London Tate Modern

London’s Free Art Galleries

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Art Lovers from around the world travel to London specifically to see some of the most extensive, famous, and fabulous collections of art to be found anywhere in the globe. What makes London’s galleries even more impressive is that the majority of them are entirely free to visit! So for art lovers or those just wishing to while away a quiet afternoon in a quiet gallery (even just to get out of the rain!), here is our list of the best free galleries in London.

 

The National Gallery – Displaying over 2,000 works of art from the middle ages through to today, the National Gallery holds pieces created by some of the most famous artists of all time including Van Gogh, Turner and Renoir.

Opening Hours: Daily 10:00 – 18:00 (Fridays until 21:00)

Nearest Underground Station: Charing Cross, Leicester Square

 

The National Portrait Gallery –Displaying the world’s largest collection of portraits, the National Gallery holds pieces from the Middle Ages through to the modern day. For lovers of Kings and Queens, the Portrait Gallery has them all available for view along with official portraits of notable names and faces from through the centuries representing various areas of life and work such as politics, science, literature, royalty, and celebrity.

Opening Hours: Daily 10:00 – 18:00 (Thursday and Friday until 21:00)

Nearest Underground Stations: Charing Cross, Leicester Square

 

 

The Serpentine Gallery – A contemporary art gallery set into the heart of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. Modern art is displayed here alongside contemporary with pieces on show from names such as Andy Warhol. The gallery is constantly changing and ever evolving and many works of art are often installed outside the gallery into the parkland.

Opening Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 10:00 – 18:00

Nearest Underground Stations: Lancaster Gate, South Kensington, Knightsbridge

 

The Tate Britain – Holding the largest collection of British art to be found anywhere in the world, the pieces here date back to the year 1500. Artists who are represented here include Whistler and Hogarth as well as modern pieces by Frances Bacon and Damien Hirst. For Turner Lovers, the Tate Britain holds the largest collection of JMW Turner in the world.

Opening Hours: Saturday to Thursday 10:00 – 18:00 (Fridays until 22:00)

Nearest Underground Stations: Pimlico, Vauxhall

 

The Tate Modern – The world’s largest and most visited modern art gallery. The Tate Modern holds modern and contemporary art from around the world and boasts pieces by some of the most famous artists of all time including Picasso, Dali, Warhol, Pollock, Matisse and Bonnard, just to name a few!

Opening Hours: Sunday to Thursday 10:00 – 18:00 and Friday to Saturday 10:00 – 22:00

Nearest Underground Stations: Southwark, Blackfriars

 

The Wellcome Collection – Described by the venue itself as a place for the “incurably curious” to “consider what it means to be a human” the Wellcome Collection holds a mix of galleries, events and reading rooms filled to the brim with medical artefacts and artworks that explore connections between medicine, life and art.

Opening Times: Monday – Saturday 10:00 – 18:00 Sunday 11:00 – 18:00

Nearest Underground Stations: Euston, Euston Square, Russell Square

 

The Wallace Collection – A national museum housed in a beautiful Georgian London town house. The collection comprises of art pieces, wall silks, armouries, treasures, furniture, porcelain and paintings including pieces previously owned by both Madame de Pompadour and Queen Marie-Antoinette! Famous works of art on display here include ‘The Laughing Cavalier’ by Hals and ‘The Swing’ by Fragonard.

Opening Hours: Daily 10:00 – 17:00

Nearest Underground Stations: Bond Street, Baker Street

 

The Guildhall Art Gallery and Roman Amphitheatre – Displaying a collection held by the City of London Corporation, the Guildhall Art Gallery was founded in 1886 and holds works that go back to the 17th century. In addition to the fantastic gallery, visitors can also step into the ruins of London’s Roman Amphitheatre! Uncovered by archaeologists who had been working at the side in the 1980’s (in preparation for building the new Guildhall Art Gallery) this amphitheatre was uncovered and exposed to the public for the first time since its’ original usage nearly 2,000 years ago!

Opening Times: Monday – Saturday 10:00 – 17:00. Sunday 12:00 – 16:00

Nearest Underground Station: Bank, Moorgate

 

The Whitechapel Art Gallery – Located in the trendy East End (and the starting point of our East End Street Art tour!) the Whitechapel Gallery has stood here for over a century, displaying works by world-famous artists such as Picasso, Frida Kahlo and Jackson Pollock, just to name a few. Galleries, exhibitions, archives and displays are open to the public, bringing contemporary international art to an accessible format for visitors.

Opening Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 11:00 – 18:00 (Thursday until 21:00

Nearest Underground Stations: Aldgate, Aldgate East

London Free Things

Top 10 Free Things To Do In London

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You know that we here at Free Tours by Foot love the idea of travelling on a budget and taking advantage of the best free sights and experiences London has to offer. To help highlight the best of the free experiences you can find in our capital city, here is a top 10 list of the best FREE things to do in London.

 

1 – Walk in the footsteps of the Beatles at Abbey Road  – Recreate the famous album cover by the Fab Four who recorded their material at the Abbey Road studios, located right beside the most famous traffic crossing in the world!

2 – Watch Big Ben Strike 12  – 12:00pm or 12:00am, it’s up to you! But make sure to head to Westminster Underground Station and get yourself to Parliament Square to make the most of hearing Big Ben chime in the top of the hour. The most famous clock in the world has been letting Londoner’s know the time for well over a century so don’t you dare leave London without hearing Big Ben bong!

3 – Visit the House of Commons and the House of Lords  – The Houses of Parliament (located inside the Palace of Westminster) is the legislative body for the United Kingdom. Although you may assume that such an important building would be closed to visitors, this is not the case! Any time the House of Lords or the House of Commons are at work inside the Palace, it is FREE for the public to enter the building and sit in the public galleries to watch the political debates as they take place! (please note: as a working building, Parliament may close doors to the public without notice at any time and visitor access may be reduced at exceptionally busy times).

4 – Take in a Free Concert  – Held in the historic church of St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields, weekly classical concerts are performed here which are totally free to attend! Each concert lasts around 45 minutes and one need only arrive around 10 minutes in advance to snap up an excellent seat.

