Leicester Square in London

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Famous for holding world-premieres of films in London, Leicester Square is a central location filled with night-life, restaurants, artists and theatres. In the heart of the West End, many visitors to London consider Leicester Square a must-see locale in London.

History

Leicester Square is named after the 2nd Earl of Leicester, Robert Sidney. When this western area of London was still countryside, the Earl purchased four acres (1.6 hectares) in the neighbourhood and built himself a house in the northern corner of his property, named Leicester House. The area he owned rapidly became known as Leicester Field and later, Leicester Square.

By the 18th century, Leicester House was taken over by Frederick, the Prince of Wales (son of King George II, although he never reached the throne himself). But by the latter half of the 1700s, the Square area had become not only unfashionable but became the centre of entertainments and curiosities. This continued and by the 19th century, Leicester Square was known as an entertainment venue, boasting such attractions as Wyld’s Great Globe (housing a giant scale map of the Earth, previously on display at the Great Exhibition). Soon hotels and theatres began springing up around the square, it remains the centre of West End entertainment today.

What’s here?

In the centre of Leicester Square is a small park. Price of place in the centre of the park is a statue of William Shakespeare (somewhat curiously surrounded by stone dolphins). Previously, in each corner of the Square were four artistic busts depicting Sir Joshua Reynolds, John Hunter, William Hogarth and Sir Isaac Newton, as well as a statue of Charlie Chaplin. After a 2012 refurbishment, all the artwork was removed – aside from the statue of Shakespeare.

Leicester Square is the heart of London’s cinema land and even boasts a signed reading, “Theatreland.” The cinemas here have played host to the world premieres of various films throughout the year and one of the theatres has seats to hold 1,600 patrons! Clubs, bars and restaurants are constantly popping up around the square – some only to last a few months before something new comes along.

The Square is also home to TKTS – previously known as the Official London Half-Price Theatre Ticket Booth. Tickets for theatre performances throughout the West End that day are sold from the booth for around half the regular price. A popular stop for those hoping to see London West End shows at a reasonable price, TKTS is licensed and regulated and is the best known third-party theatre ticket dealer in London.

Visiting Leicester Square?

Leicester Square is always open, and as the hub of London’s tourist night-life scene, it is not only easy to find, but is surrounded by other London locations worth visiting (Covent Garden, Chinatown, Trafalgar Square, etc.).

It is perhaps worth mentioning that those of us who live in London rarely visit Leicester Square, as it is considered a bit of a tourist trap. Worth visiting to enjoy the garden and the bright lights, or indeed the street artists and the discount TKTS book, Leicester Square can be a bit overpriced and a quick walk up to Chinatown or Soho can provide better dining – and drinking – for those out on the town in London.

Nearest Underground Station: Leicester Square

Bus Routes: 24, 29, 176

London Camden

Top 10 Things To Do In Camden

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1. Explore the Market

This has got to be top of the list! Camden Market is world famous and is absolutely full of shops and stalls waiting to be explored. From the antique markets kept in the back of the Market at The Stables, to the newer market stalls just near the station, Camden High Street is one large market-lovers paradise. Get digging through boxes, explore the rails, grab a souvenir, or uncover a treasure – Camden Market is yours to uncover. [Camden Market Website]

2. Have a Drink

The Hawley Arms pub in Camden is one of the most (in)famous pubs in the capital. A true London boozer, the Hawley Arms has been a watering hole to Londoners and London celebrity locals alike for year. In time gone past, one might find Amy Winehouse pulling pints behind the bar, or hear an impromptu secret gig break out. Soak up the atmosphere and this legendary – and loved – Camden locale. [Hawley Arms Website]

3. Enjoy the Proud Gallery

Europe’s most popular privately funded photographic gallery, the Proud Gallery specialises in photographs documenting fashion, pop culture, and music – with heavy emphasis on rock and Roll. Music buffs will be thrilled with works depicting famous names like The Sex Pistols, David Bowie, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones…and the list goes on. Treat yourself to a purchase of one of their prints for a great – and unique – London souvenir. [Proud Gallery Website]

4. Learn the History of Folk Music

One of London’s little known museums, Cecil Sharp house here in Camden is the home of English folk dance and song. This little building is filled with artefacts, manuscripts and records which come together to paint the picture of the history of traditional English folk music – and dancing! The venue hosts regular event nights, workshops, talks and dancing events so check out their website to see what’s on before you go. [English Folk Dance and Song Society Website]

5. Grab a Bite

You’re spoilt for choice when deciding to take lunch in Camden. Camden Market itself is dotted with food stands running the length of the stalls, and nearer the Stables market there is a whole bazaar exclusively inhabited by food stands. International cuisine, desserts, breakfast, lunch or dinner 0 any time is a good time to eat in Camden!

