London Monument to the Great Fire of 1666

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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
London Queen Elizabeth II

Her Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth II

Posted by & filed under London.

Famous the world over, Queen Elizabeth II has reigned over the United Kingdom for just over 62 years. Her family history can be traced back to William the Conqueror who came to England in 1066 and essentially founded the royal dynasty as we know it today. Queen Elizabeth II is revered the world over and her birthday is currently celebrated in more than 10 different countries! So just who is Queen Elizabeth II? Read on to find out more!

Early Years

photo(2)Born at her maternal grandparents’ house in Mayfair, London (17 Bruton Street to be exact!) on the 21st of April 1926, Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was never intended to be heir to the throne. Her father’s brother, King Edward VIII, was the heir to the United Kingdom and it was not until Elizabeth was 10 that her uncle abdicated – giving up his claim to the throne – and her father succeeded as King George VI, making Elizabeth next in line.

Known to her close family as ‘Lilibet’ Queen Elizabeth grew up incredibly close to her mother, father, and her sister Margaret. King George VI often referred to his family as “we four.” As a child Elizabeth was described by Winston Churchill as “a character. She has an air of authority and reflectiveness astonishing in an infant.” Her cousin declared that she was “a jolly little girl, but fundamentally sensible and well-behaved.”

In 1939 when Elizabeth was 13 and with her family on a visit to Dartmouth she met her eighteen year old distant cousin Prince Philip Mountbatten – the man she would marry 8 years later. Elizabeth made her first radio broadcast at age 14 in 1940, speaking of the efforts the public were making the keep the spirits of soldiers fighting in World War II high. It is reported that when the war was ended, both Elizabeth and Margaret secretly went out amongst the public in London, mingling anonymously with those who were celebrating all over the capital.

Accession to the Throne and Coronation

elizabethIIWhilst she and her husband were visiting Kenya in 1952, Elizabeth’s father died. She was informed of this – and her accession to the throne – while she was abroad. Elizabeth returned to the United Kingdom, exiting the aircraft that brought her home dressed in somber mourning clothes. She was welcomed home by Winston Churchill in a meeting that was filmed and shown all over the world. The public rallied around the young Queen, remarking on her impressive composure during her homecoming as well as taking on the mantle of ruler of the United Kingdom and the relatively young age of only twenty-five.

On the 2nd of June 1953, Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation was broadcast internationally. The first coronation ceremony to ever be filmed for public consumption, the iconic act of the crown being placed on the young queen’s head is familiar the world over. In the lead up to the coronation, the Queen wore her Imperial State Crown as she went about her daily business to get used to the fit and weight.

The entire coronation took 16 months of preparation and no detail was overlooked. For example, the gown she wore was decorated with English Tudor roses, Scots thistles, Welsh leeks, Irish shamrocks, Australian wattle, Canadian maple leaves, New Zealand silver fern, South African protea, Indian lotus flowers and Pakistani wheat, cotton and jute. This dress, cleverly incorporating symbolism from commonwealth countries, also bore a secretly sewn four-leaf clover resting on the dress’ left hand side, where Elizabeth’s hand would be resting throughout the day.

Diamond Jubilee and Other Records Broken

In 2012 Queen Elizabeth celebrated 60 years on the throne – only the second sovereign in 1,000 years to do so (the other was Queen Victoria in 1897)! For her Diamond Jubilee, commemorating this event, jubilee beacons were lit around the world and the Queen embarked on a nation wide royal tour as well as leading a 1,000 strong flotilla that sailed down the Thames in a widely broadcast and watched public parade.

She also broke other records that year: She became the first head of state to open two Olympic Games in two different countries (London 2012 and Montreal in 1976). She also became the first British sovereign to attend a peace-time Cabinet meeting since King George III in 1781.

Elizabeth II is the longest-lived and second-longest-reigning monarch of the United Kingdom. She is also the second-longest-serving current head of State (after King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand).

Should she still reign in September 2014, Queen Elizabeth II will also become our longest serving sovereign – breaking Queen Victoria’s current record of 63 years 216 days. As of this blog post, there’s only 448 days to go!

Family – Past and Future and Succession

Elizabeth’s parents were King George VI and Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, later known as the Queen Mother – who lived until she was 101! When Elizabeth was born her grandfather, King George V was on the throne and it was widely reported that Elizabeth was his favourite grandchild.