5 – See the Changing of the Guard – No trip to London would be complete without taking in all the pomp and glory of the Changing of the Guard Ceremony. Either join us on one of our Westminster Tours, or take in the ceremony yourself and enjoy one of the most fabulous displays of pageantry you will ever see!

6 – Guide Yourself Through Greenwich  – Greenwich is fast becoming one of the most well-known boroughs of London. Encompassing over 4 centuries of royal influence, naval regalia, and enough museums to keep you busy for weeks, Greenwich is also home to one of the best London markets! Get the most out of your Greenwich visit with our free self-guided walk.

7 – Take a Self Guided London Bus Tour  – London buses are cheap and easy to use, and once you know where you’re going you’ll find that you can do some sightseeing whilst riding the bus – at no extra cost! Take a peek at routes RV1, 9 and 15 which pass some of the most popular sites in town: Kensington Palace, Trafalgar Square, the Tower of London, and Somerset House just to name a few.

8 – See the Ceremony of the Keys – For 700 years the gates to the world famous Tower of London have been locked every night in a process known as the Ceremony of the Keys. Visitors can apply in advance – FOR FREE – to attend the ceremony and see for yourself one of the oldest continued traditions in the United Kingdom.

9 – Visit St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey – We know that both St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey have a hefty price-tag for those wishing to buy tickets to go inside. But for those who are travelling on a budget, it is worth noting that both churches hold services on weekday evenings and throughout the day on Sundays that are FREE for the public to attend. Guests at the services are not allowed to wander throughout the building (meaning no audio tours, or taking in the museums and memorials throughout both churches) but they are invited to come inside and sit in the main body of the buildings and partake in a church service being held in some of the most breathtaking religious sites in the country.

10 – Go to the Museum  – Which museum? Well, here in London you are spoiled for choice! The majority of all our national museums are free for the public to visit. Although exhibitions may cost additional money, entrance to the museums and into the primary gallery space comes at absolutely no extra cost. You could easily spend days exploring all the museums and galleries London has to offer and it will not cost you a single penny!

View from the Tower Bridge London

Free Museums in London

Posted by & filed under London.

Visitors from all over the world marvel at the fact that London is home to some of the largest, most impressive, and famous museums in existence. What makes it all the more impressive is that the majority museums in London are totally free! Here is our handy guide to the most popular, and best, of our free museums in London.

free London museums

The Victoria and Albert Museum – Arguably the greatest design and art museum in the entire world, and by extension one of the best free museums in London, the Victoria and Albert Museum holds artifacts that span over 3,000 years and come from every corner of the globe. Renaissance galleries, jewellery gallery, reconstructed Jacobean rooms, as well as wings dedicated entirely to things such as iron work and musical instruments, the Victoria and Albert has a display relevant to the interests of nearly any visiting tourist.

Opening Hours: Daily 10:00 – 17:45 (Friday until 22:00

Nearest Underground Station: South Kensington

The Science Museum – The largest and most visited science and technology museum in Europe, the Science Museum holds over 15,000 objects and is filled with interactive galleries and experiences. Holding items that have been sent to space, the bottom depths of the ocean, and everywhere in between the Science Museum is a hit with children and adults alike.

Opening Hours: Daily 10:00 – 18:00

Nearest Underground Station: South Kensington

The Natural History Museum  – A magnificent and gigantic building absolutely filled to the brim with artefacts to amaze every visitor, the Natural History Museum has been a London landmark since its’ construction nearly two centuries ago. Displaying dinosaur skeletons, a model  blue whale, a life size robotic T-Rex, a cutting from one of the largest trees in the world, and room after room of gemstones and minerals, the Natural History Museum also offers guests a self-guided tour.

Opening Hours: Daily 10:00 – 17:50 (Last Friday of each month – open late)

free British museumThe British Museum  – Founded in 1753, the collections held at the British Museum span over two million years of history! World famous objects kept here include the Rosetta Stone and Parthenon sculptures which are displayed alongside classic sights such as Egyptian mummies and ancient works of art from across the globe.

Opening Hours: Daily 10:00 – 17:30 (Fridays until 20:30)

Nearest Underground Stations: Holborn, Russell Square, Tottenham Court Road

The Museum of London – Telling the story of over 2,000 years of London History, the Museum of London shows how Londoners have lived since the very beginning. Spanning from the Romans to the Middle Ages to the Swinging London of the 1960’s, the Museum of London shares with guests all they need to know about the evolution of our city.

Opening Hours: Daily 10:00 – 18:00

Nearest Underground Station: St. Pauls, Barbican, Moorgate

The Museum of London, Docklands  – Housed in a 200 year old warehouse, the Museum of London Docklands tells the story of the capital through trade, migration and commerce that was based around this area of London for centuries. State of the art galleries and recreations of 19th century London are displayed alongside unusual objects fished from the Thames and guests can also join tours of the museum which bring this often unexplored area of London to vibrant life.

Opening Hours: Daily 10:00 – 18:00

Nearest Underground Stations: Canary Wharf, West India Quay (DLR)

The National Maritime Museum, Greenwich – An extensive collection of pieces that tell the story of Britain’s maritime heritage throughout the centuries, the National Maritime Museum is the world’s largest maritime museum and is filled to the brim with stories, objects, and galleries.

Opening Times: Daily 10:00 – 17:00

Nearest Underground Station: Cutty Sark (DLR)

The Queens House, Greenwich  – Built by Inigo Jones in the early 17th century, the Queens House was originally build for Anne of Denmark, wife of King James I. After surviving the subsequent civil war the Queen’s House became the focal point of Christopher Wren’s grand Greenwich architectural landscape. Now displaying a series of historical paintings telling the history of this fascinating building, the Queen’s House is a delightful treasure hidden in the hills of Greenwich.

