On February 26, 2013Jo Caird answered the question:Any article on London museums has to begin with the big four: the British Museum (art and history), Natural History Museum, Science Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum (art, fashion, crafts and design). These powerhouse institutions all offer free admission to their permanent collections (as well as running regular ticketed exhibitions), meaning that you can pop in for repeat visits to experience their treasures in your own sweet time.
But just as important as the big beasts of the London museum ecosystem are the smaller, more niche institutions on offer. Sir John Soane's Museum is the private collection of the great architect and parliamentarian, housed in the residence he built between 1792 and 1824. It's an eclectic blend of art, architecture and antiquities and is at its best on the monthly candle-lit evening openings (pictured above).
The Wellcome Collection also owes its existence to the curiosity and tenacity of a respected 19th-century gentleman: Sir Henry Wellcome's passion for medicine led him to collect over a million objects. A selection of these remarkable artefacts are on permanent display, and there are fantastic temporary exhibitions too, exploring the relationship between science, medicine, life and art.
And finally, the London Transport Museum offers a unique route into London's past and present through the story of its public transport network. This may sound like a dry subject, but it's nothing of the kind, from the remarkable engineering project that brought the Tube into being 150 years ago, to the dramatic events of wartime London to the Underground as design innovator.
On February 24, 2013Jo Caird answered the question:When you think of London theatre, you automatically think of the West End. But although the area known as Theatreland is home to many fantastic playhouses – the Harold Pinter, the Duke of York's, the Noel Coward and the Donmar Warehouse are just a couple to look out for – there's much more to theatre in the capital than this relatively small area in the centre of town. (It's also the case that the West End tends to be better known for musical theatre rather than straight plays and I'm concerning myself with the latter in this article.)
Just across the river, the South Bank is home to the National Theatre, while next door in Bankside there's Shakespeare's Globe. Both theatres produce consistently outstanding work, with an increasing number of shows transferring to West End houses. The Old Vic and Young Vic in nearby Southwark also rarely disappoint.
Go a little further afield and you'll find top quality work being produced in smaller theatres all over town. The Royal Court in Sloane Square has been at the forefront of British drama for decades, the Tricycle in Kilburn has a reputation for hard-hitting political plays and the Almeida in Islington is a real local treasure.
A particular speciality of London theatre is plays staged in non-traditional spaces. From tiny rooms above pubs (the Finborough in Earl's Court) to converted industrial buildings (the Arcola in Dalston) to one-off, site-specific, immersive performances taking place in unexpected locations, there's plenty to keep the open-minded theatre-goer on her toes.
On February 22, 2013Jo Caird answered the question:London has one of the richest gallery scenes in the world, from publicly-subsidised powerhouse institutions to tiny neighborhood shopfront galleries. Picking just a couple is a tricky task, but the following will give you a good spread of the scene.
Modern and contemporary
There's nowhere better to start than at Tate Modern. This former power station on the banks of the Thames holds a enormous collection of modern and contemporary works and hosts regular displays and exhibitions. You need a ticket for major shows, but there's no general admission, so you can explore at your leisure. Not that you'd be able to, but don't miss the extraordinary Turbine Hall, which hosts large scale installations, many of which have an interactive element.
For pre-20th century art, head to the Dulwich Picture Gallery. This Sir John Soane-designed space, tucked away in leafy South East London, is something of a hidden gem. The collection of European old master paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries is superb and one of the oldest in the country, having been put together in the early 1790s. There's a modest admission fee to visit the collection, with exhibition tickets costing a little more.
The next big thing?
The commercial galleries in Cork Street, Mayfair, have launched the London careers of many artists over the years, including illustrious names such as Joan Miró. Major dealers are now based all over the capital, but there's still something special about this historic street and it's still a good place to go if you're interested in checking out the potential greats of tomorrow. Under threat from developers, it's future is uncertain, so don't delay.
On February 20, 2013Jo Caird answered the question:London is a massive city with, unsurprisingly, a massive public transport system. It can be infuriating – when ‘leaves on the line’ stop trains from running, for example – but mostly it works just fine, carrying over a billion passengers a year. Here’s the lowdown.
