Helen Ochyra

Correspondent

  • London, England, UK

Helen Ochyra is a London correspondent for Forbes Travel Guide. Ochyra’s articles have been published in U.K. newspapers The Guardian, The Times and The Independent, as well as in a wide variety of international magazines. She has written guidebooks for Rough Guides and Michelin and an app called Quirky London. Aside from London and the U.K., Ochyra also specializes in writing about the U.S. and Australia. She lives in Enfield, North London, with her husband, Douglas.

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  • On November 13, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What are the best hotels in London?

    London has hundreds of top-class hotels to choose from and selecting the right one for you is a question of taste. Nothing is more subjective than hotel preference so pick your style from the list below and check in to see if you agree.

    Fun and funky
    Step into the lobby of MyHotel Bloomsbury and you've arrived. Not just at a cool hotel but also at a buzzing restaurant and a cosy cafe – a real home away from home. Spend the night in your spacious suite before enjoying breakfast as you watch London life passing by the large windows. Then get out among it yourself, using your location just off Tottenham Court Road as an unbeatable base from which to explore. 

    Old-school British
    Located at Hyde Park Corner, the Lanesborough is a hushed palace of British style, where service standards are second to none and discretion is guaranteed. Repeat visits are more than 60% and it's easy to see why - faultless butler service, utterly personal amenities and a restaurant that is as glamorous at breakfast time as it is for dinner. Like staying in a stately home, that feels like it could be yours.

    All-out glamour
    The recently refurbished Savoy is a lesson in style for a thousand other hotel, marrying the weight of tradition and expectation with a thoroughly modern new look. As soon as you set foot in the lobby you know this is somewhere special. The bedrooms are opulent and showcase the hotel’s two main aesthetics: English Edwardian and Art Deco. No two are the same and many have river views. Don't miss a drink in the American Bar which harks back to the cocktail age of the 1920s.

    Modern chic
    For those who prefer a contemporary feel, Myhotel Chelsea is the perfect destination. This boutique hotel is understated yet luxurious with a sense of fun – check in to the Thai suite and your shower even turns into a steam room. You're just a few minutes walk from the Kings Road, too.

    Quirky opulence
    There's nowhere quite like the Zetter Townhouse, which styles itself as the home of your eccentric yet indulgent aunt Wilhelmina. Set in two Georgian townhouses the style is all mismatched furniture and quirky design touches – look out for the taxidermy – and the lounge bar is one of the most laidback spaces in London. Try one of the signature cocktails, made with tinctures and bitters you'll have never heard of.

  • On July 30, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What are some things to know before visiting London?

    London can be the greatest city in the world; but it can also be the most frustrating. Here are a few points to bear in mind for your visit to make it as pleasant as possible:

    Getting around
    Once you are in the city centre, walking is by far the best way to get around. Bear in mind though that distances between attractions can be huge and so comfortable, practical shoes are a must if you plan to get around on two legs - as are plenty of pitstops! The tube is an excellent way to travel but avoid rush hours (before 9.30am and between 5pm and 7pm) if at all possible. Use the online Journey Planner to plan your journey (there's also an app). Keep to the right on escalators and move along the platform away from the entrances to avoid incurring the wrath of busy locals!

    The weather
    It rains in London all the time, right? Actually, no. London gets less rain than Rome or Paris, not to mention the rest of the UK, and short, sharp showers are far more common than prolonged drizzle. Pack an umbrella and then forget about it - the weather is unlikely to do any harm to your trip.

    Eating
    Food in London is varied, plentiful and not as expensive as you might imagine. However, costs can rack up if you aren't careful. A good tip is to eat your main meal in the middle of the day. Many of the top restaurants offer cut-price fixed menus for lunch and you are more likely to be able to get a table as a walk-in.
    Pubs make a great choice for a simple dinner, though try to pick one where locals are eating to avoid tourist traps, particularly in the West End where mediocre pubs are - in my opinion - largely to blame for the poor reputation of London's food abroad! Reservations are recommended in well-known or popular restaurants and on Friday and Saturday evenings.

