Parliament architecture-London

Everything You Need to Know About the Houses of Parliament

The Houses of Parliament is one of the most iconic sights along London’s extensive skyline. This UNESCO World Heritage Site rises alongside the River Thames in the heart of the capital.

Also known as the Palace of Westminster, this is the seat of British democracy. And it’s a building that has seen tumultuous events decided within its grand chambers.

The Houses of Parliament is where democracy can be seen in action. The public are allowed to watch debates between Members of Parliament and even watch the Prime Minister speaking.

You can tour through the historic corridors of the Houses of Parliament, and learn first-hand the many unique stories that are waiting within the palace walls. It’s one of the best things to do in London. To inspire your trip, here’s everything you need to know about the Houses of Parliament.

Where Is the Houses of Parliament?

The Houses of Parliament is located in Central London. Given its prime location, it’s an easy place to find and to visit.

In fact, you’ll see the huge clock face of Big Ben long before you arrive, as the tall tower stands proudly above the capital, keeping time.

While you can walk through Central London to reach the palace – just head towards Westminster Bridge and look for Big Ben – you can also arrive by public transport. This is much more advisable than attempting to drive, as not only would you need to pay congestion charges, but parking is almost non-existent in Central London. Where it does exist, it’s expensive.

The nearest underground station is the conveniently named Westminster Station. It’s located on the Jubilee, Circle and District Lines, making it easy to connect on the Tube from almost any other destination in London.

There are also plenty of nearby bus stops and, of course, the classic hop-on, hop-off bus tours also call in close to the Houses of Parliament. These tours can be a convenient way to get around the capital, particularly if it’s your first time, as you’ll have transport between all of London’s most famous attractions and you’ll be provided with plenty of information along the way.

Westminster Tube Station

Guided Tours of the Houses of Parliament

It’s possible to join guided tours of the Houses of Parliament. However, they don’t run all year round. When Parliament is sitting – for most of the year while MPs debate laws and motions –there are only tours on Saturdays, so just one day a week.

During summer though, MPs take a long summer recess, during which time Parliament is essentially not sitting, unless there’s an emergency or crisis.

During this summer recess, tours are run from Monday through Saturday. If you are visiting in summer, usually between August and September, this is the best time to join a guided tour of the Houses of Parliament. There are never any tours on Sundays or public holidays, while the dates of summer recess vary each year so be sure to check in advance when planning your trip to London.

Guided tours can be booked in advance, which is a great way to secure your spot throughout the year. Tours last 90 minutes and tickets can be bought online or on the door, although you get discounts for advance bookings. Tours leave at regular 15-minute intervals on the days that they run. Most tours are in English, but there are limited tours in other languages such as French, German, Italian and Spanish during the summer recess.

You can also purchase an audio guide for a self-guided tour of the Houses of Parliament, which is available in multiple languages.

If you are a British citizen, then you can visit the Houses of Parliament free of charge. However, you can’t just turn up at the door; you need to write a letter in advance to your local Member of Parliament, whose office will then make the arrangements.

Tour Costs

Adult Guided Tour Ticket: £26.50

Adult Audio Guide Tour: £19.50

Discounts are available for students, OAPs, children and for families. Ticket prices valid as of autumn 2019.

The Public Galleries

If you are visiting London outside of tour times or if you simply don’t want to pay for a guided tour, it’s also possible to visit the public galleries of the Houses of Parliament free of charge.

The public galleries are the seating areas found behind the main seating areas for the Members of Parliament or the Lords, in the House of Commons and House of Lords respectively.

These are public areas that anyone is allowed to visit, in order to watch the debates and motions in action. It’s an important part of the transparent British democracy system, as technically anyone can view what’s going on inside the Houses of Parliament.

Unfortunately though, in practice, space and seating is limited, so you either need to time your visit well or queue for a long time to get in.

Parliament can run all through the day and well into the night on some occasions. The public galleries can be visited at any time when Parliament is seated.

To enter the public galleries, you must queue up at St Stephens entrance; entrance is on a first-come, first-served basis. Your chance of getting in depends entirely on how busy it is, which can depend on what is being debated in Parliament and who is speaking.

For instance, the most popular time will always be when the Prime Minister is speaking, particularly at Prime Minister’s Question Time, which is held every Wednesday at 12 pm. It’s unlikely you’ll get a seat at this time, but if you turn up for other motions, it’s very possible. You can check what is being debated and who is speaking through the Parliament information services and on the Parliament website.

Inside palace-of-westminster

Security at the Houses of Parliament

This is the seat of government and democracy in the United Kingdom, so you can expect security to be tight when you are visiting.

There are stringent security measures in place. Each visitor has to be checked and their baggage scanned. You cannot take any dangerous items into Westminster Palace. When you’re visiting, just imagine you are about to fly, because security here is very airport-like. It’s best to leave large luggage and bags behind, or you’ll end up slowing down the entrance process.

You’ll also need to bring some form of identification with you. Ordinarily, visitors are also given an ID badge, which must be worn during their tour of the Houses of Parliament.

A Brief History of the Houses of Parliament

The Houses of Parliament were originally built to serve as a palace by the English kings, hence the name the Palace of Westminster, just over the road from Westminster Abbey.

The first palace to be built here was constructed on the orders of Edward the Confessor and would serve as a royal residence from the 11th century through the 16th century. After 500 years of regal use, the palace was caught in a blaze and burnt to the ground. Parts of the palace survived, and the English Parliament used the remaining sections as their meeting area, where they’ve now met since the 13th century.

In fact, the first English Parliament was convened here in 1265, as representatives from across the country were invited to London, to what was then the King’s Palace, to debate laws and to give more power to the people – or, at least to take power away from the monarch. That makes Westminster Palace one of the oldest democratic bodies in the world, and it’s on this site that the Parliament has convened ever since.

Fire again ravaged the palace in the Victorian era, and the complex was completely rebuilt. The current building took almost three decades to complete, finally being opened in the 1870s. In World War II the Commons was the scene of Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s rousing war speeches, but it was also targeted and hit by German bombers during the Blitz, causing much damage.

The Houses of Parliament survived once again though, and today they are still the meeting place of the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

While royalty no longer lives at Westminster Palace, intriguingly it’s still owned by the Crown and is in effect gifted for the use of government. With such a long and convoluted history, this is just one of the many quirks and traditions that surround the Houses of Parliament.

parliament-view over thames

What to See in the Houses of Parliament

The Houses of Parliament is an enormous complex, and not everywhere is open to the public, even on a guided tour. While you can see the galleries without taking a tour, you need to join one to see the best sights listed below.

Big Ben

Big Ben – officially known as Elizabeth Tower – is the tall clock tower that has become one of the most enduring and recognisable symbols of London.

Big Ben is technically the name of the clock itself. It was constructed in 1859 and has been telling Londoners the time ever since.

It was possible to take tours of the tower and to see the inner mechanics of the clock, but in recent years Big Ben has been undergoing renovation, although it’s set to reopen again soon.

The Commons Chamber

The Commons Chamber is perhaps the most important place in British politics. This is where the Ministers and Members of Parliament meet in order to hold debates and to discuss the future of the country.

The House of Commons is known as the Lower House, and it takes its name from the fact that it’s here that democracy is enacted by the common people and not the Lords.

The Commons Chamber is an elegant room with benches on either side rising upwards and facing across the hall from each other. On one side sit the government, while the opposition sits opposite.

The central area is where the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition stand to give speeches, while at the far end you can find the Speaker’s Chair, where the Speaker of the House of Commons to keep order between the different factions in the Chamber.

London-House of Commons

The Lords Chamber

The Lords Chamber is otherwise known as the Upper House. Whereas the House of Commons is for elected Members of Parliament, to sit in the House of Lords you must be elevated to peerage, which is by appointment only or acquired through hereditary means. Most Lords remain Lords for life after appointment.

The Lords cannot stop laws being enacted but they are there to provide an independent check on regulations, as they have the power to delay Acts of Parliament.

The Lords Chambers is far more lavish than the Commons, and there are many strange traditions in place. While visiting you’ll see the Woolsack, where the Speaker of the House of Lords sits. This tradition goes back to the 14th century when wool was an integral part of the English economy.

The Robing Room

The Robing Room is a unique chamber in the palace that’s used by the reigning monarch before they give their speech opening Parliament.

It’s an elegant, stately room that’s been graced by several kings and queens throughout history.

The Royal Gallery

The Royal Gallery is another lavish room found in the palace, which serves as a location for ceremonies, dinners and events.

It’s the largest room in the Palace of Westminster and it’s decorated with portraits of historic royals.

Special Events

The Palace of Westminster hosts regular events and exhibitions throughout the year.

There are often talks within the palace, which you can find details about and sign up for online. These talks generally focus either on the history or architecture of Westminster Palace itself or on the history of British politics. If you want to learn more about the Houses of Parliament from excellent speakers, these talks are wonderful events to attend.

To find out more about Premium Tours’ excellent selection of London tours, including trips to the Palace of Westminster, contact us today or browse our website.

veggie brunch

14 Brunch Spots You Need to Try in Shoreditch

If you are searching for the best brunch spots in London there are few better places to be in the late morning or early afternoon than Shoreditch, because this eclectic part of the capital has endless opportunities for brunching.

In fact, Shoreditch takes brunch to a new level. This trendy district is home to a range of eateries, offering everything from a casual late breakfast to a full-on boozy brunch on the weekends. The vibrant, multicultural nature of Shoreditch also means that, if you desire, you can eat at a different brunch spot every day of the week, and try a new style of cuisine every day of the week too.

From Bottomless Brunches to Peruvian breakfasts, here are the 14 best brunch spots you need to try in Shoreditch.

  1. The Book Club

Shoreditch is well known for its vibrancy and culture, and one of the best brunch spots in the area that will fuel your love of both food and cultural experiences is The Book Club.

This unique cafe and restaurant serve brunch on the weekends and serves breakfast until midday on weekdays. The menu is potato and egg heavy but, as good as the food is, it’s not just the brunch that’s the main focus here, because the Book Club is also one of Shoreditch’s best events venues.

The Book Club hosts music events and cultural demonstrations, and there’s a different schedule every week. There are art exhibitions strung across The Book Club’s two different floors, and it’s easily one of the most creative places in Shoreditch. As a bonus, after breakfasting or brunching, you can even take to the Ping-Pong tables or challenge your fellow diners to a table tennis battle.

  1. Andina Shoreditch

Peruvian food might not be high on your brunching list, but that’s probably because you’ve never visited Andina Shoreditch. Located on Redchurch Street just off Shoreditch High Street, Andina Shoreditch brings the unique tastes of South America to London.

This innovative restaurant has made a name for itself by fusing British ingredients with traditional Peruvian methods of cooking, brought from the Andes to Shoreditch.

Andina Shoreditch is open all day, serving breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner to anyone searching for new flavours or returning for their Peruvian fix. On the weekends, brunch is served from 10 am until 4 pm, and it’s the perfect way to kick-start your day or to nurse that hangover from the night before.

On the brunch menu at Andina Shoreditch, you’ll find healthy doses of avocado, as well as Peruvian chocolate that’s served on pancakes. The Chicharron sandwich is great if you need more of a lunchtime-brunchtime boost for the rest of the day, while if you want to keep things healthy, nothing beats the Andean granola.

  1. Hoi Polloi

If you’re looking for one of Shoreditch’s trendiest brunching locations, then look no further than a visit to Hoi Polloi. This inspired restaurant is found within the Ace Hotel, a hotel chain that is found in other locales such as New York and which has a reputation for being a hangout for hipsters and trendsetters.

Hoi Polloi means the ‘people’. While this is a modern and sleek restaurant, there’s also a minimalist look and feel to the place, which complements the food exceptionally well.

