other London train stations via First Connect that take a little under an hour for about half the cost of the Express. They serve London Bridge, City Thameslink, Blackfriars, Farringdon and St Pancras International, any of which may be more convenient to your hotel. Regular rail services into Victoria may also be cheaper, though slower than the Express. National Express busses can take an hour or more depending on traffic to Victoria Station and Easybus goes to West Brampton and Earl's Court. Heathrow airport is massive with five terminals. There are shuttles between the terminals which you may need to get to the bus, train and underground stations. The cheapest way into the city is the tube or underground but if you have a lot of luggage, remember that you will have to carry it up stairs in the tube stations most likely as many of them do not have lifts or escalators or have a combination. It takes about an hour to get to King's Cross station and the tube, the Piccadilly line. The most expensive mode of transportation is the Heathrow Express. It'll cost you about 15 pounds and it will get you to Paddington Station in 15 minutes. However, there is a new rail service to Paddington that takes about 30 minutes, making a handful of stops for half the cost of the Express. It's the Heathrow Connect and well worth looking into. From Paddington, you can catch the tube or take a bus or taxi to your hotel. National Express bus will take you from the central bus station at Heathrow to Victoria Bus station, also a good option. It costs about 5 pounds one way, which is nearly as cheap as the tube but doesn't get to the other side of the city. Arrival at one of the main train stations will always put you at a tube station as well. There will be taxis and busses available outside the station and there will be machines and ticket booths for you to get public transportation tickets and passes if your hotel is too far from the station to walk.
Most people recommend the Underground for getting around London quickly. They're right, in some respects but the Underground, or Tube, can also be a real zoo. It can be very crowded and hot and claustrophobic. Add to that numerous stairs to get to and from the platforms or to change platforms and it could end up being a real pain in the patootie. The busses can also be pretty crowded but you can see where you're going and are great if you aren't in a hurry. You're on vacation, are you really in that much of a hurry anyway? London transport is divided into six zones. Most of the tourist attractions are in zones one and two in the centre of the city. For most people, that will do. Tickets and travel passes are priced according to how many zones you'll be using. Heathrow airport is in zone 6 but unless you are going to make a habit of leaving zone 2, don't let anyone talk you into buying a 6 zone travel pass for the duration of your visit. It's far more expensive to do that if you aren't planning on leaving the city centre. You'd be better off buying an individual ticket from Heathrow to the centre if that's your preferred method of airport transport and then getting a 2 zone travel card or pass. Decide what you're going to need, a six zone pass will go quite far and includes the commuter rail. I've used one that was good at least as far as Rayleigh in Essex or Hampton Court/Richmond. Check the London Transport website for maps and info. Travelcards are ideal. You can get them for one day and 7 days. Traveling off peak (after 9:30 a.m.) makes it cheaper. You can get paper travel cards or you can load the cost of one or more travel cards on the plastic Oyster "smartcard". A one day zone one and two travelcard will let you use all the modes of transportation for the day (bus, tube, DLR (Docklands light rail), overland rail, tram). London Transport offers visitor travel cards that you can buy online. They can be bought up to 90 days in advance and will be delivered to you. There doesn't seem to be a cost for mailing them from what I can tell but it's just as easy to get them when you arrive.You can also get bus only passes which are much cheaper if you don't plan to take the tube, DLR or overland commuter trains. 2010 prices are £16.60 for a 7 day adult pass. Student discounts are available but I think probably only for UK schools and you need to have a student ID card. Photos are only needed now for passes for a month or longer. You won't likely get a paper pass, though, they'll insist on putting it on an Oyster card.Ah yes, the Oyster card. This is really the way to go for any length of stay in London. The TFL really to push this as an alternative to paper tickets and passes. You can load the cards with any kind of travelcard or just pre-pay for pay-as-you-go. Oyster cards are touched to a pad at the entrance and exit to the tube gates, busses and tramlinks and are generally prepaid amounts with a daily maximum of about the same as the daily travelcard. The individual fares charged to the Oyster card are cheaper than single tickets, as well. Currently they are not accepted on National Rail. You can register the card and if it gets stolen you can get a replacement. Convenient for longer stays. No photo required. This would be the ideal way to do it as a card is more convenient, doesn't get ruined if it gets wet or bent and is easier to find in your wallet or pocket. We bought a 7 day bus pass and weren't given the option of a paper pass at all, they sold us an Oyster card and loaded on the pass. Kids 15 and under can travel free on the busses, ages 11-15 need a photo with the Oyster card for this. If you visit London frequently, save them and load them up with passes or cash when you return. I've also lent them to friends to use as well.There are machines that sell the tickets, cards and top up the Oyster cards in all the stations. There are ticket booths in many of the stations and all of the train stations. You can usually get paper travel cards at many shops and newsagents as well. check out the London Transport site. There's lots of good information there and lots of pdf maps including a good one for the bus routes to the tourist attractions.
by tvordj on August 13, 2009
Obviously, these tips are really just as good for any country, not just London and the U.K.Money... Cash, Travelers' Cheques, ATM/bank machine cards, credit cards... Traditionally, travelers' cheques have been the secure answer to a travelers' needs. Banks and Exchange bureaus will exchange them for a fee if you can't get to an office of the issuer like Thomas Cook or American Express. And they're still a viable, and secure option. I gave up TC's. I rely mainly on my ATM card and my credit card. I don't think my ATM card would work as a debit card outside of Canada, possibly the US but it's also the money machine card.1. The ATM card will default to your PRIMARY ACCOUNT ONLY. For most people that is your CHEQUING account if you have that connected to your ATM card. At least that's been my experience. You very likely won't get a choice of what account to take your money out of. Make sure your PIN number is 4 digits, NO LETTERS Just numbers!2. You can also get cash advances off your credit card. Make sure you know what your daily limit for cash advances is. Translate this into the local currency. 500 dollars a day is *not* 500 pounds. On credit card cash advances, interest starts adding up the minute you take out that advance. Make a payment to your credit card before you go, ideally to put the card into a credit balance. Then you don't get any interest charged when the balance is below zero. That goes for purchases as well as cash advances. Using cash advances on your credit card might be a good backup to your ATM card. See Number 3. You can also get a cash advance on on the credit card, common ones like Visa and MasterCard inside a bank though you may have to show your passport as ID. 3. Have a backup. Once in awhile an ATM won't accept your card. In that case i just used my credit card for a cash advance. Make sure you have a backup, either 2 atm cards for 2 different banks, or an atm and a credit card that you can get an advance from. If you feel more comfortable having those travelers cheques as a backup, go ahead. If you get them in local currency, chances are you *may* be able to use them in a shop as local currency instead of going to the bank to get cash. I usually always buy some currency before I go away, to have something to start off with. You always need some cash for taxis, or the subway/metro/underground when you arrive. Good to have for cafes or corner shops as well.
Now that you've landed in London and got your preferred mode of transportation sorted, you'll need a place to lay your head at night. The cheapest options would be hostels. I have no experience with those so I really can't do much more than point you to London Hostel Association. There's lots of other hostel booking sites as well, Google is your friend. Another inexpensive option for summer is the student accommodations at the various universities around London. University College London (UCL) has a variety of options as does many of the colleges affiliated with the University of London. Again, Google is your friend. There isn't one central spot to check which of their colleges have summer accommodations.Budget hotel chains might be another good option. They are nothing particularly special, usually pretty generic but they're clean and dependable. They may not be right in the centre of town but they are usually close to an underground or bus route or two. These include Ibis and Travelodge. Sometimes you can get weekend specials at chains like Thistle, Novotel, Jurys or even Holiday Inns or Hiltons if you get lucky.In my experience looking for hotels on the internet, Bed and Breakfasts are often not a lot cheaper than a 2 or 3 star hotel or inn and indeed, many B&Bs are actually small hotels. Some will have shared facilities and some with en suite. Shared facilities are cheaper but for me, I prefer to be the only one using the toilet and shower during my stay. Many hotels have at least a continental breakfast included in the rate which is fine for me. I don't need a heavy cooked breakfast every morning. If you have to buy your breakfast, avoid the hotel since hotel prices are usually far higher than need be. Find a nearby bakery or cafe instead. I've stayed in a few different hotels in London. In general, I don't pay more than about 75 pounds per night unless I'm splitting the cost with someone. With the Canadian exchange rate being so low at the moment (2010), we can get a 100 pound hotel for the same price in Canadian dollars as a 75 pound hotel used to cost so that's always nice. If you're paying less than about 60 pounds for a hotel, chances are it's very, very basic, or way out of the centre of the city or it's a dump. Even the 60 pound range is pretty iffy these days. For a decent hotel in a decent area close to transportation and with en suite facilities, you will likely pay about 70 to 75 pounds a night unless you manage to get a deal. Lots of people get lucky with hotel auction sites like Priceline or with "hidden" hotels (i.e. you won't know what the name of the hotel is until after you've paid for it) on travel sites like Hotwire.com or Travelocity.com. You can save money with those sites though you won't have a choice of the hotel. I think they mainly use decent places, though, and in the popular areas so taking a chance could very well bag you a really good hotel for an affordable price. Your mileage may vary. I like to know what I'm getting first. The two booking sites I've had the best luck with are LondonNights and from the official London tourist site, Londontown which is also a good site to get discounted theatre tickets. Both have a variety of hotels from budget to luxury in many different areas of London. Neither site requires you to prepay the hotel stay.Of the hotels I've stayed in, there are a few I'd definitely return to. I've included individual reviews for Strand Palace Hotel, Hilton Islington, London Guards hotel and Thistle Euston in this journal. The Hilton is usually out of my budget but I'd got a good deal (65 pounds with full buffet breakfast for two!) through Londontown.com on a weekend stay. The Strand Palace is a bit more expensive than I usually pay but I was splitting the cost with my mother and I had wanted a good, central hotel close to bus transportation for her first visit to the city since she wouldn't use the underground. (too many steps and too claustrophobic for her) Another tourist class hotel I used some years ago is the Tavistock Hotel. I haven't been there since 1993 so I have no idea if it's still ok but I think it probably is. It will be a bit older, possibly a little worn around the edges but I recall that it was clean and near two underground stations (Euston and Russell Square) and a short walk from the British Museum. As always, your mileage may vary but these have been my most positive experiences.
