Get ready to explore the enchanting Christmas season in London. As the festive season approaches, what we at Coutours love is how the city's yuletide spirit comes to life. There are so many events and activities that we thought we would share some of our favourites as well as some that we think sound fun. Let’s embark on a journey through London’s stunning lights, festive markets, cultural events, and seasonal traditions. You never know, I may see you there…
MARKETS AND EVENTS
Columbia Road Market
This is one of my favourite markets in London. There are so many opportunities for people and dog watching, as well as amazing places to buy unusual gifts alongside the flower and plant stalls. Columbia Road Market is filled with Christmas trees, wreaths, plants, twinkling lights, and other festive decorations, and it is truly atmospheric. There are great places to grab a drink, whether you want hot chocolate, mulled wine, or just a cup of coffee. My advice is to get there early and book somewhere for lunch (The Royal Oak or The Marksman are my two favourites.) You can then enjoy a full East End day out. Word of advice - please do not be one of those people who buy so many plants they can't fit everyone back in the car! Also, don't forget to check the parking restrictions as they apply on a Sunday in this area.
Christmas at Kew: Royal Botanical Gardens
You can stroll along illuminated pathways, meander through the enchanted woods, and marvel at the magnificent light sculptures that bring the natural beauty of Kew Gardens to life in a whole new way. The centrepiece of this event is the iconic Palm House, which is bathed in a mesmerising and ever-changing light display, creating a breathtaking backdrop for the festivities. Christmas at Kew at the Royal Botanic Gardens is a captivating and enchanting way to celebrate the holidays in a setting that blends the natural world with the magic of Christmas, making it a beloved tradition for many in London and beyond. There is a great place within Kew Gardens called The Orangery where you can have a delicious Christmas dinner - very useful if you're cold after wandering around the lights.
The Rubens: Winter Wonderland Afternoon Tea
Afternoon tea is a real must-do in London. If you're a fan of afternoon tea and Christmas, then why not indulge in an award-winning Winter Wonderland Afternoon Tea at The Rubens? Curated by Chef Sarah Houghting, a 2021 Bake Off finalist, this special tea immerses you in the holiday spirit. Served in the Palace Lounge, it features scones, finger sandwiches, and festive treats. It's a memorable blend of tradition and winter enchantment. Enjoy a luxurious, seasonal tea service in one of London's most elegant settings.
Christmas Duck Pond Market
Although we haven't yet been to this market, we thought it sounded fun. Set in picturesque surroundings, featuring a carefully curated selection of stalls and vendors offering a wide range of seasonal delights. Expect to find beautifully crafted gifts, hand-made decorations, artisanal foods, and much more. One of the highlights is the opportunity to meet local artisans and producers who showcase their skills and creativity. Additionally, the market often hosts special events and extra entertainment for all ages.
Winter Wonderland Hyde Park
To be honest with you, I'm not a great fan of big markets and fun fairs, but I have been dragged to this winter wonderland so many times that it has grown on me. If you don't like crowds and getting on fast-moving fairground rides, maybe go when it's quieter (mornings to early afternoons) and just enjoy all the other amenities it has. Go for the Christmas market, the ice skating rink, its magical ice kingdom filled with ice sculptures, and its outside yet cosy bars. For adrenaline junkies, there are unlimited ride passes, so you can get your high-octane fix. It's a great place where everyone can enjoy something - from families to thrill-seekers, fair lovers to market goers.
LIGHTS. CAMERA. ACTION.
Fortnum & Mason Christmas Windows
Get there just before the hour chimes and see Mr. Fortnum and Mr. Mason come out to greet you. Evening is the best time to see the wonderful advent calendar on the front of the building. The window displays are usually spectacular. This year, they give you a glimpse behind the curtain of Fortnum's on Christmas Eve, where many of your Fortnum's favourites have sprung to life in preparation for Christmas Day. The display spills out onto the pavement as messages light up in the night sky and a sleigh pulled by hampers flies above the rooftops. Don't forget to pop in and buy your Christmas favourites as it will be busy, so my advice is to pay on the lower ground floor. P.S. I really like the Toffolossus biscuits.
Satanic Flea Market: Anti-Christmas Fayre
None of us at Coutours has yet been to this market but if you're in need of a brief respite from Christmas why not explore the unique world of tarot cards, witchy fashion, prints, taxidermy, zines, spell books, and even authentic human skulls, providing a refreshing alternative to the typical sugary December festivities. Plus, you can unwind at the Electrowerkz bar and restaurant with a scrumptious roast dinner after you've finished hunting for these occult treasures, which make ideal presents for the goth in your life.
