If you’re planning a festive trip to the capital with your family this winter, make sure you book tickets to one of the fantastic pantomimes being hosted in London. There are old classics and modern tales on offer - so there’s something for everyone.
We’ve picked out a few of the shows that caught our eye.
When: 22nd Nov 2014 to 4th Jan 2015
Where: Hackney Empire, 291 Mare Street, London E8 1EJ
This much loved classic is brought to the stage with larger-than-life characters, loads of laughs, outrageous costumes, dazzling dance moves and incredible live music.
Packed with the usual sparkle, spectacle, mayhem, comedy and incredible original music performed by a live band, Hackney Empire's must see pantomime is officially open for bookings!
When: 26th Nov 2014 to 4th Jan 2015
Where: The Peacock Theatre, Portugal Street, London, WC2A 2HT
Ramond Briggs' much loved story returns to the Peacock Theatre for its 15th year. One of London's best Christmas traditions, this production makes use of a live orchestra, singing and charming choreography. The show re-imagines Brigg's book and subsequent film for new audiences and old, without losing any of the original charm.
Follow a young boy’s adventure as the snowman he builds magically comes to live at the stroke of midnight. Watch spellbound as the Snowman and James literally fly through the night sky above you, escape the clutches of the evil Jack Frost, before attending a party with the big man himself - Father Christmas - and other snowmen, not to mention those comical penguins!
When: 11th Dec 2014 to 5th Jan 2015
Where: Compass Theatre, Glebe Avenue, Ickenham UB10 8PD
Featuring fabulous and enchanting animated scenery, this year’s family pantomime in the Compass Theatre is the fun and magical story of Sleeping Beauty.
Join the King and Queen’s celebration of their daughter’s birth but beware, not everyone is in the mood for celebrating! Cheer the goodies and boo the baddies as the wicked witch arrives with a terrible curse for the young princess. There will be singing, dancing and plenty of encouragement from the audience, no doubt.
The beginning of February 2014 saw the start of the Year of the Horse in the Chinese calendar, and there were colourful celebrations in many of the UK’s Chinese communities to mark the event, especially in London.
If you missed out on the dragon dances and firework displays don’t worry, because you can still enjoy a taste of the Orient at one of London’s excellent Chinese restaurants. We’ve picked out three for you to consider.
Where: Broadgate West, 88 Worship Street
Positioned within walking distance of Liverpool Street and Shoreditch High Street stations is HKK, a fine dining restaurant that’s a wonderful choice if you want to sample a variety of oriental dishes. The best way to experience all that HKK has to offer is to make the most of one of the tasting menus, which are available for lunch and dinner, where you’ll be served anything from eight to 15 courses, depending on your choice of menu. What’s really great about HKK is that it has an exclusively vegetarian set of meals, as well as meat and fish options.
Where: 32 Hanbury Street, Brick Lane
Sichuan Folk is relatively easy to find and is close to Shoreditch High Street, Whitechapel and Aldgate East stations. As its name suggests, this restaurant specialises in dishes from the Sichuan region and it does them very well. The food here is very reasonably priced and those with big appetites can take advantage of the ‘eat as much as you like’ hotpot deal. There’s a good selection of seafood on the menu, as well as some more unusual options, such as fragrant and hot frog legs and dry-fried pig intestines.
Where: 8 Hanway Place, Tottenham Court Road and 17 Bruton Place, Mayfair
Hakkasan was one of the first Michelin-starred Chinese restaurants in London and now has two branches in the city, both of which serve up excellent cuisine. In addition to its sumptuous food - with the menu featuring signature dishes like Peking duck with caviar - it also offers an outstanding range of cocktails, so this is the place to come if you want a glamorous Chinese dinner. It’s worth booking a table for one of the Dim Sum Sundays sittings, which take place every week. The menu on Sundays is different to what you’ll see at other times of the week and, for £58 per person, you also get a cocktail and wine with your food.
When half-term or summer holidays roll around, it can sometimes be hard to know how you’re going to keep the kids entertained. A day out in London is the ideal option as there’s just so much to see and do. What’s more, it doesn’t have to cost a fortune, as there are plenty of free attractions in the capital, as well as the ones you have to pay for.
We’ve put together a selection of options for you, so you can mix and match to make your perfect family day, regardless of your budget.
Natural History Museum
Price: free (although there are some paid-for exhibitions)
Getting there: take the Tube to South Kensington, or take the train to Victoria/Paddington
The Natural History Museum is one of the ultimate family-friendly attractions, where kids and parents alike will be enthralled by the varied exhibits and you can be certain little ones will learn something whether they want to or not!
The most famous exhibits are undoubtedly the dinosaurs, where you’ll not only find a variety of incredible skeletons, but also animatronic dinosaurs and interactive games to give your children a true overview of these amazing reptiles and what the planet was like when they inhabited it.
