The Best Activities in London This Autumn

 
Primrose Hill, London

Primrose Hill, London

As the subtle flavours of autumn begin to permeate the air, some of us will look back and begin to miss the endless days of summer. However, a change of the seasons brings about an entirely new kaleidoscope of activities to enjoy for those who may plan on visiting London. What are a handful of attractions and events that will definitely serve to punctuate any time spent here? Let’s list a few of the most popular and interesting.

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The Air Up There: Visiting The Shard

 

Last week I finally had a chance to visit the viewing platform at The Shard. At 87 storeys, it’s the tallest building in the whole of the EU and on a clear days offers up to 40 miles of visibility. After many, many, many days of cloudy weather, the sky miraculously cleared on Tuesday afternoon – just in time for my scheduled visit!

I should say that my ticket was provided by the press team at The Shard and adult tickets to the viewing platforms on the 68th – 72nd floors are £24.95.

The visitor entrance to The Shard is accessible right from London Bridge Station. If you follow the signs you’ll be led to visitor reception, where you can book or pick up tickets. After a very cheesy green-screen tourist photo, you’re then escorted to the first of two elevators to take you to the 68th floor.

The Shard casting its shadow on The City of London

The viewing platform on the 68th floor wraps around the whole building and is indoors, protected from the weather. On a clear winter’s day I was able to see out for miles. The photo above is of The City of London, which is located right across the river from The Shard. Below is a show of the famous Tower Bridge (centre) and Tower of London (lower left). Looking further afield, the group of skyscrapers around the river bend in the distance is Canary Wharf.

View of Tower Bridge, The Tower of London, Canary Wharf, and the Thames River

With 360 degrees worth of scenery, there are loads of different landmarks you can spot from up here. Taking photos, however, is a bit of a challenge depending on the cleanliness of the glass, shadows, and glare. In the photo of me taken by a friendly and helpful Shard employee below, you can see St. Paul’s Cathedral to my left.

View from The Shard

From the 68th floor you can make your way up several more flights of stairs to the 72nd floor – the highest viewing platform available. This is an outdoor space that is largely protected by glass (don’t worry, you’re not going to fall off!). As nice as the views were, I was more impressed by the fact that I was able to get up close to the distinctive jagged ‘top’ of The Shard that is visible from the ground.

Outdoor viewing platform

The views from the 72nd floor were even more spectacular, though on a clear afternoon in January it was a bit too cold to linger. Photography junkies could easily spend an hour here, picking and choosing from a variety of different angles, but I ended up staying about half an hour.

The top of The Shard

So, the question remains: Was it worth it?

I’ll admit that £24.95 is a steep price to pay for what amounts to two elevators rides. The one thing that I should mention is that if you purchase tickets for a time slot with poor visibility (due to rain, fog, etc.), you can return on a clearer day at no extra charge. That being said, I actually think the viewing platform at The Shard is more interesting to London residents rather than tourists. As a resident, you know the city well and can spot different landmarks and neighbourhoods. It’s great fun to see where you live, where you work, where you had that one unforgettable party, or even that one terrible meal. For most tourists, unfortunately, there’s no context to go along with the view.

If you do decide to make the trip up here as a tourist, I recommend visiting towards the end of your travels. After you’ve sweated it out on the Tube, braved it on the bus, and visited all of London’s amazing attractions, step up to the 72nd floor and you’ll be able to pick out everywhere you’ve been.

Sights to See in London this Christmas

 

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If you are in the capital this Christmas – whether in your student housing in London, visiting family or on holiday – there is plenty to see and do to give you a great festive experience. London comes alive with seasonal fun during December but you may also want to use the time to tick off some sights you are yet to check out which are fun any time of the year. As one of the world’s leading city break locations London has a huge variety of attractions for you to experience whatever the weather. Here is a list of some sights which you can tick off your list during the Christmas holidays.

Houses of Parliament

Houses of Parliament Tour

The epicentre of power in the nation’s capital is steeped in history and is a wonderful example of architecture which spans the centuries. If you want to develop your understanding of some of the processes that government go through you can even attend a debate or sit in on a committee meeting. Although this may not put you in the Christmas spirit!

Science Museum

London’s Science Museum is renown around the world for innovative exhibitions and inspirational collections. The venue in South Kensington has been around for over 100 years and houses fascinating resources to feed your brain in your holiday down time.

Home of John Keats

An important address which is missed by many a visitor to the capital, Wentworth Place now hosts a museum devoted to the Romantic poet. The Hampstead property hosts regular events and it is possible to book group tours on days when the museum is closed to the public.