Christmas Design Collective @ Connaught Village
Not far from Oxford Street but away from the crowds, this Christmas pop-up gift market showcases the best of London’s independent brands. Connaught Village is a different place to shop within a charming setting where you can bag some cracking presents and brands such as Hum London, Colours of Arley, Domenica Marland, TIDINGS, Faeger, Kokoro, and Max Made Me.
Glide at Battersea Power Station
Battersea Power Station has recently opened so if you haven't been yet we would recommend it for its shopping, architecture, and places to eat and drink. At Christmas you can enjoy ice skating and we suggest the rooftop bar for drinks with a view. You can literally spend a whole day there, or you can just enjoy the rink. There is also Lift 109, which you need to book in advance, where you can see amazing views across London as well as crazy golf, table tennis, and even VR experiences.
Mayfair (Mount Street)
Be prepared to be in one of the poshest parts of London. Mount Street is filled with designer stores which you are very welcome to visit but we want to concentrate on their illuminations. There are 63,000 sparkling lights in the shape of big blue bows! Once you've seen the lights and you have winced at the prices in the stores, a great place to have some lunch is The Mercato Mayfair. This is in an old church on North Audley Street and there are a whole host of things to eat and drink there.
For further information about any of our Christmas themed tours, visit coutours.co.uk or email Emma at email@example.com.
Don't forget we have gift vouchers for Christmas presents and we also offer private tours for family and friends. Feel free to give Emma a call on +44 (0) 207 118 9090.
For the past 75 years, the rhythm of London's music scene has beat loudest in the vibrant neighbourhood of Soho: a mecca for rock, pop, and jazz legends. Throughout its storied history, it has played a critical role in shaping generation-defining artists and timeless tracks.
Let's embark on a journey through one of London's most fascinating districts and explore the historical hotspots that have made their mark on music history!
Club Tropicana (18 Greek Street)
When you hear the phrase "Club Tropicana", the Wham! smash hit probably comes to mind.
However, you might be surprised by the fact that it was a real club in Soho...that neither George Michael nor Andrew Ridgeley ever visited themselves!
The duo, fascinated by Soho's risqué atmosphere, spent their teenage years perfecting their dance moves at former nightclub "Le Beat Route" and sneaking into adult cinemas.
The uplifting pop classic paints the picture of a relaxing haven but also offers listeners a glimpse into the group's history with this symbolic part of London.
Wag Club (33 Wardour Street)
In April 1982, businessman Chris Sullivan opened up the Wag Club, and with it, changed the London nightclub scene forever.
In contrast to other West End clubs, the Wag Club embraced a diverse fusion of music styles from hip hop to Latin jazz, and offered drinks at affordable prices.
Throughout its 19-year history, its unique and inviting atmosphere attracted some of pop culture's biggest icons, from Martin Scorsese to Madonna. David Bowie even filmed the music video to his hit song "Blue Jean" here!
Abbey Road Studios (3 Abbey Road)
A name recognized by music lovers all over the world, Abbey Road Studios has become a sacred space for musicians across a wide array of genres. The Beatles recorded their legendary album "Abbey Road" and recorded over 90% of their songs in the walls of these studios.
However, this place's importance extends far beyond the Beatles:
Pink Floyd's "The Dark Side of the Moon" and John Williams' film scores for "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Return of the Jedi" were also recorded here!
Trident Studios (17 St. Anne's Court)
In its brief 13-year history, Trident Studios helped give rise to a plethora of rock anthems and legendary albums.
Famous for their handmade Bechstein grand piano, its crisp sound can be heard in timeless classics from The Beatles' "Hey Jude" to Elton John's "Your Song".
Some of rock music's most celebrated albums were recorded here, such as David Bowie's magnum opus "Ziggy Stardust" and Queen's first three albums that launched their rise to the top.
In fact, Trident Studios often received much credit for discovering Queen, as they took on the band's management role and helped catapult the band into international stardom.
PLACES OF INTEREST
Informally known as "Tin Pan Alley", Denmark Street offers a treasure trove of music history.
Once bustling with recording studios, music shops (some of which remain open to this day), and hangout spots for rock 'n roll icons, it serves as a reminder of Soho's illustrious past.
Famous music shops like Top Gear Music served as instrument stores and social hubs for artists like Eric Clapton and Bob Marley.
The street remembers the dreams of 17-year-old tea server Reggie Dwight (who would soon become Elton John) and aspiring artist David Bowie as they each paved their way to worldwide fame.
While many of its establishments have faded away, the legacy of Denmark Street lives on as a must-see for any music enthusiast.
Handel & Hendrix House (23 and 25 Brook Street)
As we venture beyond Soho, an incredible convergence of classical and contemporary music history awaits. The Handel & Hendrix House tells two remarkable musical stories 200 years apart.
