London: The Unexpected Approaches To Public Transport

Tubes, buses and black cabs are all perfect choices for getting from A to B, but transport doesn’t always have to be about practicality. It can also be luxurious, nostalgic and even awe-inspiring. Read on to discover some innovative and unexpected approaches to London transport.

Fine dining on a luxury steam-hauled Pullman Train

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For an unforgettable train travel and fine dining experience dripping with 1920s luxury, take a round-trip journey aboard the Belmond British Pullman. Over the course of the five-hour trip through delightful Kentish countryside, indulge in a silver-service five-course lunch of sumptuous seasonal dishes, all in the most exquisite art deco carriages.

The Pullman departs from London Victoria station, a short distance from our Ebury and Cliveden Place residences.

Attend a gourmet supper club in an old London Underground carriage

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A 1967 decommissioned tube carriage has been given a second lease of life in Walthamstow, where it forms a unique setting for gourmet supper club events hosted by Basement Galley. Choose between social seating (the ‘Luggage Rack Special’) or a private VIP booth for two at any of the club events. At present these include:

  • The Underground Supper Club Spring/Summer Edition: a three-course Brasserie/Grillhouse style dinner, which runs weekly from June 2017
  • The Underground Brunch Club: fine dining brunch, which runs three times per month

Take in stunning aerial views of London on a helicopter tour

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Perhaps the most exhilarating and unique way to acquaint yourself with a new city is from the air. Take to the skies high above London landmarks like the Houses of Parliament, Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace and admire spectacular views across the Thames and beyond.

There are a few companies that run helicopter tours of London, but The London Helicopter are the only ones operating from a heliport in the city. Based in Battersea, the company offer three different routes at varying durations, and you can join a shared flight or pay more for private use (max. 6 people). They also offer discounts for holders of the London Pass.

Relax on the water with a canal or river cruise

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If gliding across the water is more your style, escape the crowds with a river or canal tour. There are a whole host of companies and styles to choose from including:

  • A full dining experience with live band entertainment aboard one of Bateaux London’s Thames cruises (choose from a Dinner Cruise or Sunday Lunch Jazz)
  • Taking in Tudor history and Turner landscapes alike on a historic Turks boat a little outside of central London, from Hampton Court to Richmond
  • Exploring London’s charming canals on a long boat between Little Venice and Camden (the Jenny Wren departs from Camden for a round trip, while The London Waterbus Company and Jason’s depart from Little Venice. Note that Jason’s is included in the London Pass, if you’re planning to buy one.)

Europea’s Maida Vale or Notting Hill residences are both wonderful choices if you’d like to stay near the Little Venice area.

Visit a charming vintage underground-themed bar

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Blending nostalgia for the London Underground with the revelry of a 1940s speakeasy, Cahoots bar in Soho really is one of a kind. Following a greeting (and a ticket) from a train guard at the door, you descend via a subway-tiled escalator to the bar itself. From there, grab a cocktail, marvel at the fabulously detailed vintage tube carriage décor and tap your toes to the jazz and swing music. The bar is popular, so book to avoid disappointment.

London: 6 Secret Things To Do This Summer

Summertime opens up a whole host of fresh opportunities in the city. Outdoor strolls around London’s parks, gardens and markets are de rigueur throughout the season, but summer also brings with it plenty of exceptional but short-lived events. Catch the ones below before they’re gone!

Visit Buckingham Palace’s State Rooms

22 July to 1 October

State Rooms at Buckingham Palace
State Rooms at Buckingham Palace (credit: 2OnTheWing)

Year round, crowds flock to admire Buckingham Palace’s beautiful façade, but it’s only in late summer that you can explore some of its exquisite interior too. The State Rooms – those rooms designated for the Queen to receive and entertain subjects and visiting dignitaries – are open from July to October, and with a Royal Day Out ticket you can gain access to the Queen’s Gallery and the Royal Mews too.

The Throne Room is a particular highlight; in recent times it’s perhaps most famous as the setting of several official photographs from the wedding of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Europea’s Westminster Residence is a short walk from Buckingham Palace.

Make DIY Ice Cream At Pierre Marcolini

1 June to end of August

Pierre-Marcolini

Give summer ice cream a gourmet, personalised twist over at the Esquimau Choc Ice Bar at the Pierre Marcolini boutique on Marylebone High Street. Select from four ice cream (or two sorbet) flavours and then choose from six luxurious chocolate toppings to round it off (including smoked dark chocolate, milk chocolate with toasted hazelnut and fleur de sel or white chocolate and toasted coconut).

