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

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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

London Monument to the Great Fire of 1666

Posted by & filed under London.

If you want to get a bird’s eye view of London, you have a number of options – if you’re willing to pay; The London Eye, St. Paul’s Cathedral, The Shard, etc. But if you’re travelling on a budget, there’s a little known venue in the City of London that not only affords a spectacular view of the city, it also comes at a ridiculously affordable price – it’s the London Monument to the Great Fire of 1666!  Those coming on our City of London tour will be shown The London Monument during the walk and the tour ends a short distance away!

Designed by Sir Christopher Wren to commemorate the Great Fire of London in 1666, the stone column of the Monument  was begun in 1671 and completed in 1677 at a cost of £13,450.00. For decades after it was built, The Monument was the highest viewpoint in London and was a popular visitor attraction – it is even mentioned in the Dicken’s book Martin Chuzzlewit. Today, it is less well known and though it is no longer the highest viewpoint in London (that title goes to The Shard), it is still accessible to the public and well worth the effort to visit.London Monument to the Great Fire of 1666

Great care and specification was put into the design of The Monument. The column stands at 202ft high (62m) and is exactly 202ft (62m) away from the spot where, on the night of the 2nd of September 1666, the Great Fire began in a bakery on Pudding Lane. Although the Great Fire destroyed the majority of the City of London, there was very little loss of life, and the king himself (Charles II) as well as his brother (James, The Duke of York) helped to fight the flames that were eventually extinguished on the 5th of September 1666. For this reason, both the King and the Duke are depicted in detailed carvings around the bottom of The Monument.

The London Monument to the Great Fire of 1666 is open 7 days a week from 9:30 – 5:00 (Winter Hours) and costs a mere £4.00 for adults at £1.50 for those under 16. Admission is free with the London Pass.  Visitors should be prepared for a workout, as there is – of course – no lift, and 311 stairs to climb! Once to the top, guests can stand on a viewing platform that provides 360 degree views of the capital.  Those who get the platform will find themselves on top of the tallest isolated stone column in the entire world! Easily accessible by Tube (Monument station is literally next door) or Bus (Nos 17, 21, 43, 48, 133, 149 and 521!), The Monument to the Great Fire of London is a fabulous find for those seeking a spectacular view in the capital. For more information, check out the London Monument visitor information page.

London river thames

London Boat Tours

Posted by & filed under London.

Seeing London on foot is definitely the best way to enjoy everything this city has to offer. But once you’ve pounded the pavements, it’s a good idea to enjoy any of a number of London boat tours along the River Thames and experience the city in a different way! For centuries, London grew and operated around the Thames, and travelling the river was actually the fastest way to get through London when many of the city’s streets were congested with horses, carts, and sewage. Many buildings that line the river today were actually constructed to be viewed from the river itself – so be sure to make a river cruise part of your trip to London and get yourself a whole new view of our beautiful city.

When it comes to booking your London boat tours, you’ll have a lot to choose from. So to help you out, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best Thames experiences available to you!

City Cruises

Dominating the London Boat market for years, City Cruises is probably the best well known – and best value for money – when it comes to a simple Thames cruise. City Cruises runs a hop-on, hop-off service between Westminster and Greenwich – providing live commentary with every journey. Guests can sit on the open-aired top of the boat, or hunker downstairs if the London weather gets a bit intense!

Highlights along the cruise include: London Eye, The Savoy, National Theatre, OXO Tower, Blackfriars Bridge, London Bridge, The Shard, The Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Wapping, Docklands, Canary Wharf, Greenwich.

Prices:

Prices vary depending on how far you wish to travel, if you want single or return, and which piers you wish to visit.

TIP: City Cruises hop-on, hop-off service is included in the London Pass.  Also, Groupon runs deals as low as £4.50 per person from time to time.

Generally you will be looking at paying around £8.78 for a single adult ticket and £11.70 for return. City Cruises have run a RIVER RED ROVER ticket with gives you all-day hop-on hop-off sightseeing for just a few pence more than a standard ticket!

To find exact prices of your journey (and to get details on the RIVER RED ROVER) – check out this site: http://www.citycruises.com/city-cruises-sightseeing-price-listings.aspx

Times:

The schedule varies depending on time of year and which pier you wish to depart from. Cruises run every 30 minutes and it is not necessary to book in advance.

