Visit London Blog » Travel Enjoy the very best of London Tue, 13 Oct 2015 14:49:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Top Five River Thames Experiences Thu, 28 Aug 2014 09:00:41 +0000 A guest post by Totally Thames Festival Director Adrian Evans

Throughout September, Totally Thames festival celebrates the River Thames with a 30-day programme of river-inspired events, including colourful regattas, river rallies and community festivals. Totally Thames Festival director Adrian Evans shares his top five must-do River Thames experiences:

1. Walk the towpath between the lush riverside villages of Kew and Richmond.

The Thames path at Richmond

The Thames path at Richmond

2. Soak up the view of the Thames Barrier, which spans 520 metres across the Thames at Woolwich Reach. Then take a stroll around the picture-pretty Thames Barrier Park.

Thames Barrier

Thames Barrier

3. Take a ride over the River Thames on the Emirates air line, London’s cable car. During the 10-minute journey, you’ll be treated to eye-popping views of East London as you travel between Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks.

Emirates Air Line

Emirates Air Line

4. Stroll amongst the wilderness at the RSPB Rainham Marshes Nature Reserve.

Rainham Marshes

Rainham Marshes

5. Ride the Thames Clipper from Westminster Pier to Woolwich.

Thames Clipper

Thames Clipper

]]> 0
Video of the Week: How To Do London – The Basics Fri, 30 May 2014 10:50:32 +0000
Planning your first trip to London? Then don’t miss this essential guide to doing London like a local, where you’ll be given useful tips like how to use the legendary Oyster Card, where to stand on an escalator and how to pronounce Leicester Square. The video also features top London sights, including Camden Lock and Tower Bridge.

Want more travel guide tips? Head to the Visit London website.

]]> 0
Top Six Ways to Travel Like a Londoner Mon, 21 Apr 2014 08:30:04 +0000 Thames Clippers

London has one of the oldest, and arguably best, public transport systems in the world. So here’s our top tips on how to avoid any hassles and use the Bus, Tube and beyond like a real London local.

1. Go cash-free. Using cash to pay your fare is so yesterday! In fact, from June, London buses won’t accept any cash payments at all. Travel like a true Londoner by using a pre-paid Oyster card, a Visitor Oyster Card (VOC) or a cashless debit card (UK cardholders only). Buy your VOC before you arrive in London using the following links – it comes pre-loaded with £15 credit.Visitor Oyster Cards – UK / Visitor Oyster Cards – international.     

A London bus

2. Take the scenic route. 2014 is the Year of the Bus in London! Make the most of it by taking one of the more scenic routes, such as Bus route 4, which goes past the Houses of Parliament and St Paul’s Cathedral, Bus route 11 past Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square and The Tower of London or Bus route 9 where you’ll travel on an old-style Routemaster past Royal Albert Hall. Best of all, a single trip on these routes using Oyster, VOC or cashless will only cost you the standard fare of £1.45. Here’s some more scenic bus routes in London.

Walk between Oxford Street and Piccadilly Circus via Regent Street

3. Walk this way It can be quicker to walk between some Tube stops in Central London and this could save you money on your Oyster or VOC. Plus, this way you avoid some of the crowds and queues as well as enjoying fantastic people-watching and window shopping opportunities. Try walking between

  • Covent Garden and Leicester Square
  • Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Circus
  • Leicester Square and Charing Cross
  • Oxford Circus and Bond Street
  • Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Circus
  • Charing Cross and Embankment
  • Embankment / Charing Cross and Waterloo (and you get to walk across the Thames!)

4. Top Up Visitor Oyster Cards (VOCs) come pre-loaded with £15 credit, which is usually more than enough to get you from Heathrow to your hotel (for example) but chances are you’ll need to top up at some point in your trip. You need to do this before you travel. To check your Oyster or VOC credit at a Tube station, find a ticket machine and hold your card on the yellow reader: the balance will be displayed on screen. You can then add credit using cash or card. Convenience stores and off-licences often provide top-up facilities too.