    Drinking
    Londoners like a drink and pubs and bars will be very busy most evenings, especially on Friday nights when the weekend gets started for most people with a few after-work drinks. If you don't like crowded bars, spending a little more per drink will often buy you a quieter environment and hotel bars can be a good choice. But pubs are an integral part of our culture and no visit to London is complete without joining the locals at the bar one evening.

    Tipping
    Tipping is less ubiquitous in London than it is in America, but is more customary than it is in many other places, and there are some important rules to bear in mind. Taxi drivers should be tipped by rounding up the fare slightly. In restaurants, 10% is a standard tip, and increasingly 12.5% is added on automatically as a service charge; it is not necessary to tip in addition to this. Tips are not expected in pubs but are appreciated when ordering food - just add 10% or so to the bill.
  • On July 30, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What are some things to know before visiting London?

    London can be the greatest city in the world; but it can also be the most frustrating. Here are a few points to bear in mind for your visit to make it as pleasant as possible:

    Getting around
    Once you are in the city centre, walking is by far the best way to get around. Bear in mind though that distances between attractions can be huge and so comfortable, practical shoes are a must if you plan to get around on two legs - as are plenty of pitstops! The tube is an excellent way to travel but avoid rush hours (before 9.30am and between 5pm and 7pm) if at all possible. Use the online Journey Planner to plan your journey (there's also an app). Keep to the right on escalators and move along the platform away from the entrances to avoid incurring the wrath of busy locals!

    Eating
    Food in London is varied, plentiful and not as expensive as you might imagine. However, costs can rack up if you aren't careful. A good tip is to eat your main meal in the middle of the day. Many of the top restaurants offer cut-price fixed menus for lunch and you are more likely to be able to get a table as a walk-in.
    Pubs make a great choice for a simple dinner, though try to pick one where locals are eating to avoid tourist traps, particularly in the West End where mediocre pubs are - in my opinion - largely to blame for the poor reputation of London's food abroad! Reservations are recommended in well-known or popular restaurants and on Friday and Saturday evenings.

    Drinking
    Londoners like a drink and pubs and bars will be very busy most evenings, especially on Friday nights when the weekend gets started for most people with a few after-work drinks. If you don't like crowded bars, spending a little more per drink will often buy you a quieter environment and hotel bars can be a good choice. But pubs are an integral part of our culture and no visit to London is complete without joining the locals at the bar one evening.

    Tipping
    Tipping is less ubiquitous in London than it is in America, but is more customary than it is in many other places, and there are some important rules to bear in mind. Taxi drivers should be tipped by rounding up the fare slightly. In restaurants, 10% is a standard tip, and increasingly 12.5% is added on automatically as a service charge; it is not necessary to tip in addition to this. Tips are not expected in pubs but are appreciated when ordering food - just add 10% or so to the bill.
  • On July 30, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What are the best restaurants in London?

    London has a dining scene that is second to none with cuisine from every corner of the globe and a restaurant for every occasion. The choice can be overwhelming so here's my pick of the very best.

    For a quick bite
    You can't beat diner food for speed and convenience and The Diner has the classic American ambience down to a tee. Sit in a booth to order chilli cheese fries and a chocolate shake, or perhaps an all-day breakfast washed down with a craft beer. There are branches in Soho, Covent Garden, Islington, Camden, Shoreditch and Gloucester Road with Spitalfields coming soon.
     
    For a casual pub dinner
    English pub food has come on leaps in bounds in recent years but my favourite London pub food remains the Thai menu at Churchill's in Kensington. Packed with flavour, served speedily and costing well under a tenner, the curries and stir fries available here offer unbeatable value – and at this time of year the pub itself couldn't be more pleasant, covered from top to toe in vibrant hanging baskets full of flowers.
     
    For dinner with friends
    Tapas is the perfect sharing food, and Camino has a particularly authentic selection. Try the calamari, pata negra ham and patatas bravas, or sample the daily special. The always-packed bar is a great place for drinks too, and serves what is surely the most wide-ranging selection of Spanish wines in the capital.
     
    For a lively night out
    La Perla on Maiden Lane is ideally located for Covent Garden and Trafalgar Square. This fun restaurant has delicious Mexican food and a lively up-for-it atmosphere, plus a bar area serving cracking margaritas. The fajitas are a particular favourite — and generously sized.
     