Our Queen herself has had four children: Charles, Prince of Wales; Anne, Princess Royal; Prince Andrew, Duke of York; Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex. Elizabeth has 8 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren. When the Queen no longer reigns, it is her eldest son Prince Charles who will succeed her. After him will come Prince William, Duke of Cambridge. After William, it will be his son Prince George of Cambridge.

Official Titles

Not many people realise that our Queen is not just ‘The Queen of England.’ Her titles are many, varied, and vast! Officially her title is given as: Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.

She is the constitutional monarch of 16 realms and is the head of a 53-member Commonwealth of Nations. She is also the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. She also holds titles from the Order of the Garter, the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, and the Imperial Order of the Crown in India – just to name a few! In Canada she also holds the title Chief Hunter of the Order of the Buffalo Hunt!

She is a member of numerous institutes such as the Institution of Civil Engineers and the Royal College of Surgeons of England. She holds military titles and is Colonel-in-Chief of over a dozen military branches both at home and abroad and has been awarded honorary degrees from five different universities in the UK – including two from the University of London (Bachelor of Music and Doctor of Laws).

In 2013 she was also awarded a BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) in a ceremony that was held at Windsor Castle. The BAFTA was given to her for her “lifelong support of the British film and television industry.” This also goes hand-in-hand with the Queen’s most recent impressive appearance as a Bond girl in the opening ceremony for the London Olympics!

London Churchill War rooms

The Churchill War Rooms

Posted by & filed under London.

London Churchill War rooms frontThe Churchill War Rooms is actually a combination of two separate pieces: The Churchill Museum, exploring the life of Winston Churchill, and the Cabinet War Rooms, the underground complex where Churchill directed the forces during World War II. Preserved and looked after by the Imperial War Museum, the Churchill War Rooms are a must see for lovers of history, or those who are interested in learning more about our military past or the life and times of Mr. Churchill himself.

Construction

The War Rooms actually were initially created to be used in the event of war or aerial bombing. Meeting in 1936, the Air Ministry (the British government department that oversees the Royal Airforce) recommended that, in the event of enemy bombings on London, key government offices should be taken out of central London to the suburbs. To prepare for this, the Committee of Imperial Defence began a search to find a suitable location for a temporary emergency government meeting point. The area that was chosen was the basement of the New Public Offices (which now houses HM Treasury).

TIP:  Entrance to the Churchill War Rooms exibition is included in the London Pass.HMS Belfast

Conversion of the basement of the New Public Offices into the War Rooms began in June 1938. Work done in the basement installed broadcasting and communication equipment, provided ventilation, and also reinforced and sound-proofed the basement. Around this time, it was decided that should war break out, a Central War Room would be needed for Chiefs of Staff of armed forces and the government Cabinet to be able to meet. This would also mean that members of the Cabinet would need to be housed nearby senior military figures – so it was decided that the Cabinet would be housed inside the Central War Room. This decision meant that the Cabinet War Rooms would become the centre of all British military decisions made during WWII.

The works on the War Room were completed in 1939 and became operational on 27th August in that year – literally days before Britain’s declaration of war on Germany on the 3rd September, 1939.

Use During World War II

The War Rooms were divided into a number of different spaces, with two taking primary importance: The Map Room and the Cabinet Room. The Map room was in use 24 hours a day and was manned by officers from the Royal Airforce, the British Army and the Royal Navy. It was here that these officers tracked the movement of soldiers and forces throughout Europe and it was here that they prepared daily intelligence summaries for the King, the Prime Minister, and the military Chiefs of Staff.

The Cabinet Room was (obviously!) the room in which the government Cabinet would meet. At the outbreak of the war, Britain’s Prime Minister was Neville Chamberlain – who met at the War Rooms only one time. Shortly after Winston Churchill became Prime Minister in May 1940, he visited the Cabinet Room for the first time. On walking into the room, Churchill stated, “This is the room from which I will direct the war.” As opposed to Chamberlain’s single Cabinet meeting, Churchill would hold over 100 in this room.

