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We’re funny (usually), controversial (sometimes) and insightful (always!). Our travel experts share their experiences below in hopes of hearing back from YOU. So read, comment and enjoy!

Posts in ‘Things to do in London’

Aanchal goes to London for the WTM!

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            Twice every year, a few members from Isango! travel to a work conference, known as the World Travel Meet (WTM) to discuss how things are going with their companies and get in contact with their suppliers face to face. This past month, Isango worker Aanchal Dhar headed over from India to London for her first WTM and experience in England.

Aanchal with her friends

            Q: How long have you been working with Isango!? How long have you been in the work force?

A; I’ve been working with Isango! from the past 2.5 years. This is my first job, so I was flattered when the company decided to send me over to London to represent them for the WTM. It really broadened my cultural experience both in the work force and in travel in general.

            Q: Since this was your first time in London, what else did you do once the work portion of your trip was over?

A: After a long few days of hard work, it was time to have fun! Since I had never been to London before, I wanted to make sure I had a good balance of all of the top tourist attractions and off the beaten path activities. It was also nice to be there during the holidays, as Christmas lights were already up! Top attractions that I really enjoyed were Windsor, Stonehenge and Bath, doing the Tower of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral with VIP access (I’m also glad I was able to make it there before the poppies were taken down) and experienced traditional high tea at Hotel Savoy. Harrods was another incredible (and expensive) experience. Also, the markets in London were so incredible. This is something I know you can’t experience anywhere else. Camden market and Borough Market are two of the best markets in London. Once I arrived, I was surrounded by endless clothes, affordable prices and great food!

            Q: What was your favorite experience?

A: I really enjoyed visiting the Tower of London: Yeomen warders marching to open the gates with the Queen’s keys was so great to see. You’re able to learn so much from this visit. One of the things that stuck out to me was that the Yeomen warders had to be in the army for at least 22 years before they actually got the title of Yeomen warders. When you’re at the tower, you’ll see a lot of ravens. According to a myth, if they leave the tower, the tower will collapse! In order to keep them inside, their feathers are trimmed. You can spend countless hours in the tower educating yourself on all different aspects of London’s history. I would recommend taking the visit to all!

Tower of London

            Q: What tips do you have for anyone traveling to London?

A: Definitely bring an umbrella! It rains all the time in London. City Mapper App is an absolute must for getting around. I would have been lost without it! Purchase an Oyster card for tube rides and buses but despite all the public transportation, you will still have to do a lot of walking so wear comfortable shoes when you go out for sightseeing. You’ll get plenty of exercise this trip!

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Christmas Time Throughout the World

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Christmas is the best time of the year for many. Spirits are lifted, a chill is in the air, variety of foods are cooked and shared… but most importantly, this is the best season to travel! Whether you’re going simply to meet up with family members or wanting the whole tourist experience, different major cities across the world have different Christmas traditions that are celebrated every year. Why not try and experience them all! Get ready to hear how cities such as New York, London, Berlin, Miami, Melbourne and Paris celebrate the Christmas season. You’ll be booking your trip before you know it!

Christmas around the world

New York

New York City is one of the most Christmas-like feeling cities during the November-December period. It tops the list for one of the liveliest places to visit, considering it’s always a touristy destination to begin with. The crowds are worth the experience. Here, you will see Rockefeller Center- where the biggest Christmas tree you’ll ever see will come to life on the Wednesday after Thanksgiving with its thousands of multi-coloured lights and a star on top. Right beside it, sits the skating rink. It’s small, but if you’ve made it this far, you have to say you’ve done a lap or two. Throw on some skates and enjoy the view; it is the most spacious square you’ll ever be in, in this crowded city. Glide around the rink and enjoy the views. Christmas time in the Big Apple is one of the most wonderful things to experience.

Miami

Moving your way right on down the east coast, down to the very tip of Florida, you will find that if you spend your holidays in Miami, life truly is a beach! Being a huge tourist destination round the year, Miami celebrates and takes the Christmas season to the next level every year as the crowds draw up to be bigger and bigger. Every holiday season, “Santa’s Enchanted Forest” takes over the Miami area filled with lights, rides, fried foods and the best yet, fake snow! Typical Florida. You’re going to want to do it all, but remember to dress lightly. No scarves and gloves will be needed for this trip. Bringing in the Christmas Season wearing a bathing suit on the beach sounds like a pretty good idea, doesn’t it?