There's lots of choices in London for ways to fill your tummy. You can spend a lot or a little or somewhere in the middle. Pubs are the most obvious and popular choice. Pub grub is usually plentiful and filling and reasonably priced. But these days, there are also Gastro-pubs which means an upscaled menu and higher prices. One chain of pubs that I tend to frequent is the Weatherspoon's pubs. they are quite often in older historic buildings and the menus usually have a good variety with low prices. They also have a small number of items that are discounted or are two for one offers. Those will be standard things like Bangers and Mash, a burger or fish and chips. For the most part, their food isn't bad and sometimes quite good. Once in awhile it's only mediocre but that's pretty much true of any place. There are hundreds of coffee shops and cafes around, and you can usually get pretty good meals for reasonable prices there. It's sometimes worth walking down a side street off a main one to find cafes and restaurants that are slightly off the beaten track but which have great food at good prices. Chinese and Indian restaurants also have lots of value for money, especially it it's one of the many buffet restaurants. There's loads of these in areas like Soho's Chinatown, or the east end by Brick Lane.Restaurants will usually always have a menu displayed outside so you can see ahead of time what they offer and the cost. There are often dinner or lunch specials or set menu prices which can also be good value. Pubs also may do a Sunday roast dinner special which I always find to be filling and tasty. I tend to avoid for the most part the big fast food joints. Food is usually overpriced and mediocre. Having said that, there are chain restaurants like Pizza Express or the Gourmet Burger Kitchen that have fast and tasty food. Some churches have cafes that are small but afford good food at reasonable prices, usually only open around lunchtime. Restaurants that I've particularly enjoyed for a really nice meal include Greek food at Kalamara's in the Bayswater-Queensway area, Andrea Doria for Italian in SoHo, Salieri's for post or pre theatre on the Strand, Loch Fyne for seafood in Covent Garden (and elsehwere, it's a national chain), and the historic Lamb and Flag pub in a hidden corner of Covent Garden. Another thing that's useful is to get takeout food such as sandwiches and fruit at a Tesco Metro or Marks and Spencer food store or the Pret chain of cafes and take it for a picnic or just a light meal in your hotel room. Boots the drugstore also has premade sandwiches and snacks. Fish and Chips, you say? Well most of the places in the touristy areas are locally known to be overpriced and not that good. Some pubs do it well but for good fish and chips, wait until you're outside London on a day trip somewhere. You'll probably have better luck. That said, sometimes if you are in the outer areas of London such as Notting Hill, Dulwich, Hampstead, or Camden, you might find a good "chippie" on a side street or a good feed of fish and chips in a pub.
Now you've got somewhere to spend your nights, what are you doing in the daytime?London is expensive. This much is true and there are a good number of popular high priced attractions to lighten your wallet. But you can also have a good visit without breaking the bank. Get a good guidebook (borrow one from the library, or download and print lots of pages). There are some walking tour books that are nice, that gives you the chance to explore some of the lesser known areas of London off the beaten track. Some sites have walking tour podcasts you can load on your mp3 player or iPod. Alternatively, take a walking tour with London Walks. I can't praise them highly enough. You decide which tour you would like and show up at the underground station/exit where the guide will be waiting. Pay the guide, usually about 6 or 7 pounds per person, and off you go. Most walks are about an hour and a half to 2 hours at most. They won't include transportation, on the off chance it's needed, so have your travel card ready. They also do day long tours which cost a bit more and you need to make sure you have enough cash for entrance fees should that be needed (I.e. The tour that does Richmond and Hampton Court also cost me the price of the entrance to the castle and the riverboat we took up the Thames but still all worth it to have the guide with us.) You might also want a few quid to tip the guide at the end. All the guides are Blue Badge rated and they are all excellent at what they do. Here's another budget tip: some of the best known museums and a few of the lesser known ones in London are free. The British Museum, Victoria and Albert, Natural History, Science Museum and the National Gallery and Portrait Gallery are the best known. Each is huge and will take you all day if you were to do it all in one go. I wouldn't recommend it as you soon find all the exhibits and paintings blur together. They're definitely worth visiting, but get a map and decide what you would like to see the most. You can always go back. The Tate Britian and Tate Modern art galleries are also free. Other museums that are free, are smaller and easier on the feet include the Wallace collection, the Sir John Soane museum, and the Imperial War Museum. Walking around Lincoln's Inn where the legal community is and through the Temple area is also a great place to walk and get away from the noise and traffic. One museum that is a favourite of mine is the Museum of London. It's free and is located at the Barbican in the City of London. It tells the story of London from Roman times forward and has some excellent exhibits including one on the Fire of London. You can also see the gilded Mayor's carraige and lots of artifacts from many eras. There's another branch of it in Canary Wharf Docklands as well. This branch tells the story of London with relation to trade and shipping and commerce and is in an old sugar warehouse. Another really popular event with local Londoners that not a lot of tourists really know about takes place over a weekend in September. It's the London Open House weekend. There are hundreds of historical buildings or buildings of architectural significance in London that are not open to the public normally but many of them are this one weekend with free admission thrown in for good measure. You can purchase a guide or search online at their website and then plan your route. Some may need reservations to be made or have timed entry so check first. I have a number of friends in London that go every year and find it really interesting. The Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace is free and is a daily event in the summer at 11:30 a.m. It's every alternate day in the off season. The nearby Horse Guards also has a changing of the guard and it too is free. A bit less crowded and there's horses! Althought Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's Cathedral both charge admission, they are worth seeing. For a free cathedral with just as many beautiful windows and frescos and a bell tower with an elevator/lift is the Westminster Cathedral near Victoria station. (The lift to the tower does cost a couple of quid). Lots of smaller churches are free and there are many gems around the city to check out, with long histories and exquisite stained glass. Free London Listings is a good site to find out about free or very cheap things and events in London. There are quite a few high priced attractions in London but some of them might actually be worth the cost if it's something you really are intersted in. One place I've been to twice and still want to go back to is the Tower of London. Each time I've been there, I've run out of foot power before I've seen it all. The Crown Jewels are pretty spectacular but the rest of the compound has so much more to see. You can also join a tour with one of the Beefeater guards for free. They put on a good show and are very entertaining. The London Eye observation wheel is pretty cool. Even if you're not great with heights, it's not really too scary. Hampton Court is outside of London and rather pricey, too, but if you love Tudor history, it's most definitely the place to go. I'd love to go back again. The Globe Theatre museum is also fascinating and I enjoyed Kensington Palace as well. I never bothered with Madame Toussaud's as, personally, I find that whole idea rather tacky but lots of people enjoy standing in long lines to get in and taking their photo beside wax representations of well known people past and present. There's a lot of push for the London Pass card that gives you free access to many of the paid sites along with discounts to others. That might be an option if you are the type of person to cram a lot of things in one day. It does let you bypass long ticket lines but for me, I would never manage to get to more than two places in a day and it wouldn't be worth the purchase price. I'd rather go early to get ahead of the worst of the lineups or find places that have evening openings and arrive around 5 o'clock.
Escalator etiquette is very stern in London. The main place you will probably encounter escalators is in the tube stations. The custom is to stand on the right side...DO NOT stand in the middle of the stair. Stand to the right so that if someone wants to walk up the escalator steps, and a lot of people do, they can pass you on the left. People will get testy if you are blocking their way.Everyone knows that the driving is done on the opposite side of the road to what most of the world is used to. Many intersections where there are pedestrian crossings have warnings painted on the road to make you remember which way to look. There are also light change signals with green men that signal it's ok to walk. But the locals will often go anyway if the traffic is clear. Me, I will only go on the lights or if there's a crowd going, I'll go with them. If I'm going to die, at least I'll have company!) Then there's the famous "Mind the Gap" warning in the underground. The trains don't come right up close to the platform quite often so there may be a bit of a space to walk over. Just watch where you're going.London lights up for the Christmas season. Oxford Street, Bond Street, Regent Street, Carnaby Street and in between, there are beautiful window displays, lights and decorations wherever you look in the shopping districts. Walk and look but watch the traffic. Best places for pictures are the traffic islands as you cross the road.London is fairly flat so you won't likely have too many hills to climb unless you're out in Hampstead or Greenwich. Take a collapsable umbrella because you never know when it's going to shower!Souvenir shops and stalls are everywhere in the city centre but if you want cheaper souvenirs, go up by Bayswater Road and Queensway for excellent prices on tat and postcards. Far cheaper than Covent Garden, Oxford Street and Leicester Square.The attractions, restaurants and shops around Piccadilly Circus and Leicester square are VERY expensive. It's worth seeing it lit up at night, mind you but for eating or shopping, go elsewhere. Oxford Street might be a shoppers' haven but most of the stores aren't particularly cheap there either though you do get a good variety. Marks and Spencers is always worth a browse and, while posh and expensive, Selfriges is nice to look in as well. Harrod's, for me, is a bit of a tourist trap. The food halls are worth seeing but mainly the store is overwhelmingly large and very over priced. I'd go to Fortnum and Mason on Piccadilly instead. It's not cheap either but you won't get lost and they have a good food hall as well. Hatchard's, an old bookstore, is next to F&M and is a lovely shop! Dark walls, lots of stacks and shelves, a spiral staircase and a fantastic selection. The best area for books is on Charing Cross Road where new bookstores and second hand ones line several blocks. Also on Tottenham Court Road (which is the other end of Charing Cross Road north of the TCR tube station) are a lot of electronics and music shops. Some museums, galleries, cathedrals and other attractions may be open one evening a week until about 8 o'clock or so. They will often have reduced entrance fees for that so it's worth checking out. Picnics in one of London's great parks or leafy squares are always a nice respite from all that walking. Hyde Park and Regent's Park are the largest, each with ponds, boating lakes, bandstands and gardens to look at as well. You can also bring alcohol to your picnic and drink it there and nobody will object (unless you get drunk and obnoxious, obviously) Hyde Park has Speaker's Corner on Sunday mornings where people get to stand up and rant about their particular bees in their bonnets. There are a lot of things I haven't mentioned, and everyone finds their own London. Places I haven't been to but would like to some day include the Dulwich Picture Gallery, Notting Hill and the Portobello Road market, Petticoat Lane market, Borough Market, George Inn (Southwark, an old coaching inn), Tea and Coffee museum, Guildhall and clock musuem. Places I've been that I want to see again include the National Gallery, Museum of London, British Library, Hampton Court, Globe Theatre museum, Tower of London and maybe Greenwich. My favourite thing to do in London is just to walk and wander off the main roads into the side streets to see what's there, the little squares, the old buildings. I generally stay in the city centre so i'm not in any of the more notorious parts of London and you can't get that far lost.
