One of the reasons London is such an endlessly exciting city is because it is forever evolving. And along with other parts of the English capital, the London Bridge area of the city is changing at a pretty fast pace. As a native Londoner I still remember the area around London Bridge before The Shard revolutionised the scene, and I can promise you this part of town has has come a long way in recent years.
I’m constantly surprised by how much there is to see and do in the London Bridge and Southwark area – and how quickly new attractions are being added to the list, so I’ve compiled this 2019 guide to things to do near The Shard – from museums to shops, street food to beauty salons.
15 Unexpected Things To Do Near The Shard
There’s enough going on in the shadows of The Shard building to keep you entertained for days, but join me as I explore London Bridge and find a host of great things to do near The Shard, none of which involve ascending Europe’s tallest building and almost all of which let you keep your feet planted firmly on the ground.
1. Get Pampered To Perfection
Where: O’Sullivans Salon
When: Weekdays 10-8. Saturdays 10-6
Think a salon inside a station is just for an emergency stop? Think again. Reviews are stellar for O’Sullivans’ London Bridge branch, located inside the Shard Retail Arcade whit sits directly opposite the Shard entrance.
I can see why when I try out the service first hand. I’m impressed by the friendly welcome, the relaxed atmosphere and the expert cut and blow dry provided by Marco. I leave also sporting a perfect gel manicure courtesy of Jamie which I can’t stop running through my bouncy new hair. Appointments are efficient so even after a pampering session I still have the whole day left to explore the area, but I do so looking my best.
The salon uses the best products on the market in my book: Kerastase for hair and CND for nails. So whether you want a total revamp or a quick refresh, this is the place to book into near The Shard.
2. Fill Up At A Farmers Market
Where: London Bridge Farmers Market
When: Every Tuesday from 9-2
If you’re looking for a locally sourced lunch and are in the area around The Shard on a Tuesday you can’t go wrong with London Bridge farmers market, which takes place in the stunning and historic surroundings of Guys Campus, King’s College.
All the fayre is from within a 100 miles of the M25 and you can find producers of everything from homemade moussaka to artisan bread and cakes, and there’s plenty of space to sit down and enjoy your chosen goodies. The market is part of a larger network of London Farmers Markets across the city.
3. Say It With Flowers
Where: Igloo Flowers
When: Weekdays 7-9. Saturdays 8-6 Sundays 9-5
A gorgeous selection of impeccably presented fresh blooms will make your day (or someone else’s) – and are easy to pick up on your way to or from London Bridge station, as Igloo is located inside the Shard Arcade. This locally-owned business began life as a single florist shop in nearby Bermondsey Street before expanding to have branches in other London Bridge locations such as Borough Market.
4. Enjoy Quiet Contemplation
Where: Guy’s Chapel
When: Daily 9-5
This 18th-century Chapel is quite literally within the shadow of the imposing Shard building, and opposite the all new Science Gallery, but it offers a contrasting perspective of London, with traditional stained and leaded glass rather than the more modern glass for which the neighbouring buildings are so celebrated.
The church contains the tomb of Thomas Guy, and a marble sculpture to the hospital’s founder by John Bacon. Like most churches it is open to people of all faiths provided you are respectful, and holds a full program of Catholic masses and religious prayer services throughout the year.
5. Ogle The Oldest Operating Theatre in Europe
Where: The Old Operating Theatre Museum
When: Daily 10.30-5 (closed on Mondays until 2)
A very different kind of climb compared to The Shard here, as you ascend a narrow 52-step wooden spiral staircase to reach the church bell tower, which plays host to The Old Operating Theatre Museum.
The history of medicine and surgery pre-anaesthesia makes for a slightly gruesome subject, and as well as an exhibit stuffed with medical curiosities, the shop’s small collection of souvenirs fully reflect the theme.
There’s a quirky events programme including talks, and even horror movie nights, for those who want to immerse themselves in the location’s spooky syllabus.
6. Have A Coffee With A Conscience
Were: Change Please Coffee Van
When: Daily 7-4
Imagine if buying yourself a coffee could change a life? The idea behind Change Please coffee vans is just that: the mobile coffee units are all staffed by previously homeless individuals who have received training and support to transform their lives by filling the ever-expanding gap for caffeine in Londoners’ lives. The concept is simple but powerful, and has pride of place in the London bridge area with 2 locations: one pitch opposite The Shard, and one at Borough Market.
7. Rummage For Vintage
Where: Vinegar Yard
When: Monday – Saturday: 7.30 – 11 (closes at 10 on Sundays)
The newest addition to the London Bridge scene is all about the old rather than the new. Vinegar Yard is a destination for flea markets and retro finds, as well as art and street food, all served up with a startling view of The Shard.
But get down there soon, with the ever changing vista of London Bridge and the building boom it’s not guaranteed how long this all-day beer garden will be available on tap.
8. Be Scintillated By Science
Where: Science Gallery London
When: Daily 10-6 (closed Mondays)
This huge and impressive modern gallery space is completely free for anyone to explore, boasts a great cafe with views of the courtyard outside and has a design-led gift shop which is well worth a look.
Since signing up for Paperless Post I haven’t bought many cards, but I adore this one!
Exhibitions are described as a collision of art and science, and include lots of interactive fun, and there are free tours too, plus a series of Friday Lates where you can explore after dark until 10pm.
9. See Mind-Blowing Glassblowing
Where: London Glassblowing
London is a city of over 8 million people, so as a native Londoner I’ve come up with 8 things every tourist in London needs to know. They should help you fit in, do as the locals do and get more out of your trip to the best city on earth.
If I’d just got off the boat, bus, train or plane in London, here are a few facts I’d wish I already knew…
1.Get Some Wheels
The Friday Skate at Little Venice
London is a big city – too much to cover on foot but as soon as you get in a vehicle you’re cutting yourself off from the pulse of the place. My biggest & most heartfelt recommendation, unless you’re a damn good rollerblader, is to hire a bike.