On weekdays, there’s a breakfast menu that is served until midday where you can choose from a range of breakfast items, from simple plates of seasonal fruits to a full-on English breakfast. You can even start your day with a Bloody Mary if you’re looking to really kick things off at Hoi Polloi.

On weekends, brunch runs from midday until 4 pm, and this is the real deal at Hoi Polloi. On the brunch menu, you can order everything from pancakes or eggs to a hefty roast dinner that includes roast beef and all the trimmings. You can even go for the rib-eye steak and wash it down with a few of Hoi Polloi’s signature cocktails.

Hoi Polloi

  1. The Breakfast Club

With branches all over London and across the country, The Breakfast Club is one of the capital’s most beloved breakfast and brunch spots, and the branch in Hoxton is one of the most popular in the city.

The Hoxton branch was one of the first Breakfast Clubs to be opened in London, and it’s a fantastic place to enjoy a beautiful brunch when you are in the area.

This is a restaurant that specialises in breakfast, and they serve nothing but breakfast all day long in their sleek, modern eateries that have an open and airy feel to feel them. It’s a good place to start the day, no matter whether you’re starting the day at 8 am or 4 pm.

The Breakfast Club menu is extensive, and they take inspiration from across the world. You can order a classic full English, you can go for a vegan breakfast or you can order the Breakfast burrito, to name just a few of the items available.

  1. The Barge House

The Barge House is a fantastic place for brunch if you’re looking for scenic views and outdoor seating because this fabulous eatery is found overlooking the canal in a beautiful waterside location.

In summer especially, there are few better places to enjoy a spot of brunch, as you can sit out and take in the refreshing canal-side air and bathe in the Shoreditch sunlight while it’s there.

The Barge House has a full-service kitchen as well as a popular bar, and they are open all through the day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You can find classic items such as eggs on toast, or more international breakfasts such as Shakshuka.

The Barge House is famed for its freshly prepared sourdough bread, and on the weekends it’s their exceptional brunch that is the real reason to visit. Their most popular item on brunch days is what they call Breakfast in Bread. A large sourdough loaf is hollowed out and the interior of the bread is filled with all manner of breakfast items.

There are several fillings of Breakfast in Bread, with the most popular being what is essentially a full English breakfast, when your sourdough will be served with bacon, eggs, mushrooms and more. They also offer veggie and vegan Breakfast in Bread, as well as a salmon variety and a spicy chorizo and chilli filling, too.

To accompany these unique bread brunches, the Barge House serves up Bloody Marys and Breakfast Martinis, as well as excellent tea and even better coffee.

  1. Pizza East

A pizza restaurant might not be your first choice for brunch in Shoreditch, but on the weekends Pizza East serves up a fine breakfast and brunch for hungry patrons.

Of course, they are best known for their signature pizzas, as well as their huge range of antipasti, but visit on the weekend and you can delve into the brunch menu. This is Italian breakfast at its best, and while you could just order a pizza for brunch if you’re really hungry, the more rustic brunch items are truly exquisite.

You can try a full Italian breakfast, beef ragu, cured hams, or frittatas, amongst many more breakfast and brunch items on the menu.

Breakfast Pizza

  1. Blues Kitchen

The Blues Kitchen in Shoreditch is renowned for its bluesy vibes, live music and an excellent menu that’s inspired by the soul of the southern USA.

On the weekend, The Blues Kitchen serves up a somewhat infamous boozy brunch, that’s complete with delicious food and endless drinks.

You order your favourite brunch item, be it a brisket burger or the big bluesy breakfast, and then you pick your favoured drink, be it bloody Marys, mimosas or Prosecco. The food is finite, but for two hours, the drinks are unlimited.

  1. Rascals

If it’s a boozy bottomless brunch that you’re after, then spend your weekend enjoying the delights of Rascals, which has made somewhat of a name for itself as being one of London’s most infamous brunching spots.

The food and drink are bottomless at Rascals. While you eat and drink the morning and afternoon away, you’ll be entertained by Rascal’s infamous entertainers. It’s all fun and games and entertainment while you drink and eat, and you’ll be getting stuck into the atmosphere of Rascals for many hours to come.

  1. Dirty Bones

Another great place to enjoy the delights of a boozy brunch is Dirty Bones. Available on the weekends, from 11 am until 4 pm, the Dirty Bones brunch offers you the chance to indulge in New York-inspired food in a heritage-listed London building in Shoreditch.

Dirty Bones has a brunch menu that’s packed with flavour; you can take on the big steak and eggs to set you up for the day or order a huge portion of ribs and crumpets. Of course, at Dirty Bones, as good as the food is, it’s not all about the food, because alongside the brunch items you can order unlimited cocktails.

Drinks to choose from include a Bloody Mary or Uptown Spritz and, for one and a half hours, your drink of choice is endless.

  1. Red Rooster

If it’s American-style food you’re looking for in Shoreditch, then head on over to Red Rooster. This USA-inspired eatery serves up a huge array of American food, ranging from New York to the southern states, but they are best known for their Red Rooster Gospel Brunch.

Held every Sunday, you’ll be able to jump into the delicious brunch menu while a local choir performs Harlem-style gospel to the hungry diners.

It’s a unique experience, and alongside excellent food, you’ll enjoy an excellent performance of gospel songs at Red Rooster.

Red Rooster

  1. The Diner Shoreditch

The Diner Shoreditch is another fantastic restaurant to visit if you are on the search for American-inspired brunch, as this fantastic eatery serves up an all-day breakfast menu.

The Diner Shoreditch is a truly American experience, and the restaurant is set up exactly how you would imagine a classic American diner to be.

All-day breakfast includes such dishes as the Lumberjack Breakfast, and the Hungry Man Breakfast, while you can also order stack after stack of delicious pancakes, with an endless variety of toppings.

  1. Hoxton Grill

One of the best brunch spots to try in Shoreditch is undoubtedly Hoxton Grill. Yet again, this is another restaurant that’s inspired by American-style food, and they serve up a glorious breakfast and brunch.

The brunch menu includes a diverse selection of dishes to order, including simple bowls of muesli or pancakes, to a huge range of different eggs. You can even start your day with a huge cut of steak, while of course there are plenty of cocktails to choose from on the brunch menu too.

  1. Lantana

If you’ve had your fair fill of American-style diners and brunches, then in multicultural Shoreditch you have many more options too. One of the best places to visit is Lantana, a delightful cafe that serves up an excellent Aussie-style breakfast and brunch.

On weekends, they open at 9 am and serve until 4 pm, and you’ll find a vast array of breakfast and brunch items. Expect plenty of halloumi and avocado on the menu, while the coffee is simply excellent as well. There are fruit smoothies too, and you can always start your day out in Shoreditch with a brunch cocktail.

Lanatana

  1. Bird

Our final pick for the best brunch spots in Shoreditch goes to Bird. This simple restaurant is designed with an open-air in mind, perhaps because Bird is proud of their use of free-range poultry.

Bird specialises in two things, and two things only. That’s chicken and waffles, and yes, the two are more often than not combined together. That makes this an excellent brunching spot, combining a waffle breakfast and a chicken lunch or dinner, to set you up for a day in London.

Of course, to complement your waffle and fried chicken brunch, Bird has a wide range of cocktails and other beverages to offer too.

As London experts, we know a thing or two about the best brunch spots across the city, including the trendy Shoreditch area. While you’re in touch, check out our fantastic range of London tours and open-top bus trips to see the very best of the city.

Camden-Rail Bridge

Everything You Need to Know About Camden Market

Camden Market is one of London’s most popular tourist attractions because this bustling marketplace is packed full of trendy stalls, food vendors and photogenic street art.

Found in the heart of hipster Camden, this historic market started life humbly as just a few simple market stalls. Today you can find well over 1,000 different stalls and shops in this vibrant yet crowded part of London.

If you’re looking for vintage clothing, fusion street food and raucous nightlife, then Camden Market is the market for you. If you are searching for street art, funky restaurants and an atmosphere like nowhere else in the capital, then you have to visit Camden Market.

To help you plan your trip, here’s everything you need to know about Camden Market.

A Brief History of Camden Market

Camden Market has a long and fascinating history. Starting from small roots, over the years and decades it’s grown into one of London’s premier, alternative shopping and entertainment areas, while never losing touch with its humble past.

Camden Market has, for the most part, stayed true to itself, and that’s just one of the reasons why it’s become such a popular tourist attraction.

There have been small markets in Camden for centuries. Given its location on the busy Regents Canal, Camden was transformed into a flourishing trade hub that boomed through the Victorian era.

The market you see it today has more recent roots though; Camden Market began to really evolve into its modern self in the 1970s.

In 1974, a small Saturday market comprising just 16 stalls was opened in Camden Town. With Camden’s growing reputation for all things alternative, it proved to be the best location possible for a market place to grow and to evolve into a hipster setting at the forefront of all of London’s unique cultural scenes.

This was really just the beginning though. Camden Market would grow over the following decades into a marketplace housing thousands of stalls, shops and food vendors, and its story is far from over yet.

The market continues to be revamped and redesigned, and there are many areas such as Camden Lock Village, which have undergone massive regeneration projects to keep Camden Market at the forefront. These projects don’t lose sight of Camden’s ethos and history, and you can still find heritage and tradition everywhere you walk.

Camden Market

Where Is Camden Market?

Camden Market is a big and sprawling place to visit. If it’s your first time in Camden, then working out your bearings can be a challenge at first.

The market is technically several different markets and distinct shopping areas, but the majority of the stalls and vendors are found along Camden High Street, which then turns into Chalk Farm Road when you cross over the busy bridge spanning Regents Canal.

It’s a bustling place. To get here, you’ll want to arrive either by bus or by using the Underground, as there’s almost no public parking available and what parking is available will be short term and expensive.

The nearest tube stations are Camden Town and Chalk Farm, both of which are within Zone 2 on the Northern Line.

Chalk Farm Underground station is found at the northern end of the markets, while the Camden Town stop is more southerly. Whichever station you choose stations will bring you out into the heart of Camden Market.

There are also several overground stations, such as Kentish Town and Camden Road, although these are further away from the markets.

The markets are divided into four major areas, but with thousands of stalls, shops, pubs and restaurants, everything spills over into each other and it can be difficult to know exactly where you are at any one time, not that it really matters. The best way to get around Camden Market is to simply walk – or perhaps push – your way through the crowds and to lose yourself in the marketplace. A good idea is to get off the tube at Camden Town, and then simply walk along Camden High Street towards Regents Canal.

The three major reference areas within Camden Market are Buck Street Market, Camden Lock Market and Stables Market.

When to Visit Camden Market

Camden Market is open 7 days a week, even on bank holidays, and most stalls and shops will open around or 9 am or 10 am. The market stalls and shops generally stay open until around 6 pm, sometimes later, but you’ll find that the restaurants, pubs and bars are all open until much, much later.

Camden Market is one of London’s most famous tourist attractions and, unfortunately, that means that it’s always a busy place to visit.

Weekends and bank holidays are when the market is at its liveliest and there’s always something going on. However, on weekends, it can also be absolutely packed, and it can be difficult to walk around and even to find tables at restaurants and pubs. If you don’t mind pushing your way through tour groups and queuing to get into venues, then it’s an atmospheric if busy time to visit. In summer, things are even busier than colder times of the year, particularly when the sun is out.

If you want to enjoy Camden Market without the crowds, then you’ll need to visit during the week. If you want time and space to browse through the stalls and shops then you’re best visiting on Mondays or Tuesdays, as later in the week, it starts to get busier the closer you get to the weekend. In reality though, such as the fame of Camden Market, there are few times when it’s not a crowded place to visit.

