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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’

The London Shard

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Long before it was completed or opened, the London Shard was the centre of swirling controversy, contradictions, conspiracies, rumours and stories. No one could quite agree on a name for the structure. I mean it was only just recently that it came to be known as the ‘The Shard.’ It was previously known as London Bridge Tower, Shard London Bridge and Shard of Glass. The building was also opposed by local authorities, the Royal Parks Foundation and English Heritage.

Towering above everything and standing on London’s South Bank, it has dramatically altered the London skyline, notwithstanding the Gherkin, Millennium Dome, City Hall and London Eye. It is claimed that on a clear day you can see France from its viewing galleries.  London Bridge Rail and Tube Station, located at its base, is the closest rail station. The Shard was designed with an irregular pyramidal shape from base to the top and inspired by the church steeples that once defined London’s skyline.

Scheduled to open to the public on 1 February 2013, this tower of glass is the tallest building in the European Union. On the night of July 5th, 2012, the building’s inauguration was accompanied by a choreographed light and laser display comprised of twelve lasers and 30 searchlights that lit up the city. Thousands of Londoners clambered to rooftops and other high public spaces to watch the blue, green, purple and gold laser show.

Its shiny, glistening bluish look definitely takes the eye and has also attracted the attention of conspiracy theorists. Some have even likened it Sauron’s (the bad guy in The Lord of The Rings) tower as depicted in the movie series. There are supposedly plenty of Freemason and Illuminati symbols openly and covertly embedded in its pyramid-like structure.  Perhaps only the architect, Renzo Piano, can clear up these perceptions.

Some Facts about the Shard

•    It is 1016 feet (309.6 metres) tall
•    95 storeys
•    It has 11,000 glass panels
•    The area of the glass façade equals eight football pitches
•    95 percent of the construction materials are recycled substance
•    72 of the floors will be occupied
•    15 levels are the ‘spire’
•    4th to the 28th floors will be office space
•    31st to 33rd will be restaurants and other dining facilities
•    34th to 52nd floors are taken by the Shangri-La Hotel and Spa (200 luxury rooms
•    53rd to 65th for 10 exclusive residences
•    68th to 72nd – public observation decks and galleries
•    The 72nd floor has an open-air observation deck
 

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Diamond Jubilee Events

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Imagine doing your job for 60 years without a real vacation or sick day? That is something worth being honoured for! The Royal Family are attending numerous engagements, not just in the UK, but in far-reaching places of the Commonwealth from Jamaica to Australia, to commemorate the Queen’s impressive six decades as Monarch. The celebrations will culminate with a series of spectacular events on ‘The Central Weekend,’ 2-5 June 2012. Here are just some of the not-to-be missed activities:

1.      The Big Jubilee Lunch – Sunday 3 June, 2012

Every good celebration involves food, so get together with your friends, family and neighbourhoods and celebrate the Jubilee by sharing a meal. The idea comes from the Big Lunch initiative whose goal is to foster a sense of community and togetherness among residents. After all, nothing bonds people more than breaking bread. If you’re in the UK, your local authority may already have a party planned so contact them directly to find out further details. Not in the area? You can still get in on the action and host your own Big Jubilee lunch in your hometown, be it a street party, picnic or celebration in your backyard.

2.     The Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant – Sunday 3 June, 2012

A thousand boats will join Her Majesty and The Duke of Edinburgh as they travel in their Royal Barge from Battersea Bridge to Tower Bridge, in one of the largest flotillas ever on the River Thames. Roads and bridges will be closed so people can gather along the Thames to view the spectacle and viewing screens will be set up, if you don’t get a spot at the front!

3.      BBC Concert at Buckingham Palace – Monday 4 June, 2012

If you were lucky enough to score tickets to this prime event, you’ll see some of the best of British perform at Buckingham Palace. The line up includes Jessie J, JLS, Elton John, Tom Jones, Annie Lennox, Sir Paul McCartney, and Ed Sheeran, just to name a few. For the rest of us, the concert will be broadcast live in the UK and around the world.