In 1741, George Frederic Handel composed the timeless "Hallelujah Chorus" at 25 Brook Street, a melody that continues to ring at Yuletide church services around the world.
Fast forward to 1968, where Jimi Hendrix's creative genius resided just next door at 23 Brook Street, hosting lively jam sessions.
It's fascinating that had the two been alive at the same time, it's very possible they would have been next-door neighbours: two different areas, two legends that forever shaped the landscape of music.
In its charming allure, Soho stands as a testament to the electrifying spirit of popular music, a place where dreams became reality, stars were born, and melodies inspired generations of musicians and music lovers alike.
Join us on our walking tour through Soho's rich tapestry of music history: together, we'll celebrate the legacy of this iconic neighbourhood that has "rocked" the soul of London to its core.
Book your private Soho Rock 'n Roll: Icons Unveiled tour today!
After almost 40 years of inactivity and multiple failed redevelopment initiatives, the Battersea Power Station is back and better than ever!
A Brief History
Once a major power source for London, Battersea Power Station supplied a staggering 20% of the city's electricity, illuminating iconic landmarks such as Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament. After its closure in 1983, the station remained essentially unused for 39 years: however, on 14 October 2022, the Festival of Power celebration marked the station's reopening to the general public, having transformed into one of the most innovative and exciting destinations in the city.
Battersea's Bold New Era
Since its reopening, Battersea Power Station has transformed into a vibrant hub boasting a plethora of shops, entertainment venues, pop-up events, and amazing bars and restaurants. One of the highlights of the venue is Lift 109, where visitors can ascend 109 meters and delve into the station's rich history and its role as a cultural icon (fun fact: Pink Floyd chose its façade as the album cover for their 1977 album "Animals"!).
If you're craving a drink, make your way down to Control Room B, which has been repurposed into a cocktail bar. Retaining the control room's original instrument panels, this industrial-themed lounge offers one of London's most unique bar experiences.
Looking for a fun night out? Birdies is a hotspot in the area combining dining, drinking, and entertainment. Try out its unique cocktails while playing in a friendly match of "crazy golf" with your friends and family: its innovative and visually-dazzling course design is the perfect recipe for a good time.
This summer, brace yourself for a plethora of lively events and constant surprises the station has to offer. On 1 July, "The Battersea Games" kicked off in its picturesque riverside park: until 3 September, the Power Station Park will serve as a fan zone to watch some of the world's biggest sporting events like Wimbledon, the FIFA Women's World Cup, and the Tour de France.
But that's not all: as you explore the lively area, be on the lookout for new and exciting pop-up experiences. Race against your friends on the 100m track or challenge them to a game of ping pong. If you're feeling adventurous, immerse yourself in the Rocket Padel experience and try out one of the UK's fastest-growing sports. All of you Formula 1 fans are in for a treat: check out the Mercedes racing car on display outside IWC Schaffhausen's store until 9 July.
Keep your eyes peeled for new events and surprises, because Battersea Power Station is London's summer destination that you definitely don't want to miss!
Winston Churchill is one of the greatest leaders in world history. He was Great Britain’s Prime Minister during World War II, and led the allies to victory; an impressive feat. What makes Churchill’s accomplishments even more impressive is the amount of food and alcohol that he would consume during his lifetime. Some historians estimate that Churchill smoked in excess of 200,000 cigars and drank around 42,000 bottles of champagne. Whether these were full size or the special one pint bottles created for him by Pol Roger, I could not tell you. That is a lot of bubbles. Churchill’s impressive presence was seen around many top London bars and restaurants, so we thought it would be fun to give you a few ideas of places in London where you could eat and drink like the former Prime Minister.
The Caxton Bar, The St Ermin's Hotel
The Caxton Bar is a bar filled with history. Winston Churchill is said to be a frequent customer of the bar. He occasionally stayed in the St. Ermin’s, the Special Operations Executive, also known as Churchill’s secret army, was devised and set up in this bar and the Secret Service Bureau took over an entire floor in the hotel and used it as its headquarters during the war. More importantly than that, it serves a delicious dirty martini - just as Churchill would have liked - sans vermouth. He allegedly said “Glance at the vermouth bottle briefly while pouring the juniper distillate freely.”
The Churchill Arms
While the former Prime Minister has never been to this Kensington pub it is not far from his final home so we feel we can include it. This Churchill themed pub may be the most visually appealing of all London pubs. The exterior of the building is completely covered in flowers. Did you know, the Churchill Arms is one of the very few pubs to win at the Chelsea Flower Show? Inside the pub, the Churchill Arms differs from other pubs in that it offers a full Thai menu. I wonder what Churchill would have ordered?