Yes it will be a bit scary at first but you’ll get much more out of your experience from the saddle. Use London’s quirky back streets which are perfect for cycling – and show me something new and amazing every day, so are gold for open-eyed tourists. You can stop and pull over whenever you see something that catches your eye, you won’t have to think about parking, congestion charges (or red lights if you’re feeling naughty) and you can cover far more ground than you can on your plates of meat (that’s feet to you).
Tip: Try the Regent’s Canal, there are no cars making it the perfect London cycle (or rollerblading) route.
2. Avoid Other Tourists
The new Granary Square at King’s Cross
You do not have time to waste at Leicester Square. There’s nothing there apart from other tourists (and overpriced cinemas and crappy slices of pizza.) This goes double for Madame Tussauds or anything to do with Sherlock Holmes. In fact it’s probably safer for you to avoid the Baker Street area altogether. Think of the most polluted, horrid part of your home city and what you’d think if you saw a clueless tourist eating dinner there. Now, don’t be that clueless tourist.
Tip: Go to Marylebone High Street instead of Baker Street, Soho instead of Leicester Square, King’s Cross instead of Camden (ok, as well as Camden) This way you can swerve some tourist traps and gotten under London’s skin a little.
3. Talk About The Weather
Deckchairs in St James’ Park
It’s really important in London to do weather dependent stuff. You could come back to London 10 times and not get a sunny day so if the sun puts his hat on, put yours on too, and some sunscreen, and go to the park to enjoy the vibe. Or have lunch alfresco. The museums will still be here when it’s raining I promise.
Tip: Try Regent’s Park, Hampstead Heath, Hyde Park, Victoria Park, St James’ Park, Kew Gardens or Richmond Park, all great places to head to on a sunny day.
4. Actually GO Local
The best stuff in London isn’t necessarily all in the West End. Get out to the real streets of London to get a taste of the action. My picks are all north of the river in Islington, Primrose Hill, and all the Hampsteads: it might seem confusing but there are actually 3 – there’s Hampstead village proper (Northern Line) and West Hampstead which is it’s own village (Jubilee Line and Thameslink) and Hampstead Heath (Overground) which is the best wild park in London. In fact depending on how long you’ll be in town for it might well be worth getting a season ticket rather than use pay as you go with Oyster, for the best value on your travel.
Tip: Go to any of the above places and just go for a walk, get lost in the streets and interesting cool stuff will reveal itself to you.
5. Let The City Guide You
Street art near Shoreditch
In London the phrase Life’s What Happens While You’re Making Plans has never been truer. For god’s sake take it slow, look around you and if something cool pop ups, go with the flow, the unexpected is what makes this city.
Tip: For free samples (often handed out in commuter areas like the West End), impromptu gigs (I’ve seen them happen in Covent Garden and St Pancras), or to see street artists at work (most likely around Old Street) just walk around being open to stuff and I promise something unexpected will change your day.
6. Go Out For An English
A Scone, jam, strawberries and cream: quintessentially English
There is good food everywhere in London. Really. There is no excuse for eating bad food, frequenting a branch of Angus Steakhouse, and then whining that we have bad food.
The best Cambodian food I’ve ever had is from a tiny hole in the wall restaurant right by my house, and I’ve spent a lot of time in Cambodia. There are books, magazines, websites, blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts devoted to every possible combination and permutation of great food in London. Use them and uncover a gem.
Tip: Check reviews on Time Out, read blogs and look for twitter accounts that showcase the latest pop-up restaurants in London.
7. Please Stand On The Right
Tube etiquette is an art form too
You need to know some tube etiquette, we take this stuff pretty seriously. When you get on the tube, let people off first. Seriously, barging past them helps no-one and just puts us Londoners in a bad mood. Also remove your rucksack and don’t smack people in the face with it, and stand on the right, walk on the left on escalators. It might sound obvious but apparently it isn’t. Move down the platform, move down the train and you’ll move up in our estimation – from tourist to local.
Tip: Travel outside rush hour (and try to avoid huge sporting events like the Olympics ) and your tube journey will be much easier. Also NEVER, ever stand on the left of an escalator.
8. Get High
View of The Shard from Southwark
See the city from above – and it doesn’t have to be from The London Eye. There’s nothing like getting a sense of perspective on a huge city like London, so seeing it from above is something you should prioritise.
Tip: London’s tallest building The Shard opened to the public in 2013, but also try Westminster Cathedral, or make friends with someone at BT for a rare opportunity to see the view of London from this telecommunications landmark.
Like a lot of travellers I know, I’m obsessed with shopping for cool souvenirs to bring home from my trips overseas, and even if I’m just popping over to one of my favourite European countries for the weekend (as you do) I have a good idea what I want to bring back.
But as well as the obvious souvenirs, like the olive oil from Italy that always makes it into my suitcase, I love finding something unusual that will serve as a permanent reminder of my travels.
Here are a few of my favourite cool souvenirs from a selection of European capitals…
Palace Prints: London
They’re changing the guard at Buckingham Palace
Right at the top of most tourist’s list on a visit to London, is a tour of Buckingham Palace. Even as a native Londoner, I still find myself catching my breath at the sight of the palace, fronted by the Victoria Memorial, when it comes into view after walking through Green Park or down The Mall.
What a lot of people don’t realise is that as well as the grandeur of Buckingham Palace itself, the Royal Collection includes an endless supply of world class artwork, and there is a constantly changing art exhibition being shown at Buckingham Palace’s dedicated exhibition space, The Queen’s Gallery.
How about a God Save The Queen pillow?
You can visit the Queen’s Gallery without buying an entrance ticket to the Palace itself, and the gallery shop has a wonderful collection of royal souvenirs and unique custom designed posters of artwork that’s part of the collection and can’t be bought anywhere else.
I’ve got countless postcards, post-it notes, bookmarks and other bits here, and if you’re a fan of displaying artwork from your travels on your walls at home, this is the perfect place to hunt out a cool souvenir especially a poster you can frame at a later date.
The next time I visited it was to compile a guide to the best boutiques in Rome, so I was lucky enough to meet and interview the creators of some of the most unusual and upmarket souvenirs you could possibly return from Rome with.