As enemy bombing began in London (referred to as the Blitz), it was decided to reinforce the Cabinet War Rooms by installing a gigantic piece of concrete – known as ‘the Slab’ over the Rooms. At this time it was also decided to increase accommodation in the bunker, so that during the nightly bombings, individuals working in the War Rooms would not have to brave the streets to go home. Despite the available accommodation and his own private bedroom in the bunker, Winston Churchill stayed the night in the War Rooms very seldomly and preferred to walk around the corner to his house at Number 10 Downing Street. However, his daughter Mary occasionally stayed in his War Room bedroom!

Decline and Preservation

London Churchill war rooms insideAs soon as the end of World War II was declared, personnel switched off the lights, left the bunker, and closed the door. Totally abandoned, the War Rooms were available to view only by special appointment. Care of the rooms was lax at best and the dry and dusky conditions of the abandoned rooms were beginning to destroy the furnishings, maps, historical documents, and other goods kept underground. Although a small amount of money (£7,000) was raised to help repair the rooms, it was obvious a permanent solution would be required.

In 1974, the government asked the Imperial War Museum if they would consider taking over administration of the site, an offer rejected initially. The rooms again lay abandoned and in 1981, Margaret Thatcher expressed her desire that the War Rooms could be opened to the public before the next general election! The Imperial War Museum was again asked to take the reigns and they agreed – on the agreement that the government would make necessary resources available. Once the agreement was made, the Rooms were transformed and preserved in the museum-like-state they are in today and were opened to the public on 4th April 1984 by Margaret Thatcher at a ceremony attended by Churchill family members and previous staff who had worked at the Cabinet War Rooms.

Today

In addition to the preserved War Rooms where so much important work took place, the Churchill War Rooms now also hold a museum dedicated to the life and legacy of Winston Churchill. Using the rooms that previously housed accommodation for Churchill and his family were transformed into a £6million Churchill Museum. The Museum displays objects worn by, associated with, and used by Churchill Himself – including his original front door to No. 10 Downing Street! The highlight of the museum is a 15metre long electronic table that enables visitors to interact with a ‘timeline’ of Churchill’s life displayed on top of the table. Guests can press various dates and names on the table to receive more information about Churchill’s life and times, and pressing on specific dates (say, 11th November - Remembrance Day or 15th April - Sinking of the Titanic) will trigger an electronic display that takes over the entire table, referencing an event that took place on that day.

Visitor Information

Opening Times

  • Daily: 9:30am to 6:00pm (Last admission is 5:00pm)
  • NOTE: Occasionally the Churchill War Rooms are closed early or unexpectedly, but these closures are often mentioned on the website (www.iwm.org.uk/vists/churchill-war-rooms/closures) so always check before you go.

Tickets

  •  Adults: £17.50
  • Children Under 16: FREE
  • Concessions: £14.00
  • Admission to the Churchill War Rooms is included for free in the London Pass.

How To Get There

  •  Nearest Rail Station: Charing Cross, Victoria, or Waterloo Stations
  • Nearest Underground Station: Westminster or St. James’s Park Stations
  • Buses: 3, 11, 24, 53, 87, 88, 109, 159, 184, 211, 453 (phew!)

+++Not sure where it is? We are passing the Churchill War Rooms on our pay-what-you-like Westminster Tour. Just ask your guide, he or she will gladly point it out to you.++++

London Hms Belfast

HMS Belfast

Posted by & filed under London.

Proudly moored on the south side of the River Thames near London Bridge, the HMS Belfast was saved from the scrapyard in the 1960’s by the Imperial War Museum who now operate the craft as a museum ship. The most recognisable ship in London, it is estimated that the HMS Belfast hosts over a quarter million visitors per year. Our City tour offers our guests a brilliant view of the Belfast from the opposite bank of the Thames and also finishes in prime position for those wishing to visit the ship themselves! But to hold you over until you come along with us – here is an overview of the HMS Belfast!                                                                                   Admission free with London Pass

HMS Belfast

Creation

Commission of the ship took place on the 5th of August 1938 and construction began shortly thereafter in December 1936. The HMS Belfast had the distinction of being the first Royal Navy ship to be named after the capital city of Northern Ireland and was one of ten ‘town-class cruisers’ that were commissioned at the same time. Belfast was firstly intended to be part of the British naval blockade against Germany and was initially created to fill the brief of ‘a 9,000 ton cruiser sufficiently armoured to withstand a direct hit from an 8-inch shell, capable of 32 knots and mounting twelve 6-inch guns.’ The ship would also carry seaplanes and hold its’ own anti-aircraft defense.