Donovan Bar at Brown's Hotel
The Donovan Bar was Winston Churchill’s favourite bar in London. He was a frequent guest here and would order a Plymouth gin martini while sitting by the roaring fire. It was perfectly placed between the House of Commons and his Bolton Street home but he still came back to visit after he moved. It was also a favourite with the Roosevelts, both uncle and nephew, who stayed here before winning their respective presidential elections and consider it a lucky place to stay. I agree with them.
The Savoy was one of Churchill’s favourite restaurants; he would routinely bring his cabinet to the Savoy for lunch. The Savoy grill has a traditional English and French menu, and if you book, ask to be seated at table number four, also known as ‘Churchill’s table’. The Savoy was the hotel where Churchill and Lord Birkenhead founded The Other Club in 1911, a political dining society, which still meets in the Savoy to this day.
Simpson’s in the Strand
Simpson’s in the Strand is a restaurant owned by the Savoy, but operates separately. It was one of Churchill’s favourite London restaurants. Simpson’s at one time was the home of chess in London. It not only hosted matches between several different coffee houses in the 19th century but was famous for hosting the biggest names in chess right up until the start of the 20th century. If you get a chance to visit, I recommend the full Sunday roast. I can imagine Churchill thoroughly enjoying a few slices of roast beef with a glass or two of claret in between cigars.
It is currently temporarily closed due to a restoration, and we are awaiting its imminent reopening.
Peer’s Dining Room
Did you know that you can eat lunch or dinner in the House of Lords? The Peer’s Dining Room at the House of Lords is located inside the Palace of Westminster, and is only open to the public when Parliament is in recess. So, if you fancy dining like a lord, look out for the next opening dates. If you are lucky, you can sometimes eat in the House of Commons dining room - Churchill would approve. He turned down a dukedom so that he could remain in the House of Commons. He was eventually knighted in 1953.
The Food Lover’s Market tour ends at Maltby Street Market, however while you’re there, we highly suggest that you go check out Greenwich. Greenwich is a borough of London known for its role in both maritime history as well as astronomy.
Getting from Maltby Street market to Greenwich is quite simple. First, make your way over to the Bermondsey underground station, here you will board the Jubilee line going eastbound, where you will get off at Canary Wharf. From there you get on the Heron Quays DLR station, and get on the train that is going southbound. Stay on this train until you arrive at the Cutty Sark station, and then you have arrived at Greenwich.
At Greenwich there are many places where you can visit. The train will drop you off right next to the Cutty Sark, an nineteenth century British clipper ship. The Cutty Sark was the fastest ship in the world at the time, and represented new technological developments that have been going on. The Cutty Sark was used to bring Wool from Australia to England. Today, the Cutty Sark has been refurbished and turned into a museum. Guests can learn what life was like living on the sea. The Cutty Sark is super interactive, and a great place to go with children.
Another place you should check out in Greenwich is the Greenwich Markets. This eighteenth century market is a relic of a previous time in London’s past. We highly suggest that you check out the markets and browse through all the vendors selling everything from jewelry, clothes, second-hand furniture, and even some delicious food.
In Greenwich, there are plenty of different museums, however you have to pay to enter most of them, the National Maritime Museum however, is completely free to enter. This museum will walk you through the history of the Royal Navy, the largest navy the world has ever seen. Next to the National Maritime Museum is the Queen’s House, another completely free museum. This massive house was the residence of the Queen following its opening from 1635. The Queen’s House is home to a very large art collection that you should check out.
The Royal Observatory is a must see if you are in the Greenwich area. The Royal Observatory is the home of time itself, the Prime Meridian is located here. The Royal Observatory walks visitors through the history of timekeeping, including its ancient techniques to more modern timekeeping methods.
Being a spy in London is a lot of work, sometimes even the best spies find themselves letting their guard down at a bar after a long day of saving the world. Spy bars are a great place for you to put yourself in the shoes of an MI6 agent, and pretend to be a spy. So today we are going to talk to you about three of our favorite spy bars in all of London.
The Morpeth Arms is a central London pub with a view of the iconic MI6 building across the River Thames. The pub was originally built in the nineteenth century in order to serve prison wardens working at the nearby Millbank Penitentiary. The Morpeth Arms contains an upstairs spy-themed bar where you can look out into the MI6 building.
The Caxton Bar at the St. Ermin’s Hotel
The Caxton Bar is a bar filled with history. Winston Churchill is said to be a frequent customer of the bar, as he stayed in the St. Ermin’s Hotel during World War II. Special Operations Executive, also known as Churchill’s secret army, took over an entire floor in the hotel and used it as its headquarters during the war. Double agent Guy Burgess is also said to have met his Russian counterpart at the bar, and they would exchange files together there.
