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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!

Your Guide to LONDON!

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London is such an amazingly familiar city – even if you have never been.  Every one of its iconic landmarks, many of its street names and traditions are so well known and recognizable you feel like you know the place well even before you get there.

There is a rich choice of things to see in this, once most powerful city in the world.  Her many attractions are all must-sees.  Whether your interest lies in art, history, colorful traditions, culture or grand buildings, you will find it in London.  A wonderful thing is that entrance is free to many of London’s iconic attractions.

So, onwards to London’s finest!

Buckingham Palace

In many respects London is still a royal city and the best illustration is Buckingham Palace.  This 300 year old, 700-odd roomed building is the Queens’s residence.  Only 19 rooms are open to the public and they are known as the State Rooms.  They are used for audiences with the Queen and official visits from foreign dignitaries.  It takes about two hours for the average walk around of the rooms.

While you are there you should not miss that wonderful institution so closely identified with the Palace – the Changing of the Guard.  The ceremony lasts for half an hour and takes place every day at 11am.  The pageant involves horses, drum rolls, smart uniforms and much impressive foot-stomping marching.

To book: http://bit.ly/1SWyTAu

Buckingham Palace Tours

Tower of London

Another famous (or “infamous”) royal residence is the Tower of London.  The impressive pile of stone work has a grim and very mixed
reputation and history.  It attracts millions every year and understandably so.  It was a palace, treasury, armoury, fortress, London’s first zoo and torture hub. It has many a ghastly and ghostly tale associated with its rooms and battlements.

Today, thankfully, it is a lot less bloody.  As a visitor you will gaze upon the splendid and priceless Crown Jewels; learn about the famous people executed; stories and legends such those of the Tower’s ravens and discover the swords, other killing implements and armour of yore.

To book: http://bit.ly/1Hr1o7c

Tower of London, London

The British Museum

More than two and a half centuries ago this venerable and highly esteemed institution opened its doors to the public.  Within its hallowed rooms, halls and corridors are a remarkable collection of artifacts and pieces covering more than two million years of human history.

It is dedicated to the study of world-wide human culture.  The museum’s collection of exhibits includes the invaluable Rosetta Stone, the Parthenon sculptures and Egyptian mummies.   It also has thousands of other treasures on permanent display.  A visit is worth every minute you spend in the museum.

London Eye

If many of London’s attractions are remnants of its long and illustrious history, then the London Eye is a futuristic vision from today.  The world’s tallest cantilevered observation wheel it is an amazing symbol of modern engineering and London’s forward gaze.

Dramatically affecting the skyline, this technological marvel sits in the heart of the city, facing the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.  Its slowly rotating 32 high-tech observation capsules look down on the city and old Father Thames, all the while offering you a panoramic 360 degree (and on clear days 40kms away) view of this majestic city and its landmarks.

To book: http://bit.ly/1CDzcXi

London Eye, London

The Golden Hind

A proud symbol the Tudor era and of British Elizabethan seafaring exploits, the Golden Hinde, captained by Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the world.  It was put on public display in Deptford for nearly 100 years where it rotted away.

A beautiful, faithful and full-sized replica is now berthed at Southwark, London for the modern day visitor.  In a tiny dock on Cathedral Street, Southwark sits the full-scale reconstruction of Drake’s intrepid galleon.  It is an un-missable part of the London experience.  A tour is a lesson in living, romantic history where you get to soak in the atmosphere of what it must have been like to sail the high seas in the 16th century.  A few minute’s walk away is Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

The current Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is a modern and very faithful replica of the original Elizabethan playhouse based on academic evidence.  It stands a mere 750 feet from the site of the original 1599 and 1614 buildings.

The complex also includes an indoor theatre (Sam Wanamaker Playhouse).  It is based on the designs of indoor playhouses of Jacobean times.

Royal Museums Greenwich

Site of the brass rail that marks the Prime Meridian, the Royal Museums include the National Maritime Museum, Queen’s House and the Royal Observatory.  The beautiful, manicured settings are also a World Heritage Site.

The museums always have events and new (and ancient) exhibits to awe visitors. Some of the better known exhibits are a 4.5 billion year old meteorite, Harrison’s chronometers and Nelson’s uniform.  It is also the location of a wonderful planetarium.

Westminster Abbey

This ancient and hallowed Gothic church has witnessed the crowning of British kings from the time of William the Conqueror in 1066.   A wonderful building complete with paintings, stained glass windows and an important collection of monuments it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Within the grounds of Westminster Abbey are the graves of giants such as Charles Dickens, Chaucer, Dr Samuel Johnson and Charles Darwin.  It also has the tombs and monuments of 450 others.  The Little Cloister which leads to the College Gardens, the oldest garden in England.

National Gallery

One of the world’s foremost art galleries, The National occupies one side of Trafalgar Square.  It houses some of the world’s greatest paintings from the Middle Ages right up to the current century.  At any given time over 2,000 paintings are on display.  Works by Botticelli, vie for attention with those of Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Gainsborough, Renoir and Van Gogh.

Entrance to The National Gallery is free.  It also conducts special exhibitions, lectures, video programmes and guided tours.

