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

 

Is the London Pass Worth the Cost?

Posted by & filed under London.

Everybody knows that London is one of the most exciting and diverse cities in the world, with enough visitor attractions to keep tourists entertained for weeks. Although we are lucky to have numerous free museums and galleries, some visits find that admission prices for many of London’s biggest attractions are high – and add up quite quickly!


Occasionally as guides we are asked by our visitors about The London Pass. Available for all visitors to purchase, the London Pass is a way to visit numerous London attractions for a one-off fee. So just what is the London Pass and is it worth buying when visiting London? Read on to find out!

What is the London Pass?

The London Pass is a sightseeing pass available for all visitors to London to purchase. It takes the form of a smart card (similar to your Oyster Card) that has a one-off fee loaded onto it in advance, allowing the holder to enter numerous attractions. In addition to this, the London Pass offers a queue jump for many attractions which can literally save hours of standing in line!

Passes can be bought to last for 1, 2, 3 or 6 days depending on the length of one’s visit to London. Passes can be bought up to 12 months in advance and ‘activates’ on the first usage of the card to enter an attraction. Once the card has been used for the pre-determined length, it expires. (It is also worth noting that the pass only grants entry to each attraction once.)

The Pass is valid on over 60 attractions in London! Overall, that could potentially mean a saving of over £500. However, it is unlikely that anybody would make it to all the attractions that accept the Pass so it is best for individual visitors/groups to take a look at the list of accepted locations that they wish to visit whilst in London to decide whether or not the card could save them money.

What is included with the Pass?

Attractions included in the London Pass are numerous. Here we will list a few of the ‘big’ locations, but do take a check the London Pass website to get the comprehensive list.

Use London Pass at:

Also note, that it includes ‘Fast Track Entry’ at some of the busiest tourist locations in London – for some, this is an invaluable addition since it saves so much time.

What attractions are not included with the Pass?

As vast as the list of attractions who accept the Pass, there are some that do not.

Also note that the majority of national Museums and Galleries in London are free regardless.


How much does it cost?

Costs vary depending on the duration of the pass and the age of the holder.

One Day Pass
Child – £33.00
Adult – £49.00

Two Day Pass
Child – £68.00
Adult – £49.00

Three Day Pass
Child – £56.00
Adult – £81.00

Six Day Pass
Child – £76.00
Adult – £108.00


Where can I purchase my Pass?

The London Pass can be purchased in advance from the London Pass website.

The Pass can also be purchased at mainline rail stations in London:
Kings Cross Station
Euston Station
Liverpool Street Station
Paddington Station
Victoria Station

Also at select London Underground Stations:
Victoria Station
Oxford Circus Station
Piccadilly Circus Station
St. James’s Park Station

As well as at Heathrow Airport and Exchange International Bureau de Change Branches.

 

Is the London Pass worth it?

This depends entirely on the user! It is worth tallying up the entry costs of the attractions you wish to visit, and comparing it against the pass. Here as a good example:

Single Day Itinerary:

Tower of London – £22.00
St. Paul’s Cathedral – £16.50
London Bridge Experience – £20.00
Total: £58.50

This means with a One Day pass you would save just under £10 per pass. It’s estimated that visitors need to go to three attractions a day to make a 1 to 2 day pass worth the money. Two attractions for a 3 or 6-day pass.
Who is the Pass good for?

  • Those traveling with children. Skipping the long queues can prove invaluable for those who are visiting with little ones.
  • Those who want to see a lot in a short period of time. If you are traveling on a tight schedule and can make it to see three attractions a day, then the pass should work out to save you money.
  • Those who are not interested in too many museums. For people who are not interested in visiting free museums, but would rather see big attractions, the Pass will be suitable.
  • Those who are visiting London for the first time. If you are in London and looking to hit all the MAJOR traditional sites (Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, etc.) the pass can provide good value.

 

Who should skip the London Pass?

  • Those who are interested in museums and galleries. As most museums and galleries in London are free of charge, those who want to focus their tour around these attractions should not purchase the Pass.
  • Those staying in London for longer than a week. If visitors are in London for longer than a week, there is more time to see big attractions AND free museums and also tour at a more leisurely pace which means the Pass would not save too much money.
  • Those who only want to see a couple of the sites that the Pass takes in. For those who only have one or two ‘big’ spots on their must-see itinerary, the London Pass will not provide much of a discount.