Wiltons Music Hall

Another hidden gem in the city, Wilton’s Music Hall is a place of lots of historical importance with the impressive status of the world’s oldest surviving Grand Music Hall. Its rugged charm has gained it many loyal regulars but Christmas is the perfect time for the uninitiated to pay homage. Mrs Hudson’s Christmas Corker is set in another great London address (Sherlock Holmes’ 221B Baker Street) and runs until New Years Eve.

Winter Wonderland

During December, Hyde Park is transformed into a festive fun zone for all the family with an ice rink, giant wheel and circus. If you do find yourself in London during the Christmas period, this place truly is a must-see.

Winterville

If you are living in East London and aren’t willing to venture to Hyde Park then you can still experience a Christmas treat for all the senses with horse-drawn carriages, a fairground and Christmas market at Winterville. Head over to Victoria Park from 2nd December for the full experience.

The London Eye

shutterstock_942188 See London in all its glory from one of its newest icons. The Eye is the perfect place to get a wonderful view of all the capital’s famous landmarks. Catch a snowy festive day for an unparalleled visual spectacular.

 

Where to Ice Skate in London

 

Now that autumn is in full swing and the festive season is fast approaching, ice rinks are starting to pop up all around London. As someone who mainly grew up in California, I’m definitely not an expert skater but find that it’s a great way to celebrate the season and spend a chilly afternoon with friends and family.

My first attempt at ice skating in 10 years.

My first attempt at ice skating in 10 years.

If you’re looking to ice skate this autumn and winter, here are the top rinks around the city:

1. Natural History Museum Ice Rink (website)

Photo Credit: www.nhm.ac.uk

One of the prettiest in the city, the Victorian splendor of the Natural History Museum serves as a magical backdrop to this 1,000 square meter ice rink. The rink is at its most picture perfect in the evening when the sky is streaked with subtle shades of pink and decorative lights twinkle in the bare trees surrounding the museum. Advanced booking on weekends and evenings is highly recommended.

Dates: 30 October  – 04 January 10

Prices (per 40-minute session):  Adults: £12.65-£15.40, Family of Four: £36.90-£42.90, Kiddies 9 and Under: £8.80-£10.45,

Location: Natural History Museum (closest station is South Kensington)

2. Canary Wharf Ice Rink (website)

Canary Wharf residents would probably prefer that their local ice rink remained a secret. It’s as close as London gets to a true city rink a la the rink at Rockefeller Ice Rink in New York. The massive 1100 square metre rink boasts London’s only ice pathway through trees. This is where I go to get my skate on, so if you see me there, say hi!

Dates: 01 November – 28 February

Prices (per hour): Adults: £14.50, Kiddies Aged: 4-12: £9.50, Family of 4: £39.50

Location: Canary Wharf (closest station is Canary Wharf)

3. Somerset House Ice Rink with Fortnum and Mason (website)

Somerset House

This is the grandaddy of all London ice rinks. Each year, the enormous courtyard at Somerset House in Central London is covered in ice and it seems that everybody who’s anybody stops by to skate for a few hours. The cool thing about this ice rink is that you can enjoy champagne and chocolate with your trip. On Tuesdays they also play traditional Christmas music and serve yuletide treats.

Dates: 11 November – 11 January

Prices: Adults: £12.25 – £14.55, Kiddies Aged 12 and Under: £8.80, Students: £10.05

Location: Somerset House (closest stations are Temple and Covent Garden)

4. Ice Rink at Hyde Park Winter Wonderland (website)

Winter Wonderland

For those that have never been, Winter Wonderland is a traditional German Christmas Market, carnival, and circus all rolled into one. The ice rink here is set around a Victorian bandstand and is decorated with a canopy consisting of over 100,000 lights, making it one of the more romantic rinks in the city (take note, fellas).

Dates: 21 November – 04 January

Prices: 14.50/Peak Adult, 10.50/Off-Peak Adult, 9.50/Peak 12 and under, 8.50/Off-Peak 12 and under, 13.50/Peak Concessions, 9.50/Off-Peak Concessions, 38.00/Peak Family of 4, 34.00/Off-Peak Family of 4

Location: Hyde Park (closest stations are Hyde Park Corner, Knightsbridge, Lancaster Gate, and Marble Arch)

5. Eyeskate at the London Eye (website)

This is the closest rink to Southbank, which hosts what is arguably the best German-style Christmas Market in the city. It also happens to be the most affordable, though skate sessions are 45-minutes as opposed to 1-hour. This rink lacks the atmosphere of the other rinks but will do in a pinch.