6. Enjoy Live Music

Camden is home to London’s music scene. From up-and-coming to world-famous acts, there are dozens of venues for live music to choose from. There’s Koko – opened in 1900 and hosting acts like Prince, Oasis and Coldplay – or The Dublin Castle – previously hosting The Madness and today showcasing new talents – or The Blues Kitchen and Bar – does what it says on the tin!

7. Explore Regent’s Canal

Regent’s Canal is a beautiful oasis in the centre of busy, bustling London. The canal runs the length of Camden and there are paths to walk/jog along…or even long boats to hire! A real treat, taking a London canal boat is a great way to while away a gorgeous afternoon. [London Waterbus Company WebsiteCanal Museum Website ]

8. Get a Great View

An area of open parkland nestled in residential and upmarket Camden sits Primrose Hill – a wonderful place to get a gorgeous view of London. A sweeping vista straight over Regent’s Park and into the capital awaits you and this is also a smashing place to have a picnic! [Google Map: Primrose Hill, London NW1]

9. Check out the Zoo

Run entirely by a team of Zoologists working for conservation and species preservation, London Zoo is one of the oldest continually operating zoos in the world. Hundreds of species of animal are here to be seen – including the reptiles in the Zoo’s famous’ reptile house’ featuring in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone! [ZSL Website]

10. Go on a Tour!

Of course we think the best way to see Camden is to jump on our walking tour! Your expert guide will lead you along the canals, alleyways and back streets of Camden, all the while telling your stories about the locations you are seeing, as well as the people who helped to turn Camden into an alternative locale and home to artists, celebrities, and regular Londoners alike! [Free Tours By Foot – Camden Tour ]

London Soho

Top 10 Things to Do in Soho

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One of the most vibrant, eclectic and exciting parts of London, Soho is the kind of neighbourhood that is great both during the day and in the evening hours. From family fun, to adult entertainment, Soho has the widest variety of restaurants, clubs, venues, and shops you can manage to fit into such a small area. Check out our list of some of the best things to do when you’re in Soho.

 

1 – Go to the Berwick Street Market
One of the oldest markets in London, Berwick Street Market was begun in the 18th century. An awesome place for fresh fruit and vegetables, Berwick Street also hosts fashion, accessories, luggage, baked goods and some of the tastiest food stalls in town. The Market tends to be busiest during the weekdays (different from other London markets) so check out the website before you go to see what’s happening: www.berwickstreetlondon.co.uk

2 – Visit the Photographers’ Gallery
The Photographers’ Gallery is more than just an art gallery. There are various exhibitions and talks that take place in addition to a café and bookshop. For those interested in photography and the work/art behind it, this is an excellent place to spend some time. The Gallery is Britain’s leading entre for historical and contemporary photography and it is also the location for the annual Photography Prize event – one of the most illustrious awards in the artistic world. See what’s on through their website: www.thephotographersgallery.co.uk

3 – Take in a West End show
Soho is in the heart of London’s West End – also known as the Theatre District. This means that you are spoiled for choice when it comes to taking in a show. Huge productions of famous performances (Miss Saigon, Les Miserables) are put on along the same streets as smaller, independent theatres (the Soho Theatre). Whatever your taste (Comedy, Drama, Musical) or budget (Tickets for £5 to £150) there’s always something for everyone.

4 – Find the 7 Noses of Soho
In 1997 artist Rick Buckley created an art project based around a curious piece of human anatomy: the nose! Rick says he was inspired by the increasingly invasive introduction of CCTV cameras throughout London and the idea that Londoners are constantly being watched. He created 35 noses and placed them up all over London including places such as Tate Britain and the National Gallery. Today, only 10 noses survive and 7 of them can be found in London. Made of plaster of Paris, the noses poke out of the sides of buildings throughout the area and are not always easy to find – can you complete the challenge?

5 – See Where the Eradication of Cholera Began
An unassuming water pump located on the edge of Broadwick Street is the only testament to the fact that the eradication of cholera began here in Soho. After a terrible cholera (a vile and often fatal infection) outbreak in this area of London, Dr. John Snow began to connect the fact that cholera – previously thought to be an airborne disease – could most often be found in neighbourhoods surrounding public water pumps. Dr. Snow removed the handle from the pump here to stop people from using it…and the spread of cholera in the area immediately stopped – proving his theory and saving thousands of lives the world over by preventing the spread of the disease.