Opening Times: Daily 10:00 – 17:00

Nearest Underground Stations: Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich (DLR)

The Old Royal Naval College – Dominating the Greenwich landscape along the River Thames, the Old Royal Naval College was designed by Christopher Wren and stands on the site of an earlier building: Greenwich Palace, lived in by none other than King Henry VIII himself. Today the ORNC is open to the public to explore the classical architecture, Christopher Wren chapel, and painted hall (where Admiral Lord Nelson lay in state after his death in Trafalgar). The Discover Greenwich Visitor Centre is also located here, a useful stop for all visitors to Greenwich.

Opening Hours: Daily 10:00 – 17:00 (Chapel opens at 12:30 on Sundays)

Nearest Underground Station: Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich (DLR)

Grant Museum of Zoology – Including many rare and now extinct specimens, the museum has a collection that covers the entirety of the animal kingdom. Specimens floating in fluid, skeletons and stuffed animals help create one of the most fascinating and curious collections in London.

Opening Times: Monday – Saturday 13:00 – 17:00

Nearest Underground Stations: Euston, Euston Square, Russell Square

The Bank of England Museum – Housed within the Bank of England, this little known museum traces the history of the bank from its’ foundation in the 1690’s to its’ current situation today. On display are gold bars, counterfeit money from throughout the centuries, weaponry used to defend the bank as well as documents signed and used by famous Bank of England customers like the Duchess of Marlborough, Admiral Lord Nelson and even George Washington!

Opening Times: Monday to Friday 10:00 – 17:00

Nearest Underground Stations: Bank, Monument

Museum of the Order of St. John  - Held inside a 16th century gatehouse (previously the entrance to the Priory of the Medieval Order of St. John) the museum today contains artifacts relating to the history of the knights who belonged to this order. Manuscripts, armour, art and archives, the story of the St. John’s Ambulance is told from their beginnings to the present day.

Opening Times: Monday – Saturday 10:00 – 17:00

Nearest Underground Station: Farringdon

The Imperial War Museum – Highlighting and explaining the lives of the millions of people who lived during World Wars One and Two, the Imperial War Museum explores the way war shapes society and sheds light on atrocities and tragedies oftentimes forgotten.

Opening Hours: Daily 10:00 – 18:00

Nearest Underground Stations: Lambeth North, Elephant & Castle, Waterloo

The Museum of Fulham Palace – Owned by the Bishops of London for over 1,300 years, Fulham Palace was originally built in the 11th century. The rooms that survive now hold a museum and gallery open to the public as well as access to the beautiful botanic gardens.

Opening Times: Summer months Monday to Thursday 12:30 – 16:30 Sundays 12:30 – 16:30   Winter months Monday to Thursday 12:30 – 15:30 Sundays 12:00 – 16:00

Nearest Underground Station: Putney Bridge

London sunset twilight

How’s the weather in London in October?

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By October in London, summer is gone and the weather tends to be cool and wet. No matter what the weather, visiting London is always a good idea as most of the tourist attractions are open all year round.

Weather in London in OctoberAfternoon temperatures early in the month are in the low to mid 60s f (17-18C) falling into the mid-50s f (13-14C) by the end of the month.   Afternoon temperatures can on some occasion reach into the low 70f (32-23C).   Overnight low temperatures run mostly near 50f (10C) early in the month to the mid-40s f (7-8C) towards the end of this month.

Yes the weather is wet in London, however, there are still about 13-15 days during this month that will see either sunny or partly sunny skies with the remainder of the month being mostly cloudy.  Some rain occurs on about 20 days this month with about 16 of these having moderate to sometimes heavy rains.  At least you do not have to worry about any snow this time of year.

 

What to wear in London during October

London has one of the mildest climates in the UK; however, as the weather is changeable, it is always best to carry an umbrella. In addition, a light to medium weight waterproof jacket is a must.

(The image above was taken on October 12th on our City of London Tour)

Please don’t forget to join us and explore London on one of our several London walking tours this month.

 

London Downing Street

Downing Street

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Housing official residences of some of the biggest names in British politics, Downing Street is one of the most well-known locations in London. Number 10 Downing Street is known the world over as the home of our Prime Minster and although today it’s hard to get a good look at the street (thanks to security additions over the years), Downing Street still remains as one of the most visited sites in our capital city.

History

Downing Street itself was built in the 1680’s by Sir George Downing who had purchased a large track of land near Parliament, on the edge of St. James’s Park. He originally intended that the street should be full of fine townhouses designed specifically “for persons of good quality to inhabit in…” When building these houses, Downing was assisted by master architect Sir Christopher Wren, who designed the buildings. Most were actually built rather cheaply and were not of good quality – still the case when Winston Churchill resided at Number 10 and he is quoted as saying his house was “shaky and lightly built by the profiteering contractor whose name that bear.”

Earls, Lords and Countesses quickly moved into the prime real estate built here although it seems unlikely that Sir Downing himself ever actually resided on the street that holds his name. Regardless of this fact, a portrait of him still hangs in the entrance foyer of Number 10 Downing Street.

By the 1800’s the houses had nearly all been taken over by government. Some of the original buildings were demolished to allow space to build and expand the Privy Council Office, the Board of Trade and the Treasury Offices. Later, the same fate would befall the houses on the south side of Downing Street which were all demolished to allow room for the Foreign Office, India Office, Colonial Office and the Home Office.

Number 10

The most famous on the street, Number 10 is the official residence of the First Lord of the Treasury. Now-a-days the job of First Lord of the Treasury is always held by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom which means it is the Prime Minister who lives in this house. The majority of our Prime Ministers, dating back to the very first, (Robert Walpole) have called Number 10 home since the creation of the job in the 1720’s.

The building itself is made up of over 100 hundred rooms – only part of which is actually residential. There is a private residence on the third floor and a private kitchen in the basement. Everything in between is offices, conference rooms, reception halls, sitting rooms, dining rooms, etc. These rooms are all in constant usage – Foreign dignitaries are entertained here and the Prime Minister and his government base the majority of their work at Number 10.

The front door to Number 10 is most likely the most famous feature of the building. Large, shiny and black and bearing ‘10’ in large brass numbers, the door is most likely one of the most photographed in the world! Originally, the door was made of Georgian black oak; it is today made of blast-proof steel and takes a reported eight men to lift it. The original door can be seen by the public – it is on display in the Churchill Museum at the Cabinet War Rooms!