To take a look at the official timetable – follow this link.

Tate to Tate

A simplistic service run by the Tate galleries themselves, this journey takes visitors between the Tate modern on the Southbank and the Tate Britain in Pimlico. Although there is no commentary on this boat service, the crafts themselves have interiors designed by artist Damien Hurst himself! The boats have both outdoor and indoor seating and is the best way to journey from one Tate to the other – saving you loads of time spent on tubes and buses.

Boats depart every 40 minutes during gallery opening times – 7 days a week.

Prices:

Tickets can be bought in advance online (https://tickets.tate.org.uk/selectshow.asp), from either Tate Gallery or on the boat itself.

  • Adults – £6.50 single/£12.00 return
  • Tate Members – £4.90
  • Family (2 adults and 2 children) – £32.50
  • Child under 16 or senior – £3.25
  • Children with Travelcards – £2.15
  • Adults with Travelcards – £4.30
  • Oyster Pay As You Go users – £5.85 (only available on the boat)
  • Children Under 5 – FREE

Times:

Weekdays:

FIRST DEPARTURE FROM TATE MODERN – 9:57am and LAST DEPARTURE – 4:44pm

FIRST DEPARTURE FROM ST GEORGE WHARF (Tate Britain) – 10:17am and LAST DEPARTURE – 4:24pm

Weekends:

FIRST DEPARTURE FROM TATE MODERN – 9:17am and LAST DEPARTURE – 6:43pm

FIRST DEPARTURE FROM ST GEORGE WHARF (Tate Britain) – 9:37am and LAST DEPARTURE – 6:24pm

 

RIB Experience

The Thames RIB Experience is quickly becoming one of the most popular river trips in town! The RIB experience operates the fastest boats on the Thames, jetting visitors along the river at approx. 30knots. Each boat (which only holds up to 12 people) is manned by a guide who provides commentary throughout the journey.

Throughout the experience, visitors travel along the river alternately at a leisurely pace to sight-see, and then the fast-paced thrilling ride, turning figure eights and ramping up the turbo engines, drawing the attention of all those within hearing distance! Guests are well kitted out with waterproof jackets, a life jacket, and goggle-style visors to withstand the thrilling wind speeds set to come.

Routes vary and can be booked between the Tower and the Thames Barrier, highlighting Greenwich, Canary Wharf and Tower Bridge.

Prices and Times:

Depend on the journey! Check out their official listings here.

 

London Waterbus Company

If you are in the mood for something a little different, check out the London Waterbus Company. Operating entirely along the canals that flow through the north of London, the London Waterbus Company is a charming way to see parts of London most tourists miss.

The journeys take place in specially crafted long-boats and gently glide along the canals. Visitors are taken along the historic Regents Canal, catching views of Regent’s Park, Little Venice, Maida Hill, London Zoo and Camden Lock. For a true experience off the beaten-path, these relaxing and beautiful rides are a definite must.

The boats run seven days a week between Camden and Little Venice and tickets can only be bought on arrival. The waterbus is also a fun way to travel to/from London Zoo!  Times vary so check out their website.

London Abbey Road

How to get to Abbey Road in London

Posted by & filed under London.

How to Get to Abbey Road in London:
The nearest Underground Station to Abbey Road is St. John’s Wood. From St. John’s Wood, head down Grove End Road then make a right onto Abbey Road. The Studios – and crossing – are a ten minute walk along the road.   Use this Google Map for directions to the Abbey Road crosswalk.  Another way to get to Abbey Road is on one of our Free Tours by Foot.

Live Camera Feed:
The zebra crossing at Abbey Road is watched by 24-hour cameras which live-stream their feed on this website: http://www.abbeyroad.com/crossing

TIP: If you are a big time Beatles fan, you might be interested in the Beatles Walking Tour.  Do check out Groupon for occasional deals on the tour.  Beatles fans who have the London Pass get a free goodies bag with any £5 or more purchase at the Beatles Store.

Abbey RoadProbably the most famous road crossing in the world, Abbey Road was brought to popular attention when it became the location for the shooting of the cover of The Beatles last album: Abbey Road. For many visitors to London, Abbey road is a must-see and recreating the famous photograph of Paul, George, John and Ringo has been a popular exercise for decades.