Disaster

The ship was officially launched on the 17th of March (St. Patrick’s Day!) 1938. Her first mission, begun in August 1939, was controlling the northern waters to attempt to impose a maritime blockade on Germany. Unfortunately, after just two months at sea, on 21st November at 10:58am HMS Belfast struck a magnetic mine whilst leaving the Firth of Forth. Belfast’s keel was destroyed, one of her engines was wrecked along with the boiler rooms and twenty-one crew members were injured. The craft was taken back to Rosyth, Scotland, to be repaired – a project that would take nearly three years.

London HMS BelfastService

On rejoining the Home Fleet on 3rd November 1942, HMS Belfast did so as the largest and most powerful cruiser in the Royal Navy; Her repairs had added extra strength an bulk to the craft, including an additional 11,550 tons! Because of this, Belfast was made flagship of the 10th Cruiser Squadron which had the difficult task of escorting arctic convoys to the Soviet Union, keeping Russia’s supply routes open. Her first notable role was during the Battle of North Cape on 26th December 1943, which saw the sinking of the German battle cruiser Scharnhorst and the loss of all but 36 of her 1,963 crew.

Also, proudly, HMS Belfast served during the D-Day invasion of Normandy. For this most famous of military acts, Belfast had been made the headquarters ship of Bombardment Force E and supported the landings by British and Canadian forces in both the Gold and Juno Beach locations. At this time, Prime Minister Winston Churchill had expressed a desire to go to sea with his fleet and stand on the HMS Belfast to witness the invasion of Normandy. However, this move was opposed by all involved leaders such as the First Sea Lord, Sir Andrew Cunningham and the Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eventually it was the King of England himself who kept Churchill from going.

After the Second World War, HMS Belfast saw service in the Far East, providing imperative serve during the Korean War. It was here on 29th July 1952 – that Belfast was hit by enemy fire – the only time during her 2 year involvement in the East.

 Salvation

HMS Belfast’s was eventually paid off into reserve in August 1963 and was moored in Gareham Creek for the Reserve Division of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth. It was during this time that the Imperial War Museum (the national museum of 20th century conflict) expressed interest in preserving part of the ship. Their request to preserve Belfast was turned down by the government’s Paymaster General and in May 1971, Belfast was ‘reduced to disposal’ and began to await scrapping.

A trust was then formed, headed by one of HMS Belfast’s former captains – Rear Admiral Sir Morgan Morgan-Giles – that campaigned for the ship’s preservation. The preservation of Belfast was discussed in the House of Commons in March 1971 and by July the trust had proved successful. Shortly thereafter ‘Operation Seahorse’ brought HMS Belfast to London. The ship opened as a museum to the public on the 21st of October, 1971. This date is notably significant because it is Trafalgar Day – and previous to the preservation of the Belfast, the only other naval vessel to be saved for the nation was the HMS Victory, Lord Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar!

Today

Today the HMS Belfast is operated by the Imperial War Museum and is open to the public as a museum ship – notably, the last remaining vessel of her type. Tourists visiting the Belfastare given an audio guide to assist as they walk in and along the numerous corridors, sectors and hallways throughout the ship, getting a glimpse of what life was like for those that historically worked on this vessel.

HMS Belfast also operates as the  headquarters of the City of London Sea Cadet Corps. Due to her convenient and prestigious location in the heart of London, Belfast frequently has other ships berth alongside her including naval ships from countries all over the world. When visiting foreign naval crews arrive to London, their ship is berthed next to Belfast and takes part in an event known as Constables Dues.

Historically, the wharf next to the Tower of London provided ships moored there the protection afforded by the Tower’s cannons. As a sign of respect and gratitude the most senior officer on any visiting ship would present goods (oysters, cockles, rushes, wine, etc.) to the Constable of the Tower of London. This is a tradition that still takes place today! Nowadays the Constable of the Tower is presented with a barrel of rum, which happens during an elaborate, historical ceremony.