Underground and Overground
The world's oldest underground railway celebrated its 150th anniversary earlier this year. Best avoided at rush hour, the Tube is a convenient and usually pretty speedy way of getting around. The system's major flaw is that trains stop running at around 1am , so if you're out later than that you're dependent on buses and taxis. The Overground is the newest addition to the train network and features modern trains and a reliable service.
When travelling at busy periods, buses tend to be a less stressful way of getting around, but of course you're at the mercy of the traffic. In central London, you can't buy tickets on the bus – you need to buy one (or have a valid Oyster card with you – see below) before boarding. A large number of routes run 24 hours a day, or operate a night service. While the famous old Routemaster buses that used to run across the entire network have replaced with modern vehicles that are pram and wheelchair accessible, you can still find them on two 'heritage' routes, the number 9 and the number 15. You can see the new Routemaster, that will be rolled out across London at some point in the future, on the 38 route, which goes from Victoria to Clapton in Hackney.
Black cabs (which now come in a range of colours) are a very reliable and safe way of getting around London – all are now also wheelchair accessible. You can hail them on the street when their yellow lights are lit. Fares are metered, starting at £2.40. Non-metered mini cabs must be booked in advance rather than hailed on the street. They often work out cheaper than black cabs.
Barclays Cycle Hire bikes (known as Boris Bikes after Boris Johnson, the Mayor under whose tenure they were brought in) can be hired from docking stations throughout central London. You don't need to register in advance to use the service, but there are discounts if you do. They're designed to be used for short journeys.
River boats, trams and the Emirates Air Line
River buses, a rather underused part of London's transport network, offer a relaxing way of getting around, plus fantastic views of the city. In Croydon, south-east London, trams are added to the mix. They don't exist anywhere else in the capital. The Emirates Air Line is really more tourist attraction than transport option, but as it's also a handy way of getting across the river between Greenwich and Excel, I'm including it.
Cash tickets, whether bought for travel on the Tube or buses, are very expensive. An Oyster card, which you charge up and then use by 'tapping in' and 'tapping out' of Tube stations (or as you board buses), is a less pricey option. The Transport for London Journey Planner is an essential tool for working out the best of getting around. There are a whole host of smart phone apps to help too: I use London Tube Deluxe for journey planning on the move, Tube Exits to work out the fastest way through the Underground network and Bus Checker for a live countdown at bus stops.
On February 13, 2013Jo Caird answered the question:
London’s a fantastic city, but it’s important not to forget just how much more of the UK there is to explore, including plenty of fantastic places within easy reach of a day trip.
Brighton is the closest seaside resort to London, just an hour on the train from London Victoria. Home to two left-leaning universities, it has a buzzy student vibe and is known as the UK's gay capital. The city centre, which is small enough to explore in an afternoon, is full of great shopping (including antiques in the Lanes and independent boutiques in the North Laine area), cafés, bars and restaurants. To get a sense of Brighton's Regency past, visit the Royal Pavilion, the palace built for King George IV in the 18th century. And don't miss the famous stony beach and Pier, with its tacky amusement arcades and fun fair.
Oxford, which you can reach by train in just over an hour from London Paddington, has been a university city for over 900 years. It's full of extraordinary architecture – Magdalen College and Christ Church are particularly fine examples, but you’ll find astonishing things to look at wherever you wander in this venerable place. The university’s Ashmolean Museum is well worth a visit for its collections of art and archeology, the Botanic Garden is the oldest in the UK, and punting is an essentially obligatory activity. You can hire a punt (a long, flat-bottomed boat propelled by a punter with a pole that he or she pushes against the river bed) by the hour or for longer periods and explore the River Cherwell at your leisure.
Windsor Castle is the world’s oldest inhabited castle and one of the Queen’s official residences (you can tell when she’s at home because the Royal Standard flies from the Round Tower). It's around an hour from London. Visit the State Apartments, the magnificent Gothic St. George’s Chapel (where you’ll find the tomb of Henry VIII) and watch the Changing the Guard ceremony. The castle also has an excellent art collection, including works by Rembrandt and Canaletto.
On February 11, 2013Jo Caird answered the question:With so many attractions and activities to choose from, London is a fantastic place to visit with children. Here are a selection of things to do with children, from the very little to the not so small.