London

Christmas in London

Now, hopping on over to the other side of the pond, there are an incredible amount of cities to celebrate the season. Starting with London, you’ll really see Christmas everywhere you go here. Even the tube stations go all out with different holiday lights and trees. Something special that London does, is create a “Winter Wonderland” in its very own Hyde Park, with free admission to walk through the ultimate transformation of the greenery to a never ending light site. Here they have the ultimate combination of skating rinks to rides to photo ops and more. Lines here are so long that they recommend you ordering your tickets online before actually arriving on site. By doing this, you’ll get a fast pass! This park is one of the most magical places in all of London. Nothing beats it when it comes to Christmas!

Paris

If you’ve seen London, you have to see France! Paris is another great destination to spend your holidays in. Disneyland Paris is a popular tourist attraction during the holiday season. The park is bursting with Christmas colours and you get to meet Father Christmas at the Santa Claus Village!

Berlin

Christmas in Berlin

Next, we move on to Berlin. If you’re not entirely over the Christmas season when December 26th hits the calendar, head on over to this city! In many parts of Germany, they continue to celebrate Christmas until January 6th, as this is the day of the arrival of the Three Kings. Also, you’ll find that it’s the best place to do all of your Christmas shopping! Belgium is known for its Christmas markets all over the World, allowing you to buy the most original presents for your friends and family.

Melbourne

Finally, if you’re in the crowd that likes to escape the snow during the holidays, Melbourne might just be your one stop to a beautiful, warm Christmas time. Melbourne has something called “Candles by Candlelight”. A strong Aussie tradition since 1938. Essentially, people gather outside in a park or other outdoor spaces to sing together a song called “Carlos”, a Christmas carol, by candlelight. This is normally accompanied by a band. Although many cultures have adopted this tradition around the world, the biggest and best place to experience this, is in the country that it started in. Every year, this event is located right in Melbourne at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl.

There are so many cool places to experience around this Christmas season. Experiencing different Christmas cultures and celebrations around the globe makes for a more diverse you. So get out there and see the world during the holidays! Create your own Santa’s Sleigh and travel till your heart feels content.

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Top 5 Cities For Shopping In The World

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Shopping is one of the great must-do activities for tourists no matter where in the world they go.  Something has to be bought as a keepsake to remind them of where they had been and also as a showpiece.

However, the shopping that we will be talking about is about other bands of the shopping spectrum – from the glamorous to the bargain varieties.  We will also try to give you a flavour of the experience that you will encounter in the top 5 shopping cities we have chosen here.

Milan

Milan is often associated with haute couture fashion and deservedly so.  However, she has much more eclectic offerings.  Scattered across different areas and amidst her brilliant Medieval and Renaissance architecture you will find a variety of shopping choices.  Some are speciality areas, while other areas stock a mix of fashions and products.

Some of the upmarket streets are Via Montenapoleone, Via della SpigaVia Sant’Andrea, Via Manzoni, Via Borgospesso and Via Santo Spirito.

The less wallet emptying shopping experiences in Milan include Corso Vittorio Emmanuelle, Corso Buenos Aires, Via Torino and Corso di Porta Ticinese where you will find more casual styles.  Around the Navigli area are the second-hand stores, eccentric designers’ boutiques and a vintage market.

No matter where you are you will never be far from a café, to have an aperitif and rest from your shopping exertions.

MilanShopping

Dubai

Dubai’s original attraction for visitors was it’s shopping enhanced by the duty free tag.  The Emirate has evolved and moved into other business streams including the world of finance.  However, it is still the lure of huge glittering malls with over-the-top decor, entertainment features, discounts and a host of offerings will lighten any ones purse, that is draws visitors from all over the world.

What sets Dubai’s experience apart from other shopping destinations are its malls.  Some like the Ibn Battuta Mall, The Dubai Mall, Mercato Shopping Mall and Mall of the Emirates have acquired legendary status.  These vast complexes house the brand names of just about every fashion, retail, electronic, home appliance and other goods from around the world.  The magnificent decor, endless rows of attractively arranged stores will spoil you for choice.  Some malls, like the Gold Souk, specialise in one item – jewellery.

Besides the modern malls, Dubai is famous for its traditional souks.  There is the nasal bewildering Perfume Souk offering thousands of scents; the aromatic Spice Souk and the Antique Market with shops filled with Arabian pots, chests, daggers and Bedouin carvings.

So indulge yourself in this made-for-shoppers’ paradise where you will be sure to find some incredible bargains.