But of all the handmade shoes, artisanal lamps and Italian diamond jewellery I encountered and coveted in the Eternal City, it was this bracelet of the Colosseum which really made an impression, it’s one of the coolest yet classiest tourist souvenirs you can get in Rome.
Wool Slippers: Copenhagen
Tivoli is magical at Christmas
As I have family in Denmark I’ve been returning to Copenhagen regularly since I was a kid, and have come home with every kind of quirky and cool souvenir you can imagine.
Along with the edible variety – like Riberhus cheese and a sort of horseradish to put on your hot dogs called remoulade – I always come home with clothing after a trip to DK. Scandinavian street style is famous for a reason.
Sheepskin slippers make cool souvenirs
If you’re visiting Copenhagen in the winter the most useful souvenir you can seek out is a pair of Scandinavian sheepskin slippers, which you can find during the highlight of your trip: on a visit to Tivoli.
The Danish capital’s world famous and atmospheric amusement park really comes into its own in the run up to Christmas, and as well as the rides, and food stalls, you’ll find some fun but authentic souvenirs which will last you all year. These wool slippers are actually the opposite of being cool souvenirs; they’ll literally keep you warm despite the freezing temperatures in Denmark.
Cool Cookware: Amsterdam
I Amsterdam – getting this picture alone with the sign was harder than it looked!
But there’s a fantastic upmarket shopping scene in Amsterdam that makes it a pretty great city to pick up anything design-led.
Having said that, the cool souvenirs I’d recommend bringing back from Amsterdam above all else are cookware items from Dille & Kamille.
Dille & Kamille, Amsterdam
I’ve shopped for kitchen equipment all over the world, but I can honestly say that the selection at their central Amsterdam store (they have 30 branches in Holland & Belgium by the way) had me jumping up and down with glee.
I have found the empanada mold and the teeny tiny miniature cheese grater I personally picked up to be brilliant additions to my kitchen drawers, and now I couldn’t live without them.
As a native Londoner I’m pretty passionate about the place where I (mis)spent my youth: Camden Town.
So when I hear tourists saying they don’t like London (crazy, but it happens!) I feel duty bound to share some ideas about places to go in the capital which might make them change their mind – and I always tell people to come to Camden Town.
This bustling part of North London is one of the most amazing, fun, diverse and enjoyable places you can spend some time while in London.
Most visitors to the capital prioritise the top tourist sights on their trip: places like Buckingham Palace, The London Eye, Oxford Street and Leicester Square, and that’s totally understandable. After all, if I go to Rome, I’m going to want to see The Colosseum.
But traveling like a local is a buzzword thesedays for a reason – if you want to soak up some of the atmosphere of the real London you’re not going to do it with a visit to Madame Tussauds are you?
Central London is a must for visitors too
And whether you want to shop in the market, munch on the street food, drink at a famous boozer, check out the street art or just do some epic people watching, one thing is for sure: Camden won’t fail to keep you entertained.
Crosstown Doughnuts – Camden
So this London local is going to share some tips for the checking out the tourist mecca meets international melting pot that is London’s Camden Town.
Don’t Miss These Camden Town Tips
There’s entertainment EVERYWHERE in Camden
1. Tube Tales
Camden Road Overland Station is an option when Camden Tube is closed
Before you even think about heading to the English capital it’s well worth taking some time to learn a few of the basic do’s and don’t for tourists in London – like NEVER, EVER stand on the left of an escalator on London’s tube network because that will drive people mad.
And if you are taking the tube to Camden then right off the bat there’s something you need to know: Camden Town tube station gets incredibly busy on weekends, so much so that the tube is closed on Saturdays and Sundays during peak hours.
Ok this was during the Olympics but it can get seriously busy in Camden
What this means in practice is that you can get off the tube at Camden Town Tube or you can change trains, but you can’t get in. It’s really important that you factor this into your journey, especially if you have a tight schedule and want to jump on the tube and head to another part of London after your visit.
The solution is pretty simple – my biggest Camden Town tip is to visit on a weekday when the lessened crowds and more relaxed atmosphere will help you love Camden much more, and you won’t have to contend with closures (hopefully).
This floating Chinese restaurant (called Feng Shang Princess) is worth walking to
But if you are set on visiting Camden Town on a weekend then you can walk to Mornington Crescent Tube (which is towards the West End) or Chalk Farm Tube (towards Primrose Hill), both of which are a fairly short distance.
There’s always buses, bikes and walking – which in my opinion is the best way to really see everything.
If you’re headed to the market and checking out places like The Roundhouse or fancy a drink at established boozers like The Enterprise pub, or if you plan to walk up to Primrose Hill, then your route will take you to Chalk Farm anyway, so it’s all good.
2. To market, to market
There’s more than just sweatshirts on sale in Camden
Camden Market is no secret to any tourist in London – as well as shops selling hippy trinkets, vintage and retro clothes and crazy goth gear (fun fact: my home phone number in Camden used to be the old number for Cyberdog which led to some interesting calls) the market has a LOT of good food.
Camden’s cafes are eclectic
So the best local tip I can share with you is that if you can time your visit to be there in the last hour or so of trading, you can try a lot of the food for knockdown prices.
Burgers are just one of the food options in Camden
From Moroccan, Turkish and Chinese food to cakes and donuts the traders in the market are all vying for your custom and once it hits about 5pm they just want to unload their food stock so they can go home – which means you can get a huge portion of food for £1 or £2.
As a local I’ve always been on the lookout for cheap things to do in London, scanning all the deal sites as well as having Tastecard which gives you half price meals out, but this is probably the best food bargain in London.
3. Canal Capers
This stretch of the canal is between Camden and King’s Cross
The Regent’s Canal is probably the best kept secret in North London.
Camden Lock is always popular
If you’re visiting Camden Town you could be forgiven for being put off the entire canal by the busy and let’s face it, garbage-strewn, area alongside the canal at Camden Lock.
But by using Camden as your kicking-off point you can enjoy some fantastic walks along the Regent’s Canal and this historic waterway will transport you to some of the other most interesting areas of North London without encountering any road traffic, which has to be a bonus in such a built-up city.