The Dukes Bar is home to the world’s best martini. James Bond’s author Ian Fleming, in fact created the vesper martini at the Dukes Bar. In fact guests have a limit of only two vesper martinis per visit since they are that strong. The bar itself is hidden away and hard to find, so you have to use your spy skills in order to find out where it is.
London is allegedly the most haunted city in the world and there is a whole
host of ghostly tales that take place in the capital. Hallowe’en, along with the
Winter solstice is when the barrier between the spirit world and ours is
permeable and ghosts return en masse. Not scary at all!
I have devised a list of interesting ghost nuggets for you:
1. The most haunted tourist attraction
It is completely understandable and logical that the Tower of London is
considered the most haunted building in London if not the world.
- It is old.
- It has had lots of nasty goings on there.
- It looks like it should be haunted.
This former palace is more like a medieval village with walkways and
alleyways, turrets and towers and it has enough ghosts to fill most towns.
There are ghosts we would expect at the Tower, including Ann Boleyn (with
and without her head) who has been seen in different parts of the tower and
wandering mournfully around her execution site. Thomas A Beckett was the
very first ghost to be seen here; apparently, he objected to some alterations
that were taking place – a latter day Prince Charles! There have also been
sightings of two small boys playing by the White Tower. No doubt, these
relate to the princes in the tower whose bones were found during the 17 th
century. My favourite ghost is a bear – yep, one unlucky guard who spied a
great grey bear and was so shocked that he thrust his bayonet into the
apparition with so much force that it took two soldiers to release it from the
wooden door in which it was embedded. He died two days later from shock
and no doubt haunts the tower and so it goes on!
2. The most haunted pub
I don’t know why so many people seem to see ghosts after they have been
drinking but there are almost as many ghosts in pubs as there are pubs!
There are poltergeists that move beer and hide keys (I think we all have one
of those in our homes), men in period clothing and plenty of shady ladies. The
Ten Bells in London’s Spitalfields has many of these. One such lady is
wearing green and walks in the basement near the lavatories. She is allegedly
the final victim of Jack the Ripper, Mary Kelly, who was murdered in nearby
Whites Row. She was drinking in the pub before she was brutally murdered
on 9 th November 1888. The green dress denotes her Irish heritage and the
fact that she haunts the lavatories makes me think that this is the real reason
why women go to the loo in pairs.
3. The most haunted building
50 Berkeley Square is not a place to be taken lightly. It is a miracle that it
hasn’t been pulled down out of sheer terror. The ‘beast of Berkeley Square’
has been seen and heard at this address for many years. There were rumours
abound from the 1840’s so armed with this information, you would imagine
people would give this place a wide berth! Unfortunately, it had the opposite
effect. Ghost hunters and those who love a wager have all met the same
horrific end. One such brave speculator was Sir Robert Warboys who had
learned of a room within this house where hideous and nasty things
happened. So he took on a bet and asked the landlord if he could stay within
the room. The landlord tried to convince him not to but in the end agreed that
if anything happened, Sir Robert would pull a string that was attached to a bell
in the landlord’s room below.
Yes, you guessed it, shortly after midnight, the bell in the landlord’s room was
rung violently and so the landlord ran up the stairs armed with staff and
weapons and through open the door to the room. There he was, the hideous
form of Sir Robert, mouth and eyes opened in wide terror as if what he saw
was so hideous, he was literally scared to death. This was not the last time
that such a death occurred there but hopefully, over the years, progress in
entertainment, casinos and betting shops, has meant that people can get their
4. The weirdest ghost
Take your pick – the chicken ghost of Highgate? The possessed arm of the
City of London? Or maybe Ladbroke Grove’s own haunted bus?
My vote is for the chicken ghost! Many of us have heard of Sir Francis
Bacon’s experiment with freezing food, in particular his forays into freezing a
chicken. On a particularly cold April day, 1626, he buried a chicken in snow
and came back to discover that when it defrosted a few days later, it was still
edible. Now comes the sad part. Sir Francis caught a chill whilst out and
about which turned into pneumonia and he died soon after. However, this is
the strange bit: it is not Sir Francis who haunts Highgate but the chicken.
