Great restaurant, really delicious food, easy going atmosphere.
Italian food, small plates to share (two per person was recommended by the waiter and is right).
6 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London WC2E 7NA
+44(0)20 7836 8448
Google map: bit.ly/xz54yz
“Hi there. You knew it would come to this didn’t you? An American showing you London. If you can’t hear, speak up, because you ain’t heard nothing yet.”
David, our London Walks guide, manoeuvred us away from the traffic and chain shops of Kensington High Street into a Russian doll’s London within a London of the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.
First stop, the early 20th century and the art deco Barker’s Department Store, then onto Kensington Square, with its Regency houses lived in by the likes of William Thackeray and John Stuart Mills.
David took us into St Mary’s Church, pointing out the “Healing” window, funded by the Royal College of Surgeons. Out of the church and through a scattering of graves and daffodils and onto another narrow row of houses where T S Eliot and Ezra Pound had both lived and written.
Now down a narrow, cobbled lane, straight out of a Jane Austen novel, lined with tiny shops converted from stables.
We strolled along ‘Millionaire’s Row’ arriving at Kensington Palace, the sunken gardens and David’s last tip, to “Forget the Ritz, take tea at the Orangery.”
Full of enthusiastic information delivered in an entertaining, professional and friendly manner, this was one of the best value for money, interesting experiences I’ve had in London.
This was the Old Kensington walk but London Walks do lots of walks to suit all ages, interests, tastes. No need to book and timetable on website. Cost £8.00
+44 (020) 7624 3978
So many visitors in the crushing crowds inching down Portobello Road completely miss the wonderful antique stalls in the rambling arcades. So go early - 8 o'clock on a Saturday morning - and enjoy the opportunity to talk unhurriedly to experts in their trade, then buy some beautiful, unusual presents for your friends or yourself. At 10 o'clock have coffee and freshly baked cakes at 'Books for Cooks' and leave the Road to the growing throng.
Portobello Road, Notting Hill, W11 www.portobelloroad.co.uk/
Google map: bit.ly/GYCQzz
Books for Cooks:
4 Blenheim Crescent, Notting Hill, W11 1NN
+44(0)20 7221 1992
Google map: bit.ly/Hi7DVH
This hidden gem is well worth seeking out. Arguably one of London's larger city farms, there is an abundance of animals from all the farmyard favourites to tropical birds and even some alpacas. A beautiful shire horse gives cart rides in the summer months and there are regular events for all the family. It's free to get in and there is plenty there to keep you coming back.
Stansfeld Road, Beckton, London, E6 5LT
Closest station: Royal Albert DLR
Bus: 300, 376, 262
+44(0)20 7474 4960
For a fun London experience, check out the late night adult-only openings of the London Science Museum on the last Wednesday of every month. With 'no kids between you and the big red button' you can refresh forgotten science knowledge by checking out the rocket show (where the presenter proves he can do adult as well as childish humour), doing a spot of speed-dating, and contemplating the properties of sound while boogieing away at the silent disco. Best of all, it's completely free.
Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London SW7 2DD
+44(0)870 870 4868
Google map: bit.ly/AjDdSY
This walk brought the history of the Thames to life for the whole family. Led by Fiona, an intertidal archaeologist we strolled along the river with stops for background facts. Then onto the part my sons had been waiting for. Clad in plastic gloves and wellies we were led down the safest path onto the foreshore outside Tate Modern and let loose to beachcomb (strictly no digging). An amazing array of items were found by the group and expertly identified by Fiona. We went home with clay pipes, a Victorian jelly mould and a piece of a 17th century 'Witch pot' tossed into the river full of pee to ward off evil spirits. And my seven-year-old son's highlight, a musket ball.
Dates and times depend on the tides so check www.walks.com and search for mudlarking. Meets at Mansion House tube. No booking needed, £8 for adults and free(!) for kids.
Darting through the chilly winter night to the steaming outdoor pool, or sunbathing and splashing here in summer is my idea of fun in London. Just a saunter away from Covent Garden Market, and shielded by a disguise of tower blocks, Oasis Sports Centre is one of London's hidden treasures. It is such an unexpected contrast to the shops and offices that surround it- a true Oasis.
The London Monopoly Pub Crawl is a great way to see the city and socialise with friends at the same time. It's basically a pub-crawl around central London, with a real ale hostelry at each street or station which appears on the monopoly board. There are organised trips but it's much more fun to download the directions from the website (both the most direct route and the original board route are listed), grab your oyster card and some friends and hit the street! Note: it does take all day (we started at around 11am and reached the final pub just as last orders were being called) and if you drink alcohol at even half of the stops you're likely to be a bit squiffy by the end!
After a hard days shopping or sight-seeing in London, there is nothing better than a time-out in a floatation tank. While the whole city is buzzing around you, you can let every single muscle in your body relax to the max as you float effortlessly in a warm relaxing salt bath. The feeling is magical, akin to floating in mid-air, with the effects of gravity being removed from your body as you drift in to a dream-filled sleep. The Epsom-Salt solution in the baths also has numerous health benefits, so you also get a bit of a detox! After a floatation session, I can't even explain how revitalized I felt. It's something that you REALLY have to experience if you are in London!
The changing of the Guard is and always will be an attraction. When I was five my mother and father took me to London which was a big thing in 1855(!) I remember standing squashed against the railings and the Big Guard came towards me and with his bright sword nearly touched my nose for a moment I was terrified. Then the Guard smiled at me and I melted. To this day I will never forget him. Shame I had not got a camera. I am 61 now and have never been back to London and suppose now never will but that Guard remains in my memory.