Another favourite with youngsters is the Power Within gallery, where you can step inside a simulator to find out what it’s like to experience an earthquake and learn about how life on Earth has evolved over the centuries.
You’ll probably want to spend at least half a day here, although there’s so much to see and do, you could easily spend much longer discovering its varied galleries.
Price: free (although there are some paid-for exhibitions)
Getting there: take the Tube to South Kensington, or take the train to Victoria/Paddington
Right next to the Natural History Museum is the equally wonderful Science Museum, so combining these two attractions is an obvious choice and cuts down on travelling time with the kids.
As you can probably infer from its name, this is the place to get your youngsters interested in science, with a wide range of hands-on exhibits that will really help them engage with this fascinating subject. Launch Pad is the place to start, as this is where most of the interactive exhibits can be found, while it also plays host to demos and live shows to introduce children to the world of physics.
Another installation that is bound to inspire your kids is 3D: printing the future, where you can see a wall covered with more than 600 printed objects, as well as learn about the technology behind 3D printers and find out more about their practical applications.
Although you could spend an entire day here, it’s a good idea to do half a day, split between the Science and Natural History museums.
Covent Garden street shows
Price: free (unless you want to leave a tip for the performers)
Getting there: take the Tube to Covent Garden
Covent Garden is one of London’s most famous shopping areas, but the charming square by the market is also renowned as a hotspot for street performers and there are always incredible shows going on during the day.
Your kids will no doubt be entertained by the human statues dotted along the pedestrianised street between the Tube station and the market, but that’s just the beginning. You’ll never be quite sure what you’re going to see at Covent Garden, but all the performances are family-friendly. You can have a magician one day, a unicyclist the next and musicians a day later.
Grab a seat at one of the nearby cafes and sit down with a drink and a snack to watch what’s going on in the square - it’s a wonderful way to break up a day of sightseeing and keep the kids amused while you and your partner get a short rest.
Sea Life London Aquarium
Price: £25.20 for adults and £19.50 for children over three, although family tickets are available and you’ll receive a discount if you book your tickets online
Getting there: take the Tube to Westminster or Waterloo
The Sea Life London Aquarium may not be the cheapest of London’s attractions, but it’s an amazing place for a family day out. The exhibits here will bring you and the kids closer to a variety of incredible creatures that live in the world’s oceans.
Among the highlights here are the Penguins: Ice Adventure, where you can see a group of gentoo penguins in a habitat that resembles their native Antarctic, and Shark Reef Encounter, where you can walk above the tank on a special glass walkway and appreciate these beautiful predators in the Pacific aquarium that is some three storeys high.
Other marine creatures that you’ll encounter during a day here include turtles, jellyfish, seahorses and lobsters, among many, many more. You can comfortably see all the exhibits at the aquarium in about half a day.
Hamleys Toy Store Price: free (as long as you don’t buy souvenirs for the kids)
Getting there: take the Tube to Oxford Circus and walk the short distance along Regent Street
Hamleys is the oldest toy store in London, having first opened in 1760. It has grown considerably since its early days and the five-storey shop on Regent Street is an absolute paradise for kids. Each floor has a different theme, with many of the toys displayed according to the age they’re suitable for. The top floor is one of the most exciting, as there are some amazing Lego models on show, in addition to plenty of boxsets of the building blocks to take home with you.
As well as the incredible array of toys, there are displays of how some of the most exciting new additions work, which will no doubt keep your children entertained. The staff are very friendly and helpful and if you end up spending a couple of hours here, don’t be surprised.
London is home to many great attractions, which can make it tricky to know exactly where to begin if you’re in the city for your first sightseeing trip. A great option - especially if you’re pressed for time - is to visit its four UNESCO World Heritage sites.
These are Maritime Greenwich, the Tower of London, the Palace of Westminster and the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew. Our guide will give you a bit of information about each of these, as well as some tips on how to travel between them, and a suggested route for seeing all four in a day.
We’re going to begin in Maritime Greenwich, which is the most easterly of the four sites. It comprises a series of buildings, all within Greenwich Park. The most famous of these is probably the Royal Observatory, where you can see the Greenwich Meridian Line running across the courtyard.
Other features of the observatory include the 17th century rooms that were built for the first Astronomer Royal and a selection of the earliest clocks that were used to establish Greenwich as the world standard for accurate timekeeping.
There are also several museums within the Maritime Greenwich complex, including the Queen’s House, the National Maritime Museum and the Cutty Sark, all of which are worth exploring if you can make the time.
Another notable building is the Royal Hospital, which was constructed according to a plan laid out by famous architect Christopher Wren.
