Nov 212014
 

London is sparkling now as the Christmas lights are switched on and the ice rinks are open.

Trafalgar Square

The Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree is the last to light up and the special evening there is on Thursday 4 December at 6pm. The tree comes from Norway every year as a thank you for our help during World War II and is decorated with simple white lights.

There’s a torch-lit procession for the Blessing of the Crib in Trafalgar Square on Sunday 7 December, and from 8 to 23 December you can enjoy carol singing in Trafalgar Square. (Nearer to the London Bridge Hotel, there’s an Annual Carol Concert at The Rose Playhouse on Monday 15 December.)

For indoor musical entertainment, St. Martin-in-the-Fields church in Trafalgar Square has popular free lunchtime concerts.

Also nearby, Grayson Perry will be giving a lecture at the National Portrait Gallery on Thursday 4 December. Who Are You? looks at portraiture and British identity, drawing on his current display of new work at the Gallery, and the people he met during this project.

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Christmas Movie

If you’re ready for a classic film, It’s A Wonderful Life is on at the Prince Charles Cinema throughout December. Starring a suicidal James Stewart as he struggles to ‘find himself’ it comes with a happy ending.

Its-A-Wonderful-Life

 

Another Christmassy idea, is the special candlelit readings of A Christmas Carol at The Charles Dickens Museum on Sunday 7 and 14 December, and Monday 8 and 15 December at 3.30pm and 6.30pm.

Shopping

For many, this is the season to indulge and the Southbank Centre Winter Festival has a Christmas market, cabaret, family events and much more. And, it would be hard to miss the Giant 7m high illuminated white rabbit sculptures by artist Amanda Parer.

© Rodney Campbell

There’s also the Magical Christmas Tree Maze made up of 300 real blue spruce Christmas trees and the Southbank Centre Express train taking passengers across the riverfront.

The foodies need to be there for the Real Food Christmas Festival on 19-23 December, and they should make a note of the Christmas opening hours at Borough Market.

Over in west London, there are Christmas shopping opportunities at the Chelsea Physic Garden from 2 to 12 December.

 

Christmas Past

The Geffrye Museum has an annual ‘Christmas Past’ exhibition, on from Tuesday 25 November 2014 to Sunday 4 January 2015,  where the 400 years of domestic interiors are adorned with traditional Christmas decorations for each era.

A good time to go would be on Thursday 4 December as there’s an open evening for A Georgian Christmas when the Christmas Past displays are lit by candlelight. Expect festive music and children can try a decoration-making workshop.

Christmas Past 1830

 

Walks

If you’d like to get away from the festive preparations for a while there’s an excellent guided walk in Kensington Gardens on Friday 12 December. This seasonal stroll will look at winter feasts, folklore and traditions. Queen Victoria and her consort Prince Albert introduced many of the traditions we recognise today.

 

Or you could choose A walk around Shakespeare’s London on Saturday 6, 13 and 20 December, at 10.30am. You’ll see the sights of Shakespeare’s London with a knowledgeable Museum of London guide passing many picturesque settings you might recognise from films.

There’s more Shakespeare at the Barbican with Royal Shakespeare Company – Henry IV Parts I and II from 29 November 2014 to 24 January 2015.

And more festive entertainment with Raymond Gubbay’s Christmas Festival including Glorious Handel by Candlelight, on Saturday 27 December, and Last Night of the Christmas Proms on Sunday 28 December.

 

Dinosaurs

From Thursday 4 December, The Natural History Museum will have on display the most complete Stegosaurus fossil ever found and the only Stegosaurus in a public collection outside the USA. This is the first complete dinosaur specimen to go on display at the Natural History Museum in nearly 100 years. The 150 million year old Stegosaurus stenops is the most significant dinosaur the Museum has acquired since the 1980s and will take pride of place inside the Museum’s Exhibition Road entrance.

© NHM, London

© NHM, London

Another good time to visit the Natural History Museum is for the Night Safari on Tuesday 9 December when you can meet three Museum scientists and hear them talk about their work on endangered species.

