Jo Caird

Correspondent

  • London, England, UK

Born and brought up in London, Jo Caird is a correspondent who covers the city for Forbes Travel Guide. She writes on travel and the arts, reporting on a range of issues relating to the international culture scene, including theater, visual arts, film, literature, food and drink. Her travel stories, city guides and arts features appear regularly in newspapers, including The Guardian, The Independent and The Sunday Telegraph, and magazines, such as The Economist, Condè Nast Traveller and World of Interiors. Caird is never happier than when exploring her native city, except perhaps when telling people about the things she’s discovered there.

  • On March 28, 2013
    Jo Caird answered the question: Jo Caird

    What are the best food gifts to buy in London?

    If you've got the self-control to make it home with the items you buy during your stay in the capital, then your friends and family have a treat in store. If such self-control is beyond you, simply tell your loved ones that their gifts were confiscated by customs – just make sure there are no stray crumbs in your luggage to give the game away.*

    As a huge cheese fan, my number one tip has to be Neal's Yard Dairy, the UK's best known fromagerie. You'll find cheeses from 70 farms around the UK and Ireland at the company's branches in Covent Garden and Borough Market. Among the highlights of the extensive list are the Isle of Mull cheddar and stichelton, one of England's few unpasteurised blue cheeses. The staff are knowledgeable and friendly so don't hesitate to ask their advice on what to try and buy.

    Tea isn't strictly a food, of course, but it would be criminal not to include such a crucial symbol of Britishness in this list. Fortnum & Mason have been selling the stuff since 1707 so you can be sure you're buying the best. There are over 100 blends available, many of them in gorgeous decorative caddies. Alongside tea, the famous Piccadilly store sells other great food gifts ideas such as confectionary, jams and biscuits, as well as hampers for travellers in a particularly generous mood.

    Finally, if you're from a country that will let you carry home meat products in your luggage, then The Ginger Pig's pork pies are a must. Thick-crust pastry, succulent pork (the company gets all its meat from Yorkshire) and flavoursome jelly make up this classic British snack. Visit the counter at Borough Market or one of the company's stores in Shepherd's Bush, Marylebone or Hackney. Their chutneys and preserves make a great accompaniment, so consider adding them to your list too.

    *On a more serious note, it's worth pointing out that many countries restrict which foods and drinks you're allowed to carry in with you, so check before you buy.
  • On March 26, 2013
    Jo Caird answered the question: Jo Caird

    What new museum exhibits are in London?

    The biggest new exhibition currently wowing the crowds in the capital goes by the name of David Bowie is. This first international retrospective of the career of the pop culture legend just happens to coincide with Bowie's return to the limelight after a decade of silence and fans and critics alike couldn't be more delighted. The huge show is drawn from the musician's personal archive – expect costumes, instruments, set designs, lyric sheets and more. Visitors to the Victoria and Albert Museum are given a pair of headphones so as to be able to access audio tracks that are triggered automatically as they make their way through through the galleries. Walls of screens show concerts and clips of various roles Bowie has played. It's an intensely immersive experience. Until August 11.

    This week another exhibition opens that's sure to be a blockbuster. Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum runs until September 29 at the British Museum and showcases 250 artefacts from the two cities on the Bay of Naples that were buried by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD79. The exhibition includes well known items that were preserved by the volcanic ash, as well as new finds, many of them never before seen outside Italy. The domestic will be a major focus, with exhibits offering insights into everyday life in these seaside cities. The lives of powerful women, freed slaves and children in particular will be explored, giving visitors perhaps the most complete picture of Roman society that has been seen in London. There will be moving elements too, such as the cast of the family of four frozen in time hiding under the stairs of their villa when the ash came down, and a remarkably well preserved wooden crib that still rocks on its runners. Don't miss it.
  • On March 26, 2013
    Jo Caird answered the question: Jo Caird

    What new museum exhibits are in London?

    The biggest new exhibition currently wowing the crowds in the capital goes by the name of David Bowie is. This first international retrospective of the career of the pop culture legend just happens to coincide with Bowie's return to the limelight after a decade of silence and fans and critics alike couldn't be more delighted. The huge show is drawn from the musician's personal archive – expect costumes, instruments, set designs, lyric sheets and more. Visitors to the Victoria and Albert Museum are given a pair of headphones so as to be able to access audio tracks that are triggered automatically as they make their way through through the galleries. Walls of screens show concerts and clips of various roles Bowie has played. It's an intensely immersive experience. Until August 11.