Buck Street Market

On the corner of Buck Street along Camden High Street, Buck Street Market is an integral component of Camden Market, and it’s recently been totally redeveloped.

This is the area of the market that’s closest to Camden Town tube station. If you alight here, this is the first part of the market you’ll be exploring.

This is an outdoor market area, and it’s where you can find a few hundred stalls and vendors who are mostly selling clothing and accessories. While the goods for sale aren’t necessarily the most exciting part of Camden Market, it’s the perfect place to visit if you need a few new T-shirts during your stay in London!

In fact, there is a lot for sale here. You can find everything from cult TV clothing to knock-off designer brands. It’s a classic market, and you’ll find good deals and hidden gems stashed away amongst the stalls.

Buck Street Market also has a new addition in that many of its stalls were redesigned when large shipping containers were brought in to house new market stalls and to give the street even more food vendors. It’s an exciting time in Camden, and things are changing yet again.

Camden Lock Market

Continue along Camden High Street, and you’ll stumble upon Regents Canal, where you can find Camden Lock Market. This is the most famous area in Camden Market, and it’s the place that gives the entire market its name.

This was where the market began in 1974; since then it’s grown outwards, along the canal and down Camden High Street.

Nestled around Camden Lock, you can find hundreds of market stalls and vendors, and you’ll find a huge range of products for sale from T-shirts and vintage clothing to excellent fast food.

In fact, the street food is one of the best reasons to visit Camden Market and you can find some of the best near Camden Lock. There’s a truly international range of food available, and you’ll be tantalised by the vendors and cooks offering you tasters before you buy to entice you in. It’s loud, it’s noisy and it’s impossible to walk away hungry.

For sale, you’ll find Indian curries, burgers, classic fish and chips, huge boxes of Chinese food and cuisine from every country imaginable.

Camden-Lock

Stables Market

Stables Market is another part of Camden Market that was previously separate until it joined forces with Camden Lock Market to create a sort of super-sized market.

It was a good move and both markets have grown exponentially and essentially run into one another, as they merge and spillover on both sides of the canal.

Stables Market runs along Chalk Farm Road and, in a previous life, the area was a horse stables, hence its name.

The horses were there for use in Camden’s bustling industrial world and for use on the canal into the early 20th century. With the decline of horse transport, the stables became obsolete until it became the home of a new marketplace.

Today, there aren’t so many horses or stables around, but the Stables Market has become a legendary London attraction.

Here you can find an array of shops and market stalls both indoors and outdoors, and many are set up in the heritage-listed buildings that have been taken over by the retail and hospitality industry.

The most famous shop in the Stables Market is Cyberdog, a unique retail outlet that represents Camden’s alternative side. This is a shop for techno lovers, as you’re greeted by employees whose sole and singular task is to dance on a podium all day. It’s a strange and bizarre place and a tourist site in its own right.

New Developments in Camden Market

Camden Market seems to be constantly in a state of redevelopment, and given the nature of the market things are always in flux here.

Large parts of the market are scheduled for redevelopment, as Camden has become one of London’s most visited tourist areas in recent years. One area that is currently under regeneration is Camden Lock Village. This was once an integral part of the market, until a fire destroyed much of the area. It’s set to be turned into a swanky new development with shops and more market space, and will hopefully retain the character of Camden when it’s open.

Restaurants, Bars and Pubs

As well as the markets stalls and the food vendors, there are plenty of restaurants, bars and pubs to call into when you are visiting Camden Market.

If you’re looking for authentic British pub grub then there are plenty of classic Camden pubs to have lunch or dinner at and to enjoy a few pints of beer too.

At night, Camden comes alive with drinkers and parties, as Camden Town is well known for its excellent nightlife, bars and clubs.

Camden Bar

Music and Artwork at Camden Market

Camden Town has long attracted trendsetters, hipsters, artists and musicians and it truly is one of the most eclectic areas in London. The markets are no exception. As you walk around and make your way through the crowds you’ll soon notice that there is a lot of street art and graffiti in Camden.

It’s one of the best reasons to visit too because the walls have even been used as a canvas by infamous street artists such as Banksy. You can find some of his most iconic pieces hidden around Camden Town.

You might also see a statue dedicated to Amy Winehouse because this was where the famous singer made a name for herself. Camden has a rich musical tradition and in many of the bars and pubs around the markets you’ll find plenty of live music events all through the week.

There are many legendary music venues to check out in and around the markets, and you can enjoy everything from jazz to punk, and all that’s in between. Classic venues include the likes of The Dublin Castle, KOKO and the Jazz Cafe, and all are places where you might just chance upon the next big act before they become super famous and make it onto the world stage.

amywinehouse-camden

This is one of the most happening parts of London. There’s always something going on in Camden. While you’re in town browsing the stalls at Camden Market, checking out the street art and sampling all that tasty street food, check out Premium Tours fantastic range of London tours to see the best the city has to offer.

02 Arena

Here’s Where to See Live Music in London

The United Kingdom has an exceptional live music scene, and London is always at the forefront of the best musical trends. It’s the heart and soul of the country’s musical talent, and it’s a stage where the world’s best bands and artists come to play to packed crowds.

London has some incredible music venues, ranging from the glamorous arenas of the O2 and Wembley where famous stars play to thousands of people, to the grimy and dark back rooms of pubs in Camden or Shoreditch where rising stars begin their careers.

Many of London’s smaller venues have a lot of history behind them too, and there are few other cities in the world that can match the British capital for musical heritage. London is one of the best cities in the world for live music. Here are our favourite venues to see live music in London.

O2 Arena

The O2 Arena is the second largest music venue and indoor events space in the United Kingdom. Since the mid-2000s, it’s been playing host to some of the biggest tours and artists in the world.

This is a huge venue – in the UK, only the Manchester Arena is bigger – and The O2 Arena has become one of the most iconic live music venues in the world, since the old Millennium Dome was repurposed and turned into an events space.

The arena hosts big world tours and can house thousands of screaming fans, both seated and standing, making this one of the best and the biggest musical experiences in London.

The SSE Arena, Wembley

The SSE Arena, Wembley is London’s second-largest indoor live music venue, after The O2 Arena. It’s one of the best places in the capital to see headlining acts from around the world.   

Wembley Arena is one of the city’s most iconic music venues, and it’s found in the shadow of the equally iconic Wembley Stadium, where live music events are held throughout the year.

This is a historic place, as the building dates back to the 1930s when it was originally built as a swimming pool. Since the late 1940s, it’s been used as a music and events venue, and over the years many historic names have been on the bill, from the Beatles to the Spice Girls.

Wembley-Arena

Eventim Apollo

Another classic live music arena to visit in London is the Eventim Apollo. Formerly known as the Hammersmith Apollo, it’s located in the west London district of Hammersmith. Since 1932, the Apollo has been hosting music and other entertainment events to packed crowds.

The Hammersmith Apollo is set in a heritage-listed building, and it’s one of the most classic live music venues in the capital. The Apollo has had various different names and sponsors over the years, but it’s always kept its brilliant atmosphere and feel. With a capacity of only around 5,000 people, the performances here are much more intimate and personal than performances in larger indoor arenas such as the O2 or SSE Arena, Wembley.

The Dublin Castle

Camden Town is well known for its alternative, trendsetting vibes, and the music scene in the north London district is second to none in the capital. Camden is the place to visit for iconic and historic music venues, and it’s the place to visit to find the next big acts before they become famous.

One of Camden’s most famous live music venues is The Dublin Castle. This small pub is hidden away in the heart of Camden Town and is often referred to as the home of Britpop. Many famous bands and musicians have played within the cramped confines of The Dublin Castle, before going on to become world famous.

Madness was the first band to really bring the Dublin Castle fame, while other acts that have passed through the doors here include Amy Winehouse and Blur.

The Dublin Castle

The Old Blue Last

Another London pub that always seems to be at the forefront of the capital’s music scene is The Old Blue Last. Set on the hipster streets of Shoreditch, few other pubs in the capital have such a long history and such a reputation as this.

The Old Blue Last is owned by Vice Media, and they regularly host parties and live music events. The pub dates back over 300 years and has long been serving London’s patrons with round after round of ale and beer.

The pub and venue hosts live music acts almost every night of the week, and many of the shows are free of charge to watch. It’s a great venue to try and catch the next big bands. Big names that have played here before they made it big include the likes of the Arctic Monkeys and Florence and the Machine.

Jazz Cafe

If rock and pop music isn’t your thing, then London has plenty of live music venues catering to different genres. If you’re into jazz, then head on over to Camden Town where you can enjoy the delights of the famous Jazz Cafe.

For jazz lovers, few other places in London can match the Jazz Cafe for soul and performances here are always intimate. The Jazz Cafe can only host around 400 people, and it’s a great experience listening to jazz in such a small setting.

The Jazz Cafe has also branched out into other music genres too, and they host reggae, hip hop and blues artists too, amongst many others.

Cafe Oto

If intimate live music venues are what you’re searching for in London, then look no further than Cafe Oto. Located in the heart of Dalston – a district that’s famous for its music and venues – Cafe Oto is a simple cafe and restaurant during the day, but by night it turns into a beautiful live music space.

Cafe Oto is often voted to be one of London’s coolest live music venues because nothing beats it for either charm or grace. You’ll find jazz artists and electronic acts playing to small crowds at Cafe Oto, while the venue also hosts regular workshops and cultural exchanges when they aren’t hosting performances.

Royal Albert Hall

Located in South Kensington, the Royal Albert Hall is one of London’s most highly regarded and well-known music venues. This is musical history at its finest, because Queen Victoria personally opened the venue in 1871. Since then, it’s played host to many of the country’s best concerts and musical performances.

The Royal Albert Hall is best known for hosting the Proms, a classical music event that’s held every year and is broadcast across the world. The historic building can host around 5000 people, in tiered seating stands, and even if you can’t get hold of tickets to an event here, you can still join guided tours of the fascinating building, to learn more about the intriguing history of the Royal Albert Hall.

Royal Albert Hall

Alexandra Palace

Another classic and historic music venue to visit in London is Alexandra Palace, referred to affectionately as the ‘Ally Pally’. This iconic venue was originally opened in 1875, and it was intended to be a theatre. It was a theatre that was far ahead of its time too, and it revolutionised the Victorian entertainment industry.

The wider Alexandra Palace entertainment complex has several different entertainment spaces, and there are theatres and performance venues within this grand Victorian-era palace. As well as live music events, which are held in suitably Victorian climes within the heritage-listed building.

It’s a beautiful place to see concerts, musical performances and other shows and events while you are visiting London.

Roundhouse

In Camden Town, the Roundhouse is one of north London’s most historic music venues. It might not be as well known as the Royal Albert Hall or have the prestige of Alexandra Palace, but the Roundhouse has history enough to match both. Being in the heart of Camden, the venue is known for hosting artists and festivals throughout the years, including the likes of The Doors and David Bowie, and the BBC’s Electric Proms.

The Roundhouse is a heritage-listed building that dates back to the 1850s. This was never a purpose-built events arena; the Roundhouse was originally built to house a railway turntable. After this was abandoned, the building has been used variously as a warehouse and storehouse, until it was repurposed as an events space in the 20th century. It’s a Camden classic and a fantastic place for live music events.

The Camden Assembly

Camden Town is absolutely packed with excellent live music venues, and another great place to visit in the district is The Camden Assembly. This classic Camden venue has recently had a name change and was formerly known for years as the Barfly.

The Camden Assembly is really just a small pub, but it’s earned its rightful place amongst the legendary live music venues of London for hosting some of the country’s most up and coming artists before they hit the world stage.