Facts and Figures

  •  Class & Type: Town-class light cruiser
  •  Builder: Harland and Wolff Shipyard, Belfast, UK
  •  Displacement: 11,550 tons
  •  Length: 613ft 6in (186.99m)
  • Beam: 63ft 4in (19.3m)
  •  Draught: 18ft 3in (5.56m) forward – 19ft 9in (6.02m) aft
  •  Speed: 32 knots (59 km/h)
  •  Complement (number of crew): 781 – 881
  •  Armament: 12 6-inch guns, 12 4-inch dual purpose guns, 16 2-pounder AA, 8 Vickers 0.5-inch machine guns, 6 21-inch torpedo tubes
  •  Aviation facilities: 2 hangars and 1 catapult (removed 1945)

Visitor Information

Opening Times

  •  Open daily -
  • 4 November to 20 February: 10am – 5pm (last admission 4pm)
  • 21 February to November: 10am – 6pm (last admission 5pm)

NOTE: In particularly bad weather, portions of HMS Belfast may be closed to the public or the entire craft may be closed to the public completely.

Ticket Prices

  •  Adult: £15.50 – Admission is free with the London Pass.
  • Child Under 16: FREE
  • Concessions: £12.40
  • Imperial War Museums Friends: Free

Getting There:

  •  Nearest Rail Station: London Bridge

London Tate Modern

Tate Modern

Posted by & filed under London.

The world’s largest and most visited modern art museum, the Tate Modern hosts over 5 million visitors every year! Holding The National Collection of a British Art dating back to 1900, the Tate Modern is on the top of many tourists’ must-see lists when visiting London.

History of the Building

An iconic part of the London skyline, the Tate Modern collection is actually housed in an old power station. Bankside Power Station was designed by architect Giles Gilbert Scott and built between 1947 and 1963. When the power station closed in 1981, it sat abandoned on the Thames until the Tate collection moved in and was opened to the public in 2000.

Nowadays the most recognisable part of the building is the chimney. Rising 325ft into the air, the chimney is made almost entirely of brick and stands directly opposite St Paul’s Cathedral on the other side of the river.

Of particular note is the old turbine hall. Once housing electricity generators, the turbine hall at the Tate is over five storeys tall and boasts 3,400 square metres of floor space. It is here that large specially-commissioned art pieces are displayed, with the works and artists changing regularly.

The Galleries

The Tate Modern has 7 floors that hold galleries on the first 4. Galleries and displays are not chronological but arranged by themes. As of today there are four exhibition galleries as follows:

  •  Poetry And Dream - Works of surrealism.
  •  Structure and Clarity - Space dedicated to abstract art.
  •  Transformed Visions - Abstract Impressionism after WWII.
  •  Energy and Process - Holds Arte Povera
  •  Setting the Scene - Located between wings, works of art here all have theatrical of literary themes.

Notable Turbine Hall Installations

The works put together and displayed in the Turbine Hall tend to be the most-visited and most talked-about exhibits that the Tate displays. Ever-changing, the works to be viewed here are often times larger-than-life as the Turbine Hall holds one of the largest single-room exhibition spaces in the entire country.

Some of the most well-known or memorable pieces to be shown in the Turbine Hall are listed here -

‘Shibboleth’ by Doris Salcedo - A 548ft long crack in the floor of the turbine hall. During the first month of the display, 15 people were injured along the crack, but all injuries were minor.

‘Test Site’ by Carsten Holler - A series of metallic slides available to the public to use. Five slides in total, running from the second floor down.

‘The weather project’ by Olafur Eliasson - A dramatic visitor experience with a fine mist circulating I. The hall as well as hundreds of lamps casting yellow light. A gigantic mirror on the ceiling allowed visitors to see their shrouded shadows against the backdrop of the yellow light.

‘For The Love of God’ by Damien Hirst - Although displayed in the turbine hall, this piece is different from the other larger pieces traditionally displayed there. A platinum cast of a real human skull encrusted with over 8,000 flawless diamonds.

Visiting the Tate Modern

Hours: 

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

Price:

FREE!

Getting There:

Tate Modern
Bankside
London, SE1 9TG

  • Nearest Underground Stations are Southwark, Blackfriars and St. Paul’s
  • Bus Routes are 45, 63, 100, RV1, 381, 344
  • Nearest Rail Stations are London Bridge and Blackfriars

Top Tip: The Tate Cafe and Espresso Bar – as well as the Restaurant – all provide magnificent views over the River Thames towards St. Paul’s Cathedral and the city so plan to enjoy an afternoon coffee or have your lunch whilst visiting.