 

Buckingham Palace

This could make a very nice Christmas present: There are exclusive guided tours of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace from 12 December 2014 to 1 February 2015. Each tour is limited to just 30 guests who will have an expert guide describe the paintings, furniture, sculptures and porcelains, before offering a glass of champagne served in the Grand Entrance.

 

The King Has Arrived

We may be singing Hallelujah in the Christmas carols but it’s not that king we’re referring to here. It’s Elvis! The largest ever retrospective of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll opens at The O2 on 12 December. The nine month exhibition will showcase over 300 artefacts direct from the Presley family’s treasured Graceland Archives, some of which have never been exhibited outside of Graceland in Memphis.

 

Paddington Bear

Paddington the movie opens on 28 November and there are 50 Paddington Bear statues across London for Paddington Trails. A lovely addition to the love for the bear is A Bear Called Paddington at the Museum of London which is on until 4 January 2015. This free exhibition includes lots from the author’s family archives that have never been displayed before. I’ve been already and loved it.

© Museum of London

© Museum of London

 

Looking Ahead

January is a great time to be in London if you don’t mind it being a bit chilly. We don’t often get snow so come and enjoy the capital without the crowds.

A couple of things I’m looking forward to in the new year are the London International Mime Festival (8-21 January 2015). It’s the longest-established annual theatre season of its kind with innovative visual theatre from around the world performing at many venues including the Barbican, the Royal Opera House, Sadler’s Wells and Southbank Centre.

Plus, Churchill’s Scientists opens at the Science Museum on 23 January 2015.

 

Do check out the latest offers as London Bridge Hotel has weekend rates from as low as £99. You can sign up for special offer alerts here. And when you can’t be at the hotel, you can try making the Quarter Bar’s cocktails with these recipes.

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.

Apr 252014
 

May is a lovely time to be in London as the days are getting longer and the options to be outside, with a greater chance of dry weather, are more plentiful.

REGENT’S PARK

I was inspired by Paul O’Pray, Head Concierge of London Bridge Hotel, who likes to visit Regent’s Park and there are a few good reasons to head there during May.

The Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre 2014 season opens on 15 May with Arthur Miller’s All My Sons. It’s a 20th century classic with a story of denial, guilt and a confrontation that leads to a shameful family secret.

open-air-theatre

The Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park is the only professional, outdoor theatre in Britain. It offers a range of events and performances from May through to September.

On the north side of Regent’s Park is London Zoo where there’s a Silent Cinema from 6 to 10 May. The special five nights starts with ’90s classic Jumanji and concludes with childhood-favourite, The Jungle Book.

London-Zoo-cinema

I’ve always admired the old Lubetkin penguin pool at London Zoo so the new History Tours at the Zoo sound like a really good idea. From April to November, on the last Friday and Saturday of each month, the history tours will look at the beginning of the Zoological Gardens in 1826, how it helped to inspire Charles Darwin, plus the famous listed buildings. London Zoo has some incredible heritage – it’s actually where we get the word ‘zoo’ from as it was the first.

© ZSL - Lubetkin Penguin Pool

© ZSL – Lubetkin Penguin Pool

MUSEUMS AT NIGHT

15 to 17 May is when many museums and cultural venues stay open late for the annual Museums at Night festival. As you would expect, there’s lots going on across London but, again, I took inspiration from Paul O’Pray as he recommended the Old Operating Theatre close to London Bridge Hotel.

On 16 May the Old Operating Theatre is opening for “Night of The Bodysnatcher” so you can hear about the gruesome profession of the Resurrectionists – the men who supplied corpses to the dissecting rooms of London from the graves of the city.

Old Operating Theatre - Image © Sue Lowry

Old Operating Theatre – Image © Sue Lowry

A much less frightful option would be to visit Apsley House on Friday 16 or Saturday 17 May (6-8pm) to explore the resplendent rooms after dark and hear the tales of the house’s fascinating history brought to life. This was the Duke of Wellington’s home and is also known as ‘Number One London’.