DubaiMall

Paris

Paris to some is considered the spiritual forerunner of shopping destinations. ‘Boutique’, ‘haute couture’ and ‘chic’ are French words that are intricately linked with fashion and spending your francs.  No one leaves “La Ville-Lumière” without plunging into its many and varied markets, galleries and shopping districts.  The wonderful aspects to shopping in Paris are the amazing range of choices that it offers. From the discreet Avenue Montaigne to the atmospheric Marais or the bustling, shoulder-rubbing flea market of Clignancourt.

Many of Paris’ shopping places are now iconic and representative of the goods sold.  For instance the Avenue Montaigne and Rue Saint Honoré is where you will find all the famous designers like Yves St Laurent and Gucci.  The wide and famous Avenue des Champs Elysées has a mix of shops and price ranges.

The Rue de Rennes offers a wide assortment of boutique clothing, accessories and shoe stores right next to the church of Saint Sulpice.  Boulevard Haussman is where Printems and Galeries Lafayettes are located.  These famous department stores are worlds unto themselves and sell cosmetics, fashion and home accessories.  Each floor has a theme. A complete contrast is the Les Puces de Saint-Ouen at Clignancourt. With over 3,000 stalls and shops you can get great bargains in antiques and find just about anything.

Antiques

Paris shopping is a wonderful world of elegance, galleries, boutiques, old-fashioned toy shops and roadside stalls selling everything from luxury goods to books to antiques and more.

London

Cornhill, Bread Street, Poultry and Ironmonger Lane are names so redolent of the goods that were once sold on them.  That hoary London tradition continues with many markets still organized according to specialities and themes.  London has a very large number of shopping districts and we hope our selection will help you on your shopping spree.

Oxford Street is a good place to start.  It is London’s shopping heart. There are Hundreds of shops from designer to general retail outlets and they line both sides of the road.  It is here you will find famous department stores such as John Lewis, Debenhams and Selfridges. Not too far away is the elegant Regent and Jermyn Streets where you can browse through a wide choice of mid-range priced goods at London’s oldest and most famous stores.

shopping in london

Exclusive Bond Street and Mayfair are home to the best in luxury and designer brands where you just might bump into a celebrity or two. Not too far away is the street that is synonymous with fashion, the legendary Carnaby Street.  Hard by, yet a fashion world away is Covent Garden Market offering brash urban street wear, cosmetics, shoes and funky arts and crafts.

On King’s Road you get unique and trendy designer wear along with the regular brands and lovely cafés to rest your aching feet and tired credit card. Harrod’s is Knightsbridge’s most famous resident with nearby Brompton Road providing excellent shopping back up.  Saville Row, Notting Hill and Portobello Road Market are just a few of the other legendary shopping places.

In London you can easily spend the whole day shopping while sightseeing (or vice versa).

New York City

In New York you can get anything, from the proverbial pin to an elephant.  The choice of shopping venues, stores, and streets is mind-boggling.  Every brand and chain store has a significant presence in the city.  For the beginner, occasional or diehard shopper New York is the city.

BJ’s, Costco, and Kmart stores are in Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx and Staten Island. While Target stores can be found in Manhattan and Brooklyn.  The flagship stores of Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdales and Henri Bendel are popular New York shopping stops.

Shopping in New York

Saks and Fifth Avenue are synonymous with each other.  The humungous Macy’s department store is large enough to get lost in and has a tempting choice of goods so vast you may never come out. Another 5th Avenue stalwart is Tiffany and Company the queen of jewellery with every gem bought presented to you in their trademark blue box.

Whether it is Macy’s famous window displays matched by those of Citarella’s “fish only” or the brightly lit pleasures of shopping malls; whether you are looking for the bargain of a lifetime or just browsing you will find decision making a wonderful yet difficult pleasure when shopping in New York.

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What’s New On isango! In July

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With things picking up nicely on the travel front, now that summer is well and truly here, isango! has introduced some really interesting activities and tours to make your vacation outstanding.

Thames Jetboat Cruise

Thames Jet

When you are done with seeing the sights around London you can get your rush on by getting on a Jetboat and zooming on the Thames a la James Bond.  Up tempo music blasting out of the sound system will accompany you as the boat skims across the Thames.  You will get a unique perspective of London as you roar past The Shard, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge and the Tower of London.  At 35 knots not only will your hair be flying, so will your heart.