6 – Experience a Show at the Prince Charles Cinema
Watching a film at the Prince Charles Cinema is no ordinary experience. Book yourself in for fabulous sing-along screenings of classics like the Lion King and the Sound of Music. Guests can also take part in ‘quote-along’ showings of beloved films like Anchorman, Mean Girls and Home Alone! Most showings also have a costume contest – so wear your finest when you head to the Prince Charles Cinema for one of the most unique cinematic experiences you will ever have! To find out what’s playing when you’re in town, check out their listings: www.princecharlescinema.com

7- Hear Some Jazz at Ronnie Scott’s
Opened in 1959, Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club has been the home of British jazz. Widely known in London and respected throughout the jazz world this iconic music location has hosted performances by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davies and Stan Getz. Reasonable prices and a varying array of performers makes Ronnie Scott’s a true London music experience. See what’s on at: www.ronniescotts.co.uk

8 – Explore the Vintage Magazine Shop
One of the most interesting shops in London, the Vintage Magazine Shop does what it says on the tin…and then some. Downstairs are row after row of vintage magazines and comics, available to be rummaged through by customers. Upstairs, however, is an eclectic mix of retail goods centring around the golden eras of Hollywood as well as pop culture flagships like The Beatles and Alice in Wonderland. Worth a browse, check it out at 39-23 Brewer Street.

9 – Eat and Drink
When it comes to eating and drinking in London – Soho provides. Every kind of international cuisine is represented in the area and the bars are varied and many. From cocktail havens to dance-floor drinks as well as sit-down dining and takeaway, Soho is jam packed of food and drink for any taste. Head to the area with an open mind, have a bit of a wander…and see what draws you in!

10 – Go on a Tour!
Soho is a labyrinth of cobbled streets, back alleys, main roads and curious buildings. One of the best ways to experience the best that Soho has to offer is by booking yourself onto one of our walking tours! Be led trough the side streets and along major thoroughfares as your guide explains the past, present and potential future of this most vibrant of areas. Watch Soho come alive throughout your tour and once it’s over – you’re in prime position to head out to eat, drink and dance the night away!

London Portobello Road Market

Top 10 Things to Do in Kensington

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1 – Shop at Harrods

The king of luxury stores, Harrods is a London institution that has been around for decades. Whether you actually make a purchase or not, it is worth exploring floor after floor of amazing items, or even just a nip into the outstanding food halls. If you’re looking for an interesting place to sit and have a coffee, Harrods has you covered with over a dozen different dining options! [87-135 Brompton Road, SW1X 7XL – Nearest Tube: Knightsbridge]

2 – Visit the Albert Memorial

Commissioned by Queen Victoria to commemorated her beloved deceased husband, Prince Albert, the Albert Memorial stands majestically inside Kensington Gardens. Surrounded by sculptures depicting Victorian arts and sciences, as well as representations of all four corners of the world, the Albert Memorial is a stunning piece of art. [Kensington Gardens – Nearest Tube: South Kensington]

3 – Meet Peter Pan

A beloved literary character the world over, Peter Pan is the creation of the author J. M. Barrie. Peter Pan was brought to life in Kensington Gardens in 1912 and features Pan himself along with fairies and animals, symbolising his lost boys – and Tink, of course. A whimsical statue and a definite must-visit for Peter Pan-ophiles! [Kensington Gardens – Nearest Tube: Lancaster Gate]

4 – See an Animal Cemetery

Hidden away in the northwest corner of Hyde Park, the Pet Cemetery came into creation in the 19th century when local residents began burying their deceased pets in a plot here. Eventually a dog owned by the wife of the Duke of Cambridge named Prince was buried here in 1882, setting a huge president to make this the final resting place of many pets. Although now no longer interring pets here, the cemetery is still a popular curiosity for visitors to take a peek at. [Hyde Park – Nearest Tube: Lancaster Gate]

5 – Explore Portobello Market

Perhaps the most famous of London’s markets, Portobello is a jam-packed daily event. On the weekends, Portobello really shines with store after store of antiques and jewellery, as well as food stalls featuring cuisine from all over the world. There’s no better place to find a hidden treasure so make sure you take the time to explore every nook and cranny! [Portobello Road – Nearest Tube: Lancaster Gate or Notting Hill Gate]