4.      Carriage Procession and Flypast – Tuesday 5 June, 2012

The final day of the Jubilee celebration is jam-packed full of activities. After The Queen attends a special service at St. Paul’s Cathedral, a reception and a Jubilee lunch, she and the other members of the Royal Family will travel along a Processional Route by Carriage from the Palace of Westminster to Buckingham Palace. At Buckingham Palace, the Royal Family will make an appearance on the balcony and there will be a Flypast. For front row seats, you better starting queuing now!

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London Nightlife: Top 5

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“Nightlife” can hold multiple meanings, from clubs and bars to scary night walks, we wanted to share five of our favorite ways to spend our nights in London.

Ice Bar London

If you’re looking for a new way to go out in London, look no further than Ice Bar.  It’s perfect for a special night out since it is completely out of the ordinary.  How is it different? Well, yes, it’s exactly what the name indicates, everything is made out of ice.  moulin-rouge-by-torfo
You might be a little confused as to how exactly that is possible, as I was, but in a temperature controlled room below ground level, the typical London pubs are put to shame as the walls, tables, glasses, and even the bar are made out of ice. Even the clear floors give the illusion that they too are made out of ice, but don’t worry it’s completely slip free surface.

Don’t worry about being cold, as soon as you step inside they have people throwing heavy, insulated, and super warm hooded capes over your head. ice-bar-2 When you’re downstairs you have 40 minutes to take in this spectacular bar before the next group is ushered in.  40 minutes didn’t sound like a lot, but it turned out to be the perfect amount of time to take tons of pictures with friends, and you get a complimentary drink with your ticket!

Going to Ice Bar was definitely one of the coolest London experiences I’ve had since I’ve been here and I would definitely encourage both visitors and residents of London to head over to Mayfair and have the chance to look around the eclectic and one of a kind bar.

Medieval Banquet

Nothing says unique nightlife than a Medieval Banquet.  This is meant to make you feel like you’re having dinner with King Henry VIII, and is a really great option for adults and families alike.  the-medieval-banquet
As soon you enter the torch-lit banquet hall, you’ll realize this isn’t your typical dinner party.  Your four course meal is served alongside Medieval entertainment, also known as the Royal Court Show as history is reenacted featuring street performers, knights, and even wenches!

If jousting knights, Tudor-esque performances and medieval songs and dancing don’t sound like your sort of thing, don’t worry because you’re provided with unlimited wine and beer with your meal.  Also, the two hours of theater entertainment is followed by live music, dancing for the guests, and the open bar continues so it’s a guaranteed fun experience for everybody.

Now, with Christmas approaching, you also have the option to attend the Christmas Banquet option, which includes an even bigger meal and much more dancing and entertainment.

Jack The Ripper Tour

I have a love/hate relationship with scary movies, it’s almost like I can’t not look.  I had the same feeling when I saw the Jack the Ripper tour–I knew it would be terrifying, especially since it’s based on real events, but I just had to do it anyway.  So on a cold, dark night I went out and learned about the gruesome details of the infamous Jack the Ripper.

jack-the-ripper_13297_1 Walking down the old alleyways, seeing a haunted pub, and learning about the murders from autumn of 1888, was actually less frightening and more intriguing than I thought.  Our tour guide had such an extensive amount of knowledge of the topic and could answer any questions we had.

So if you’re looking for a thrilling but entertaining way to learn about London’s notorious Jack the Ripper, I highly suggest going on this tour for an easy way to switch up your evenings.

Ministry of Sound

The Ministry of Sound, London’s number one club for house and trance music, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. The Ministry, commonly known as MoS, was ranked fourth on DJ Magazine’s top 100 Clubs Poll in 2010. There is good reason for this commendable ranking; MoS is as extensive as it is loud. mos1

Within the Ministry there are five main areas: The Box, the Baby Box, the Bar, the Loft and the VIP. The Box is the club’s most famous room, boasting a sprung floor, which allows clubbers to dance on into the night without getting tired, and a specially-built ceiling constructed to contain sound. Dancers are rocked with the beat that pounds out through the numerous speakers positioned around the room. The music is amplified by the psychedelic laser lighting that seems to ricochet off of every surface, creating an almost dream-like effect in the darkly lit Box.