by tvordj on August 9, 2009
Tourist traps are very much subjective. What one person finds tacky, over hyped and not worth the money or effort, the next person might absolutely love and find it one of their favourite memories. These are my own personal tourist traps in London. Your mileage may vary. Picadilly Circus is a traffic bottle neck, Leicester square is pedestrian square a short distance away. There are a few large attractions on Picadilly like the Hippodrome and Rock Circus both of which are way over priced. The movie theatres on Leicester square are horrendously priced and some of the restaurants that we saw were as well. There are quite a few kitchy souvenir shops and kiosks too but souvenirs are a dime a dozen in London and you'll find nicer stuff elsewhere, probably cheaper too. It *is* pretty neat to see Picadilly circus lit up at night with all that neon. Sort of like Times Square but smaller, but when you see it once, that's all you need to do. Leicester Square has the half price theatre ticket booth but i personally prefer to call the theatre or book tickets on the internet to be sure to get what i want. For souvenir shopping, walk back a few blocks into Soho or go up along Bayswater road or near the Queensway tube stop. Same stuff, cheaper. Covent Garden has a lot of places as well and it's not far away. It's far more interesting for people watching as well.Changing of the Guards All the tourist books advise you to go see the pomp and circumstance of the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. It's crowded, it's a bunch of soldiers marching around with someone shouting at them telling them what to do and where to go. Personally i think it's a waste of time. If you really must go, go early and get a good spot to see it rather than having to hop up and see over people's heads. Alternatively, If you want to see something similar, go see the HorseGuards. They have a changing of the guard as well and it's not far from the Palace. Probably less crowded and there are horses. Off Whitehall.Harrod's Yes, Harrod's! Oh it's a lovely department store and you can get pretty much anything you want there. But it's VERY expensive. The food halls are an attraction but Fortnum and Mason has just as good if not quite as extensive. The cafes are pricey (but, ok, the food is pretty good). The whole store is so big that it's difficult to find things with various different sets of escalators and lifts around corners and then walking through many departments to get to the one you want or to a cafe.They do have some lesser priced items like their own brand tea and coffee and they have some reasonably priced Christmas decorations in the fall. The food halls are interesting to look through, the Egyptian escalator are is worth a look as well though it does also have the Diana/Dodi memorial shrine at the bottom. Alternatively: Fortnum and Mason's on Piccadilly is an equally nice (and expensive) department store with a good food hall and nice cafes and far less crowded. Fortnum's was founded in 1707, more than 150 years before Harrod's. F&M also supplies the Royal Household by Royal Warrant which Harrod's does not have anymore so if it's prestige you want, it's there too. You can also order goods online at Fortnum's just as you can Harrod's so you aren't losing out there either.High priced attractionsThere are a few attractions in London that are *very* highly priced. Some of the highest tickets are for the Tower of London, Madame Toussauds, St. Paul's, London Eye, London Dungeons, Hampton Court, Kensington Palace, all starting from 10 pounds and up. That really adds up, especially if you have a group or family! Most of the major musuems and galleries are now free for the regular exhibits, with a fee for special and temporary exhibitions. Some, like the Dungeon are out and out rip offs. The London Aquarium has higher prices during school holidays and summer, another rip off. Most do have cheaper prices for children, students and seniors.Having said that, I still found the Tower worth the entrance fee as well as Hampton Court (but remember there is transportation costs involved getting there as well) because there is quite a lot to see there and it could take you all day if you wanted to see it all. The London Pass is a good idea if you are going to cram in a lot of sightseeing in a day but that's the whole thing, for you to break even or come out ahead, you have to schedule several things each day and that's a lot of sightseeing with a lot of pressure to "see it all". A one day pass at present is £19 for an adult and if you buy it online ahead of your trip, it comes with a one day central zone travel card, more savings!You can buy a combination ticket to both the Tower and Hampton Court which will save you a little money.
There are dozens of different guide books to London. I'm not going to list them nor am I going to pick any in particular. There are numerous websites, too, for guides and tips on London. Rather than carry a heavy guide book, photo copy the pages you're interested in and bring them. Or, if you have a smart phone, iPod, netbook, iPad or the like, check out applications or load on pdf maps, podcasts and guides for reference. They take up a lot less room.I have an old guidebook to London that was published during World War II. There's a small insert piece of paper that explains that due to the war, they cannot publish the full set of maps they usually do. There is only one fold out city center map with the underground stations marked and some of the main streets. What really makes me laugh, though is their suggestions for itineraries for one or two days' sightseeing. I really don't know how you could fit it all in! Surely they don't suggest you do all these things? I wonder if they're saying that any or several of these for morning and afternoon would be sufficient though they do mention that it's a "very hurried day". I expect you could do it if you were just walking past all these sights and not going inside. To reproduce it:One Day. Morning:National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Whitehall (passing Gov't Offices, Royal Unitied Services museum and the cenotaph), Parliament, Westminster Abbey and cathedral, Buckingham Palace (exterior), St. James's Park, London Museum Lancaster House, St. James's Palace (exterior).Lunch in the Piccadilly or Leicester Square area. (phew!)Afternoon: Regent, Oxford Streets, Wallace Collection, Drive thru Hyde Park, Kens. Gdns, Piccadilly, Royal Academy, British Museum, Lincoln's Inn walk, Law Courts and Temple, Fleet Street, Ludgate Hill, St. Paul'sThey go on to suggest dinner and theatre if you are staying overnight.An Alternative might be:Twr London, Monument, Bank of England, Royal Exchange, Guildhall, Cheapside, St. Paul's. Lunch. Law Courts, Temple Gardens, Embankment, County Hall, Parliament, Westminster Abbey, National Gallery (open evenings of certain days).A bit more doable.A suggestion for a two day visit:First Day:Charing Cross, National Gallery and Portrait Gallery, Whitehall, Parliament, County Hall, Westminster Abbey (Lunch) War Museum, Lambeth Palace exterior, Tate Britain, Westminster Cathedral, St. James's Park, London Museum, Green and Hyde Parks, V&A museum, Nat. Hist. and Science Museums.Second Day:Twr. London, Monument, Royal Exchange, Bank, Guildhall, Cheapside, St. Paul's, (lunch) Holborn, British Museum, Oxford St., Wallace Collection, Regent's Park, ZooLonger stays suggest things like the Dulwich Picture Gallery, the "new" Horniman museum, Windsor, Hampton Court, Kew, Richmond, Epping Forest, Croyden AirportOh yes, that's the main international airport, Croyden. In another old book i have, published in the 50's, it mentions London Airport (Heathrow) that is under construction. In that book, the Museum of London has moved to a wing of Kensington Palace.Old guidebooks are fascinating!
Everyone knows the big attractions and museums in London and because everyone knows about them, they're usually always packed. Though I've written about many of these lesser known attractions in various IgoUgo journals and trips and tips, I thought it might pull some of them all under one "roof", as it were. London is so large and has so many diverse things to see and do that you'll find something to keep your attention no matter what your interests are. With the recent popularity of the DaVinci Code book, more people have discovered Temple Bar but it's still not that high on the list of attractions. Temple Bar used to be the bastion of of the Knights Templar before they fell out of favour and once they departed, the lawyers moved in. The Temple area is next to the Royal Courts of Justice which is on the Strand and has law offices, residences and colleges for law students. There's a lovely old church in the Inner Temple area and a pretty Fountain courtyard that has had a fountain in that spot for 400 years. It's just near the Courts, there's a monument to the Templars on the main road and you can wander through the little lanes and check out the church. Check out Lincoln's Inn as well, another legal site behind the Courts with lovely old buildings, a chapel and leafy squares. Nearby is Lincoln's Inn Fields and the Sir John Soane museum, a free museum in the house owned by the reknowned architect. On Sundays, along the Bayswater Road fence of Hyde Park, artists set up their displays and sell their paintings and prints. It's like a free art gallery and you can get some good artwork at very good prices. Take a walking tour. The company I have used a couple of times is The Original London Walks but there are others as well. Walking tours will take you up alleys and around buildings that might not always be the blockbuster tourist attractions. There are a lot of walks that show you parts of London that tourists don't always see. The guides know so much about the area and the city and they are a fount of interesting information and stories. I took a full day one that took us to Richmond, down the Thames on a boat and in to Hampton Court and we took a normal 1-2 hour one along the SouthBank of the Thames focussing on Shakespeare. Mind you, some of these types of tours have extra costs that they don't tell you about in the brochures, in addition to the 10 pounds for the day-long tour, it also cost extra for the entrance to Hampton Court and for the boat ride and you had to buy a sandwich or something for your lunch. But it was still worth my while and i had a most enjoyable day out. Other extra costs might be things like boat/train/tube fares or entrance fees to sites but you get discounts and get to jump the queues as well.There are a few major attractions along the Southbank of the Thames including the Millenium Wheel, Tate Modern and the new Globe Theatre but walk from the Wheel to Tower Bridge and you'll find other places to stop and enjoy along the way. Sometimes there is a used book sale set up. There's a little courtyard called Gabriel's Wharf that has some little craft shops and some cafes. The Oxo tower is along here and you can go up to the 9th floor restaurant and out onto the balcony for a great view of the City of London for free. Southwark Cathedral is here and there are some interesting museums too. Vinopolis explores wine, the Museum of Design is near Tower Bridge and there's the Bramah Tea and Coffee museum as well. Don't forget about Borough Market on the weekend. Excellent place to stock up for a gourmet picnic! There are loads of pubs and restaurants, too, some quite old and historic!Westminster Cathedral is the Catholic cathedral and it's near Victoria train station. Westminster Abbey gets all the press but the cathedral is absolutely beautiful inside and there's a bell tower that has a lift. For a small charge you can go up and have a 360 degree view over London. Take a canal cruise from Little Venice to Camden (or vice versa). There are several companies that have long narrow boats that will take you on a lovely ride along a quiet canal that runs along the top end of Regent Park for part of the route. The canal was once very busy and industrial. There's a canal museum just east of Camden, too, not far from King's Cross station and some of the companies will stop at the gates of London Zoo. Little Venice is a lovely area to explore, one of the prettier parts of London. The Geffrye Museum, in the east end of London in Shoreditch, near the City of London. It's an inexpensive museum, free for under-16s but quite interesting. There are various rooms that are decorated to different time periods between the 1600s and present day. It's like walking through time. There is also an old almshouse which is only open on limited dates (see the website) so you need to book ahead for that. There are gardens as well. There's a clock musuem in the Guildhall in the City of London, and it has free admission. The Wallace museum is large-ish but also free and has an extensive collection of decorative items, arms and armour as well. The Chelsea Royal Hospital and museum is also a museum that seems to be nearer the bottom of people's lists but definitely worth a go. The chapel is really beautiful and the grounds and gardens are a nice place to wander on a sunny day. Chelsea also has the Physic Garden which is a nice little walled garden and the Army museum, next to the Royal Hospital. If you really want to go off the beaten track, make the trip to Dulwich and try the picture gallery there. You'll need to take a train to North Dulwich or a bus from the Brixton tube stop. It's one of the oldest galleries in London. The British Library, next to ST. Pancras station, has lots of treasures on display for free including one of the original copies of the Magna Carta and one of the original Gutenberg bibles printed on one of the first printing presses in the 1400s. They also have special exhibits which do have an entrance fee. I hope this has given you some ideas of things to do in London that don't cost too much and that might not be thronged with people. London has so much to offer and you really are spoiled for choice!