Experience Movie Magic At The Outdoor Cinema In Hyde Park

3, 4, 5 and 7 July

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Outdoor Cinema London (credit: London The Inside)

Hyde Park’s British Summer Time festival comes with more than just musical performances. They’re also hosting four free movie nights in July on a huge open air screen, and the line-up is a spectacular combination of family fun (a sing-along of The Lion King and two of Disney’s sensational live-action remakes – 2016’s The Jungle Book and this year’s Beauty and the Beast) and grown-up modern classics (including Dirty Dancing and Back to the Future). See the schedule here – entry is on a first-come-first-served basis, so be sure to arrive early!

Europea’s Kinnerton and Kensington residences both border Hyde Park.

Channel Your Inner Patissier At The Big London Bake

Until 1 October

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(credit: Immy May)

The Great British Bake Off has practically become a national institution since first gracing British TVs back in 2010. (These days it’s even gaining in popularity across the pond as The Great British Baking Show.) Whether you have a penchant for cake, pastry and all things baking or are just a fan of the series, snap up the opportunity to take on a baking challenge yourself at The Big London Bake. Set in a marquee kitchen, contestants take part in the competition in 10 teams of 2 with all ingredients provided and a professional baker on hand. No experience required!

Go On A Sensory Journey At Somerset House’s Perfume Exhibition

21 June to 17 September

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(credit: Peter MacDiarmid)

If you’re a connoisseur of scent, you won’t want to miss Somerset House’s intriguing Perfume exhibition, which examines its perfumers’ modern and accessible approach to perfumery and celebrates their inspirations through visual, auditory and tactile displays. Visit one of the Perfume Lab Residencies (9 and 23 July) for a unique chance to learn more about the art and science of crafting a fragrance from an expert perfumer.

Europea’s Covent Garden residence is only a short distance from Somerset House.

Experience Theatre Anew At The Open Air Theatre At Regent’s Park And Immersive Ensemble’s The Great Gatsby

Open Theatre: schedule varies by production till September

The Great Gatsby runs till September

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The Sound Of Music Performance 2013 (credit: David Jensen)

Swap the West End for Regent’s Park’s Open Air Theatre this summer, with productions including A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist and the return of their 2016 sell-out (and award-winning) Jesus Christ Superstar.

For an alternative, but equally extraordinary, theatre experience, check out the Immersive Ensemble’s ‘heart-racing, immersive’ version of The Great Gatsby, held at a secret location. Don’t forget those dancing shoes!

Europea’s Primrose Hill residence is very close to Regent’s Park.

Spires And Shards: London’s 10 Greatest Buildings

London is a veritable smorgasbord of architectural styles. 21st century skyscrapers dominate the skyline today, but nestled among them are Roman and medieval structures, Wren masterpieces from the aftermath of the Great Fire of 1666 and a whole host of elaborate architectural gems from subsequent centuries. Get inspired for your next trip our wonderful residences as we explore 10 of the greatest buildings in the city.

London icons

Westminster Abbey

The site of every coronation since 1066 and the burial place of a plethora of British royalty and intellectuals, to say that Westminster Abbey is steeped in history is rather an understatement. Originally a small 10th century Benedictine monastery, over the centuries it has been transformed by a series of monarchs including Edward the Confessor and Henry III (who rebuilt the abbey in its current Gothic style). Read more here.

Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament)

Edward the Confessor established his royal palace on this site in the 1040s, but a fire destroyed much of the original structure in 1512. Thereafter its primary function shifted to housing Parliament. The palace has since been heavily reconstructed – its iconic Gothic Revival architecture is the work of architect Charles Barry following further fire damage in 1834. Read more here.

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Waters and Westminster (credit: lemerg.com)

St Paul’s Cathedral

St. Paul’s Cathedral has existed in several incarnations dating back to 604 AD, but the current Baroque building is the magnum opus of Britain’s most illustrious architect, Sir Christopher Wren. Built from the ashes of the Great Fire of London and remarkable for its survival during the London Blitz, the cathedral is a truly stalwart London icon. Read more here.

Fit for a Queen

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace has undergone considerable remodelling over its three-century lifespan. Following Victoria’s accession in 1837 it was enlarged and remodelled several times, acquiring its current neo-classical appearance with a redesign by Sir Aston Webb 1913. Read more here. If you’re looking to stay somewhere nearby, we would recommend our Westminster residence.

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Sneak peek inside Buckingham Palace (credit: Peter MacDiarmid/Getty Images)

Kensington Palace

Not far from our Kensington residence, you will find Kensington Palace. It has been a royal residence since its acquisition by William and Mary in 1689, at which point it was expanded and renovated ready for royal use by Sir Christopher Wren. The palace is perhaps best known as the birthplace of Queen Victoria – it was her affection for her childhood home that ensured its survival when the palace fell into disrepair in the mid 19th century. Today, the palace is both public museum and royal residence. Read more here.