The Ministry of Sound has become one of the leading clubs in global dance music and some consider it to be the only venue that has hosted every famous DJ to date. Every Friday and Saturday night, world-renowned trance and hard house DJs come to spin the night away. The club also hosts disco, funky garage and chill techno.

So come out to the Ministry of Sound some night and discover what the rage has been all about. MoS won’t disappoint.

London Pub Tours

Any visit to London would be incomplete without visiting one of the hundreds of pubs located around the city. Each pub has its own unique feel; whether you are looking for a cosy place to sip on a drink on a cold day or socialise with the locals, the pubs of London are the places to be.

london-pub In his writings, Samuel Pepys describes the pub system as the ‘heart of England’. Indeed, pubs have been the focal points of British society for hundreds of years and continue to hold a special place in the hearts of the people of Britain. The name pub comes from public houses, which are drinking establishments that are most often owned by a brewery. Pubs offer a wide selection of beer, wine, cider and spirits. Pubs are most often used as places to unwind after a long day of work, catch up with friends and sip on one of the local beers served on tap.

Pubs generally have regulars who, as the terms suggests, go to the pub frequently, generally because it is close proximity to their home or it is a designated meeting spot for friends. While in London, feel like a regular by taking a tour of three of the city’s most famous pubs. Sample London’s famous fish and chips and unwind with one of our expert tour guides. When your trip is over, go home knowing you have thoroughly experienced what it means to be a part of the pub culture of London.

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The Thames Festival

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tower-of-london_london_4107_5If you are around in London this weekend, make sure to visit the Mayor Thames Festival. This free (!) festival is London largest outdoor arts festival with all kinds of activities dotted around the river Thames. Every year the Thames Festival attracts 800.000 visitors.

The festival is accessible for all ages, the festival committee has commissioned new work: a mixture of music, dance and various forms of street arts.

Performances
Look out for performances by Dionne Bromfield (goddaughter of the late Amy Winehouse),  a variety of DJs on the Lady Luck Jive Stage, the BFI’s vintage mobile cinema and displays of Korean Taekwondo and Argentinean tango.
The Thames area is divided in four different zones spreading from Westminster Bridge (Zone 1) to Tower Bridge and beyond (Zone 4) Each Zone has its own colour and performances will be easier to find with the map that will be handed out during the weekend or which you can find on the official website.

St Katherine Docks will have its annual displays of vintage boats and retro fashion. Southwark Bridge will be closed to traffic and transformed into the Feast on the Bridge; it will home to the many foodstalls cooking up a treat. There will also be craft stalls whose helpful owners will encourage you and the kids to get stuck in yourselves. Last year, there was a home made flower-hat contest and children of all ages made their own corn-dolls.

Sunday evening the Illuminated Night Carnival will take place and brings together over 2000 dancers, drummers and masqueraders.  The Thames Festival will close with the traditional Fireworks Finale.

Tips:

  • Bring an umbrella on Sunday as rain is forecasted.
  • Check if there are any planned Tube closures on the Transport for London website.
  • Can’t make it to London this weekend: plan a Thames tour to discover the capital in your own time.

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The Secret Bike Tour

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Last week Team isango!’s  Guiomar went on a bike tour through London. She survived (hoorah!) and here is her report…

Guiomar and sister
“Taking advantage of the good weather in London that Friday, we decided to go a bike tour. The guide recommended us to take the afternoon-tour, the one called: Secret Bike Tour. It was a really great choice! We rode the bikes mostly around East London, in a group of six people plus the guide. At first you think that maybe it is hard to ride a bike around a big city like London, but the truth is that London is a well-prepared city with bike lanes and the drivers are accustomed to bicycles.