There’s a small capacity of just 200 people, and it’s one of the most atmospheric places to experience live bands in London. When it was known as Barfly, the pub hosted such greats as Coldplay and other Britpop sensations when they were still making it onto the music scene.

The Blues Kitchen, Camden

While you’re in Camden, you can also visit The Blues Kitchen, a legendary restaurant that hosts some of the best blues evenings in the capital.

There are several branches around the capital now, in places like Shoreditch and Brixton too, but the Camden branch is easily the most well known. The restaurant focuses on serving excellent food that’s inspired by the culinary traditions of America’s deep south, and you can enjoy everything from slow-cooked brisket to huge servings of chicken wings.

The Blues Kitchen hosts regular blues and jazz artists through the week and on weekends too, and you’ll find many famous and up-and-coming stars playing at the restaurant. If you love good food and good music, then there’s nowhere better to spend the evening than the Blues Kitchen.

Union Chapel

One of the most unique live music venues in London is found in Islington, and it’s unusual because it’s also a fully functioning church.

As a church, Union Chapel dates back to 1874. In recent years, it’s earned fame by hosting music events and also for caring for the homeless through its charity projects.

While regular church services are held here, the building is transformed at night into a beautiful live music space, and bands and performers play within the atmospheric stonewalls of this Victorian-era church.

O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire

Another classic London venue catering to larger crowds and bigger bands is O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire. Dating back to 1903, this was originally designed to be a theatre, before being taken over by the BBC to be used as a filming location for different television shows. In the 1990s, the venue was transformed into a live music space, and since then it’s become a well-known destination for quality bands and performers.

This is still a small venue compared to the big arenas though, and O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire can only hold around 2,000 spectators. That doesn’t stop big bands joining the bill though, with past performances including David Bowie, Pearl Jam and Mumford and Sons. It’s a legendary place and one of the best live music venues to visit in London.

Shepherds Bush 02 Empire

london buildings

A Guide to the Best Neighbourhoods to Stay in London

London is a sprawling metropolis, a huge city that stretches for mile upon mile on either side of the River Thames, where millions of people live and many millions more tourists visit each year.

London can be a challenge to navigate. Even if it’s not your first time visiting the capital, it can be difficult figuring out one district from the next and deciding where to base yourself during your stay.

The city has many different and unique neighbourhoods to choose between, from the high-class properties and expensive accommodation in the likes of Chelsea or Kensington, to the boutique and happening streets of Shoreditch or Camden. There’s somewhere to suit every style in the capital. To help you to decide, here’s our guide to the best neighbourhoods to stay in London.

Victoria

If you are planning on enjoying a really touristy trip to London, then one of the best places to stay in the city is Victoria. This is central London, and there are few other neighbourhoods that are quite so conveniently placed as this.

Victoria has excellent transport connections – numerous buses and trains connect you to the rest of the country, while London’s airports are easily reached too. If it’s your first time in London or you’re just looking to see the most popular sights, then in Victoria you are close to classic and iconic landmarks such as Buckingham Palace and Hyde Park.

You’re never more than a short walk away from London’s best places, and you can easily get to Westminster to see the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben or cross over the River Thames to explore Southbank. You can see the Changing of the Guard ceremony outside Buckingham Palace, or stroll through the corridors and stately rooms of Kensington Palace. St James’s Park is always a beautiful place for a walk, particularly when the sun is out, while there are museums and art galleries to browse if the weather takes a turn for the worse.

buckingham palace london

Kensington

Kensington is the famous London district located close to palaces, museums and art galleries, and that’s known for its upscale accommodation and association with royalty.

This historic part of the city borders Hyde Park and is where you can find Kensington Palace, the royal residence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge amongst other members of the Royal family. Don’t expect to find any budget accommodation here though, as this is the realm of London’s elite, although if money is no object then you can find an exceptional array of both hotels and serviced apartments in what is one of the flashiest parts of the capital.

In Kensington, as well as being able to rub shoulders with royalty, you would also be staying close to London’s best museums. This is where you can find some of London’s oldest institutions. You can visit the Natural History Museum to learn about the world around us and to marvel at the impressive dinosaur skeletons on display here. After that, head down the road to the Science Museum, where you can delve into both the history and future of science and technology. Finally, you can visit the Victoria and Albert Museum, which since the mid 19th century has been amassing the world’s largest collection of exhibits focusing on art and design.

Chelsea

South of Kensington, you can find the equally flamboyant and high-end streets of Chelsea. This is another of London’s most affluent areas, and you can expect to find a high level of accommodation here although, of course, you’ll also need to pay for the privilege of staying in this swanky part of the city.

In recent years, Chelsea was made famous by the reality TV show, Made in Chelsea, which follows the lavish lifestyles of the neighbourhood’s rich and young, and you’ll quickly find that this is a district of wealth and extravagance. You can enjoy some of London’s most elite bars, cafes and restaurants in Chelsea, as well as some of the city’s most high-end shopping.

The district is also incredibly close to central London, but it’s far removed from the crowds and a welcome escape from the chaos of the city centre and from the city’s most popular tourist attractions. If you can afford the price tag that comes with it, then staying in Chelsea is one of the best options for your trip to London.

Covent Garden

Another fantastically central location to stay in during your time in London is Covent Garden. It’s hard to pin down what exactly counts as central London, such is the city’s sprawl and size, but one of the centres for all things shopping, eating and entertainment is most definitely the Covent Garden area.

This is the perfect place to stay if you are visiting London to immerse yourself in its culture, as if you’re in Covent Garden then you are just a short walk away from iconic locations such as Leicester Square and the Royal Opera House. This is the best place for lovers of the theatre, movies and musicals, and you can spend your evenings enjoying the best of the city’s shows and performances, be it at the cinema or at the opera.

As the home of London’s most important entertainment institutions, Covent Garden also has a huge range of accommodation to go with it. You’ll find an impressive array of international hotels on offer, ranging in price from budget options right through to five-star establishments.

Across the district you have a fine range of dining options too, from historic pubs and taverns serving up traditional English pub grub and plenty of drinks, to fine dining and everything else in between. From Covent Garden, it’s easy to get to the rest of London’s most well-known sights and districts too, with Buckingham Palace just a short walk away in one direction and St Paul’s Cathedral just a stroll in the other direction.

covent garden

Shoreditch

Shoreditch is in London’s East End, and this happening neighbourhood has a very different look and feel to it in comparison to the likes of Kensington or Chelsea.

This is London’s so-called ‘hipster’ district, a place at the forefront of the city’s new trends, be it fashion, food or drink, and it’s always a lively, vibrant place to stay. If you want to be in the heart of London’s contemporary cultural scene, then this is the place to be.

Shoreditch has a great range of accommodation, and being located further out from central London you’ll find that the prices are much more reasonable here, especially given the value on offer. You can find excellent hotels at good prices, and plenty of bustling hostels filled with budget travellers.

Shoreditch is known for its nightlife too. If you are looking for a fun-filled evening, late night parties and great drink deals, then this is the place to stay. Every night of the week you can find something happening in Shoreditch, and it’s a fantastic place if you’re up for a few drinks.

Camden

Camden is also a neighbourhood that has a big reputation when it comes to being at the forefront of trends. This bustling part of London is a fantastic place to stay if you are looking to be immersed in both London’s multi-cultural atmosphere and contemporary culture.

Camden is known for its canals and its markets. The beautiful Regent’s Canal flows through the neighbourhood, and you can walk along its banks and enjoy the local pubs that line the waterway.

Camden Market is a dense collection of lively market stalls and shops, and you can find almost anything imaginable for sale here. The market is also home to some excellent food, from busy restaurants and bars to simple yet delicious street food vendors. You can find food from across the world here, from Jamaican Jerk Chicken to authentic Indian curries, reflecting the interesting mix of communities that call North London home.

Like Shoreditch, as Camden is a little further out from central London, you can expect to find cheaper accommodation here, including plenty of budget hotels and hostels. Camden also has a lively nightlife too and is well regarded for its music scene. You’ll find bands and musicians performing at local pubs and venues all through the week.

camden town

Bermondsey

Located on the south side of the Thames just over the iconic London Bridge, Bermondsey is one of the best neighbourhoods to stay in London if you are looking to be close to the action, but don’t want to spend a fortune.

Bermondsey was traditionally very much a working-class area, and it was historically a place of industry and factories. Much has changed though, and today many of the old warehouses and factory buildings have now been renovated and redesigned as flats, venues and even bars and restaurants, making this very much a revitalised place to visit.

The mix of old and new in Bermondsey is wonderful and you’ll find excellent boutique accommodation as well as budget options, while the area is never too far from central London and from some of the city’s best sights. You can easily walk to the fantastic Borough Market, where you’ll find some of London’s best food. You can explore old cathedrals, the Tower of London is just across the river, and there’s plenty more to do, too.

Notting Hill

One of London’s most famous areas is Notting Hill, the district made world famous by the film of the same name, which brought the neighbourhood to international attention in the 1990s.

Notting Hill is a great place to stay if you love colourful houses, charming cafes and enjoy both the vibrancy and creativity of London. You can explore filming locations from Notting Hill if you’re a movie fan, and you can enjoy the fact that the neighbourhood is far enough out from the city to make it an enjoyable place to stay, yet close enough to still get around easily.

On weekends Notting Hill is the site of Portobello Market, which attracts people from across the city, while once a year the neighbourhood hosts the epic Notting Hill Carnival, a celebration of the area’s incredible diversity, tolerance and multiculturalism that’s become one of the biggest events of its kind in Europe.

There’s a good range of accommodation too, including lots of guesthouses, B&Bs and boutique-style accommodation. Notting Hill can get busy when events are on, particularly the carnival, so make sure to book in advance if the dates of your trip coincide with this.

notting hill

Greenwich

Often overlooked, particularly by first-time visitors to London, Greenwich is a little further out from the centre of the city than other neighbourhoods you could stay in, but it offers you the chance to see a different side of the capital.

Greenwich is on the eastern side of the city, stretching along the south of the River Thames, and it’s one of the capital’s most historic destinations. This is where Greenwich Mean Time begins, where you can find the important Greenwich Observatory, and where you can explore the intriguing Cutty Sark Museum. You can stroll along the banks of the river or take the lengthy Greenwich Foot Tunnel, which runs under the Thames itself and connects both sides of the river together.

As well as the Cutty Sark – an old merchant ship that’s been beautifully restored – you can also learn more about Greenwich’s fascinating maritime history at the excellent National Maritime Museum, where you’ll be given an insight into the area’s long association with the oceans.

Greenwich is also home to the Millennium Dome, the iconic building that was constructed to celebrate the year 2000.  Today it’s one of London’s premier events arenas, where you can watch bands and shows throughout the year.

There are markets, pubs, restaurants and everything else you might need for your stay in London, and with an excellent range of accommodation available, from small family run B&Bs to international hotels, you might find that Greenwich keeps you in the city for longer than you were expecting.

To discover more about the culture, history and attractions of London, check out Premium Tours’ fantastic range of London tours

Garden Maze

These Are the Coolest Mazes in and around London

England has a long history when it comes to mazes. These mind-boggling attractions have for centuries amused, confused and baffled those brave enough to enter their twists and turns.

A maze is designed to confuse and to entertain, and they became popular amongst royalty and the rich in the 16th century. Indeed, many of the best mazes around today are still found in old country estates. Some of the best are found in and around London, including the iconic hedge maze at Hampton Court Palace that has been there for 300 years. It is undoubtedly a great thing to do whilst in London.

But in London, you can also find a new wave of labyrinths and mazes aiming to test your nerve and your intellect. Escape rooms are well and truly booming across the capital, while you can even enter the revered Crystal Maze, for an experience like no other.