They're usually crowded and mostly held only on certain days of the week but there are markets all over the city where you can buy pretty much anything from soup to nuts. Many of the better known markets are probably not going to glean you any big bargains but it's still fun to browse and root around the stalls and shops. Some are strictly food but most have a variety of new and used goods. Here's a good website that lists most of the markets by region. One of the best known markets is the Portobello Road one. This is in the Notting Hill area in the west just past Hyde Park and stretches for many blocks heading north. Very touristy, very crowded. Lots of antiques and lots of vintage and funky shops along the way. Main market is on Saturdays. Camden, in North London, is the place to go for local colour and colourful locals. The hippies, the goths, the punks and rockers, and the tourists all mix on the weekends. There are several markets including the large Camden Lock market and the one right on the road. There is a fruit and veg market and some smaller ones as well. Lots of interesting gear there, arts, crafts, vintage, and jewellry. Weekends are the main thrust of the markets, though some may be open through the week. Covent Garden is a warren of shops and in the main square in the old Flower market buildings is a nice crafts market. It's not all that cheap but there are some nice crafts and artwork there. In the east end is Spitalfields Market just behind Liverpool Street station. This is a large market of mainly new things, up and coming designers, arts and crafts and gifts. also in the area is the Brick Lane and Petticoat Lane street markets amid all the ethnic restaurants and shops. Petticoat Lane is huge covering Middlesex St, Wentworth St and side lanes. Here you could very well haggle a great bargain on fabrics, clothing, leather, jewellry and rugs, much of it Asian design. Brick Lane is great for finding a good curry meal! Borough Market near London Bridge station is where you go for organic and gourmet food items. Friday and Saturday are the main market days. It's a covered market with a lot of vendors selling fruit, veg, baked goods, cheese, wine, and prepared foods as well. Excellent for assembling your own picnic basket!Other notable markets are the ones in Greenwich, Brixton, Chelsea for antiques (and Bermondsey as well). Leadenhall Market in the City and Hays Galleriea in Southwark are covered markets but are mostly shops and boutiques with a few craft stalls. Leather Lane by Chancery Lane and Holborn is another lesser known market where you can get all kinds of odds and ends. On Sunday mornings along the gates of Hyde and Kensington parks on Bayswater road is an art market. You can find all kinds of artists and crafts people selling their wares. If nothing else, it's like a free art gallery! There's a second hand book fair going on by the National Film theatre on the south bank of the Thames on weekends. There's also a churchyard market in St. James Picadilly that is not well known but which can unearth you a treasure or two.
by tvordj on May 28, 2011
Camden is the alternative neighbourhood of London. Colourful sights. Colourful people. And lots and lots of tourists. Camden suffered a bad fire a few years ago but has most definitely bounced back. Saturdays and Sundays are the busiest times, Mondays are pretty quiet. Many of the market stalls and shops are open through the week but the weekend is the real experience. The high street has lots of colourful shops and shop fronts to see as well but the markets themselves are the attraction. There are actually a number of markets in the area, from two on the streets, the high street and Inverness Street, the huge Camden Lock market overlooking Regent Canal and the older and just as interesting Camden Stables market . All the markets have a wide assortment of booths and stalls where you can buy new and old, vintage and up and coming designer. The weekends will be crowded, mind you, so if crowds make you feel claustrophobic, it might not be the place for you but if you brave the throngs, you could be well rewarded. There are lots of treasures to be found and plenty of food stalls for a cheap meal. You can try many types of ethnic cuisine at affordable prices.
by tvordj on July 24, 2009
Theatre and London go hand in hand. While everyone hears about the big blockbuster musicals, there is so much more. Theatre prices can range from cheap to very expensive. You can get half price tickets on a selection of shows on the day you want to go at the Leicester Square Half Price Ticket Booth (TCKTS) but you must be prepared to queue and they don't have all the shows. You can buy your ticket at the box office and you can also queue at some box offices a half hour before showtime when the theatres sell off remaining and returned tickets cheaper. You take whatever seats you can get then, though.There are numerous online brokers as well. I've only used Londontown.com to book tickets and it's been reliable so far. You do pay a little fee and on that site you can often get discounted prices which is good. When you buy from an online broker, you must pick up your tickets at the box office in person. They are delivered to the theatre by courier but it could be any time of the day of the performance, not before. Generally, go later in the afternoon or within an hour before the performance starts. Booking online through a broker, you don't get the choice of seats and you can't change it at the box office. You can only pick your seats if you buy at the box office either in person or by telephone. Very possibly online, if you are purchasing directly from the theatre if they aren't using a broker. Theatre Monkey is a very good site to check for the best seats in various theatres around London.In addition to the big musicals, there are excellent dramas, comedies, Shakespeare, and fringe theatre outside the West End that will be cheaper. You could take the chance on something completely unknown and find a little gem. Or not. But that's an adventure! And that's what travel is all about!Theatres these days don't really have a dress code. You see people wearing anything from ripped jeans to pearls and velvet. I go with smart casual, myself but it's whatever you're comfortable with. Something like the ballet or opera might be a bit more posh so dress accordingly.Some theatres do not have facilities and ramps for mobility impaired people but most of the major theatres do have some provisions. You should probably call ahead to make sure.
by tvordj on January 13, 2009
July 6-7, The flight overnight was fine as usual and as usual, I didn't get a whole lot of sleep, dozing off once or twice for short periods I think. The first of many little glitches that seemed to plague this trip happened when I attempted to pay for the Airbus ticket. I had found £15 in my travel wallet before I left home but it turns out the 5 pound note was expired, though I would later be able to change it at a bank for a new one. No big deal, I had some cash I had changed before I left.My hotel this time was the Thistle Lancaster Gate, right across from Hyde Park on Bayswater Road. I won't add a review for it because it's closed now. I entered the hotel property through a gate off Bayswater Road, not realizing the actual front entrance of the hotel is on the street behind, which is actually the street called Lancaster Gate. Checked in and left my luggage with the concierge as of course, you can't get into your room at 9 a.m. as a rule. I expected that and had a plan in mind to walk to Little Venice and have a canal cruise, ending at St. Pancras where I would pick up my pre-paid train ticket for Monday. Off I went, walking in the general direction towards the Paddington area. The immediate neighbourhood is all large terraced houses converted into hotels. A few blocks away I started seeing little mews courtyards with brightly painted houses and stopped to take a picture. Nothing. Flat batteries. No power! Argh! Glitch number 2. I had my digital camera as well as my Canon Eos and took a photo with the digital instead and set out to find somewhere where I could get camera batteries. I had one spare but the Canon takes two. I haven't gone very far but not having slept all night, I'm flagging and I need caffeine and a toilet. I duck into a Café and rejuvenate. I queue for the toilet only the woman that emerged said there was no paper (!) so I headed to Paddington station closeby and I spy a Kodak sign for a photo developing place. They had batteries and all was well. After visiting the restrooms in the station (where, btw, I discovered my credit card on the floor of the stall as I was putting myself back together!!! I think it must have fallen out of my waist pack which sometimes turns itself upside down near-glitch #3) I went to the ticket office to see if, on the off chance, I could get my train ticket there instead of going to St. Pancras and luck was with me this time. From there, it's about a 10 minute walk to Little Venice in the Maida Vale area of west London. I was a bit surprised really, with the neighbourhood before you get to the canals. I expected gracious picturesque houses and what I found were low rise apartment blocks albeit on leafy streets with a nice park nearby. I think though, other areas of the neighbourhood on the other side of the canals are nicer than the bits I saw. The canal area itself was pretty. Little Venice is an area where the Grand Union Canal meets up with Regent Canal, both very busy waterways in the previous centuries. There are lots of trees, pretty painted bridges over the water and both sides of the Grand Union canal lined with houseboats and narrow boats all painted and decorated. I was barked at by one very large black shaggy dog, a French breed of something I forget just now, but one I'd never seen before. How dare I impeach upon his little stretch of canal! His owner was somewhat gruff but did mention the breed (but I've forgotten now) when I asked and I did compliment the dog as being quite beautiful, which he was. Onward to the more open area of water which is the actual junction of the canals. There are cafes and restaurants in a couple of the boats, and a gallery in another as well as boat tour companies. The two more popular ones are the London Waterbus, which goes as far as Camden Lock and Jason's Wharf which goes all the way to King's Cross where there is a Canal Museum. I got the London Waterbus though I had a bit of a wait for it. I walked around taking pictures and sat for awhile with a bottle of water. At 11:00 the boat arrived for it's next trip to Camden Lock. The boat ambled down the canal, amid the shady trees. The water is rather dirty, green and murky, not particularly attractive. You pass by a floating Chinese restaurant at one point and can actually get off at the London Zoo as well. Sometimes the sun peeked through the clouds making pretty shadows and reflections but mostly the clouds dominated. Nearly to Camden but again a glitch (#4)! There was a large tree down across the water! It must not have been there long as the boat has been traveling back and forth all morning. The wind must have really caught this one. They pulled over and we got off and walked the rest of the way to Camden Lock which wasn't very far. An interesting plaque pointed out the under water ramps that were built to help rescue horses who were sometimes startled by the steam trains pulling across the nearby bridges into Euston station and would sometimes fall in the water. The canals were busy shipping lanes and horses on the towpaths would pull the barges along the water. I arrived at the Camden Lock market about noon. It's Wednesday so the market isn't fully open like it is on the weekend. The plus side of that is that it isn't crowded either. There's still enough of it open to make it worth while visiting and going on a weekday makes it far more enjoyable than fighting the crowds. There are 4 or 5 markets in the Camden area. This one is I think the largest and is a bit of a rabbit warren of walkways, courtyards and shops. Camden has long been famed for having a lot of local colour, and, colourful locals. A lot of the punk and Goth culture is represented here in the stalls, local art, shops and shoppers. It's a funky part of London and the markets contribute a lot of vibrant buzz to the area, with or without the tourists added to the mix. I browsed the market area and picked up a takeaway carton of Chinese food with large prawns eyeing me from under the green pepper strips on my cardboard plate. A cheap, light lunch was just what I needed though when I got up from the table I realized my coat had been dragging in a mud puddle! You just can't make this stuff up! Luckily it dried quickly and as it's a taupe brown it didn't show the stain much. Off down the high street where the shops are brightly painted and there are some really cool plaster and wood figures attached to the walls above the door. I saw an oversize rocking chair, boots, and a large shark or whale or something. Browsed in a high street market and eventually found a shop where I signed up for a local pay as you go phone number for the mobile phone I had. I wandered a bit more but I was really getting tired by now, mid afternoon. I knew there was a bus that would take me back very close to the hotel so set about finding where I would catch it going in the correct direction. The sky was getting darker and colder now, with the wind really picking up. There was a little shop near the tube station where the bus let me off and I picked up a sandwich and some snacks for later. I did get back to the hotel before the rain started, luckily, picked up my bags and got to my room. My feet were sore and blistered in one or two spots. I made tea, plugged in the phone charger, had a shower and nibbled while the rain and wind beat against the window. Lucky I wasn't out in that. No umbrella on earth would have been of any use! About 5:30 I couldn't keep my eyes open any longer and I crashed. Other than getting up briefly to use the toilet, I slept through until 2 a.m., laid awake for a couple of hours and slept again until about 7:30. Apparently that wind and rain storm did a lot of damage and flooding in parts of the UK. I slept through most of it!