5. Explore More A lot of tourists stick to buses and the Tube, which is fine, but you’re missing out on some exciting and diverse ways to travel around London! Why not explore further? You can “drive” the DLR, float high above the Thames on the Emirates Air Line or, if you find yourself in South London, try the Tram.

6. Take it to the River as well as the different methods of transport outlined above, you can catch one of the splendid RiverBus services. Seeing London by boat offers a unique perspective on the city. We recommend you try a day-trip to Greenwich, the Tate to Tate boat or visit Canary Wharf. Best of all, visitors get 10% off single Thames Clipper River Bus tickets when they pay with their Visitor Oyster card (NB this does not count towards the Visitor Oyster card daily fare cap).

What’s your top tip for travelling around London like a local? Let us know in the comments below.

]]> 0
Top Accessible Attractions in London by Srin Madipalli Thu, 15 Aug 2013 13:56:42 +0000 London resident, wheelchair user and Disability Horizons co-founder Srin Madipalli, shares his thoughts on accessible attractions in London.

EDF Energy London Eye

The London Eye is one of my favourite tourist sites in London. On a clear day or evening, you get stunning views across the city of most of the major landmarks. There were no issues driving my wheelchair into the capsule, which was step-free.

Buckingham Palace

It’s been a long time since I went to Buckingham Palace (about 10 years ago!), but I remember being able to go everywhere. There was a small delay with one of the stair lifts, which struggled to lift my very heavy powered wheelchair.

The Natural History Museum, V&A Museum and Science Museum

All three museums are right by one another in South Kensington. They are big, fascinating and insightful places that have some fantastic exhibitions. Access is generally very good, but on busy days, or for special exhibitions, working through the crowds can be a bit difficult.

Tate Modern

For those of you who are like me, and know very little about the arts, or are generally unfamiliar with anything related to modern art, the Tate Modern is perfect. It’s accessible, spacious, easy to navigate and its exhibitions are well-presented. As it is free to enter, you can wander in and out as you wish.

Tate Modern is in a great location, on London’s South Bank, right by Shakespeare’s Globe and opposite St Paul’s Cathedral, so if you get bored of the art, there are other things in the vicinity to see. There is also a really good pub right by the Tate Modern called the Founder’s Arms which overlooks the Thames. Great place to have a beer on a warm summer’s day (it is wheelchair accessible and has an accessible toilet too).

The British Museum

Another one of the big mega museums of London that is free to enter. My law school was a two minute walk from the British Museum, so when I used to have periods of free time between lectures, I sometimes went for a wander around.

While it is fully accessible, it is also one of those museums that is difficult to fully see in just a day. If time is limited, I’d recommend going to one of the special exhibitions. Like with London’s other museums, they can get really crowded on certain busy days, which can make it difficult to fully appreciate what you are seeing.

Also, just be wary that is a big museum, so if have any difficulties with fatigue or tiredness, be sure to plan your visit and identify in advance any particular exhibitions or galleries that you would prefer to visit.

Kew Gardens

One of London’s real gems, the vast expanse of Kew Gardens can be a great day out, and it is accessible. As it is more towards the edge of the city, you will need to consider transport more carefully.

I recall Kew Gardens Station being step-free, but as there would be a big step to get onto the train, I had to arrange assisted travel with South West Trains, who organised a ramp. I found the most interesting bit of Kew Gardens to be the special greenhouses, where the controlled conditions enable plant-life that usually can’t grow in a British climate. Like with the museums, Kew Gardens is pretty big – more than 300 acres in fact – so if this is likely to cause any difficulties, plan your day.

London Dungeon

I really like the London Dungeon. It is a bit cheesy, but it is a good laugh and a good way to spend a couple of hours. While accessible, some parts of the London Dungeon can be quite dark, which could make it difficult for some. I recall people in costumes and waxwork exhibits jumping out from nowhere trying to “scare” you, which I found utterly hilarious, but imagine that some people wouldn’t!