6 – Go to ‘Kate and Wills’’ House

Residing in Apartment 1A, William and Catherine Middleton live here at Kensington Palace, along with their son Prince George of Cambridge. Kensington Palace was also the home of William’s mother, Diana, until the time of her death in 1997. Run today by Historic Royal Palaces, visitors can purchase tickets to explore the Palace and although the rooms of Apartment 1A are not open to the public, you never know who you may bump into as you explore the Palace and its’ grounds! [Kensington Gardens, W8 4PX – Nearest Tube: High Street Kensington]

7 – Enjoy Free Museums

London is the home of top world-class FREE museums! And three of the best ones are located adjacent to one another in Kensington: The Victoria and Albert Museum, the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum. From dinosaur fossils to hands-on exhibitions to statues from around the world and a dazzling array of gemstones, these museums can keep anybody interested for days at a time! [Cromwell Road, SW7 2RL – Nearest Tube: South Kensington]

8 – Listen to a Concert at the Royal College of Music

An established organisation, the Royal College of Music provides training in all levels and all aspects of Western classical music. With so many talented people at a single location, it makes sense that the College would set concerts throughout the year. But what might come as a surprise is that many of these concerts are FREE to attend! [Prince Consort Road, SW7 2BS – Nearest Tube: South Kensington]

9 – Get Green in Chelsea            

The second-oldest botanical garden in England, the Chelsea Physic Garden was founded in 1673. Now containing rock gardens, alpine plants, and olive trees to fruit – the garden is inch after inch absolutely packed with gorgeous plants, trees, and flowers. The grandest garden in Kensington, it’s a must-visit for green thumbs the world over. [66 Royal Hospital Road, London SW3 4HS – Nearest Tube: Sloane Square]

10 – Visit tour guide Margaret’s Favourite Pub!

The Churchill Arms is a proper west London boozer. Cozy and dark with roaring fires in the winter, surrounded by beautiful plants with welcoming open doors in the summer, the Churchill Arms is just far enough off the main roads to make it a local-secret. The best of all is that hidden in the back of the pub is one of the best (kept secret) Thai restaurants in London! Shh… [119 Kensington Church Street, W8 7LN – Nearest Tube: Notting Hill Gate]

+++Check out our pay-what-you-like walking tours of London!+++

 

++Also check out our blog on 10 Top Things to Do in Westminster++

London Big Ben

Top 10 Things to Do in Westminster

Posted by & filed under London.

 

1 – Hear Big Ben Strike

The most famous clock in the world, Big Ben is a ‘must see’ for any visit to London! Actually the name of the BELL inside the clock tower, Big Ben rings at the top of every hour. Head to the area around 12:00 (noon) to hear Ben do his thing and take in a sound that has spread over London for over 150 years! [Westminster, SW1A 0AA – Tube Station: Westminster]

2 – Sit in the Public Galleries at the Houses of Parliament

The clock tower housing Big Ben is attached to the Houses of Parliament – which is available for visiting! Whenever either the House of Commons or House of Lords are in session, it’s FREE for the public to go inside and sit in the public galleries. A fabulous way to hide from the London rain with a price that can’t be beat. [Houses of Parliament, SW1A 1AA – Tube Station: Westminster]

3 – Attend a service in Westminster Abbey

Throughout the day on Sunday, Westminster Abbey is open for services. Members of the public can attend for the purpose of worshiping at absolutely NO COST. Please note that attending a service here does not give access to walk throughout the church and visit the monuments, but will give guests the opportunity to sit where the guests of ‘Will and Kate’s’ wedding sat and see the spot where British monarchs have been crowned for centuries. [20 Deans Yard, SW1P 3PA – Tube Station: Westminster]

4 – Watch the Changing of the Guard

Some of the best free entertainment around, the Changing of the Guard takes place every day in Summer (May, June, July) and every other day the rest of the year. Get yourself to Buckingham Palace well before the official start time of 11:30, or take a look at our guide on how to get the best experience. [Tube station: Victoria or Green Park]

5 – See the Cabinet War Rooms

Where Winston Churchill won the war and led the heads of the armed forces during World War II, the Cabinet War Rooms here are comprised of the underground bunker where Churchill worked – and occasionally lived – during the war. Somewhat of a time capsule, the War Rooms are open to the public who have bought tickets and also includes a museum dedicated to the life of Churchill himself. [Clive Steps, King Charles Street, SW1A 2AQ – Tube Station: Westminster]

