Sunday, 7th December – Friday, 19th December 2014
During the month of December I enjoyed a couple of weeks visit to the capital city of England, London, with my girlfriend Liann. :)
London is located on the River Thames, and has the largest urban zone in the European Union. It has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its founding by the Romans, who named it Londinium.
London is a leading global city, with strengths in the arts, commerce, education, entertainment, fashion, finance, healthcare, media, research and development, tourism and transport.
It is the world’s leading financial centre alongside New York City, and has the largest metropolitan area in Europe. It is the world’s most-visited city and has the world’s largest city airport system measured by passenger traffic.
London has a diverse range of peoples and cultures, and more than 300 languages are spoken within its boundaries. In 2011, London had an official population of 8.1 million making it the most populous city after Berlin with 3.5 million in the European Union.
London contains four World Heritage Sites: the Tower of London; Kew Gardens; the site comprising the Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey, and the historic settlement of Greenwich.
Other famous landmarks include Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, Piccadilly Circus, St Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge, Trafalgar Square and Wembley Stadium.
London is home to numerous museums, galleries, libraries, sporting events and other cultural institutions, including the British Museum, National Gallery, Tate Modern, British Library, and West End theatres.
Another famous landmark is the London Underground, also called the Tube, the oldest underground railway network in the world, which opened in 1863. :)
Sunday, 7th December 2014
After a two and a half hour journey by train we arrived at Paddington, a central London railway terminus.
As soon as we arrived we purchased a 7 day travelcard which gives us unlimited travel within London, and then made our way and checked into our hotel in South Kensington. :)
South Kensington is a district in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. It is the location of some of London’s major museums and institutions such as the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, the Royal Albert Hall, Imperial College London, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and more.
Next we made our way to London’s West End in the City of Westminster.
First we stopped at Picadilly Circus.
Picadilly Circus is a road junction and public space. It was built in 1819 to connect Regent Street with the major shopping street of Piccadilly. Today it has become a busy meeting place and a tourist attraction. It is particularly known for the Shaftesbury memorial fountain and statue, and its video display and signs mounted on the corner building.
Starting in the early 1900s, Piccadilly Circus used to be surrounded by illuminated signs, but only one building has them today due to an increase in rental costs. The earliest signs used incandescent light bulbs, which were later replaced with neon lights and moving signs. During the 2000’s these have been replaced with a state-of-the-art LED video display. :)
Next we walked to Leicester Square.
Leicester Square is a pedestrianized square in the West End of London.
Leicester Square is the centre of London’s cinema land. It is the prime location in London for world leading film premieres, and contains the cinema with the largest screen and the cinema with the most seats (over 1,600).
Afterwards we walked around Chinatown in the Soho area. The Soho area has been at the heart of London’s sex industry for over 200 years. By the early 1960s the area was home to nearly a hundred strip clubs.
For many years Soho had a reputation for sex shops. However over the years it has undergone considerable transformation. It now is predominantly a fashionable district of upmarket restaurants and media offices, with only a small remnant of sex industry venues.
Chinatown, which is also part of the Soho area, contains a number of Chinese restaurants, bakeries, supermarkets, and souvenir shops. The area has over 80 restaurants showcasing some of London’s finest and most authentic Asian cuisine. :)
Monday, 8th December 2014
Today, in the morning we visited Camden Town, stopping briefly at Marble Arch.
Marble Arch is a 19th-century white marble faced triumphal arch and London landmark. The design of the arch is based on that of the Arch of Constantine in Rome and the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in Paris.
After a quick stop at Marble Arch we caught the bus to Camden Town and explored the markets. :)
Camden Town has a rich and unusual variety of sights including colourful markets, shops, restaurants, bars, pubs, clubs, theatres and cinemas.
The area around Camden Lock in Camden Town was first developed in 1791 by the Earl of Camden, with the famous Regents Canal opening in 1820. Today, Camden’s group of markets complex is now the fourth most-visited tourist attraction in London. It is also the largest street market in the UK, and attracts around 500,000 visitors each week.
The complex is composed of six general sections Camden Lock Market, Stables Market, Camden Lock Village, Camden Buck Street Market, Electric Ballroom, and Inverness Street Market.
First we walked around Camden Lock Village and Camden Lock Market which is situated along the canal. It was established in 1975, and was the first market to set up in Camden.