Tower of London
The journey from Maritime Greenwich to our next site, the Tower of London, is very straightforward and there are several transport options open to you. The first, and possibly the most fun, is to take a boat from Greenwich Pier to Tower Pier, which is near the Tower of London.
Alternatively, you can travel on the DLR from the Cutty Sark station to Tower Gateway, which is also adjacent to the Tower of London.
The Tower of London is one of the most iconic buildings in the city, with its imposing White Tower the most striking feature of the fortress. This was constructed by William the Conqueror and the rest of the fort was built around this.
There are some fascinating exhibits at the Tower of London, not least of all the Crown Jewels, although the armoury is also worth exploring, as is the exhibition dedicated to the various animals that have been housed at the tower over the centuries.
Palace of Westminster
Travelling from the Tower of London to the Palace of Westminster is easiest on the Underground, with both the District and Circle lines providing a direct connection. The journey takes a little under 20 minutes from Tower Hill to Westminster.
The Palace of Westminster heritage site includes the world-famous Westminster Abbey and St Margaret’s Church. Westminster Abbey is particularly symbolic, as it is where every British monarch since the 11th century has been crowned.
Westminster Palace is a stunning example of neo-Gothic architecture and well worth admiring. Although not as large or impressive as the other monuments, St Margaret’s Church is still beautiful and rather important, given that it remains the parish church for the House of Commons.
Royal Botanic Gardens
Our final stop is the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew. The easiest way to travel from Westminster is to hop back on the District line and ride it to the Kew Gardens Underground stop. It’s just a short walk from here to the Royal Botanic Gardens. Just as a note, this journey takes close to an hour.
What makes the Royal Botanic Gardens so special is that they feature such a wide variety of species and showcase a range of garden designs from the 18th through to the 20th centuries. Many world-famous garden designers, including Capability Brown, have created areas within the botanic gardens.
Its most famous features are the two iron-framed glasshouses, which are truly spectacular. These are known as the Palm and Temperate houses and are well worth exploring, although you should note that the Temperate House is undergoing restoration until 2018 and is therefore closed to the public.
There are many other interesting features at Kew, such as the Princess of Wales Conservatory, the Rose Garden and Waterlily House. Spending an hour or two here wandering around the stunning surroundings is the perfect way to relax after a busy day of sightseeing.
Afternoon tea is a quintessentially British tradition and one that you simply must indulge in when visiting London.
The Goring Hotel
Where: Beeston Place, Grosvenor Gardens
Nearest tube: Victoria
The Goring Hotel won the Top London Afternoon Tea Award 2013 that’s handed out each year by the Tea Guild. The hotel was praised for its elegant setting and its excellent menu, with each afternoon tea comprising of sandwiches, homemade scones with Devonshire clotted cream and jam, and a selection of homemade pastries.
To really push the boat out, you can opt for the Bollinger Afternoon Tea, which is the same as the standard option except that it begins with a glass of champagne and strawberries and cream.
Where: Wilton Place, Knightsbridge
Nearest tube: Hyde Park Corner
The Caramel Room in the Berkeley Hotel is the perfect place for afternoon tea with a twist. The Pret-a-Portea option is themed around the latest fashions, with all the sweet treats on offer inspired by some of the latest designs and trends.
The menu even changes every six months to keep up with the industry and its various seasons. Your afternoon tea will look so good you may have trouble eating it!
Where: White Hart Lane
Nearest train: Barnes Bridge
Orange Pekoe is a delightful tea room that comes in at the more affordable end of the spectrum and still delivers a fantastic afternoon tea. It’s a bit less formal than the other places we’ve mentioned so far, but the quality of its food speaks for itself.
Time Out has given the establishment a five-star rating, to give you an idea of what to expect. Its standard afternoon tea consists of a selection of finger sandwiches, a warm scone served with jam and clotted cream and a piece of cake of your choosing from the cake counter.
You can also have your pick of its more than 50 loose-leaf tea varieties to accompany your food.
London is well known for some of its haunted buildings so if you’re planning a trip to the capital why not take yourself on a tour of the city’s spookiest sites.
We’ve put together some suggestions of places to visit if you’ve got an interest in the macabre - and we’ve tried to pick spots with a ghostly past that you may not have heard about before.
Drury Lane Theatre Royal
On Catherine Street, nearest tube stop Covent Garden
Drury Lane Theatre Royal has an illustrious past, with a performance venue having stood on this spot since the early 17th century. It should come as little surprise, then, that several ghosts are said to haunt the theatre.
We’re going to relate the story of the most famous of these spectres, though - the Man in Grey. No one knows his identity, but he has frequently been seen in the upper circle by staff in the theatre, actors and even audience members. He usually walks across the circle and disappears into the wall.
