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.

  • On February 25, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What are the best art galleries in London?

    London is mecca for art lovers and whatever genre or era you're interested in there is plenty for you to explore. Here are three of the very best galleries:

    Tate Modern
    This temple to contemporary art is an unmissable stop on London's art trail. Housed in an old power station it is home to hundreds of high profile works from David Hockney paintings to Marcel Duchamp's Fountain. The turbine hall is home to a constantly changing large-scale piece which always courts controversy – drop in to see what's filling this vast space this month.

    Annroy Gallery
    The brainchild of acclaimed photographer Rankin, the Annroy Gallery is a state-of-the-art photographic studio and gallery, hosting a range of exciting contemporary exhibitions. More than merely an exhibition space, Annroy is also the heart of Rankin’s photographic practice and an intensely personal project for him. He named the building after his parents Ann and Roy and lives in a penthouse apartment here as well as having his offices and studio on-site.

    National Portrait Gallery
    The National Portrait Gallery was was founded in 1856 to collect portraits of famous British men and women and today features thousands of portraits from the 16th century to the present day. The most recent – and most talked about – is Paul Emsley's portrait of Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge.
  • On February 25, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What are the best places for high tea in London?

    The 7th Duchess of Bedford found the long wait between lunch and dinner simply too much to bear and invented a meal to fill the void. So began the oh-so-English tradition of afternoon tea and today London is the epicenter of this increasingly popular pastime.

    Afternoon tea at the Royal Horseguards more than lives up to this illustrious pedigree, served in the elegant lounge on delicate bone china cakestands atop crisp white linen tablecloths.

    A pot of tea of your choice is served first – and there’s certainly plenty to choose from. I plumped for the Royal Horseguards Unique Blend, a black tea flavoured with subtle strawberry and cream notes. It tasted summery and fresh and was the perfect accompaniment to the food.

    Afternoon tea always starts with sandwiches and the Royal Horseguards kept things suitably British, serving up roast beef with horseradish, smoked salmon, cucumber and coronation chicken. We then moved on to warm scones served with Cornish clotted cream and homemade strawberry jam – something I had forgotten just how much I enjoyed.

    We finished by tucking in to the top layer of the cakestand, which was filled with a range of handmade cakes and pastries. These included a pastry filled with decadent chocolate and a particularly memorable mini violet cupcake.

    We left with a waddle, agreeing that dinner could certainly wait. The Duchess would be pleased.
  • On February 25, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What are the best kids activities in London?

    London has plenty of attractions for kids, some specifically designed for them, others that will appeal to all ages from the very young to the far older. Here's my pick of the best family-friendly attractions:

    Museums
    The Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green is home to the V&A's collection of children's toys and artefacts including dolls houses and teddy bears, while the Foundling Museum has a more serious feel, telling the story of the 25,000 children who passed through this building when it was a hospital for foundlings. The Natural History Museum has a dinosaur gallery with an animatronic TRex and a giant Diplodocus skeleton – sure to delight kids of all ages.

    Parks
    Let off some steam in Regents Park, where you'll also find London Zoo, or take a walk in Richmond Park to see the deer herd. Coram's Fields is a seven-acre free playground which is open to children and their accompanying adults only.

    Attractions
    Take the kids on the London Eye for a ferris wheel ride over London's landmarks, or join the Thames Rib Experience for an exhilarating speedboat ride along the river. If your kids are older than 10 and taller than 1.2 metres, take them for a walk over London's most iconic dome, at Up at the O2.
  • On February 25, 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.

    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 February 21, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What are the best places to see a play in London?

    The best place to see a play is London – nowhere else comes close. Theatre is the lifeblood of the West End and there are dozens of theatres, practically one on every corner, with performances of everything from farce to melodrama, musical to thriller. Here's my pick of the best of what's on right now:

    The Book of Mormon, Prince of Wales theatre
    Just opened but already the most talked about show in town, the Book of Mormon is a hilarious comedy based on a religion we all think we know but actually don't. From the comedy genius that is Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of South Park.

    Singin' in the Rain, Palace theatre
    This show has been hailed, by punters and critics alike, as the ultimate feel-good night out. Brolly twirling, tinsel town glamour based on the hit film you must have seen. A massive tank of real water provides dazzling special effects, and the soaring tunes and stylish choreography will have you tapping your toes.

    Matilda, Cambridge theatre
    Fun for all the family, with a cast of truly amazing children who fill the stage with unbridled joy and some of the best choreography in the West End. From the mind of Tim Minchin – hilarious in all the right places.
  • On February 21, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What are the best places for high tea in London?

    The 7th Duchess of Bedford found the long wait between lunch and dinner simply too much to bear and invented a meal to fill the void. So began the oh-so-English tradition of afternoon tea and today London is the epicenter of this increasingly popular pastime.

    Afternoon tea at the Royal Horseguards more than lives up to this illustrious pedigree, served in the elegant lounge on delicate bone china cakestands atop crisp white linen tablecloths.

    A pot of tea of your choice is served first – and there’s certainly plenty to choose from. I plumped for the Royal Horseguards Unique Blend, a black tea flavoured with subtle strawberry and cream notes. It tasted summery and fresh and was the perfect accompaniment to the food.