Bugger that phone charger. It's not working and upon closer inspection I noticed that some of the wires are frayed. I think I had better spend some time trying to hunt down a replacement if I can find one. The phone is 4 years old so I might be out of luck there. My plan for today is to wander around Lincoln's Inn gaping at the centuries old architecture and then going to the Soane museum which is right round the corner. I get off the tube at Chancery Lane near the old half timbered Staple Inn, one of the few original buildings that survived the Great Fire of 1666. Of course it has shops in it now but there's a little courtyard with a garden in behind it. My first quest is to find a phone charger. Several phone and electronic stores later, it's clear that I can't replace it. It's too old. In the end, I bought a cheap new phone for the Virgin network which matched my SIM card. This phone, though, isn't tri-band I later discovered so it won't work back in Canada *and* I have since discovered it is locked to the Virgin network, not unlocked.Oh well. At least I got a nice shiny *working* charger with the phone *and* a hands free set. Off I toddle behind Holborn and down Chancery Lane where the London Legal Profession makes its home. First a stop in the London Silver Vaults though. This is a series of safe deposit rooms built in the late 1800's and rented to wealthy families as a place to store their silver and jewellery. Now it houses shops that deal in antique and modern silverware at dealer prices. The goods on display were diverse and astonishing. Better than the Crown Jewels if you ask me! This whole area, right down to the Courts of Justice on the Strand and into the Lower and Middle Temples are all former lands owned and occupied by the Templar Knights. After their banishment, the legal profession moved in. There are four Inns of Court, Grey's Inn and Lincoln's Inn being the nearest to Chancery Lane. This area of London is centuries old and the buildings in the Squares of Lincoln's inn go back as far as the 16th century though the organization goes back probably another couple of centuries. The quiet courtyards and squares, lined with *very* expensive cars, and buildings from various eras. There's an old chapel from the 1700's and a "New Square" which is actually 300 years old but newer than the Old Square which is 200 years older though a few of the buildings are actually Victorian now. There are Stone Buildings which are mid-18th century and a Great Hall and Library (Victorian) . The old gatehouse is 16th c and The Chapel (early 17th c) and Library wasn't open when I was there. It would have been nice to have a look inside. There was a lot of damage to the area during WWII and there is a plaque and marker near the Chapel that marks the spot where a bomb from a German Zeppelin in WWI fell. I wandered, taking photos, for an hour or more. Again it's overcast and sticky with humidity. Outside Lincoln's Inn is Lincoln's Inn Fields, a large green square laid out by Inigo Jones in the 17th century surrounded by 18th century buildings, the oldest of which, Linsey House, is now painted red and white and well kept. The north side of the Fields is a row of Regency era houses designed and built by the architect Sir John Soane and houses his eclectic collection in a museum that covers three of the houses. But I'm warm and tired and decide to sit on a bench in the park and play with my new phone first. So close and yet so far! I was about 30 feet from the museum but I had to be down in the City to meet a friend for lunch for 12:30 and by the time I was cooled off, it was well past 11:00 a.m. and there really was no time to have a good look in the museum if I wanted to do it properly. Best laid plans often end up turning into guidelines and what I end up actually doing will often change on a dime, depending on weather, time, state of exhaustion. Off to the tube to go to Monument and meet Fiona for lunch. We jumped back in the tube to go to a café that is in the crypt of St. Mary le Bow church, the famous church with the Bow Bells. The café, The Place Below, is vegetarian and has the most amazing homemade soups and dishes and sweets! Try it!After leaving Fiona, I walked down to the Thames, hoping to find a Smuggler's Museum in the Custom House building (according to that walking book I have). Turns out that museum has moved to the Maritime Museum in Liverpool. I walked down along the Thames to the Tower of London for a good view across the river at the new beehive shaped glass City Hall. The queues to get into the Tower were astronomically long! Apparently it had been closed al morning due to a Royal Visit so that's why. I walked back through the tall towers of the City of London to see another new building, an insurance building shaped like a long pickle, affectionately known as London Gherkin, complete with rounded top. No good angle to get a photo though! Unusual shape for an office tower! More walking, wandering, finding myself back at Liverpool Street station. It's mid afternoonand I am due to meet some friends at Marble Arch station at 6:00. I've decided to check out a few shoe shops on Oxford street but I really don't see anything I like. A lot of the shoes on sale are sandals and strappy heels and I'm after blister soothing comfort. What now. A cup of tea and sticky bun I think. Sitting in a Pret café across from Marble Arch is relaxing and I spend an hour updating my travel diary. Still have plenty of time. I'll have a wander in the Mayfair area, looking at the mansions on Park Lane and the streets behind it. The houses here are all very nice too, and pricey no doubt. I come across the American Embassy on Grosvenor Square. This has to be the ugliest building and looks completely out of place beside the tall and graceful houses that surround the other three sides of the square. It's big and concrete, surrounded by high chain and barbed wire fences, big warning signs and armed guards patrolling the perimeters. The square itself is green and has fountains and trees and statues, including a large central one of Roosevelt. (FDR, that is) and many of it's old houses and mansions are converted into hotels. I sit there for a half hour and head off towards Marble Arch again. Halfway to the station I realize I've left the bag that the box containing the phone charger was in on the bench in Grosvenor Square!!! Yikes! Another glitch and after all I went through with the old charger, have I lost the new one? I rush back but thankfully it was still there. I never thought until I was reminded later on about the security risks of leaving a package supposedly abandoned in public like that *and* outside of the American Embassy! There were probably snipers trained on me when I went back to pick it up! I met my friends at the station and we situated ourselves in a nearby pub and spent the rest of the evening there lifting a few pints. I caught the bus back to the hotel about 10:00 or 10:30, plugged in the new charger to the new phone, and hit the sheets.
by tvordj on March 5, 2009
We had a slow start this morning and slept in a bit. We had breakfast about 9:30. The breakfast comes with and in the room as well, a tray of tea and juice and a mix of rolls and sweet rolls served in our room every day. We got on the way about 10 and determined the location of the airbus stop and the times. The weather looks promising, *finally* so we took the tube to Waterloo station to see about the London Eye. Yes, there are actually blue patches and hundreds and hundreds of people in line for tickets and for the ride. We passed. We decide to walk along the south bank of the Thames, the "Millenium Mile" to Southwark. It's not all that pretty along the river really, rather industrial, with lots of tour boats and barges. There doesn't seem to be any pleasure craft on the river which is odd really. There's a lot of money in London, a lot of upscale condos but no private sailboats! Perhaps the Thames current is too strong for a leisurly sail. We came across an open air second hand book sale and browsed the tables. We found Gabriel's Wharf which is a little square of shops but being Sunday, most of them are closed. A little farther in a rather sorry looking little garden, a man, who saw our cameras, told us about the free public viewing deck on the Oxo tower which was just there. We went up there for an 8th floor view over the City of London and the river and that was great. I love to go up high places for a view. Neither of us are into modern art so we skipped the new Tate Modern on the Southbank, built into a massive old power plant.We reached the new Globe theatre but Carole who isn't really into Shakespeare wasn't interested and I didn't want to leave her waiting for an hour or more while I went though it so we just browsed in the shop at the visitor center and had lunch in the café there. We decided instead to go to the Tower of London as we were pretty close. We walked a bit farther, where there is a replica of the Golden Hinde, Sir Walter Raleigh's ship that he sailed around the world in and let me tell you, seeing that small boat doesn't instill you with the confidence that you'd ever manage to return home on a voyage like that with next to no navigational aids. (Before the discovery of longitude, remember!) Behind that was Southwark Cathedral, mostly under scaffolding. The south bank was historically a very unsavory part of London but at least the waterfront is all spiffed up now with shops, galleries, the Tate Modern and a new millenium footbridge linking the Tate with St. Paul's.We took the tube from London Bridge to the Tower. Traffic outside of the relative peaceful hour or two walk along the waterfront seemed very intrusive. There was a longish queue for tickets to the Tower and it was probably the most expensive attraction we've paid for but the line moved fairly quickly. We didn't bother joining the several hundred deep crowd waiting to be guided around the grounds by a Beefeater, or Yeoman Warder, though if he and his followers were nearby we would stop and listen to his exaggerated tales of blood and guts! We did notice that he was stopping people from videotaping his stories so we wondered if it was because there was a video for sale in the shops. I forgot to look. (See the review in this journal for more detail on the Tower). We spent a couple of hours there and could have spent a couple more quite easily if our energy wasn't flagging. I'd recommend going there first thing in the day, not after a 2 hour walk!A quick browse in the crowded gift shop, a few photos of Tower Bridge and we're back to the underground for a very slow and painful trip back on the Circle line. Lots of delays so it was almost a 20 minute wait and by then the train was packed. The train went so slow between the first few stops, including a few unscheduled stops in the tunnels that it felt more like it was being pedalled! Made it back finally and trudged down the road.I am absolutely staggered that my feet only hurt a little today. I should feel like I'm going to be crippled for life about now! I was yesterday with not nearly as much walking and standing. We had dinner in the hotel restaurant and it was quite good actually. It's vastly different from when I stayed here before and a vast improvement in ambiance and food.Home tomorrow. Not looking forward to the trip but very much looking forward to sleeping in my own bed. This was a long trip. London, then a week in Manchester doing side trips, a day in Stoke shopping, Glasgow and Edinburgh and a tour in Scotland and back to London again. We've been gone a month and it was about a week too long. We did enjoy everything though, immensely! We did independent stuff and organized tour stuff. We had a great time meeting up with friends. The weather could have been better but at least held good for the bus tour.
by tvordj on January 2, 2009
After I saw pretty much everything at the Globe (see review), I left and walked West along the Bankside, stopping along the way as I felt like. The day was overcast but not threatening and there was a coolish breeze blowing off the Thames. I sat daydreaming at one point trying to decide what else I *should* do and ended up scolding myself. I didn't *have* to do anything if I didn't want to! No law says I have to go, go, go. Eventually I found myself down by the London Eye wheel. I bought a bottle of water and muffin at a keyosk and looked up at the wheel. I have been of two minds all week whether to "fly the Eye", but there was no lineup today whatsoever and that made my mind up for me. I was able to buy a ticket in County Hall and walk right into a "pod" after two security guards checked my purse first. Apparently there usually is quite a lineup for tickets but the day after the Sept. 11 attacks, there was absolutely nobody wanting to go up in the attraction, fearful that it could also be a target. It's not cheap, but you can save 10% by booking online. The complete circuit takes a half hour to the minute nearly. The weather was more or less clearing though very little blue sky was visible. Still a decent enough day for the view. The compartments can hold 20 people each and there's a bench in the middle to sit on if you are nervous about standing too close to the glass wall. You don't feel the movement at all, nor feel or hear even a rumble from a motor! You move so slowly that the only way you can tell you are even moving at all is because your eyes tell you that you are going up. About halfway up one side even my eyes started to fool me. The scene didn't look as if it was changing at all and I thought we were stopped. There comes a point where you are above the buildings far enough that it really is difficult to tell if you are going up or down. The next thing I knew, we were cresting over the top and my brain then told my eyes that yes, things were farther down than they were 10 minutes ago. The views were spectacular. Taking photos is possible although you will probably get some reflection of the light off the glass walls. I was even able to see a bit of the Tower Bridge between two office blocks. Night "flights" would be pretty cool too, though I think twilight, just as the lights of the city are coming on but it's light enough to see a bit of distance would be even better. You only get the once around the circle and you're off. I walked across Westminster bridge and decided to head back to Liverpool Station as it was after 4 by this time While I waited for Nikki, I went to the McDonald's at the station and bought a milkshake and fries so that I could guiltlessly use their loo. I also had time to make a phone call to a friend who hadn't been able to make it to our get together last Sunday. Tonight we had a delicious meal of salmon and vegetables and tiny new potatoes and I got some laundry done. Tomorrow is my last day in London before heading off to Redditch and then Manchester.