Inside Tip: At lunchtimes in the restaurant and cafe, children can eat FREE when with an adult who has a meal from the main menu!

London Kensington Palace inside

Kensington Palace

Posted by & filed under London.

Kensington_Palace front viewSet in the beautiful parkland of Kensington Gardens, Kensington Palace is most well known for being home to members of the royal family like Princess Diana, Prince Harry and now Prince William and Kate Middleton (along with baby Prince George!). Dating from the 17th century, the Palace is open all year around for visitors.

History

Kensington Palace became a royal residence in the late 1600’s when King William III and Queen Mary II decided to move outside of London to better help King William’s asthma! The couple took over a manor house – Nottingham House – for £20,000 and then sent master architect Sir Christopher Wren to work renovating the house to make it a palace. William and Mary moved into their new Palace just before Christmas in 1689 and for the next 70 years, Kensington Palace was the primary residence of our monarchs until the reign of Queen Victoria when Buckingham Palace took over that role.

Inhabitants

Numerous Kings and Queens called Kensington Palace home. After William and Mary died, Mary’s sister Anne took the throne and moved into the Palace. Anne eventually died here in August of 1714. After Anne, King George I and King George II primarily lived at Kensington Palace but George II was the last king to do so.

As a young girl, Kensington Palace is where Queen Victoria grew up. It was here in 1837 that Victoria was woken up by envoys sent to tell her that her uncle (King William IV) died and that she was now queen. Since she was raised in Kensington Palace by her domineering mother, Victoria was keen to move out as soon as she held the throne. Immediately after becoming Queen, Victoria moved into Buckingham Palace which has been the primary London home of our sovereigns ever since.

In modern times, Kensington Palace was inhabited by Queen Elizabeth II’s sister, Princess Margaret who moved into the Palace after she was married in 1960. Then in 1981 the newly-wedded Prince of Wales and Diana Spencer moved into the Palace. Kensington would remain home for Princess Diana even after her divorce from Prince Charles. It was here that Princes William and Harry were raised and it was also here that the public displayed their grief over the death of Princess Diana in 1997. Famously, just after Diana’s death on the 31st of August that year, the gates of Kensington Palace became the focus of public tributes to the former Princess. It is estimated that over 1 million bouquets of flowers were lying out near the gates and the stack of flowers, balloons, stuffed toys, etc. reached 5 feet deep (1.5m) in places. Diana’s coffin spent its last night in London at Kensington Palace before being led through town on a gun carriage to Westminster Abbey for her funeral on 6th September 1997.

Today

In 2011 the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge began renovations on the Palace in preparation for their eventual move there. The works that were carried out cost around £2million and took 18 months, eventually transforming the rooms that Princess Margaret previously occupied into a new home for themselves. The couple now live in Apartment 1A – which boasts dozens of rooms. And it is here now that they live with Prince George of Cambridge, who moved into the apartment with them in October of 2013.

What’s On Now

Kensington Palace is open to the public all year round. Guests can take audio guides that lead them throughout many different parts of the Palace, explaining the history, people and stories that fill every room of the Palace. Guests are NOT able to see where William and Kate live but can visit the old State Apartments which date back to the original building are on display.

Currently the Palace is running an exhibition called ‘Fashion Rules’ which displays gowns worn by Lady Diana, Queen Elizabeth II and her sister Margaret throughout the years. This fascinating exhibition shows how these women set trends for female fashion the world over. In addition to this exhibition, also on display now is the ’Victoria Revealed’ experience – a trip through the life of Queen Victoria from the rooms she grew up in to the rooms where she mourned the loss of her husband, giving visitors an insight into the complex life of one of our most famous monarchs.

Today visitors to Kensington Palace can also visit a beautiful Georgian cafe called The Orangery. This building was previously the setting for Queen Anne’s elaborate court entertainment and today is open to visitors who wish to take afternoon tea, or a small snack, in the beautiful surroundings of the gardens that Queen Anne commissioned designed herself.

Visiting

Tickets
Tickets include access to both the ‘Fashion Rules’ exhibition and the ‘Victoria Revealed’ exhibition.