According to Margaret Thatcher, Number 10 Downing Street was, “one of the most previous jewels in the national heritage.”

Other Notable Numbers

Number 11 – Since 1828, this house has traditionally been the residence of the Second Lord of the Treasury – The Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Number 12 – Previously, the Chief Whip’s Office was based here but today it houses the Prime Ministers Press Office, Strategic Communications Unit and Information and Research Unit (say that three times fast!). Originally, Number 12 was actually Number 13 but it was re-numbered and re-built after a fire in 1876, the demolition of Number 14, and ANOTHER fire in 1879.

Little Known Trivia

Our current Prime Minister, David Cameron, actually resides in a private flat above Number 11 Downing Street – as it is larger than the residence above Number 10!

He is not the first to have done this – in fact, Tony Blair did the same. Both Cameron and Blair still work and base their offices and ministerial business in Number 10, their families, just happen to reside in the more spacious rooms next door! This means that George Osborne (our current Chancellor of the Exchequer) currently lives in the flat above Number 10, although his primary offices are still based in Number 11! Phew…

Security

There have been barriers erected along both sides of Downing Street since the 1920’s. Originally put up to control the flow of pedestrians along Whitehall coming to view the newly unveiled Cenotaph, these barriers were removed and changed throughout the decades. In 1974, it was suggested that permanent barriers should be erected along Downing Street but the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, overturned the idea, feeling that it was not right that the public should be prevented from walking down the street and taking photographs outside Number 10. However, as security has tightened over the years, public access has been further and further restricted and today the closest visitors can get is standing on the edge of the street, attempting to peer through the permanent black barriers (past the armed offices from the Diplomatic Protection Group – all equipped with machine guns) to catch a glimpse of the most well known door in town.

+++Learn more about Downing Street 10 on our pay-what-you-like Westminster Tour! +++

 

London Royal Albert Hall

Royal Albert Hall

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One of the most famous concert venues in the entire world, the Royal Albert Hall sits in the west of London, on Kensington Gore in South Kensington. Opened to the public in 1871, the Hall quickly became one of the most high-profile musical venues in the country, hosting more than 350 events every year. Having played host to some of the biggest names in music through its’ 150-year career, the Royal Albert Hall is a must-visit for music lovers coming to London.

Creation

After the success of the Great Exhibition in 1851 (a pinnacle of Victorian imperialism, the Great Exhibition was a showcase of wonders from all over the world, held in Hyde Park), Prince Albert – who was responsible for the Great Exhibition – proposed that a permanent venue should be built nearby to serve the continuing education and enlightenment of Victorian society. A series of buildings in the area were planned – becoming known as Albertopolis. Unfortunately, Albert died before his vision was realised and the Albert Memorial was added to the plans to commemorate the man who had begun the scheme of building education-centric structures in the Kensington area.

Building

Victoria signed the Royal Charter to found the Corporation of the Hall of Arts and Sciences on the 20th of May in 1867. The Hall was designed by civil engineers Major-General Henry Y.D. Scott and Captain Francis Fowke. The two engineers had been influenced by ancient amphitheatres and was built to contest with the Cirque d’Hiver, a structure in Paris that was seen as the design for the engineers to now outdo. Actually Built by Lucas Brothers, the Hall is comprised mainly of Fareham Red brick and terra cotta, giving it the well-known rustic colouring.

Building was finished and official opening took place on the 29th March 1871. At the grand opening, Queen Victoria was too overcome with emotion to speak, leaving the duty of a welcoming speech to her eldest son, Edward, the Prince of Wales. A concert to celebrate the opening followed the speech and it quickly became apparent that the Hall had serious acoustic problems, including a severe echo. Word rapidly spread that the Hall had acoustic difficulties and it became said that the Royal Albert Hall was “the only place where a British composer could be sure of hearing his work twice.” The problem of the echo was not, in fact, solved until 1969 when a group of large fibreglass discus were installed below the ceiling.

Renovation and Restoration

Between 1996 and 2004 the Hall underwent a serious programme of redevelopment. A £20 million grant was given to the Hall to complete various necessary tasks including: improving ventilation, adding more bars and restaurants, improved seating, modernising the backstage areas, creating a new box office, and creating better technical facilities. Most of the renovation done was based internally which means the outside of the building has changed but a little from its’ original design.

The renovation also included a major rebuilding of the original great organ inside the Hall. Built by Henry Williams in 1871, then rebuilt by Harrison & Harrison in 1924 AND 1923, the organ was rebuilt yet again by Mander Organs between 2002 and 2004. Today, the organ is the second largest pipe organ in the British Isles, boasting 9,997 pipes!

Usage

The Hall has played host to numerous musical acts throughout the decade as well as being used as somewhat of a showroom and an exhibition space. The first concert held here was on the 1st of May 1871 and was Arthur Sullivan’s On Shore and Sea. Since then the Hall has seen poetry recitals, rock concerts, motor shows, ballet and opera, circus shows and sporting events, Cirque du Soleil performances, wrestling (including the first sumo wrestling tournament to be held in London!), as well as being used for filming by people such as Alfred Hitchcock.

Perhaps most famously of all, the BBC Promenade Concerts (“The Proms”), an eight-week summer season of daily classical music concerts, has been held in the Hall since 1942. Annnually the Classic Brit Awards are held in the Hall as is the Royal British Legion Festival of Remembrance. Imperial College London, the Royal College of Art as well as Kingston University have used the Hall for their graduation ceremonies and the Hall has also hosted numerous film premiers: Skyfall and Titanic 3D being just a couple.

Name

The original plan for the building was for it to be named The Central Hall of Arts and Sciences. However, the name was changed by Queen Victoria as a dedication to her late husband, Prince Albert. She made the name change on the laying of the foundation stone and although today it is commonly referred to as the Royal Albert Hall, the full name of the venue is the Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences.