St Paul’s Cathedral

St Paul’s Cathedral is a tranquil and peaceful place that sits within the hustle and bustle of the busy financial district of central London known as the “Square Mile”. Once a upon a time, I used to go through the grounds of St Paul’s as short-cut on my way home. Most parts are accessible, but there are some areas that aren’t, such as the Whispering, Golden and Stone galleries, due to its age.

National Gallery and Trafalgar Square

The National Gallery is one of the smaller of London’s premier galleries, but it is still very impressive. I recently visited the National Gallery for a special collection of the works of Leonardo Da Vinci.

Again, they are both free to visit and accessible but, like all museums in London, can be a pain to make the most of when busy. Trafalgar Square, with Nelson’s Column, is one of the those must-see public squares and is within walking distance of Buckingham Palace, Horse Guards Parade, the Houses of Parliament, Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus. Trafalgar Square is step-free with an accessible route to the National Gallery which sits right behind it.

Shakespeare's Globe TheatreShakespeare’s Globe

I went to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on a kind of date many years ago. I strongly recommend watching a performance there. I loved the fact that I could choose to be in the wheelchair platform in the covered stands or in the open standing area near the stage. I chose to position my wheelchair in the standing area by the stage, which was exposed to the elements!

The atmosphere in the audience was a lot of fun – the pouring rain made it just that much more a novelty. The performances at The Globe are a world away from the boring and static way in which Shakespeare is taught in the classroom and watching a modernised play live with its characteristic audience participation is a really enjoyable experience.

More accessible attractions in London

]]> 3
Visiting the Past: London Cycles Fri, 02 Aug 2013 09:30:45 +0000 Three years ago this month London launched its cycle hire scheme. The blue bikes are now a feature of the city, but people have been cycling in London since early ‘boneshaker’ bikes were made here 150 years ago. Now more than half a million journeys are made by bike in London each day, and on some roads in London there are more bikes than any other kind of vehicle.

At the Museum of London we’ve been thinking about how we can collect the experience of cycling. We’ve been collecting bikes themselves for a while, and in January this year the museum collected one of the cycle hire scheme bikes. We can now also collect digital objects about cycling, like film and location data.

This map, made by Professor Jo Wood of City University, shows where the Museum of London’s cycle hire scheme bike was docked last July. It was a busy month for the bike!

See the bikes, the data and the illustrations at the Museum of London’s exhibition, London Cycles until 22September 2013.

A guest blog by the Museum of London as part of the Visiting the Past series. More London history next week

]]> 0
London Challenge: Family Day Out For £50 Tue, 09 Jul 2013 13:00:40 +0000 "Driving" the driverless trains on the DLR Saying hello to the animals at Mudchute City Farm The Greenwich Foot Tunnel Outside Discover Greenwich, the visitor centre Learning through play in Discover Greenwich Standing on the Greenwich Prime Meridian Line Pirate Alice Leghorn at the National Maritime Museum Playing in Mudlarks at the Museum of London Docklands A well-deserved sit down at Poppies restaurant in Spitalfields

Can a family enjoy a day out in London for £50? I accepted this challenge and set out with a friend and our daughters for a day out. We only spent money on travel and food, as all the attractions we visited were free.

Morning: Mudchute Farm and Discover Greenwich
Mudchute Farm is one of London’s largest city farms and easy to reach on the DLR. From Crossharbour station, it’s a short walk to the farm where we said hello to the animals, watched horse-riding lessons and then exited at Millwall Park for the playground.

From here it’s a five-minute walk to the Greenwich Foot Tunnel under The Thames to reach Greenwich. (Do note, if you have younger children the lifts don’t always work, so be prepared for stairs.) It was a scorching day, so we all appreciated how cool it was in the tunnel. Within minutes, we were in Greenwich. Discover Greenwich, the visitor centre, has lots for children to do. We enjoyed dressing up, building towers and playing games. You can pick up a free map from the Tourist Information Office here and we grabbed ours and then went to the park.

Lunch: Greenwich Park
We were spoilt for choice for great picnic locations at Greenwich Park but we chose to climb the hill to the Royal Observatory, and eat our packed lunches admiring those magnificent views. We then watched the 1pm ball drop at Flamsteed House.