Here are the coolest mazes in and around London.

  1. Hampton Court Palace Maze

Hampton Court Palace Maze is easily the most well known maze in the United Kingdom. Over the centuries it’s confused and baffled many an intrepid maze-goer with its high hedges and elaborate design.

In fact, as far as mazes go this one is legendary because Hampton Court Palace Maze has the distinction of being the oldest hedge maze in the world. It claims to be the most famous maze in the world too, and they probably aren’t wrong about that either.

The maze began life in the late 17th century, meaning that today it’s well over 300 years old. For centuries, people have been trying to find their way around the maze. It was originally designed for William III of Orange, the King of England at the time, and, in the beginning, only a select few royals and guests would have been allowed to enter this labyrinth.

It’s now open to the general public. While you can purchase maze-only tickets, you will want to explore the palace itself too, if you’ve never visited before. Hampton Court Palace is one of the most fascinating royal palaces, particularly given its association with the infamous Henry VIII and his many wives.

The maze has around half a mile of different pathways, all surrounded by expertly maintained hedgerows. It generally takes around 20 minutes to half an hour to reach the centre point from the entrance, but that, of course, depends on your maze talents.

green-tunnel Hampton Court

  1. Crystal Palace Park Maze 

Not the Crystal Maze – we’ll get to that one later – but the Crystal Palace Park Maze, which is one of London’s best, and easily a competitor for the title of coolest maze.

This is another legendary hedge maze. Although it’s not quite as old as the one at Hampton Court Palace, it still dates back to the 1870s and can claim to be one of the largest of its type in the United Kingdom.

It’s located within the lovely grounds of Crystal Palace Park and is a throwback to the Victorian Era. The Crystal Palace area was named for the Crystal Palace Exhibition Building, which formed the centrepiece of the Great Exhibition in the 1850s. The maze became another addition to the park, as it entertained and amazed the Victorian citizens of London, alongside life-size statues of dinosaurs that were also placed – and can still be found today – in Crystal Palace Park.

The maze is free to explore, and it covers an area of around 1,500 square metres, being 50 metres across in diameter. This is a true labyrinth of hedgerows, so be prepared to get lost time after time, as you turn the corner only to find dead end, after a dead end.

Crystal Palace Park is located in southeast London, an easy train or bus ride from London’s city centre.

crystal-palace

  1. Brent Lodge Park Millennium Maze

Head into the suburbs of London, west of the centre towards Wembley, and you’ll find the little known Brent Lodge Park Millennium Maze.

The maze was commissioned to commemorate the start of the new millennium in the year 2000, and for the past two decades, it’s been successfully confusing and frustrating those who enter its rows.

This is a modern hedge maze, but it’s one that’s really designed for kids because the hedges have yet to grow to the same high heights as those of Crystal Palace or Hampton Court. Tall adults can easily see over the top, which, of course, is perfect if you don’t actually want to get lost!

The twists and turns are still confusing enough to disrupt your sense of space and judgement though. Even if you can see over the hedges, you might still find yourself more perplexed than you imagined possible. Don’t be too confident when you start making your way through the maze!

Within Brent Lodge Park you can also find a range of other activities and sights aimed at kids, including the charming Hanwell Zoo, a conservation area where you can find exotic animals from around the world, including marmosets.

  1. Hall Place and Gardens

On the opposite side of London in the far eastern suburbs, you can find the glorious grounds of Hall Place and Gardens. This is a little known county estate that was eventually surrounded by the ever-expanding mass of London, but it’s still a welcome retreat from the outside world.

The maze here is a small affair – and in all honesty, it’s got nothing on the likes of Hampton Court Palace – but it is still a lovely place to visit, especially given the expansive grounds and gardens. You’ll also find that few people visit Hall Place, especially in comparison to Hampton Court Palace.

Hall Place dates back to 1537 and is an often-overlooked piece of history in the London suburbs. This is a heritage-listed house and it’s remarkably well preserved. Inside the house, you can find an eclectic collection of exhibits telling the tale of the house and the former lords and ladies who lived within its walls.

The gardens are the crowning achievement of Hall Place, and you can find some marvellous topiary hedges, shaped into the form of heraldic lions, as well as the beautiful maze.

  1. Blenheim Palace Maze

Take a day trip from London and head out west to Oxfordshire, where you can try out your maze navigation skills at Blenheim Palace. Jump on the train or take the bus from London to Oxford, then make your way into the countryside to one of England’s grandest stately homes.

Blenheim Palace is the home of the Duke of Marlborough and his family, although much of the estate is open to the public. The palace dates back to the early 18th century and its historic importance has led the estate to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The grounds are marvellous and the history held within the palace walls is fascinating, but the real draw of a visit here is, of course, its maze.

Within the vast grounds, you can find the Marlborough Maze, which could be one of the most complicated hedge mazes in the country. The maze stretches for at least two miles, covering many turns, dead ends and false routes towards its elegant centre.

There are even several viewing platforms that you can climb up for an overhead view if you get stuck, which is very common in this maze. When you’ve been wandering around lost for what seems to be an eternity, you’ll welcome a bird’s eye view of the maze!blenheim-palace maze

  1. Hever Castle and Gardens

Just outside London, you can find the historic grounds of Hever Castle and Gardens, which lies close to Tunbridge Wells in the county of Kent.

This wonderful castle dates back over 700 years to the 13th century, and over the years was the home of many infamous characters, including the unfortunate Anne Boleyn, the executed wife of Henry VIII.

There’s a lot of heritage waiting to be uncovered at Hever Castle but, more importantly, there are also two mazes to be completed. You’ll certainly get your money’s worth at Hever Castle, with a Yew Maze and a Water Maze.

The Yew Maze is a classic English hedge maze, and it dates back over a century to when the wealthy owner of the castle decided he needed some outdoor entertainment. It’s marvellously well trimmed, and you’ll need around half an hour to get from the entrance to the centre, and then to find your way back out again.

More impressive even than the Yew Maze is the fabulous Water Maze. This is about as unusual as it gets when it comes to the world of mazes, and the Water Maze at Hever Castle is often sought out by maze enthusiasts. Found on an island, stepping stones and walkways have been raised above the water and lead to a small stone ruin in the middle.

The aim is to get to the stone ruin without getting wet because if you step on the wrong stone you’ll unleash jets of water that can soak the unwary maze-goer. It’s an unusual maze concept, and it adds a whole new level of excitement to the game. Be sure to bring a towel though, and be careful taking your children over the water too!

  1. The Crystal Maze Live Experience

For many years, through the 1990s and now again in its rebooted form, audiences have been mesmerised by the eccentricities of the Crystal Maze, a TV show that forces teams to solve puzzles as they make their way through an exotic labyrinth.

The cult TV show had a huge comeback recently when a live version of the maze was created in London. Fans can now immerse themselves in a real-life Crystal Maze, and try to complete what could easily be the coolest maze in London.

Just like in the TV show, you’ll need a team of friends with you to complete this maze, and together you’ll need to work your way through the different zones while you complete the different challenges to score points.

Each zone has a different theme – Futuristic, Industrial, Medieval and Aztec – and each zone is faithful to the original. You’ll be timed as you enter the different rooms in search of the crystals, and at the end of the maze, you’ll even get to enter the famous Crystal Dome, as you hurry to collect the tokens needed to win the game.

The Crystal Maze has become hugely popular in its live experience form, and can currently be found in the West End. You will need to make reservations in advance though, and ensure that you’ve assembled the best team that you can to complete the maze!

live-escape-game

  1. Escape Rooms

Mazes, while being a lot of fun, might seem outdated to some, a vestige of the Victorian Era and of day’s past. But the spirit of the maze never gets old. It lives on, and the challenge and intrigue can be found in its most modern form in Escape Rooms.

Escape Rooms have surged in popularity in recent years, and the concept is very much the same as a maze, just with more narrative and with more problems to solve. Escape Rooms can be found all over London, and the concept is simple. You are locked in a room, or indeed a maze of different rooms, and you have to escape within an allotted time period. To get out, you have to solve clues and figure out puzzles, while navigating your way around the room, and any other rooms that might be attached too.

Escape Rooms have different themes and backstories, and you have to work as a team to get out. They are modern-day labyrinths, and they couldn’t be more fun. Plus, being inside you don’t need the sun to be shining to complete an Escape Room, as you might want it to be for an outdoor hedge maze!

While you’re in London, getting lost in mazes and seeking a way out from Escape Rooms, check out Premium Tours’ fantastic selection of London tours. As London experts, we know how to make your London experience truly memorable.

dimsum london

These Are the Best Places for Dim Sum in London

There’s not much that can beat a hot basket of fresh dim sum. Despite the fact that London is thousands of miles away from the south of China, where this iconic dish originates, the British capital can still serve up some of the most authentic dim sum outside of Asia.

The capital’s rich, multicultural heritage comes to life when you head out in search of dim sum, as London is bursting with dim sum goodness. This beautiful Chinese dish, which translates literally as ‘to touch the heart’, makes a hearty impression on all who try it. You can enjoy these simple, yet profound dumplings in many different ways. Whether you are after your dim sum steamed, fried, sweet or savoury, you’ll find just the right style for you in London’s many restaurants.

Start your culinary journey eating the best dim sum in Soho’s Chinatown, but save room because, across the capital, there are many more dim sum restaurants to indulge in!

chinese dim sum

Opium Cocktail Bar and Dim Sum Parlour

Our list of the best places for dim sum in London kicks off in Oriental style with the Opium Cocktail Bar and Dim Sum Parlour. This intriguingly named bar and restaurant is as curious as the name suggests, and it’s a fascinating venue that’s packed with both character and flavour.

If you can find your way into Opium, then it’s like taking a step back into 19th century Hong Kong, as you’ll be immersed into the world of the Far East. This is Speak Easy style, so the bar itself is hidden behind a nondescript door in central London. It’s quite literally like walking into a forbidden opium den.

The focus of this establishment is cocktails and dim sum. You’ll find a huge array of drinks on offer late into the night, and you can complement the masterfully crafted drinks with masterfully created dim sum.

dumplings

Hakkasan

Hakkasan is a worldwide chain of incredibly upmarket Cantonese restaurants found in such glamorous locations as New York, Dubai and Shanghai. The London restaurant is one of the most highly regarded, and it comes complete with a Michelin star.

Hakkasan serves up a beautiful range of dishes that take inspiration from southern China and, of course, dim sum is one of their specialities. The restaurant makes use of seasonal and local ingredients, ensuring that the dim sum you can eat in London is very different from the dim sum in the same restaurant in say the United Arab Emirates.

That unique flair gives the food at Hakkasan a truly local flavour, without losing sight of the Cantonese inspiration, and you’ll find that the menu and flavours change constantly through the year.

As well as excellent dim sum, you’ll also be able to order from their marvellous wine list and creative cocktail menu, both of which successfully fuse Eastern and Western tastes and inspiration.

Yauatcha

The same team behind Hakkasan set their sights on creating a culinary empire. In London, you can also visit the Michelin-starred Yauatcha, which is located in Soho and also keeps to the highest standards.

Whereas Hakkasan has a broader menu that delves into an array of Cantonese cuisines, Yauatcha is more focused and puts its energy into crafting the ultimate dim sum.

This is one of the best places to visit for dim sum lovers, particularly if you aren’t worried about price but are only focused on quality and flavour. The atmosphere is elegant and sleek, and the fusion of flavours, both traditional Cantonese and Western accompaniments, are seamless.

The traditional feel is added to by the extensive tea menu. Traditionally, dim sum is eaten alongside a hefty dose of hot tea, and you’ll find that Yauatcha serves up the heftiest and most varied doses of tea in the capital.