Facts and Figures

  • Major Axes: 83m (272ft)
  • Minor Axes: 72m (236ft)
  • Dome Height: 41m (135ft)
  • Capacity: Up to 9,000 although modern safety restrictions place it at a firm 5,544
  • Mosaic Frieze: Running along the outside of the building depicting “The Triumph of Arts and Sciences”

Inscription: 12in letters running around the dome of the Hall read: This hall was erected for the advancement of the arts and sciences and works of industry of all nations in fulfilment with the intention of Albert Prince Consort. The site was purchased with the proceeds of the Great Exhibition of the year MDCCCLI. The first stone of the Hall was laid by Her Majesty Queen Victoria on the twentieth day of May MDCCCLXVII and it was opened by Her Majesty the Twenty Ninth of March in the year MDCCCLXXI. Thine O Lord is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty. For all that is in the heaven and in the earth is Thine. The wise and their works are in the hand of God. Glory by to God on high and on earth peace.

 

Visitor Information

Performances:

 Throughout the year, as various different events and performances are held inside the Hall, visitors can book tickets online at www.royalalberthall.com/tickets

Tours:

For those wanting to visit the Hall, not as an audience spectator but as a tourist, the Hall is open for tours and exhibitions throughout the year.

Guided tours are available to be booked via the Royal Albert Hall website. Known os the Public Grand Tours, tours are led by highly-skilled guides who take visitors throughout the building including into the auditorium, the Queen’s Private suites and the Galleries. Tours last around an hour.

During the BBC Proms season (18th July to 13th September, 2014) the tour focuses heavily on the history of the Proms tour and visitors are taken to the same areas of the building as in the standard guided-tour.

Prices: Child – £5.25   Adult – £12.25   Concessions – £10.25

Notes: Children under 5 are not permitted on tours during BBC Proms Season. Afternoon Tea can be added to your tour for a charge. Groups of over 15 can pre-book private tours as well as Behind the Scenes Tours.

Exhibitions:

Randomly throughout the year, exhibitions will run at the Royal Albert Hall. These exhibitions are free for those who are attending a performance, or free to the general public on open days which will be detailed in advance on the Albert Hall website.

Facilities

The hall boasts six restaurants and 14 bars. These can be visited in accordance with opening hours and individual visitation access

Getting Here

  • Address: Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gore, London SW7 2AP
  • Nearest Underground Station: South Kensington and High Street Kensington
  • Nearest Rail Station: Victoria Station
  • Bus Routes: 9, 10, 52, 70, 360, 452

+++ Don’t forget to check out our famous pay-what-you-like walking tours of London!+++

London Aspley House

Apsley House

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Boasting the illustrious address of ‘Number 1, London’ Apsley House has been home to the Dukes of Wellington for well over 200 years. A little known gem in the heart of London, Apsley House is situated in prime location at Hyde Park Corner, symbolically marking the boundaries between the City of Westminster and the boroughs of both Belgravia and Kensington & Chelsea. Run by English Heritage, the house is now open to the public as a museum and art gallery.

History

The house was originally built in 1771 an entirely of red brick. Built for Lord Apsley, the Lord Chancellor, the majority of these original rooms still stand in the current building. The building was purchased by Richard Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley (the brother of Sir Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington) in 1807. However, financial difficulties meant that Richard could not maintain the building and it was taken over by his brother, the Duke of Wellington.

Once Wellington had taken over, he employed Benjamin Dean Wyatt, master architect, to renovate the house to his own style. The most notable change was that Apsley House’s well known red brick exterior was completely covered in creamy Bath stone. Overall, the Duke spent more than £61,000 (millions of pounds in today’s money), including the addition of the waterloo Gallery. The Gallery (named after the Duke’s famous victory over Napoleon) is a grand ballroom of magnificent scale where a yearly banquet is still held to this date on the 18th of June every year to commemorate the Duke’s victory.

The 7th Duke of Wellington, Gerald Wellesley, gave the house and the majority of its contents over to the nation in 1947, however the Dukes of Wellington still live at Apsley House to this day. A Wellington Museum Act was passed by government in 1947 stating that the Wellington family has a right to occupy (just over) half the house “so long as there is a Duke of Wellington.” Today, the family apartments are mostly on the second floor.

Number 1, London

The popular nickname for Apsley House, Number 1 London, comes from the fact that the House was the first building passed by visitors who travelled into London from the countryside, and surrounding areas such as Knightsbridge. Originally, the house was one of many that lined the famous Piccadilly – however all of them, aside from Apsley, have been demolished. Technically speaking, the houses’ actual address is 149 Piccadilly, London W1J 7NT. But Number 1, London is much easier to remember!

Art Collection

As well as a simply being a magnificent structure, Apsley House contains a rather large, and important, collection of art. Over 200 paintings are kept inside, 83 of which were presented to the Duke of Wellington by King Ferdinand VII of Spain – who had found them in Joseph Bonaparte’s (elder brother of Napoleon) baggage train!

The collection includes works by artists from all over the world including Sir David Wilkie, John Singleton Copley, Jan Steen, Rubens, Velazquez Diego, Giulio Romano – just to name a few. In addition to paintings, the collection holds gifts given to the 1st Duke of Wellington throughout his career such as a pair of candelabras from Nicolas I of Russia, a porcelain dinner set from King Louis XVIII of France, and seven marshal’s batons from various European rulers (including three British pieces). Also on display and available to be viewed by the public is the Duke’s military uniform.

 

Visitor Information

Prices

  • English Heritage Member: Free
  • Adult: £6.90
  • Child (5-15): £4.10
  • Concession: £6.20
  • Family (2 adults, 3 children): £23.10

Opening Times (2014)

  • 1st April to 2nd November: Wednesdays through Sundays 11:00 – 17:00
  • 3rd November to 29th March: Saturdays and Sundays 10:00 – 16:00
  • Last Admission 30 minutes before closing

Transport

  • Nearest London Underground Station: Hyde Park Corner – Marble Arch (slightly further)
  • Nearest Rail Station: Victoria Station
  • Bus Routes:  2, 9, 10, 14, 16, 19, 36, 38, 52, 73, 74, 137, 148, 414, 436, C2

+++ Don’t forget to check out our famous pay-what-you-like walking tours of London!+++

 

London Piccadilly Circus

Piccadilly Circus

Posted by & filed under London.