The dinosaur skeletons on display at the Natural History Museum are a sight to behold, as is the life-size model of a blue whale in the mammals gallery.
Walk like an Egyptian
The Egyptian mummies are one of the British Museum's most popular displays. The idea that inside these artifacts are real people who lived thousands of years ago is fascinating and a little scary all at once.
Make a splash
London Duck Tours use the same amphibious vehicles that transported Allied troops to France during the D-Day landings in their entertaining tours of London. A drive around the city's top sights is followed by an exciting splash into the Thames and the very peculiar sensation of taking a river cruise in a bus.
The Science Museum’s Launch Pad gallery is full of interactive exhibits for kids to play with. From displays that show carbon dioxide turning straight from a solid into a gas to the magic of thermal imaging cameras, there’s something here to excite the imagination of every child.
Up and away
For kids, the London Eye is about more than just great views. This is a ride on the biggest Ferris wheel they’ve ever seen and it's a thrilling experience from beginning to end.
The great outdoors
London also has lots to offer in terms of outdoor pursuits for children. My seasonal favourites are summertime swimming in the ponds at Hampstead Heath and ice-skating at the many rinks that pop up all over the city around Christmas time. The one at Somerset House is the prettiest.
On February 8, 2013Jo Caird posted:
What to do with your one day in London... http://www.forbestravelguide.com/question/what-is-the-best-way-to-see-london-in-one-day?preferredAttributionId=jo-caird
On February 6, 2013Jo Caird answered the question:
You’re coming to London and you’re excited about it. But before you arrive, there are a couple of things you should know.
First, there are practical concerns to think about. London is enormous, but the centre of town is actually quite compact and the best way of getting around is therefore either on foot or by bike. Walking is easiest – and you’ll be helped along by the blue and yellow signposts of the Legible London scheme – but cycling allows you to cover greater distances in a shorter time. You can hire the famous Boris bikes (named for London Mayor Boris Johnson, under whose tenure they were introduced) for short periods and drop them off at docking points across the city. If you’re planning on using public transport, it’s wise to get an Oyster Card, as cash journeys are prohibitively expensive. Charge it up and then use it to pay for travel across the transport network.
Which brings me neatly to my next point: there’s lots of London to explore, so don’t just stick to the centre of town. Areas such as Highgate and Hampstead in north London, Dalston in east London, Brixton and Dulwich down south and Richmond in the west have all got a unique character that you won’t find elsewhere. London is really just a series of villages with overlapping boundaries, so to get a proper sense of the place, you need to do some travelling.
Finally, a word about Londoners themselves. It’s not that we’re grumpy by nature, it’s just that living surrounded by so many millions of busy people tends to bring out a certain brusqueness that visitors from elsewhere may not be accustomed to. So don’t take it personally if we don’t smile, say hello or ask you how you are. We’re lovely when you get to know us.
On February 4, 2013Jo Caird answered the question:
If you went for drinks in a different London bar every evening it would be years before you had to visit to the same place twice. But when it comes to choosing the best bars in the capital, it all depends on what sort of place you’re looking for.
The cocktail bar
For a bar to kick off an elegant evening, there’s nowhere better than the OXO Tower Bar, with its cool interior, innovative cocktail list and gorgeous views over the Thames and out across London.
The traditional pub
This is by far the most common type of drinking establishment, dating back to the time when there were pubs on practically every street corner. The Holly Bush in Hampstead has been a pub since the early 19th century and it doesn’t feel like it’s changed much since then. Full of nooks and crannies and beautiful old touches, it’s a place to spend an entire afternoon nursing a pint of bitter.
The trendy bar
Dalston is currently one of the coolest places to go out in London, and Dalston Superstore is a great bar to start with if want a taste of this scene. The staff are aloof, there's sometimes dancing to be had, and the sight of pretty people wearing ridiculous clothes is just about guaranteed.
The wine bar
Gordon’s Wine Bar (pictured) is thought to be the oldest in London and has existed in its present location since 1890. You can drink surrounded by ancient memorabilia beneath crumbling vaults or on the terrace outside. It’s always very busy, so anyone seeking a table needs to be both patient and quick as lightening. If you get peckish, they serve excellent cheese platters and cold plates as well as some hot food.