Dec 272015

Happy new year! January is a great month to be in London as it’s never too cold here to get out and about. Grab your gloves and head out to see the city while it’s generally less crowded than December but just as enjoyable.

Twelfth Night

If you’re ready to welcome the new year head to Bankside, outside the Shakespeare’s Globe, on Sunday 3 January 2016 at 2pm for the Twelfth Night celebrations. It’s a free annual event that mixes ancient Midwinter seasonal customs and contemporary festivity.

The Holly Man arrives by boat on the River Thames and then there’s a Mummers’ Play put on by the excellent actors of The Lion’s Part who arrange this every year. Cakes are given out at the end of the play but bite in carefully as hidden in two cakes is a bean and a pea. If you have one of those cakes you are hailed King and Queen for the day and get a crown before leading the procession to the historic George Inn in Borough High Street to warm up with storytelling, the Kissing Wishing Tree and more dancing. This event is really recommended and happens whatever the weather. Here are some photos I took a few years ago.

Twelfth Night


Lumiere London

From 14 to 17 January 2016, Lumiere London will illuminate the capital. This is London’s biggest-ever light festival, and includes works by a host of international artists. Iconic architecture will be transformed with 3D projections, plus interactive installations and other extraordinary light works. The areas to explore are the West End and King’s Cross, centered on Granary Square.

Lumiere London

Produced by Artichoke. Photo by Matthew Andrews


London Glassblowing Classes

If you need a choice now to warm you up this is perfect. Close to the London Bridge Hotel, on Bermondsey Street, is London Glassblowing where you can buy beautiful artisan glassware and can see things being created in the workshop at the back of the shop. But instead of watching how about taking a glassblowing class?

On 17 and 23 January 2016 there are full day classes available where you can learn the basic techniques from qualified glass artists. The emphasis of the day is to provide an enjoyable and productive hands-on experience. The cost is £450, and includes a light lunch at a Bermondsey Street restaurant, all tuition and materials and the finishing of your pieces.

London Glassblowing

Or you could go across the road to the Fashion & Textile Museum as there’s the Liberty in Fashion exhibition which ends next month.


While tickets have sold out to see David Tennant in Richard II at the Barbican Theatre (7 – 22 January 2016), there is Expiry Date on from 19 to 23 January 2016.

Swedish-born artist Anna Nilsson has devised a set where a ball bearing spins around weird and wonderful machinery and pendulums wave. It provides a backdrop for an abstract tale about time running out, characterised by four performers and their mix of wordless acting, juggling, singing and an incredible hand-balancing act.

Expiry Date, Barbican Theatre

Expiry Date, Barbican Theatre. Photo © Sigrid Spinnox


London International Mime Festival

London’s annual celebration of contemporary visual theatre is the London International Mime Festival on Saturday 9 January to Saturday 6 February 2016. Venues include Barbican, Southbank Centre and Tate Modern where performances include cutting edge circus-theatre, animation and puppetry, mask, physical and object theatre.


Southbank Centre

There is some excellent comedy also at Southbank Centre this month.

Stewart Lee – A Room With A Stew – Marathon Nights is in the Royal Festival Hall from Saturday 9 to Monday 11 January 2016. It’s your opportunity to see the whole of Stewart Lee’s new BBC2 TV series live, weeks before it is televised.

Stewart Lee

Stewart Lee. Photo © Colin Hutton

And on Thursday 21 January, also in the Royal Festival Hall, you can see Dave Gorman – Gets Straight To The Point. The innovative comedy mind behind Modern Life Is Goodish, Are You Dave Gorman? and Googlewhack Adventure presents his new live show featuring more of his pioneering blend of stand-up comedy and visual storytelling. Yes, there will be a PowerPoint presentation but audiences won’t need to worry about taking notes.


Book Slam

Book Slam is London’s leading literary nightclub and it has an unrivalled reputation for hosting varied bills of the most exciting literary and musical voices around. On 29 January 2016, the National Maritime Museum has a Samuel Pepys Book Slam special where the author and journalist Will Self will read a specially commissioned piece in the spirit of Pepys.