It’s possible to get photos of the Prime Meridian Line outside the Observatory courtyard as the line continues across the path outside. Just look for the “kissing gate” to the right of the courtyard to see it. We walked down the hill and found the Prime Meridian is also marked on Park Vista – a road near the boating lake. This called for more photo opportunities and, again, there was no-one else there.

Afternoon: Free Museums
The National Maritime Museum is a fabulous family-friendly museum and we played on the large floor map for some time before heading up to the All Hands! children’s gallery. On the hour, there are free family events to meet historic characters and we met Alice Leghorn – a female pirate who is well worth seeing.

We all wanted an ice-cream as it was such a hot day but ice-creams from a van in the park were £2.50 each; instead, we nipped to the supermarket nearby and bought a pack of four ice-creams for less than £3.

A short ride on the DLR and we got to Museum of London Docklands with another excellent children’s play/learning area. The girls had an hour in Mudlarks damming a stream, loading cargo on a ship, weighing and building before we visited the galleries.

We played in the sunshine in Canary Wharf before heading to Spitalfields for dinner. The area is well-known for excellent street art so we made sure we had time to explore and take photos.

Dinner: Fish and Chips
Poppies of Spitalfields has 1950s style decor with the friendliest service. There are kids’ meals on the menu and we all perked up when dinner arrived. We all enjoyed our day and I’m glad we proved that a family day out does not have to be expensive in London.


  • Two adult one-day travelcards (top-up on Oyster cards): 2 x £7.30 = £14.60
  • Pack of 4 ice-creams from supermarket: £2.69
  • Dinner at Poppies, including drinks: £31.80
  • Total: £49.09

Laura Porter writes the London Travel site and is also a VisitBritain Super Blogger. She’s @AboutLondon on twitter and fits in further freelance writing while sustaining an afternoon tea addiction to rival the Queen’s.

More ideas for enjoying London on a budget

]]> 9
Visiting the Past: The Opening of the New London Bridge Fri, 05 Jul 2013 09:46:10 +0000 The “new” London Bridge was opened to great fanfare on 1 August 1831 by King William IV and Queen Adelaide, as shown in this unusual tinsel print, one of many in the Museum of London’s collection.

Seven years to build, it replaced the creaking old medieval bridge which had been there for hundreds of years. The new bridge was 283 metres long and 15m metres wide and was designed by Rennie. It was considered state of the art but even so could not keep with the congestion generated by the largest city in the world in the 19th century.

However it lasted until 1968 when amazingly it was sold to an American Robert McCulloch of McCulloch Oil who arranged for it to be removed and reconstructed in Arizona. An even newer London Bridge was then built on the same site which exists today.

A guest blog by the Museum of London, as part of our Visiting the Past series

]]> 0
London for Train Enthusiasts Wed, 26 Jun 2013 12:19:09 +0000

London is home to a bustling network of trains and Tubes – including Britain’s busiest train station, Clapham Junction. As Londoners celebrate the 150th anniversary of London Underground, explore the history, present and future world of trains in the capital. And remember, if you arrive into London by National Rail you can enjoy 2FOR 1 entry to top London attractions.

London Transport Museum
London Transport Museum is the obvious first step for any train enthusiast visiting London. Its current exhibition, Poster Art 150 – London Underground’s Greatest Designs, showcases iconic and fascinating graphic posters commissioned by London Underground. But there’s plenty more to see in the permanent collection, from the oldest surviving electric Tube locomotive in the world to hundreds of old photographs.

London’s Abandoned Stations
While many of London’s abandoned train and Tube stations are inaccessible, remnants exist above ground such as the Aldwych station façade on The Strand and Down Street in Mayfair, which was occasionally used as a war bunker by Winston Churchill and his Cabinet during World War II. For more tips, guides and little-known facts, visit dedicated blogs such as Abandoned Tube Stations, Underground History and Disused Stations. And put a date in your diary to visit London Transport Museum’s Lost & Found: A Secret Underground Journey show at Aldwych Station, which opens this September.

