London has wonderful art in its museums and galleries but the art and sculpture in public spaces is a constant delight as we walk around. My favourite site is the 4th Plinth in Trafalgar Square which has extremely varied pieces which have changed every couple of years since 1999. After sitting empty for 150 years what is known as the Fourth Plinth began hosting some temporary commissions and this has built into a stunning series of works, often provoking debate and controversy but always bringing something new to the square.
It’s that time of year again when London comes to life with festive lights in all the major shopping areas. I’ve been out and about checking them out for you and my view on 2015 is that some new ones are great, some areas have kept with old favourites which is no bad thing but some of the major shops have not made much effort this year and one major street is just not up to our high standards.
When does Christmas start in London? If you believe some of the shops it’s September or even August but for me, it’s when the famous Christmas tree is lit in Trafalgar Square on 4th December. The tree has been sent from the people of Norway every year from 1947 to thank the people of Great Britain for their support during the Second World War. I was in the square to see the lights go on as the carols are sung and suddenly felt all Christmassy! The reflection in the fountain was a bonus.
If you go to Trafalgar Square in the centre of London you’ll see the instantly recognisable Nelson’s Column, the magnificent 4 lions, the fountains and the National Gallery. You may not notice that there are 4 giant plinths, 3 of which are topped by statues of the classic generals on horseback variety. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
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|
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|
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,
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|
The Sky Lounge at the DoubleTree Hilton near the Tower of London has a huge outdoor terrace. You 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|
|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
* In case you are wondering – no financial inducements were offered for this post!
Only 15 days to go! I’m rushing around trying to make sure I have bought everyone’s presents, posted all the cards and, most importantly, enjoyed London’s Christmas lights!
One of the wonderful traditions in London at this time of year is the lighting of the tress in Trafalgar Square. Every year since 1947 the people of Norway have sent us a magnificent Christmas tree as a gesture of thanks for British support during the dark days of the Second World War. The switching on of the lights attracts huge crowds and this year was no exception with the square and every viewing point crammed with excited Londoners and tourists. The 70 foot tree looked fabulous with its 600 bright lights hanging vertically, as is the Norwegian style. Here are some photos to show you the scenes in the square including the fine voiced choristers who braved the cold to entertain us!
To top off the evening, we went into the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields for the annual VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) charity Christmas Carol Concert where we had great fun belting out all the old favourites, listened to a wonderful choir doing it properly and heard some fun and inspiring readings and talks about the work of VSO. A festive glass of hot mulled wine was also happily consumed!
|Inside St Martin-in- the-Fields|
The British Museum has a special open evening for members so we could shop in private and enjoy the Egyptian Galleries by night, which was a bit spooky and put me in mind of the film A Night at the Museum. The famous inner courtyard and Reading Room looked festive with their snowflake design.
|The museum by night – watched by a Pharaoh!|
South Molton Street, just off Oxford Street has very striking lights and they have done the sensible thing and used last years’ again – good to see the recycling and the dramatic blue arches would be hard to beat.
Another example of recycling is Oxford Street where they have kept most of the lights used last year but added several sections sponsored by Marmite. The advertising for this quintessentially British spread is ‘you’ll love it or hate it’ and that seems to apply to the lights too! I think most of them are ok but the section where people’s faces appear is rather creepy. Have a look at the good bits:
Selfridges, one of London’s top department stores on Oxford Street, is famous for its Christmas windows and although they are not all as good as usual this year, I particularly like these two.
I’ll be back soon with some more sights of London at Christmas time for you.
Bye for now
London’s very special Summer Like No Other continues to amaze even the most jaded Londoners who are used to incredible stuff happening all the time in our great capital city. After the Diamond Jubilee, Olympic Games and Notting Hill Carnival, now we have the Paralympic Games!
We’ve had another emotional torch relay before the Games themselves set up camp in east London and brought the Olympic Park alive again with thousands of enthusiastic fans rushing in to see wonderful sporting events.
I was lucky enough to catch the torch relay at Lords Cricket ground and see several people take their turn at carrying the famous flame. The considerable support was very moving as people were running alongside the route to watch as many carriers as they could.
My next Paralympics moment was in Trafalgar Square where the big screen is attracting huge and vociferous crowds who cannot get to the Olympic venues to see the sport in person. Tickets are very hard to get hold of, especially for events in the Olympic park so the screens are a great alternative. I had another reason to visit Trafalgar Square as my sister is a Paralympic Ambassador, helping people find their way around London and a great job she is doing there. As were walking around the Square Team GB won a cycling gold medal so the excitement levels went through the roof – if there had been one!
I was lucky enough to have tickets for the Olympic Park and the Olympic Stadium itself so we set out to Stratford full of expectation and excitement. Settling into our seats at the stadium, found ourselves just next to the wonderful Thomas Heatherwick Olympic cauldron. There was so much happening that it was hard to keep up with all the different sports going on, often several at the same time and with very short breaks between starts. We saw 100 metres heats men and women, 1500 heats, shot put, discus, javelin, 400 metres heats men and women and long jump, all in one morning! Our Team GB heroes delivered us a silver medal in the womens’ long jump and a brilliant gold in the men’s discus!
|Stef Reid goes for silver for Team GB|
|Aled Davies proud gold medal winner for Team GB and Wales!|
We really smiled at the remote controlled Minis used to collect the javelins! What a great job for those 2 in the ponchos to have at the Paralympics.
To complete our day we wandered around the wonderful Olympic Park to the basketball arena to watch a closely fought game between Canada and Germany. It’s a rough sport with incredible skill levels and the crowd are encouraged to the make the venue vibrate with noise so it’s a great place to experience the Paralympics!
I’m following the rest of the Paralympic events on TV and there are plenty more top class sport to enjoy in the next week.
Bye for now
There are so many fabulous Christmas lights in London this year I just had to put up another selection for you! I still have some lights left to visit, so there could even be part 3…
Not quite fitting the heading of lights, but very Christmassy none the less, were the sights on show this Saturday in Trafalgar Square where I stumbled upon a massive Santa gathering! Hundreds of Santa were streaming out of the tube stations and off the buses to hang out together, sing songs, do congas and (shock – horror!) drink beer! Everyone was having such fun it was infectious, although the tourists who had come to check out the Olympic clock were rather bemused. They kept asking ‘why’? It seems the only answer was to have fun…
Nearby Covent Garden always looks beautiful at Christmas and I was eager to see if the giant reindeer was there again. Yes, he was although he had set up camp round the other side of the piazza. I missed the real ones who had been there during the day but I love this chap with his proper red nose! There was also an intriguing and beautifully lit chalet which turned out to house a digital installation work by Martha Fiennes called Nativity. The market sections were decorated with enormous baubles and the whole area looked wonderfully festive, as I’d hoped.
Regent Street is a posh shopping street but they have a habit of putting up the most commercial lights with product placement to the fore. This year, however, they have been more restrained and have some lovely lights about sledges and elfs!
All the big shopping areas in London are great for lights, festive window dressing and decorated trees – even skating rinks! Here is the last set of photos showing: the window at Selfridges, the tree at Whiteleys; and the skating rink at Westfield Shepherds Bush.
I hope you’ve enjoyed more Christmas in London!
Bye for now,