Visit London Blog » Tom Butler Enjoy the very best of London Wed, 23 Apr 2014 09:00:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Open House London 2013: The Gherkin / 30 St Mary Axe Tue, 24 Sep 2013 14:25:42 +0000  

30 St Mary Axe © Searcys

Since its topping out ceremony in December 2003, 30 St Mary Axe has become one of London’s defining landmarks. Better known as “The Gherkin”, the 41-storey tower stands in the heart of The City of London and is home to 33 floors of office space and, at the top, one of the most spectacular rooms in the capital.

The Gherkin is a landmark in every sense: it is visible from across the city, and is one of our most immediately recognisable buildings. Designed by Lord Foster, the tower won the 2004 Stirling Prize for Architecture and continues to be praised almost 10 years later, even if new neighbours such as Heron Tower and The Leadenhall Building have climbed even higher.

Last weekend the public was allowed in to this usually private space as part of Open House London, the annual architectural showcase that opens the doors to more than 700 of the city’s finest spaces, be they public, private or just hidden away.

gherkin-lens © Tom ButlerFor the Gherkin, the focus was on the domed room on the top floor, famous for its unimpeded 360-degree views of the city. This incredible space is part of London’s highest private members’ club run by Searcy’s, who also operate St Pancras Grand Restaurant and Oyster Bar, home to Europe’s longest Champagne bar.

Even despite a glass of fizz, the three hour wait was worth it. From the 180m vantage point, the capital extends all the way to the horizon while the City’s other towers are tangibly close. All of London is here, from Battersea Power Station to Canary Wharf, while the River Thames crops up in surprising places. Another surprise is the “lens”, the mini dome at the building’s very top, and the only curved pane of glass in the whole building. That’s one out of 7,429 pieces.

Of course, there are year-round opportunities to enjoy similar bird’s eye views of London, from The View from The Shard to the EDF Energy London Eye. If it’s the inside of the Gherkin you’re after, you could consider joining the members club, or maybe hire the space for a once in a lifetime Gherkin party… otherwise, just mark your diary for Open House London 2014 and join the queue. I’ll see you there.

Did you enjoy Open House London 2013? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

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London’s Lost Chinatown: Last Tuesdays at RIBA Mon, 12 Nov 2012 14:00:27 +0000

The last Tuesday of every month is open house night at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).

Each month, the RIBA’s 66 Portland Place headquarters puts on a range of talks, tours, exhibitions and film screenings around a single topic.

October’s event, City Stories!, focused on great cities and their hidden histories, and included a fascinating talk by Dr Yat Ming Loo on London’s first Chinatown.

From the mid-nineteenth century Chinese seamen from Canton and Shanghai settled close to Limehouse Docks, with communities emerging on Limehouse Causeway, Pennyfields and Amoy Place.

Between the 1890s and 1920s the area become notorious as a place of gambling, opium dens and evocative smells – the legend of Fu Manchu originated here. However, the reality was quite different, with a very familiar London street scene greeting those who were curious, albeit with clinics, shops and boarding houses run by the Chinese.

The Blitz and various slum clearance projects before and after the Second World War saw the end of London’s first Chinatown, and there is little physical trace left today.

In the 1940s and 50s many families moved to the West End to capitalise on the growing demand for Chinese food, laying the foundations for London’s present day Chinatown.

Yat Ming Loo’s upcoming book “Architecture and Urban Form in Kuala Lumpur: Race and Chinese Spaces in a Postcolonial City” will be published in April 2013.

The next “Last Tuesdays” event on 27 November, Colour Me Vertical, will explore colour, light and architecture. Admission is free.

Follow @RIBA on twitter for #LastTuesdays updates, or visit for more information.

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Spooky Cinema: Halloween Films in London Fri, 26 Oct 2012 09:30:11 +0000

London’s cinemas are offering up another splattering of fearsome films this Halloween, from hammer horror to kitsch comedies. Can you keep the popcorn steady?

St Barnabus Church, Ealing
What could be more chilling than Murnau’s silent Nosferatu (1922) with a live organ accompaniment on Halloween night? Try watching it in a church. Head to St Barnabus Church, Ealing to see this black and white Expressionist classic.

  • Nosferatu (1922) Wednesday 31 Oct, Doors 7pm, screening 8.30pm

Prince Charles Cinema
The Prince Charles Cinema is screening Terence Fisher’s classic Dracula (1958), starring Peter Cushing as vampire hunter Van Helsing, and Christopher Lee as the eponymous blood-sucker.

Horror fans can also get their teeth stuck in to a special Halloween double bill of the original The Exorcist (1973) and critically-acclaimed Spanish horror film [REC] – a film crew, an abandoned mental institute and no way out. What could go wrong?