Industry and transport

Westminster Underground Station

A futuristic mesh of concrete and metal take centre stage as you descend the escalators into Westminster Underground station. The architects’ vision is poetic – they speak of weaving escalators with lateral beams and of the geological texture of the walls – but perhaps The Guardian hit the nail on the head when it vividly described the interior as ‘Blade Runneresque’. While there are a whole host of remarkable tube stations in London, this might just be the stand out. Read more here.

Battersea Power Station

This 1930s built former coal-fired power station is both a monumental symbol of London’s industry and a prominent pop cultural image thanks in large part to its appearance on Pink Floyd’s Animals album cover. Constructed in brick-cathedral style, it owes its imposing riverside presence to architects J. Theo Halliday and Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. The building is currently undergoing a massive redevelopment with plans promising luxury accommodation and leisure facilities.

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Battersea Power Station

Modern classics

London Aquatics Centre

Form follows function with the harmonious lines and texture of the London Aquatics Centre. Designed by world-renowned architect Zaha Hadid in 2004, the concept was ‘inspired by the fluid geometry of water in motion…[reflecting] the riverside landscapes of the Olympic Park’. As of 2014, the pools are open to the public for a small admission fee. Read more here.

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Water was the inspiration for this building (credit: Zaha Hadid Architects – Domus)

The Gherkin (30 St. Mary Axe)

It took 7,429 panes of glass and 35km of steel to build 30 St. Mary Axe, designed by Sir Norman Foster in 2004. Gherkin-shaped in order to minimise wind turbulence, the towering commercial skyscraper is also very environmentally friendly with gaps in each floor creating six shafts that function as the building’s ventilation system. As well as admiring The Gherkin from afar, during special ‘Open Nights’ visitors can take in a panoramic view from Searcys restaurant and bar. Read more here.

The Shard

The fourth-tallest building in Europe (and, with the top three all in Moscow, the tallest building in Western Europe) formed an elegant, gleaming addition to the London skyline when it was finished in 2013. Renzo Piano’s striking design takes inspiration from the spires of London’s churches and the masts of tall ships in Canaletto paintings. Read more here.

Architecture tours and access

When it comes to appreciating London’s architecture, the Open House Festival cannot be beaten. Taking place annually over a single weekend in September, the festival offers a rare chance to visit hundreds of London’s buildings that are not usually open to the public – all for free. In the past, these have included 10 Downing Street, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Senate House as well as The Gherkin and The Shard. The guide for 2017’s Open House will be available in mid-August. A copy can be obtained for free in participating London libraries or pre-ordered online for a charge.

There are plenty of year-round architecture touring opportunities, too. Venture forth by boat, bike or on foot with the charity behind the Open House festival, Open-City, who run around eight tours per month. Insider London also run a couple of architecture-focussed tours, including tours on the London Underground, Modern Architecture and Sustainable Architecture.

London: Best Paintings And Where To Find Them

London is an art lover’s delight. With artistic treasures spanning centuries and movements, the city’s many galleries and museums offer something for every taste. Even better, many of these innovative, beautiful and thought-provoking pieces are part of the national collection and are thus available to enjoy entirely free of charge.

Before your trip and stay in our luxury rentals, take a moment to get acquainted with some of London’s greatest artworks and where to find them.

Georges Seurat, Bathers at Asnières, 1884 (National Gallery – Free)

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Bathers at Asnieres, George seurat

Seurat’s monumental pointillist masterpiece Bathers at Asnières (Une Baignade, Asnières) depicts working class men relaxing on the left bank of the river Seine. The artist’s first large-scale painting, it juxtaposes the smoky industry of nearby factories with the simple harmony of leisure time spent on a riverbank. The work is suffused with a sense of hazy summer warmth and light lent by small brushstrokes and soft, muted colours. In both its subject and tones it can be seen in contrast to another of Seurat’s paintings from later the same year – A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. The latter piece is set directly across the river from the Asnières scene and shows upper class leisure, this time bathed in shadow instead of light.

Jan van Eyck, Arnolfini Portrait, 1434 (National Gallery – Free)

The Arnolfini Portrait by van Eyck is one of the most celebrated paintings in European art, renowned for its originality, complexity and air of mystery (to this day there’s disagreement about the meaning of the painting). The domestic scene it depicts seems modest on the surface, but a closer look sees each detail brought to life in skilful reproduction – from status symbols and sumptuous fabrics to the convex reflections of the scene in the mirror on the wall.

Other prominent works at the National Gallery include: Hans Holbein the Younger, The Ambassadors; Monet, The Water-Lily Pond; Botticelli, Mars and Venus; Turner, The Fighting Temeraire and Van Gogh, Sunflowers.