Today the market has more than 500 independent shop-units selling a varied range of products including designer clothing, alternative & vintage clothing, accessories, furnishings, antiques, jewellery, records & CDs, bookshops, collectables, arts & crafts, paintings and prints and international food.
Next we explored Camden Stables Market.
Stables Market is the largest section of the complex with more than 700 shops and stalls, some of which are set in large arches in railway viaducts.
Here you can get almost everything such as alternative fashions, street and casual wear, vintage clothing, footwear, antiques, collectables, crafts, furniture, piercings, tattoos, international food and much more.
After exploring the markets in Camden, we travelled to Westminster.
Westminster has a large concentration of London’s historic and prestigious landmarks and visitor attractions, including the Palace of Westminster, Buckingham Palace, and Westminster Abbey.
Once we arrived in Westminster, we walked to Parliament Square, which sits at the end of the Palace of Westminster, also known as Houses of Parliament, the meeting place of the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
The exterior of the palace, especially the Elizabeth Tower, which is often referred to by the name of its main bell, “Big Ben”, is recognised worldwide, and is one of the most visited tourist attractions in London. :)
Next we walked across Westminster Bridge over the River Thames and joined the Queen’s Walk at South Bank, an area forming part of the London Borough of Lambeth and Southwark.
The Queen’s Walk is a promenade located on the South Bank of the River Thames between Lambeth Bridge and Tower Bridge. The route spans several miles starting at the London Eye, past numerous attractions to Tower Bridge and the Tower of London.
The London Eye, also called ‘The Millennium Wheel’, is a giant Ferris wheel situated on the banks of the River Thames. At 135 metres (443 ft) tall, it is the tallest Ferris wheel in Europe.
Other attractions around South Bank include the Southbank Centre, Europe’s largest centre for the arts, the National Theatre, BFI Southbank, and the Southbank Winter Festival. :)
Further along the River Thames towards Tower Bridge are a number of attractions including the London Millennium Footbridge, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, Tate Modern Art Gallery, a replica of the Golden Hind, and Hay’s Galleria shopping centre, which in the 1850s was a landing spot for deliveries where tea clippers from India and China would dock.
We also saw the HMS Belfast museum ship, which was originally a Royal Navy light cruiser, and also ‘The Shard’ skyscraper, which is the latest addition to the London skyline completed in 2012. Standing at 309.6 metres (1,016ft), it is currently the tallest building in Europe :), and the second-tallest free-standing structure in the United Kingdom. The tower has 72 habitable floors, with office space, a 200-bed 5-star hotel, three floors of restaurants, ten apartments priced at approximately £50 million each, and a public viewing platform with the UK’s highest open-air observation deck.
At the end of the walk was Tower Bridge, an iconic symbol of London.
Tower Bridge is a combined drawbridge and suspension bridge over the River Thames.
The bridge connects the London Borough of ‘Southwark’ to the ‘City of London’. Its construction started in 1886, and was officially completed and opened in 1894. It consists of two towers tied together at the upper level by means of two horizontal walkways. The bridge’s present colour scheme dates from 1977, when it was painted red, white and blue for the Queen Elizabeth II’s silver jubilee.
It is close to the Tower of London, a historic castle founded in 1066. Nearby are also St Katherine Docks, which was one of the commercial docks serving London. Today the area now features offices, public and private housing, a large hotel, shops and restaurants, a pub, and a yachting marina.
Tuesday, 9th December, 2014
In the morning we travelled into the historic centre of the City of London and visited the Leadenhall Market.
The Leadenhall Market is one of the oldest markets in London, dating back to the 14th century.
Originally a meat, game and poultry market, it stands on what was the centre of Roman London. Today it is open weekdays and primarily sells fresh food. Among the vendors there are cheesemongers, butchers and florists.
The market has cobbled floors and an ornate roof structure, painted in green, maroon and cream colours. It was used to represent the area of London near The Leaky Cauldron and Diagon Alley in the film Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. :)
Next we travelled to London’s West End and stopped for lunch in Covent Garden. :)
By 1654, Covent Garden was once associated with the former fruit and vegetable market in the central square.
Gradually, both the market and the surrounding area fell into disrepute, as taverns, theatres, coffee-houses and brothels opened up. By the 18th century it had become a well-known red-light district, attracting notable prostitutes.