 

Tips for Tourists considering London Pass

  • Consider the time of year.  In summer, London can be extremely busy. And, surprising to some, extremely hot! Many visitors to London between July and September may find that the price of the London Pass alone is worth it to enter the fast track queues which will save users time spent on their feet out in the sun.
  • Think about the shorter tickets
  • If you are prepared to stick to a strict itinerary for one, two or three days and then want to relax for the rest of your visit and keep your days less regimented, look seriously at the shorter Pass options.

Plan, plan…and plan some more!

Check the opening hours and days of the attractions you want to see so that you know you will have enough time to visit them. Consult your map and Underground map to select attractions that are close to one another to save time in traveling.

Bottom Line: Look at the London Pass website and do some maths in advance so you know whether the Pass will be worth it based on your individual itinerary.

 

Airport departures arrivals

How to avoid Jet Lag

Posted by & filed under Berlin, Boston, Charleston, Chicago, London, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Paris, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Washington DC.

What is jet lag?

Many of our tour guests who travel from afar or from overseas have trouble to adjust to the new time difference in their destination city. Here are some tips on how to avoid jet lag. When you travel to another time zone, your internal clock is off – that’s what you call jet lag. Usually getting over jet lag should take 3-4 days depending on how far you have traveled from. Flying eastwards will make it a bit harder to adjust to the new time zone, then when you are flying westwards. That is because our body accepts it better if you are staying up a little later, then having to go to bed much earlier than usual. In addition, if you are used to getting up rather early, flying eastwards is a little bit easier than for people who generally stay up late. And vice versa, if you are a night owl, you will have less trouble adjusting, if you were traveling westwards.

How can I avoid or minimize the jet lag?

  • Start to adjust your internal clock several days before you fly, by staying up later (if traveling westwards) or getting to bed earlier (if travelling eastwards).
  • Once you are in the plane, act like you are in your destination time zone already e.g. change your clock, take a nap, eat moderately or skip a meal and avoid alcohol.
  • Be healthy and well rested. The more you rest before your big travel, the easier it will be to adjust to your new time zone.
  • If you are travelling overseas, on the day of your flight, try to sleep in or sleep as long as you can. This goes for either direction, as you will likely skip a night travelling eastwards, or you will have to stay up much longer when you arrive travelling westwards.
  • Bring a neck pillow and nap on the plane. Even if you don’t fall asleep into a deep slumber, your body will thank you later for each little 20 minute nap you do on the plane.
  • Stay hydrated. It’s best to purchase a bottle of water at the airport (after you are through security), so you don’t have to get the stewardess attention every time.
  • Once you arrive, don’t nap more than 30 minutes or go to bed immediately if it’s not bedtime yet. Stay up till at least 9 pm. This discipline on your first day of arrival, will get you over jetlag much faster.

Other things to consider when travelling to different time zones and jet lag:

When flying westwards, e.g. from Europe to New York, or from Washington DC to San Francisco: Don’t make any late evening plans the first couple of nights.  You might think you are up to it, but your body will tell you otherwise. If you are booking our walking tours, stick to the morning and daytime tours, and avoid the evening tours.

When flying eastwards, e.g. from California to New York, or from Boston to London: Don’t make any morning plans the first couple of days.  Instead plan more things to do in the afternoon and evenings. If you are booking our walking tours, avoid the early 10 am tours, and go for the afternoon or evening tours.

+++We hope you have safe and enjoyable travels without much jet lag and we look forward to having you on our famous pay-what-you-like walking tours soon.+++

Madame Tussauds visit London

Madame Tussauds in London

Posted by & filed under London.

Now in 19 different cities across the globe, Madame Tussauds in London is the original and first, having been founded by wax sculptor Marie Tussaud herself in the 19th century. Today, Madam Tussaud’s is famous throughout the world and is a top destination for many visitors coming to London.

Who Was Madame Tussauds?

Born Anna Maria “Marie” Grosholtz in 1761, Madame Tussaud started her illustrious career by working as a housekeeper for a physician and wax sculptor named Dr. Philippe Curtius. Eventually Curtius began teaching Marie his trade and she showed natural talent and technique.


Her skills were so recognised that she was invited by members of the royal family to portray their likenesses, as well as sculpting some of the most well-known political characters in the 18th century – including Voltaire and Benjamin Franklen. Her career took a dramatic turn during the French Revolution when she was employed to make death masks of guillotine victims such as Robspierre, King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Soon Marie Tussaud could be found digging through sanitaries, collecting the heads of any illustrious corpses she found!