We started our tour towards the City of London, where we could listen to stories about the Bank of England or the shopping centre close to it nowadays. For example: there are so many rooms on the ground floor of the Bank of England, that if you put them one on top of the other forming a tower it could be one of the highest buildings in England.
gherkin

Continuing our way, we could visit The Leadenhall Market where Harry Potter did his shopping in the famous movies. We passed through the Bangladesh Area, Jack the Ripper mystery birth quarter (or not- as you will discover) and Bridget Jones’ home… After a 15minute rest, we returned to the riverside. We discovered secret canals, even the one where a James Bond persecution was filmed!

london-eyeOne of the greatest highlights was visiting Borough Market: London’s oldest food market. It was a real pleasure to pass through it by bike, smelling and delighting in all what is sold there. We crossed the Tower Bridge, City Hall, the London Eye and Shakespeare’s Globe. We could see where the old theatre was placed at first, before the great fire that destroyed it: there is an old wall of the ancient theatre remaining.

the-guideAfter four nice hours of tour, we arrived to our final destination, the ‘Banksy Tunnel’ on Leake Street, where you can have a free Graffiti Class every Saturday morning! In conclusion, we had a really great time: we found the stories told by Chris, our excellent guide, very interesting. In fact, I have already recommended all of my friends to do this tour! It’s a really good way to get to know London and not only see the typical touristic attractions.”

lady-on-bikegrafittiFor an alternative way to discover London, go on  The Secret Bike Tour that Guiomar enjoyed.

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Tube Travel Tips for Tourists

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Dear Tourist,

Please don’t get me wrong: I appreciate you roaming around London, exploring the many places and events that the capital city has to offer. However, dear tourist, London is also a city that houses Londoners. They aren’t actually looking for things to do in London: they just have to get from A to B every day.

It is summer and you flock to London in groups, with your backpacks on; there is no air conditioning on the Tube and so before we all get overheated, here are some tips for Tube travel:

  1. Please avoid travel during peak-hours, when all the commuters are struggling to get on the train: The Big Ben will still be there and the Changing of the Guards doesn’t happen til 11am anyway.
  2. Check before you travel, there are often railworks during the weekends which means you have to find an alternative route with the  TfL-site .
  3. Oystercards on yellow circles to open the gates, paper tickets are to be inserted into the gates.
  4. Take off big backpacks, this will prevent you from knocking anyone out when moving into the carriage. If paranoid about getting pick-pocketed: it is the backpack that makes you stand out as a tourist-target.
  5. The carriages at the end and the beginning of the train are usually the emptiest: this is why you are encouraged to move along the platform.
  6. Doors on the Tube will open automatically. However, on the Dockland Light Railway (DLR) you DO have to press the button to open the doors, same goes for any of the Overground lines.
  7. Don’t stop at the end of escalators, in front of the entry gates or in the middle of the walkway. If you have to check your map, move to side and let other people pass.
  8. Stand on the right side of the escalator as people will pass on the left. This means you can not stand side by side, but if you hold your small child in front of you, you can still make sure s/he doesn’t fall down.
  9. Mind the Gap when leaving the carriage: a lot of stations are old and the gaps are because of the different dimensions of the modern trains to the old platforms.
  10. When waiting for the train stay behind the yellow line: it’s not big, it’s not clever and you will only cause delays if a train hits you!

Thank you for reading and happy travels London tourists! If this Tube traveling overwhelms you, remember you can always take a London tour with a hop-on-hop-off bus…

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London in Summer Series: Culture vultures

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London in the summer is perfect for the culture vultures. London has always been a capital full of culture and there are enough things to do in London if you are looking for that culture fix during your summer break. London has a wide variety of museums, exhibitions, cinemas and theatres. There are a lot of cultural events to choose from but here are some off-the-beaten- track options.

Tour a Theatre

Tour the backstage area of the National Theatre and see all the work that is done to make the magic on stage happen. Tours happen up to six times a day on Monday-Friday, twice on Saturday and once on Sunday. Tickets cost £7.

The Shakespeare Globe has an exhibition about theatre in Shakespeare’s day: from Elizabethan Special effects to dressmaking. Tickets are available at the door from 9am and an adult ticket cost £12.50

Cinema on the Rooftop

For an alternative cinema night, keep an eye on the Rooftop Filmclub website. Films are shown on the roof of Queen of Hoxton in Shoreditch from July to September. Food, drink and free blankets are available. Tickets cost £9 but there are only 100 places so you have to book early.