Today, Covent Garden is one of the main shopping and entertainment districts in London. It features around 13 theatres, the Royal Opera House, and over 60 pubs and bars.
The central building in Covent Garden is known as the Covent Garden Market Piazza, a covered shopping mall with cafes, pubs, small shops and a craft market called the Apple Market. Another market is held in the adjacent Jubilee Hall.
Street performances take place at Covent Garden Market every day of the year. Performers audition for timetabled slots in a number of venues around the market
After an entertaining lunch at Covent Garden, we walked towards Seven Dials.
On the way we walked through Neal’s Yard, a small alley which opens into a courtyard containing several health food cafes and New Age retailers.
Seven Dials is a small but well-known area near Covent Garden. The area was home to the punk rock club The Roxy in 1977, and the area remains focused on young people with its trendy mid-market retail outlets.
Next we visited M&Ms World in Leicester Square. :)
M&M’s World is a retail store that specializes in M&M’s candy and merchandise. The most famous and first location is on the Las Vegas Strip. There are also stores in Orlando Florida (2005), New York City (2006) and London (2011)
The London store is the world’s largest candy store at 35,000 sq ft :). The store contains a giant wall of chocolate where you can create your own M&M’S selection from over 100 choices.
After a fun visit to M&Ms World we stopped for a meal in the Rainforest Cafe.
The Rainforest Cafe is a themed American restaurant chain. Each cafe restaurant is designed to depict some features of a rainforest, including plant growth, mist, waterfalls, and animatronic figures of rainforest animals, including elephants, frogs, gorillas, jaguars, and tigers. There is also the tradition of yelling “volcano!” when somebody orders a “volcano” sundae! Lol. :)
Wednesday, 10th December 2014
First we travelled to South Kensington and visited the Natural History Museum.
The Natural History Museum is one of the three major museums on Exhibition Road in South Kensington. It was originally part of the British Museum, and called British Museum Natural History, until 1963 when it became an independent museum.
The museum is home to life and earth science specimens comprising some 70 million items within five main collections: Botany, Entomology, Mineralogy, Palaeontology and Zoology. The museum is a world-renowned centre of research, specialising in taxonomy, identification and conservation. Many of the collections have great historical as well as scientific value, such as specimens collected by Darwin.
Highlights at the museum include the popular Dinosaurs gallery for its exhibition of dinosaur skeletons, and the spectacular Central Hall, home to the Museum’s iconic Diplodocus skeleton. :)
After a quick walk around the museum, we stopped for lunch in the cafe. Afterwards we made a brief visit to the Science Museum.
The Science Museum is the most visited science and technology museum in Europe. It has been in existence for about a century and a half. It was founded in 1857 as part of the South Kensington Museum, and gained independence in 1909.
Today the Museum is world renowned for its historic collections, galleries and exhibitions. The museum contains hundreds of interactive exhibits and holds a collection of over 300,000 items. Some of the highlights include the Launch Pad gallery, which explains basic scientific principles, Puffing Billy, the oldest steam locomotive in the world and the actual Apollo 10 capsule.
Next we travelled to Knightsbridge, which is in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
Knightsbridge is an exclusive residential and retail district. It is home to many expensive shops, including the department stores Harrods and Harvey Nichols, and flagship stores of many British and international fashion houses, including those of London-based shoe designers Jimmy Choo and Manolo Blahnik, and two Prada stores
Once at Knightsbridge, we visited Harrods. :)
Harrods is an upmarket department store. The store occupies a 5-acre (20,000 m2) site and has over one million square feet (90,000 m2) of selling space in over 330 departments making it the biggest department store in Europe. :)
Several of its departments, including the seasonal Christmas department and the Food Halls, are world famous
The shop’s 330 departments offer a wide range of products and services. A representative sample of shop services includes 32 restaurants, a personal shopping-assistance, a watch repair service; a tailor; a dispensing pharmacy; a beauty spa and salon; a barbers shop; Harrods Financial Services; Harrods Bank, private events planning and catering; food delivery; a wine steward; bespoke picnic hampers and gift boxes; bespoke cakes; bespoke fragrance formulations
Up to 300,000 customers visit the shop on peak days. More than 5,000 staff from over fifty different countries work at Harrods. Since October 2009, Harrods has started selling gold bars and coins that customers can buy “off the shelf”.
