Mar 312014
 

Paul O’Pray is the Head Concierge of London Bridge Hotel, the independent, four star property located just steps away from London Bridge and The Shard London.   He has worked for the hotel for over 16 years this May and has become famous or perhaps infamous for his idiosyncratic musical choices shared via social media streams.  We caught up with him to ask him for his personal London favourites.

exterior

You obviously love the area – what hidden gems are there hereabouts?

There’s Borough Market of course – unbeatable but I think the biggest gem in the collection has to be the Old Operating Theatre museum – just around the corner from us.  It offers a glimpse into the Victorian age and is atmospheric and bursting with character – a very unique attraction.

The Old Operating Theatre by Sue Lowry

I also like Southwark Cathedral just a couple of minutes walk from us across the road.  It’s a very peaceful oasis in the heart of the city – they offer a daily prayer and sometimes, it’s a very soothing place to visit and be at peace.  There’s a monument to Shakespeare and the Marchioness memorial of course – I always stop for a moment there. Oh and I love the George Inn.  The food is very good – there’s a mix of tourists and city types – it has a wonderful atmosphere and you can really feel the history – the coaches which must have pulled in here for refreshment before travelling onto Dover.

the-george-inn

The George Inn by Sue Lowry

Oh and did you know, the captain of the Mayflower is buried in Bermondsey at the St Mary the Virgin Church in Rotherhide.  Christopher Jones was his name.  London has a wonderful maritime history – and I love its seafaring history.

st-jamess-park

St James Park by Sue Lowry

What else do you love about London?

I enjoy our parks – especially Hyde Park. Full of little gardens – you can really lose yourself in there and completely forget you are in the centre of the capital.  I’m a bit of a gardener too so I always visit Regent’s and St James’s Parks to see what’s going on.

Via Magellan PR, a boutique travel PR company.

 

Dec 312013
 
Twelfthnightprocession

As the festive decorations start to come down in London it doesn’t mean the fun is gone as there’s always plenty to do in London.

New Year’s Day Parade

NYDPcheerleader

© NewsPics Ltd

We start the new year with the New Year’s Day Parade on 1 January which sets off from near Green Park station at 11.45am and reaches Parliament Square (Westminster station) around 3pm. There’s a ‘swinging 60s’ theme for 2014 and it’s likely to be bigger and louder than ever with marching bands, cheerleaders, floats and performers entertaining the huge crowds along the 2.2 mile route.

Twelfth Night Festival

© Laura Porter

Nearer to London Bridge Hotel, and much more quirky, there’s an annual celebration on Sunday 5 January 2014, from 2.30pm, for the Twelfth Night to mark the end of Christmas and to welcome in the new year. It’s one of those traditional ancient customs that you might think was now lost but thankfully this is an annual free festival that takes place whatever the weather.

Outside Shakespeare’s Globe on Bankside, the Holly Man arrives by boat along the River Thames. There’s a Mummer’s play and cakes given out to find the King Bean and Queen Pea who then lead a procession to the George Inn on Borough High Street for storytelling and more dancing.

Ice Skating

If you’re still feeling energetic, the last day for the Tower of London Ice Rink is Sunday 5 January 2014 and it’s open until 10pm.

Or walk along the South Bank to the London Eye’s Ice Rink, called Eyeskate, as it also has its final day on 5 January and the last skate session is at 9pm.

Upside Down House

© Laura Porter

© Laura Porter

If you do find yourself strolling along the South Bank, towards Waterloo, do have a quick look at 20 Blackfriars Road (just by the south side of Blackfriars Bridge). Artist Alex Chinneck has created a facade of an upside down house, called Miner on the Moon, as an art installation on a disused site. It will remain here as public artwork for up to 3 years.

Sam Wanamaker Playhouse Opens

Back to Bankside, while the Shakespeare’s Globe doesn’t have performances in January – but it is a good time to visit for the exhibition and tour of the theatre – the new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse opens on 9 January 2014. This new playhouse provides indoor space for winter performances but the Jacobean ambience won’t be lost as the handmade oak structure will be lit by hundreds of candles during performances. The first production is The Duchess of Amalfi with Gemma Arterton in the lead role.

