Christmas lights in London – part 2!

As we hurtle towards Christmas, I wanted to bring you some more pictures of the street lights and shop displays that are giving London a really festive look. 

Every year since the Second World War Norway has sent London a huge Christmas tree to thank us for our support in the fight against Nazism. The annual lighting ceremony is a popular event in the build up to Christmas and is always a beautiful sight, especially when seen across the fountain and water. 
 

Trafalgar Square, London
A moment of reflection

The photo was taken through a bus window so apologies for the blurriness but it shows you the annual fun event which is Santa Con where hundreds, or more probably thousands, of people dress up as Santa and roam around London all day. They usually gather in Trafalgar Square but this year this famous venue was hosting a Nelson Mandela memorial so it looks like they were making Marble Arch their home this year!

Santa Con at Marble Arch

Santas are also to be found in most of the big stores and this unusual version made of Lego was in John Lewis with some less festive companions from Star Wars!
 

Watch out behind you!

There are loads of skating rinks across London, many of them in famous historic sights and this one is a favourite, with the ghostly shape of the Tower of London in the background. 

Skating in history

 Or you could head over the Natural History Museum and try out their rink:

Watch out for the dinosaurs!

 Carnaby Street always gives us an inventive take on Christmas lights and this year’s lovely robins are delightful

 Piccadilly Circus has turned the statue of Eros into a giant snowglobe to the amusement of all who pass by.


I was really pleased to see the giant reindeer had returned to Covent Garden as he is so cheery with his blinking red nose! 

A giant Rudolph

 Covent Garden has a festive look all through with the alleyways looking great and serving hot chestnuts to give a wonderful Christmassy smell.

Deck the halls with boughs of holly…

 Just one more to show you as I liked this shop window, bringing together several symbols of London with a festive feel.

Bye for now,
Sue
www.itsyourlondon.co.uk
@itsyourlondon

How much can you squeeze into a day and a half in London?

As you’ll know from my bio I offer private tours of London for small groups and they all want to see loads of stuff in London without feeling like they have been rushed from one place to the next. So, I though I would share with you my most recent tour which lasted a day and a half so you can see just how much you can pack in without exhausting yourself!

My guests were staying in Earl’s Court so on day one we set off from there by tube to St Paul’s Cathedral which is an amazing church although I can never decide which is my favourite, here or Westminster Abbey. On the way we saw the blue trees, one of London’s temporary art moments which we kept bumping into during our travels.  My guests were an energetic pair and wanted to climb to the very top so 365 feet later we emerged onto the very small platform of the Golden Gallery and enjoyed the view. We also loved seeing the display of donkeys in the cathedral – a visual art exhibition of 25 life sized differently decorated donkeys called Caravan 2013 highlighting interfaith co-operation. St Paul’s is an enduring symbol of London and the blue trees and donkeys show how there is always something new to see even when you think you know a place!

View from the top of St Paul’s
Bright blue trees

Painted donkeys

We strolled over the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern and explored a couple of the permanent collections, catching some Rothkos and even a Monet before a much needed coffee with a view back over the Millennium Bridge.  The Turbine Hall is closed as the Tate builds a massive extension so it’s not as impressive as usual as I love the grand entrance into that massive space but it’s definitely still worth a visit. Outside the Tate is another temporary art installation, the Endless Stair, a wooden structure based on Escher’s work. It’s fun to run up and down the stairs and take photos from all angles!


A walk along the south bank of the Thames gives you a chance to enjoy part of the Thames Path, voted second in a poll of great city walks by Lonely Planet readers, so that’s a major endorsement. Our destination was the London Eye for a 35 minute ride of changing views and perspectives. It’s such a smooth operation as you get on and off without it missing a beat and my guests certainly thought it was worth the ride.


A stroll over Westminster Bridge gives great photo opportunities of Big Ben and from there we had a good look at the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey and I went through some of the stories associated with both buildings including setting the record straight on what exactly is Big Ben. Everything looks so much more impressive and huge close up so it’s always walking right up to these historic sights. 

Houses of Parliament and Big Ben

 We reckoned that was enough for one day, as the lights were coming up to display Big Ben beautifully, so we headed back to Earl’s Court for a  meal and a rest! 