Epping-Ongar Steam Train
As part of the Tube150 celebrations, step back in time and travel by steam train on the Epping Ongar Railway (in service from 28 June to 1 July). You’ll take a seat in a 1892 Jubilee coach (number 353) onboard the newly restored steam locomotive Met No 1 as it travels on a former part of the Central Line – the closest heritage railway to the capital. Two 1920s ‘Dreadnought’ compartment coaches, one 1950s coach from the North Norfolk Railway and and two guest steam locos will also be making an appearance.

London Underground and Tube Tour
Inside London’s London Underground and Tube Tour packs a lot into two hours. As well as learning about the fascinating history behind the Tube’s design and construction, you’ll see the ghost station at the British Museum, the original plans for the Tube and and great architectural gems.

London Transport Museum Depot
The London Transport Museum Depot in Acton, West London, is a treasure trove of transport history and memorabilia – housing more than 370,000 transport-related objects.  Once a month it opens its doors to the public with an organised behind-the-scenes tour, which gives visitors exceptional access to everything from ticket machines to rare vehicles and even bus and rail sheds. Look out for the depot’s occasional themed Open Weekends too.

Orient Express’s British Pullman & Northern Belle
While many people know of the Orient Express from the book by famed British crime writer Agatha Christie, it’s the trains themselves which hold the pull for rail enthusiasts – not whodunit. Trains like the British Pullman, whose carriages date as far back as 1925, or the Northern Belle – a 1930s-style service that actually made its maiden voyage in 2000. On many of the Orient Express’s day-trip or longer-stay packages you can enjoy a five-course dinner, Champagne and amazing views of the British countryside – there’s even a Murder Mystery Lunch option.

Hampton & Kempton Waterworks Railway
While Kew Bridge Steam Museum goes under refurbishment (the museum is still open at weekends), it has kindly lent its Thomas Wicksteed steam train to the Hampton & Kempton Waterworks Railway at Kempton Steam Museum, where it will be “steaming every Sunday” along the Hanworth Loop until the end of August. Built in 1916, the railway once transported coal from the river in Hampton to the water pumping engines at Kempton – and the plan is to restore the full line and eventually transport visitors to the Kempton Nature Reserve. Contact before visiting to arrange entry.

The Deptford Project: The Train Carriage Café
Less than a minute from Deptford Railway Station sits another rail carriage, The Deptford Project, but this one isn’t going anywhere. The 35-tonne reclaimed carriage, transported 45 miles from Shoeburyness in Essex to South London at a snail paced two miles an hour, today houses a small but quirky café. While some purists may not approve of the modernisation, you can’t help but be won over by the Elvis-themed loo, delicious homemade food and buzzing, community-minded events calendar.

St Pancras Renaissance Hotel
In 1873, the Midland Grand Hotel opened – a railway hotel of the finest order, designed in High Victorian Gothic style by architect George Gilbert Scott. After a somewhat disastrous history, which saw it nearly demolished in the 1960s, the hotel underwent a £150million facelift and emerged in 2011 as The St Pancras Renaissance Hotel. However, the railway remains at the heart of the hotel – with the stunning former Booking Office now serving as a restaurant and the incredible view from some rooms of Barlow’s famous train shed arch and even the tracks themselves.

]]> 0
Five Things Americans Should Try in London Tue, 25 Jun 2013 11:36:48 +0000 By Libby Zay

There’s no shortage of tourist staples in London, and while any visitor can revel in staring up at Big Ben or walking through Westminster Abbey, there are a few exploits Americans in particular will find novel when visiting London (and I don’t just mean watching cars drive by on the opposite side of the road). Here are a few British experiences that simply can’t be had in the United States.