Museum

The Jameel Prize is an international award for contemporary artists and designers whose work connects the traditional Islamic culture to modern day. The work of the shortlisted nominees is shown in the V&A museum. The exhibition is on from 21st of July -25 September and the entrance is free.

London Shows

For a London theatre break see the play War Horse with magnificent puppetry. The horse Joey is sold to serve the cavalry in France during World War I. His boss Albert is too young to enlist but heart-broken by the loss of his friend he goes on a dangerous journey to save him.

Another show full of puppetry and masks is the musical the Lion King. Based on the Disney film of the same title, the show is now in its 10th year and wows audiences from every age.

Stay

Insert a little bit of glamour into your stay in London and book you theatre break to stay at the newly decorated St Ermins Hotel. It is situated in central London, close to St James’ Park but is protected by its beautiful courtyard, making it an oasis of calm.The modern yet classy decorated rooms and the gorgeous Crystal ballroom will make your London stay something unforgettable.

Drink

Gordon’s Wine Bar is the oldest wine bar in London and was established in 1890. It is a cosy little place thanks to the dark wooden furniture and ambiance lighting but it also has an outdoor terrace.

The Book Club in East London mixes all kinds of cultural events with food and creativity. The beautiful open space is perfect for live music nights, speed-dating and craft sessions. Enjoy breakfast and lunch here or share some platters in the evening and play some pool.

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London in Summer: London for Romance.

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Summer is a magical time for romance: from country weddings to holiday flings, love is truly in the air. Now is the time to start looking for the perfect break to spend some quality time for two.

When you are planning a romantic break, all you want is quality and London is a great choice for lovers. There are so many things to do in London that you will definitely find something that you will both enjoy.

Theatre

Romance was still alive in the 1960s where the musical Dreamboats and Petticoats is set. Norman and Bobby decide to enter a song writing-competition to impress their girls Sue and Laura. This London musical is filled with classic hits from the golden era of the 1960s.

In the classic musical Phantom of the Opera a mysterious man mentors the young singer Christine. He is in love and will do anything for his muse to shine on stage. When his love turns to jealousy disaster strikes the opera. This wonderful show with its beautiful music and elaborate staging has entertained audiences for the last 25 years.

Museums

Visit the exhibition Glamour of the Gods at the National Portrait Gallery. The pictures of legendary stars from Hollywood’s golden age (1920 -1960) will set the mood for old-fashioned romance. The exhibition is on until the 23rd of October and tickets cost £6.

You can check your chemistry in the Science museum; they organise an adults-only evening last Wednesday of the month (except December). The evening starts from 18:45 to 22:00 and include themed hands-on events; there is a bar, a DJ and you can even dance to a Silent Disco! Entry is free but some events maybe ticketed.

Stroll in the park

London has some of the most beautiful parks and if you walk to the top of Primrose hill close to Regents Park, you will have a stunning view over London. You will easily recognise some on London’s most famous landmarks.

Find some tranquility when walking through the Kyoto Gardens in Holland Park. This part of the park is designed in Japanese style complete with a pond and waterfalls.

Candle-lit dinners

You can never go too far wrong with some European fare served at a table at the Oxo Tower restaurant, while you overlook the Southbank and the Thames.

The Blue Elephant in Fulham offers a completely different view: its stunning interior and gorgeous Thai food will transport you straight to Thailand.


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Book it like Beckham

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David and Victoria Beckham have welcomed daughter Harper Seven to their family! Beckham’s baby-name nicely complements their sons’ who have already being christened Brooklyn, Romeo and Cruz.

Now his daughter has arrived, David might want to give his wife some mother-daughter quality time and take his boys out for a break.

What better city to entertain the children than our capital London. There are plenty of things to do in London that will keep the kids busy and smiling. For all the fathers (and mothers!) who are looking for some ideas in the capital this summer, we have compiled a list of things to do:

Many free museums in London offer special activities for children and families. National History Museum has plenty of impressive interactive displays from dinosaurs to an earthquake room that children will love. Same goes for the Science Museum next door where they have opened a special Space Exhibition for the summer. The Tate Modern on the Southbank offers Summer Holiday sessions with games and map-making on Thursdays and Fridays for children and an accompanying adult.