Day two saw an early start to catch the 9.30 Thames Clipper boat from Embankment to the Tower of London. Passing the sights we had seen from the bank yesterday, we saw these from a different angle and sailed beyond, passing close up to HMS Belfast with its huge guns.  It’s best to arrive at the Tower by boat, just as people have for millennia, especially those entering through Traitors Gate which always gives me a bit of a shiver as once in you’d not be coming out again – alive!  We were lucky enough to watch a Tower Bridge lift from our vantage point on the massive defensive walls by the medieval palace. Some days there are several lifts but some days none at all so I was very pleased to show my guests another of London’s iconic sights.  Our lunch stop was the Dickens Inn where they serve a decent fish and chips among the boats in St Katherine’s Docks.

The Tower of London from way up high

 

Tower Bridge lifts to let a sailing barge through

We hopped on the tube to Green Park to take through the greenery past many folk enjoying a rest on the deck chairs but we were on our way to our timed entry tickets for Buckingham Palace so no sitting for us. When the Queen goes on her summer holidays to Scotland, she allows her subjects, and other visitors, to have a look round the incredibly grand state rooms and galleries of fine paintings.  Each year there is a special exhibition and this year it is, of course, a celebration of the coronation which took place 60 years ago in 2013. As we’d visited the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London, we could join up some of the dots having seen the coronation crown and film of the event itself. In the palace they have her coronation dresses and robes and the crown wore as she travelled to Westminster Abbey,  a beautiful sparkly piece which you can see on the Queen’s head on every UK stamp, though I have to admit I’d not noticed it before I went to this exhibition…..

Beautiful coronation robes

Sparkling crown

 A well deserved coffee was on offer at the cafe in the Buckingham Palace gardens where they dust the cappuccino with a chocolate crown and decorate the cakes with chocolate crowns – nice touch!  The exit is via the excellent shop and the extensive gardens. 

Fancy cakes and coffee at the Buckingham Palace cafe

To complete the London Transport experience for my guests, we grabbed ourselves a trip on a red double decker bus along Piccadilly, past the Ritz and along Pall Mall before hopping off to enjoy a wander through St James’s Park and Horse Guards Parade. There is always something happening on the streets of London and we were not disappointed as we bumped into the Round Britain Tour Cycle and saw one group whizz past us at speed while trying to grab their drinks!

Tour of Britain

A short walk up Whitehall took us to Trafalgar Square to see Nelson’s Column – I’d told my guests all about him when we saw his grave in the crypt of St Paul’s – and to climb on the lions for the essential photo. We enjoyed the temporary art work on the fourth plinth which is a massive blue cockerel, the same blue as the St Paul’s trees strangely enough. We had just enough energy to pop into the National Gallery to see the impressionist rooms and marvel at the exquisite work by Van Gogh, Monet, and Degas.

The brilliant blue cockerel

As Covent Garden with its plentiful bars and restaurants was just next door we headed up to the balcony bar at the Brasserie Blanc for a well earned glass of wine (or 2!) and a snack as the sun went down.   

Phew – I must admit it was tiring but we saw so much and didn’t have to rush around to fit it all in. My guests were full of energy and enthusiasm and really enjoyed their experience of London and the opportunity to some of the top sights that it has to offer with their own private tour from It’s Your London.

What would be your favourite day and a half in London?

Bye for now,
Sue
www.itsyourlondon.co.uk
@itsyourlondon

3 more great London bars!

Did you see my recent blog on ‘3 of the best rooftop bars in London’? Check it out here if not. It struck me while writing that post that London has so many other great bars you need to know about, so I’ll be featuring them now and again in my blog. This week I’m taking you to a couple more rooftop ones with great view and my favourite old pub.

The Vista Bar is perched on top of the Trafalgar Hotel on Trafalgar Square and has a really great view right down into this famous square.  You can check out the new art work on the 4th Plinth or listen into the live streamed opera from the Royal Opera House or just chill out with a cocktail or too. They have pretty strong heaters so even on a chilly evening it’s still ok to drink outside.  

What a view of Trafalgar Square

Roof tops through to the London Eye

Roof tops through to Houses of Parliament
Up close to the top of Nelson’s column!