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The Arnolfini Portrait, Jan Van Eyck

Mark Rothko, Seagram Murals, 1958 (Tate Modern – Free)

Though the Seagram Murals were originally commissioned for the Four Seasons restaurant in New York, Rothko was repulsed by the overtly pretentious atmosphere of the setting and withdrew from the project before the series was complete. He kept hold of the paintings and they were subsequently sold off in separate groups. Room 3 at the Tate Modern unites their own eight murals with a selection of those from Kawamura Memorial Museum of Art in Sakura and the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

The wash of deep tones marked a dramatic shift in Rothko’s palette and the pieces were, according to him, intended to inspire feelings of invited entrapment and the sense of being ‘walled in’. Though they were explicitly intended to imbue negativity in viewers, there is also a quiet grandeur and warmth to the large and sombre frames.

Other prominent works at the Tate Modern include: Picasso, Weeping Woman; Frampton, Marguerite Kelsey; Kandinsky, Swinging and Matisse, The Snail.

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Room 3 at the Tate: Seagram Murals by Mark Rothko

Édouard Manet, A Bar At The Folies-Bergère, 1882 (Courtauld Gallery)

Manet’s painting of a barmaid at a Paris music hall was recently hailed as the best painting in London by Time Out, who called it ‘one of the most psychologically-charged paintings you’ll ever see, a glittering world of misleading reflections and skewed perspectives.’ The last of Manet’s great works, its most intriguing element is perhaps the ambiguous expression of the barmaid and how that relates to the powerful gaze present in the painting (whether that of the man in the mirror or our own gaze as viewers).

Other prominent works at the Courtauld Gallery include: Degas, Two Dancers on a Stage; Cézanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire with a Large Pine; Gauguin, Nevermore and van Gogh, Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear.

Edouard Manet, A Bar at the Folies Bergère in London museum
A Bar at the Folies-Bergères, Edouard Manet

Associated with John Taylor, William Shakespeare, c. 1600-1610 (National Portrait Gallery – Free)

The ‘Chandos portrait’ of William Shakespeare (reputed to be by John Taylor) is perhaps most distinguished by its provenance; the portrait is the only depiction of the playwright with a reasonable claim to have been painted from life. The pale skin of Shakespeare’s face almost glows against the rich background tones and his black doublet, appropriate for such an incomparable luminary of English literature. What’s more, our Covent Garden residence is close by.

Other prominent works in the National Portrait Gallery include: Unknown, Queen Elizabeth I (the ‘Darnley portrait’) and Austen, Jane Austen.

 Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Swing, 1767 (Wallace Collection – Free)

A sensuous masterpiece of the rococo era, The Swing (Les hazards heureux de l’escarpolette) symbolises the hedonistic and flighty spirit of the time. A young lady – gliding through the air with abandon, dress billowing and shoe flying – is observed rather indecorously by the reclining young man in the bottom left. According to the memoirs of the writer Charles Collé, this risqué composition originated with the courtier who commissioned the work, originally from a different artist: ‘I should like to have you paint [my mistress] on a swing that a bishop would set going. You will place me in such a way that I would be able to see the legs of the lovely girl…’

Other prominent works at the Wallace Collection include: Hals, Laughing Cavalier, Velázquez, The Lady with a Fan and Titian, Perseus and Andromeda.

Visiting: Grant Wood, American Gothic, 1930 (Royal Academy of Arts, 25th Feb – 4th June)

American Gothic is one of those rare paintings, in the company of the Mona Lisa, The Creation of Adam or The Scream, which has taken on a life of its own through cultural appropriation and parody. As of last year, its dour (or perhaps impassive) subjects, their pitchfork and the quaint ‘Dibble House’ backdrop, have left US for the first time. Catch sight of the modern classic at the Royal Academy of Arts America After the Fall: Painting in the 1930s exhibition, running till 4th June.

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American Gothic, Grant Wood

Other prominent works at the America After the Fall exhibition include: Hopper, Gas and New York Movie, O’Keefe, Cow’s Skull with Calico Roses and Benton, Cotton Pickers. If you’re staying in our nearby Knightsbridge residence, it is definitely worth heading there.

Listen Up, London: Must-See Music Exhibitions

Listen Up! London is a vibrant city full of cultural events. Here we tell you the most important events you can’t miss this year.

The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal Remains

V&A Museum, 13th May – 1st Oct 2017

This year sees the 50-year anniversary of the release of Pink Floyd’s debut single, ‘Arnold Layne’. To mark the occasion, the V&A Museum is unveiling the first major international retrospective of one of the most successful and influential bands of all time: ‘The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal Remains’.