After an exhausting walk around Harrods, we travelled to South Bank and visited the London Dungeon. :)
Opening in 1974, it was initially designed as a museum of macabre history, but has evolved to become an actor-led interactive experience with special effects and rides.
The London Dungeon features 18 shows, 20 actors and 3 rides.
Visitors are taken on a journey through 1000 years of London’s history where they meet actors performing as some of London’s most infamous characters, including Jack the Ripper and Sweeney Todd.
Shows are staged on theatrical sets with special effects, and incorporate events such as the Black Death and the Gunpowder Plot, and includes characters such as “The Torturer”, “The Plague Doctor”, and “The Judge”
The experience also includes a “drop ride to doom”, a free-fall ride staged as a public hanging. :)
Thursday, 11th December 2014
Today we travelled to South Kensington and visited the Victoria and Albert Museum (often abbreviated as the V&A), the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design. :)
The museum houses a permanent collection of over 4.5 million objects, spread out over 145 galleries. It was founded in 1852, and named after Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, who opened the museum on 22 June 1857.
The museum is split into four collections departments, Asia; Furniture, Textiles and Fashion; Sculpture, Metalwork, Ceramics & Glass and Word & Image.
These departments whose combined collection numbers over 6.5 million objects, are further divided into sixteen display areas. However given the vast extent of the collections only a small percentage is on display.
Its collection spans 5,000 years of art, from ancient times to the present day.
The holdings of ceramics, glass, textiles, costumes, silver, ironwork, jewellery, furniture, medieval objects, sculpture, prints and printmaking, drawings and photographs are among the largest, important and most comprehensive in the world.
The museum possesses the world’s largest collection of post-classical sculpture, and the holdings of Italian Renaissance items are the largest outside Italy. The museum also houses the largest and most comprehensive ceramics and glass collection in the world.
The museums East Asian collections are among the best in Europe, with particular strengths in ceramics and metalwork, while the Islamic collection, alongside the British Museum, is amongst the largest in the Western world.
After an enjoyable visit to the museum, we visited Westfield Shopping Centre in White City a district near Shepherd’s Bush in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham.
Westfield Centre is noted for its size. It has a retail floor area of 150,000m2, the equivalent of about 30 football pitches. :)
At the time of its opening it was reported to be the second largest commercial centre in the UK. It features around 372 stores and includes a high-end retail area called The Village.
Friday, 12th December 2014
Today we checked out of our hotel in South Kensington, and checked into another one in Wembley
Wembley is an area of northwest London, and part of the London Borough of Brent. It is home to the famous Wembley Stadium, Wembley Arena and also the London Designer Outlet Wembley Park.
After we checked in, we travelled to London’s West End.
First we visited Burlington Arcade, a covered shopping arcade.
Burlington Arcade opened in 1819. It was built for the sale of jewellery and fancy articles of fashionable demand. The arcade features smart uniform shop fronts under a glazed roof. Present tenants include a range of clothing, footwear and accessory shops, art and antique dealers and the jewellers and dealers in antique silver.
Next we visited Fortnum & Mason.
Fortnum & Mason is a department store, recognised internationally for its high quality goods.
Founded as a grocery store, Fortnum’s reputation was built on supplying quality food, and saw rapid growth throughout the Victorian era. The store has since opened several other departments.
Today Fortnum & Mason is famed for its loose-leaf tea and its world-renowned luxury picnic hampers, which contain luxury items such as Stilton cheese, champagne, quails’ eggs and smoked salmon. At Christmas time these can cost up to £25,000!
Afterwards we stopped for lunch in Nordic Bakery, a Scandinavian-style cafe offering Nordic bakery products.
After lunch we walked to Carnaby Street.
During the sixties Carnaby Street proved popular for followers of hippie styles. Many independent fashion boutiques and designers were located in Carnaby Street as well as various underground music bars. Today it is home to numerous fashion and lifestyle retailers, including a large number of independent fashion boutiques.
On the way we stopped at Kingly Court, which features three floors of shops, cafes and restaurants set around an open courtyard.
Next we visited Liberty.
Liberty, founded in 1875 is a department store on Regent Street.
The department store sells a wide range of luxury goods including women’s, men’s and children’s fashion, cosmetics and fragrances, jewellery, accessories, homeware, furniture, stationery and gifts. Liberty is known for its floral and graphic prints.