  •  Adult – £16.50 (£15.40 online)
  • Children Under 16 – Free
  • Concessions – £13.50 (£12.54 online)

Entry into Kennsington Palace is included with the London Pass.

Hours

  • Summer Hours are 10:00am – 6:00pm
  • Last admission is 17:00

Getting Here

  •  Nearest Underground Station is High Street Kensington, Queensway or Notting Hill Gate.
  •  Bus routes are 70, 94, 148, 390 to the north of Kensington Gardens or 9, 10, 49, 52, 70, and 450 to the south of Kensington Gardens

+++Tip: During the summer months, Kensington Palace hosts an open air cinema! Guests are invited to pack a blanket and a picnic and enjoy classic films displayed on a giant screen near the orangery of the Palace. Films being shown this year are: Back to the Future, Breakfast and Tiffany’s and The Great Gatsby. Tickets cost £16.50 for adult and should be booked in advance.+++

Millenium Bridge London St. Pauls

The Millennium Bridge (a.k.a. the Wobbly Bridge)

Posted by & filed under London.

Millennium bridge LondonKnown colloquially as the “wobbly bridge” the Millennium Bridge began its’ life in 1996 as the winning design of a competition held by Southwark council and the Royal Institute of British Architects. The winners of the competition were Arup, Foster and Partners and Sir Anthony Caro who referred to their design a “blade of light.”

Construction on the bridge began in late 1998 and was completed at a cost of £18.2 Million (£2.2 Million over the intended budget). It was opened to the public on the 10th of June 2000 – which was actually two months later than originally intended. However, upon opening to the public, participants in a charity walk (on behalf of the organisation Save the Children) who were the first to use the new bridge reported a dramatic swaying motion when crossing the bridge. This swaying and wobbling was identified as “unexpected lateral vibration” or “resonant structural response” and gave the bridge the nickname it still holds today: the Wobbly Bridge.

+++Free Tours by Foot’s City of London Tour will walk the Millennium Bridge.+++

To explain the wobble of the bridge in layman’s terms, the vibrations caused by pedestrians crossing the bridge were beginning to make the bridge sway. As the bridge swayed, people who were crossing attempted to balance themselves by altering the way in which they walked. The masses of people attempting to stabilise themselves made the bridge wobble even MORE creating a cyclical process of wobble/corrective walking/wobble. This is not a unique phenomenon, nor is it the only time a bridge in London suffered from such an effect. However, as the bridge was already delayed in opening and over-budget it received much negative attention by the press, and by Londoners themselves who saw it as an aggravating and embarrassing situation, coming shortly after the ‘London Millennium Dome’ debacle – wherein a structure built for the millennium failed to draw positive public attention of recoup the money spent on building it.

Millenium bridge London twilight

Attempts were made to control the movement of the bridge, by limiting the number of people allowed on the bridge at any given time, but eventually it was decided the design of the bridge would need to be seriously amended. The Millennium Bridge was closed just two days after originally being open to the public. The bridge was retrofitted and reopened to the public on the 22nd of February 2002. Although no longer drastically swaying, the bridge is subject to harmonic resonance which means it does vibrate and occasionally move about. Because of this the bridge has maintained its nickname “The Wobbly Bridge” used by Londoners, and others from all over the world.

Today the Millennium Bridge spans the river directly between the Tate Modern Museum and St. Paul’s Cathedral. It is the only pedestrian only bridge in use in the City of London and is a popular tourist destination in its own right. The bridge was featured drastically in the sixth Harry Potter film where it was subject to an attack by the Death Eaters, which eventually caused the bridge to collapse.

Millenium bridge London art smallMillenium bridge London artA Top Tip: When crossing the Millennium Bridge – look DOWN. You will find herein some of the smallest and most overlooked street art in all of London. There is an artist who has made it a mission to quickly paint pictures on all the pieces of chewing gum that have been left onto the bridge, and walked on by the public. The tiny pictures run the entire length of the bridge and are overlooked by the hundreds of people that cross the bridge every day. Keep an eye out for bright colours and alien figures. You may also come across the artist himself who lies down on the bridge to paint, then hurriedly leaves before he can be accosted by the police – as what he is doing is legally considered vandalism!

Written by Margaret Stockton