Marie moved to London in 1802 and by 1835 she had established her first permanent wax exhibition in Baker Street. She died in her sleep in 1859 at the age of 88 leaving behind a legacy that has grown internationally and still delights visitors the world over more than 100 years after her death.

The Creative Process

Far from digging around in cemeteries to find famous faces to depict, today Madame Tussaud’s employs an international team of the best wax artists in the world who set to work creating the likenesses of superstars the world over. Their work is painstaking and comprehensive with every wax work made going through an intensive step-by-step process.

1. Sitting - Hundreds upon hundreds of measurements are taken of the chosen subject. From ear lobe width to the bend of an elbow, the subject is measured and documented with hundreds if not thousands of photographs being taken.

2. Sculpting - The person depicted is exactly recreated in clay. This clay figure creates a mould for the wax figure to come. According to Madame Tussaud’s website, over 150kg of clay is used to make this figure!

3. Moulding - Around the surface of the clay, a plaster cast is taken. This cast stays on file so the subject can be recreated at any time in the years to come. Some of the plaster moulds Madame Tussaud’s has in storage are over 200 years old!

4. Pouring - Finally, the wax! Melted wax is coloured with dye before being heated into molten. Then the wax is poured into the plaster mould. The wax is left to cool and solidify into a thickness of 5/8 inches.

5. Removal – Around an hour and a half after being left to harden, the pieces of the mould are pulled away to reveal the wax figure underneath. Wax moulds of the figures eyes and teeth are melted away so acrylic eyes and teeth can be added later.

6. Hair - There’s no cheap wigs to be found at Madame Tussaud’s! Every head of hair is crafted by an expert hairstylist who individually inserts every. Single. Strand! This process can take up to six entire weeks. All the hair used is human and ethically sourced.

7. Colouring - Make up artists step in here to recreate the colouring and features of the model. Up to 20 different colours are used to create a natural looking skin tone and oil paints are layered – sometimes up to 20 times – one on top of the other to create realistic texture. All freckles, wrinkles, moles, etc. are accurately recreated. Teeth and eyes are introduced.

8. Fashion - The model is fully dressed and ready to go on display!

All together it takes months to produce each individual subject and costs around £150,000 per sculpture!

Museum Today

Today the Museum holds dozens upon dozens of the highest quality wax works in the world. The wax figures are divided into different sections. Here is a list of the different areas and an example of famous faces held within:

  • Party - Colin Firth, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet
  • Bollywood - Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Shahrukh Khan, Amitabh Bachchan
  • Film - Shrek, Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin
  • Sports - David Beckham, Muhammad Ali, Mo Farah
  • Royals - Queen Elizabeth II, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Charles and Camilla
  • Culture - Albert Einstein, Oscar Wilde, William Shakespeare
  • Music - Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, Elvis, Michael Jackson
  • Scream - The Chamber of Horrors (12 years and up)
  • Spirit of London - A black cab ride through the capitals history
  • Marvel Super Heroes - Wax works and a 4-D film experience 

Visitor information

How to Get There

  • Madame Tussaud’s has been operating in the same neighbourhood for over 100 years – Situated in Marylebone Road next to the junction with by Baker Street.
  • Nearest Underground Station is Baker Street
  • Nearest Rail Station is Marylebone
  • Bus Routes are (numerous!) 13, 18, 27, 30, 74, 82, 113, 139, 189, 295, 274, 453

Tickets - 

£30.00 Adult, £25.00 Child 4-15, FREE Under 4

Top Tip on How To Save Money 

Book online! When booking your tickets in advance online you can save up to 25%! Also you will be put into a different queue when you arrive which can dramatically cut down waiting times.  Click here to book tickets.

Top Tip on Timing -

Madame Tussaud’s is one of the rare London attractions that is better to visit in the afternoon. Queues are largest at the beginning of the day as many coach groups and tourists start their day here before heading into Central London. If you can plan to arrive around 15:00 you’ll find the queues shorter and your ability to get photographs of the wax works without other people in your way significantly better!

London Big Ben

Big Ben

Posted by & filed under London.

Big Ben For millions of visitors the world over, London is represented by a single iconic building: Big Ben. Probably the most recognisable clock in the world, Big Ben has been ticking 16 stories above London since May 1859 and boasts the largest four-faced chiming clock in the entire world! But perhaps it would surprise you to hear that although we all know Big Ben – this massive clock tower is actually officially named something completely different! Read on for some fascinating facts about this most beloved of London’s landmarks.