The Rose Theatre

RoseTheatre

© Laura Porter

Shakespeare’s plays were also performed at another nearby theatre that is not so well known. The Rose Theatre was built in 1587 for Philip Henslowe and was only the fifth purpose-built theater in London. There’s only one performance planned for this month, on the evening of 20 January 2014, when you can see The Eve of St Agnes by John Keats.

The Rose is really still an indoor archaeological site and is open every Saturday so you can find out more.

Bermondsey Street

LondonGlassblowing1

© Laura Porter

Once a street of traditional industries, especially the leather trade, Bermondsey Street is now a conservation area and much of its architectural character has been preserved. The independent shops, cafes and restaurants here make it an enjoyable place for a stroll and I recommend visiting London Glassblowing, at no.62-66, as a perfect way to warm up on a cold winter’s day. Incredibly, the workshop is at the back of the studio so you can watch glass delights being created before checking out the sale from 8 to 25 January 2014.

Just across the road is a bright orange building that houses the Fashion & Textiles Museum (FTM). It was started in 2003 by British designer Zandra Rhodes and is the only museum in the UK solely dedicated to contemporary fashion. The Glamour of Bellville Sassoon ends on 11 January and Artist Textiles – Picasso to Warhol opens on 31 January 2014.

Winter Wanders

Walking is a great way to explore London and Walk London have over 30 free led walks planned for 25 and 26 January 2014.

Behind The Scenes Tour of Tower Bridge

TowerBridge

© Laura Porter

On weekends throughout January, February and March 2014 there are special Tower Bridge Engineering Tours available taking you to areas of the bridge usually out of bounds. Booking ahead is essential as these tours are always popular.

Buckingham Palace State Rooms Tour

The Grand Staircase, Buckingham Palace Photographer: Derry Moore, © The Royal Collection 2006, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

The Grand Staircase, Buckingham Palace
Photographer: Derry Moore, © The Royal Collection 2006, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Another unusual opportunity is the chance to visit the Buckingham Palace state rooms as this is the first time they have opened to the public in the winter. The Queen is away at Sandringham so they’ve laid on something very special for visitors as you’ll get a guided tour and a glass of Champagne, plus a souvenir guidebook and a 20% discount in the shop. The tours are on selected dates until 2 February 2014 (including New Year’s Day).

Ice Sculptures

It takes less than 15 minutes to reach Canary Wharf from London Bridge so you might like to visit for the annual London Ice Sculpting Festival which starts on Friday 10 January 2014 and ends on the Sunday (12 January). It’s completely free to watch and you’ll see teams from around the world competing to create wonders from blocks of ice.

NBA Global Games London 2014

On Thursday 16 January, head to The O2 in North Greenwich for a regular season NBA game between the Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets. I know nothing about basketball but I’m told this is a big thing so book ahead.

Borough Market

Back nearer to the London Bridge Hotel, Borough Market is always worth visiting and the glass Market Hall that opened in summer 2013 is also the home of the demonstration kitchen every Thursday and Friday at 12-2pm. This is where chefs are invited to showcase products from the market in a cookery demonstration and members of the public get to taste their creations.

Cheapside Hoard

Emerald, diamond and enamel Salamander brooch © Museum of London

Emerald, diamond and enamel Salamander brooch
© Museum of London

The Cheapside Hoard exhibition at the Museum of London has tight security as it’s displaying priceless treasure of late 16th and early 17th century jewels and gemstones that were discovered 100 years ago in a cellar on Cheapside, near St Paul’s Cathedral. It’s definitely worth seeing and Sunday 26 January 2014 is ‘Pay What You Can’ day so a good time to try a paid-for exhibition at the museum. There’s also a free contemporary jewellery exhibition on too called Made in London.

Phew! And everyone tells you January is a quiet month in London. Enjoy!

Laura Porter writes the About.com London Travel site and contributes to many other publications while sustaining an afternoon tea addiction to rival that of our Queen. You can find Laura on twitter as @AboutLondon  and on Facebook as AboutLondonLaura.