I love going to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, on a small alleyway off Fleet Street, as it feels so old and untouched. The sign outside tells us clearly it was ‘rebuilt in 1667’ as the previous building was destroyed in the Great Fire of London that devastated London the year before. The site has been the home to a pub since 1538. Charles Dickens was a frequent visitor and drinker  and there are claims that Dr Johnson was too and although he lived very close by, we have no real proof of that. Inside the is a wonderful small, dark room which is very atmospheric, especially when the fire is lit in the grate. Downstairs is more spacious with vast cellars thought to date from the 13th century and there is a dining room I’d love to try out sometime.

And still standing…
Down a little alleyway of Fleet Street
Atmospheric interior

The Sky Lounge at the DoubleTree Hilton near the Tower of London has a huge outdoor terraceYou are right up close to the new high rise buildings going up in the City of London – the ‘walkie talkie’ and the ‘cheese grater’ – we do love giving names to new buildings! If you are interested in regeneration and  new buildings there are enough cranes to keep you very happy! You are also treated to great views across to some of the more familiar London landmarks such as Tower Bridge and the Tower of London.  When night falls, the views are even better as the historic sights leap out of the night sky.

Outdoor terrace nestling in front of the Walkie Talkie

Historic London

River Thames and City Hall

Regeneration and cranes….
Magical night views

 
So many great bars, so little time – still I do my best!  I’ll be taking you to more over the next few months so keep an eye on this blog but there’s lots going on in London this autumn so the blog will not just be bar based….

Bye for now

Sue
www.itsyourlondon.co.uk
@itsyourlondon

* In case you are wondering –  no financial inducements were offered for this post!

3 of the best rooftop bars in London

We’ve been having a brilliant summer in London this year so we’ve been seeking out bars with outdoor space, preferably with stunning views and a breeze. I’ve been working very hard to find the best bars to tell you about and, although there are so many to chose from, here are my top 3. 

Newly opened and already a firm favourite with long queues snaking round the block to nab a stool at this fabulous bar is the Radio Bar. I went when it had just opened on a stormy eve which blessed us with a rainbow right over London – hope that’s a lucky sign! Sitting 10 floors above the Aldwych you can see for miles across some very famous skylines.

It’s trademark pointy end!


Lucky rainbow?

Looking over Waterloo bridge to the South Bank

The Shard and Tower Bridge

Looking right to the London Eye and Big Ben

The most amazing bar is at the top of the Gherkin which doesn’t do the whole summer thing as it is indoors but you are sitting right inside the top of the roof dome and it is a really incredible experience at 180 metres above street level. If you go mid evening you can go from day to night and enjoy the changing light as the cocktails go down! There are 360 degree views to wow you but just one catch – it’s private members only!

Arriving at the Gherkin – bar is in the dome at the top!

 –

On top of the world

Right at the top of the building

Lovely view over the Tower and Tower Bridge

Canary Wharf


Shard with the ‘Walkie Talkie in front
Sun going down – as did the cocktails!
Lights across Tower Bridge



My 3rd bar on this list is the Quarter Deck on the South Bank, or more accurately, over the Thames next to the South Bank!  They have put up a building which sticks out into the river and on the top there is a small and lovely bar. You feel like you are at sea, especially as HMS Belfast is moored next to you! The bar is part of the Imperial War Museum who run HMS Belfast so it has a military as well as nautical feel. We were lucky enough to have the most fabulous light over Tower Bridge and the Tower of London and rather too many wines later we were still enjoying this new and very welcome bar…

IWM- Imperial War Museum

Bar with a view…

On deck!

Love that light

Getting dark…..

HMS Belfast protecting the Tower!

Hope you enjoyed 3 of my favourite London rooftop bars but, who knows, new ones may be opening right now to over take these so I’ll keep an eye out and bring you any more that catch my fancy!

Bye for now
Sue
www.itsyourlondon.co.uk
@itsyourlondon 

Best view in London is from the Shard!

I’ve been watching the Shard grow from a hole in the ground to an amazing finished building which catches the eye where ever you are in central London.  

This week I finally got round to going up it and it certainly lived up to all the hype I’d heard since its opening in February.  I awoke on Monday nervously looking at the sky as I really wanted a fine day. Western Europe’s tallest building can be hidden in or even above the clouds as I’d seen during the Jubilee river parade –  that famous day of dreadful weather when the top of the Shard disappeared into the clouds! However, it turned out to be a fine morning and I reckon having been there that a visit would be fun even in poorer weather.