It’s hard to believe this is central London
From London Zoo, Kings Cross and Little Venice to Paddington, Islington and even Shoreditch you’ll find that walking or biking from Camden Town in either direction along the canal is your ticket to exploring another side of London.
4. Zoo For Zero
Amazingly, this picture wasn’t taken in the zoo itself – I was just passing by.
If you want to get a taste of London Zoo but want to keep all your pennies in your pocket and don’t have all day, Camden has a treat in store for you.
You can see a few animals at London Zoo without buying a ticket. By walking through the park and along the Outer Circle you can get lucky and see animals without going inside the zoo itself.
I’d often see animals while jogging through the park which makes a lovely unexpected view. I found it happened most in late afternoon / early evening, but you can always try your luck at any time of day!
5. Art Crawl
Amy Winehouse mural in Camden
Another tip for tourists in Camden is that you can get your art fix here for free with endless exciting graffiti and street art that is ever changing – and better than anything you’ll see at a central London gallery (probably).
One of the best things about discovering a new neighbourhood is happening upon little gems that others may have missed and in Camden this happens all the time if you simply walk around, especially on the back streets.
This is one of my all time favourite bits of Camden graffiti and it always makes me smile.
Because things are always changing in Camden there’s no guarantee you’ll see any of the pictures of the street art I’m sharing here – but instead you’ll probably see something completely new, and that’s a huge part of the fun. In fact no matter how many Camden Town tips I share, you’ll find something incredibly cool that I have no idea about – that’s the beauty of a place as buzzing as Camden Town.
London is incredibly multicultural and packed with cool corners and curious cross-cultural things to do.
But going out to eat Egyptian doesn’t come up as an option in London very often, does it? And as we all know that food is the lynchpin of all cross-cultural understanding, you may wonder if it’s really possible to enjoy an entire Egyptian itinerary in the British capital.
Well, yes – even if the closest you’ve come to a pyramid is an artfully arranged pile of Ferrero Rocher, you can still evoke the tastes, sounds and smells of the Nile, while remaining resolutely close to the Thames.
Doing this with your rice may be the closest you’ve come to a pyramid, and that’s ok.
Take it from this Egyptian – it’s worth seeking out a taste of Egypt in London. Here’s my guide to enjoying many of the same things you can get in Cairo, in the English Capital…
Walk Like An Egyptian
Edgware Road is nuts about, well, nuts and nut-based desserts
Almost all authentic efforts to get a taste of Egyptian London, literally and metaphorically, should start with a mooch around Edgware Road or Little Cairo as it is known.
The late night buzz of Cairo is re-enacted in the pavement cafes and neon lights of Edgware Road, where it’s possible to sample everything from shisha to an authentic shawarma, and best of all some exceptionally authentic baklava and to get caught in a traffic jam at 2 am. Just like the real Cairo.
Baklava on Edgware Road
If you’re looking for Middle Eastern food in general then any of the wildly successful Maroush outposts, especially its most brusque outpost Ranoush Juice, are worth a try and you can just order a fresh watermelon juice and settle down for a good dose of people watching. But for true Egyptian street food you can try a couple of places…
Eat Like An Egyptian
Egyptian street food in actual Cairo
Aside from low-key Ali Baba near Baker Street, Ahl Cairo is the only self-proclaimed Egyptian restaurant in the city, tucked away on quiet Bell Street, off Edgware Road.
Ahl CAiro was previously Meya, Meya
Like many people I was put off visiting for years by the unassuming entrance – but once past it you’ll find a basement housing a variety of nationalities devouring huge helpings of food, to the sound of Egyptian music videos, surrounded by a few sketches of buildings in Alexandria on the walls.
The menu carries most of the responsibility to transport you to Cairo with classic dishes like Ful medammis, an Egyptian take on refried beans, fateer a pizza-style treat, and molokhia, a cross between kale and spinach which is made into a soup.
Known previously as Meya, Meya which literally means ‘one hundred, one hundred’ but translates in Egyptian idiom as ‘excellent, excellent’ the food lives up to the name and is genuinely tasty and home-cooked.
The Koshari Street food chain now had 3 branches in London, but I remember when it opened in 2013 being delighted that someone had brought koshari (pronounced cooshary), a classic Egyptian comfort food that’s cheap and easy to make and easy to eat on the go, to the London masses.
Made with pasta and rice, along with lentils and chickpeas, this is filling and amazingly for a main course in London, costs only about a fiver. Koshari also sells taamia, the Egyptian-style (and superior tasting) green falafel as well as other sides and is very veggie-friendly.
If you’re heading into central London you could try Yalla Yalla, which again is not strictly Egyptian, but does represent a very closely related but much more omnipresent branch of Middle Eastern cuisine; Lebanese food.
I’ve often wondered why immigration to the UK was so much more prevalent among amongst the Lebanese – and wished that more Egyptians like my dad had made the move here back in the day, and brought their delicious food with them.
The Beirut Street food chain (there are 2 branches) is very Egyptian in name though: Egyptians yell the familiar refrain, ‘Yalla’ meaning ‘Hurry up! just as much, if not more than any other Arabic speaking nationality.
Bond With Egyptian Street Food At Home
Ignore this sign at Regent’s Canal and see Egypt on celluloid with Bond
Egyptian cuisine may not have permeated Western culture in the same way as the food of Lebanon, but you can make it a household name round your place by cooking up the Egyptian national dish for yourself.
If you can’t make it to Koshari, bring Koshari to you. It’s made entirely of ingredients which can be easily sourced in a normal supermarket, or even corner shop – lentils, pasta, rice, chickpeas, onions and tomato. If you really want to be authentic though, cook it using ghee instead of oil.
Eat while listening to Natacha Atlas (a contemporary British-Egyptian singer), or accompanied by Roger Moore cavorting with belly dancers and chasing Jaws around the pyramids in The Spy Who Loved Me.
Now some free ideas for seeing Egyptian London – Well, it’s only Pharaoh
Egyptian museum, Cairo
Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology
Worth a try for real archaeology fans is the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology has a vast collection of 80,000 antiquities, making it one of the biggest collections of Egyptian artefacts outside Egypt.