6 – Shop away the day on Oxford Street

For visitors ready to shop in London, Oxford Street is the place to go. Holding flagship stores of companies the world over, Oxford Street is 1.5miles of retail space and Europe’s busiest shopping street. [Tube Stations: Tottenham Court Road, Oxford Street, Bond Street or Marble Arch]

7 – Go to the National Gallery

Situated on the edge of Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery holds works of art from some of the most famous names in history: van Gough, Holbein, Turner and Monet just to name a few. Best of all – visiting the museum is absolutely FREE! [Trafalgar Square, WC2N 5DN – Tube Station: Charing Cross]

8 – Stand at Piccadilly Circus

Known the world over for the famous lights and signs here, Piccadilly Circus is the vibrant hub of London’s West End. Standing here in the evening will get you the best look at the flashing lights and signs that keep this area vibrant during all hours of the day. [Tube Station: Piccadilly Circus]

9 – Explore Soho

It’s easy to get lost in Soho…alleyways and cobbled backstreets along with crowded main roads and green squares, Soho is a labyrinth of fun and fancy. Alive in the dark house with vibrant nightlife, bars, clubs and restaurants, and busy during the day for shopping and exploring, Soho is a unique space in London just waiting to be discovered. [Tube Station: Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, Tottenham Court Road, Oxford Circus]

10 – See the Household Cavalry and Take a Photo

Head to Horseguards, near Horseguards Parade, in Whitehall to get a glimpse of the Household Cavalry. Made up of two most senior regiments of the British Army, the Household Cavalry are on guard here and there is also a museum dedicated to them. For those looking to take a photograph with a soldier here in London, Horseguards is the place to do it. [2 Whitehall Court – Tube Station: Westminster or Charing Cross]

+++And of course, take our famous pay-what-you-like walking tour of Westminster!+++

London National Gallery

The National Gallery

Posted by & filed under London.

Situated in prime location on the northern edge of Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery is the fourth most visited art museum in the world. With a world-class collection of art, spanning centuries and artistic genres, the National Gallery is one of the top FREE museums in London.

Creation

The National Gallery came into existence in 1824 when the British government bought a collection of 38 paintings from a recently deceased banker. All the paintings were purchased for the sum of £57,000 and were bought with the intention of display to the public. The Gallery was opened to the public on 10th May 1824 and was initially located at 100 Pall Mall. However, this original building was far too small to handle the crowds that began flocking to town to view the spectacular new collection of art. One contemporary wrote that even after the Gallery changed location, the building it was housed in was still entirely unsuitable and was a, “dingy, dull, narrow house, ill-adapted for the exhibition of the treasures it held.”

In 1832 construction began on the site, in Charing Cross, where the Gallery still stands today. Its’ location was chosen specifically because it was right in the gap between the wealthy West End of London and the poorer areas to the east of town. It was decided that this National Gallery should be accessible to people of all walks of life – and calls for it to be moved to South Kensington or out to the gentrified West were completely struck down.

 

The Building

It was noted architect John Nash who initially envisaged a Parthenon-style building on the site of Trafalgar Square. However, be the 1830’s, Nash’s popularity was waning and architect William Wilkins was called in to help design the new building. Without much space (barracks and a workhouse were immediately behind the building location) Wilkin’s building could only be one room deep. The façade of the building was decorated with sculptures that had originally been created for Marble Arch, but were abandoned, as well as columns from a demolished mansion – which were incredibly short, making the National Gallery short as well. Beyond that, the eastern half of the building housed the Royal Academy, making the Gallery portion even smaller still. According to King William IV, the new national Gallery thought the building was a, “nasty little pokey hole.”

Later works on Trafalgar Square created space below the Gallery, to make it appear much taller. Though the early 20th century, the Royal Academy was moved to nearby buildings, and the demolition of the barracks and workhouses behind the Gallery meant that it could then be expanded more than one-room deep. And although initially unpopular, today the National Gallery is looked on as a beautiful example of classical architecture. In fact, Charles, Prince of Wales said that Wilkin’s Gallery was, “a much-loved and elegant friend.”