QUIRKY ENGLISH FUN

I mentioned the Tweed Run in the ‘Planning Ahead‘ section last month as it’s a fine example of English eccentricity. On 17 May look out for the genteel gentlemen cyclists, along with some fair ladies too, as they take to the streets on bicycles old and new. It’s all about looking the part and “overdressed” is not in their vocabulary!

There’s more English fun the week before on 11 May as it is the 39th Covent Garden May Fayre. You can expect a Grand Procession in the morning and Punch and Judy puppet performances throughout the afternoon.

Another English tradition is a pint at the pub and Pint of Science, on from 19 to 21 May, allows you to combine having a drink with learning something scientific. The talks are cheap (less than the price of a pint) and there are dozens of pubs to choose from as well as topics to select.

Close to the London Bridge Hotel, The Rose Theatre has a sponsored Readathon, on 31 May, of twelve plays by Shakespeare and Marlowe – many of which were performed at this 16th century theatre.

 FURTHER AFIELD

There’s an Art Deco Fair at Eltham Palace, in Greenwich, on 10-11 May, so you can surround yourself with Art Deco decadence and sample the splendour of the thrilling thirties with an abundance of vintage stalls to satisfy the most ardent shopper. If you miss this date there’s another on 13-14 September.

Kenwood House, on the edge of Hampstead Heath, has a Foodies Festival on Friday 30 May to Sunday 1 June (11am-7pm). It will be a celebration of fine food and drink in a beautiful outdoor setting, with plenty of cookery demonstrations, plus kids can learn to cook too in the Children’s Cookery Theatre. I’m looking forward to afternoon tea in the Vintage Tea Tent and taking part in one of the tea dances.

PLANNING AHEAD

Southbank Centre’s annual Meltdown festival has been running since 1993 and each year invites a different cultural figure to act as director of the event and pick the performers of their choosing. This year, DJ, recording artist and record label boss James Lavelle has been asked to direct the 2014 festival – promising 10 days of performances and creative collaborations from 13 to 22 June. Look out for hip hop legend Grandmaster Flash and Scratch Perverts who are playing a one off double-bill.

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Another annual event starting in June is the City of London Festival on from 22 June to 17 July. The Square Mile celebrates music, dance, art, film, poetry, and family events across iconic venues and outdoor spaces, including Paternoster Square, next to St Paul’s Cathedral, where there will be a giant bowler hat. It’s an inflatable pop-up venue and will host theatre, comedy and circus events.

Also, the Quarter Bar & Lounge, at London Bridge Hotel, is taking part in London Wine Week which runs from 2 to 8 June. Look out for the wine tours.

Do check out the latest offers as London Bridge Hotel has weekend rates from as low as £99. You can sign up for special offer alerts here. And when you can’t be at the hotel, you can try making the Quarter Bar’s cocktails with these recipes.

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.

Jan 252014
 
© anniemullinsuk

This is still, technically,  the quiet time of the year for London but, as we discovered in the January round-up, there’s always an incredible amount going on.

We start the month with the celebrations for Chinese New Year which falls on 31 January but London’s celebrations are on Sunday 2 February. 2014 is the Chinese Year of the Horse and the festivities will be across Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square and Chinatown.

ChineseNY-1

If you’re looking for some Chinese food near to London Bridge, I can recommend Dim T at More London as you can dine while looking out to Tower Bridge, or Hutong on level 33 of The Shard.

 thamesjet22

For those with no fear, and who are craving something to blow away the winter cobwebs, can I suggest Thamesjet for speedboat sightseeing? A trip on The Thames is always a good way to see the London sights and this is the fastest ride available on The Thames (up to 40mph).

Valentine’s Ideas

romantic-candlelight

This is also the month of lurve. While there are many romantic dining opportunities available (the Londinium restaurant is, of course, a fine choice, as is afternoon tea in the Quarter Bar & Lounge) there are some more unusual ways to spend Valentine’s Day in London this year.