The British Museum
This lion guards the treasures inside the British Museum
The British Museum is always a good bet for a glimpse into Egypt’s mummified ancient history in the capital, it is endlessly fascinating and it’s free.
You can marvel at what’s also known as The London Central Mosque from the outside anytime you like. You could do a lot worse than a walk from Edgware Road via Lisson Grove to the mosque on a sunny day and leave it at that, or you can go inside.
Brunei’s Jame Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque
Mosques are often awe-inspiring architectural feats and the architect of Regent’s park Mosque was also the designer of the 1962 Roman Catholic Cathedral in Liverpool which is a nice touch. And just like other religious institutions, providing you are respectful and genuinely interested, you don’t have to prove any ethnicity or faith to get a tour – info is here.
The British Library
The British Library is another amazing free London resource, which holds two well-preserved Egyptian Qu’urans from the 14th Century amongst its treasures. No need to ‘book’ for this (sorry).
Cleopatra’s Needle, London
London’s most famous symbol of the close relationship between Britain and Egypt, the misleadingly-named Cleopatra’s Needle is the 180-ton monument that lies on the embankment along with two replica sphinxes.
The obelisk pre-dates Cleopatra herself by a full millennia, and was moved from Heliopolis (in modern day Cairo) to Alexandria by the Romans, served as a monument to Mark Anthony and was buried in sand for 2000 years, before being shipped to the UK from Egypt in 1877.
The shipping is an entire story in itself: encased in a specially-designed metal ship nicknamed Cleopatra, the needle was lost then found at sea before being erected on the Thames and legend has it the base bears the following very English tongue-in-cheek inscription:
“This monument, as some supposes, was looked upon in old days by Moses, it passed in time to Greeks and Turks, and was stuck up here by the Board of Works.”
See The Sphinx(es)
Sphynx at Alexandra Palace
You have plenty of opportunities to see more sphinxes in London – they can be found at the Egyptian Hall at Harrods (Al Fayed being the most famous Egyptian export in London) it may be an expensive shop but it’s free to browse.
You’ll find the giant cats at Alexandra Palace too, as well as Crystal Palace and Chiswick House and the Victorian fascination with Ancient Egypt can also be felt at Highgate Cemetery, where one particular woodland path leads you to an ‘Egyptian Avenue’ complete with obelisk and 36 Egyptian vaults, before continuing onto the ‘Circle of Lebanon’.
Don’t Be Shai
Hospitality, Egyptian Style: mint tea
If you fancy yourself up on the stage or want to get Egyptian vibes every week, consider signing up to a belly dancing class – the movements, costumes and music will transport you to Egypt, or of that’s too energetic look for a whirling dervish performance in London, known in Egypt as Tanoura Dance, this style of dance is mesmerizing.
Finally if you want to fully immerse yourself in Middle Eastern culture in London why not embrace the poetry and rhythm of a language which has been around for over 14 centuries by taking an Arabic class – lessons are available all over London and will make it much more fun if you do make it to the real Cairo one day.
If you know of any other Egyptian activities in London please tell me in the comments I’d LOVE to hear about anything I may have missed!
They’re a girl’s best friend, they’re forever, and they’re timeless.
You find diamonds appearing everywhere in our language as well as our jewellery boxes; they’re ‘in the rough’ as well as on the soles of your shoes.
They’re the only precious stones which have had world famous slogans invented about them and to which countless well-known terms and phrases lead back through history.
The world has always been fascinated with diamonds – but if you’re fascinated with the world, here are 3 diamond destinations to which you should travel to see jewels shine bright.
I always travel with a few basic items that raise the class of my outfit from Economy to First (well, at least premium economy).
Even if I’m travelling with only carry on, there are certain tiny little items I always pack which make me feel like a million dollars. I’m talking about diamonds of course.
Even though I shop online constantly, I’ve found nothing beats shopping on your travels and buying jewellery while travelling has been a lifelong obsession because the work created by artisans abroad is often so much more interesting than what we find at home.
3 of the best destinations for buying beautiful jewellery
The Prettiest Diamonds In The World: Rome
One of the reasons that we are so fascinated by diamonds is due to the beautiful designs that the stones are transformed into, and for me Italy has always been second to none for its design.
I remember buying an Armani watch years ago from a jeweller in Italy with small sparkly diamonds instead of numbers, and from then on I never bought a watch from any other shop, so impressed was I by their styles and service.
The artwork available at world class Italian jewellers is what makes shopping for diamonds and fine jewellery in Rome so special.
I was lucky enough to interview a renowned Roman jeweller to learn a few more facts about these dazzling stones, and he let me into an amazing jeweller’s secret about seeking out so-called clever inclusions (ones that bring down the price but can’t be seen with the naked eye) – as well as explaining why Rome is such a centre for excellence when it comes to jewellery, and explaining the difference between buying from an online jeweller and buying jewellery in Italy in a shop and that’s why my personal favourite diamond destination is Italy.
This exchange is in Ramat Gan just outside Tel Aviv and 15,000 diamond traders work there, trading half the world’s diamonds worth about $5 Billion – so it’s fair to say security is tight at this major diamond destination.
You have to bring your passport and you’re fingerprinted even though you need an invitation to visit, which can be organised by your tour company.
You will learn how diamond valuations work, see where deals are made and learn that the USA is the biggest customer, as well as the fact that the princess cut is actually an Israeli invention.
The Biggest Diamonds In the World: London
The Queen has an exceptional collection of art and jewellery, but when it comes to diamonds her treasures really shine – she owns parts of the world’s largest diamond, the famous Cullinan diamond, a 1000-carat stone that was so large that when they discovered it nobody believed it was real.
It took 8 months to cut it and it ended up in 9 pieces, 7 of which were reunited to be displayed for the first time at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Exhibition at Buckingham Palace.
Queen Victoria’s famous tiny crown, designed to represent her whilst in mourning
Even though the exceptional exhibition is over London is still one of the world’s best diamond destinations; the best bet for visitors to the capital is to head for the Tower of London where the Crown Jewels which hold Cullinan I (530.2 carats) and Cullinan II (317.4 carats) are on display, as well as Koh-i-Noor diamond, which is the subject of a great deal of legend.