    This weekend another exhibition opens that's sure to be a blockbuster. Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum runs until September 29 at the British Museum and showcases 250 artefacts from the two cities on the Bay of Naples that were buried by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD79. The exhibition includes well known items that were preserved by the volcanic ash, as well as new finds, many of them never before seen outside Italy. The domestic will be a major focus, with exhibits offering insights into everyday life in these seaside cities. The lives of powerful women, freed slaves and children in particular will be explored, giving visitors perhaps the most complete picture of Roman society that has been seen in London. There will be moving elements too, such as the cast of the family of four frozen in time hiding under the stairs of their villa when the ash came down, and a remarkably well preserved wooden crib that still rocks on its runners. Don't miss it.
  • On March 22, 2013
    Jo Caird answered the question: Jo Caird

    What are the best places for opera in London?

    London has two major opera companies, both of which present a selection of traditional productions and innovative new works. The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden is home to the Royal Opera while English National Opera can be found at the London Coliseum on St. Martin's Lane. Book a ticket at either venue and you'll find yourself in the presence of one of the world's leading opera companies. The Royal Opera House also runs tours of its auditorium and backstage areas, which are a great way of getting to know this extraordinary building a little better.

    For a more intimate experience, check out London's Little Opera House, aka The King's Head Theatre. This tiny north London venue is home to the Olivier Award-winning OperaUpClose and serves up a diverse range of small-scale productions.

    In the summertime there's even more on offer. Opera Holland Park presents mainly classics in the sublime surroundings of Holland Park in Kensington. Shows take place in the open air under a temporary canopy.

    Towards the end of the summer, those up for something a bit more challenging will love Grimeborn and Tête à Tête, two opera festivals taking place at the Arcola Theatre and the Riverside Studios respectively, both top London fringe theatres. Featuring small-scale, often short and almost always surprising work, these events turn the art form on its head and are well worth exploring.
  • On March 20, 2013
    Jo Caird answered the question: Jo Caird

    What are the best historic hotels in London?

    Historic hotels offer some of London's best accommodation. I've already mentioned one top historic establishment in this previous post on the capital's best hotels, so although I won't repeat myself by writing about it here too, Claridge's certainly makes it onto my list of the best historic hotels in London. Here are a couple more.

    When The Langham opened in the 1860s, it caused a stir with its modern toilets, bathrooms and lifts. These are things we take for granted these days, but the hotel is still wowing its guests with its elegant design, fine dining options (Roux at the Landau sees father-and-son team Albert and Michel Roux Jr working together again for the first time in 19 years) and excellent health club. The location is also enviable, convenient for Marylebone, Soho and Mayfair.

    Another great choice is The Dorchester, which overlooks Hyde Park from its grand location on Park Lane. The hotel dates back to the 1930s and boasts an illustrious history, including visits by royals and an impressive list of famous names. Prince Philip had his stag do here before marrying the then Princess Elizabeth in 1947. The Dorchester is renowned for its restaurants, which include the three-Michelin-star Alain Ducasse and Cantonese bar and eatery China Tang. The staff to guest room ratio of three to one means that if you're fortunate enough to be staying here, chances are you'll be very comfortable indeed.
  • On March 18, 2013
    Jo Caird answered the question: Jo Caird

    What are the best indoor activities in London?

    London's weather may be notoriously unpredictable, but there's no need to let a sudden shower or unseasonably cold day ruin your fun. Here's a mini-guide to the best of indoor London.

    Museums and galleries
    London's major museums and galleries will keep you entertained for hours, but don't overlook some of the smaller, more niche institutions you'll find dotted around the place. The London Canal Museum, for example, tells the history of London's canals and the people that lived and worked on them.

    Planetarium
    You'll find London's only planetarium at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. Shows for adults and children run throughout the day. 

    Lectures
    The Royal Institution, Gresham College and the London School of Economics (LSE) all run programmes of daytime and evening lectures that are open to the public and free to attend. Some you need to register for in advance, but most you can just turn up to. The range of topics covered is extremely broad, so you're likely to find something to get your teeth into whatever your area of interest.