Greenwich is east of London proper and is also a very historic area. There used to be a Royal palace here and it was one of Henry VIII's favourites. The Royal Observatory is here now, high on a hill in the middle of a lovely park, and they also have a Planetarium, too. This is where the theory of longitude was hammered out over time and it is here where the Prime Meridian exists. You can stand with one foot on either side of the line and be in the eastern and western sides at the same time. The museum describes the journey to discovering and determining how longitude works and the difference it made for sailing the high seas. At the base of the hill is the Queen's House and National Maritime museum in buildings dating from the 17th Century, designed by Inigo Jones. The Royal Naval College, designed by Christopher Wren is nearby as well, and is on the site where the Tudor Greenwich Palace stood. In the town of Greenwich, you will find a market and lots of great little shops and pubs. There is also a small but unique museum, the Fan Museum. It tells you about the history, use and construction of fans and how they're made. There are some really nice examples on display as well as a very pretty cafe on site. On the waterfront is the Cutty Sark, a merchant tea clipper ship. It was built in 1869. In 2007 a devastating fire broke out and the ship is undergoing restoration, due to reopen to the public in 2011.Greenwich is an interesting part of London and isn't that difficult to get to. The DLR from the Tower station gets you there quickly and easily. The underground goes to North Greenwich on the Jubilee line. That is a bit further away from most of the attractions listed here but still in the general area. It will let you off near the big O2 venue (that used to be the Millenium Dome and is now a venue for concerts and other exhibits.) You can get a regular train from Victoria, London Bridge, Waterloo, Canon Street or Charing Cross. I think one of the best ways to get there is by the river. There is a river service from Westminster pier by Parliament which also stops by the Tower of London. It's a little over an hour from Westminster and about a half hour from Tower pier. There is a shuttle bus that will take you up to the Observatory from the DLR and pier station so you don't have to climb.
by tvordj on November 8, 2008
The Wallace Collection is one of the lesser known museums in London but it's actually one of the better ones. The beauty of it is that it isn't as enormous as the British Museum, Victoria and Albert or the Natural History Museum. It's probably most like the V&A in that much of it's collections consist of art, decorative arts, paintings, jewellry, curios, furniture stemming from collections of the first four Marquesses of Hertford as well as the illegitimate son of the fourth Marquess, a man named Wallace for whom the museum is named. A lot of the items are from the 18th and 19th centuries, Baroque through Victorian but there are also Rennaisance and medieval things on display such as the 2 or 3 rooms of excellent armour and weaponry from all over the world. We really liked that. There is also a famous painting by Hals, The Laughing Cavalier which is a favourite of my partner. This museum has many interesting items and beautiful paintings. The museum is large-ish but not so overwhelming. You can do a fairly comprehensive look round in a couple of hours and then pop over to James Street (between Manchester Square and Oxford Street) where there are quite a few nice little restaurants lining the street. It is housed in a lovely 18th century building which started off in life as the Spanish Embassy but was soon after the home of the Hertford family. They used the house later, to keep their huge collections and it was opened as a public museum in 1900. Entrance is free. No photography is allowed. There is disabled access via a ramp and lifts inside. There is a restaurant in the courtyard and a gift shop as well. Opening hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with no late openings. It's not that difficult to get to, you can walk north from Oxford Street on Duke Street or east off Baker Street via George Street to Manchester Square. Loads of busses traverse both streets and it's closest to the Bond Street tube station.
by tvordj on November 10, 2008
The Fan Museum was one of those museums that, once I'd heard about it, I *had* to go. You see, in addition to the big, popular museums and galleries, I love small and quirky museums that focus on one thing or unusual things. I saw the Dog Collar museum in Leeds Castle some years ago and I was hooked! I haven't seen nearly as many as I would like, but I keep an eye out and when I heard that Greenwich had a museum dedicated to decorative fans, I was *so* there! Granted, a museum dedicated to the art of fan making and fans probably has more appeal to women then most men so guys, if it really doesn't interest you, wait for the women in a nearby pub! It's a small museum and won't take all day to check everything out. My friend and I had planned a trip to Greenwich to see the Observatory, which we did, and then walked down the hill into the town for lunch at a local pub. We searched out the Fan museum after, which is located not that far from the Royal Observatory park and Greenwich Theatre. It's housed in an early 18th century building which is meticulously restored and worth seeing just on its own. There's also an Orangery, used as a tea room and a lovely little garden in the back. There is, of course, a shop with lovely books and fans and jewellery. We were given those recording gizmos for self-guided tours through the rooms. You can see how fans are made and see exquisite examples of fans from all over the world. There are also lovely antiques and paintings to view as well. Fans have been in use for 3000 years though folding fans are actually more recent in the history of the fan, relatively speaking. Sadly, fans are not that popular these days though they are still used in the warmer countries such as Spain. The most elaborate ones dated from the 18th and 19th centuries. It was fascinating to see them in various stages of assembly, from the sticks and "ribs" to the vellum painted decorative covering. The museum has a permanent collection to focus on the basics and then has temporary exhibits that change three times a year to focus on specific areas and eras and themes. If you are going to be in Greenwich, it's well worth visiting. Try to go on the days they do afternoon tea in the Orangery (Tuesday and Sundays after 3 p.m.). There is a fee of £4. There is a lift and a disabled toilet. Best way to get there is the DLR to the Cutty Sark stop or you can take a train to the Greenwich station, both are a short walk from Croom's hill. See the website for a map.
A little bit about Somerset House, it was built in the early 19th century to house the Royal Academy of Art which is now in Burlington House off Picadilly. Now there are several collections in there but the Courtauld Gallery is most well known. It's not a large overwhelming gallery like the National Gallery. There are three floors though only one room on the ground. The proper entrance is off the Strand but we were not there. To get to it, we had to come in from the Embankment entrance and walk across a large courtyard with a large fountain display in the center. They set up an ice skating ring there in winter.There are free tours of Somerset House but there are stairs involved so if you have mobility issues, this might not be an option. They also have open air concerts and films in summer and there are other exhibitions going on in Somerset House all the time. The building has lovely detail that you don't always see because it's up so high, both inside and out. At the Courtauld, The ground floor was the 14th and 15th century Northern Europe religious works, altar pieces and delicate and intricate ivory carving and triptychs. Each of the other two floors only had a few rooms and followed the timeline through the Renaissance, Baroque, a bit of Dutch and Italian and of course the Impressionists, my favourites. There were only one or two Monets, and only a few of each of the more famous painters though there were a number of Seurats, both before and after his divisionist (painting with little dots, I didn't know the proper name before!) period. I saw another Cezanne and Renoir I liked, about 3 or 4 all told that I wanted to get postcards of and was successful in that quest.Cost is 5 pounds and that includes any temporary or special exhibits. It's free on Mondays between 10 and 2 p.m. though! It's very friendly for disabled access with level entry or ramps and a lift.
by tvordj on May 26, 2009
When I heard that the British Library would be hosting a special exhibition on Henry VIII, curated by expert Dr. David Starkey, I knew I could absolutely not miss it! I pre-booked tickets online and we went the morning after we arrived in London from Brussels. The exhibit was really marvellous! There were 500 year old documents, books with stunning illuminations, paintings, drawings and a few artifacts. There were also some interactive displays and apparently some sort of holograms of Henry that I completely failed to see, though Graham did. The audio accompaniment was narrated by Starkey himself. It was really amazing to see all these papers and letters that survived so long, some in King Henry's own handwriting. Seeing the documents that sent Anne Boleyn to her death or the divorce decree from Katherine of Aragon, things like that, just makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up when you think of how things changed because of it.The British Library is housed in a newish building, moved from the British Museum. It's next to St. Pancras and King's Cross train stations in the north part of central London, also a short distance from Euston station. The British Library also has a permanent exhibit of their "treasures", rare books and papers, original documents and books, such as Captain Cook's diaries, a copy of the Magna Carta, the sheet music for Handel's Messiah, etc. This exhibit is free. They usually do have several temporary exhibits like this in the library, some larger than others and some you might need to prebook, some you can buy tickets at the door. They have a cafe and they have the lovely reading room. The website has an online shop and galleries and information about all the exhibits.
by tvordj on June 12, 2009
The Sir John Soane museum is a small museum in a house on the north side of Lincoln's Inn Fields. This was the home of Soane, a renowned architect, for awhile in the mid 18th century. He was quite a collector and this house is filled with all kinds of interesting things, artefacts, artwork, antiques, and antiquities. There is a picture gallery but it was closed when we visited in 2005 due to some renovations elsewhere. There is a sculpture gallery as well with a high domed skylight. You aren't allowed to take photos in the house but sneaked one of the dome!There is also a crypt where more of the antiquities are including a sarcophagus that was absolutely astonishing. I've been to the Egyptian room in the British Museum before but I don't remember getting a close look at the sarcophagi. This one was limestone and covered inside and out with hieroglyphics and an etching of a goddess on the bottom inside of it. Originally the markings were filled with a luminescent blue-green paint and they did have a piece of stone with the painted hieroglyphics preserved under glass. It must have been very impressive when the whole of it was like that. There's some beautiful antiques and furniture in the rooms where the family lived and entertained. He added lots of wonderful details like hidden skylights and used mirrors effectively. It was interesting to see two small portraits of Napoleon, one as a powerful young man and one at the end of his life, defeated and held prisoner. It's interesting to see that the walls are painted bright vivid colours. I never think of colours like that being fashionable 200 years ago but they were. Most of the 20th century, here at least, you usually saw pastel colours on walls or wallpaper. I loved the deep crimson in the dining room/library which was lined with old books and glass cases and the bright lemon yellow made the upstairs receiving room very sunny. This museum is free though you must ring the doorbell to get in. There are a lot of research materials available as well. The website has a lot of information on Sir John Soane and the museum's history. It's not very accessible for people with mobility problems. There are steps to get in and staircases in the house and no lifts. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. First Tuesday of the month has late opening to 9 p.m. THey do have a loo but it's in the basement. To get there, the closest tube is Holborn and walk down Kingsway from there and then left into Lincoln's Inn Fields. The house is about the middle of the block.
by tvordj on November 9, 2008
The Royal Hospital Chelsea was established by Charles II in the late 17th century as a refuge for aging or injured soldiers. The requirements included active duty served, which resulted in injury or maiming or being awarded a medal of service, and having no family that needed supporting. A pension was awarded and the soldiers were allowed to live in small 6 foot square cubicles. Even today, ex-military men can apply to live here. They must not be married as the residences are only for single men only. The requirements are generally the same today though the dormitories have been enlarged to 9 foot square. A replica of the current room is in the museum, complete with door and curtained window that would face the hallways.The Chelsea Pensioners wear either a navy blue uniform if they are on the grounds or a scarlet coat for going off the grounds. The large Ranleigh gardens on the south grounds abutting the Thames are where the Chelsea Flower Show is held every May. The hospital was designed by the famous architect, Christopher Wren. The large courtyard, the Figure Court, has a gilded statue of Charles II in roman dress and the colonnade along the northern side is still Wren's original work. There is a really lovely chapel with an exquisite and very important painting over the altar by the Italian painter Sebastiano Ricci. The candle sticks on the altar are original but the cross that matches them was made in the 1950's in the same style and presented to the hospital by Elizabeth II after she was crowned. In the dining room is a long oak table where the Duke of Wellington was laid out after he passed away. The chapel is still used on Sundays for worship for people in the neighbourhood as well as the pensioners. Apparently Margaret Thatcher attends services here and her late husband's funeral service was here. Also on the grounds are two sets of artillery guns, some from the Napoleonic wards and some from the Indian Sikh wars. Bomb damage cause major reconstruction of some parts in both World Wars. The Sovereign's Mace and a Royal Parade chair are on display in the museum as well, the Mace being used in parades and for formal occasions.The men that worked in the shop and museum as well as several that were in the chapel and dining hall were very friendly and knowledgable about the hospital and the buildings. The hospital is next door to the National Army Museum which is also free to enter. I didn't go there because of time constraints. Entrance is free, there's the chapel and dining hall to visit as well as the museum and shop and the Ranleigh Gardens. It is closed between noon and 2 p.m. and open 10 a.m. to noon, and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Closed Sundays through the winter and all bank holidays. The Sloane Square tube station is the closest but it's still about a 10 or 15 minute walk from there. Bus 170 stops outside the museum. There are several busses that go down King's Road.