It is said to be unlucky for men to wear it and it was even re-cut when the original cut in 1851 didn’t provide enough bling!
The Queen apparently has a jewellery collection so vast that there’s an entire room in the basement of Buckingham Palace that’s the size of an ice rink just to hold it all. Given that she has brooches and tiaras, swords and trinket boxes heavily adorned in diamonds I can’t see Her Majesty needing to buy herself some new diamond jewellery anytime soon, but that’s exactly what I am off to do right now.
I review the pho at central London’s Moc Kitchen in my pursuit for Vancouver-grade Vietnamese food here in the UK.
Pho at Moc Kitchen, London
There was something about the name of this Vietnamese restaurant – Moc Kitchen – that instinctively made me reluctant to click on it while searching for pho restaurants online – probably the notion that it was merely a mock kitchen and not a real one.
But when I got a craving for Asian food and wanted to go for Pho at around 4pm I found that most places tend to shut for a break between 4 -5.30 pm so I decided to give Moc Kitchen a try.
Another thing which worried me was the ultra central location, in the arches behind Embankment tube station, meaning that overheads must be sky high.
I’ll say right away that the portion sizes were indeed the only complaint I had after my meal at Moc Kitchen, and I can only assume that balancing rent with costs must be a struggle, but other than that I was pretty happy with my pho stop here.
As usual I plumped for rare beef pho, and I found the meat to be decent, not chewy or rubbery, but in rather scant supply. I even had to ask for more bean sprouts, the cheapest vegetable on the planet.
However the important things were right – service was extremely relaxed and friendly while remaining efficient, the broth was very tasty and felt super clean, and I left Moc Kitchen feeling full and relaxed.
As usual I also had salad rolls with prawns and spring rolls (pork this time) and the flavours were excellent on both, again just the size and amount of premium ingredients used was disappointing. I was also sad that they didn’t have peanut sauce but they offered to chop up peanuts and outb them in the hoisin for me.
For 2 of us, the bill came to £47, pretty steep for Vietnamese in the city, but this did include 3 beers.
Verdict: If I want pho and am in central London I would happily go back to Moc Kitchen as it is a solid if over-priced choice, but my search for the perfect pho is in London far from over.
Moc Kitchen is at The Arches, Villiers St, London WC2N 6NG.
After the excitement of booking a holiday comes the bit nobody enjoys – the pre-holiday chores.
From figuring out who’s going to look after the house/kids/dog/cat, to charging your electronic devices, packing, getting currency sorted and reading the latest rules on hand luggage, there’s a million and one things to do before you fly.
Deciding how to get to the airport is one of those boring but necessary decisions, and I’m always looking for an easy solution. So I tested out a meet & greet service at Heathrow on my latest trip…
The older I get and the more I travel, the higher the likelihood that I will pay for convenience – I’ll happily pay more to make my life and journey smoother and stress-free.
One thing I’ll always pay more for is a flight that doesn’t leave at the crack of dawn.
For my recent trip to Egypt there were plenty of cheap flights leaving at 5 am or transiting through Istanbul. Nope, not for me. I got a nice Egyptair flight direct from Heathrow and it was well worth the extra cost.
But sometimes you can’t control timings and have to put up with an early departure.
When I was scheduled to fly to Marseille at 7.20 am to begin my Headwater Holidays cycling trip to Provence, meaning waking up around 4.15 am, I knew I’d do anything for an extra half hour in bed.
So I was pretty happy when I was contacted by airport parking company Looking 4 Parking who asked if I’d like to review one of their meet & greet parking services.
The Ace Parking Meet & Greet service I used costs £82 for a week
Looking For Parking Review – Ace Meet & Greet Service
The idea of being able to drive straight to T3 and hand my keys over, not worry about getting shuttle buses, took a huge weight off my mind, and it was one less thing to worry about as I planned for the trip.
I nominated a time to drop off the car, and optimistically picked 6 am because I couldn’t bear the idea of doing anything at a time in the morning that started with a 5.
I phoned the number I was given to say I was about 10-15 minutes away (which is what you’re asked to do) at 5.20 am – I was running early! This wasn’t a problem at all and I was told to make my way to the Short Stay car park at Heathrow, and drive up to Level 3.
Here the the so-called ‘off airport’ parking bays are found – because I guess Heathrow does its own valet parking too – and men in high vis vests with clipboards were on hand to take my keys and give me a receipt for my car.
Plenty of time for coffee & photos!
Within minutes I was in the elevator and on my way into the terminal, and I realised that I actually had plenty of time for a coffee, and a spot of shopping, which I didn’t expect to be the case at this hour.
On my return a week later, I called the same number after collecting my suitcase, I popped into M & S which is standard practice for me, and when I got to the 3rd floor of the car park my car was waiting. I kind of hoped they’d mix my car up with a Porsche or something but they hadn’t.
I had great luck: amazing views of London my car was waiting for me down there!
My car looked exactly as it had when I’d given it to them (a bit dirty and messy to be honest) and I couldn’t see any additional miles on it, so I guess nobody wanted to go joy riding in my old Honda Civic.
I was asked to sign something to say I had my car back, was given a paid ticket for the barrier to exit the car park – though somehow when I got to the barrier, it just opened for me – and I drove off home to put the kettle on. There’s not much more to it than that.
Car parking is a bit like car hire, it seems to be an absolute minefield and full of horror stories, so when I find something that works I stick to it. I used Avis for my car hire on my last trip because I didn’t want to risk doing anything else, and next time I go to Heathrow, I’m pretty sure I’ll use this Ace Meet & Greet service again now I know how painless airport parking can actually be.
As I stated at the start of this post I was asked to try out this service by Looking 4 Parking – but I have been 100% honest and truthful about the experience: I wouldn’t pretend it was good if it wasn’t!
I just couldn’t concentrate on anything or anywhere but London this weekend, for obvious reasons.
So I decided to write my own little post of defiance, to give the tiniest of glimpses, from own my personal perspective, on why London’s AMAZING multicultural energy won’t change no matter how many times we are the focus of attack by those who want to spread hate instead of love.