Notable Works

The National Gallery holds works by some of the most well-known artists of history, and the collection includes works collected from all over the world. Here is a brief list of some of the most notable works in the collection:

  • Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh
  • Snow at Argenteuil and The Water Lily Pond  by Claude Monet
  • The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein the Younger
  • The Fighting Temeraire by J. M. W. Turner
  • The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck
  • Marriage-a-la-mode by William Hogarth
  • The Virgin of the Rocks and The Virgin and Child with St. Anne and St. John the Baptist by Leonardo da Vinci
  • Boy Bitten by a Lizard by Caravaggio
  • The Judgement of Paris by Peter Paul Rubens
  • Belshazzar’s Feast by Rembrandt
  • The Entombment by Michelangelo

 

Visitor Information

Cost: FREE

Hours: 7 Days A Week: 10am – 6pm (Fridays until 9pm)

Nearest Underground Station: Charing Cross Station or Embankment Station or Leicester Square Station

Nearest Railway Station: Charing Cross Station

Bus Routes: 3, 6, 9, 12, 13, 15, 23, 24, 29, 88, 139, 159, 176, 453

Facilities: Café, Cloak Room, Dining Room and Bar

London walking tours | Free Tours by Foot

Top 10 Things to Do in the City of London

Posted by & filed under London.

The City of London is actually only one square mile. Located between Temple and the Tower of London, the City of London is the oldest part of the capital and, although not as busy as Westminster, has plenty of places to see and things to do!

1 – Go Inside the Royal Courts of Justice

Free to enter during the week, guests can see the magnificent entrance hall of the Royal Courts of Justice. It’s also possible for visitors to sit in the public galleries in the back of the courtrooms if there is a trial being heard. Best of all, it’s a FREE experience. [Strand, WC2A 2LL – Tube Station: Temple]

2 – Visit a Medical Museum

The Hunterian Museum at Lincoln’s Inn Fields displays medical curiosities and specimens dating from the time of founder, John Hunter, in the 19th century. Some items on display here date from even earlier and many can only be found here – nowhere else in the world. To top it off, the museum is FREE! [35-43 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, WC2A 3PE – Tube Station: Holborn]

3 – See Temple Church

A true medieval gem, Temple Church dates from the late 12th century. Previously the location where the Knights Templar initiation ceremonies were held, the church regained modern fame when it was used as a location in the Dan Brown book/film The da Vinci Code. It is free to enter and see what is left of the original building, as well as modern additions such as the beautiful modern organ, although a donated is requested. [Temple, EC4Y 7BB – Tube Station: Temple]

4 – Visit the Remains of a Medieval Monastery

Whitefriars Monastery was a sprawling, wealthy Carmelite Monastery located here in London dating back to 1253. The Monastery was destroyed in the Reformation, on the orders of King Henry VIII, in 1540. Originally thought lost forever, a piece of the crypt was uncovered during rebuilding in the area and is now behind glass, preserved for the public to see. Tucked at the bottom of a set of stairs at the end of an alleyway, it’s a true hidden gem! [Bottom of Magpie Alley – EC4Y 8JJ – Tube Station: Blackfriars]

5 – Walk Across Tower Bridge

Likely the most iconic bridge in the world, Tower Bridge spans the River Thames near the Tower of London. Visitors can walk across either side of the Bridge but the western side provides stunning and unbeatable views of the City of London. [Tower Bridge Road, SE1 2UP – Tube Station: Tower Hill]

6 – See the Crown Jewels

Located inside the Tower of London, the Crown Jewels are available to be viewed by all who have bought a ticket to enter the Tower. With pieces dating back as far as the 12th century and still used by the royal family today, the collection of Crown Jewels on display here is unrivalled and absolute treat to behold. [Tower of London, EC3N 4AB – Tube Station: Tower Hill]

7 – Attend a Service at St. Paul’s Cathedral

On weekday evenings and Sundays throughout the day, St. Paul’s Cathedral is open for worship. This means visitors are not allowed to ‘sight see’ and view the tombs and memorials, but ARE invited to sit in the nave and listen to a service – and often times listen to the St. Paul’s Boys Choir perform. To get a glimpse at the spot where Diana Spencer and Charles, the Prince of Wales were married and to enjoy a service here is absolutely FREE. [St. Paul’s Churchyard, EC4M 8AD – Tube Station: St. Paul’s]

8 – Climb the Monument

Built to commemorate the Great Fire of London in 1666, the Monument is one of London’s oldest operating tourist attractions. In fact, visitors first flocked to the Monument as far back as 1671! Guests can buy a ticket for a reasonable £4.00 and climb over 300 steps to get to the viewing platform at the top. [Fish Street Hill, EC3R 8AH – Tube Station: Monument]