  • Dracula (1958): Tuesday 30 Oct 8:45pm
  • [REC] (2007) and The Exorcist (1973) Double-Bill: Monday 29 Oct 7pm and 8.45pm

BFI Southbank
As well as Raimi’s breakthrough horror film The Evil Dead (1981), and the longer US cut of Kubrick’s horror masterpiece The Shining (1980), the BFI Southbank is taking a more cerebral approach – and not in the cannibalistic sense.

League of Gentlemen and Sherlock star Mark Gatiss follows up his acclaimed BBC Four series “A History of Horror” with Horror Europa, a feature-length assessment of European horror cinema with an accompanying Q&A session.

  • The Evil Dead (1981) Sun 28 Oct, 9pm; Saturday 3 Nov, 4pm; Sunday 4 Nov, 8.40pm
  • The Shining (1980) Wed 31 Oct, Fri 2-Fri 16 Nov, various times
  • Horror Europa (2012), Sun 28 Oct, 6.15pm

Rio Cinema
Aiming for a few more laughs than frights, the Rio Cinema, Dalston is resurrecting Ghostbusters (1984) for a late night screening the weekend after Halloween. Keep an eye on those marshmallows.

  • Ghostbusters (1984) Sat 3 Nov, 11.30pm
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Welcome Back World! Highlights of the London 2012 Paralympic Games Opening Ceremony Thu, 30 Aug 2012 12:30:45 +0000

Last night performers, athletes and spectators welcomed the world back to London for the 2012 Paralympic Games.

The spectacular Opening Ceremony, created by artistic directors Jenny Sealey and Bradley Hemmings, saw Professor Stephen Hawking and actor Sir Ian McKellen introduce scenes exploring the theme of “Enlightenment” and showcasing the world’s leading deaf and disabled artists.

During the ceremony, more than 3,000 participants brought Sir Isaac Newton’s garden, the Large Hadron Collider and the Big Bang to life in a celebration of science and its capacity to change perceptions.

London-based performers and groups made a special impact throughout the night. “Principia”, an emotional choral composition, was sung by six London based choirs: the Hackney Community Choir, Barts Choir, the London Gay Men’s Chorus, the Hackney Singers, the London Chorus, and the Lewisham Choral Society. You can enjoy these volunteer choirs throughout the year across London, and each have performances coming up in the next few months.

The Graeae Theatre Company, based only a few miles from the Olympic Stadium in Hackney, performed an explosive cover of Ian Dury and The Blockheads’ “Spasticus Artisticus”. The company champions the inclusion of deaf and disabled performers in the arts thorough new plays and training initiatives. Graeae and their incredible sway poles can be seen this September in The Garden, part of Unlimited Festival at Southbank Centre.

Also appearing at Unlimited Festival, leading disabled dancer David Toole performed a solo dance while 16-year-old singer-songwriter Birdy performed “Bird Gerhl”. In perhaps the most stunning moment of the night, David ascended into the air supported by wires and “flew” above a stadium floor packed with the world’s Paralympians. You can see the incredible David Toole in a brand new work, The Impending Storm, on 7 and 8 September at the Southbank Centre.

Did you enjoy the London 2012 Paralympic Opening Ceremony? Let us know what you thought in the comments section below.

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Accessible London: Top Smartphone Apps Wed, 29 Aug 2012 14:00:08 +0000

With the London 2012 Paralympic Games getting underway today, we take a look at the best accessibility apps to help visitors make the most of London and the Games.

Inclusive London
Check accessibility information on hotels, restaurants, pubs, shops, museums and more. You can set your access preferences and prioritise search results. Free, and available for iPhone. Find out more at

Hail one of London’s accessible taxis wherever and whenever you need one with your smartphone. No more waiting on a street corner! Available for free on iPhone and Android. Visit for full details and to download.

Looking for a disabled parking space in London? Then use the Parkible app to find the spaces near where you are, or search a specific location for parking bays. Free to download and available for iPhone and Android.

Enabled City
The PhotoRoute app by Enabled City provides step-free routes on some of London’s most photogenic routes, including Paddington to Camden Lock and the London Eye to Tower Bridge. There’s a free “Lite” version available, as well as a fully offline premium version for £1.99.  Available on iPhone and Android. Visit to download.

Official London 2012 Join In App
Last but not least, the Official London 2012 App. Plan your trip to the Paralympic Games, check event schedules and receive London 2012 alerts. Available for free on iPhone and Android. Visit to download.

Are you coming to London for the Paralympic Games? Let us know if you have used any accessibility apps to help you get around in the comments section below.

