Where to eat near St Paul’s Cathedral

London has a rich and vibrant restaurant scene and making the right choice is often really challenging. To help with these dilemmas I’m writing a series for the great Cool Places website which offers reviews, recommendations and inspiring ideas for places all around the UK. They use local contributors with expert knowledge and have kindly asked me to do this restaurant series on London.
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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,

For the love of the River Thames – London’s brilliant new children’s tapestry

This week saw the unveiling of an amazing new art work in St Paul’s Cathedral, bringing a splash of colour and fun to these classic surroundings. The Thames Heritage Tapestry is a school arts project celebrating the River Thames and has involved schools all along the Thames to produce a heart warming and beautiful work.

Each school has contributed one metre square and they have used their imagination to depict an historical and/or up to date representation of their home area and how the Thames influences where they live. The schools are from all along the river so you can trace its full length in tapestry squares from the source in Gloucestershire, along the panels to the estuary at Southend. 

We were lucky enough to have some of the children there to explain their work, as well as the Bishop and organisers of the tapestry who knew the story behind every square. It is an inclusive event with Special Needs Schools represented and I especially liked the Pearly Kings square from the East London Independent School. 

You can see bridges, rowers, famous monuments, boats and of course plenty of blue water but what struck me most was the riot of colours and the almost Hockney-esque beauty of the tapestries. Most of all, the wonderful imagination and hard work from all the kids involved. Do go and see it if you can, it’s in St Paul’s until 27th September and is another good excuse to see St Paul’s – read my recent blog if need any more reasons to visit! 

The biggest problem was how to chose which children’s squares to put in the blog so here’s a small selection but if you want to see more click here. 


One of the four panels tracing the length of the Thmes


The Bishop enjoys the Pearly Kings


‘We made this’!


Mid Thames secton


Around Teddington


Tales of the Riverbank!


Rowing at Henley
Houses of Parliament


The proud creators of the bottom square


A local hero


Colourful Kew (I think!)


Just like a Hockney!


Love the sheep!


The sun shines brightly in this one


All the fun of the South Bank

I’ll have to stop here but each of the 240 squares is worth a photo and stopping to hear the story behind children’s choice of images woven, stitched or stuck onto their own square.

Bye for now,

In praise of St Paul’s, one of London’s greatest buildings

St Paul’s Cathedral has been the scene of some great events in British history: the funeral of Winston Churchill, the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth 11, the funeral of Wellington, the bombing of the blitz in the Second World War.

We watched the Diamond Jubilee service take place in St Paul’s last week so I thought it was time for another visit to this wonderful building and although I know it well, I was bowled over again as I explored it. There are no pictures allowed inside but the exterior is so grand, iconic and beautiful that it is hard to stop snapping!


The first thing I saw before  I entered the church was a great reminder of the Diamond Jubilee history of the church as there is a stone recording Queen Victoria’s visit in 1897.


There has been a church on this site since 604 and the current church was built following the destruction of the previous one in the Great Fire of London in 1666. It is a masterpiece by Christopher Wren who was the architect for many post fire buildings. This one is an iconic part of the London skyline with its instantly recognisable dome. One of the amazing facts you find out on your visit is that the dome is actually 2 domes, one on top of the other, because the full dome would be too high to see properly when you are inside, so the smaller one inside brings the paintings within sight. Clever bloke that Wren! 

Make sure you allow plenty of time for your visit as you’ll want to spend time seeing the wonderful interior, the huge crypt with Wellington and Nelson’s tombs as well as plaques to a wide range of famous people. You get an audio guide as part of your entry fee so do use it to give you lots of good info as well as a guide through the various places to visit. 

For the energetic there are the 3 galleries to climb up to.  The famous Whispering Gallery is 257 steps up and is a fun visit as if you stand on one side you can whisper something and another person across the dome can hear you. You’ll see lots of people trying. As well as this you get great views of the dome and down into the cathedral floor. For those with a head for heights and good legs there are 2 further galleries, both on the outside of the dome. The Stone Gallery is 121 steps up from the Whispering Gallery but the Golden Gallery right at the top is the one to go for if you are up to it – a further 152 steps and 365 feet above the floor of the cathedral! The view is 360 degrees and incredible –  down the river through Tower Bridge and to the nearly completed Shard tower, to the City across One New Change shopping centre’s roof, up river to the London Eye and curves of the river Thames. the ‘Wobbly bridge’ with the Tate Modern and the Globe theatre and way over in the distance to the Olympic park and the Orbit red tower.