    Cinema and performing arts
    Choose from the dozens of plays, musicals, operas, comedy nights and dance productions playing in London at any one time, or visit an independent cinema like the Electric in Notting Hill or the Screen on the Green in Islington (which is now run by the Everyman Group, but has maintained its original feel). If you're looking for indoor entertainment during the day, a lot of theatre shows have matinee performances on Wednesdays and Thursdays, as well as Saturdays. Most concerts take place in the evening, but you'll find lunchtime recitals (some of which are free) at venues including the Royal Albert Hall, St. Martin-in-the-Fields and Wigmore Hall.

    Tours
    Hop on a bus or river tour to get a feel for the city without having to brave the weather.
  • On March 15, 2013
    Jo Caird answered the question: Jo Caird

    What are the best bookstores in London?

    If you're looking for a book in London, the centre of town is a pretty good place to start. There you'll find Waterstones Piccadilly and Foyles (Charing Cross Road), both of which claim to be the biggest bookstore in Europe. Between them they stock over 350,000 titles, covering all manner of specialist subject areas. Waterstones alone has eight and a half miles of shelving.

    Both have also got nice watering holes too, hidden away on upper floors. 5th View at Waterstones serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and afternoon tea, as well as a range of tasty cocktails. The café at Foyles, meanwhile, is a great spot for a sandwich or a coffee. It's got free wi-fi too.

    Another good central London option is Daunts, which occupies a beautiful Edwardian bookshop on Marylebone High Street. This is the place to come if you're after a travel book or map – they've got a huge range, plus fiction, non-fiction, crime, etc. It's a very civilised place to go shopping.
  • On March 13, 2013
    Jo Caird answered the question: Jo Caird

    What’s happening this weekend in London?

    Alongside all the usual fun that takes place in London at the weekend – gigs, farmers' markets, engineering works on the Tube – this particular weekend sees two major cultural celebrations take over the centre of town, neither of which you should miss.

    The first is Maslenitsa, the Russian Sun Festival. This family event will be taking place in Trafalgar Square from 1.30pm to 6.30pm on 16 March and involves live music, activities for kids, food stalls selling authentic Russian treats and a craft bazaar. I admit that given the freezing temperatures and snow flurries London has witnessed this week, a festival celebrating the arrival of spring seems like a cruel joke, but maybe this event is just what's required to get winter to release the capital from its icy grip.

    The other big party taking place this weekend is St. Patrick's Day, which falls on Sunday this year. London has an enormous Irish community, but of course it's not just the Irish who'll be celebrating. You can expect to see people decked out in green wearing those by now ubiquitous fluffy pint-of-Guinness hats all weekend in pubs, clubs and restaurants across the capital. There's an official celebration at Trafalgar Square that begins at noon, as well as a parade setting off from Green Park at the same time and finishing up in the square. The festivities – dance performances, film screenings, stand-up comedy and a food market – will run all day. Brilliantly, both this festival and Maslenitsa are entirely free and open to all.
  • On March 12, 2013
    Shannan Finke is now following Jo Caird
  • On March 11, 2013
    Jo Caird answered the question: Jo Caird

    What is the tipping etiquette in London?

    There's no hard and fast rule about tipping in London (or indeed in the UK as a whole), which means that this can be quite a confusing issue for visitors to the city. Here are a few guidelines though, that should keep you out of trouble.*

    Bars
    Tipping is customary in some cocktail bars and the bars of upmarket hotels, but that's it. Pretty much everywhere else you pay for your drink, say thank-you and you're done. When I worked in a pub as a teenager the regulars would occasionally tell me to  'get one for yourself too', but otherwise tipping in pubs is almost unheard of.

    Restaurants
    In restaurants and cafés on the other hand, tipping is encouraged. Tips don't count towards the national minimum wage in the UK, so waiting staff aren't dependent on them to earn a living, but it's customary to leave 10-12.5% depending on how much you've enjoyed yourself. Many restaurants these days add an 'optional service charge' to your bill – you don't have to pay it if you don't want to. And even if you do, it's worth bearing in mind that this proportion of the bill doesn't necessarily go directly to the staff. If in doubt, ask, or tip in cash.

    Restaurant cloakroom attendants and hotel porters
    £1 per item is usually about right.

    Taxis
    Usual practice is to round up to the nearest pound or tell your driver to keep the change, but there's no obligation to tip if you're unhappy with the service.