What is Piccadilly Circus?

The word ‘circus’ is often associated with acrobats, trained elephants, and canvas tents but Piccadilly Circus displays none of those attributes! This is because the word ‘circus’ in Piccadilly is being used in the Latin sense – meaning circle. This means Piccadilly Circus is really just a round open space at a street junction in the heart of London! It is quite a glamorous street junction, however, and is famously surrounded by video displays and neon signs, a famous ‘statue of Eros,’ as well as notable buildings such as the London Pavilion and Criterion Theatre. Today Piccadilly Circus is so busy with traffic, pedestrians, and tourists, that the phrase, “It’s like Piccadilly Circus” is used in popular British lexicon to refer to a place which is exceptionally busy. It is said that if a person stays long enough in Piccadilly Circus – they will eventually bump into everybody they know!

Click here for your London Pass

Formation

Piccadilly is a thoroughfare in London that has been in existence since the early 1600’s. Named after piccadills (a fancy type of neck collar), the road meets with Regent Street in a junction that was designed by John Nash in 1819. The Circus was expanded to connect to Shaftesbury Avenue in 1886, transforming it into one of the largest and most important road junctions in London.

In 1879, Charles Dickens described Piccadilly Circus as follows: “Piccadilly, the great thoroughfare leading from the Haymarket and Regent Street westward to Hyde Park Corner, is the nearest approach to the Parisian boulevard of which London can boast.”

Evolution to Today

One of the most famous landmarks in London, the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain (often referred to as the Statue of Eros – as this is the name most associated with the statue that is famously perched on top of the fountain) was erected in 1893 and still stands today. However, it was moved in the 1980’s and now as pride of place in the centre of Piccadilly Circus. On the statue’s creation, it was considered somewhat risqué since the figure was entirely nude! Now it has become so synonymous with Piccadilly Circus and London in general that the outline of the statue is actually the symbol for the Evening Standard newspaper. It also just so happens that this statue was the first in the world to be cast in aluminium – and it is also worth noting that, despite its’ popular name, the statue is not actually of Eros, but of his brother, Anteros (the God of selfless love) – chosen to represent the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury.

Piccadilly Circus Underground Station was opened in 1906, servicing both the Bakerloo and Piccadilly lines. This station is one of the very few on the London Underground to have no buildings on street level – everything here is subterranean. Not long after the Station opening, in 1910, the first electric advertisements in London appeared at the Circus and in 1923, electric billboards were erected – providing the famous lights that visitors now travel from all over the world to see.

Tourist Attractions Located Here

  • Criterion Theatre
  • Shaftesbury Memorial and ‘Statue of Eros’
  • London Pavilion
  • Chinatown
  • Soho
  • Leicester Square

World-Famous Lights

Piccadilly Circus has been notoriously surrounded by illuminated advertisements for over a century now. Today, there are only six illuminated advertising screens left. On special occasions, the lights are switched off. Most recently this happened to commemorate the centenary of the beginning of World War I. Previously, the lights have been switched off to mourn the passing of Winston Churchill and Diana, princess of Wales.

Coca-Cola – Has had a sign here since 1954! Also, it displays information about line closures and delays on the London Underground. In 2002,  it displayed a quote of John Lennon, “Imagine all the people living life in peace,” paid for by his widow, Yoko Ono at a cost of £150,000.

  • TDK – Here since 1990 and now an LED screen.
  • McDonalds – Displayed since 1987 and is also LED.
  • Hyundai – The most recent addition from 2011. Replaced Sanyo, which had been here since the 1980’s.
  • Samsung – Twenty years old this year, originally installed in 1994.
  • LG – Added in 2007, also displays a rolling feed of Sky News headlines.

Top Trivia: “Piccadilly Circus” was the code name given to the Allies’ D-Day invasion fleet’s assembly location in the English Channel.

+++To learn more, take our famous pay-what-you-like walking tour of Soho, Piccadilly and Chinatown! +++

Zoo Tiger

London Zoo

Posted by & filed under London.

Creation and Operation

Opened in London on 27th April 1828, London Zoo is the world’s oldest scientific zoo. Originally, it was created to be used as a collection strictly for scientific study for those belonging to the London Zoological Society. It was granted a Royal Charter in 1829 by King George IV and to help bring in money, the zoo was later opened to the general public in 1847. Today, the zoo still receives no state funding and is operated entirely by donations and admissions fees. Within the past decades huge improvement works and new environments for countless animals have been created an expanded – making the London Zoo one of the largest, most diverse, and most enjoyable zoos in the entire world.

Visitor Information

  • Opening Times –
  • Open from 10am every day of the year (except Christmas). Closing times depend on the season: Last entry is 5:00pm until the beginning of September, then 4:30pm.

Prices –

TIP: Entry to the London Zoo is included with the London Pass.  You should also check out discount websites, such as Groupon and Living Social, who often offer 50% off listed entry price.  Booking online will give you a discount – so definitely consider going to www.zsl.org to book before you arrive!