ETYMOLOGY

Clock Tower - Big Ben is actually not the correct name for the clock tower. The clock tower now is known as the Queen Elizabeth II Tower, and was renamed for our monarch on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee. Previously it was simply named ‘The Clock Tower.’

Bell - The largest bell inside the Queen Elizabeth II Tower is colloquially known as Big Ben. Strictly speaking, the name of the bell is The Great Bell, but Big Ben is the name used the world over (even by those of us who know better!).

Why Big Ben? Nobody knows exactly for sure but there are two likely sources: Perhaps it is in reference to Benjamin Hall, an MP who oversaw the installation of the Great Bell and was a rather rotund figure. Or maybe it is named after Benjamin Caunt, an English heavyweight boxing champion who was often known as Big Ben himself. This mystery will most likely never be solved!

CREATION

The Queen Elizabeth II Tower stands in Westminster, connected to the Palace of Westminster – which is more commonly known as the Houses of Parliament. After the old Palace of Westminster was lost in a terrible fire in 1834, a new building was designed to sit in its’ place, and hold the new Houses of Parliament. The clock tower was a notable part of the design of the new Palace as imagined by architect Charles Barry. Barry knew he wanted a clock tower as part of his new Palace, but he did not actually design it himself.

The tower and clock itself was designed by noted architect August Welby Northmore Pugin, who was asked for his assistance by Charles Barry. Therefore it was Pugin himself who actually designed the tower, using his signature gothic revival style. Before he died, Pugin is quoted as saying that his assigning and building of the tower was the “hardest [he'd] ever worked in [his] life.”

London Big Ben BELLS

Although ‘Big Ben’ is the most famous bell in the tower, there are actually 5 bells total inside the belfry. Ben is the largest and four smaller bells ring every 15 minutes. It is said there are words to go along with the quarter-hour chimes, based off of a Bible passage (Psalm 37:23-24) as follows: All through this hour/Lord be my guide/And by Thy power/No foot shall slide.

Big Ben specifically is only rung at the top of every hour. A mechanical process triggered by the clock dials raises a hammer which is then dropped onto Ben to make the chimes. For those wishing to set their clocks, note it is the FIRST chime of Big Ben that marks the exact time.

The Great Bell was cast in April 1858 at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry (also responsible for The Liberty Bell in the United States) and weighs in at 13.76 tones. Originally Big Ben was the largest bell in the British Isles until Great Paul – hanging in St. Paul’s Cathedral – was cast in 1881.

FACTS & FIGURES

  • The entire Queen Elizabeth II Tower is 315ft (96m) tall.
  • Each clock face stands exactly 180ft (54.9m) off the ground.
  • Each dial is nearly 23ft (7m) in diameter.
  • Each dial holds over 300 individual pieces of frosted glass.
  • The minute hands are each just over 13ft (4.2m) long.
  • Despite appearing straight, the Tower actually is tilting 9.1in (230mm) to the north-west.
  • Out of 650 MPs, 331 voted to approve the name change of the Clock Tower to the Queen Elizabeth Tower – in reference to the fact that the tower on the other side of Parliament was renamed the Victoria Tower in the year of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.

London Big Ben SILENCE OF THE CHIMES

Although Big Ben has been praised throughout its’ history for accurately keeping time throughout the decades – including during the Blitz in WWII – the chimes have been silenced on occasion, a few examples of which follow:

During WWI the clock was silenced for two years, and the clock dials were darkened, to prevent detection by German zeppelin craft.

On New Year’s Eve 1962 the cold weather actually froze the hands of the clock, causing the pendulum mechanism to fault meaning the New Year was rung in 10 minutes late!

In 1967 the clock experienced its first – and so far only – break down when the air speed regulator broke. Over 9 months the chimes were silenced around 26 days for repairs.

As an mark of respect, the chimes were silenced during the funeral of Winston Churchill. The same protocol was taken during the funeral of Baroness Margaret Thatcher in 2013.

VISITING

Visiting Big Ben is possible, but only if guests fit a strict criteria and have contacted their MP or a member of the House of Lords to request a visit. Tours tend to be sold out for up to 6 months in advance so be prepared to wait a while!