A. Wong

A. Wong is also one of London’s high-end Chinese restaurants, offering an exceptional glimpse into the true diversity of China’s culinary tradition. The restaurant is the work of Andrew Wong, a legendary Chinese-British chef who has been bringing traditional Chinese cooking techniques to contemporary London.

A. Wong is a standout from the regular Chinese fare in London and across the rest of the country. This is because it dares to stray from what has become traditional ‘Chinese-British’ cuisine, or the version of Chinese food imported from Hong Kong in the last few decades that the public now see as synonymous with wider China, even if that’s far from the truth.

Andrew Wong offers a ten-course tasting menu that shows the varied cuisine of the country, and not just the cuisine from one small part of China. As well as this tasting menu, there’s a beautiful dim sum menu that also takes inspiration from across the whole of China, rather than just the south, giving this restaurant a dynamic slant over many of London’s other Chinese establishments.

dim sum

Kym’s

Andrew Wong isn’t just stopping with his famed, Michelin-starred A. Wong restaurant though. He’s recently opened a new venture in the Bloomberg Arcade in the City of London. His new restaurant is simply called Kym’s, which was the name of his parent’s original Chinese restaurant in London when he was growing up in the city.

The original Kym’s was more of a greasy, Cantonese-style eatery that many Brits will be familiar with from that classic Chinese takeaway night on weekends that everyone has experienced on one too many occasions. While he took inspiration from this style of cooking, Andrew Wong also wanted to turn the Chinese culinary scene on its head in London, and the new Kym’s is very far removed from his parents’ restaurant.

Kym’s is as stylish as it is innovative, and you’ll find some of the best dim sum in London on the menu. Kym’s blends the history and heritage of Chinese culinary traditions with the more modern Chinese-British culinary scene and creates a wonderful fusion that’s quite unlike either of its primary inspirations.

Mamalan

Really authentic Chinese food can be difficult to find in the inspired, fusion restaurants of multicultural London, but one place that is serving up dishes that are as true to their origins as you can find in Britain, is Mamalan.

Mamalan takes its culinary expertise from the streets of Beijing. While you can now find it in two locations, in Brixton and Clapham, the restaurants haven’t lost sight of their first goals, which was to serve up street food from China to Londoners.

The owner’s parents ran small street stalls in Beijing, and this is reflected in the authentic quality of the dishes on offer today, thousands of miles away, in the British capital rather than the Chinese capital. You can find supreme, handmade dumplings on offer, produced in a distinctive Beijing style that’s hard to find elsewhere in London. As well as the gorgeous dumplings, Mamalans also serves up homemade noodles, as well as homemade bao buns too.

Ugly Dumpling

The creatively named Ugly Dumpling has quickly become a hit in Soho, thanks to its creative dumplings and dim sum. The aim of the Ugly Dumpling is to transform dumplings from a simple snack into an innovative London staple, and they aren’t afraid of trying new things and fusing together different culinary styles from both East and West to create something new.

This is where dumplings are taken to the next level. While they have the traditional heritage of dim sum at the core of their ethos, Ugly Dumpling does a great job taking seasonal British ingredients and taking advantage of London’s vast multiculturalism to produce dumplings that are quite unlike anywhere else in the city.

With the simple dumpling concept as the basis for the menu, Ugly Dumpling adds in unusual ingredients such as salmon, truffles or halloumi, ingredients you wouldn’t expect to find on your dim sum menu, but ingredients, that, for the most part, seem to work gloriously. Ugly Dumpling started out as a food truck, but despite moving to restaurant premises and setting up a more traditional shop in London, surprisingly, they’ve still managed to keep the prices mostly at street food level.

dumplings dimsum

My Neighbours the Dumplings

Equally well named and creatively inspired is the excellent My Neighbours the Dumplings restaurant in Hackney. These guys specialise in all things dumplings and dim sum, but they also specialise in Sake.

The focus is on all types of dumplings – not just dim sum – and you can choose from a wonderful menu that takes inspiration from across Asia and aims to showcase as much of the dumpling world to London as it can. The style of serving and eating though is distinctly dim sum, as you’ll be able to mix and match your dumplings, as they are served up basket style.

To accompany your dumpling selection, you can choose from the extensive Sake menu, and you’ll find Sake brands and Sake cocktails that you didn’t even know existed before you stepped into My Neighbours the Dumplings.

Ping Pong

Another of London’s unique dim sum restaurants is Ping Pong, and you’ll find that this contemporary dim sum and cocktail bar has eight different venues across the capital.

Ping Pong certainly takes top marks for its name, but you won’t actually find any Ping Pong tables here. What you will find though, are some of the best dim sum in London and a huge menu that’s perfect for sharing.

Order up a few baskets of dim sum, order a few steamed buns to go with it, and if you’re really hungry, you can even order fresh bowls of noodles or soup to accompany the dim sum feast.

Hutong

In Beijing, the Hutongs are a historic part of the city – small communities with narrow streets and heritage-listed houses that have stood unchanged in hundreds of years. That sense of tradition has been brought to London, and at the Hutong restaurant you can enjoy the cuisine of northern China, including excellent dim sum-style dumplings in a modern setting.

That setting is as superb as the food, because Hutong is found a world away from the streets of Beijing and high up on the 33rd floor of the iconic Shard building in London. This is where the north of China meets head-on with London, and it’s a beautiful fusion of food and culture that’s well worth the price tag.

asian dim sum

Bun House

Buns aren’t strictly dim sum, but they are from the same dumpling-inspired family. In London the best place to find some authentic Cantonese-style buns is at the Bun House.

It’s a simple name for a simple concept, and you can find a wide selection of buns from across Asia. The focus is on Cantonese-style bao buns, which you can find in ample supply on the menu, and in various shapes, sizes and with a huge range of delicious fillings.

Those filings are exquisite. You can find a range of choices that will leave you wanting to try everything on the menu, from traditional Chinese fillings to more modern London-fusion fillings.

Novikov

Novikov has a reputation for being one of the most expensive and exclusive restaurants in London. Equally, it also has a reputation for serving some of the best dim sum in London.

The restaurant might not sound particularly Chinese, but the Asian food served up in the swanky Mayfair establishment is world class. Novikov has two restaurants on the same premises, and you can choose from the Novikov Italian or the Novikov Asian restaurants. If you’re after the dim sum though, head to the Asian floor.

The food is undeniably expensive – in many ways you pay as much for the atmosphere and the chance to see celebrities and footballers dining as you do for the food – but the dim sum is undeniably excellent.

As well as the restaurant, Novikov has a renowned cocktail bar, where you can find classics and an array of fusion drinks. But just remember that prices are equally as high as the food!

If you’re visiting London in search of a dim sum feast, check out Premium Tours’ superb range of London tours. As London experts we can show you the best the city has to offer, including the most delicious places to eat dim sum!

cute london cafes

23 Cute Cafes in London You Need to Try

As any Londoner will tell you, the café culture in London is one of the best in the world. Whether it’s a rose-coloured latte, a chunky slice of toast or a full-on bottomless brunch, London’s cutest cafes have them all.

If you’re visiting the big smoke in the winter months, you might want to choose a cosy indoors spot, to warm up by a fire and watch the world go by out of the windows. In the spring and summer months though, nothing can be more decadent than enjoying a tasty treat in the beautiful fresh air listening to the birds and chatter around you.

London’s café culture extends from cosy nooks to spacious courtyards and pavement eateries. Here are our top 23 picks of London’s cutest cafes.

  1. Peggy Porschen, Belgravia

We’re sure you won’t find a list of London’s cafes without this institution being mentioned. The Instagram generation has made this place top of most people’s to-visit lists if you’re into all things pink, floral and delicious. With famous seasonal floral displays to the outside – including special displays for occasions like Valentine’s Day and Halloween – what’s inside won’t disappoint either. Tuck into cupcakes and biscuits, and choose from a massive hot drinks list – we’re sure you’ll love it all, except perhaps the inevitable queues. We recommend visiting early to enjoy this delicious London café.

  1. Aida, Shoreditch

Set within a pretty vintage clothing shop, Aida may not be as famous, but it’s an equally interesting, quirky and cute café. With a rainbow of speciality lattes to choose from, including Turmeric, Chai, Matcha and Rose, your drink can be as vibrant as your surroundings. The Aida team encourage a leisurely visit with newspapers and free Wi-Fi to enjoy, while you watch the world go by and soak up the cool Shoreditch atmosphere.

  1. Map Maison, Haggerston

A trendy café by day and cocktail bar by night, this is a cute and artsy place to while away the hours with great food and drink. Offering an exceptional bottomless brunch, visiting Map Maison will mean being surrounded by on-trend interiors including local works of art, changing floral displays, and eclectic and urban décor.

  1. Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium, Bethnal Green

Yep, you read it correctly; this café is also a cat emporium. Home to a number of beautifully friendly feline residents to pet and make pals with while sipping your tea and enjoying a delicious morsel or two, Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium is a unique experience. Not one for those with allergies, this vintage-styled tearoom is definitely one to try out for a relaxed break from a busy day of sightseeing.

cat cafe london

  1. Farm Girl Café, Notting Hill

If you’re a fan of markets, this café is in an excellent spot just off Portobello Road, where the world-famous markets are held. Farm Girl Café is situated down a pretty laneway, complete with trailing florals and whitewashed walls to a cute courtyard setting. Great food, aimed more towards healthy eating options as opposed to some of the more sugary treats out there, this is a yummy and virtuous place to visit.

  1. Biscuiteers, Battersea

Set behind a quaint and traditional black-and-white painted façade, the Biscuiteers’ speciality is, as you might expect, biscuits! Baked in a huge variety of shapes and designs, all hand iced with intricately piped and stunning coloured icings, make sure to bring your sweet tooth and a decisive mind when you visit this cute London café, so you don’t spend all your free time trying to choose which one (or ones) to devour. The team behind the café also runs an onsite shop selling everything biscuit-related, and with biscuit-decorating classes also on the menu, you can even try to recreate your favourite.

  1. No. 197 Chiswick Fire Station, Chiswick

This café has a really nice, cosy neighbourhood vibe, with contemporary design and an urban, homely feel, which makes it easy to while away the hours in here. A delicious menu for all day dining, there is a cosy interior and fresh outdoor seating area too, so you will be sure of a comfortable and tasty visit, whatever the weather.

  1. St. Aymes, Connaught Village

Founded by a pair of interior designer sisters, this place is as beautiful as the menu is decadent. With a range of hot drinks, including a 23-carat gold hot chocolate, artisan milkshakes and afternoon teas amongst many other options, this is a must see for any keen photographer.

  1. Feya, Mayfair

All things whimsical and sweet, Feya has a floral ceiling display that makes you feel as though you’ve stepped into a different world when entering. We have it on good authority the food and drinks range are extensive and delicious, so is an excellent spot to take in the atmosphere of a lively central café in the city.

  1. Brickwood, Tooting

Cute and unique cafés with distinct neighbourhood feels, Brickwood cafés are found in various locations across South London. Think exposed brick walls, rough wood cladding and squashy cushions to sink into. There are breakfast options served all day, as well and sweet and savoury treats, an extensive drinks menu, and a casual atmosphere.

breakfast cafes london

  1. Kobo Café, Angel

Looking at the amazing array of sweet and savoury treats on offer here, you may be surprised to hear that Kobo Café endorses healthy and clean living. It provides lots of options for people with allergies, and sources organic, well produced, quality ingredients for its foods, which are handmade on site. A particular mention goes out to its great range of coffee and loose-leaf teas. This place is a true local’s gem!