Oxford & Downton Abbey Tour

Downton Abbey1

A visit to Oxford, the world’s second oldest university is a must.  The “city of dreaming spires” is famed for its academic excellence.  Oxford is also celebrated for the architecture of its beautiful buildings.  There are examples of every English architectural period dating back to the Saxons.

The added flavour to this tour is a trip to a Downton Abbey filming locations.  For Downton Abbey addicts, there is an exciting visit to the village and the elegant home used as the fictional Grantham House that features so prominently in the Christmas Special of the TV-series.

Barcelona On A Segway

Barcelona Segway

You are going to love this!  Barcelona is a large city and many of its iconic sites are quite spread out.  So to save you from tramping around in the warm Barcelona sun, now you can zip around on a soundless, smooth-running Segway.  The tour is designed for small intimate groups.  You can visit some of the instantly recognizable landmarks of this wonderful city.  Some highlights of the tour include the Arc Triomf, Passeig Luis Companys, the wonderful park and zoo of La Ciutadella Parc and the statue of Christopher Columbus.

Dubai Aquarium And Underwater Zoo

Dubai underwater zoo n aquarium

In the heart of Dubai, you will find a fascinating and interactive underwater world.  The Dubai Aquarium is located in the centre of Dubai Mall, the world’s largest.  There is a 48 metre long tunnel that runs under the aquarium and gives you a view of the wonderful aquatic creatures swimming all around.

The Underwater Zoo is marvelously designed so that you can interact with creatures as diverse as Otters and Penguins.  You can also observe, up close, such exotic ones as Piranhas and Scorpions and Giant Camel Spiders.  The zoo is divided into different ecological zones that give you a perspective of the creatures’ habitats.

The Beatles LOVE by Cirque du Soleil – Vegas Show

Beatles

The Mirage, Las Vegas has custom built a theater for this show.  The unforgettable music and lyrics of the legendary Fab Four is combined by the incredible acrobatics and interpretive freestyle dance of the Cirque du Soleil.  Using over 6,000 speakers and 24 digital projectors, the show is a powerful experience and entertainment at its very best.

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5 Fantastic Pop Culture Tours Of London

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With iconic sights like the Buckingham Palace and Big Ben, travelers visiting London often pack their entire trips with popular sights before they even arrive. But London isn’t just the city of unflinching guards, crown jewels, and enormous clock towers. It is the city of dueling wizards, dwindling aristocracy, and names and faces that the public will always be interested in. London is a city of pop culture, and it offers travelers a chance to interact with the stories and people they know and love through its numerous London attraction tours.

Harry Potter

Arguably the most popular of London’s pop culture attractions is its handful of Harry Potter tours. There are two different tours that allow both long-time and new fans to experience the magic that is the world of Harry Potter.

Harry Potter

Visit the bridge destroyed by death eaters in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, see the famed Platform 9 & ¾, and discover numerous other notable locations along the way on a tour of London. See the magic that lies hidden in plain sight all around London! Participants can take the Harry Potter Walking Tour of London or the Harry Potter Bus Tour of London.

On the Harry Potter Warner Bros. Studio Tour, visitors can go behind scenes to view sets, props, and costumes from the record-breaking Harry Potter movies. There’s nothing quite as surreal for a fan of the series as seeing the Great Hall, Dumbledore?s office, the Ministry of Magic, and more. This Harry Potter tour includes transportation by coach to and from London.

Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey

The Oxford and Downton Abbey Film Locations Tour is a must-do for fans of the hit period drama series Downton Abbey. Not only will you be able to see the iconic sights from the series, but you will also explore some of the most beautiful parts of UK. This tour from London takes you on a picturesque journey to Oxford, Bampton Village, where most of the outdoor scenes have been shot, and Basildon Park, where you will see Grantham House from the Downton Abbey Christmas Special episode. This Downton Abbey tour will satisfy even the most dedicated of fans.

Jack the Ripper

Jack the Ripper

If you are looking for a thrill while in London, embark on the chilling Ghosts of London and Jack the Ripper Tour. This tour is great for both London locals and incoming travelers. You will get goose-bumps when you see London’s most ghostly places, visit a haunted London pub, and see where Jack the Ripper murdered his victims. After this tour, you can consider yourself bravest of all your friends, and share your chilling and exciting stories with whomever you’d like. There is no better thrilling London tour!

Celebrities of London

Sherlock

Celebrity experts and novices alike agree that London is the place to be in Europe to spot and learn about the famed and noteworthy. Where else could you tour Abbey Road, see the Sherlock Holmes museum, see celebrity homes, and take stunning pictures of film sights? Only in London! Visit the capital’s greatest celebrity homes, famous film locations, music landmarks, superstar hangouts, tourist attractions, and much more on this Celebrity Tour of London.