9 – See What’s Left of the London Wall

When the Romans conquered London in the 40th century, they erected a wall around the centre of their new city of Londinium. The London Wall – as it is now known – stood from around the year 190 until the 18th century! Today the majority of the wall is gone but there are two pieces of still available to see: one near the Tower of London and one near the Museum of London. [Tower of London Underground Station or 150 London Wall, EC2Y 5HN – Tube Station: Tower Hill or Barbican]

10 – Have a Drink at the Most Famous Pub in London

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, sitting on an alleyway just off of Fleet Street, is one of the oldest pubs in London. Originally built in the 1530’s, the current building was erected in 1667 and has hosted numerous fames names such as: Oscar Wilde, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Voltaire and Teddy Roosevelt. Inside, the pub is atmospheric with wooden floors and panelling, slightly wonky doorways, and sparse decoration referring to the age and notability of the pub itself, keeping it not only atmospheric, but authentic as well! [145 Fleet Street, EC4A 2BU – Tube Station: Blackfriars]

++And, of course, take our famous pay-what-you-like walking tour of the City of London!++

London Eye

January in London

Posted by & filed under London.

 January in London

Economics

When it comes to planning a trip to London, January is a good time of year to bag yourself a bargain. Once the holiday season is over, airlines are looking to try to keep selling seats on their flights – which means it’s possible to get some of the cheapest plane tickets to London during this time of year. Similarly, hotels will be struggling to fill their rooms, making accommodation cheaper as well. Post-Christmas sales will be on in the shops which means places like Selfridges, Harrod’s and Harvey Nick’s will be carrying big discounts for shoppers.

Events

London never stops, of course, and January is no exception!

1st January – The London New Year’s Day Parade! Marching brass bands and colourful floats as well as dancers and performers. Check out details and the route here.

5th January – Twelfth Night Celebrations. Bringing a somewhat surreal event into the end of the Christmas season, the Twelfth Night celebrations are a totally FREE experience. Holly Man emerging from the River, cakes handed out, toasts made and the crowning of a King and Queen followed by a street procession, dancing and storytelling! Plan your evening here.

9th until 18th January – London Boat Show. On display are hundreds of watercrafts to thrill boating enthusiasts of all ages and experiences. Get more info here.

21st until 25th January – London Art Fair. Held at the Business Design Centre, this is the largest art fair in the United Kingdom. Spanning all kinds of art from drawing to painting, sculpture to abstract, this is one for those who love creating art or who just like seeing it! Details are available here.

28th to 31st January – London A Capella Festival. With interational headliners, industry experts, and plenty of pizazz, the London a capella festival is full of interactive events, talks, and of course, performances. Interested? Check it out here.

25th January – Burns Night. Commemorating the Scottish poet and lyricist Robert Burns, Burns Night is celebrated on the anniversary of his birth: 25th January 1759. Many London restaurants will be holding poetry readings, Scottish themed parties, and of course many drinks of whiskey! To get a rundown of where to celebrate, TimeOut helpfully has this page.

Weather

There’s no use in pretending it’s not cold in London in January – it’s actually the coldest month of the year. Average temperatures are between 5 – 6 degrees, although it has been noted to drop to 0 quite regularly. The beginning of the month tends to be rainy and on average it rains 19 days every January! Snow is not unheard of and sunshine is scarce – an average of about 3 hours of sunshine on any given day.

London paddington bear

London’s Paddington Bear Trail

Posted by & filed under London.

The Paddington Bear Trail

 

Who is Paddington Bear?

Created in 1956, Paddington Bear is one of London’s most beloved children’s literature characters. He has featured in more than twenty books – written by his creator, Michael Bond – and has been the star of many of his own films, including one out just this year. He is known to children and adults the world over, his stories have been translated into 30 languages and selling more than 30million copies throughout the globe.

Paddington Bear, we are told, comes from Peru! He travelled here with his old hat, suitcase and duffle coat. He was discovered by a London family, the Browns, sitting on his suitcase inside Paddington Station. A note was attached to his coat which read, “Please look after this bear. Thank you.” So the Browns adopted Paddington, naming him after the station they found him! Padding Bear is able to speak and he very quickly informs his new family that his favourite food is marmalade – a food he has been directly associated with since his original creation, even appearing in British television adverts.

Paddington Bear Trail

Until the end of December 2014, London will play host to the Paddington Trail – a city-wide art project featuring 50 statues of Paddington himself. Each statue was created by designers, celebrities and artists and have been placed in the places throughout London that Paddington has said are his favourite. The Paddington Trail routes and maps can be downloaded from their website and you can find the link at the bottom of this post.