Keep little ones and teenagers intrigued on a shoestring budget with a day trip to the Natural History Museum. The impressive cathedral-like structure plays host to one of the largest natural history collections in the world.
The collection includes everything from microscopic slides to mammoth skeletons, a dinosaur gallery to Darwin’s work on natural selection and an enormous life-size model of a blue whale.
The National History Museum also offers special exhibitions, an outdoor ice skating rink (in winter) and a wildlife garden. Admission to the permanent collection is free.
Found near St Pauls, Postman's Park is a quiet retreat that will keep you captivated for hours. A former burial ground, it has since 1900 served as a Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice. Dozens of memorial tablets line the walls in poignant memorial of ordinary and otherwise forgotten people, who died saving the lives of others.
King Edward Street, London EC1
Google map: bit.ly/ykjudK
For macabre Victoriana take a trip round Highgate Cemetery. Sadly it is no longer open for individual roaming, but the accompanied tours are entertaining and informative. With its catacombs, statuary, grand mausoleums and famous names this latter day necropolis is a spooky but fun place to visit. Lucinda Hawksley, Charles Dickens's great, great, great granddaughter, will be giving two talks in the cemetery's chapel in February 2012.
Recently I took my mother for a trip onto the London eye to celebrate her 75th Birthday. When purchasing our tickets, I was asked if I was her carer as she walks with a walking stick and I enquired why. They said that the carer goes on free so in essence it's a buy one get one free ticket. The London Eye was a wonderful experience and I would recommend it to anyone.
Visiting London we happened upon a free drop-in drawing session at the National Portrait Gallery. The welcoming tutor placed sheaf of cartridge paper and some pencils in our hands and we were away! A great hour's fun. Even my wife, who hates drawing, found it engaging and was proud of her finished efforts, which we still have.
The Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons is a lot more fun that its name might suggest. It contains more that 3,500 specimens, mainly collected in the 18th century by John Hunter, the anatomist.
There is a vast array of pickled body parts, the skeleton of a 7’ 7” ‘Irish giant’, the tooth of an extinct giant sloth, and a slightly grisly display of pickled foetuses. More recent additions include Churchill’s dentures.
There is also the opportunity to try your hand at simulated keyhole surgery, and watch footage of brain surgery. Educational and fun at the same time!
PURL - by definition “malt liquor, medicated or spiced; formerly, ale or beer in which wormwood or other bitter herbs had been infused, and which was regarded as tonic; at present, hot beer mixed with gin, sugar, and spices”.
Want some fun in London, then try this. Reminiscent of a Victorian Gin Palace with a retro twist, PURL, with its beams, piano bar and leather chairs, is made up of intimate alcoves underneath a road in Marylebone.
A list of cocktails thought up in the ‘lab’ at the rear, is influenced by ‘molecular mixology’. Don’t be too surprised to see a little chemistry! Liquid nitrogen, smoke and fire mixed with more traditional spirits - even a touch of caviar!
This is a truly exciting place to be. Enjoy!
By far the craziest and most bizarre night out I've had in London was a result of finding myself in the company of 'The Book Club Boutique'- a collection of London's most wonderfully eccentric characters having a jolly good knees-up.
It's an incredibly artistic experience, with bands playing, poets reading, actors swooning and tales of life and love being shared- all set in the beautiful and intimate chapel of the House of St. Barnabas on Greek St.
There's plenty of excellent drink flowing too, especially the exotic cocktails with hilariously unbelievable names- I just wish I could remember them!
Chasing zombies on Hampstead Heath, a checkpoint dash around Hackney, escaping a lasertrap in Covent Garden. Joining Fire Hazard games has made me see and experience London in a completely different way, and discover parts I never knew existed.
Trying to smuggle a cashbox up my jumper, during a fake heist of an old police station in South London, has to be one of my highlights of 2011.
Between £10 and £21 for each activity, usually lasting a couple of hours. For some events 100% of the revenue is donated to Mind. The crew are great and events usually end in the pub.
Between Covent Garden and the Thames, down Villiers St off the historic Strand awaits Gordon’s Wine Bar. This is London’s oldest wine bar and must be one of the world’s best. Visiting Gordon’s is a unique experience of London’s history. Before becoming a wine bar in 1890, the building was home to Samuel Pepys and also an illustrious brothel or two. Outside, in Villiers St, the building now has the appearance of a deserted and condemned old building from Dickensian London and is often unrecognised by the most dedicated visitors. The only clue is the dusty original gas-lit lamp above the door, labelled “Gordon’s Wine Bar”. Take the narrow steps down into the unlikely darkness.
The bar has the appearance and feel of a dark basement untouched since Pepys left. Nicotine stained walls of tongue-n-groove boards, history-stained stone floors, and rickety tables and chairs under the low, brick-domed ceiling of the original wine cellars are not retro but original features. Candles light the reticent faces of illicit encounters. The staff are efficient and friendly and pull schooners and beakers of sherry, Madeiras, or port from the barrels stacked behind the bar. Excellent wines are also available by bottle or glass. Recently homemade food has been introduced, and the tables spill out into Watergate Walk to the side. But stay indoors to enjoy the uniqueness and excellence of Gordon’s Wine Bar, and drink deep the history of London.
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