Towards the Shard and Tower Bridge


The City and One New Change roof in the foreground


Upstream along the curve of the Thames


‘Wobbly bridge’, Tate Modern and The Globe Theatre

Hopefully you will want to visit St Paul’s Cathedral, or revisit it as a second viewing is well worth it.  I have one more photo before I sign off as I want to show you this wonderful building at night when it is magical.

Bye for now,

2011 here we go….

Here’s hoping 2011 is a great year for you all, for me and for London! I spent new year in Dartmouth, Devon which I highly recommend tho’ I was very jealous to read that the massive Thames fireworks were rated higher than the Sydney ones which are always considered the best NYE ones in the world – well done London!


So what’s been happening so far this year? Well… ballet, mass knitting (yes!), a brilliant new perspective on St Paul’s cathedral, and seeing Jean Cocteau in Leicester Square (yes! -again)

Let’s start with St Paul’s as there are some cracking photos. A new shopping centre has opened up just next to this great church called One New Change and they have a roof top viewing terrace as well as a glass lift. You can see St Paul’s from a whole lot of new angles and admire more of its beauty and grandeur. The glass lift rushes you up to the 6th floor and is not for those who quake at the thought of heights but the views on the way up (see photo) and when you get there are amazing. St Paul’s is one of London’s great iconic sights and it’s good to see if from a different angle. Jamie Oliver’s new restaurant Barbarcoa is ideally placed for views but it was so sunny this weekend that they had to pull the blinds down to save lunchers from the dazzle! One New Change is on Cheapside and Cheap was another word for market so I guess a shopping centre carries on that medieval tradition for the area and was designed by Jean Nouvel who created the 2010 Serpentine Gallery outdoor installation – busy man. You can also see one photo of the Shard – soon to be the tallest building in Europe I hear and it’s growing really fast now.



The ballet we were lucky enough to get tickets for was a sell out performance of Cinderella by Matthew Bourne at Sadler’s Wells. It was reset in the Second World War with contemporary dress, a Prokoviev score, which was itself written during the Second World War, and was performed by Sadler’s Wells own resident company New Adventures. The sets were evocative of the blitz and featured the bombed out Cafe de Paris for the famous ball (as in ‘you shall go to the ball Cinderella’). Here Cinderella wore the most sparkling dress and shoes possible and danced until midnight with her RAF pilot as the Prince. The haunting sound effects gave us sirens, bombs and songs evocative of the era. Some found that it was not involving enough but I loved the imagination and vision but agreed that some of the story lines were a bit confusing for example strange hospital scenes when the step mother tries to kill Cinderella – strange indeed..


So, what’s this about knitting? There is a group called Stitch London although they used to be called Stitch and Bitch – what a great name! Groups of people gather and knit and chat, which seems a cheery idea to me. The event I went to was their 5th birthday held in the Royal Festival Hall and as we wondered around looking for the group we suddenly saw a huge gang of people all chatting loudly while clicking away with the needles. We settled in and got knitting – well I didn’t as I hadn’t tried since about age 8 so was lucky that Laura had kindly agreed to show me how. Have a look at us both busily knitting, my piece being rather smaller than all the others! They have smaller events all the time all over London and there was a great friendly atmosphere between regulars but they were very welcoming to new comers too. More at http://www.stitchldn.com/

Lastly, what’s Jean Cocteau doing in Leicester Square? Well, in 1959 he spent 3 weeks making beautiful murals for the Notre Dame de France church in Leicester Place. The church was almost completely destroyed by a Second World War bomb (bit of a theme for this blogpost) and was rebuilt in the 1950s including a commission for a set of murals by Jean Cocteau which are simple and elegant. I don’t usually take pictures in churches so here’s a link instead: www.shadyoldlady.com/location.php?loc=123 (their own site http://www.notredamechurch.co.uk/ isn’t working right now) One sad sight was the number of people sleeping in the pews, the church being a warm dry place for those who sadly have to sleep rough, especially in this cold winter. At least Notre Dame lets them in.

Bye for now