A brief guideline of visitor criteria follows:

  1. All visitors allowed onto Elizabeth Tower/Big Ben tours must be UK residents. There are no exceptions to this.
  2. Visitors must be over 11 years old.
  3. Visitors must be able to climb all 334 steps unaided without assistance.
  4. Visitors with heart-related illness or who are in the later stages of pregnancy will not be allowed.
  5. Visitors must arrive with sensible footwear, or they will be declined their position on the tour.

EXTRA TRIVIA

There is loads more to tell you about Big Ben – but for more facts, anecdotes and little-known trivia, you’ll need to book yourself onto our Westminster (or All-In-One) tour to find out more!

London Skyline with City in the background

10 Things To Do In London for Under £10!

Posted by & filed under London.

London is widely regarded as one of the most expensive cities in the world, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the city on the cheap! At Free Tours By Foot we believe London should be accessible to anybody on any kind of budget! So to help you out here is our list of 10 things you can do in London for under £10…

1. Watch A Film - Home to the London Classic “Sing Along Sound of Music,” the Prince of Wales Theatre is centrally located in Leicester Square and features classic cinema, art house films, cult classics, relatively new releases or long-forgotten films for an extremely affordable price. Shows run daily and tickets start as low as £4.00. Check out their website for details of upcoming shows.

2. Take In A London Lecture - Gresham College in the centre of London has been putting on public lectures for around 400 years! From topics like history and philosophy to art and modern life, the lectures here are aimed to entertain and educate members of the public. Not only are the lectures here completely free to attend, some of them take place in Barnards Inn Hall, one of the oldest surviving parts of the College that has been in existence since the 16th century. For a list of upcoming topics, check out their website.

3. Take in the Changing of the Guard - It doesn’t get any more ‘London’ than this! A true spectacle performed daily in summer and every other day off-season, the Changing of the Guard is a classic London experience and an absolute most for those who want to experience all the pomp and ceremony surrounding our royal family. It doesn’t cost a thing to view the Change, but it’s important to plan your visit in advance – for tips on that, check out our Blog Post: Guide to Changing of the Guard.

London the Globe Theatre4. See A Play At the Globe - During the summer, the historically accurate Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre puts on daily performances of some of the Bards best-known and occasionally little-known works. Here at the Globe ticket prices are a far cry from the expensive seats up for sale in the West End. Visitors to the Globe actually have the option to enjoy a performance for as little as £5.00! Holders of these cheap tickets are known as ‘groundlings’ because these tickets entitle you to stand on the ground in front of the stage, instead of sitting up in the benches. Although it can be tiring, being a groundling is an experience that would have been familiar to 16th century visitors to the Globe which means in addition to the theatre entertainment, groundlings are also having a truly historical London experience!

London Natural HistoryLondon Victoria and Albert Museum5. Visit A Museum - Visitors from all over the world are impressed by the broad range of free museums that London has to offer. From the standard British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Natural History and Science Museums, to the more London-centric like the Museum of London and the Bank of England Museum, to the downright quirky Hunterian Museum and the Old Operating Theatre, as well as those showcasing art like the National Gallery and the Tate Modern, London hosts a plethora of museums to keep you busy and keep you on budget! Take a peak at some of our recommendations for museums off the beaten track: Blog Post: Museum Sites in the City of London  and Blog Post: Nice and Niche Museums

6. Cruise the Thames - KPMG Thames Clippers offer an affordable and interesting way to see the city. Prices for adults start at just £4.50 (and additional discounts for Oyster or Travelcard holders!) and boats depart every 20 minutes throughout the day. Visitors can travel from pier to pier between Westminster and all the way along the Thames to Greenwich – an excellent way to beat London’s rush hour or traffic gridlock!

7. Be Entertained On the Southbank - A pleasant stroll along the southern bank of the River Thames between the London Eye and the Tate Modern provides beautiful views of the capital, but also plays host to some of the most unique entertainment in town. Come see street artists who play music, perform acrobatic tricks, dance, limbo, or act as human statues…There is always somebody showing off and waiting to grab the attention of the passing public. In addition to this, the walk will take you past the most well-known skate park in London where people of all ages come to practice their skateboarding skills and where graffiti artists are allowed to express their work without repercussions from the law. If you are looking for cheap eats, the Southbank has you covered there too, with multiple stalls and vendors popping up throughout the year to feed the Southbank public.