    Afternoon tea always starts with sandwiches and the Royal Horseguards kept things suitably British, serving up roast beef with horseradish, smoked salmon, cucumber and coronation chicken. We then moved on to warm scones served with Cornish clotted cream and homemade strawberry jam – something I had forgotten just how much I enjoyed.

    We finished by tucking in to the top layer of the cakestand, which was filled with a range of handmade cakes and pastries. These included a pastry filled with decadent chocolate and a particularly memorable mini violet cupcake.

    We left with a waddle, agreeing that dinner could certainly wait. The Duchess would be pleased.
  • On February 21, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What are the best Indian restaurants in London?

    London is home to literally hundreds (possibly thousands) of Indian restaurants, from local curry houses dishing up classic curries to upmarket dining rooms serving Michelin-starred Indian cuisine. Here are my top three, depending on your budget:

    On a budget: Sartaj
    This traditional curry house in Seven Dials, Covent Garden serves all the usual British-Bangladeshi classics, from chicken tikka masala to bhuna, madras and jalfrezi. Order the "family naan" to get the biggest naan bread we've ever seen draped over a centrepiece on your table. You won't leave hungry.

    Midrange: Imli
    Imli's speciality is Indian street food, served tapas style, giving the menu a unique twist. Order a selection of light, refreshing dishes such as paani puri (a Punjabi dish of puffed wheat crisps) or spicy chicken satay, followed up with a classic lamb rogan josh or more modern honey grilled duck. Finish with a mango and basil sorbet or fig and ginger ice cream.

    Splashing the cash: Quilon
    Michelin-starred Indian cuisine remains a rarity in London, but Quilon, near St James Park, has had its star for six years and continues to set the bar for upscale Indian dining. The menu of southwest coastal Indian cuisine features dishes such as curry leaf and lentil crusted fish, and pink pepper chilli prawns – delicious and quite unlike anything you'll have had elsewhere.
  • On February 21, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What are quirky local customs in London?

    Londoners love a party and any excuse to get the bunting out tends to be greeted with great excitement. So we've developed a few – well, let's call them excuses – to down tools and pull out the party threads. Some are mainstream but others are downright peculiar. Here are my favourites:

    Pancake Day
    This is an excuse to eat, basically. To mark the start of Lent people "use up" their eggs by making mountains of pancakes. The most common topping is sugar and lemon – expect the local shop to have run out of lemons by about midday.

    May Day
    The official start of the summer, this bank holiday (first Monday of May) is marked with one of England's odder customs – Morris dancing. Men dressed in white trousers with bells and waving hankies (yes, really) dance around a ribbon-clad pole called the "maypole". Has to be seen to be believed.

    Swan Upping
    Historically all mute swans in open water belong to the Queen (or King) of England and to this day during late July they are rounded up, marked and released. Over five days groups of swan uppers dressed in red travel from Sunbury to Abingdon in traditional wooden skiffs to do this – quite a sight.

    Horseman's Sunday, Hyde Park Church
    At noon on the penultimate Sunday in September, the vicar of St John’s Church appears before his congregation on a horse. A procession of horses of all types and sizes then takes place and the horses gather on the forecourt of the church for a blessing,

    Pearly King Harvest Festival
    On the last Sunday of September, all of London's traditional pearly kings and queens gather at Guildhall Yard for a proper shindig. See maypole dancing and join in with belting out cockney tune "Maybe It's Because I'm a Londoner".

    Guy Fawkes Night
    The English love an antihero and so, to celebrate the man who nearly succeeded in blowing up the Houses of Parliament, every year we set off fireworks and stoke huge bonfires atop which we put an effigy of the man himself. Good family fun.

    Christmas Day Swim
    Every Christmas Day dozens of swimmers gather at the Serpentine in Hyde Park for a race across the icy waters. Take the plunge if you dare – or wrap your mitts around a hot chocolate and shiver along with them as you watch from the sidelines.
  • On February 19, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What are the best attractions in London?

    Everyone's talking about the shiny new Shard but don't forget the far-more-fun London Eye. You can't beat a giant ferris wheel over London after all, with cracking views of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, as well as along the river.
    More traditional attractions not to be missed include Buckingham Palace where you can tour the state rooms, the Tower of London, where the crown jewels are on display in a recently updated gallery, and Trafalgar Square, the city's best public space and home to the infamous Fourth Plinth.
    For museums, don't miss the V&A for design from around the world and the Tate Modern for the very best in contemporary art. Shoppers will love Harrods and Selfridges, and those in search of nightlife should head to Soho where the good, the bad and the ugly all exist side by side.
  • On February 10, 2013
    Donald Strachan is now following Helen Ochyra
  • On February 1, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What is London’s dining scene like?

    London's dining scene is second-to-none. This is a true culinary city and despite what you may have heard, long gone are the days of mediocre meals served by surly staff - at least if you pick your places carefully!