Charity

Come January, when the statues of Paddington are removed from the streets of London, their lives will not be over! From December 10th until 7th January, Christie’s is hosting an auction of the statues. All the proceeds will be donated to charity – particularly the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC). It is estimated, and hoped, that the overall funding raised by the Paddington Bear Trail will be £500,000!

Find Paddington Bear

Now, when it comes to enjoying the Paddington Bear statues throughout London, there are many different options!

  1. Keep an eye out as you go. Particularly on our walking tours, you may find that you bump into more Paddington Bear statues than you could imagine! As you walk through London on your own, keep an eye out and see how often he surprisingly pops up!
  2. Go to Paddington Station. In celebration of the Paddington Bear Trail, Paddington Station of course is equipped not just with their own statue, but with a shop dedicated to selling all things Paddington. It’s here that you can purchase a stuffed Paddington Bear for yourself as a unique London souvenir.
  3. Download the trail. The Paddington Trail has associated maps and trails for you to download – and even an App to make things easier! Find it here: Paddington Trail

Check out what else there is to do in London in December on our blog!!

London Gherkin

The Gherkin

Posted by & filed under London.

One of the most recognisable parts of London’s skyline, The Gherkin captured world attention when it was opened in the early 20,000’s. Officially named 30 St. Mary Axe, the building has become known as its’ more popular moniker, “The Gherkin” because of its’ supposed resemblance to that particular food stuff. Although not normally open to the public, The Gherkin still receives tourist attention from visitors who have travelled to London from all over the world.

Origins

The site the Gherkin stands on today previously held the Baltic Exchange – the headquarters of a global marketplace for shipping. That building was destroyed on the 10th April 1992 by an IRA bomb and immediately it was decided by the City of London Corporation that the building should be repaired and rebuilt to look exactly as it did before. However, it was later discovered the damage was far more severe than originally believed and it was decided to rebuild completely. The shape of the Gherkin is partially attributed to this previous building, as the panoramic dome on top of the Gherkin (known as the “lens”) specifically recreates the glass dome that had previously covered the ground floor of the Baltic Exchange.

Design

The design of the Gherkin, the creation of architect firm Foster and Partners, began to take shape as early as 1999, and the nickname appeared around that time, as well. Planning permission was granted by the Prime Minister in 2000 and the building was constructed by the Swedish Skanska company. Completed in December 2003, 30 St Mary Axe was opened on 28th April 2004, becoming the UK office for Swiss Re – a global reinsurance company.

The unique design of the building came about out of a desire to not take up much ground space in the already crowded narrow lanes of the City of London as well as an order to not obstruct any views of St. Paul’s Cathedral. The design is also functional, using only half the power that a building of the same size would normally consume as there is a double glazing effect running throughout the entire outer structure of the building.

On the top floor – the 40th, in fact – there is a bar for workers and their guests, providing a panoramic view over London. There is also a restaurant on the 29th floor and private dining facilities on the 38th.

Accolades

The Gherkin has been the recipient of numerous architectural awards, including the prestigious RIBA Stirling Prize, which was awarded in 2004 – in the first ever judges unanimous decision! In 2006 the Gherkin was named by “BD World Architecture” as the most admired new building in the entire world.

Changing Hands

Put up for sale in 2006, the Gherkin held a price tag at £600 million. Ultimately it was IVG Immobilien AG and UK investment firm Evans Randall who jointly purchased the Gherkin for £630 million in February 2007, making this Britain’s most expensive office building. Swiss Re, original owners of30 St. Mary Axe, made a massive £300 million profit from the sale.

In April 2014 it was announced that The Gherkin was to be put up for sale again. The price tag is currently set at £550 million and it is unknown whose hands it may eventually fall into.

 

Stats

  • Construction Started: 2001
  • Construction Completed: 2003
  • Cost: £138 million (plus £90.6 million for land)
  • Height: 591ft (180m)
  • Floor Count: 41
  • Floor Area: 516,100sq.ft. (47,950sq. m.)
  • Architect: Foster and Partners
  • Structural Engineer: Arup
  • Main Contractor: Skanska

 

Visitor Information

Although NOT open to the public, many visitors like to head to the Gherkin for photographs and to see it in person.

Address: 30 St. Mary Axe, London EC3A 8EP

Nearest Underground Station: Aldgate Station and Liverpool Street Station

Nearest Railway Station: Liverpool Street Station