London Westminster Cathedral8. Visit Westminster Cathedral - If the price to visit Westminster Abbey is a bit out of your price range, Westminster Cathedral offers an affordable and reasonable alternative. Located down the road from the much more well-known Abbey, Westminster Cathedral is the mother church for practicing Catholics in England and Wales. Consecrated in 1910, the Cathedral is free for the pubic to visit and showcases beautiful neo-Byzantine architecture. The burial place of multiple Archbishops of Canterbury, the Cathedral was also featured in the Alfred Hitchcock’s film Foreign Correspondent. For a real treat, visitors can purchase tickets (£5 for adults and £2.50 concessions) to climb the Campanile Bell Tower – 273 feet up, the viewing gallery provides guests with a stunning 360degree views over London and there is even a lift to make the trip up easy! For those who cannot afford a visit to The London Eye or The Shard, or want to avoid the crowds that they attract, a visit to little-known and quiet Westminster Cathedral is your next best bet!

London SpeakersCorner9. Head to Speakers Corner - Springing up alongside the famous gallows that stood at this corner of Hyde Park for centuries lies Speakers Corner, a designated area for people to come and have their voices heard. Political discussion, religious ramblings, nonsense topics and humorous speeches, those who come here to speak come from a wide variety of backgrounds and with countless viewpoints they wish to express. An interesting way to while away the time, Speakers Corner has been a tourist destination for decades and notable speakers here include Karl Marx and George Orwell.

10. Walk on the Wild Side - University College London’s Grant Museums Zoology is not only free to visit, but throughout the year the college stages free film screenings of movies centred around animals. Showing cult classics and quirky movies, the screenings are free for members of the pubic to attend – and they often provide a free glass of wine for visitors to enjoy when the film has finished!

+++ And of course: Take a tour with Free Tours by Foot London. Our tours operate on a pay-what-you-like model, because we believe that everyone, regardless of their budget, should enjoy informative, educational and fun tours of London!+++

London Skyline with City in the background

Free Wi-Fi, internet hotspots, and other ways to stay online in London

Posted by & filed under London.

International travelers who come to London often feel out of touch because their phones either won’t work or they might pay extra fees for calls or internet use. When you are in a foreign city, it is even more important to stay connected, to ease you find your way around or plan your day out. Depending on your mobile plan, we definitely recommend you finding out international Wi-Fi add-on options with your provider before you arrive in London.

Most hotels, B&B’s have Wi-Fi service for their guests, so that’s a good way to charge up on information before you start your day, or when you come back at night. When you are on the road, finding Wi-Fi for your device can be more difficult. So here are some options how to re-connect online. The magic word in London is hotspot.

Sign up to O2 Wi-Fi: This free O2 Wi-Fi internet service can be found at several locations including McDonalds, Debenhams, Costa Coffee, House of Fraser, Café Rouge. You don’t have to be O2 customer, and there is no need for passwords. Download the O2 Wi-Fi App, so you can find your nearest hotspot, even when you are offline.

Sign up to the Cloud: You can find free Cloud Wi-Fi  hotspots at Pizza Express, Caffe Nero, Pret-a-Manger, Wagamama and shopping centres. Create a Cloud account with your username and password before, and login when you are at a hotspot. The Cloud is even easier to use for AT&T customers: all you need to do is download the AT&T WiFi International App.

Find a Starbucks: Get some coffee and use their free internet that connects for 2 hours. After that you can reconnect if needed. Open your brower open your web browser and go to btopenzone and click connect.

Buy a wifi pass with Virgin Media: Virgin Media offers a WifiPass for non-customers for £5/week. Their service works in the London Underground Stations.

Find an internet café: Yes, there are still some internet cafes in London. Here is a map of internet cafes in London.

 

+++Staying online helps you get around easier and makes you get the most out of your trip. You can also easily look up maps or links that we provide so you can easily find your guide on our famous pay-what-you-like walking tours in London.+++

Visiting London’s Best Parks

Visiting London’s Best Parks

Posted by & filed under London.

One of the greenest capitals in the world, London is home to some of the most beautiful parks in the country. Whether you’re looking to wander, settle down for a picnic lunch, or just wanting to feed the birds, take a peek at our list of London’s best parks – all of which are free to enjoy!

london St James parkSt. James’s Park

Named after a leper hospital that stood on the site in the Medieval period and stretching over 23 hectares (53 acres), St. James’s Park is the oldest of all the Royal Parks of London – having been open to the public since 1603. Before it was a public park, St. James’s held the royal aviary where King Charles II kept birds given to him as gifts – such as the pelicans brought here by the Russian ambassador in 1664. London St James parkIn fact, there are still pelicans in the park today that are said to descend from these original birds (some of whom have developed a taste for meat..! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C1CTngj8zwE) In the centre of the park is a stretch of water spanned by a bridge that provides stunning views of Buckingham Palace, and that contains Duck Island, home to beautiful and varied waterfowl, and the Tiffany Fountain.