Trafalgar Square

This is probably the world’s most famous open space.  It is a landmark of Central London.  It is the place to go to for special events, demonstrations and major celebrations such as St Patrick’s Day, Chinese New Year and New Year’s Eve

Dominated by Nelson’s Column and its four lions, it is a square that has witnessed much history and still provides a place for a wide variety of vibrant artistic performances.  Since 1999, the Fourth Plinth is site for an ever changing display of modern art.

Trafalgar Square

Piccadilly Circus

Named after a seventeenth century frilled collar, Piccadilly Circus is popular meeting place, busy traffic roundabout (thus the “Circus”) and a tourist attraction in its own right.  At the center of the Circus and above the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain is the lovely aluminum (at that time a novel and rare material) statute of Eros.

A five minute walk from Trafalgar Square, it is located between the theatre areas of the West End and the Haymarket.  The circus is the intersection of five main roads: Regent Street, Shaftesbury Avenue, Piccadilly Street, Covent Street and Haymarket.  It is the site of London’s first illuminated billboard installed in 1895.

Parliament House

Within the Palace of Westminster, are the Houses of Commons and Lords, otherwise known as Parliament House.  It was originally the residence of the Kings of England till fire consumed it 1512.  Extensively rebuilt twice (It was destroyed by another fire in 1834) the only original parts still left are Westminster Hall, St Stephen’s Cloisters, Chapel of St Mary Undercroft and the Jewel Tower.

Designed by architect Charles Barry its famous facade, familiar around the world, is known as the River Front and sits on reclaimed parts of the River Thames.  Its Gothic style buildings are marked by Victoria Tower and Elizabeth Tower – better known as Big Ben.

Big Ben

Big Ben is a symbol of London and is officially called the Great Clock of Westminster.  This amazingly reliable time piece is accurate to within a second.  Its elegant fairy tale like design consists of four identical dials fronted by milk glass.  Located atop Elizabeth Tower, it stands at the north end of the Parliament complex and is lit up from behind at night.

Big Ben, London

St Paul’s Cathedral

The Cathedral sits on Ludgate Hill, the highest natural point in the City of London.  The original church was dedicated to Paul the Apostle in 604 and the current one retains that name.  Designed and built in the baroque style by the great Sir Christopher Wren, its dome is one of the most famous and recognizable sights of London.  It dominated the London skyline for more than 300 years and is deeply embedded in the psyche of English national identity.

St Paul’s Cathedral is a busy working church, with hourly prayer and daily services.  Its services have included the funerals of Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington; the wedding of Lady Diana and Prince Charles and the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II.

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New Year’s Eve Fireworks in London (2014)

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“Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life…,” wrote Samuel Johnson.  Mayor Boris Johnson (no relative) is determined that no man or woman tires of London – at least, not during the New Year’s Eve Fireworks, and other festivities to welcome 2015.

london tour

The New Year’s Eve fireworks display was first staged on the South Bank in 2003 and it most certainly set the Thames alight.  A mere 100,000 folks witnessed the show.  Ever since then the fireworks in London have grown bigger and better.  So has its popularity.  Every year has seen more and more people from Britain and across the world turn up to witness the dazzling pyrotechnic display over the skies of London.

Over 12,500 fireworks shooting off 50,000 projectiles fired from 5,500 cues.  There will also be 2,000 lighting cues.  To keep the extravaganza one of the best in the world 30 tonnes of equipment on the three fireworks barges will be situated on the river in front of the London Eye.

On New Year’s Eve 2014 about half a million revellers turned up in central London to enjoy the fireworks.  However the stupendous popularity of this year end spectacle and the humungous number of spectators has meant that changes had to be made.

This year, in order to manage the numbers and for safety reasons, the best fireworks viewing areas will be cordoned off.  Only 100,000 visitors will be allowed in and around the show area.  Access to these areas will only be for ticket holders.  Priced at £10 each, the ticket money will go towards safety measures for the night.

While it may seem kind of restrictive, there are a couple of advantages to this plan.  First of all ticket holders will get the best fireworks viewing seats.  The other advantage – and this is a biggie – is you don’t have to get to the Thames embankment at 3pm or 4pm on a cold, damp London afternoon to set up camp somewhere along the Thames just to find a good viewing spot.  You save yourself 8 or 9 hours of misery.

The designated and ticketed viewing areas are between Westminster Bridge and Embankment Station.  The second is between Embankment and Temple Stations and the third allows ticket-holders access to the rear of the London Eye and on Westminster Bridge.  While those are prime locations there are many other non-ticketed locations where you can watch the London night sky light up in a blaze of colour.

london eye  tour

You need to keep in mind that Oxford Street, Elephant and Castle, Vauxhall Bridge and Southwark Bridge will be closed.  The closures will begin from 2pm with most of the closures in place by 8pm.  Public transport services will be free from 11:45pm to 4:30am on New Year’s Day!

The fireworks will kick off when Big Ben strikes midnight.  Although the fun does not stop when the last rocket of NYE 2014 blazes across the night sky; the last whizz-banger goes off and you have joined hands to belt out Auld Lang Syne.  That is when the partying begins in right real earnest.  And there are loads of events, parties and places to work off your own personal fireworks.