The only clue about the ghost - and what has caused him to haunt the theatre - was uncovered during renovations in 1870, when workmen found a skeleton with a dagger in its ribcage behind a wall on one side of the upper circle. It’s thought a young man who won the heart of an actress at the theatre was murdered by her jealous actor lover and his body hidden in the recess.
Close to Covent Garden, nearest tube stop Covent Garden
Seven Dials is a road junction where seven alleys and back streets converge. It’s nestled between Shaftesbury Avenue and Longacre and sightings of ghosts have regularly been reported here.
The area was designed by Thomas Neale in the 17th century with the aim to create an affluent area to rival Covent Garden Piazza. He commissioned a sundail pillar, which was placed at the centre of the development and still stands today. Unfortunately, Neale’s vision wasn’t fulfilled and the district became poverty-stricken and home to pubs and gin shops.
In the 18th and 19th centuries a story began circulating that the Earl of Bedford - who was behind Covent Garden - had been buried under the sundail with a haul of gold. The ghosts of Seven Dials are thought to be drunks and treasure hunters who were hit by carriages while looking for the infamous stash.
Figures are sometimes seen rising up out of the road and disappearing into the shadows by drivers passing through the area on dark, moonless nights.
On Charterhouse Square, nearest tube stop Barbican
Charterhouse is the only surviving town house from the Tudor period in the capital and it has a dark and scary history. As far back as the 14th century, this was a monastery for Carthusian monks. It flourished until the time of the reformation, when Henry VIII named himself head of the Church of England.
The monks refused to recognise his authority and as a result their prior was hung, drawn and quartered. The king even had one of his arms nailed on to the monastery’s gate to act as a warning to the remaining monks. Despite this, they held fast and 16 more of their number were executed before the king finally dissolved the monastery.
It was then awarded to Lord North, who converted it into a splendid mansion, which you can still see today. It’s said that the shadowy figure of a monk can sometimes be seen drifting aimlessly around the cobbled courtyards and streets that surround the house.
Meanwhile, the house itself is haunted by one of its former owners - Thomas Howard, the 4th Duke of Norfolk - who was beheaded after his involvement in a plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I was uncovered. His ghost, carrying its head under its arm, is said to have been seen on the main staircase.
St Bartholomew Church
In West Smithfield, nearest tube stop Barbican
St Bartholomew Church is often named as the most haunted church in London and is said to be inhabited by several ghosts. When you think that the place is from the Norman period and dates from the 12th century, that probably comes as little surprise.
A monk called Rahere is one of the most frequently spotted spectres in the church. His tomb is located here and he has been seen walking near the Lady Chapel. Other ghosts to have been observed here include a clergyman giving a sermon from the pulpit and the 18th century satirical painter William Hogarth, who was baptised here.
It’s not just ghosts you may encounter if you pay a visit to St Bartholomew Church though - there have also been reports of people hearing screams, which are thought to belong to a priest who was burned to death in an iron cage at the behest of Henry VIII during the reformation.
Adding to its haunted reputation is the fact that it’s located near a place where executions were carried out centuries ago.
On October 9th, the 57th British Film Institute (BFI) London Film Festival will get underway, with an exciting programme of screenings planned until its close on October 20th. To mark the event, we’ve come up with a few cinematic attractions in the capital that movie fans shouldn’t miss.
The Cinema Museum
Where: 2 Dugard Way, Kennington
The Cinema Museum is home to a wonderful collection of memorabilia and equipment relating to the early days of cinema, from the 1890s, right through to pieces from the present day. Among the items in its varied exhibits are movie posters, uniforms worn by cinema staff, film projectors, furnishings from theatres and signage.
It also holds 17 million feet of film in its archive, along with numerous publications like fan magazines and periodicals relating to the movie industry. It offers a fascinating insight into cinema through the ages.
London Film Museum South Bank
Where: Queens Walk, South Bank
This is one of two London Film Museum locations in the capital and it’s home to an amazing set of exhibitions that movie fans will love. One of its permanent installations looks at the life and work of Charlie Chaplin, while another examines the career of Ray Harryhausen - a renowned writer, producer and visual effects creator.
The venue also hosts temporary exhibitions and is well worth a visit if you’re keen on learning more about the film industry.
London Film Museum Covent Garden
Where: 45 Wellington Street, Covent Garden
London Film Museum Covent Garden is the newer of the two sites and in this exhibition space you can delve into the history of film making. Its permanent exhibition Capturing the Shadows looks at some of the oldest forms of visual entertainment - like shadow theatre, the optical lantern, photography and kinetic animation - and explains how these elements came together to help create cinematography.
Explore the exhibits in the Lights, Camera, London! installation and you can get a glimpse into the role the capital has played in the development of the movie industry over the years, as well as see numerous examples where it’s featured in famous films.