Originally, Abbey Road was simply another thoroughfare through Northwest London and was primarily used by visitors heading toward Lord’s Cricket Ground. But in 1969, Abbey Road was changed forever when a photograph of the Beatles crossing the road (since it just so happened to be outside the studio where the album was recorded) was used as the cover for their album of the same name.

The crossing depicted on the album cover is what’s known as a zebra crossing -a pedestrian crossing known by its’ distinguishing pattern of dark and light stripes on the road that typically gives rights of way to pedestrians over traffic (making it easier for those who want to recreate the fab-four album cover!). The crossing here became so well known, and such a tourist driven hot-spot that in 2010 the stretch of Abbey Road here was given Grade II Listed Building status by English Heritage. This means the zebra crossing here now has legal protection as a site of historical importance and cannot be torn apart. Unusually, the zebra crossing is re-painted every three months to keep it in good shape for the millions of photographs that are taken here every year!

The road sign for Abbey Road was traditionally positioned at the usual height and location – within the public’s grasp. This meant that the sign was repeatedly defaced and removed throughout the decades. Today the sign is deliberately positioned higher than normal to prevent this. However, the front gate that surrounds the Abbey Road studios is still covered in graffiti left by visitors from around the world, looking to leave a footprint of their visit to this world-known recording location.

Today, the music studio where the Beatles recorded that album is synonymous with not just the Beatles themselves, but with multiple music legends that have recorded at the Abbey Road Studios, owned by EMI and based at No. 3 Abbey Road. The list of those who have recorded there is quite expansive, so here is a small list of some of the better-known names who have graced the Studios over the years:  Michael Jackson, Pink Floyd, James Blunt, Queen, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, U2, Stevie Wonder, Ella Fitzgerald, Mary J. Blidge, Duran Duran, Oasis, Kylie Minogue, and Green Day.

 

 

Kew Gardens London

Posted by & filed under London.

kew_gardensLondon is known for being a ‘green’ city, with lush parks and gardens all throughout the capital. Not only does London boast numerous accessible parks, it is also home to the largest collection of living plants in the entire world! This collection is housed in 121 hectares of gardens, set in one of London’s top tourist attractions: Kew Gardens.  Read on for some fast facts on Kew Gardens as well as some of the sights visitors to the Gardens are able to enjoy.

History Kew Gardens began life centuries ago in the 1700’s. Here in Kew (southwest of London), an exotic garden was put together by Lord Capel, John of Tewkesbury. His garden was enlarged and extended by Augusta, Dowager Princess of Wales in the 18th century and it was for her that the gardens grew and began to house notable buildings including numerous buildings designed by architect Sir William Chambers, one of which remains: the Chinese Pagoda. King George III (often referred to as ‘Farmer George’ because of his love for nature and gardening) embellished and enriched the gardens here and even went as far as purchasing a house next to the gardens to be turned into a nursery for his children. This house still stands and is referred to today as Kew Palace. It is in the reign of George III that the gardens became more like the vast collection of plants that we know it as today. The gardens were changed into a national botanical garden in 1840, when the Royal Horticultural Society lobbied for this to be done. Around this name the grounds were increased in size (spreading out to 30 hectares/75 acres) and expanding the arboretum to its present size of 121 hectares/300 acres.

Modern Day In July 2003, Kew Gardens was put on the list of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO and is now open to the public all year ‘round. Kew Gardens today is not one simple garden. It is a cornucopia of flora from all over the world and from all climates and habitats. Currently on display for visitors are over 14,000 different variety of trees, a collection of miniature bonsai trees, grass and cactus varieties, orchids, rocks and roses, as well as ferns, lilies, lilacs, bamboo…and more! The list goes on and on. Kew truly is a garden in a class of its own. London Kew_Palace_Queen's_Garden

Kew Palace It is thought that there has been a Palace at Kew from the time of Queen Elizabeth I who gave a palace here to her friend and favourite, Robert Dudley. However, the Palace as it stands today was built in 1631 by a Dutch merchant named Samuel Fortrey, and was created in brick in a ‘Flemish bond’ method – a traditionally Dutch architectural feature. Frederick, the Prince of Wales moved into the house and famously, the Prince was given the gift of a dog by his good friend and poet, Alexander Pope. The dog wore a collar that bore the following verse: I am His Highness’ dog at Kew. Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you? The smallest of the Royal Palaces, Kew Palace stands today looking very much as it did in the 17th century, although heavily restored in recent times. It was at Kew Palace that the 80th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II was held at the end of the 10 year restoration project and was officially reopened as a visitor attraction shortly after Her Majesty’s celebrations in April 2006.