When London celebrates she does it in style.  New Year’s Eve party ideas and events range from masquerade balls, vintage theme parties and boat parties to classy dinner parties.

london tours

Felice Navidad and a Happy New Year!

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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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The Wizard of Oz theatre break

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blog-picture7Begin the adventure of a lifetime and follow the yellow brick road to the Wizard of Oz theatre break. Re-live the ultimate voyage of Dorothy on the trail through the forest on her infamous quest to return home. This vivid production portrays the well known story of Dorothy and her small dog Toto with the modern songs and surprises from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Bill Kenwright.

According to the Library of Congress, this timeless classic is the most watched motion film in history, no wonder the theatre version is such a success. Released in 1939, The Wizard of Oz is just as watched today as it was over 70 years ago. Significant changes were made during the adaptation from novel to film, such as the role the Wicked Witch of the West, and even the famous ruby slippers were silver in the book. However, the changes have helped to make

This American fantasy was originally written in 1900 by author L. Frank Baum, titled The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The children’s classic has been reprinted numerous in the 111-years that have since passed, and the story is as well know to the children of the 21st century as it was in the first years of its publication.

The Wizard of Oz theatre break is not a new concept. Back in 1902 the novel was first adapted to entertain audiences from the stage. The initial success of both the original novel and this first stage adaptation lead to Baum writing 13 more Oz books.

Today, the Wizard of Oz theatre break has progressed majorly since its original performance on Broadway. Costumes and sets are immaculate, producing a glittering, shining show, which everybody can appreciate. The Wizard of Oz theatre break has remained strong for 109-years – that surely says something about how great the production is.

Image courtesy of Flickr

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Experiencing the Medieval Banquet in London

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Freshly arrived to the U.K., one of the first opportunities of a night out in London for me was to go to the Medieval Banquet.

I went there with 5 colleagues, and we had the surprise of spending a very nice evening. Indeed, none of us already experimented such a thing to do in London

As we were arriving to this medieval show, two knights and the Queen herself welcomed us and lead us to our table. And that’s only the beginning… continue reading

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Scariest Places in London: Warwick Castle

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As I plan my trip to Warwick Castle I realize I will never get  British pronunciation correct. I’m quickly told that I’m not going to Warwick, I’m going to “Wor’ick”. With only three days of sightseeing left I want to pick a great spot for my last hurrah. Warwick Castle Dungeons will be opening just before I leave for home and I want to try and squeeze it in if I can get my hands on some Warwick Castle Tickets. My friends and I are all able to agree on this trip because there’s just so much to do there!

continue reading

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Camden Town: Food, Friends, and (Great!) Finds

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Well, I may not have been able to check out all of the cuisines I listed in my last article about food (yet!), but I did make it to the cobblestone streets of Camden Market’s food vendor area yesterday…close enough, right? Davis, California might have the most adorable Saturday morning farmer’s market, but I’m starting to see why shopping in London is so famous, it’s pretty impossible to compete with the size and variety of London’s famous sites.

Food in Camden Market - Yandle

Food in Camden Market - Yandle

The Camden Market’s stalls were tiny, the streets were narrow, and the food was AMAZING! (Suck on that, American food courts). I swear this tiny corner of Camden houses any and everything you could possibly want to eat. Cuban? Check. Spanish? Italian? Thai? Moroccan? Chinese? Indian? Mexican? Check, check, check, check, check, check, check! Everything looked and smelled so delicious that I worked up an appetite just trying to decide which one to choose. And, one of the best things about strolling around Camden is the mix of locals and tourists, sure, there are a ton of souvenirs and knick-knacks lining the streets, but do and a little digging and the market is actually packed with great (and often cheap!) clothing, crafts, and music as well. From CDs to corsets, there’s something for everyone in Camden, just make sure you’ve got plenty of time to spend exploring!

I can’t wait to check out some of the city’s other famous markets and foods soon…Maybe all of this exploring will help burn off the huge helping of paella I wolfed down last night! continue reading

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They Aren’t Called French Fries? Trying Out the Local Cuisines

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I was more than a little nervous about giving up the fantastic variety of Californian cuisine for my move to London. Sure I’d be living in a fantastic neighbourhood (Kensington, ever heard of it?), taking fun classes (hi, field trips to Oxford, Parliament, the Globe), working a fun company, meeting tons of new people, and travelling like mad (read my Dublin post anyone?), but all I could think about as I jumped on that United jet was, what about burritos? Cheeseburgers? Pluto’s salads? As delightful as afternoon tea sounds, anyone who’s hopped on the “English cuisine” Wikipedia page can probably understand my hesitation. I’m sorry guys, but chip sandwiches? How does somebody even come up with that?

Chip Butty - Annie Mole

Chip Butty - Annie Mole

Which isn’t to say a chip butty isn’t one of the first things I tried when I got here (add a little ketchup and it’s not bad!), but I certainly wasn’t prepared for the richness of the culinary culture here. continue reading

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