    To avoid choosing badly, follow the locals. Ask for recommendations and pick places populated by local-sounding voices. Avoid anywhere that looks like a tourist trap - especially around Covent Garden where low-grade places are plentiful (don't even think about going into an Aberdeen Angus Steakhouse). Above all, avoid chains you have back home - why travel if not to try different food from what's available to you the rest of the time?

    Here are some of my suggestions for places to start:

    London has some of the best Indian food outside Delhi, with a curry house on almost every suburban high street. Brick Lane is known as the epicentre of Indian cuisine but you will find Indian food everywhere - just beware the hotter curries, Brits aren't shy of the spice!

    Thai food is also big business now, and there are numerous Thai restaurants in the centre of town. Try the Thai Square chain for reliably high standards of food and service. For Chinese, head to Chinatown and indulge in an all-you-can-eat buffet.

    Mexican food is a more recent arrival to the London dining scene. La Perla and Cafe Pacifico are locals' favourites and Wahaca's menu of Mexican street food is perfect for groups - or those who find choosing one dish too tricky! Lupita is another good pick.

    For traditional British food, try Bill's or Rules in the West End, or call in to one of the Geronimo chain of pubs for affordable but high quality pub grub. If money is no issue, you can't go wrong with one of Gordon Ramsey's many outposts - and his restaurant at Claridge's has an excellent three-course set lunch menu for £30.
  • On January 31, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What is the best way to see London in one day?

    One day is barely enough to scratch the surface of Europe's most exciting city, and I would vehemently suggest a longer visit if you want to get a proper sense of the place. But, having said that, with an early start, a comfy pair of shoes and a one-day travelcard you can tick off a decent list of London's best attractions. Here's my suggested itinerary if you are restricted to just one day:
     
    Breakfast in Bloomsbury
    Grab an early breakfast at Gails bakery in Bloomsbury, where the pastries are the perfect start to the day. From here it's just a short walk to the British Museum, your first stop.
     
    Museum morning
    The British Museum is home to a vast range of artefacts from around the globe. See everything from Egyptian mummies to ancient money, Inca treasures to the infamous Elgin marbles - but limit yourself to two hours here.
    Next, jump on the tube at Tottenham Court Road, taking the northern line the two stops to Charing Cross. Take a few minutes to soak up the atmosphere in Trafalgar Square before calling in to the National Portrait Gallery to see portraits of famous Britons past and present, including the royal family.
    Next, walk down Whitehall, passing Downing Street (the Prime Minister's residence) and the Cenotaph (where London's official Remembrance Day service takes place) to reach the Houses of Parliament and the river.
    Take to the river path, passing the London Eye and walk along the Thames until you reach the Oxo Tower.
     
    Lofty lunch
    The Oxo tower has a restaurant on its 8th floor, with lovely views over the London skyline - so the sightseeing needn't stop just because you have! Lunch here is much cheaper than dinner so you can enjoy some of London's best dining without breaking the bank, too.

    Tower time
    Just outside the Oxo Tower, jump on the RV1 bus towards Tower Gateway. You'll cross Tower Bridge and can get off at the end of the route to enter the Tower of London. Here you can see the Crown Jewels and the White Tower, home to suits of armour and royal tales aplenty. From here hop on the tube, taking the Circle line from Tower Hill to Embankment to return to the West End.
     
    Showtime!
    You can't visit London without seeing a show, so get tickets in advance for one of the top titles - perhaps Singin' in the Rain at the Palace, Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty's Theatre or Les Mis at the Queens Theatre. Grab a burrito at La Perla on Maiden Lane or call in to Cote on Tavistock Street for a great value pre-theatre set menu beforehead. If there's any time to spare, Covent Garden has some great shopping around its cobbled square.
  • On January 28, 2013
    Jason Heard is now following Helen Ochyra
  • On January 27, 2013
    Helen Ochyra answered the question: Helen Ochyra

    What are the best museums in London?

    London is awash with museums. From national treasures to internationally renowned collections, and from quirky small galleries to vast world-famous museums, there is truly something for everyone.

    For art, head to the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square which houses the national collection of Western European painting from the 13th to the 19th centuries, or the Tate Modern at Bankside on the river Thames for the country's leading modern art collection.

    Anyone interested in the natural world should not miss the Natural History Museum in South Kensington (where kids will love the dinosaur galleries) while science fans won't want to skip the Science Museum next door, which is packed with interactive exhibits. The V&A, also located here, is the world's greatest museum of art and design, while the British Museum in Bloomsbury is unrivalled for its collection of international artefacts, which includes the controversial Elgin marbles.

    Smaller museums worth a visit include the Charles Dickins museum, which is
    the only surviving London house in which Dickens lived, the Churchill Museum at the Cabinet War Rooms, the Museum of Brands in Notting Hill, which pays homage to the importance packaging and advertising, and the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green which is part of the V&A and houses the V&A's national collection of childhood related objects, including dolls' houses and teddy bears.

    Finally, don't miss the National Portrait Gallery, back on Trafalgar Square, behind the National Gallery, where you can see portraits of famous Brits past and present including, of course, plenty of the royal family.
  • On January 27, 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; 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
    Walking is the best way to get around but distances between attractions can be huge. 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. 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.