Doctor Who

Doctor Who

Allons-y and experience the fantastic Doctor Who Walking Tour of London. Discover over 15 locations from the show that help recount the series’ past 50 years. Follow in the Doctor’s footsteps across London, a city that he visits again and again to either save it from villains like the Daleks and Cybermen or visit any of his companions. The tour has a strong focus on the classical series before the recent reboot and is a great way to relive the days of the past or learn about the history of the series and how it grew from its beginnings to today.

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Seeing London – Three Times The Pleasure

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“Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life…,” wrote Samuel Johnson.  More perceptive words were never written, for London never ceases to engage, impress and inspire.  It is a leading financial center of the world, home to the mother of parliaments, art and literary capital, fashion trendsetter and the inspiration for poets, romantics and dreamers.

Visitors from all around the world come to gaze at and admire London’s many historic sites, iconic buildings and monuments and also partake of its varied and exciting offerings.  London never ceases to attract and every year more and more come to stroll through its well-known streets and wander its famous lanes. There are different ways, besides the traditional coach or open top double-decker buses, to see London’s landmarks and experience its allure. You can read about the 3 most popular ones here-

The Thames – London’s most famous thoroughfare
For centuries the Thames has been the main route for commercial traffic and sailors heading off to or returning from distant lands.  That role has become even more exciting.  You can now marvel at most of London’s landmarks from a Thames River boat.  View Big Ben, the House’s of Parliament, London Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, the London Eye, St Paul’s Cathedral, and the city in an entirely different way.

thames river cruise facebook

You can choose from several boating options.  Take an all day cruise or spend the evening on a Thames dinner cruise and experience the beating heart of London town by day, or night when all the lights are on.  Or you could speed through London at 35 knots on a speedboat along the River Thames and get that James Bond rush!

The Shard’s View
Yes, it is called The View!  When you are standing at 800 feet (244 metres) above London, you understand why it is called The View.  With that great city spread out below your feet and every landmark clearly visible, you finally get a perspective of why it is one of the greatest cities in the world.  It is a visual experience that goes deep into your heart.

This experience begins when you whoosh upwards in one of two high speed lifts to Level 68 and the first of your highs kicks in.  You are at cloud level.  The next part of your skyward journey is Level 69 where you get a true 360? view of London.  You can see for about 64kms into the distance.  To broaden your experience the vista stretching out before you is brought to life in the multimedia displays.

view from the shard Twitter

The pinnacle of your sensory buzz is reached when you get to Level 72.  Here you are open to the wind and the sun and the sky.  With the city sounds drifting faintly up from the streets below, there is nothing above but the shards of glass reaching ever upwards.  As you make your way down to the ground floor of The Shard your memories will forever be up among the clouds above London.

The London Eye View
The London Eye has managed to become the most popular attraction in a city absolutely crammed with so much history, beauty and thrilling things to do.  A sedate half hour passes while you catch, literally, a bird’s eye view of London from one of its clear-screen high tech glass capsules.

shutterstock_151447973
When you get to the top of the wheel’s arc – 135 metres high – you get a wonderful view of central London and all its iconic landmarks.  The River Thames flows below with St James Park in front and the contrasting styles of the Gherkin Building and Big Ben looming upwards from the rest of the city.  As you gaze down on Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London, you cannot help but be in awe of the spectacular view that the world’s tallest observation wheel provides.  It is truly one of the modern world’s architectural wonders and a ride not to be missed.

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The Year of the Horse Gallops into London

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This Chinese New Year will come galloping in.  The celebration for the Year of the Horse in London is slated to be as bright, noisy and happy as anywhere in the world.  London is reputed to host the largest celebrations marking the Chinese Lunar New Year outside Asia.

In China, Hong Kong and Taiwan the festivities and rituals carry on over a period of 15 days.  In London, however, it will be restricted to the weekend.  2nd February will be the highpoint and main day for celebrations.   The Chinese community and many others too will be celebrating just as vigorously.

Chinese new yearOfficially the celebrations will kick off around noon at Trafalgar Square.  It will be followed by several performances involving acrobatic troupes and traditional dancers from China.  Local artists will perform at a number of sets at a venue on Shaftesbury Avenue.