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Find out about the band’s artistic history (credit: Pink Floyd Exhibition)

The show promises an immersive and theatrical journey that will channel the band’s reputation for pioneering sonic and visual experimentation. Featuring 350 artefacts from handwritten lyrics to stage props, the exhibit will chart Pink Floyd’s inimitable music, staging and design from the 1960s to the present day in spectacular and multi-sensory style.

The Spencer Collection: A Musical Banquet, 3rd Jan 2017 – 31st Mar 2018

And Hands, 28th Feb 2017 – 31st May 2017

Royal Academy of Music

The eminent permanent collection of the Royal Academy of Music Museum is accompanied this year by two rather different temporary displays. The first, ‘A Musical Banquet’ showcases pieces from Robert Spencer’s collection of early music instruments, manuscripts, printed music and curiosities. With items spanning 500 years, the exhibition offers a rich and beautiful array of artefacts to intrigue and delight music enthusiasts, including guitar songs printed on playing cards and fine 16th century guitars and lutes.

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Top-notch exhibition space (credit: Royal Academy of Music)

The second, ‘Hands’, is a little less conventional for a music exhibition. It’s dedicated to musician’s hands, the most powerful tool in the arsenal of composers and performers alike. The exhibition seeks to question what hands might say about musicians by means of casts and photographs and includes specimens from such venerable composers as Chopin, Mendelssohn and Paganini.

The Vault

Hard Rock Café 

London’s only rock ‘n’ roll museum and part of the flagship Hard Rock Café, The Vault is quite literally what it says on the tin: a cosy basement room inside an old Coutts Bank, complete with hefty steel door. The small permanent exhibition of rock ‘n’ roll treasures includes clothing and personal items (Madonna’s Jean Paul Gauthier Bustier, John Lennon’s army shirt) but pride of place is the collection of guitars and other instruments (owned by the likes of Hendrix, Dylan, Bowie and Cobain).

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Head downstairs for more surprises (credit: Mail Experiences)

Entry is free and includes a guided tour from a member of staff. The Vault is accessed through the Hard Rock Café’s gift shop across the road from the café itself.

Handel & Hendrix in London

Beyond sharing a staggering musical talent, George Frideric Handel and Jimi Hendrix have at least one other thing in common: both called the same street in Mayfair home, separated by a wall and 200 years of history. Today, 25 and 23 Brook Street are home to Handel House and the Hendrix Flat respectively – both featuring historically restored rooms that invite the public to step back in time and view the spaces as they would have been.

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Music history, side by side (credit: Hendrix and Handel Museum)

Handel House features four restored rooms complemented by a roster of temporary exhibitions around Handel’s life and times and by live music performances. The Handel House series explores music of the Baroque period across multiple programmes between now and April.

Opened just last year, the Hendrix Flat has the distinction of being the only one of his homes open to the public. As the setting for many jam sessions and hours of song writing, the flat provides a unique insight into the creative space of the celebrated and mythologised musician.

Abbey Road Crossing

The most famous musical landmark in London and probably the world, the zebra crossing outside Abbey Road studios was immortalised on the cover of The Beatles’ 1969 album Abbey Road. Today, it’s a pilgrimage site for fans of the Fab Four and anyone with an enthusiasm for pop culture. Check out the ‘crossing cam’ online for a glimpse of what to expect. Do remember that the nearby Abbey Road Studios are a working studio and unfortunately aren’t open to the general public.

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An Abbey Road outtake, Paul wears sandals (credit: Iain Macmillan)

Iconic London Venues

London’s music scene is truly world class. With legendary venues and a host of musical giants lined up for the coming months, the city promises a spectacular show for every taste. Read on for the most noteworthy performances coming up in London this year, from Andre Rieu and Lang Lang to Celine Dion and Frankie Valli.

Royal Albert Hall

This historic, grade I listed South Kensington concert hall is one of London’s most treasured buildings. Its reputation for hosting the most illustrious concerts and events is preserved this year with a formidable array of orchestral and pop performances.

Though details and specific dates have not yet been released, it would be remiss to mention the Royal Albert Hall without also discussing the annual Proms concerts. While the Last Night of the Proms is the must see event at the Royal Albert Hall, the Proms in the Park is a fantastic open-air alternative held on the same day. Set in Hyde Park, it combines phenomenal performances with a beautiful outdoor setting. Make sure to check the programme when it’s announced on 20th April.

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Hub of illustrious concerts: the RAH

Barbican 

Just north of the City of London sits the Barbican, Europe’s largest multi-arts venue and home to both the London Symphony Orchestra and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Expect superlative classical and contemporary shows (with crystal-clear acoustics) from local and visiting orchestras and performers alike.