Nearest Underground Stations: St. James’s Park, Charing Cross, Westminster

 

 

Richmond Park

London parks Richmond parkDesignated as a Special Area of Conservation as well as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, Richmond Park, located in the Southwest of London and the largest of all London Parks, spans an impressive 955 hectares (2,360 acres). Originally a hunting park for King Charles I in 1625, Richmond Park is still home to an estimated 630 fallow and red deer, and in places it appears more of a wooded forest rather than a park. Designated paths criss-cross the park with lanes designated entirely for cyclists, pedestrians, and horse riders. Park-goers can take afternoon tea or a spot of lunch in a number of Lodges in the park, the most notable of which is Pembroke Lodge.

London parks Richmond ParkMargaret’s Top Tip: Climbing to the top of the hill in the park (King Henry’s Mound) will reward you with a view of over 10 miles that leads all the way to St. Paul’s Cathedral and is so beautiful it has legally been protected by an act of Parliament!

 

Nearest Underground Stations: Richmond

(Trains also depart out of Waterloo and Clapham Junction to Mortlake and Sheen Stations)

 

 

London Regent's ParkThe Regent’s Park

Designed by architect John Nash (also responsible for Regent’s Street) in 1811, The Regent’s Park is 166 hectares (410 acres) and is home to the London Zoo and an open-air theatre,  as well as the largest outdoor sports area in London, holding facilities for cricket, softball, football and rugby. London Regent'sParkPark visitors can also hire row boats and pedal boats to use on the pond. When visiting be sure to check out Queen Mary’s Gardens – created in the 1930’s this beautiful floral garden is the highlight of the park’s agriculture.

Nearest Underground Stations: Regent’s Park, Great Portland Street, Camden Town, St. John’s Wood

 

 

London HydeParkHyde Park

Right in the middle of London lays Hyde Park, a lovely stretch of green spanning 253 hectares (625 acres), boasting cycle, pedestrian and equestrian paths. Originally part of a hunting park created by Henry VIII, the Park was opened to the public in 1637 by King Charles I. Hyde Park boasts numerous sites of interest including Speakers’ Corner, the Diana, Princess of Wales memorial, the Holocaust Memorial, the Serpentine Art Gallery, an animal cemetery, Italian Fountains and a number of statues scattered throughout. London HydeParkHyde Park also plays host to concerts, and has seen performances by Pink Floyd, Queen and the Rolling Stones – just to name a few!

Nearest Underground Stations: Hyde Park Corner, Knightsbridge, Marble Arch, Lancaster Gate

 

 

Battersea Park

London Regent'sParkFounded much more recently than the other parks on the list, Battersea Park was created in 1858. The Park spans 83 hectares (200 acres) and is situated right on the picturesque south bank of the River Thames, just opposite the Chelsea area. Recently refurbished in an £11million project, the park is host to a boating lake, a children’s zoo and a number of outdoor sporting venues. In fact, it was in Battersea Park that the first ever modern association football game was played! Also of note are the Nature Areas, home to over 20 species of butterfly.

Nearest Underground Stations: Clapham Common

(Trains also depart from Victoria Station to Battersea Park Station)

 

Hampstead Heath

London Hampstead HeathLocated along one of the highest points in London (440ft), Hampstead Heath (or just “The Heath” to use a London phrase!) is 320 hectares (790 acres) of parkland in the north of the capital. The Heath consists of rambling woodlands, paths and ponds, a lido and a Georgian villa, as well as providing one of the best views in the capital (again, protected by Parliament!) atop Parliament Hill. The Heath has been on record since 986 (!!) and it has been a public park since the early 19th century. Wildlife abounds as the Heath is a refuge for various types of wildlife including rabbits, bats, snakes, frogs, and fish – just to name a few! When at Hampstead Heath, it is easy to forget that one is still in London.

London_from_Hampstead_HeathInside Info: It is at Hampstead Heath that Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed!

Nearest Underground Station: Hampstead, Highgate, Golders Green

(London Overground Services also run to Hampstead Heath Station)