Reports of sightings of a badly plucked chicken came soon after Sir Francis’s
death and have been going ever since. The chicken seems to run around
Highgate Pond like the proverbial headless fowl or sits spookily up a tree. If
anyone goes near, it vanishes. WWII air raid wardens, a local vicar and others
have experienced this chilling apparition, probably before heading off to the
5. The busiest ghost
Ann Boleyn has an agent; well, I think if she hasn’t, she is a very driven self-
publicist. Her ghost is seen in nearly every quarter of England. She haunts her
family home, Blickling castle in Norfolk, Rochford Hall, where Henry VIII first
laid eyes on his new queen-to-be, Hever castle, Hampton Court, Windsor
castle and she has just announced a residency in Las Vegas (to be verified).
In London, she haunts her former residence in London, York Place, which is
found near the Thames close to the Embankment, however, her favourite
place to haunt is the Tower of London which she does in many ways.
One night in London’s most haunted castle, a Captain of the guard saw a
flickering light coming from the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula. Knowing
that this building was locked at night, he decided to look into this. He grabbed
a ladder and leant it up against the window. It took him a few moments to
understand what he was seeing. He had disturbed a night-time procession of
knights and ladies who were following a lady dressed in elegant garb and
clearly recognisable as Ann Boleyn. She has also been observed hurrying
along the path between the chapel and the Queen’s House, where she stayed
the night before her execution. The execution site itself has also had reports
of sightings of Henry VIII’s second wife but at this location, she is headless.
This is probably the most terrifying of her manifestations and a bit of a show-
stopper. She can be seen Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at the Tower
of London! Enjoy at your peril!
London is a city that is rich in history. If it were a cake, London would be the equivalent of a chocolate triple fudge gateau with extra cream; yes, I mean very rich! The story of London starts properly in 47 CE when the Romans created the original settlement where the City of London is currently located. The City of Westminster came along in the 11th century and slowly the land and space that lay between it was populated and built on over the years so that you can no longer see where one city starts and the other ends. This amalgamation of the two cities and swallowed up villages is called London.
London has been a spectator to many events in its nearly two thousand year history - the rise and decline of the British Empire, two world wars, The Great Fire of London and other conflagrations, a civil war, destruction of religious houses and monasteries, pestilence and plague and a couple of uprisings. It is a lot to take in, so we thought that it might be fun to test out all the museums that can help fill in some of these gaps. We also have a lot of tours that can help - if you haven’t already, take a peek at our list of public and private tours.
Museums to Visit
The British Museum
The British Museum is one of the most famous history museums in the world. What started out as a collection of books from Sir Hans Sloane’s private library, has expanded into the most impressive collection of artefacts from all around the world. In a nutshell, the museum is filled with souvenirs that early explorers brought back from international travel. Hand luggage in the 18th century was clearly not as restricted as it is today. Some of the more notable artefacts housed here include the Rosetta Stone, the Parthenon (Elgin) Marbles, and the Benin Bronzes. You can learn all about the controversies surrounding helping yourself to other country’s artefacts. There are mummies galore and a room of curiosities. If you can, take the private tour before the museum opens. It not only gives you a great preview of the museum without the crowds but you are already in the museum when the doors open so it gives you a head start on the others.
The Museum of London
The only thing I do not like about this museum is that it is ugly and difficult to find the correct entrance. Once inside, the Museum of London tells the story of London from its times as a Roman settlement, to where it is now as one of the most important cities in the world. The museum has great exhibits on Mediaeval London, the Great Fire of 1666, as well as being home to some ruins of the Roman wall. Should you judge a museum by its gift shop? Yes, you should - this is quite good for all ages and it has some decent books.
There is good news - they are creating a new Museum of London in West Smithfield in the old meat market. You can see it slowly transforming if you find yourself near Farringdon. It should be open by 2026.
Imperial War Museum
The IWM sits in beautiful grounds and the building is pretty imposing. It is hard to imagine that this building was once home to Bedlam, the asylum and psychiatric institution. The Imperial War Museum is home to some of the best galleries on both of the World Wars as well as the Holocaust. If you love military history, you can be lost in here for hours. If you don’t, then I would recommend the V&A.
Victoria and Albert Museum
The V&A is the world’s largest museum dedicated to design, decorative and applied arts. It hosts a whopping 2.27 million artefacts for those who like stats. It is also old; it opened in 1857 and was probably one of the first museums to be open in the evening as it had gas lighting. The V&A and nearby museums were really down to Prince Albert and this enclave was originally called ‘Albertopolis’ in his honour. Sadly, this name has been replaced by the prosaic ‘South Kensington.’ For those aforementioned lovers of statistics and numbers, the museum covers 12.5 acres and its art spans 5,000 years. It is easy to spend several days browsing through this massive museum although they do insist you cannot sleep there. This museum is a must-visit for any design, fashion and art history lover who visits London. They also have amazing courses, lectures and temporary exhibitions. If you wish to attend one of the popular exhibitions and they are booked up, get an annual membership. It is a bit of an investment but firstly you are donating to a great museum, you can pop in and out of the exhibition as many times as you like and you can use the member’s lounge.