  1. Bourne & Hollingsworth Buildings, Clerkenwell

If you’d like to be transported to a tropical oasis for a tasty pit stop, this is the spot for you. With palm trees and ferns galore, pretty floral upholstered armchairs to get comfy in, and large expanses of window to watch the world go by, this place is open for casual brunches, lunches, afternoon coffee stops, and goes on well into the night…

  1. Riding House Café, West End

Serving an extensive breakfast menu from 7.30am on weekdays and 9.00am on weekends, the Riding House Café is a busy, bustling spot to soak up the creative atmosphere of the West End. With plenty of juices and smoothies on the menu, this is a great choice if caffeine isn’t your thing. Being on the doorstep of some of the best live performances the city has to offer, this is a great way to start the day and provide fuel for an exciting West End trip.

  1. Mabel’s, Covent Garden

With a fabulous neon sign stating ‘Love made me do it’, Mabel’s is a great spot for a spontaneous stop off. Colourful decorations and an eclectic country manor style inside a fairly tight space, makes for an interesting and good fun feel to this place. Brunch, lunch, afternoon snacks and late-night openings; Mabel’s has got it all.

covent garden cafes

  1. Federation Coffee, Brixton

A cute and quirky little café set in a covered arcade, Federation has seating indoors and out for their regulars and visitors alike. A particular emphasis on great coffee with snacks and meals that pair brilliantly, Federation is a friendly, local place, perfect to pop in when you’re in the area. They serve a great range of regular and special espresso blends from local producers across London, as well as some from further afield, to ensure there are delicious and different tastes for every visit.

  1. Elan, Knightsbridge

The Knightsbridge branch of Elan is an Instagram hot spot, with a floral feature wall that will make others pail into insignificance. An acronym for Eat, Live And Nourish, Elan is a well-established brand, with cafés right across the city. There are over 85 drinks on their menu as well as beautiful and nutritious snacks and meals, such as Acai bowls, which are a firm favourite on the food menu. Visiting these cafes won’t disappoint.

  1. Attendant, Fitzrovia

You may well initially walk passed this café, as it’s disguised in what was formerly a Victorian public toilet, built in 1890. Lovingly restored, its heritage is hard to miss once you’re inside, but this tiny and quirky café serves some great coffee, snacks and light lunches. It does get busy and you can’t make reservations, so get here early for a unique experience.

  1. Drink, Shop and Do, Kings Cross

Set in a beautiful old bathhouse, Drink, Shop and Do is a quirky space that hosts bottomless brunches and afternoon teas all weekend. Colourful decorations liven up the open space along with mismatched furniture, a friendly welcome, and drink choices galore to make you feel right at home here. They also host a range of fun evening events, including jewellery stamping, biscuit decorating and Lego building – strictly for over 18s only!

bottomless brunch london

  1. Outsider Tart, Chiswick

Run by a pair of Americans who found it hard to find baked goods as tasty as their home-baked treats when they first arrived in London, Outsider Tarts is a bakery and restaurant dedicated to all things American. Serving all day classics like cupcakes, brownies, muffins, pancakes and more, their brunch, lunch and dinner menus are jam-packed with tasty soul food. With a rainbow-coloured counter and plenty of rustic charm, this place is a must see when you’re in the area.

  1. Megan’s, Clapham

Offering all day breakfast items and bottomless brunches, Megan’s are popular spots with vibrant and beautiful interiors located across South and West London. Billed as one of the most romantic settings, each café has a distinctly unique design, offering alfresco seating and the same delicious food and drink menu. Any of their locations is a good choice, but we particularly love the Clapham setting, where you sit beneath the beautiful canopy of a real olive tree – amazing!

  1. The Larder, William Morris Gallery, Walthamstow

If you’re looking to get a totally traditional British experience from your morning coffee or afternoon tea stop, look no further! William Morris is seen by many as a leading figure in the history of British interior and textile design, and he was a leader of the British Arts and Crafts movement, born in Walthamstow in 1834. His fabrics are still in production today, proving his design prowess and ability to create designs that last the test of time. This little café offers an interesting visit, and with great teas, coffees and tasty snacks and lunches made from local produce to keep you going, this is a cute and quintessentially British experience.

best cafes london

  1. The Ivy Café, Blackheath

With their signature sophistication, the Ivy Café in Blackheath is a cute and beautiful café to stop off in and feel right at home. With a menu full of classic British fare for breakfast, brunch, afternoon teas and dinner, there is never a bad time to visit. Close to Greenwich Park – one of the largest open green spaces in South London – this is a vibrant part of the city, away from the hustle and bustle of central London.

  1. Sketch, Mayfair

If the idea of taking a trip down Alice’s rabbit hole intrigues you, Sketch might be just up your alley. Offering five different ‘zones’ – the Parlour, the Glade, the Lecture Rooms and Library, the Gallery, and the East Bar and Pods – you’re sure to be transported into another world of beauty and intrigue, accompanied by excellent food and drinks. Billed as perhaps the most beautiful restaurant in London, this place is on another level. Each zone is styled around its central theme, one of which is a two-Michelin-starred restaurant, offering afternoon tea, dinner and drinks. Reservations are a must, but if you have dreamt of being served a slice of traditional Victoria sponge off a hostess trolley, you know this is the place for you!

If you’re planning a trip to London to try some of these quirky and cute cafés, contact Premium Tours to discuss our range of London tours. Run by London experts, you’re sure to pick up more great food and drinks tips along the way!

Everything You Need To Know About Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey is one of the most historic and important places of worship in London, because for centuries this has been the site of the coronation of the country’s monarchs.

The dramatic abbey has long held pride of place in Westminster, and every English King or Queen has been crowned inside its walls since William the Conqueror. Westminster Abbey has gone through many changes throughout its long and at times turbulent life, and the history surrounding the church is as long as its spires are tall.

Few other sights in the city have such a prestigious heritage. The abbey has survived for hundreds of years, through Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries and even through the ravages of the Blitz.

It’s a grandiose London attraction to visit, and you can walk where Kings and Queens have stood, explore ancient crypts, marvel at glorious artwork and pay your respects to some of the country’s most historical figures in the cemetery.

It’s a must-visit London attraction. To help you to plan your trip, here’s everything you need to know about Westminster Abbey.

How to Travel to Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey is found in central London, in the City of Westminster for which it’s named. This prominent location gave rise to the church’s importance to the British monarchy and public through history, as just over the road is Westminster Palace, which for centuries was a royal residence until it eventually became home to the Houses of Parliament.

The abbey can be reached easily using public transport – it’s inadvisable to drive into this part of London, due to lack of parking and congestion charges, to name just a few of the obstacles – with nearby bus and tube stops that are within easy walking distance.

The closest tube stations are St James’s Park or Westminster. St James’s Park is located on both the District and Circle lines, while Westminster is found on the District, Circle and Jubilee lines.

If you are exploring more of London, you can also consider purchasing a ticket for the hop-on hop-off buses that stop close to Westminster Abbey, as you’ll be able to travel easily between London’s best attractions, while learning more about the city while on board.

getting to westminster abbey

The Best Time to Visit Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey is one of the most popular tourist attractions in London and, unfortunately, it’s always going to be busy. The queues at the entrance can be long, so always ensure you plan your day accordingly, leaving enough time to allow you to explore the inside fully and to avoid any disappointment. You can purchase priority tickets beforehand to allow you to skip the worst of the lines.

It’s best to arrive here early to be first in line, rather than later in the day when there may be the chance that you are turned away at closing time. There’s not a particularly best time of the year to visit Westminster Abbey, as you can explore no matter the season, however, be aware that summer is peak season in London and all the attractions across the city are always busiest between June and September.

Westminster Abbey is open to tourists from 9.30 am until 3.30 pm Monday to Saturday. On Wednesdays, there are also late afternoon openings when the abbey stays open until 6 pm. Services are held Sundays, when the church is only open to worshippers.

Tickets can be bought in advance online for £21 per adult, or on the door for £23, although prices are subject to change. There are discounts available for children and senior citizens. There are also separate tickets available for special events, which are often held on select evenings during the week.

A Brief History of Westminster Abbey

The location where Westminster Abbey is found has long been the site of important places of worship through London’s history. Archaeological excavations and research have revealed that there has been a Christian church here since at least 960 AD when the Saxon King Edgar ordered the construction of the first abbey.

The abbey was originally built for Benedictine monks, before Edward the Confessor built St Peter’s Abbey on the same site, which was to serve as his burial chapel in 1066. That same year, the Normans would invade England and take over the country after defeating Edward’s successor, Harold, at the infamous Battle of Hastings.

William the Conqueror was the first monarch to be crowned in the abbey when he held his coronation here in 1066. Little of these first religious sites remain however, as in the 13th century a new abbey was built in the Gothic style that you see today. The church continued to be the location of coronations, however, and every monarch since William the Conqueror has been crowned inside, while many have also been buried here.

Over the following centuries, additions were made and the abbey grew, even surviving the dissolution of the monasteries enforced by Henry VIII, when the king gave it official status as a ‘cathedral’ rather than an abbey.

World War II proved to be the biggest threat to Westminster Abbey, when German bombs ravaged the capital and the Blitz caused extensive damage to the historic church. Again though, it survived, and today it continues to be both a popular tourist attraction and an important place of worship.

westminster abbey london

Coronations, Weddings and Burials at Westminster 

Since William the Conqueror, the abbey has held coronations for kings and queens through British history, making this the most important church for the royal family in the country. The last coronation to be held here was that of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, which to date is the only coronation that has ever been televised.

While coronations have been rare in recent years, the abbey has also proven to be a popular location for royal weddings. Countless marriage ceremonies have been performed here for the Royal Family, with many in recent years attracting huge crowds in the city and also being shown live on TV. The last royal wedding was between Prince William and Kate Middleton, held in 2011.

As well as celebrating coronations and weddings, Westminster Abbey has hosted many more sombre occasions, as royalty and important national figures are buried here. Within the grounds, you can find the tombs and the graves of many of the country’s most iconic historical characters.

visit westminster abbey

Things to See and Do at Westminster Abbey

The Nave

The central hallway of Westminster Abbey is known, as in most cathedrals, as the nave. As you enter from the western entrance, you’ll have the sight of this long, elegant hallway laid out before you, and you’ll be treading in the footsteps of the kings and queens who walked along the Nave to be crowned.

Tall pillars stretch high to the ceiling, and you are free to stroll through the nave and to admire the ambitious architecture of Westminster Abbey as you do so.

Westminster abbey

The Coronation Chair

In the nave you’ll encounter one of the most iconic sights within Westminster Abbey and one of the most important artefacts in royal history. The coronation chair is where monarchs sit as they are crowned, and it’s an incredibly historic piece of furniture.

The chair is wooden and was carved from English Oak in the late 13th century on the orders of King Edward I. As well as being one of the oldest items in Westminster Abbey, the chair is one of the oldest pieces of wooden furniture in the entire country that’s been in continual use since its creation. It appears a rather simple chair when you first lay eyes upon it, but the wooden structure hides a wealth of history in its cracks. Most notably, the chair was designed to hold the Stone of Scone, the famous stone upon which Scottish kings were crowned. In recent years, it was returned though to Scotland, after being held here for hundreds of years.

The Quire

Found right in the middle of Westminster Abbey, is the archaically spelt quire. This is the area reserved for the choir and for certain members of clergy during services and ceremonies, and it’s an important part of the church’s layout.

You’ll find the quire after the nave and before the high altar at the far end of the church. Westminster Abbey has its own resident chorus of choirboys who study and train at the Westminster Abbey Choir School, located within the grounds.

The Organ

To accompany the dulcet tones of the choirboys, Westminster Abbey is also home to an extravagant organ piece that is played during recitals. The pipes stretch high towards the grand ceiling of the abbey, and if you are here during a church service you’ll hear them in action.