  • Peak Season (February to November) ONLINE
  • Adults: £21.81 Children: £15.91 Under 3: FREE
  • Peak Season (February to November) AT THE GATE
  • Adults: £23.63 Children: £16.81  Under 3: FREE

Public Transport -

  • Nearest London Underground Station: Camden Station, Baker Street Station and Regent’s Park Stations
  • Bus Routes: 274 and C2
  • Nearest Rail Station: Euston Station
  • Bike: The zoo has two Barclay Cycle Hire stations
  • Waterbus: The London Waterbus Company runs a scheduled service between Camden, Little Venice and Soho (for info go to: www.londonwaterbus.com)

Notable Animals, Events and Firsts

  • London Zoo took part in the world’s first international co-operative breeding programme when an Arabian Oryx was lent from London to Phoenix Zoo in Arizona. Today the Zoo participates in breeding programmes all over the world for more than 130 different species!
  •  In the 1860’s, London Zoo was home to the only living quagga (a now extinct subspecies of zebra) to ever be photographed before the species became extinct in the 1870’s. London Zoo also held another now-extinct species of animals – thylacines (often called Tasmanian Tigers).
  • The first hippopotamus to be seen in Europe since the time of the Romans arrived at London Zoo in 1850 – a gift from the Ottoman Viceroy in Egypt. The arrival of Obaysch (the name given to the hippo) meant that numbers of visitors to London zoo doubled the year he arrived!
  • In 1865, the largest elephant known in existence, Jumbo, was living at the zoo before he was later sold to Barnum & Bailey Circus where he was sadly killed by a locomotive.
  • An American black bear given to the zoo in 1914, named Winnipeg Bear, is known to have been the inspiration for Winnie-the-Pooh! Written by Harry Colebourn A. A. Milne, Winnie the bear was seen by Milne and his son, Christopher Robin, who became so entranced by the bear that Milne wrote him the iconic children’s story.
  • By the 1990’s the collection at London Zoo reached over 7,000 animals. By this time, other zoos in the United Kingdom had opened, however, London was by far the largest. In fact, the next largest Zoo in the UK at this time was Chester Zoo which held just under 3,500 animals – HALF of London’s total! Around the same time, London Zoo held many specimens that could not be seen anywhere else in the UK including the Tasmanian devil and the wombat.
  • Today London Zoo is also home to the only population of humming birds in the entire United Kingdom.

Facts and Figures

Currently London Zoo is home to over 19,000 animals of over 806 different species. The breakdown of the different animals is as follows:

  • Mammals – 70 species and 580 animals
  • Birds – 119 species and 613 animals
  • Reptiles – 81 species and 296 animals
  • Amphibians – 25 species and 587 animals
  • Fishes – 281 species and 6,091 animals
  • Invertebrates – 230 specials and 11,021 animals.

Different Habitats

London Zoo is now carefully laid out to contain a number of individual habitats where animals are grouped together in geographically similar environments.

Rainforest Life/Nightlife – This is a walk-through exhibit that houses several species of rainforest animals such as marmosets and sloths. Housed here are also a number of nocturnal animals such as bats, scorpions, giant rats, and chinchillas.

Into Africa – Holding animals from the African continent, this area includes a high level viewing platform to bring guests face-to-face with the giraffes housed here.

The Outback – An Australian themed exhibit dating originally from 1913, housing wallabies, kangaroos and emus.

Gorilla Kingdom – Opened within the past few years, in 2007, the Gorilla Kingdom is made up of a large, moated island with an indoor gym for use by the gorillas. As of today, London Zoo owns four gorillas – one male and three female! Other species of monkeys are housed in the Gorilla Kingdom, as well.

Meet the Monkeys – A walk-through enclosure that houses a troop of black-capped squirrel monkeys, this exhibit is unique in that there are no boundaries between the visitors and the monkeys themselves.

B.U.G.S. – Standing for Biodiversity Underpinning Global Survival, the B.U.G.S. exhibition holds over 140 species of animal, primarily made up of invertebrates.

Butterfly Paradise – Displaying different species of butterfly and moth from throughout the world, there is also a caterpillar hatchery here on public view!

Aquarium – Originally the aquarium at London zoo was the world’s first public aquarium! In fact, it is believed that the word ‘aquarium’ originated here at London Zoo – having previously been referred to as an “aquatic vivarium.”

Reptile House – Housing creatures such as snakes, frogs, and crocodiles, the Reptile House is one of the most famous areas of the Zoo – partially in thanks to Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone which filmed a scene in the actual reptile house itself!

Penguin Beach – Home to 60 penguins and holding the largest penguin pool in an English zoo!

Animal Adventure – A part of the zoo designed for children, the exhibit here features a playground and numerous domestic animals such as rabbits and chickens and exotic species such as porcupines and prairie dogs.

Giants of the Galapagos – Another relatively recent addition, this exhibition was opened in 2009 to coincide with the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin. Five giant Galapagos tortoises are kept here – one male and four females (named Dolly, Dolores, Polly and Priscilla!).

Komodo Dragons – Opened by Sir David Attenborough himself, the Komodo dragon enclosure houses two dragons and is designed to resemble their natural habitat: dry riverbeds.

Tiger Territory – The most recent of the Zoo’s exhibitions, Tiger Territory opened in 2013 in a ceremony that was attended by HRH, The Duke of Edinburgh. London Zoo currently has two tigers – one male and one female. The tiger couple have recently bred triplet tiger cubs that can also be seen!

African Bird Safari – A walk-through exhibit housing species of African birds such as storks, starlings and hornbills.

The Snowdon Aviary – Viewable from outside the Zoo itself, the Snowdon Aviary was built in 1964 and has been hope to dozens of species of birds throughout the decades ranging from waterfowl to birds of prey.

Blackburn Pavilion – Another exhibition for birds, this aviary houses tropical bird varieties including the only population of humming birds in the entire United Kingdom.

London Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace

Posted by & filed under London.

Synonymous with the royal family for decades, Buckingham Palace is one of the most famous buildings in the entire world. Surrounded by some of the most beautiful parkland in London, Buckingham Palace is a must-see attraction for every visitor to our capital city. Open to the public at restricted times throughout the year, the Palace is the focal point of the Changing of the Guard Ceremony as well as the official London residence of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. For those of you who’d like to know a bit more about the best known home in London – read on!

TIP: We visit Buckingham Palace on our Westminster and All-in-One London Tours.  Also, check out our blog post on visiting the Changing of the Guard.

Visitor Information

All Year Round

Queens Gallery -

Originally designed by John Nash, the Queen’s Gallery showcases art, artefacts and treasures all year ‘round. Different exhibitions rotate in the Gallery all throughout the year.

Opening Times:London Buckingham Palace

  • Daily 10:00 to 5:30pm

Prices:

TIP: Entry to the Queen’s Gallery, Royal Mews and State Rooms is included in the London Pass.