Sir John Soane’s Museum
The John Soane’s Museum is a bit like the British Museum but everything here was owned by one man - yep, John. He was such a collector that he had to buy the two houses adjacent to his property to have enough room to show everything. Soane was the son of a bricklayer who rose to become an important architect in London designing such buildings as the Bank of England, Dulwich Picture Gallery and my local church, St John on Bethnal Green. On his death in 1837, he decided to leave his house and the contents to be enjoyed by the people instead of leaving it to his last surviving son. It is a Neo-Classical dream and a must-see on any visit to London but do check the opening times as it is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. If you like art, wait to be taken on a tour of its tiny art gallery and be amazed at the collection of Hogarth and Canalettos as well as how it is all displayed. There is a sarcophagus, real and replicated antiquities and sculptures, as well as nooks and crannies galore. His design of the space and use of natural light within the interiors of the house is remarkable. You may even go home with ideas on how to redecorate your downstairs lavatory!
Tower of London
Simply put, the Tower of London is an 11th century castle located on the north bank of the River Thames but the tower is not simple. It was first built as a fortress to impress local Londoners and to try and control them in the wake of the Battle of Hastings of 1066.The extra fortification was added over the next couple of hundred years making it more and more secure and practically turned it into a small village. It was a very secure palace and then they worked out that if you can keep people out, you can also keep people in, so it was then used as a prison. Famous prisoners include Sir Walter Raleigh, Anne Boleyn, Rudolph Hess, Ronnie Kray, Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell. One of the main reasons to visit the palace is to see the Crown Jewels. This is a collection of royal bling from gold salt cellars, solid gold punch bowls as well as the array of crowns and jewels that are worn on state occasions. If I could choose just one thing I would have the coronation sword and scabbard - breathtaking.
Churchill War Rooms
Put yourself in the shoes of the Prime Minister of London during World War II, as you explore the secret underground bunker from which Winston Churchill would operate during the war. More importantly, put yourself in the shoes of all those who worked in the dark, claustrophobic, smokey conditions and who couldn’t tell a soul and who would have mostly needed to leave when it was dark so that they would not be seen appearing from this most secret of bunkers. I think that this museum is a must-see for all the family. Wandering the corridors and looking into the map room and Churchill’s bedroom etc. is one thing but the museum is incredible. It is interactive and engaging and helps highlight just what happened in this undercover bunker and its impact on the outcome of WWII.
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
Visit the theatre that was practically home to one of the greatest playwrights ever. Even though the original Globe Theatre was burned down in the 17th century, the Globe has been rebuilt on the banks of the river Thames. This rebuilding was all down to a film director, Sam Wannamaker, who had to leave the US during the McCarthy years. He couldn’t understand why everything to do with Shakespeare was based in Stratford upon Avon when Shakespeare lived and worked for much of his life in London writing mostly for Londoners. He made it his life’s work to see that the Globe was rebuilt and that Shakespeare was remembered in London and in particular, in Southwark. Take a tour or see a play - just remember that it is outdoors and if you are standing you will be rained on if the heavens open.
Houses of Parliament
A tour of the Houses of Parliament is a great way to learn about how the modern British Government works. Your tour of Parliament would take you to the two chambers of the Houses of Parliament - the House of Commons and House of Lords. You can also apply to visit parliament whilst they are in session. Watch democracy in action or marvel at the number of members who seem to be nodding off.
Markets have always been an important part of London. Dating back to the days when London was under Roman control, markets have been central to daily life in London. People come to these markets to do all their shopping, whether it be clothing, art, antiques, or food. In London there are countless options of markets to spend your day at, and it may be overwhelming at times, that's why below we will break down some of London’s best and most memorable markets.
Right next to London Bridge you will find one of the largest food markets in the whole city. Borough Market is the oldest market in all of London, and has over 100 vendors selling all kinds of food. At Borough Market you are all but guaranteed to find some great food that you would love.
Covent Garden Market
Inside the famous Main Piazza of Covent Garden you can find the Covent Garden Market. Covent Garden is the center for all shopping in London, so having a large market there makes all the sense. What makes Covent Garden Market unique is all of the street performers that you will be able to see while shopping at the market.
Maltby Street Market
Under the London Bridge, every weekend, you will find a vast array of cuisine from all around the world. This market has more than 30 vendors at a time, so you will be sure to find something you like.
Columbia Road Flower Market
If you are ever in London and want to see some beautiful flowers, plants, or shrubs, Columbia Road Flower Market should be your go to place. Here you can pick up all the gardening equipment that you could possibly ever need, along with your fresh batch of flowers. Pro tip: arrive early for the best selection of flowers.