The organ is a masterpiece of craftsmanship, as it was specially designed and built for the coronation of King George VI in 1937.

The Royal Tombs

One of the original intentions of Westminster Abbey was that it would serve as the burial grounds for English kings, with Edward the Confessor being the first to be entombed here in 1066.

Edward the Confessor’s tomb is still found behind the high altar, on display for all who visit Westminster Abbey to see, and his burial chamber became somewhat of a shrine when the English king was canonised. His effigy is found adorning the outside of the tomb and, as he was the first monarch to be interned here, he has pride of place in the abbey.

Many more royals were buried here in later years too. Behind the high altar surrounding Edward the Confessor’s Shrine, you can find several tombs holding the remains of famous English kings, including Henry V, who won the Battle of Agincourt.

The Lady Chapel

The Lady Chapel is an integral addition to the central area of Westminster Abbey, as it was built by Henry VII at the eastern end of the church to serve as his final resting place. The Tudor king built what was at the time one of the most lavish chapels in Europe and today you’ll be mesmerised by the glorious 16th-century architecture that’s been preserved here through the centuries since its construction.

There are over 30 royals and nobles buried under the chapel, with Henry VII having the most visible tomb and effigy. After he was interred here, many monarchs that followed his reign were also buried here, including Elizabeth I, James I and William III to name just a few. Oliver Cromwell was buried here for a time until his body was taken out after the monarchy was reinstated after the English Civil War.

lady chapel westminster abbey

Poets’ Corner

Westminster Abbey is not just the resting place of monarchs, because as early as the 1400s, poets and writers began to be given lasting memorials in the church, and many were buried here in recognition of their work.

Found just off the nave, Poets’ Corner is a microcosm of British literature, as you’ll see some of the country’s most iconic wordsmiths commemorated here. Chaucer was the first English writer to be buried at Westminster Abbey, but the tradition still continues today.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

To remember all those who fell fighting for Britain in wars across the world, you can pay your respects at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. During World War I, many soldiers fell in battle and were never identified, and many more were lost forever with no known graves or final resting places.

In 1920 an unknown soldier who was killed in France was buried in Westminster Abbey, on equal footing with the country’s kings and queens, to represent the huge sacrifice made by people from all classes and walks of life. It’s a moving tribute to loss and conflict.

The grave and plaque, found in the nave of Westminster Abbey, have since been the scene of many a commemoration, as memorial services led by royalty are held to mark important anniversaries, particularly those related to the First World War.

To find out more about visiting Westminster Abbey or to book one of our fantastic London tours, contact Premium Tours today.

tower of london

Castles Around London You Need to See

They say an Englishman’s home is his castle. Around London, you can find some of the most impressive castles built throughout the long history of England.

Some, like the Tower of London, were built for kings and for power, while others, like Highclere Castle, were constructed by wealthy noble families looking to make grand statements.

For history lovers, there are some great castles to visit within the city and the surrounding areas, from crumbling medieval ruins and Norman fortresses, to Royal residences and lavish country estates.

Here are our favourite castles around London that you just have to see.

1. Tower of London

The most iconic castle within London is the Tower of London. For centuries, the tower has dominated the skyline of the city, ever since William the Conqueror asserted his power over England in 1066 by ordering the construction of a fortress.

The Tower of London is one of the most famous tourist attractions in the country. Although the city has long since dwarfed the towers and keeps in size, it’s still a formidable structure, right on the banks of the River Thames.

The Norman kings and later English kings built much of the tower, digging moats and raising walls to defend what was, for many years, the primary royal residence.

Although the monarchy no longer live here, you can still see the Crown Jewels which are guarded within, while the Beefeaters, in their distinctive ceremonial outfits, today give tours of the castle grounds rather than defending the walls.

2. Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle is one of the most important castles in England, as it serves as the Queen’s royal residence when she is staying outside of Buckingham Palace.

Located in Windsor, just an hour outside of the city, a visit here makes for a wonderfully easy day trip from London.

The castle was, like the Tower of London, built by the first Norman kings. Ever since the 11th century it’s been used as a palace by the monarchy.

Windsor Castle is one of the most impressive in the country. Despite being the Queen’s second home, you can still visit and tour through most of the grounds.

When you arrive, you’ll be greeted by the sight of the castle ramparts ahead as you stroll down the Long Walk to the entrance. Inside, you can explore lavish stately rooms, learn about the different kings and queens who lived here, and admire the extravagant and extensive gardens.

Windsor Castle

3. Highclere Castle

Highclere Castle is hardly a ‘castle’ in the traditional medieval sense of the word, but more an elegant 17th century imagining of a traditional castle, built in the high fashion and style of the times.

This is a grand, noble estate, and the castle is the stately home and centrepiece. Although there have been country houses here for centuries, it was the Earls of Carnarvon who, in 1679, began the construction of the manor you see today.

It was a lavish statement of wealth and power, and the same family still own the estate today. Highclere Castle is best known for being the filming location of the hit TV series, Downton Abbey, which delves into the lives of British aristocracy. Few other locations in the country could have been quite so perfect as Highclere Castle.

The estate is located outside of London, just a few miles from Newbury. You’ll find that there are plenty of dedicated tours travelling here from the city, particularly given the popularity of Downton Abbey and ever-growing demand from fans wanting to see first-hand this aristocratic castle.

4. Colchester Castle

Located in the county of Essex now on the outskirts of the wider London region, Colchester is one of the most ancient towns in England, and is home to a castle that’s as historically important as it is impressive.

Colchester has a long history, and was an integral Roman settlement that for years was even used as the capital of the Roman province of Britannia. It’s always held a strategic location. When the Normans conquered England, they decided to build a stone castle in the town, to better control the areas leading to London.

William the Conqueror ordered an enormous keep to be built, which at the time would prove to be the largest in the country, larger even than the keep at the Tower of London. The Normans even used old Roman stones and bricks to solidify the walls, while the chosen location was, centuries previously, the site of a Roman temple.

Colchester Castle is the best and the largest surviving example of a Norman castle, as it’s changed little since its 11th century construction.

5. Warwick Castle

Although it might be a long journey from London, a trip to Warwick Castle can be one of the best days out from the capital.

Originally a wooden fort built by the Normans, the castle was constructed from stone in later centuries and was used to defend Warwick from potential threats until it was eventually turned into a country house in the 17th century.

Warwick Castle is found in a beautiful location on the River Avon. Due to many later extensions – the raising of walls, gates and tall towers – it’s one of the most quintessentially medieval-looking castles in England.

Today, the castle has become a huge tourist attraction, as not only has it been incredibly well preserved, but it’s also now home to a huge array of museums and attractions. You can find out what life in medieval England would have been like, while there are frequent stagings of mock battles on the grounds.

You might even catch a jousting tournament being held here by enthusiasts, while the enormous collection of medieval weapons on display around the castle is unmatched anywhere else in the country.

warwick castle

6. Dover Castle

Located on the coast, overlooking the English Channel, Dover Castle makes for an exciting day trip from London. This is one of the most dramatic castles in the country, as the stonewalls are perched on high cliff tops and the imposing keep rises from high.

The site has long been important, with archaeological excavations having uncovered Iron Age works and Roman lighthouses beneath the Norman-built stronghold.

The extensive stonewalls were continually expanded by successive kings looking to strengthen the English hold over the channel, and massive additions were made during the Napoleonic Wars to protect against potential invasions from the continent. Therefore today, Dover Castle can claim to be the largest castle in the United Kingdom.

As well as exploring the fascinating history behind the castle, and the battles that have taken place here, one of the best things about Dover Castle is its setting. You can enjoy sweeping views over the coast from the towers.

7. Leeds Castle

No, this Leeds Castle is not found in the north of England, but just south of the capital, by Maidstone in Kent.

That makes it a whole lot easier to get to from London, and it’s perfectly located to make for a pleasurable day trip. The castle is named for the small village of Leeds, which is in close proximity, and its rural setting makes this one of the most picturesque castles in England.

Leeds Castle is built on islands along the serene River Len, giving the structure an unbeatable aesthetic. The current castle is more of a manor house, dating primarily back to the 19th century when it was vastly remodelled, but some sections of moat and older medieval walls and gates still exist too.

The Normans built most of the original castle, but in later years it became a firm favourite amongst the English monarchy, with Henry VIII even going as far as to redesign it to make it more fitting as a residence for his wife Catherine of Aragon.

As well as delving into the history, Leeds Castle’s magnificent grounds are perfectly landscaped, and you can enjoy losing yourself in the vast maze that’s been created here and that’s proving enduringly popular with tourists.

leeds castle

8. Hever Castle

Just south of London is another historic English castle that played an important role during the reign of Henry VIII.

Hever Castle was first fortified during the 13th century, before it was transformed into an estate and country house by the Boleyn family from the 14th century onwards.

After divorcing his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII married Anne Boleyn, who had grown up at Hever Castle. The castle was passed into the royal line, but Anne Boleyn had the misfortune of falling foul of the king, who had his own wife beheaded on treason charges.

Hever Castle was then given to a later wife of Henry VIII, before changing hands several times through the following centuries. Now it’s primarily a tourist attraction, and you can explore the intriguing political tales left behind during the Tudor period and even see where Henry VIII slept during his days at the castle.

9. Berkhamsted Castle

In Hertfordshire you can find the crumbling remains of Berkhamsted Castle, once one of the most important castles in the Home Counties.

Today, there is little left of the castle except for a few sections of ruined walls, the moat and the hilly mound that formed the centrepiece of the fortification. It’s still great to explore though, making a real change from many other castles around London that have been redesigned and refurbished. In many ways, visiting Berkhamsted Castle gives you a more authentic insight into history.

The castle was built by the Normans, as they pushed out from London to control the rest of England in the 11th century, and was used by royalty and nobles for many more years.

Eventually though, the castle fell into disrepair and was abandoned entirely by the 16th century. The walls fell down, buildings collapsed and the stones were taken for construction work in the nearby town.

10. Mountfitchet Castle

Mountfitchet Castle is found close to Stansted. This Norman-era castle has been turned into a fascinating living history museum.

This was originally just a wooden motte and bailey fortification, constructed of wooden timbers surrounding a big mound. Little survived except the earthworks, but in the 20th century the castle was reconstructed in as faithful a way as possible.

As well as raising new walls, an entire Norman-era medieval village was created and staffed with enthusiastic actors who entertain and teach visitors about life hundreds of years ago.

At this museum, you’ll also find free-ranging wildlife, from pigs and chicken to deer and birds, alongside a fascinating toy museum and local tea room, making a trip to Mountfitchet Castle a great day out for everyone.

11. Severndroog Castle

Severndroog Castle is one of the smallest castles you can visit around London, but it’s definitely one of the most fascinating too.

The castle is located in Greenwich and, by any stretch of the traditional word, it’s not really a castle but more of an elaborate house. An Englishman’s home is his castle though, and this house was built tall, with a few turrets added to the roof for effect and extravagance.

Severndroog Castle was constructed at the end of the 18th century, and was commissioned as a memorial to Sir William James, who won several battles across India during the expansion of the British Empire across the subcontinent. His wife had the castle built in his memory and to enshrine his exploits.

The tall house, or folly, was built to offer supreme views over the countryside, but it has long since become part of a highly urbanised area of the capital, giving the castle an unusual dimension in London, and offering incredible views over the city instead.

It’s a unique place to explore, and it makes for a real change if you have been visiting Norman-built, medieval castles before this. The castle has some intriguing exhibits and you can climb to the rooftop to look out over the rest of London.

If you’d like to visit some of the castles in and around London, check out Premium Tours’ great range of out of London tours.