The West End too will put on a show as befitting its status.  In fact the New Year Parade, led by the Lucky Money God will start here at 10am.  It will then wind its way through the theatre district, down Charing Cross Road before arriving at Trafalgar Square for the official opening.

Chinatown, which stretches from Shaftesbury Avenue to the area around Gerrard Street and includes a part of Soho, will be the main focus of the celebrations.  There will be traditional Horse themed decorations, crafts and food stalls, plenty of dancing drumming and classical Chinese music.  One of the treats will be watching the dragon dancers making their way past the crowds on the streets.  Fireworks!  There are going to be plenty of those and lots of bangs to go along with them.chinatown london

Like the previous years, several thousands will turn up to watch the many events and participate in the numerous parties at the roughly 100 bars, restaurants and cafes in Chinatown.  Of course there will be plenty of delicious food to sample as the restaurants come up with special menus.

Not to be left out, Madame Tussauds will be lighting up the building in lucky red and festooning it with traditional Chinese decorations.  Among the likenesses of Chinese celebrities will be those of martial arts legends, Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan.  They have been specially brought in from Shanghai and Hong Kong for the New Year celebrations and will remain in London till April.

Joining in the New Year celebrations, the British Film Institute will be casting the spotlight on Chinese cinema by showing over 80 films.  This is part of an extended four month China season and will feature director Feng Xiaogang, China’s Steven Spielberg.

Besides the above, there will be plenty to see and do over this Chinese New Year weekend in London.

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A Bibliophile’s Guide to Britain & Ireland

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1.    Oxfordshire, England

Oxford University

Explore the rich heritage of the city that has long been a haven for authors, poets as well as dozens of note-worthy journalists, writers, politicians, and artists. As is typical of a university town, Oxford is packed full of great pubs, however unlike most university towns, Oxford’s pubs are famous. The Bear is one of England’s oldest pubs, Tolkien and C. S. Lewis regularly drank at The Eagle and Child, and The Lamb and Flag was frequented by the likes of Thomas Hardy and Graham Greene. Go on a hop on hop off tour to get a genuine flavour of Oxford’s glorious literary past and vibrant present. Visit the hallowed portals of the University which inspired Lewis Carol’s Alice in Wonderland and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy among others. In the University the historic Bodlein Library is one of the oldest and largest libraries in England. 

2.    Bath, England  

Roman thermal spril at Bath

Bath’s most famous resident, Jane Austen set two of her books Northanger Abbey and Persuasion in the city and lived there in the 1800s. Bath has year round events and activities for Austen fans to enjoy. Every summer people dress-up in Regency finery and attend the annual Netherfield Ball to dance like Darcy, Lizzy, Bingley and Jane. In the Fall, Bath holds a nine-day festival celebrating all things Austen. This includes a world famous Grand Regency Costume parade where 600 Austen fans from all over the world descend on Bath in Regency era costumes to open the festival. If you can’t make it for the festival, the Jane Austen Centre is open all year with exhibitions on Austen’s time in this city and a Regency themed Tea Room. While in Bath, be sure to take a dip in its ancient open-air thermal springs like they did in the 18th century. 

3.    Dublin, Ireland

Oscar Wilde statue in Dublin

Dubliners love words and Dublin has given the world such towering literary figures as Joyce, Yeats, Beckett, Shaw and Wilde to name but a few. Designated UNESCO City of Literature in 2010, Dublin’s written tradition stretches back to 800 A.D. with the Book of Kells, one of the most beautifully illuminated manuscripts in the world on display at Trinity College Dublin. One Merrion Sqaure is the home of Oscar Wilde, a beautiful example of Georgian architecture restored to an approximate version of their appearance in Oscar’s day and can only be visited on a guided tour. Across the road, is a flamboyant statue of the man himself, reclining on a huge granite stone seemingly without a care in the world! Prose and pints go together in this city which has produced four Nobel Prize laureates in Literature. Participate in the popular Literary Pub Crawl on the cobbled streets of Dublin which promises to give you “the pleasant notion of simultaneously replacing brain cells as you drown them…” 