Valentines-Late

How about stepping back in time and learning to dance the Jitterbug before sitting down to compose a love letter, 1940s-style? The Churchill War Rooms have a special late night opening on 14 February with vintage gifts in the shop and a pop-up bar.

© Laura Porter

© Laura Porter

Moving even further back in history to Victorian times, the Charles Dickens Museum is celebrating Valentine’s on 13 February with The Literary Gin Palace. While exploring the home of Dickens and his family you can follow a botanicals trail and even create your own unique gin and tonic in the original kitchen.

Or, if you’re in London later in the month, the Charles Dickens Museum has a candlelit evening on 26 February. There isn’t a guided tour but it would be wonderful to see the home lit this way as Dickens often wrote by candlelight.

Historic homes and candlelight do seem a popular collaboration as the stunning Georgian townhouse that is Dr Johnson’s House, in the City of London, has a candlelit tour on  Valentine’s Day when you can hear about Johnson’s views on love and ‘the fairer sex’. Tours include wine and a recital in the Withdrawing Room.

And there is a monthly candlelit tour at Sir John Soane’s House, at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, on the first Tuesday of each month (so that’s 4 February this month).

Southbank

A walk along the Southbank is for everyone, not just the romantics.

Pop into BFI Southbank during February and March and you’ll find they are having a Derek Jarman film retrospective as part of their Queer Pagan Punk Season. Across Waterloo Bridge, at Somerset House, there’s a Derek Jarman exhibition too with more of his Super 8 films. Pandemonium is hosted by King’s College London as he was a student there in the 1960s.

A_Taste_of_Honey_NoTitle-11

Keeping with a theme of taboos, A Taste of Honey at the National Theatre was written in the 1950s and depicts the harsh working-class life in post-war England with plenty of love and humour too. Previews start from 10 February and it’s booking until 5 April.

Another reason to visit the National Theatre is to try one of the Backstage Tours which run daily. On Saturdays there’s a Costume Tour so you can see the costume and wig room, and during school holidays there are special family tours too.

Speaking of school holidays, do note that most London schoolchildren have a one week break from 17 to 22 February.

If you need to entertain the family, do consider the annual Imagine Children’s Festival at Southbank Centre which is on from 10 to 23 February. There are more than 100 events for families to enjoy.

Barbican

There’s a lot going on at the Barbican Centre this month including a new installation in The Curve from 13 February. What could just be a pathway within the building is used for interesting art projects; the latest from United Visual Artists (UVA) is called Momentum and combines light, sound and movement through the 90 metre long gallery.

MND

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the first collaboration between Handspring Puppet Company and Tom Morris since War Horse and runs from 6 to 15 February. And on 6 February there’s also Blow the Bloody Doors Off! – a concert celebrating the music featured in the defining films of Michael Caine’s career.

Bermondsey Street

© London Glassblowing

© London Glassblowing

There are more good reasons to take a stroll down Bermondsey Street this month as the Silent Auction at London Glassblowing starts on 27 February (and ends on 15 March). This is your opportunity to acquire a unique piece of contemporary studio glass from internationally renowned glass artist, Peter Layton, at less than than the usual gallery price. You’ll have to wait until 6 March for everything to be on display but, as I mentioned in January, it’s always worth visiting the workshop, especially on a cold day.

Do cross the road and see the Fashion & Textile Museum (FTM) which reopens on 31 January with a new exhibition: Artists Textiles: Matisse to Warhol that traces the history of 20th century art in textiles.

There’s also an interesting talk on 27 February celebrating Lucienne Day’s designs for textiles, carpet, wallpaper and ceramics called In the Spirit of the Age.

A Treat

© Laura Porter

© Laura Porter

Let’s end with something relaxing. Did you know there are Sunday organ recitals at St Paul’s Cathedral? They start at 4.45pm, last for half an hour and are free to attend.

 

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.