Tower Bridge Engineering Tours

On weekend days, until the end of March 2016, you can take an Engineering Tour of Tower Bridge. This means you get to go behind-the-scenes at one of the world’s most famous bridges. You get to go inside the Bridge Control Room and into the enormous Bascule Chambers below The Thames. Tours are £50 and you must book in advance.

Tower Bridge engineering tour

© Tower Bridge

You could also take another unusual tour on Sundays in January as the Tower of London has Twilight Tours on offer. Tours are led by a Yeoman Warder who won’t hold back on the spooky stories.


London Eye Annual Maintenance Closure

If you’re planning a winter trip on the London Eye do note January is when they have the annual maintenance closure. The dates for 2016 are 11 to 22 January (inclusive).

london eye


Guildhall Heritage Gallery

It’s worth going to the Guildhall Art Gallery this month as the Heritage Gallery has on show a rarely displayed deed for a property in Blackfriars which Shakespeare purchased in 1613 – one of only six surviving documents to carry his signature. This will be displayed alongside Shakespeare’s First Folio.

2016 is 400 years since Shakespeare’s death and there is a year of Shakespeare 400 celebrations planned. You can see the documents in the Heritage Gallery from 9 January until 31 March 2016.


Even More

If you would like even more ideas for this month have a look at the Things to Do in London in January 2016 from Kensington House Hotel, our sister hotel.



Next month brings Chinese New Year celebrations in London on Sunday 8 February and Valentine’s Day romantic fun on Sunday 14 February.

Tate Modern has Performing for the Camera opening on 18 February looking at how photography captures performance.

Over at Somerset House, The Courtauld Gallery has Botticelli and Treasures from the Hamilton Collection also opening on 18 February.

The first production of 2016 at The Rose Playhouse will be ‘Hamlet‘ by William Shakespeare on from 2 to 26 February.


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 London Travel site and 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.

Oct 242014

As Autumn moves towards Winter, November is a great time to be in London. Now that the clocks have gone back (you didn’t forget, did you?) we have darker evenings but that makes Bonfire Night so much fun.

© Nilfanion

© Nilfanion

Firework Displays

Remember, remember, the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot…

In 1605 Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament. He didn’t succeed, and was caught and executed, but we now commemorate the date with firework displays. There are lots going on from 1 to 8 November so have a look at this handy list and wrap up warm to ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ at the sky.

Veteran Car Run

There’s a lot going on near the start of the month. Sunday 2 November is the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run. Groups of cars start to leave Hyde Park from sunrise and go over Westminster Bridge towards south London. The cars can be seen in town until around 10am so this is fun to see if you’re up early.

© Krzysztof Marek Wlodarczyk

© Krzysztof Marek Wlodarczyk

Remembrance  Sunday

With all of the focus on the WWI centenary, this year’s Remembrance Sunday will be especially poignant.


Remembrance Sunday 2014 is on Sunday 9 November and it’s a time to reflect and remember. There is a National Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph in Whitehall in the morning. There is a parade from around 9.30am and a 2 minute silence at 11am. Members of the Royal Family will be attending.

© Richard Lea-Hair and Historic Royal Palaces

© Richard Lea-Hair and Historic Royal Palaces

Do go to the Tower of London too as the moat has been filled with ceramic poppies for the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation. The poppies are there until 11 November.

Behind-the-scenes at Tower Bridge 

From Saturday 15 November, you can book a Tower Bridge Engineering Tour running on weekends throughout December, January and March.

© Quistnix

© Quistnix

These two-hour tours usually sell out so do book ahead. After a self-guided tour of the high walkways and the Bridge’s Engine Rooms, one of the Bridge’s Senior Technical Officers escorts visitors to several areas normally out of bounds to the public, including the Bridge Control Room and the immense Bascule Chambers below river level.  Tickets are £50 each and visitors must be over 12 years old.