The great thing about London is that it lets you be whoever the hell you want and do whatever the heck you like – no matter your background, colour, age, religion or anything else.
These are just 5 of the ways I like to experience the joyful multiculturalism of London…
London is inspiring, unique and amazing.
I know I don’t need to say any more, or bang on about it, because if you’re reading this I’m sure you agree.
But after the weekend’s events I wanted to shout it from the rooftops.
So here is a very personal list of 5 places that underline the lesson that London isn’t just open, it’s open-minded. London is for everyone.
These are just a small handful of ways you can capture the true diverse spirit of eclectic, multicultural London.
Like a London in miniature, the Regent’s Canal showcases London’s diversity – it goes from East to West through totally different areas of London, each with its own distinctive feel.
The fact that you can walk or cycle across the whole city from East to West, pretty much without leaving the canal, is probably one of London’s best kept secrets – and being able to take in some iconic London sights and history from the unique vantage point is a huge bonus.
I lived by the central London section of the Grand Union Canal for years and when I moved house I made sure to stay near this stretch of water because I love it so much.
The canal was designed by John Nash and was originally meant to run right through the middle of Regent’s Park – until he decided that the bad language of the navvies during the build would offend the refined residents of the area.
Today you can see Nash’s beautiful white Renaissance style villas alongside the canal and completely forget you’re in London – and once past this stretch at Camden Town, you can enjoy the delights of London Zoo absolutely free – the wild boars and some tropical birds are usually on show from this vantage point so you really can experience the entire world without leaving the Capital, or even the canal.
Hands down my favourite theatre in London, The Bush not only offers an intimate and edgy theatrical space, it also doesn’t shy away from putting on an amazing mix of work which reflects the multicultural London we all know and love.
I fell in love with The Bush in it’s previous tiny incarnation where unreserved bench seating placed you so close to the actors you could literally reach out and touch them (though this isn’t encouraged for obvious reasons).
I remember once having to physically restrain myself when a tupperware container full of cup cakes was within easy grabbing distance in a scene with Mackenzie Crook, because I hadn’t eaten a snack before the show.
Supportive of new writing talent no matter where the writer hails from, it showcases intense two-handers and dramas but The Bush has also given me some of the best laughs I’ve ever had in a dark room with a bunch of total strangers.
London lets you do whatever the hell you want – yes, even if what you want to do is spend your evening icing a biscuit shaped like a pop star’s head. This utter no-holds-barred freedom is EXACTLY what we love about it.
So, do you want to celebrate Lionel Richie’s birthday by icing rich tea biccies in the shape of his face? Perhaps you fancy an evening of musical bingo, or making nipple tassels, perhaps pimping your sunglasses with glitter or some other yet-to-be-invented hipster activity? Well London’s got you covered for all of the above, obvs.
Popular with the girlies, Drink, Shop & Do in King’s Cross is a cute tea shop meets retro-styled parlour and craft shop that is everything we want London to be – creative, cool and tongue-in-cheek and unlike the jihadists out there who want to stop our fun, it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
The melting pot of evening events are the main USP involving everything from knitting, vintage hair do’s and card-making to dance classes and calligraphy, but there is an antidote to all this largely frilly charm as the clever folks at DSD have bottomless brunches on weekends with bagels and Bloody Mary’s that will have most chaps chomping at the bit.
In my book the best way to show solidarity with people is by breaking bread with them, so I urge you to embrace some Arabic eateries in London if you get the chance.
There are plenty of places to do this, but my personal favourite Arabic cuisine is Egyptian.
For years Meya Meya was the only real self-proclaimed Egyptian restaurant in the city – tucked away on a quiet street off Edgware Road. The phrase literally means ‘one hundred, one hundred’ but translates in Egyptian idiom as ‘excellent, excellent’ and had reviews which pretty much lived up to the name.
Now renamed as Ahl Cairo it still has the very unassuming entrance – yes it looks like a kebab shop and not a very swanky one at that, but in the basement you’ll find a mixture of nationalities devouring huge helpings of koshary, a classic Egyptian comfort food made with both pasta and rice, along with lentils and chickpeas.
With just some Arabic music videos playing and a few sketches of buildings in Egypt on the walls, the menu carries most of the responsibility to transport you to Cairo with classic dishes like Ful medammis, an Egyptian take on refried beans and molokhia, a cross between kale and spinach which is made into a soup. Oh and it is very, very cheap.
It may have been overshadowed by The Shard at nearly twice its height but I’ll always have a special place in my heart for the BT Tower and I’m not alone.
Since food service ceased at the revolving restaurant, which served over 100,000 diners in its day, appetite for the tower itself has increased and when the it took part in London’s Open House weekend for the first time it was the biggest hit they’d ever had with 32,000 people applying for just 480 passes to the famous rotating platform, 528 feet above ground.
The BT Tower may be hard to get into but the good news is that each September (usually around 16th and 17th) Open House London throws open the doors of hundreds of other architectural and design gems in the capital to anyone and everyone.
If you’re thinking of coming to London as a tourist this is the best time to visit in my opinion, to join in with like-minded people and revel in the incredible history and future that London has to offer.
A romantic weekend away for Valentine’s Day – sounds like a great idea in principle, right?
But as anyone who has tried to book even a simple night away with their partner already knows, the process of finding the perfect hotel for romance isn’t all hearts and flowers.
You’re searching for seclusion and sophistication in a Valentine hotel, but you also need that unquantifiable quality – sex appeal. And just like dating itself, there’s always the worry that hotels which look good on paper could turn out to be a let down when we meet them in person.
So I thought I’d compile a list of the 6 sexiest places in the entire world I’ve ever stayed. These are tried and tested hotels that I would not hesitate in recommending for romance, so you can kick the research to the kerb…
I’ve organised these geographically, because chances are the location of the Valentine hotel is the first thing you’ll need to know – Valentine’s Day is a lovely excuse for romance but I doubt you’re planning on flying halfway around the planet for it.