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Classical concert heaven: the Barbican

O2 Arena

Everything about the O2 Arena is on an immense scale – it’s only natural that the world’s busiest music arena and the world’s largest building by floor space is also host to some of the biggest names in music. In 2017, expect knockout shows from the following:

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Big and bold: the O2 arena

Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club

The list of those who’ve graced the stage at Ronnie Scott’s since its 1959 opening reads like a who’s who of jazz: Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Chet Baker and Sarah Vaughan to name a few. London’s premier jazz venue, the Soho basement club continues to attract a steady stream of talent. Its main shows frequently sell out, so book early if you’re planning a trip.

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Well-established scene (credit: whatsoninlondon.co.uk)

The SSE Arena, Wembley

Not to be confused with Wembley Stadium, the SSE (formerly Wembley Arena) is an icon in its own right and a bastion of London’s live music scene. This year the north-west London venue boasts some highly-celebrated performers – between them, Hans Zimmer and Bob Dylan have 17 Grammy awards, two Academy Awards and the Nobel Prize for Literature.

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The SSE Wembley Arena

10 Local Tips To Make The Most Of London

London: Tips by a local

1. Download apps ahead of time

London is a big place, making navigation intimidating for visitors. If you have a smart phone, download a few simple but worthwhile apps to help you out. Try Tube Map for the underground or Citymapper for planning the best route across a variety of transport methods.

Bonus tip: Citymapper features Europea Residences’ other destinations – Paris, Brussels, Barcelona and Milan – too!

2. Save with an Oyster Card

An Oyster Card is a travel smartcard that allows you to top up credit in advance. You then simply tap in and tap out on London’s underground and tap in (no need to tap out) on buses. It offers considerable discounts compared to paper tickets, both for single journeys and daily travel (Oysters have a daily cap that is significantly cheaper than a 1 day travelcard). Under 11s travel free, but everyone else will need their own Oyster.

You can choose from:

  • Visitor Oyster Card 
    • Same fares/caps as a regular Oyster card
    • Bought in advance of your trip
    • £3 non-refundable charge + postage + chosen top up amount
    • Convenient for short stays, enjoy access to special offers and discounts
  • Regular Oyster Card 
    • Bought in London
    • £5 refundable charge + chosen top up amount
    • Can be registered online to allow online top ups and ability to stop its use/transfer credit if the card is lost or stolen
    • Arguably better for longer stays (5 days or more) as you can apply a 7-day travelcard to cap your weekly spending while still retaining the security of Oyster (in case of loss or theft) and the flexibility of pay as you go (to travel beyond the zone boundaries of your travelcard without buying an extra ticket).

3. 2 for 1 tickets with National Rail’s Days Out

However, paper travelcards do have one huge advantage over Oysters if bought from a National Rail station rather than an Underground station (the latter are identical in function but look different and do not qualify for the promotion). A paper travelcard grants access to some fantastic 2 for 1 attraction offers from National Rail Days Out (available any day the travelcard is valid).

With a bit of forward planning and printing, this can save big money at top attractions like the London Eye, London Zoo, the London Dungeon and Madame Tussauds (all between £25-35 each per adult) as well as exhibitions, theatre, tours and more. For more information on the types of tickets valid for use, see the Days Out website here.

What to see in London
Go up on the London Eye on a sunny day

4. Take in the view

In a city as frenetic at London, it’s rewarding to stand and take it all in from a distance every now and again. Some classic viewpoints to check out include Primrose Hill, the Shard, the London Eye, or the top of Tower Bridge.

5. Embrace free activities

London has a dazzling range of free activities, from world-class galleries and museums (Tate Britain, Natural History Museum, National Gallery) to tranquil parks and green spaces (Richmond Park, Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens) to iconic sights (Abbey Road’s crossing, Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square).

6. Walk or bike

If you’re not keen on the hustle and bustle of public transport, the good news is that London can be eminently walkable if you plan your activities to focus on smaller areas each day (e.g. Covent Garden – Trafalgar Square – Buckingham Palace). Alternatively, hire a bike from London’s bike-sharing scheme and explore parks or travel shorter distances on wheels.

How to move in London
Go green and bike around the city

7. Join a tour

Tours, whether by bus, boat, bike or on foot, can be a great way to take in parts of the city in one fell swoop, or to orientate yourself before exploring more fully on your own. If a hop on, hop off bus is your style, check out the options from companies like Original London or Golden Tours. For other tour types, you can’t go wrong with highly regarded operators like New Europe Tours, Alternative London and Strawberry Tours (free).