    For date night
    Impress your date with lobster – without breaking the bank. At Burger and Lobster in Soho, burger and lobster are the only options on the menu, or you can combine the two on one delicious plate. Fries and a salad come as standard, and the wine list has been chosen specifically to be a perfect match. There's no awkward mathematics with the bill either - it's £20 a head whether you choose the burger or the lobster.

    For a truly special occasion
    If you can afford to splash the cash, there's no better place than Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea. Book far in advance, dress up, order the tasting menu and settle in for several hours of lip-smacking, mind-bending food. There's no wine matching package but there are sommeliers on hand to tailor your drinks to the food you order, and the waiting staff couldn't be more professional.
  • On July 30, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What language is spoken in London?

    London can claim to be the most multicultural city on the planet and, as a result, one of the most multilingual. It is hard to put an exact figure on just how many different languages are spoken in the city, but we can be sure that it is more than 300 - so you could hear just about any language, anywhere in the city.

    Some of the most common languages spoken in London are Polish, Bengali, Gujarati, Punjabi, Cantonese and Mandarin - which gives you a clue as to where our residents are coming from!

    That being said, English is the city's primary language and it remains the mother tongue of the majority of people living here. It is almost impossible to find anywhere that English is not understood.

    English is used as the main language in all the major tourist attractions and few places translate live speech into any other language. However, attractions offering audio guides will always have these in a wide range of languages and most attractions also provide information in numerous different languages, especially the major European languages, Chinese and Japanese. Many of London's central pubs and restaurants also have staff who speak more than one language.
  • On July 30, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What are the best places to get a hair blowout in London?

    For a quick solution to a hair meltdown, there's no better bet than a blow dry. London has enthusiastically hopped on the blow dry bar bandwagon and there are salons across town offering affordable - and not so affordable - blow outs. Try these for the best results:

    Hersheson's
    Located in Topshop in the heart of Oxford Street and offering walk-in service, you can't beat this for convenience. Choose from 12 "fashion-forward" looks and in just 30 minutes the professional team will have you looking a million dollars. For the cost of just £25.

    The Blow Bar
    Located in Islington and Wandsworth, this friendly funky salon offers a 30-minute blow dry (allow extra time for thick hair) plus a menu of extra options, including a full cut and blow-dry, a head massage or even a protein shot. Prices start from £25.

    Radio
    If your style is more unfussy beach babe than glossy Kate Middleton perfection, head to the UK's Bumble and Bumble HQ . Employing their famous Sea Salt Spray to maximum effect, the stylists here will have you tousled to perfection in under an hour.
  • On July 30, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What are the best outdoor activities in London?

    As the weather hots up in London, get outside and get active. Here is my pick of the best outdoor activities the city has to offer this summer:

    Open-air theatre
    Throughout the summer there are numerous outdoor shows and concerts around town. The pick of the bunch is the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park, for everything from classical music to stand-up comedy, while at Somerset House you'll find a series of pop concerts and a season of film screenings.
    For more information on summer concerts in London see our blog post on this topic.

    Horse riding
    Take a trot along Rotten Row with Hyde Park Stables. Rides take you past the Serpentine, the Albert Memorial and Marble Arch, making this a great way to explore the park. Group lessons start from £69 an hour, private tuition from £95.

    Skating
    Every Friday night and every Sunday afternoon, a mass of skaters meet for an informal skate through the heart of the city. Join the Friday Night Skate for a 10- to 15-mile marshalled run through the city (routes change each week) from Wellington Arch or roll along to the Sunday Stroll in Hyde Park for a relaxed slow-paced skate.

    Outdoor swimming
    Cool off in the heat at the Hampstead Heath Swimming Ponds, the only life-guarded open-water swimming facilities open to the public every day of the year. There are separate ladies, mens and mixed ponds as well as the 60-metre Parliament Hill lido. Alternatively head to the gorgeous Tooting Bec Lido, a 91.5-metre outdoor swimming pool seen in many a film.
  • On July 30, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What are the best outdoor activities in London?