♥The Zetter Townhouse♥
Bedroom at The Zetter
If you’re on a mission to track down the perfect romantic setting for a decadent Valentine hotel in London many of the city’s bolt-holes can be written off right away for being too corporate, too cliched or simply too bland.
But while The Boundary and The Town Hall Hotel are worthy contenders for a little Valentine getaway, get behind the little blue Georgian door of the Zetter Townhouse and you’ll be sure to fall in love with its opulent feel and English eccentric décor.
Zetter Townhouse Bar
The Zetter is plush, lush, quirky – and above all cosy, cute and comfy. Attention to detail in here in spades – cutlery is bone china handled, crockery is Wedgwood, beds are antique, plumped and inviting, and bathrooms are classical with big-enough-for-two soaker tubs.
The vibe is classic country house chic, but in the middle of town so perfect for a hedonistic couple looking for a Valentine hotel which combines seclusion with a sinful city break.
♥The Wickaninnish Inn♥
Tofino, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada
Bedroom at The Wick
It’s hard not to feel the romance when you’re enveloped in the elegant yet rustic and secluded setting of what’s known here on Vancouver Island as simply The Wick – a hotel that’s as connected to the natural environment as its possible to be – while being delightfully disconnected from the rest of the world.
The intimate atmosphere makes it fitting that the hotel specialises in elopements – as well as honeymoons, anniversaries and other romantic celebrations such as Valentine weekends of course.
Try All You Need Is Love which includes a special romantic turndown service where the big-enough-for-two bath is filled with orchid petals and romantic music fills the air, while champagne and truffles are on hand.
The view from The Wick
The lucky couple can also enjoy a tasting menu dinner at the hotel’s fine dining restaurant The Pointe, spend their time walking on the endless beach and spotting local wildlife, from starfish and sand dollars to bald eagles and whales.
During February winter storm watching is firmly on the agenda – this part of the Canadian coastline is famed for its spectacular storms, in stark contrast to the serenity and relaxation once you’re back inside enjoying the comforts of this cosy Valentine hotel.
♥The Inn Above Tide♥
Sausalito, California, USA
The bedroom at The Inn Above Tide
It’s almost impossible to imagine a more mesmerising and memorable view to wake up to on Valentine’s Day than the panoramic vista from the Skyline Suite of Sausalito’s quietly sophisticated Inn Above Tide.
The beauty of the San Francisco Bay Area is silently strung out in front of you, from the downtown skyscrapers via the Bay Bridge and the legendary island of Alcatraz to Berkeley and Oakland, with the endless view bookended by Belvedere at one edge and the Golden Gate, hidden by the hills, at the other.
View from The Inn Above Tide
This is the way to explore San Francisco while keeping the romance; from your serene base in upmarket Sausalito village you can cycle across the bridge on the hotel’s complimentary bicycles, before venturing into nearby Sonoma wine country for tastings in the hills.
Return at sunset to watch over the water from your terrace before retiring inside for a toast in front of a roaring fireplace.
♥Banyan Tree Mayakoba♥
Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico
Bed at the Banyan Tree
When it comes to splashing the cash on a romantic night away, couples are looking for something very special. More than just a beautiful setting, you’re searching for a whole other magical world which will open up its exclusive doors and usher yourself and your honey inside, leaving the stresses and strains of everyday life well and truly outside.
Step forward the Banyan Tree at Mayakoba, an ultra luxurious and utterly tranquil resort which defines that ‘screensaver come to life’ combination of sea, sun, sand, spa and superior service.
You can entrust your Valentine’s hotel dreams to Banyan Tree, whose signature Eastern style is blended here with a Mayan influence inspired by the setting on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula – where you can also make memories together swimming in a cenote, diving with turtles and exploring the temples of Tulum.
Banyan Tree Mayakoba
Tick everything off your romantic wish list, from private secluded villas with landscaped gardens and infinity pools to double-sized alfresco candle-lit stone baths. Then bike to the beautiful stretch of beach or peddle at your leisure around the manicured grounds.
You’ll also be spoiled with superior cuisine and sommelier recommended wines, and add in a visit to the stunning signature spa and it makes this an idyllic Valentine setting.
♥Thakadu River Camp♥
Madikwe, South Africa
Tented suite bed at Thakadu
It may go against the seclusion requirement just a tad to share your Valentine hotel with all manner of wildlife, but I’d argue there’s nothing more romantic than an African Game Reserve on Valentine’s Day.
Imagine waking up to the sounds of the dawn chorus and spending the day in the company of each other and the animals of the bush, as you sit in the coveted high spotting seats of your safari vehicle and drive within inches of a pride of lions, find an elephant touching your rear bumper or spy one of the 300 species of native bird.
The view at Thakadu
Because the relatively unknown Madikwe park, on the South Africa-Botswana border, is barely featured in brochures and not open to day visitors, once you’re ensconced within Thakadu Lodge’s exclusive grounds, you’ll meet far more four-legged creatures than two, and you’ll certainly get your fair share of privacy and seclusion with dinner under the stars followed by the beauty of an African sunset from your luxurious tented suite.
♥Pangkor Laut Resort♥
Room at Pangkor Laut (This one is from their website as I’m *in* all the pictures I have. Oops)
The concept here at Pangkor Laut is ‘One Island, One Resort’ meaning the entire 300-acre Malaysian island is your Valentine paradise complete with nature trails, pools, spa pavilions, restaurants and bars to explore – but as only a small fraction of it is developed so you have the perfect combination of pristine wilderness mixed with impeccable service.
Couples can arrive via the hotel’s boat service through the Straits of Malacca but for added decadence you can arrive by helicopter which is probably what Pavarotti used to do – this was the legendary opera singer’s favourite hotel.
Dinner On The Rocks is the romantic highlight – a fine dining experience perched off the a rocky outcrop overlooking the straits, while stringed instruments are strummed alongside your table.
At the end of the meal you’re presented with a photograph to remember the occasion complete with hand-made wooden frame.
View at Pangkor Laut
Staff here seem to know what you want before you even know it yourself, your breakfast buffet is shared with roaming peacocks, and you can luxuriate and unwind in outdoor power showers under tropical palms – I challenge you to find a sexier setting for a Valentine hotel.