Sherlock Holmes

The latest major exhibition at the Museum of London has opened and is well worth seeing. Sherlock Holmes: The Man Who Never Lived and Will Never Die is on until 12 April 2015 and gives an insight to the world most famous consulting detective. (I reviewed the exhibition here.) To test your detective skills, can you work out where the entrance is to the exhibition?

Can you see the way in? You push open the second bookcase on the left.

No, it’s not by the hatstand on the right. You actually push open the second bookcase on the left.

Also at the Museum of London, A Bear Called Paddington opens on 14 November, and The Paddington Trail means 50 Paddington statues are across London from 4 November to 30 December. All of this is because of the new Paddington movie in the cinemas from 28 November. There’s a nice tie-in with the Sherlock Holmes exhibition though as the Museum of London will have the Paddington statue designed by Benedict Cumberbatch, the lead in the BBC TV series Sherlock.

Year of The Bus

As well as the Paddington bears, you can also go spotting decorated London bus sculptures across town.

© TfL

© TfL

There are 60 bus scultpures to find in the Year of the Bus Sculpture Trails with three trails in place already and another coming before Christmas.

Spooky Night Out

If Halloween wasn’t scary enough for you, The London Dungeon has some evening openings for grown-ups only. As well as the usual shrieks and fun there’s a Victorian Gin Palace Bar and a dressing-up box for all. Book ahead for Friday 7 and Friday 21 November and Friday 5 and Friday 19 December.


Another spooky, but more civilised idea is a Candlelight tour of The Queen’s House in Greenwich. This intimate evening tour with a curator is on Thursday 20 November, 7-8pm, and takes in The Art and Science of Exploration 1768-80 exhibition.

Lord Mayor’s Show

The highlight of the month for many is this annual free parade and show.

© Howard Russell

© Howard Russell

On 8 November, you can see the three-mile long parade go from Mansion House in The City of London to the Royal Courts of Justice. The Procession leaves Mansion House at 11am and arrives at the Royal Courts of Justice at 12.40pm where the Lord Mayor leaves the coach and swears an oath of allegiance before the return journey starts at 1.15pm and ends at 2.40pm.

If you’re up early, do go and see the Lord Mayor travelling down The Thames in the Queen’s Row Barge Gloriana in a flotilla from near Waterloo Bridge to Tower Bridge (which will open in salute) starting from 9am.

But don’t think that’s it as the day is capped off nicely with fireworks from a barge on The Thames, near Blackfriar’s Bridge at 5.15pm. The best views will be from the South Bank and the Victoria Embankment.

V&A Italian Cast Court

For some indoor culture during these colder days, the Victoria and Albert Museum is free and always worth a visit. The Weston Cast Court has been refurbished and reopens on 29 November.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Italian Cast Court features over 60 of the V&A’s finest 19th-century reproductions of important Italian Renaissance monuments. It includes some of the largest objects in the V&A’s collection, including the five metre high cast of Michelangelo’s David (c.1856), the set of electrotype doors cast from the Gates of Paradise at Florence Cathedral (c.1867) measuring over seven and a half metres in height and a plaster cast of a pulpit from Pisa Cathedral by Giovanni Pisano (c.1865).

For an enjoyable reason to stay longer at the V&A, on Tuesday 18 November, 6.30-7.30pm, Michael Palin is discussing the third volume from his diaries: Travelling to Work. Do book in advance.

Christmas is Coming


Although we’re not in December you will see signs all over London that Christmas is coming soon. The Christmas lights are switched on across the West End during early to mid November and the ice rinks arrive at the same time.


Book now for the latest theatrical adaptation of E. Nesbit’s classic novel, The Railway Children, at a new theatre space in King’s Cross from 16 December. I saw this a few years ago when it was at Waterloo Station and it’s a wonderful show. There’s a real steam train involved and I defy anyone do not shed a tear when Bobbie cries “Daddy, my daddy!” at the end.

If you’d like the opportunity to explore a disused tube station, tours of Aldwych station are available from 22 January to 15 February 2015. Booking opened on 27 October so get in quick as these tours are very popular.

Dec 312013

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


© 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


© 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


© 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


© 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 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.