If the summer weather holds there are outdoor activities plenty in London. The Diana Memorial Playground in Hyde Park has a Peter Pan theme with a pirate boat to climb, teepees to explore and a sensorial trail. Kew Gardens have complemented their Climbers and Creepers an interactive botanical playground with a brand new outdoor Treehouse Towers playground.

No visit to London is complete without a visit to the West End and there are a variety of theatre shows suitable for children. Take your kids on a London theatre break for memories that will last a lifetime:

Energetic children will be mesmerised by the by this show’s power and creativity of STOMP. Performers have used everything from bin-lids and pipes to even kitchen sinks to create rhythms to dance, move and grove on.

War Horse is an epic theatre production with astonishing puppetry and a story that will appeal to everyone in the family. When the First World War starts and horse Joey is sold to the cavalry, his young boss Albert goes on a journey to find him.

Superhero fans will love Batman Live at the O2 Arena. Gotham City will come alive with stunts, aerial acrobatics and theatrical illusions. Batman and Robin will have to take on his enemies Catwoman, Two-Face and of course his nemesis The Joker.

Contrary to popular believe, London is a family-friendly city. The capital has a lot of entertainment to offer to children of all ages so you can make the most of your summer holiday.

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London Theatre land for Children

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It is July and the weather is horrible. Most parents will already be despairing at the thought of the nearing summer holidays. Pouring rain outside, bored children inside and you have got the ingredients for a six-week nightmare!

There is a simple way to keep the children entertained: take them on a break to the capital. London has a plethora of activities just for children. A fun-filled London theatre break with packages starting from just £48pp, doesn’t have to break the bank. A matinee or evening experiencing the thrill of live-theatre will guaranteed give the whole family something to smile about and remember for a long time.

We have made things even easier with some suggestions for children in London theatre land:

Have tea with a Tiger

See the classic story of The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr come to life against a backdrop of beautifully drawn sets. When Sophie and her mummy sit down to have tea at the table, the doorbell rings. Who could it possibly be? Imagine their surprise when a real stripy tiger joins them for tea! Your little ones will love this sweet show filled with songs and theatrical magic. The show is suitable for children 3 years and up.

Sweet Treats

Closeby the small shop of Hope and Greenwood on Russell street looks like a quirky version of the old- fashioned sweetshop. These self-proclaimed purveyors or splendid confectionary will have something the whole family! Glass jars and bowls filled with boiled sweets, gummies, bonbons and the like will bring out the child in everyone. You can buy prettily pre-packed and gift wrapped sweet treats or pick and mix yourself at the counter.

Swing with Shrek

Everyone favourite ogre now has his own musical! Shrek and his talkative sidekick Donkey set off to rescue Princess Fiona played by Amanda Holden. This musical has true theatrical magic as all the fairytale characters, including a 25ft dragon, will be making an appearance on stage. Even the evil but very short Lord Farquaad will have you laugh out loud.

Lion King

Based on the Disney film, Lion King the musical will be a live-experience you’ll never forget. When lion prince Simba’s father dies in an accident, his mean uncle Scar makes Simba take the blame and the young cub flees from his pride. Years later the pride is starving and they all look for a miracle return of the prince. The mix of music, songs, dance and the spectacular puppetry is breath-taking and will transport you straight to the African savannah.

Good Ol’ Fashioned Fun

In the heart of theatreland, on the first floor of Covent Garden Market, you can find Benjamin Pollocks Toyshop. It is a small shop but it specialises in theatre models and traditional ‘old-fashioned’ toys. Marvel at the detail with which the theatre models are made from simple ones to techinal ones. You can even buy matchbox theatres to recreate your favourite musicals or make up your own stories at home! From pretty little tea-sets and miniature toolkits to toys for pocket money prices: everyone will love this shop.

Don’t despair, get booking and give the children a summer to remember!

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