Indulge in Afternoon Tea — Especially Clotted Cream

The Athenaeum Royal Summer - Afternoon Tea at Buckingham Palace with Helena and Ian

Nothing is more quintessentially British than afternoon tea. Many Americans, however, don’t realize that along with a hot pot of tea (no Lipton here, folks!) comes an assortment of delightful snacks, including scones smothered with rich, sweet clotted cream. Why, oh why, does this stuff not exist in the U.S.? It seems the thick cream, which would actually be classified as butter back home, isn’t exported because of its short shelf life. But it’s oh-so-delicious, and although clotted cream has an almost shamefully high fat content, it’s okay to indulge every once in awhile (especially while we’re on vacation, right?).

Walk in Jack the Ripper’s Footsteps

Although Jack the Ripper’s legacy has influenced countless American horror films, comics, and other pieces of popular culture, it’s only possible to chart his path in London’s East End. Professional guides give graphic murder-by-murder tours of Whitechapel, the neighborhood where the world’s first — and perhaps most famous — serial killer brutally murdered several prostitutes. Follow along and see if you can put together your own theory on who the real killer was; London Walks hosts eerie tours every night (except Dec. 24 & 25) starting at 7.30 p.m. from the Tower Hill Tube station.

Get Your Picture Inside a Red Phone Booth

When was the last time you saw a payphone in the U.S.? As cellular technology becomes more and more accessible, public telephones are becoming relics of the past. The same is true in London, and unfortunately, it means those iconic red telephone boxes are now not only novel because of their colour. Although they can still be found throughout the city — especially in places tourists frequent — you’d be wise to stop by one and snap a photo when you’re across the pond. And while you’re scoping out London icons, try to snag a front seat in the top of a double-decker bus.

Wander In and Out of Free Museums

Unless you’re in Washington, D.C., you’ll be hard pressed to find world-class museums sans admission prices in the U.S. In London, however, some of the best things in life are free — including internationally-recognized museums like the British Museum, Tate Modern, and the National Gallery, to name a few. As you zigzag up and down the Thames and throughout the rest of central London, be thankful that you can pop in and out of most museums at no charge.

Take Time for a Pint in an Authentic Pub

There’s plenty of British pub copycats in the U.S., and for good reason: there’s something special about grabbing a pint at these age-old drinking holes. For an authentic experience, stop in for a Sunday roast, a British comfort food meal of juicy meat served with accompaniments such as Yorkshire pudding, mashed potatoes, or stuffing. Or better yet, time your pub crawl around an English football match — hopefully you’ll find yourself raising a pint to celebrate a scored goal.

Like many other Americans, Libby Zay made her first trip overseas to London. She’s since explored many cities across the globe as a writer for various travel guides and publications, but something about London keeps reeling her back in. Learn more about Libby at, or follow her on Twitter @libbyzay.

]]> 3
Visiting the Past: London’s Working Horses Mon, 17 Jun 2013 15:56:45 +0000 Did you know that those small brass decorations you see adorning the walls of London’s traditional pubs once decorated the harnesses of a workforce essential to the capital’s life and economy – horses?

In the 19th and early 20th centuries horses were essential for all short distance transport in the capital. Drawing, among other things, buses and cabs, delivery vans, waste carts, fire engines, and working machinery. Horses were as much part of London as cars and lorries are today. In 1893 there were an estimated 25,000 carrying horses alone.

With a little digging, each London horse brass that survives can conjure up a lost world. The first railway companies, with their familiar London termini – Paddington, King’s Cross, Euston – owned their own horses to carry goods to and from trains. In the early 1890s, the Great Western Railway Company, for example, stabled 500 horses at Paddington.

And many visitors to Camden’s Stables Market would be intrigued to know that its buildings once housed the London and Birmingham Railway Company’s horses.

Many London companies also owned their own horses and stables, including breweries like Mortlake, Trumans, Charringtons, Cannon and Meux.

After World War I, as motor vehicles replaced horses, brasses began to decline. By the 1950s they had all but disappeared from London’s streets.

Brasses are still produced, although as souvenirs rather than for working horses. In 2011, the National Horse Brass Society produced a brass to commemorate the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.

You can see more horse brasses in the Museum of London’s collections – and through them connect to the lost world of London’s working horses.

A guest post by Julia Hoffbrand of the Museum of London as part of our Visiting the Past series. More London history next week

]]> 0