  • Adult – £9.75
  • Concession – £8.95
  • Under 17 – £4.95
  • Under 5 – Free

Majority of the Year

Royal Mews –

Holding beautiful and exquisite state coaches, the Royal Mews are a group of working stables, housing the royal’s horses and carriages.

Opening Times:

  • February to end March – Monday to Saturday 10:00 – 4:00pm
  • April to end October – Daily 10:00 to 5:00pm
  • November – Monday to Saturday 10:00 to 4:00pm

Prices:

TIP: Entry to the Queen’s Gallery, Royal Mews and State Rooms is included in the London Pass.

  • Adult – £8.75
  • Concession: £8.00
  • Under 17 – £5.40
  • Under 5 – Free

Summer Opening Only

State Rooms -

Throughout the month of August and September, Queen Elizabeth II usually goes on holiday. This is good news for visitors to London as it means that the State Rooms of Buckingham Palace open their doors to the public! Visitors to the Palace can purchase tickets which include an audio-guide tour that will lead them through over a dozen different rooms in the Palace. The total tour runs for about 2 hours and highlights the fine art that is displayed at the Palace, as well as the world-famous throne room (where all official wedding and coronation photos are taken), and finishing with a lovely stroll through the largest private garden in London! Only available for guests 8 weeks out of the entire year, be sure to plan yourself a visit to the Palace during this rare opportunity to get behind-the-scenes of the Queen’s London home!

Opening Dates: 26th July – 28th September

Opening Times:

  • 9:30 – 7:30 (July to 21 August)
  • 9:30 – 6:30 (September)

Prices:

TIP: Entry to the Queen’s Gallery, Royal Mews and State Rooms is included in the London Pass.

  • Adult – £34.50
  • Concessions – £31.50
  • Under 17 – £19.50
  • Under 5 – Free
  • Family (2 adults and 3 under 17s) – £88.50

2014 Exhibition: Royal Childhood – Providing a glimpse into the childhood of Queen Elizabeth and her sister Margaret, as well as other members of the Royal family, including baby Prince George! Artefacts from 250 year of history will be on display.

Royal Day Out

This is a single ticket that gives the holder entrance to The State Rooms, The Queen’s Gallery and the Royal Mews. Great value for money!

  • Adult – £34.50
  • Concession – £31.50
  • Under 17 – £19.50
  • Under 5 – FREE

Note: All tickets to the State Rooms can be stamped on exit and reused throughout the summer!

Location

Centuries ago, the land surrounding Buckingham Palace was owned by Norman kings, who eventually gifted the area to Westminster Abbey. In the early 10th century the area was home to a little village known as Eye Cross that grew up around the river Tyburn – which at that time flowed through this area of London.

In the 16th century Henry VIII bought the land, which by then housed a leper hospital, and for centuries on this prime piece of location traded between royal and noble hands. It is thought that the first house to be built on this site belonged to a Sir William Blake in the 1620’s, but Buckingham Palace as we know it today began nearly another century after this initial house.

The Creation of the Palace

Making up the architectural skeleton for the Buckingham Palace that is so well known today was a building known as Buckingham House. Buckingham House was built by the 1st Duke of Buckingham and it was a descendant of his, Sir Charles Sheffield, that eventually sold the building to the royal family – in whose hands it has remained ever since.

Buckingham House was actually sold in 1761 to King George III at a cost of only £21,000! (Although today that is more like £2.8million…which is still a bargain for property of this size in London!). George III and his wife Charlotte moved into Buckingham House and 14 of their 15 children were born inside. The public, however, were not impressed with the fact that their King and Queen were living in a manor house – although George III was famous for his simple tastes. To appease public appetite for pomp and splendour, the royal couple expanded the house and their son, George IV, continued renovations into the 1820’s. After George died, his brother, King William IV who did not care much for the Palace, considered moving Parliament into the building!

As A Primary Royal Residence

It is Queen Victoria who is most often credited with being the first monarch to proclaim Buckingham palace as their official residence. She moved in shortly after she came to the throne in 1837 and her husband, Albert, is credited with modernising the building to the standard we know today. Before Albert took on the task, Buckingham Palace was notoriously uncomfortable: the chimneys were in such disrepair that they spread smoke throughout the building which meant that fires stopped being lit which, in turn, made Buckingham Palace a rather beautiful ice box! It was said that the staff that took care of the Palace were lazy and that hygiene was not up to standard which meant that the Palace was extremely dirty. However, once Albert was done with his work, the Palace was widely accepted as a wonderful home for the monarch and it was during Albert’s work that the famous East Front balcony was built – setting the stage for public displays of the royal family for decades to come.

Today

In addition to being the London residence of the Queen, Buckingham Palace hosts events and ceremonies all throughout the year. It is in Buckingham Palace that the Queen confers knighthoods to those deemed worthy, where state banquets are held, where christenings for members of the royal family often take place, and where visiting heads of state are entertained. The Palace backs onto the largest private garden in London – over 40acres where the Queen’s annual garden parties are held every summer.

Today, in addition to Queen Elizabeth herself, the Duke of York, and the Earl and Countess of Wessex (the Queen’s two sons and daughter-in-law) call Buckingham Palace home. The Palace is decorated with many fine paintings and works of art. In addition to this, every gift that the Queen has been given throughout her reign from nations and people around the world, are displayed throughout the Palace.

Fast Facts

  • Dimensions: 108m x 120m x 24m/354ft x 393ft x 78ft
  • Floor space: 77,000m sq/830,000 sq ft.
  • Number of Rooms: 775 (78 of which are bathrooms!)
  • Largest Room: The Ballroom – 36.6m x 18m x 13.5m/ 120ft x 59ft x 193ft
  • Number of Windows: 760
  • Number of Doors: 1,514
  • Number of Light bulbs: 40,000
  • Members of Staff currently employed at the Palace: 450 year round – 800 summer opening
  • Born Inside: King Edward VII, King William IV, Prince Charles and Prince Andrew
  • Postcode: SW1A 1AA