Brick Lane Market
If you love all things vintage, including thrifting and reselling old clothes, Brick Lane Market is the place for you. There's over 200 stalls selling everything from second hand furniture, vintage clothes, shoes, and many more.
If you are in the East End of London, Spitalfields is a great place to visit. Here vendors sell everything from clothes and art to spices and food. This market got its name from the fields surrounding the local hospital (or spital for short).
Brixton Village and Market Row
Brixton is one of the most diverse areas in all of London. The Brixton Village and Market Row does a great job of showing off the African and Caribbean culture that is rooted in the history of this neighborhood.
This eighteenth century market is a relic of a previous time in London’s past. If you are ever visiting Greenwich, you should check out the markets and browse through all the vendors selling everything from jewelry, clothes, second-hand furniture, and even some delicious food.
A few of our favourite pubs in London…
On The History of London in Four Drinks tour we visit one of the City of London’s most beautiful pubs and we walk past a few others but we know that people often want to know good pubs in London, especially if they fancy carrying on and move on to maybe the fourth and fifth drink!
It seems like everywhere you walk in London, you walk past several pubs. It is easy to be overwhelmed by all your options when it comes to different pubs to visit. It is hard to simply crown the best pub in all of London, since all of them have their unique quirks, however we will highlight some of the more notable or interesting pubs in the whole city.
Pubs to visit after the end of the 4 Drinks tour:
The Old Bank of England
This pub was in fact at one point an operational branch of the Bank of England, which was active until 1975. They certainly knew how to make a grand banking hall in Victorian times and this element of grandeur is a welcome surprise as you walk for a simple pint. Look out for their beer garden complete with Routemaster double decker pub and if you fancy a bit of history, ask if you can see the bank vaults and just imagine all that money that used to be stored here.
Ye Olde Mitre
If you are looking for one of London’s oldest and most historic pubs, Ye Olde Mitre is your spot. This pub is hidden in an alley, but it is a must visit for pub lovers in London. This Holborn pub had guests including William Shakespeare as well as Queen Elizabeth I. This hidden pub is well worth a visit as it is one of the most iconic London pubs.
The Olde Cheshire Cheese
If you enjoy literature, then the Olde Cheshire Cheese pub in the City of London is a must visit for you. Literary figures such as Oliver Goldsmith, Mark Twain, Samuel Johnson, and even Charles Dickens were all said to be frequent visitors at this historic pub.
Lamb and Flag
This Covent Garden pub was originally established in 1772. This is another one of London’s most historic pubs. The pub’s upstairs area used to be home to illegal bare knuckle fights. One of the Lamb and Flag most notable guests was Charles Dickens, who was a frequent visitor of this Covent Garden pub.
Other pubs in London:
The Anchor Bankside
What better way to start off a guide to London’s pubs than by starting off talking about the oldest pub in the city. This Southwark pub was first established in 1616, making it over 400 years old. While the pub has been open since the early 17th century, the building has been redone several times, the first was after the Great Fire of London in 1666, and the most recent was in the 19th century.
The Churchill Arms
This Kensington pub may be the most visually appealing pub out of all the London pubs. The exterior of the building is completely covered in flowers. The Churchill Arms is one of the very few pubs to win at the Chelsea Flower Show. Inside the pub, the Churchill Arms differs from others in its menu. Their menu is fully Thai inspired, and in fact it is the only London pub to have a fully Thai menu.
The Dickens Inn
In the eighteenth century the Dickens Inn was a tea factory by Tower Bridge, since then the building has been repurposed as a three story pub. The fact that the building is so large means that there is always something going on at the Dickens Inn. A visit to the Dickens Inn makes you feel like you are in a different part of London’s history.
The Dublin Castle
London has always been the starting grounds for plenty of massive musical acts over the years, many of them performing at pubs all over the city in order to gain popularity. The Dublin Castle in Camden is one of the most important pubs in the London music scene, acts such as Blur, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, The Killers, and Amy Winehouse all performed at this pub before their fame. To this day, there are still plenty of up and coming artists performing here most nights.
The Seven Stars
The Seven Stars is one of the oldest pubs in all of London. This Holborn establishment has been open since 1602, even predating the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The Seven Stars even survived the Great Fire of 1666. If you want a glimpse of what life in London was like centuries ago, a visit to the Seven Stars would be well worth your time.
As a tour guide and a lover of London, I will be writing a series of interesting stories about London; tales I have heard, places I have visited, tasty food I have eaten and delicious drinks I have enjoyed. Watch out for this every week or so.