The third of the big three South Kensington museums is the Victoria and Albert musem, a sprawling heap of galleries in a Victorian heap, opened circa 1857. It was the first museum ever to have a refreshment area (cafe). Personally, I think the building is not all that attractive, looking a bit like a tiered wedding cake at the entrance. Not as elegant and graceful as the Natural History museum next door. The big yellow and green blown glass chandelier was a millenium project. I'm not sure it's to my taste but it certainly is a feat of design, so it probably does suit the lofty ceiling and grandness of the entrance hall. The V&A is a design and decorative arts museum, filled with furniture, jewellry, ornamental items, textiles, fashion, painting, and various other works of art and curios spanning 5000 years from pretty much every culture of the world. It was founded in the mid 1800s and named after, naturally, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. It's a huge building and I think you might prefer to pick a few areas to see because otherwise, you will soon be overwhelmed at the immense amount of things to see and take in. We spent a few hours traipsing around and indeed, it does all blur after awhile.One of our favourite parts was an unexpected gallery filled with plaster casts of all sorts of things from ancient columns to reproductions of famous statues to effigies and friezes. It was really fascinating and we spent a fair bit of time in there checking everything out. I particularly liked the room with Raphael Cartoons, as well. Cartoons are designs for a set of tapestries. They are enormous and I seem to recall there is one of the actual tapestries that was woven from one of the designs. I also really enjoyed the British rooms, filled with old furniture and portraits, particularly the Tudor and Jacobean rooms including the great Bed of Ware, an Elizabethan four poster bed with exquisite carving. The Asian and South Seas exhibits were particularly nice, too. I wasn't that keen on the glass and metals items. It's a museum I would like to go back and see again when I have the energy and time since exhibitions are always changing and you never see it all in one visit anyway. There are planned refurbishments and renovations over the next few years so some galleries may be closed. Open from 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. and until 10 p.m. on Fridays. Some rooms close at 5 p.m. Entrance is free other than for special exhibits as is normal for most museums and galleries. Take the tube to the South Kensington station and follow the tunnels and signs to the entrance. Main entrance is on Cromwell Road with ramps available and the Exhibition Road entrance is step free. There are lifts and accessible toilets. There are free guided tours throughout the day, starting at the meeting point in the entrance hall. They start at 10:30 p.m. and every hour on the half hour until 3:30 p.m. You can take pictures, even with a flash, everywhere. There are of course cafes and shops.
On the Thursday of my 2001 trip to London i decided to go to the Globe and after arriving at Liverpool Street station in the morning with Nikki, and after my usual cuppa tea first thing, I made my way to the Southbank area. I got to the new Globe theatre by about 10. There was a tour of the theatre at 10:30 so I spent a half hour looking at the first bit ofthe exhibition in the adjoining building. This part of the museum went into the history of the rebuilding of the Globe, a project spearheaded by American actor Sam Wanamaker who worked tirelessly raising money for 20 years. The original Globe was one street away from the present location but that property was not available. Around the outside of the theatre are bricks in the pavement that were sold for £300 in exchange for which the owner's name is carved in the brick for all to see. You can still buy a normal smaller brick for a pound if you wish. The theatre, which can hold 900 in the seating area and 600 in the Yard which is a bit of a squash admittedly, is entirely self supporting and the most expensive ticket is only £20. The original Globe was built in 1599 and was actually moved to Bankside from a location North of London and was owned by Richard Burbadge along with the company of performers. A very early co-op! You would get to the theatre by ferry boat and there were no tickets sold in advance. Royalty would not have attended as portrayed in some movies. They would summon the troupe for a private performance at one of the Royal Palaces. The tour took the better part of an hour. We were taken outside for an explanation of how the theatre was built using methods and materials identical to those from the early 17th C. This building is the only thatch building in London and they had to have special permission from the fire department to do it. It is lined with sprinklers for safety. Inside the building we heard about how it would have been to attend a play in such a theatre in late Elizabethan times. There is no metal used in the construction of the wooden theatre other than some ornamental pieces on the doors and some used in the floor and seating structure. The beams supporting it are aged oak and the plaster is a mixture of water, sand and lots of goat hair, just the way it would have been 400 years ago. The brick base is made of copies of 17th C style brick as well. Because there were no existing plans of the interior, it's a "best guess". There are however, lights for evening performances. The stage is thrust out into the audience instead of in a picture frame sort of setting so you can see the actors no matter where you sit or stand. The "Yard" or floor is standing room only and you can buy tickets to see a play from the Yard for five pounds. In Shakespeare's day, this would cost you a penny. The theatre is circular with pine benches in three tiers of galleries. The stage is oak and sheltered by a magnificent canopy supported by two huge oak trees painted to look like marble pillars. The boards are painted each season depending on performance or theme although this season they were left bare to see how it would work as the plays this season were mostly done in modern dress. When I was there in late September the season had just finished. The theatre is open to the sky and plays are performed rain or shine with rain slickers provided if necessary. No umbrellas as they would block the view. They also used the theatre for other types of performances from comedy to music. Every year one country is invited to do a production of a Shakespeare play in their own native language. This year's was in Brazil's Portuguese and one year there was a Zulu production of "The Scottish Play". I went back and saw the rest of the theatre exhibition which I really enjoyed and I really recommend if you are a theatre fan at all. It details the history of theatre in London and the history of the South Bank area. There are loads of interactive multimedia displays on monitors, with interesting things like the various ways they used to produce sound and special effects in Elizabethan theatre. There was a display of musical instruments from that time, all hanging in a glass case and a nearby touch screen that you could use to find out about the different pieces including how they sounded. Downstairs there is an area that displays costumes and costume making, props, printing from that era, even a couple of sound booths with audio clips of various famous actors from this century performing. There were even scratchy sounding very old clips from the early part of the century. One modern actor was Sir John Geilgud though I was surprised that Sir Lawrence Olivier or Richard Burton weren't featured in addition. There is a lot to see, a very good gift shop and a good café with a limited menu for a light lunch. There are lifts for people with mobility issues. The tickets are now 10.50 but include the tour. Try to go during the morning or when there is no matinee performance because the tour inside the theatre won't be on then. http://www.shakespeares-globe.org/exhibitiontour/
by tvordj on April 11, 2008
On Ludgate Hill, at the end of The Strand, you come around a turn in the road and this huge domed building looms out at you amid the busy traffic. St. Paul's Cathedral was finished in 1710, built after the great fire of London in 1666 burned down Old St. Paul's. It's a Baroque masterpiece, filled with tombs, statues, frescos and gilded everything. It costs 10 pounds for adults, 9 for seniors plus they have family (2 children 2 adults) tickets and that includes everything. You can visit the crypt and you can also climb up over 500 steps to go to the very top of the dome. It's fewer if you just want to go to the Whispering Gallery where a sound whispered on one side will travel around and be heard on the other. It really works! There's also an outside deck at the base of the dome with higher stone balustrades. At the very top, there's only a narrow walk way and a waist high railing. I'm ok with heights and even i found that a bit intimidating. You aren't allowed to take photos in St. Paul's but i took a few "stealth" non-flash shots by aiming the camera from my waist and kept the best of the ones that came out, after i was scolded by a staff member for taking a proper photo of an angel statue. The decoration in the cathdral is just spectacular. The Crypt is interesting as well, with the tombs of Waterloo veteran Wellington and Admiral Nelson. The simple tomb of Christopher Wren is there too, tucked away in a corner. There's a gift shop and a cafe as well for tired feet. They do have disabled access but you may have to ask for it. We did notice a platform that could fit a wheelchair on a rail to the crypt (where there are washrooms, and where the cafe and gift shop are). There's a wheelchair accessible entrance on the north side which enters via the crypt. The website, http://www.stpauls.co.uk/ has full descriptions of all the disabled access. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to St. Paul's. I didn't climb the dome this time but i have done in the past and the views are out of this world!
One of the star attractions in London is also one of the most expensive. At 17 pounds per adult (16 online) and 47 for a family entrance fee (2 adults, 3 kids) it's steep. The queues for tickets can be quite long and can stretch back to the tube station. We did find that the queue moved fairly smoothly and quickly. I do think that buying tickets online or from the kiosks a day or two ahead of time might be good if you're going in "prime time" (summer, school holidays). It's not difficult to get there. The Tower Hill tube station is very close, the DLR station just around the corner from that and many busses stop along Tower Hill. Tour busses will stop nearby as well. If you arrive by train, go to the London Bridge station and then you can walk over historic Tower Bridge! There are organized tours with the Yeoman Warders (Beefeaters) as tour guides and these are usually pretty crowded. We didn't bother and just followed our noses. First stop was the old medieval palace where there were a few reconstructed rooms from the 13th century, Edward I era. The throne room was most impressive and in the King's Hall which might have been used for dining, there were also a man and woman dressed in period costume. We went into a few of the towers and along parts of the walls and went to see Traitor's Gate and through the queues to see the crown jewels, set in a new exhibition. There are videos on the walls of the jewels and the coronation of the current monarchy while you wait in the lines which move steadily, and then in the jewel room, there are now moving conveyor belts along either side of the cases that you stand on. You can get back on again if you want to go through again or just have a look from a few yards away on the main floor. It keeps the crowds moving rather than them standing there and looking even though they were supposed to keep moving. All the other gold and silver pieces are in separate cases and you can look at your leisure at those.We wandered the grounds, made friends with the ravens (who could pick a fight with a small dog and probably win!) and went into the Royal Chapel, St. Peter ad Vincula where the poor beheaded queens of Henry VIII are buried beneath the altar (including Anne Boleynn, Jane the Duchess of Rochford and Jane Seymour) No photos allowed inside the chapel though. We didn't have the energy to climb anymore stairs so we didn't go into the big White Tower, the original fortress in the center of the compound where there is an armory display and maybe we missed the best bit but there is certainly enough still that we didn’t see to warrant going back again sometime. There are actually quite a few of the towers along the walls open to the public with things to see inside. The Lower Wakefield tower has a torture device display and there is still graffiti on the walls in the Beauchamp tower apparently enscribed by prisoners of long ago. The Tower is open most days of the year, closing at 5:30 p.m. in spring, summer and fall and at 4:30 from November to February. Most of the Tower is not accessible for people with mobility issues but the Crown Jewels are defintely accessible to wheelchairs. There are accessible toilet facilities, shops and eating stops. There are a couple of cafes and gift shops though there are also pubs and cafes close by outside the walls of the Tower as well. If you are on a budget, then this is probably going to be a bit high cost but you can spend hours here. I find that if it's somewhere that you have a lot to see or do, then the cost doesn't seem quite so high. If you are on a budget and want to splurge on one thing, I think this would be the one to see.
We met friends at a local pub just off Oxford Street called the Marlborough Head. It has a dark and fantastic gothic atmosphere with ghouls and gargoyles and other creepiness lurking in corners and on the ceilings. There was a gargoyle on the wall by the downstairs kitchen/bar and a grim reaper in a case on the other wall by where we were sitting. The toilets are in the lower level, and are hidden behind faux bookcases, marked by brass plaques in the floor as to where the ladies' and gents' is, you just walk to the case and push the door!! In the Ladies' at least, there was some creepy spooky sounds being piped in.They have a typical pub menu and what we had was fine but others have told us that the food can be iffy. One of our table members wasn't impressed by her salmon pie but my scampi and my fiance's Big Ben Burger were fine. (Warning, Big Ben Burger has the burger *and* a fried egg, two sausages and bacon on it!) Prices were comparable for a pub and not more than you would think considering the location.
