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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 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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Celebrate Independence Day in London

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It’s Independence day! It is 235 years since the Americans have declared their independence from the United Kingdom. Luckily international relations have long since cleared so get out your star-spangled banner as we highlight the All American options one has when visiting London.

Go for Dinner

Every year on Independence Day there’s a hot dog eating competition in New York’s Coney Island. The current record stands at 54 hotdogs in 10 minutes! For the first time in history there will be a Women’s Only division this year. If you want to take your other half for a more relaxed dinner, there are restaurants aplenty serving traditional American dishes. Recreate the 50’s vibe jukebox and all at Ed’s Diner and get a tasty burger too! For ribs and the like try Bodeans that has four branches spread over London or go to a Byron restaurant for another quality burger.

Celebrate  Jeff “The Dude” Bridges

If America has given us anything, it is Hollywood. One of  best American screen-icons is Jeff Bridges, who created a cult when portraying The Dude in the film The Big Lebowski. He’s been an actor for decades starring in films as The Fabulous Baker Boys, Crazy Heart for which he finally won and Oscar, and last year’s Coen western True Grit. The British Film Institute, BFI, is celebrating his life in film until the end of July.

Fall in Love with an American Sweetheart

In the original movie the bubbly Elle was played by American sweetheart Reese Witherspoon. This Legally Blonde musical adaption follows the same story line of the first film and Elle follows her boyfriend to Harvard to study law. Elle’s determination and style will have you cheering for the red, white, blue and pink!

Raise a glass

Find yourself an American bar: smack-bang in Covent Garden you find the classy Christopher’s American Bar and Grill, they serve beers as well as celebratory cocktails and conveniently located if you want grab a drink after the theatre too! Or go to All Stars they have a bars in Holborn, Bayswater and Brick Lane. Not only do they serve beer,they offer bowling and karaoke too: a full night’s entertainment in one – result!

Live the American Dream

See how the American Dream came true for Frankie and his buddies in Jersey Boys the Musical. The musical the Jersey Boys is based on the true story of the rise to fame of Frankie Valli and the Four seasons, you will no doubt sing-along to all the classics: December 1963 (Oh What A Night), Walk Like a Man and Can’t Take My Eyes of You.

What ever you do, have an awesome day this Independence Day!

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A Royal Tour of London

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As William and Kate tour Canada, London celebrates Canada Day on Trafalgar Square! This 1st of July 2011 also marks what would have been the 50th birthday of William’s mother: the late Princess Diana.  When you tour London this summer or just go sightseeing in London, you will come across plenty of sights that still bear the popular princess’ mark.

Take a Royal Tour

Follow the route taken by the wedding procession of William and his new bride Kate last April. This London sightseeing tour will lead you past landmarks like the Royal Albert Hall and Westminster Abbey all the way up Kensington palace. Make pictures of the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace and view the impressive features of the Houses of Parliament and Downing Street.

Kensington Palace.

Visit Kensington place up close, where Princess Diana lived in Apartment 8. This palace has housed several members of the Royal family: Princess Victoria lived there until she woke up Queen on 20 June 1837. Due to refurbishment only the State Apartments are currently open and have been turned into the exhibition The Enchanted Palace.

Play ground in Kensington Gardens.

Next to the palace lie the Kensington Gardens, the perfect place to go for a walk during a sunny day. Keep the children entertained on the Princess Diana Memorial Playground, designed especially for little adventurers! Inspired by Peter Pan, the playground has a huge pirate ship to climb, teepees to explore and a sensorial trail to experience. Accompanying adults can relax in the seating spaces among the trees and plants.

The Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park:

Beat the heat in the Diana Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park this summer. Its design represents Lady Di’s life with water flowing from the highest point into two directions until meeting in a calm pool at the bottom. See Londoners and tourists mingle, refreshing their feet while sitting on the fountain edge or crossing the water using one of the three bridges that lead you straight to the heart of the fountain; again symbolizing the openness and quality of Diana herself.

Harrods

Shop or window-shop in Harrods, London’s high-end department store that specializes in luxury goods. The biggest shop in the UK lives up to its motto, Omnia Omnibus Ubique: All Things For All People Everywhere. It was founded 1834 and stayed on the same Kensington site since 1849. In its time the shop had five different owners: one of them was Mohammed Al-Fayed. He built the magnificent Egyptian escalators that will lead you past a memorial for his son and Princess Diana.

Even if you are not a prince or princess touring Canada this summer, you can still enjoy a right royal time London!


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Ghost the Musical – Theatre break

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ghost-the-musical-london-poster-dave-stewart

Finish a perfect summer weekend away in London with a visit to the West End. Whether you are looking for a romantic London theatre break or just need a relaxing weekend with your girls, this is just the ticket for you: Ghost the musical.

Ghost the musical is based on the 1990 film with Demi Moore, Patrick Swayze and Whoopi Goldberg. Though Whoopi won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, Patrick’s sex-symbol status was cemented with that pottery scene.

The musical pulls all the theatrical stops and trickery to create an amazing live-experience. Smoothly rotating and folded sets are matched with clever projections to set the scene. It is a visual feast, especially when the chorus completes the picture with a tightly choreographed group dance.

Set in New York, the story starts when artist Molly Jensen (Caissie Levy) and banker Sam Wheat (Richard Fleeshman) move into an apartment in Brooklyn with help of their friend Carl (Andrew Langtree).

The first songs start a little sudden (the “Hey Guys listen up:”- cue music- variation.) but the incorporation of “Unchained Melody” is sheer genius. The charm with which Richard Fleeshman pulls it off makes the female, and no doubt some of the male audience, forget he’s not Swayze: We All Still Would. It’s the moment he grabs us and takes us through the rest of the show.

Visual treats continue when we see the outer body experience happening live on stage. This new technology in set-design is surprising, sudden and impressive. It returns a couple of times but before you can get bored of it, you believe it: so much that even the classic suggestion of a well-lit cloud of evaporated dry-ice near the climax of the play, makes you see apparitions.

Ghost doesn’t just rely on the set for theatrical magic: Sharon D Clarke as medium Oda Mae Brown simply rocks the house! The moment Ms Clarke steps onto stage, she shows you what live performance is about. Her impeccable timing gets her the biggest laughs of the night and she belts the songs while embracing her role of comic-relief in some seriously camp dances.

No such fun for poor Caissie Levy whose devastated Molly has a beautiful voice but who was unfortunately stuck with the love-songs. These songs rather described the situation than moved the plot along but one could argue this fitted the character. (She’s heartbroken, she doesn’t want to move on!)

Despite some of the projections over-egging the love a little, (in particular one ‘intimate’ scene on stage projection: two clasping hands, what kind of 1950s euphemism is that?) we do connect to the story of Molly and Sam.

A huge highlight is the musical’s equivalent of the pottery scene, so fans: don’t be disappointed when that scene seems short. The musical’s triumphant alternative is a slow-dance scene where even the most cynical of us will get goosebumps.

There are references to the film but Ghost the musical has created its own magical moments: theatre is a different medium than cinema after all. Still the musical definitely won’t disappoint the film-fans, in fact they should see it: unlike the film, this is not an experience you can relive on DVD.

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