4.   London, England

London at dusk

London has cemented its reputation as the culture capital of the world and for good reason. A bibliophile or an aspiring writer can spend a lifetime in London and still not see everything! For Londoners and tourists there are all kinds of walks to trace the literary legacy of some of English language’s greatest writers from Chaucer to Dickens, Shakespeare to Virginia Woolf, J.K. Rowling to Arthur Conan Doyle who have lived in London or been inspired by the city at some point in their life. Though an obvious choice to include, The British Library cannot be denied by bookworms. It houses one-of-a-kind manuscripts including hand-written excerpts from Beowulf, King Henry IV and many more. A highlight is Jane Austen’s personal notebook as well as her writing desk. The mix of the old and the new is what captivates thousands of visitors. No literary buff's educational adventure would be complete without taking a tour of the fashionable Bloomsbury area in the London Borough of Camden. It's a great way to learn the literary history of the neighbourhood. The Lamb bar and pub in the heart of Bloomsbury district has long been frequented by Charles Dickens, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Another landmark is the Charles Dickens Museum, where the permanent exhibition is a representation of what the house looked like while Dickens resided there and is home to an extensive collection of surviving possessions. 

5.   Edinburgh, Scotland 

Edinburgh Old Town

Edinburgh has been the home of many well respected and popular writers such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Walter Scott, Robert Burns and Arthur Conan Doyle; along with contemporary authors J.K. Rowling, Ian Rankin, Irvine Welsh and Alexander McCall Smith. Edinburgh's streets are steeped in literary history and there is never a dearth of inspiration in this awe-inspiring Scottish capital. In the centre of Edinburgh is St Andrew Square, Edinburgh's Poetry Garden where you can float poetry written on paper lotus across the square's pond and make it part of the garden permanently. A must see for Pottermaniacs is The Elephant House, a gourmet tea and coffee shop, where J.K. Rowling wrote much of her early novels in the back room overlooking the Edinburgh Castle. Walk down the West Port street in Edinburgh’s Old Town which features taverns that have opened their doors to William Wordsworth, Robert Burns and Walter Scott. An essential part of Scottish culture are these pubs and taverns where famous literary figures would go and mix with the common people over Scottish ales and whiskies.

6.    Stratford-Upon-Avon, England

Anne Hathaway childhood home

This delightful little town is famous as the birthplace of England’s greatest poet and playwright, William Shakespeare. Home to the Royal Shakespeare Company, five historic houses linked to the Bard and a wealth of other tourist attractions, there is a lot to see in this Heritage city. Visit the house where the world’s most famous playwright was born and grew up. Tour Mary Arden's House, the childhood home of Shakespeare's mother and learn about Tudor life on Palmer’s Farm, an experience that transports visitor’s back to the 1570’s. Also visit the picturesque family home of Anne Hathaway where young Shakespeare courted his future bride Anne. Watch a play at the historic Royal Shakespeare Theatre situated on the western bank of river Avon. The best time to visit Stratford is between April and July when there are plenty of festivals, parades, concerts, and workshops for young and old to take part in.

7.    Wales, England

Medieval castle ruins in Wales countryside

2014 marks the centenary of the Welsh poet, author and legend Dylan Thomas. Explore the vast seascapes, village tracks, dusky moorlands, brimming meadows and lush parklands that have inspired his works. At the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea, see the permanent exhibition, ‘Man and Myth’ which includes Dylan Thomas' worksheets, recordings, artwork and even the suit Dylan wore in New York in 1953, the year he died. They also conduct the annual Dylan Thomas Festival that takes place each year from 27th October to 9th of November. Social historian Raymond Williams often embedded his work in Wales and Welsh cultural themes. Malcome Pryces noir novels set in Aberystwyth, Eve Green by Susan Fletcher and The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle have all used Wales as a setting. 

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London’s Hidden Gems

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Anyone who knows anything about London is well aware of the city’s top tourist attractions: the London Eye, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Tower of London. London, it turns out, is a pretty touristy place. You can’t go anywhere without running into someone carrying a giant camera around their neck, holding up a crumpled city map, and standing on a street corner looking unbearably confused. I know you all know what I’m talking about. Because we’ve all been there. This is the tourist’s right of passage. You can’t visit London – or any major city – without experiencing this at least once. It will make for great stories one day. But, in the event that you want to escape the madness, avoid tourist traps, and explore some of London’s lesser-traveled roads, here are my picks for London’s hidden gems and some of my favorite places outside the city centre.

In no particular order:

1.  Primrose Hill

watermarkprimrose

If you’ve ever wondered what London looks like to a bird, Primrose Hill is probably the closest you will get. Primrose Hill is, as the name suggests, a big hill on the edge of Regent’s Park. Now, I know that most people these days are likely to avoid hills at all costs (is there an escalator anywhere?), but you absolutely must climb this one! The view is absolutely stunning and totally unparalleled. I promise you, the climb is completely worth it (like that Miley Cyrus song from way back when). Once you make it to the top, a view of the entire city down below awaits you. You can see everything from the London Eye to Big Ben to the Shard. It’s all there. Don’t forget your camera! It makes for excellent panoramic shots. If you want to make the trip extra special, go just before sunset and bring along a bottle of wine. Who says happiness doesn’t come cheap?