We were walking along Piccadilly, the street, not Piccadilly Circus, and saw the sign for the cafe up a side street off the north side of the road, on Sackville Street. We headed up there to look at the menu and decided straight away to try it. The Offshore Cafe is deep and narrow, not that big, with large mirrors on the walls to make the room look bigger. Some seating downstairs as well. Lots of interesting prints and items decorating the walls, shelves and corners.The menu had a section of Lebanese food but also had soup, lovely salads, burgers, pasta, a very tempting dessert choice in the front case. There are vegetarian choices too which looked very nice. Prices were reasonable for the location, service was good and food was tasty.I had a tomato, mozzarella and avocado salad, along with a huge jacket potato with cheese (other toppings available). My companion had a big beef burger with cheese and bacon and said it was very good. He loves his burgers so his recommendation comes highly.One warning, they do not take credit cards!!!!
by tvordj on August 19, 2008
This little narrow restaurant is below street level and isn't that easy to find. The easiest way to describe how to get there is to start from the Bayswater underground station. Come out of there and cross Queensway. There's a little side street just there. Go in there and just on your left is the mews though it only looks like a back alley or parking lot for the buildings around it. There was a sign on the street so we knew it was there and it turned out to be a small, narrow restaurant below street level that's been there since 1966. Last time I was in London, I saw a man dressed in Greek traditional costume with a sign out on Queensway pointing the way in to the restaurant. Excellent. The restaurant, in 2000, was decorated with cream walls, soft cushioned benches along the walls and dark low backed cane chairs. There was traditional Greek music playing but not too loudly and you regularly heard the low rumble of the underground trains which wasn't too loud, just sort of like it might have been thundery weather. The table cloths are pink with burgundy over-linens.We approached it and the owner came out when he saw us looking at the menu and was very congenial. We asked about the fixed price menu (mezze) and he made it sound so good that we went in. It was about 16 pounds (2000 prices) per person and they state a minimum of two people because you share everything. You get a sampling of cold and hot starters then the entree (our choice of about 3 or 4 meats). Desert and coffee/tea is included. They kept bringing food and bringing more food, on little plates and when we decided we weren't too fussy on the calamari, they brought something else instead. When we realized the dessert had honey in it, baklava, we told them that one of us was allergic to honey, they brought out a lovely light custardy type thing in a phyllo pastry instead! We chose the roast leg of lamb for our entree and it was so tender it pulled apart! I would highly recommend this but the dining experience here is not to be rushed. http://www.kalamarastavern.com/
We looked for a cafe near our hotel and were directed to Warren Street, just a block or so away from our hotel, one block south of Euston Road. Indeed there were a few little places along the short street. The first one looked as if there was construction impeding people going in but the next one, Cafe le Midi was quiet, with the owner standing outside catching the morning sun. They do a hot breakfast of 2 eggs, 2 rashers of bacon, toast (homemade bread!) and tea for 3.50 which is amazingly cheap for London. You can add on side items for small amounts (beans for 40p, mushrooms for a little more). They also had a menu of basic cafe food including sandwiches and jumbo jacket potatoes. If you are staying in the Euston area at a hotel without breakfast included, you can't do better than this and it would be a great place for a quick lunch as well. Basic decor with hot pink walls, 4 or 5 tables. Open 6 days a week, closed Sundays. I'm pretty sure they do take out as well.
The Lord Moon on the Mall is a good sized pub ina lovely old building on Whitehall. It's only a few steps from Trafalgar Square and is part of the Wetherspoon's chain. The food is pretty good, pretty reasonable though not overly generous. You always know what you're going to get wtih a Wetherspoons, though, and it's pretty good. Nice location, larger eating area in the back, toilets are downstairs.
Fresh, homemade food, The Place Below is a little cafe tucked away in the crypt of St. Mary Le Bow church in Cheapside, not too far from St. Paul's Cathedral. The cafe is vegetarian with hot dishes, sandwiches, homemade soup, salad and utterly sinful sweets. You may get lucky in summer, if the weather is good, they have tables and chairs out in the Bow churchyard. They are crowded at lunch, but offer lunch discounts if you eat from 11:30 to noon or after the rush between 1:30 - 2:30. The menu changes every day. Check the website for menus, photos, map and opening hours. They also do breakfast and they do takeaway at a discount. Open 7:30 a.m. - 3:00 WEEKDAYS ONLY, lunch starts serving at 11:30I had homemade leek soup, my companion had quiche and salad. Time Out London apparently awarded them with the best quiche in London! Everything is good, even the lemonade and orange juice is freshly squeezed.
by tvordj on April 7, 2008
First off, I would recommend booking through a travel agent, not directly from their website. You'll get much cheaper rates as a rule. We paid about $270CAD a night for a twin on weeknights and slightly higher for a double on the Easter Weekend. This location is an excellent one, right on the edge of Covent Garden with excellent transportation links. It's on a main bus line with Aldwych near by for more busses and several tube stations within very short walking distance. The hotel is about 100 years old so some of the rooms are a bit small. Our twin room had the door open right into the hallway without any entryway so no noise buffer zone. We noticed the noise clearly from the hallway. The double room I had over Easter was fairly large and bright and faced the Strand so there was some traffic noise even on the 7th floor. My mother's single room was small but bright and cozy. The double and single here both had little hallways between the door and room so were quieter aside from street noise. The hotel hallways, carpeting and doorways on the room floors can be a bit worn down looking though inside the rooms themselves, the decor is nice and fresh. The lobby and restaurants are very nice. Food very good. Carvery restaurant does good full breakfasts and a nice carvery meal as well. Staff were always very nice and helpful and cheerful to us. Concierge was excellent. You can get some good deals at various times but overall the hotel is a little expensive but worth it for the location.
We got a pretty good rate for the Melia from the Air Canada hotel booking site. The location was good with transportation handy and close to the train station. The lobby is gleaming with marble and quite large. There is a bar and a couple of restaurants and a fitness centre as well. There are a few steps into the lobby but the concierge has a luggage lift if you have problems with stairs. It's a very large hotel, too. We checked in late and were given an upgraded room which was nice. It was decorated in gold and red with a large king size bed, big desk, and large cabinet containing the television, tea tray and a mini bar which we didn't use. The bathroom is small but gleaming in black and chrome. The tub is a bit high to get into but the shower is lovely. They give you some very nice gels and shampoos and also a dental, sewing and shaving kits. The windows open and the room has air conditioning controls which are turned on by a switch by one side of the bed. The room power is triggered by the room swipe key card. The staff couldn't be nicer and more helpful. We had breakfast one morning as our little cafe that we used was closed on Sundays. Be aware that though it's a nice full breakfast buffet, it's very expensive at 23 pounds per person! That's probably not out of the ordinary for a good hotel in London but still a bit of a shock! We had one complaint, our room was next to one of the elevators so there was a rattling in the walls but it was mostly quiet at night and we got used to it so didnt' bother changing. Your mileage may vary. Overall, a very good hotel.
by tvordj on May 27, 2008
We stayed at the London Guards a couple of years ago, booking it through londonnights.com. The hotel is on the back of a little square behind a church at Lancaster Gate, just behind Bayswater Road. It's only a block and a bit from the Lancaster Gate tube station, a couple of blocks from Paddington station and only a little further from Queensway and Bayswater stations, both definitely walkable in less than 10 minutes. Busses run along Bayswater road and Hyde Park is right across the road. You can walk across the park to the Knightsbridge museums in 10 minutes. The room was large, (we had a double) and they have family suites as well as singles and twins. There is a little fridge in the room, very useful for having milk and snacks. The bathroom was a decent size with tub and shower and heated towel racks. Rooms are air conditioned. Continental breakfast was included in the price, eaten in the small breakfast room in the basement. There is a lift in the hotel but there might also be a few steps to the room as there was with ours which was off the ground floor. The little square was quiet. Beds were not *really* comfy but not too bad either. I'd definitely stay there again as i like the area for transportation.
by tvordj on June 10, 2008
I've stayed at the Thistle Euston several times over the years and it's always been a pleasant experience. It has often been used as a "bus tour" or group tour hotel, which is how I first stayed there. The location is very good, just a block from Euston train and underground station and around the corner, on Euston Road, is the Euston square and Warren Street stations with in a block or two. Euston station is a major bus terminal as well. I didn't notice much noise from the trains and the neighbourhood itself is quiet. It's close to Regent Park and Camden too.The hotel has a nice little bar and a restaurant in the basement, both have pretty good food, though a bit pricey as you would expect from a hotel. If breakfast is included, when i was there at least, it was a continental breakfast served in your room. Between the first time i stayed, in 96 and the second in 2000 I think the hotel had refurbished. Certainly redecorated and it was much nicer.The rooms were average sized, nicely decorated and air conditioned. Nice television, there was a desk and chair and some side chairs as well. There are lifts in the hotel but some of the hallways also have a short flight of stairs so check where your room is if you have heavy luggage or mobility problems.Price is not budget but not too expensive either, though one year I booked it via londontown.com and got a ridiculously low price of 35 pounds per night. I've never seen that since and I think it may have been because it was over Easter weekend. They were willing to extend my trip for one extra night at the same rate as well, when i contacted them privately. I won't say the staff was overly friendly but they weren't rude either, just busy. I did get sick on my last stay there and they were helpful in contacting a doctor for me.I'd reccomend this hotel for the location.
by tvordj on May 22, 2009
Our budget doesn't normally run to Hilton prices, especially in London where the most basic room can run 95 pounds a night. The exchange rate to the Canadian dollar is pretty good these days, so that helps. What really sold me, though, was the deal I got through Londontown.com. For a May weekend (Friday/Saturday) we got the hotel, with all taxes in for 65 pounds a night including full buffet breakfast!!!! Result! We arrived around 7 on the Friday night, and the checkin was quick and helpful and very friendly. Our room had a queen sized bed and a good sized en suite bathroom. There was a lounge chair in the corner, a flat screen telly and a large desk with data jacks and things though we didn't use them. Coffee/tea tray of course. The decor was modern, blacks, beiges, browns and golds. The bed was pretty comfy and the pillows superb. The Hilton buffet breakfast was very good. We also ordered room service on the night we arrived. Had trouble getting through to them using the designated button on the phone but i called reception and they took the order themselves. Room service then called right back and confirmed the order and it arrived in good time. The hotel is on Upper Street next to the Business Design Centre. I expect it's busy through the week with business travelers and that might be why we got a good deal on the weekend. I wouldn't expect that all the time though, i think we just got lucky. We arrived on the Eurostar at St. Pancras. The hotel is a bit far to walk but not a long taxi ride. We took the bus, numbers 30, 73 are two common ones. Once on Upper Street, watch for the Angel underground stop which is pretty much right there on the right once the bus turns left onto Upper St., and ring the bell. The stop isn't far from the station. Walk north about a half a block and there will be a big courtyard with the design centre and hotel on the left. There are ramps up to the door of the hotel or stairs. There are lots of restaurants on Upper Street for food and the bus and the tube are very close by. It's actually a nice area, bustling but not as frantic as areas closer to the centre. Most Hilton basic room prices aren't too bad even without the deal we got, and the full breakfast is worth it, too.
©Travelocity.com LP 2000-2009