8. Classic English food and drink

Immerse yourself in British life by sampling some iconic English food and drink. Start your days off right with a Full English breakfast (The Breakfast Club serve their version – ‘The Full Monty” – all day long) or go high class with a delectable cream tea (try Claridge’s for a touch of luxury). Other English standards to look out for include fish and chips, roast dinner, bangers and mash, toad in the hole, spotted dick and Eton mess. Try The Golden Chippy for fish and chips or The Andover Arms for a superb traditional pub.

9. Cheap theatre tickets 

If you’re flexible about what show you see, it’s well worth checking out the TKTs Booth in Leicester Square for some on-the-day bargains. They sell off last minute tickets and often offer discounts as large as 40 to 50% compared with theatre prices.

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London’s West End is famed for its excellent productions

10. Save with the London Pass

The London Pass can be a valuable asset if you plan to visit lots of paid attractions each day or want to streamline your tourist experience by only buying one ticket. It comes in 1, 2, 3, 6 and 10 day passes and includes entry to over 60 top spots (including places like Westminster Abbey, Tower of London and Kew Gardens). Often this includes fast track entry, too, to help avoid the queues.

Bonus tip: There are often discount codes available for the London Pass. Google before buying for even more savings!

Food February: Elegant Afternoon Tea In London

While the English have been enjoying the luxury of tea drinking for over 350 years, it was only 170 years ago that the ritual of afternoon tea (a light meal of dainty sandwiches, cakes and pastries alongside the tea) developed alongside it. Originally the invention of Anna Russell, 7th Duchess of Bedford, the habit was soon taken up by fashionable ladies across the country and is now a mainstay on menus in London’s most elegant hotels and tearooms.

For a classic approach and superb attention to detail, book well in advance for a table at one of Claridge’s afternoon tea sittings. Served in the hotel’s elegant Art Deco foyer, their version will delight tea connoisseurs and anyone with impeccable taste (they took home the ‘Best Traditional Afternoon Tea’ award at the Afternoon Tea Awards last year).

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Award-winning service (credit: Claridges)

Claridge’s have close competition from other iconic hotels, of course. The Ritz sets an equally sky-high standard with its focus on immaculate traditional fare (with an opulent setting at the hotel’s Palm Court salon to boot), while the Dorchester delivers their finest Dalreoch teas and exquisite treats in the beautifully plush surroundings of the Promenade lobby. Perhaps a lesser-known name but a royal favourite nonetheless, the Goring near Buckingham Palace has been perfecting its afternoon tea since it opened in 1910, and the string of awards from the British Tea Council attest that the proof is indeed in the pudding (or, at least, in the pastry!).

Outside of the famed London hotels there are still plenty of decadent and traditional servings. Fortnum & Mason’s Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon offers an eminently stylish option that exudes old world glamour and provides a huge variety of tea accompaniments. The sketch Gallery in Mayfair brings a similar dose of luxury to its tea, but this time the fluffy scones  are served up against the unusual yet delightful backdrop of retro powder pink velvet upholstery and framed cartoons.

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Retro edge (credit: sketch.london)

If you’re less of a traditionalist, never fear. There are a whole host of more innovative varieties to choose from in the capital. Elevate the afternoon tea experience to new heights (quite literally) by dining at Ting at the Shangri-La Hotel, located at the 35th floor of the Shard. Usually split between traditional and Asian versions of afternoon tea, it’s not just the view that’s top notch.

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High tea (credit: Ting, Shangri-La Hotel)

For a meal with a dash of whimsy and magic, the Sanderson’s Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea might be just the ticket. This rendering puts colourful twists on afternoon tea staples and adds delightfully themed accessories into the mix (think ‘drink me’ labels, pocket-watch macaroons, and playful crockery) to transform a classic experience to something truly extraordinary.

P.S. Don’t forget to check dress codes! Most establishments simply ask for smart casual attire, but some do prohibit specific types of clothing as well – ripped jeans, flip-flops and the like are usually a no-no.

The Best Things To Do In London This Christmas

London is a city aglow with Christmas spirit at this time of the year. Whether you want romance, culture or just to admire some dazzling lights displays, here are our top tips for adding a touch of festive magic to your trip!

Ice skating

There are fewer Christmas images more romantic than gathering loved ones, wrapping up warm and swapping your winter boots for skates at a fabulous outdoor ice rink. London has a whole host of sites to choose from. Elevate the romance even further by choosing one in the shadow of a magnificent historic building like Hampton Court Palace (25th Nov – 8th Jan), the Natural History Museum (27th Oct to 8th Jan) or Somerset House (17th Nov – 15th Jan).