    London is one of the greenest cities in the world, with everything from small courtyard gardens to vast urban parks found across town. Consequently, there are plenty of activities taking place outside. Here's my pick of the best:

    Open-air theatre
    Throughout the summer there are numerous outdoor shows and concerts around town. The pick of the bunch is the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park, for everything from classical music to stand-up comedy, while at Somerset House you'll find a series of pop concerts and a season of film screenings.
    For more information on summer concerts in London see our blog post on this topic.

    Horse riding
    Take a trot along Rotten Row with Hyde Park Stables. Rides take you past the Serpentine, the Albert Memorial and Marble Arch, making this a great way to explore the park. Group lessons start from £69 an hour, private tuition from £95.

    Skating
    Every Friday night and every Sunday afternoon, a mass of skaters meet for an informal skate through the heart of the city. Join the Friday Night Skate for a 10- to 15-mile marshalled run through the city (routes change each week) from Wellington Arch or roll along to the Sunday Stroll in Hyde Park for a relaxed slow-paced skate.

    Outdoor swimming
    Cool off in the heat at the Hampstead Heath Swimming Ponds, the only life-guarded open-water swimming facilities open to the public every day of the year. There are separate ladies, mens and mixed ponds as well as the 60-metre Parliament Hill lido. Alternatively head to the gorgeous Tooting Bec Lido, a 91.5-metre outdoor swimming pool seen in many a film.
  • On July 30, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What should I pack for a trip to London?

    A city break can be tricky to pack for. There is so much to think about, from clothing to camera equipment, guidebooks to cellphones, that it is all too easy to forget something important. Here are my tips for what to bring - and what not to - on your trip to London:

    Clothing
    The weather in London is never guaranteed so the first rule of packing for a visit here is: bring lots of layers. In the summer you can get away with far less than you can in the winter, but even at the height of summer you should still expect chilly nights and early mornings so bring a few jumpers/sweaters that you can carry around with you easily and throw on when it gets cold.
    Rain is fairly common so a jacket that is at least partially waterproof and an umbrella are a good idea. Even in winter it rarely gets cold enough for thermals but pack a heavy duty coat if you don't want to spend all your time cooped up indoors.
    You are sure to do a lot of walking while in London so bring comfortable shoes for exploring. If you plan to go out on the town at night though bring dress shoes or heels, and if you want to visit some of London's luxury hotels and restaurants, a smart dress or jacket will mean you don't feel out of place.

    Technology
    Whatever you do, don't forget to pack your camera. There is so much to see in London and you'll want to capture as much of it as possible. Bring at least one spare memory card and a spare battery to carry around with you, plus the charger.
    If you have a smartphone, don't forget the charger for this too, and consider downloading some useful apps for your time in the city. Try London Tube Deluxe for up-to-the-minute travel info, Time Out London for a general city guide and Quirky London if you want to explore off the beaten track.
    Finally, don't forget your travel adaptor. The UK uses the three-pinned plug socket, which is different from the rest of Europe and the US.

    Money
    Bring your credit or debit card but don't worry about carrying cash - there are ATMs everywhere and very few places don't accept Visa and Mastercard. American Express is less widely accepted in the UK than it is in the US so bring a backup card if your primary credit card is an Amex.
  • On July 29, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What are the best business hotels in London?

    Doing business in London and don't want to waste any time? Nothing is more important than location. Choose your hotel according to where you need to spend the most time and save yourself the tube journeys and cab rides that can suck hours of your productivity:

    The City
    If you need to be in the Square Mile, chose Hotel Indigo, Tower Hill for an unbeatable central location. Rooms are stylish with four-poster beds, iPod docking stations and designer bathrooms and there's free wifi to keep you connected. You also get complimentary membership at a nearby gym and Aldgate tube station is just a two-minute walk away.

    The West End
    Just because you're here on business needn't mean staying in a soulless "business hotel". Check in instead to the lovely Dean Street Townhouse where you'll find individually designed bedrooms equipped with rainforest showers, flatscreen TV with Sky Plus and free wireless internet. You're also located in the heart of Soho - ideal for entertaining business contacts with its numerous high quality bars and restaurants. You could eat in the restaurant here, or head over the road to one of London's most sought-after dining experiences - the lobster platter at Burger and Lobster.