Dates: 15 November – 04 January

Prices: Adults: £12.50, Kiddies Aged 4-15: £9.50, Family of 4: 39.50 — Discounts available is purchased online

Location: London Eye (closest station is Waterloo)

6. Winterville at Victoria Park

A new winter attraction in East London, Winterville with boast a 600 square metre rink and locals can skate here for a bargain. Located in beautiful Victoria Park, this rink is a great addition to the list.

Dates: 02 December – 31 December

Prices: Adults: £12, Teens Aged 13-15: £10.50, Kiddos: £8.50, Locals: £5

Locations: Victoria Park (closest stations are Mile End, Bethnal Green, Bow Road, and Bow Church)

My First Trip to Brixton: A Smartphone Photography Tour with Foto Ruta

 

Vibrant.

That’s the best way to describe Brixton in a nutshell. A part of me had been consciously avoiding visiting the gritty South London neighbourhood on my own because of its  . . . let’s just say . . . colourful reputation. So when an up-and-coming urban photo tour company called Foto Ruta contacted me about their tours, I jumped at the chance to take part in a guided iPhoneography (don’t worry, Androids are OK too) tour of Brixton Market.

After a decidedly un-Brixton morning of shopping at Westfield Stratford City, I hopped on the tube and headed south for the afternoon. Brixton is at the south end of the Victoria line – a line I rarely find myself on – and by the time the train pulled up to the station there were only a few of us left on board.

With my handbag firmly clutched at my side, I emerged from the depths of the underground and was immediately inundated with unfamiliar sights and sounds. If you find Oxford Street, Covent Garden, Kensington, and other popular tourist neighbourhoods in London sterile, then I urge you to head to Brixton. As I made my way down the main road, towards the Ritzy Cinema where I’d be meeting my guide, I passed no fewer than three street side preachers and a whole cast of other colourful characters.

The iPhoneography tour kicked off at 2pm. Instead of immediately taking to the streets, our guide, the talented photographer Jessie Akin, gave us a crash course in smartphone and street photography. There were about five of us in the course, including Natalie of South London Blog and London Instagram superstar Siobhan Ferguson (check out her instagram account!), and photography-wise we ranged from complete novices to professionals. After going over the basics of photography, we moved forward into using different apps for our respective phones to achieve the best shots. We then proceeded to hit the streets.

I’d clue you guys in on the route we took through Brixton Market, but I honestly have no idea where we went. The area is such a maze of retail stalls and alley ways that it would be impossible for me to try to figure out where I went. After about an hour of being led by Jessie through her favourite spots in and around the market, we were left on our own to capture the essence of Brixton through the lenses of our smartphones.

After about an hour we reconvened at a cute little restaurant inside Brixton Market to review our work. Jessie went through three or four of the best photos we each captured and took the time to provide us tips on composition, lighting, timing, filtering, and lots of other little things.

So without further ado, here are the ten best shots from my afternoon in Brixton with Foto Ruta:

Brixton

Electric Lane

“Joy”

Street Art . . . Under a bridge somewhere in the middle of Brixton

Brixton Market

Brixton Market

Brixton Village Market Hall Entrance

Wall Mural

OK, so maybe I’m not quite a professional photographer yet, but I did pick up a lot of tips from spending an afternoon on the tour.

Foto Ruta offers several tours and street photography courses each month through different parts of the city — they offer tourists to get out there and experience bits of London you wouldn’t otherwise see on a standard tour. For locals, they provide a refreshing new perspective on London.

Avast! Tall Ships Invade the Thames

 

I’m not in London at the moment, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been keeping an eye on what’s going down in my home city. Last weekend I dispatched Girl in London’s chief photography (aka my boyfriend) to check out the Tall Ships festival at Wood Warf, Greenwich, and Royal Arsenal.

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London, of course, has a rich maritime history and if you look at old paintings of the Thames, you’ll see the river full of clippers and other tall ships. If you haven’t already, I recommend visiting the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich to learn more about the UK’s seafaring heritage.

Tall ship crossing the Thames Barrier

Tall ship crossing the Thames Barrier

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My other half informed me that though they looked old, most of the ships at the festival were actually built in the last 50 years or so. However, if you want to see a real 19th-century ship, you can once again head to Greenwich and climb on board  the Cutty Sark, which was perhaps the most famous and fast clipper ships of its day and logged many nautical miles at sea.

I’ll be back in London (and back to putting up more posts) in a few days. In the meantime, enjoy the tall ships!

Top Apps for Visiting London

 

Hi guys,

Sorry for the lack of updates recently – I’m on a trip to Bangkok and am absolutely swamped with work and other business. I’ll be back in London town soon enough with lots and lots of content for ya’ll.

In the mean time, here’s a great infographic from LA Stretch Limos with some great tips for London visitors. Enjoy!

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