Notable Locations at Kew Gardens London Kew_Gardens_PagodaChinese Pagoda Erected in 1762 and designed by Sir William Chambers, the Great Pagoda is comprised of ten stories and reaches 163ft (50m) high and is 49ft (15m) in diameter. Modelled after the Chinese style, each storey of the Pagoda has its own projecting roof. A staircase of 253 steps runs through the centre of the building, and it was used during the Second World War for the drop-testing of model bombs! The Pagoda is now open to the public within the gardens. Palm House Comprised of the first large-scale structural use of wrought iron, the Palm House was built by architect Decimus Burton with the assistance of iron-maker Richard Turner. The structure was built between 1844 and 1848 and was considered “the most important surviving Victorian glass and iron structure.” Temperate House Following the iron and glass creation of the Palm House, the Temperate House was built. Intended to be larger than the Palm House, Temperate House is TWICE as large and is now the largest Victorian glasshouse in existence. Princess of Wales Conservatory Opened by Diana, Princess of Wales in 1987, the Princess of Wales Conservatory was designed by architect Gordon Wilson. Diana was specifically chosen as the namesake of this Conservatory to draw parallels between her and Princess Augusta – the Princess of Wales from the 18th century who began Kew Garden as we know it today.  The Conservatory houses ten computer-controlled micro-climate zones holding plant species from dry to wet climates. Waterlily House The hottest and most humid house in Kew, the Waterlily House holds numerous varieties of water lilies and other heat-loving plants. The Waterlily House was opened in 1852 and holds ironwork that was provided by Richard Turner. Seedbank The Millennium Seed Bank is an international project coordinated by the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. Launched in the year 2000, the seed bank operates as an ‘insurance policy’ against the extinction of plants in the wild. Seeds are stored here for potential further use and are kept in large, underground frozen vaults. The bank currently boasts the world’s largest seed collection in the entire world and banked its billionth seed in April 2001. It is estimated that the Bank holds seeds for over 34,088 different species which represents around 11% of plan species found on earth. Herbarium One of the largest in the world, the Kew Herbarium currently holds over 7 Million (!!) preserved specifies in over 750,000 volumes, and boasting over 175,000 prints and drawings of various plants, the herbarium at Kew is one of the largest anywhere in the world. Compost Heap Kew Gardens holds one of the largest compost ears in Europe, comprised of waste from the gardens at the stables of the Household Cavalry! Although the heap is not open to the public, it can be seen from a viewing platform which is open to the public. London Kew Gardens Tree WalkMuseum Housing Kew’s botany collections comprising of food, clothing, ornaments, medicine and tools, the museum was developed to help illustrate the human dependence on plants. The museum is open to the public who have already purchased tickets to enter the garden. Treetop Walkway Opened in May 2008, the treetop walkway is 59ft (18m) high and 660ft (200m) long. The walkway takes visitors in the tree canopies of a woodland glade. The structure is built from perforated metal which means it moves as people walk across it – and it also sways gently in the wind.

Visitor Information Opening Times (AS OF JULY 2014) GARDENS

  •  30 March to 25 August: 9:30am to 6:30pm/7:30pm on Bank Holidays
  • 26 August to 25 October: 9:30am to 6:00pm
  • 26 October to 6 February: 9:30am, to 4:15pm
  • 7 February to 28 March: 9:30am to 5:30pm

PALACE

  •  30 March to 25 August: 10:00am to 5:30pm
  • 26 August to 28 September: 10:00am to 5:30pm
  • 29 September to March: CLOSED

Tickets – (tip: Entry to Kew Gardens is included in the London Pass)

  • Adults: £15.00
  • Children under 16: FREE
  • Concessions: £14.00

NOTE: Booking online gets you fast track entry into the gardens!

Getting There

  •  Nearest Underground Station: Kew Gardens
  • Nearest Rail Station: Kew Bridge Station
  • Buses: 65 and 391, 237 and 267