    Canary Wharf
    If you really have to stay out at Canary Wharf, console yourself with the Four Seasons. This is about as luxurious as it gets, with river views from the large windows, homely furnishings and complimentary access to the adjacent Virgin Active with its swimming pool and floodlit tennis court. There's complimentary internet access, and printing, translation and secretarial services are available.
  • On July 29, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What are the best technology hotels in London?

    When it comes to technology some hotels are leading the field with in-room entertainment systems, communications hubs and hi-tech beds, while others lag behind, barely deigning to offer free wifi. Here's my pick of London's most plugged-in hotels:

    Eccleston Square
    Nobody ever disagrees with this one. Lauded as London's most switched on hotel this luxury boutique hotel offers a veritable playground in every room - from beds with a built-in massage system to room service ordered by iPad. The bathroom features a SmartGlass wall which flicks from Reveal to Conceal in a second, and there are VoIP phones with free calls to all London numbers.

    The Lanesborough
    This hotel may be all old-school design and traditional service but that doesn't stop it from keeping up with the times where technology is concerned. Open the unassuming looking drawer beside the bed and you'll find your own personal control panel. Dim the lights, alter the air conditioning and even call your own personal butler. There are also two flatscreen TVs hidden away in that antique-looking furniture to be revealed at the touch of a button and a Sony Vaio laptop computer and printer are provided in every room.

    Citizen M
    From the moment you check in, this higholy modern hotel is all about technology. There is no front desk, with guests registering at the kiosks on arrival instead and creating their own room key. Rooms are simple and stocked with Vitra furniture, plus free wifi, free in-room movies and electronic window blinds. Calls from the phone are charged at VoIP rates and there's a global plug system – so no dramas if you forgot to bring your adaptor.
  • On July 29, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What is the one must do activity when visiting London?

    In a city as large and diverse as London picking just one must-do activity is almost impossible. But sometimes needs must, and if you're really pushed for time the best thing to do if you want to take in as much as possible is to take a walk along the river Thames.

    Travel by tube to Westminster station (Jubilee, Circle and District lines) and start in Parliament Square, from which you can see Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben towering above you. Get snap-happy with your camera before crossing the river on Westminster Bridge. At the other side, turn left along the river path. You'll pass the new London Dungeon and then the London Eye - if time (and the queue) allows, the Eye is worth a quick ride for views over the city from on high.

    Continue along the river's south bank, London's arts quarter. You will pass the Southbank Centre with its fantastic outdoor book market and the National Theatre, where you'll find the Propstore - a great place to stop for a coffee and enjoy the view. Next you will reach the Oxo Tower, where you can travel up to the top floor to take in the view (and a drink if there's time).

    From here it's a short walk along to Tate Modern art gallery, home to the UK's leading collection of modern and contemporary art (and free to enter). The Founders Arms pub on the riverside here does great pub food and real ales and has a cracking view across to St Paul's Cathedral.

    Complete your walk by crossing the river on the Millenium Bridge to St Pauls. Look out to your right here for a view of Tower Bridge - London's most iconic river crossing. On reaching the river's north bank you can pop into St Paul's Cathedral to see the famous whispering gallery, or simply get back on the tube at St Paul's station (Central line).
  • On July 29, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What is the weather like right now in London?

    This summer is proving to be a corker! London has been basking in temperatures topping 30 degrees celsius (86 degrees fahrenheit) for the past few weeks and even overnight temperatures have barely dropped. A few storms have passed through more recently but any rain is drying up within a much shorter space of time than normal and sunbathing has become a daily possibility.

    At this time of year London experiences very long evenings and so Londoners are currently enjoying plenty of al fresco dining and drinking. We had an exceptionally long winter and a cold spring this year so the sudden burst of warmth has brought everyone out with a smile on their face. The city is currently beaming!

    Throughout August and into September however you should still expect some colder days and some rain – although not nearly as much as you probably think you should expect. It's always worth carrying an umbrella though! On cooler days Londoners are tenacious and you're sure to see us all shivering slightly in skirts and sandals and filling the pavements outside every available pub trying to soak any available sunshine in. And on hot days we'll all be filling the parks and guzzling ice creams like it's the last day of summer. Which, in this changable climate, always feels like a possibility.