Losing the top at the Jubilee River Parade

For those who like to know these things, we say it’s ‘the tallest building in Western Europe’, because there are buildings going up in Moscow that already beat our Shard. 

Arriving at London Bridge station you can see that the whole area is being developed and the Shard is the focal point of this transformation. You turn the corner and there it is – streaking up into the sky. The entry is welcoming with a member of staff there to greet you and point the way and as I was there at 10am on a Monday morning I just walked straight through the airport style security into the first of two lifts.  

Looking up!

Lift one takes you to floor 33 and you cross over to zoom silently up to floor 68. You can chose between the covered viewing platform on floor 69 or the more open air one on floor 72 but there are still glass walls so don’t worry. The top platform at 244 metres above ground is truly spectacular with 360 degree views across the rooftops of London to the distant hills and along the Thames through to the Thames Barrier and beyond. You can look directly up into the open air and see the points of the glass reaching into the sky that give the tower its name, though I must admit that made me feel a bit wobbly!  A couple of workmen were doing some repairs on the outside of the building and I could barely watch – not a job for many people….

Arriving at the top of lift two
Workman fixing his harness

Nerves of steel!

You can stay as long as you like, spotting landmarks and watching the clouds pass and even helicopters which fly across the skies at your level! On floor 69 there are great telescopes which show you the key buildings and have an info function if you want to learn more about each one. 

Here’s my gallery of photos so you can enjoy the View from the Shard. Looking west you can follow the Thames and its bridges and see St Paul’s, London Eye, Buckingham Palace, Wembley Stadium

Looking east you can again follow the Thames, see the Tower of London and Tower Bridge and on to Canary Wharf and the Thames Barrier:

The Thames curving east
The Tower of London

Tower Bridge

Canary Wharf through to the Thames Barrier

The platforms are spacious and have plenty of viewing spots. The telescopes are free but timed to 2 minutes to keep people moving around and not hogging them!

The platform at floor 69
One  of the many free telescopes

Extra info from the telescope

You can look into the City with new buildings going up, as always….  Beyond the City, the Olympic village comes into view as well with the stadium and Orbit bringing back great memories of London 2012.

The City
The Olympic stadium with the red of Orbit

 It can be blowy on floor 72 and here’s yours truly looking a little wind swept!

I really enjoyed the View from the Shard, yes it is pricey at £24.95 for an adult and £18.95 for a child if bought in advance, but the views are extraordinary. You can easily spend several hours on the various platform looking across London, using the telescopes to find out what the buildings are, taking photos and browsing the good shopping. 
Bye for now.
Sue
www.itsyourlondon.co.uk
@itsyourlondon 
@

Trips and tours

I’m a bit late posting this week’s blog due to a short trip to Cornwall which was great. We stayed in a lovely boutique hotel in Fowey (pronounced Foy just to confuse) where they were starting their regatta week so bunting everywhere. Coves, harbours, 2 cream teas and a visit to the Eden Centre all added up to a great little break tho’ the sun was clearly not venturing out of London for us.

Last week was focused on a business day with 2 Chinese visitors on an It’s Your London tour on Friday. They went for the fully accompanied version and we had a fun day (have a look at http://www.itsyourlondon.co.uk/ to see more about the tours). They wanted a full big sights tour so, with the help of our taxi driver, we managed to fit in: Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey (inside too), Downing Street, Changing of the Guard at Horse Guards Parade, Buckingham Palace (inside tour and lunch), Tower of London (inside too) and a drive around the City past St Paul’s and we nipped into the Olde Cheshire Cheese for a quick half before finishing with Trafalgar Square. Action packed but not too rushed either. They were lovely people and hopefully my explanation of Henry 8th didn’t confuse them too much – all those wives! The sun shone thankfully and the crowds weren’t too bad for mid August so I’m looking forward to the next visit.

One other outing worth a mention this week. We went to the Electric Cinema on Portobello Road which is always a delight with its huge seats, foot rests, bar in the cinema and more space around the seat then your own home. It’s what all movie going should be. Before the film, a return visit to El Pirata de Tapas on Westbourne Grove to have another tasty meal before strolling round to the cinema. That’s the beauty of Notting Hill – loads of good stuff all close by.

Bye for now. Am off to Edinburgh for the Fringe to catch some comedy and theatre. It’s all go…..

Sue