After Liberty, we walked to Hamleys.
Founded in in 1760. Hamleys is the oldest toy shop in the world, and one of the world’s best-known retailers of toys. Its flagship store in London is the world’s largest toy store spread across 7 floors with more than 50,000 toys. :) It is considered one of the city’s major tourist attractions, receiving around five million visitors per year.
Next we walked to Oxford Circus, the busy intersection of the major shopping streets, Regent Street and Oxford Street.
We walked along Oxford Street, Europe’s busiest shopping street, home to a number of major department stores and numerous flagship stores, as well as hundreds of smaller shops. :)
On the way we stopped at St Christopher’s Place, and also Selfridges, one of world’s best department stores.
Selfridges on Oxford Street opened in 1909. With 540,000 square feet of selling space, the store is the second largest retail premises in the UK, half as big as the biggest department store in Europe, Harrods.
Selfridges has a history of bold art initiatives when it comes to the window designs. Its 27 street windows have become as famous as the store itself, attracting tourists and designers to marvel at the current designs and fashion trends.
Saturday, 13th December 2014
Today we visited Hyde Park.
Hyde Park is one of the largest parks in central London, and one of the Royal Parks of London, famous for its Speakers’ Corner.
Since 2007, Hyde Park has hosted “Winter Wonderland”, one of the UK’s most popular winter events. :)
The event features an array of traditional and thrill-seeking Fairground Rides and attractions including two Circuses ‘Christmas Circus’ and ‘Cirque Berserk’, the iconic Giant Observation Wheel, the Angels Christmas Market, the Yuletide Market and Santa Land.
In addition to the numerous bars, restaurants and cafes, the event features the popular Bavarian Village serving bratwurst and mulled wine. :)
Other attractions include the Magical Ice Kingdom, an ice and snow sculpture exhibition, unique to the UK. Surrounding the Victorian bandstand is the UK’s largest outdoor Ice Rink illuminated with more than 100,000 lights! :)
Sunday, 14th December 2014
Today we checked out of our hotel in Wembley.
Before we left London we stopped by the London Designer Outlet at Wembley Park for lunch.
Before lunch we stopped at a place called Chaboba.
Chaboba specialises in Bubble Tea, offering refreshing authentic Bubble Tea from Taiwan, the birthplace of Bubble Tea in the early 1980’s.
Bubble tea is very popular in Asia. It is a tea based drink, served ice cold or piping hot, mixed with fruit, or fruit syrup and/or milk, and contains small chewy balls, known as “pearls”, which are made of tapioca starch.
Afterwards we stopped for Dim Sum at a place called Ping Pong. :)
Dim Sum is a style of Cantonese food prepared as small bite-sized portions of food traditionally served in small steamer baskets or on small plates.
Dim Sum restaurants have a wide variety of dishes, usually several dozen.
A traditional dim sum brunch includes various types of steamed buns such as cha siu baau (steamed buns with roast pork), dumplings and rice noodle rolls (cheong fun), which contain a range of ingredients, including beef, chicken, pork, prawns and vegetarian options.
Many dim sum restaurants also offer plates of steamed green vegetables, roasted meats, congee porridge and other soups. Dessert dim sum is also available and many places offer the customary egg tart.
Next we travelled to Euston, a central London railway terminus. Just before our journey to Birmingham we stopped for dessert at Ed’s Easy Diner, a retro-American diner offering classic burgers, hotdogs, fries and shakes. :)
After dessert we caught the train to Birmingham, a city in the West Midlands.
Birmingham is a major international commercial centre, and an important transport, retail, events and conference hub.
The city’s main railway station is the busiest station outside London. It is also the most populous British city outside the capital London with over a million residents!
Birmingham city centre is the UK’s third largest retail centre, with the country’s busiest shopping centre, the Bullring, which contains the largest department store outside London.
Friday, 19th December 2014
Today was our last day in Birmingham.
Over the last few days I have been visiting my girlfriend Liann’s family.
We also visited the German Xmas Market, (apparently) the largest authentic German market outside Germany and Austria. The market features more than 180 stalls selling gifts, jewellery, decorations, handmade toys, German food and of course Gluhwein!
If you’re interested I have added a few photos to the following photo album. Enjoy. :)
Christmas In London (2014)