    Hairdressers and beauty therapists
    This is the trickiest area to navigate. Some people don't tip at all, many do and many more only tip if they're feeling good about the service they've received. It's a minefield.

    *Not literally. Although there are various situations in which tipping is expected, not tipping doesn't provoke anywhere near the level of ire that it does in the United States. So people who forget to tip (or choose not to) won't be refused service or treated rudely on future visits. Well, not that rudely.
  • On March 11, 2013
    Laura Janelle Downey is now following Jo Caird
  • On March 9, 2013
    Jo Caird answered the question: Jo Caird

    Where can you get the best view in London?

    © Julian Shoquette Before the opening of The View from The Shard in February, London's best view was undoubtedly the one from the top of Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath. One of the highest points in the city, this gorgeous location overlooks nearly all of the capital. It's also a lovely place to hang out for a while – people come here to walk their dogs and fly kites all year round.

    But though Parliament Hill is still my overall favourite, I have to admit that in terms of the panorama itself, The View from The Shard (pictured) has the edge. At £24.95 for an adult ticket it's not cheap, but there's something quite extraordinary about seeing the whole of this great city laid out before you in every direction. On a clear day you can see up to 64km from the 244m viewing platform. Entrance is timed, but once you're up there you can stay all day if you like. Just remember to go to the loo before your visit – there aren't facilities at the top of the attraction.
  • On March 7, 2013
    Jo Caird answered the question: Jo Caird

    What is the weather like right now in London?

    Today it's raining, but don't let that fool you – it actually rains far less in London than people would have you believe. That said, I make sure I've got an umbrella with me at all times, just in case. It pays to be prepared, especially if you're out and about sightseeing.

    It may be rainy today, but it's not cold. As of this week, it feels like spring is finally on its way. You can see spring bulbs in all the parks, leaves are beginning to appear on the trees and there's a faint scent of  blossom in the air. It nearly feels like the moment to pack away the winter coat and woolens.

    Spring is a great time to visit London: warm enough that you can happily spend time outdoors but not so hot that public transport becomes an inferno. The days are longer now too and everyone is a bit more cheerful than usual. I can't promise there won't be a few rainy days, but it takes more than a bit of drizzle to cramp London's springtime style.
  • On March 3, 2013
    Jo Caird answered the question: Jo Caird

    What is London’s dining scene like?

    London's dining scene is constantly reinventing itself, with new restaurants opening up at an almost alarming rate, new chefs hitting the headlines and new trends trickling down through the food chain. Londoners are keen readers of restaurant reviews and people like to stay abreast of the latest thing.

    Trends come and go of course – whether it's fancy fast food or restaurants where you can't make a reservation – but a couple of things remain constant amidst all this frenetic activity: overall quality of experience and a dedication to multiculturalism. London's dining scene is one of the best in the world because of its extraordinary variety. They say that over 230 languages are spoken in London and I wouldn't be surprised if there were that many different cuisines represented in restaurants across the capital too (including classic British cookery of course). For foodies, this is an infinitely exciting place to be.
  • On February 28, 2013
    Jo Caird answered the question: Jo Caird

    What is nightlife like in London?

    The most exciting thing about London’s nightlife is the sheer variety of experience on offer. If your idea of the perfect night out is a couple of pints and a game of darts in an old local boozer, there’s plenty of options out there for you. But then again, if you want to see a show, go for a meal, or spend all night at a trendy warehouse party, you can do that too.

    A lot of London’s nightlife fun takes place in the centre of town. You’ll find bars and restaurants galore in the West End (Soho and Mayfair are good places to start – the latter is certainly the swankier of the two), as well as Theatreland.

    Head east for Shoreditch, the capital’s other big party hub. It’s a younger, funkier vibe, particularly as you head north into Dalston, currently the hippest place to go out in London. Dining in this area has a more rough and ready appeal, with fantastic Vietnamese and Turkish restaurants feeding revelers before they go onto bars and clubs. This is a good place for live music too.

    There’s a lot going on in South London too, including the bars and pubs of Clapham and the grittier scene in Brixton and Peckham. The latter, which is full of students and arty types, is ramping up to be London’s next big thing in terms of going out.

    As far as the West is concerned, the King’s Road area has a good range of pubs, clubs and restaurants catering primarily to London’s young moneyed set, and Notting Hill is the coolest place for clubbing in this part of town.