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Hair to Celebrate: Amazing London 2012 Hair Sculptures Sat, 11 Aug 2012 10:40:37 +0000

If you still haven’t donned a Union Flag or red, white and blue face paint, don’t worry, there’s still time to support Team GB. And perhaps you can take inspiration from these amazing hair scultpures and get creative with your follicles?

Catalan street theatre company Osadia have been working their magic at the BT London Live site in Victoria Park, combining hair sculpting skills with performance art.

Models Juliet Cook, Chris Wilkinson and Josie Todd above demonstrate just some of Osadia’s creations, celebrating the Games and London’s famous landmarks including Big Ben and a red telephone box.

Osadia: Whose Hair Dares” is part of Showtime, a free festival of events from the Mayor of London Presents programme, which continues until 9 September.

Let us know how you are celebrating the London 2012 Games in the comments section below.

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The Other Flower Show: The Chelsea Physic Garden Wed, 08 Aug 2012 15:00:51 +0000 "Pertaining to Things Natural" sculpture exhibition at the Chelsea Physic Garden
It’s been on the London map for 340 years, but the Chelsea Physic Garden still remains a sanctuary from the city that surrounds it.

Founded by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries to help train apprentices in identifying plants, the garden and its collection of around 5,000 useful, exotic and medicinal plants form one of the world’s oldest botanic gardens.

Expansions and additions from successive head gardeners mirror discoveries in botany and horticultural fashion. Two examples are a fascinating pharmaceutical garden, and the UK’s oldest rockery – compete with giant clam shells brought to London by Captain Cook on HMS Endeavour!

Free guided tours by well-informed volunteers help bring the garden to life for those more interested in the history than the horticulture of the garden. These are usually available two or three times each day (timings vary).

Currently appearing at the garden is “Pertaining to Things Natural“, a series of outdoor sculptures by more than 20 leading artists. Each of these artworks responds in some way to its surroundings, ranging from a beautifully fluid marble screen to a pink metal spiral.

“Pertaining to Things Natural” runs until 31 Oct. The garden is open until 10pm every Wednesday until 5 September. Tickets to the garden are also 2-4-1 until 9 September if you present your Oyster card. Find out more on

Are you a fan of London’s gardens and parks? Let us know your favourite in the comments section below.

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The Big Busk, Playing at a London Bandstand Near You Sat, 04 Aug 2012 13:30:01 +0000

London’s largest ever street music competition, The Big Busk sees young musicians and singers from across the capital performing in iconic venues for your pleasure – and your votes.

Running from 21 July to 25 August, the big buskers are cropping up all over London. Venues include The British Music Experience, BT London Live sites at Hyde Park and Victoria Park, and the Clapham Common Bandstand.

In case you don’t happen to catch all of the performers on your travels, you can see them online and vote for your favourite. The three categories are Youth, Soloists and Duos and Groups. Check out the performances so far at Prizes include studio time, musical instruments, a scholarship and (appropriately) a Transport for London busking licence.

Have you seen any of the Big Busk performers? Who do you think should win?

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Criss-Cross London on a Culture Trail Fri, 03 Aug 2012 09:00:06 +0000

If you’re bamboozled by the huge quantity of cultural events this summer, then try following one of the weekend Culture Trails for a fantastic cross-section of the Olympic City’s best events.

Sacrilege by Jeremy DellerThis Saturday (4 August), the East to West London Trail takes you from Jeremy Deller’s bouncy Stonehenge in the newly re-opened Burgess Park to Portuguese acrobatics at the National Theatre. One the way you can take in the BMW Art Car Collection, Titian at the National Gallery and the penultimate day of the Exhibition Roadshow in South Kensington.

To guide you on your way, download the free London Official City Guide app for Android and iPhone which has details of this Saturday’s events and route. Or you can download and print a PDF at

Upcoming Culture Trails on the 12 August and 18 August explore East and West London respectively.

Have you followed one of the Culture Trails? Let us know if you made it round the whole route!

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Gifts From The Olympic Gods Appear Across London Mon, 30 Jul 2012 09:30:43 +0000

If you find a giant javelin piercing your local park, or a 3m tall shot-put sinking into the pavement outside your closest Tube station, don’t worry, these aren’t Olympic-related hallucinations.

Part of “Gifts of the Olympic Gods”, these 12 sculptures – including javelins, shot-puts, and bows and arrows – have been installed around the city, evoking the Greek gods in whose honour the original Olympic Games were held.  And up-close, the impressive sculptures really do look like they have been dropped from a great height! Unsuspecting pedestrians beware.

You can see the giant sculptures at the following locations:



Bow and Arrows

The gifts are part of the Mayor of London’s Summer Like No Other programme. Find out about other “Wonders” cropping up over London during the Games at

Have you seen any of the Gifts of the Olympic Gods? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

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