Admire the Christmas lights

London is beautiful all year round, but it’s utterly magical when garlanded with strings of lights. Regent Street will shine brightest with the largest display in London twinkling above shoppers’ heads, while Carnaby is the place to be for an eclectic, retro display. The street most famous as the home of ‘swinging’ London in the sixties is collaborating with the V&A museum this year and the lights are inspired by the exhibition ‘You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970.’

If your visit is in November, see if you can catch one of the switch-on ceremonies at Oxford Street (6th Nov), the Strand (10th Nov), Carnaby Street (15th Nov) or Regent Street (17th Nov). Also check out Trafalgar Square (1st Dec) for the lighting of the immense and beautiful Norwegian Christmas tree.

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Christmas shopping, markets and fairs

The decline in the value of the pound against foreign currencies means this is the perfect time for visitors to enjoy a London shopping spree! Seek out Christmas-themed trinkets galore at a Christmas fair or market – the Southbank Centre Winter Market, the London Bridge City Market and the brand new for 2016 Christmas in Leicester Square run for the majority of December. For a full day of winter-inspired fun, surrounded by arcade games, drinks and Christmas food, head to Hyde Park for the biggest Christmas event of the year: Winter Wonderland. Alternatively, experience London’s greatest department stores in festive mode – Selfridges, Harrods and Liberty all boast their own designated ‘Christmas shops’ in store, as well as offering an assortment of tempting, non-seasonal items from designer clothes and cosmetics to stationery and homeware.

Christmas Entertainment

For dance, take in an elegant and enchanting version of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker (English National Ballet, London Coliseum, 14th Dec – 7th Jan) or catch the family-friendly The Little Match Girl (Sadlers Wells, Lilian Baylis Studio, 10th – 30th Dec). Or do as the British do and revel in the raucous fun of a pantomime, a comedic theatrical take on classic fairy stories that involve plenty of audience interaction with the characters. Some great productions this year include Cinderella (Palladium) and Sleeping Beauty (Hackney Empire).

Last but by no means least, enjoying some carol singing is a quintessential Christmas activity. Trafalgar Square hosts a variety of carol groups raising money for charity throughout the advent period. There are many dedicated carol services and concerts too, including a programme of events at iconic locations such as the Royal Albert Hall, St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey.

London: Why It’s Still The Best Place To Be

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London has a way of charming people from every walk of life. It is, by turns, sophisticated and laid back, traditional and diverse, classic and vibrant. Here are just a few reasons why London is still the coolest capital in 2016.

Enduring iconic locations

Whether you want to admire Tower Bridge, walk the zebra crossing at Abbey Road, catch a black cab or pose for a photo beside Platform 9¾, London is full of iconic buildings, scenery and traditions that have to be seen in person.

Entertainment and shopping

London arguably has the best theatre scene in the world, offering an enormous variety of shows. There are almost 40 venues in London’s West End alone, making it the perfect place to brighten up your evening with a musical.

The city is also heaven for fashion and shopping lovers. Head to Knightsbridge for top designers, browse high street flagships on Oxford Street or hit one of London’s varied markets to browse through vintage clothes, antiques and bric-a-brac. In city which is home of the British Royal Family, you can also shop where the Royals do by visiting companies with a Royal Warrant. Some London brands on the list include Fortnum and Mason’s for groceries and produce, Floris of London for perfume and Smythson for stationery.

World-class cuisine

From fine dining in Michelin-starred restaurants (try Gordon Ramsay’s offering in Chelsea for luxurious dining or Gymkhana in Mayfair for superb curry) to hearty Sunday roasts (try Blacklock in Soho or The Albion in Islington), just thinking about the diversity and quality of the food scene in London is enough to set your mouth watering. Don’t forget to indulge in an elegant afternoon tea – the most quintessentially English of meals – at one of London’s stylish and historic hotels (The Ritz, Claridge’s and The Dorchester are all excellent choices). You can even combine delicious food with spectacular city views at restaurants like The Shard’s TĪNG or Hutong, or the Sky Garden’s Darwin Brasserie or Fenchurch Terrace.

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Rich in culture for all ages

With some of the world’s best museums and galleries, London has culture in abundance. Best of all, most offer free entry. Take advantage of this in order to marvel at the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum, as well as pieces of Ancient Greece’s Parthenon or masterpieces by Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Turner, Monet and Van Gogh (to name but a few). Or please the younger crowd with a trip to see colossal dinosaur skeleton casts at the Natural History Museum or the Apollo 10 command module at the Science Museum.

Beauty from the streets to the skyline

Wandering the streets and relishing the city’s sights is a joy in itself, whether taking in the view from the Southbank or strolling through pretty neighbourhoods like Notting Hill or Covent Garden. Vantage points like the Shard take this to another level, with stunning panoramic views of the metropolis, while the city’s many parks and gardens provide an idyllic counterpoint to city life.