2.  Brick Lane

dankunzbrick

Brick Lane is most famous for its delectable Indian food (and with good reason), but don’t leave after you eat. The East London area is the cultural hub of the city. If artsy and alternative is your thing, East London is the place for you! After indulging on the delicious food, take a walk around the Brick Lane area (just don’t get up too quickly. You might split your pants). Here, you can find markets selling even more food and any other number of things from jewelry to paintings to clothing to trinkets. Brick Lane is also famous for the murals of graffiti and street art. This isn’t the kind of graffiti you see on under overpasses and in tunnels and at train stations. It’s art. And it’s really cool. Go!

3.  Hampstead Heath

watermarkhampstead

Hampstead Heath is undoubtedly one of my favorite spots in all of London. Just 25 minutes outside of the bustling city centre, Hampstead Heath is the perfect getaway for  nature lovers. You’ll know you’ve made it when all you can hear is silence, and the sound of birds chirping has replaced the sound of honking horns. You can practically feel all of the tension escape from your body and your muscles unknot as you breathe in the fresh clean smell of nature. Everyone needs a break every once and a while.

Hampstead Heath is really just a big park with sprawling green fields and ponds and forests of big tall trees and all of that naturey goodness you’ve been missing in the city. It is the perfect place for frolicking. If you go to Hampstead Heath you absolutely must frolic. It makes the experience 100 times better (that’s a proven fact). At this point in the blog, you’re probably looking at your computer screen like I’m crazy. I know what you’re thinking. Frolic, you say? Do I look like a pony? A deer? Well, I am almost 100 percent certain that you are neither. But frolic you must! When you visit Hampstead Heath, you will instantly understand this and thank me for giving you this wonderful suggestion. You are out in nature, so frolic it up! Hop, skip, jump, roll, tumble. Do whatever your heart desires. That’s what parks are for, after all! 

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British Summer Time Hyde Park

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Barclaycard British Summer Time Hyde Park

We aren’t even done nursing the hang-over from the Glastonbury festival yet, but there’s gonna be another exciting mini-festival at London’s Hyde Park already! How about 10 awesome days of music and entertainment?! Yep, that’s right; be prepared – for there will be entertainment galore over back to back weekends!

Barclaycard presents the first-ever British Summer Time Hyde Park – a fabulous summer concert series – from Friday 5th July to Sunday 14th July 2013; with Bon Jovi headlining followed by The Rolling Stones.

In addition to these headliners, top-class support acts will be performed across 4 different stages by such artists as Elton John, Jennifer Lopez, Kaiser Chiefs, The Vaccines, Palma Violets, Bush, Tribes, Jake Bugg, Tom Odell, Chic. Featuring Nile Rodgers, Eliza Doolittle, Beverley Knight, Charlie Simpson, The Temper Trap, Gary Clark Jnr, All The Young, Leogun, Rival Sons, Little Barrir, The Coronas, The Virginmarys and many more…

The event includes a village green with a pub and farmers’ market. There will be four themed zones across the park, each with its own installations and entertainment including restaurants, bespoke salons, pubs, cocktail bars, cafes, bistros and food stalls.

What’s unique about this BST Hyde Park event?
Each live music-packed weekend will be sandwiched by a midweek programme of various entertainments. From Monday to Thursday, visitors will get the chance to be involved with smaller events including film, music, sport, literature, specific family day etc. to expand the Barclaycard presents British Summer Time Hyde Park experience to genuinely appeal to the whole family.

There will be three zones during the week: The Village Green (that offers a rural retreat in the city), the Piazza (that captures the atmosphere of a buzzing European square) and the Carnival (appreciation of the spirit of Hispania, South America and the Caribbean), which will all be free to access from 8 to 11 July.

There will also be four nights of live comedy in The Barclaycard Unwind Theatre that will include such big name as Russell Kane.

For full line-ups for the concert, check out the official website.

When: 5th to 14th July 2013
Where: Hyde Park, Rangers Lodge, Hyde Park, London, W2 2UH
Nearest Tube: Knightsbridge Station

ARE YOU READY FOR MORE FUN, LONDON?!

 

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