Day 1. Arriving in London

Although I live in the north of England I’ve been fortunate to spend countless weekends in London over the years.  There’s always something happening and I never tire of a visit to the capital.   Hopefully on this four day visit I can introduce some lesser known attractions in addition to the city’s famous sights.

If a man is tired of London he is tired of life, for there is in London all that life can afford

Samuel Johnson

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King’s Cross Station Concourse
To keep costs down we booked our train tickets 12 weeks ago when they were first released and at their lowest prices.  My train arrived into King’s Cross station promptly at 7.15 pm.  It’s almost four years to the day since the new western concourse was opened and I still marvel at its magnificent roof structure when passing through the station.

For travelling around London its best to use an Oyster Card  these can either be ordered in advance on-line or purchased on arrival at a ticket office.  Its much easier and cheaper than buying individual tickets for the underground and there is a daily ‘cap’ limit which is especially useful if you plan to make several journeys.  Off peak fares are available any time at weekends but only after 9.30 am on weekdays so if you can delay making your first tube journey further savings can be made.  The Oyster card can also be used on buses and some main line trains, London buses are now ‘cash free’ so it’s necessary to pay with either an Oyster or a contactless bank card when travelling by bus.  Details and journey planning are available on Transport for London’s website.

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The London Eye
We’d booked accommodation this weekend at the Vauxhall Travelodge.  We often stay in Travelodges whilst in London as, apart from sleeping, we are rarely in the hotel and they offer good value for money in comfortable rooms.  Vauxhall is a central location and has the added bonus of having a main line station as well as being on the Victoria Line.  After checking in, we walked along the Thames Path as far as Westminster Bridge,  approximately one mile away.  This section of the riverside walk is always very quiet as people don’t seem to notice that the path continues beneath Westminstet Bridge.  Along here is actually the best place to take photographs of the Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament and Big Ben) as you are directly opposite with the river Thames in the foreground.

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The Houses of Parliament
We had a snack near the London Eye and wandered along the vibrant South Bank with its attractive shops and restaurants before walking back to the hotel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 2. London’s Sky Garden

A bright sunny morning, so we started the day with a tube ride to London Bridge, walking across the bridge to Monument and a stroll along the north bank of the Thames.   Our reason for starting the day here was to take a ride to the top of the ‘Walkie Talkie’ building,

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Walke Talkie Building
Officially known as ’20 Fenchurch Street’ where we had pre-booked tickets for an 11.15 am visit to its 35th floor Sky Garden.  It’s completely free to visit the Sky Garden but tickets must be booked on-line and are available a week in advance.  Once inside, visitors are able to stay as long as they wish and as tickets are limited there is ample room to relax and enjoy your visit.   It’s a little known attraction but one I highly recommend as I’m certain you won’t be disappointed!  The garden opened to the public in January 2015 and entrance is free as it was an agreed condition when planning consent was given for the construction of the building.

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View from the 35th floor Sky Garden
Entering the building is very quick and efficient, visitors just show their e ticket and some form of ID before passing through airline type security.  A high speed lift then takes you up to the 35th floor which has a beautifully landscaped, spacious roof garden, cafe and bar.  From the full length balcony there are panoramic views overlooking central London and we could even see the arch of Wembley football stadium in the far distance. There is stair access up a further two floors to the restaurant area with rear views across the city.   It really is a great place to visit, both for the splendid views and to perhaps meet friends for a drink or meal.  It’s hard to believe that it doesn’t cost anything as a visit to the nearby Shard would set you back a staggering £25.95 per person!

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St. Katharine’s Dock
On leaving the Sky Garden we strolled along the river towards the Tower of London to reach our next destination St Katharine’s Dock.  This hidden gem is tucked away behind the Tower of London and was originally part of the Port of London but today is an attractive leisure complex with cafes and restaurants overlooking a yachting marina.  The Royal barge ‘Gloriana’ is frequently moored here alongside ultra expensive Sunseeker yachts and more traditional boats.

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The Royal Academy of Arts, Piccadilly
Our next stop was Piccadilly Circus and a walk along Piccadilly with its elegant buildings.  We called into The Royal Academy of Arts with its ornate courtyard entrance arch.  Entrance to the building and museum shop is free but tickets need to be purchased to view exhibitions. Across the road from here is Fortnum and Mason, claiming to be the world’s most luxurious department store.  It opened its doors in 1707 and is the home of old English elegance, famed for its hampers and loose leaf teas.  It’s interesting to take a look around,  the food hall in the basement being my favourite,  where you might find some tasty samples to try.

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Fortnum and Mason, Piccadilly
A little further along Piccadilly lies Green Park so we took a late afternoon stroll through the gardens before crossing The Mall and entering St.James Park.  By chance, our arrival was perfectly timed to watch the sun set over Buckingham Palace and passing the lake we spotted pelicans, geese and ducks.

We ended the day with a visit to Greenwich, taking the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) from Canary Wharf.  Riding on the DLR is included in the travel pass and if you haven’t travelled on it before, it’s a fun experience.  The trains are driverless, so try and sit on the front seats of the first carriage for the best views as the train snakes its way between high rise buildings. The DLR doesn’t have barriers so you will need to look out for the Oyster card readers to ‘touch in and out of’ when using the system otherwise you will be overcharged.  These are usually to be found on the main concourse rather than on the platforms themselves.

It was already dark when we arrived in Greenwich so I will leave exploring this district until a future time.  The purpose of our evening visit was to dine at The Gate Clock pub (named in recognition of the Meridian Line in the nearby Royal Observatory).

After a fun filled day exploring London, it was back to our hotel in Vauxhall for a good night’s rest.

 

 

 

 

 

Day 3. A walk along the Thames

We decided to try breakfast in the hotel this morning and were pleasantly surprised to find the Travelodge offerings to be much better than we were expecting.  So, feeling nourished, we boarded a main line train from Vauxhall to Richmond, approximately 20 minutes away.  As mentioned previously,  it’s possible to use Oyster cards on shorter main line train routes and this is more economical than purchasing individual tickets.  Richmond can also be reached via the District Line and is the final stop on this route.

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Riverside buildings in Richmond
Richmond is an elegant town in south west London bordering the river Thames.  The town centre is very pleasant and along the riverside you will find fine examples of large Georgian style architecture as well as some attractive bars and restaurants.  Taking the Thames Path in either direction is very scenic and this morning we decided to walk towards Richmond Bridge passing more cafes and boat stations along the way.  If you have the time to spare and the weather is good,  a river cruise can be taken during the summer months, the service runs between Westminster Pier,  Kew,  Richmond and Hampton Court.

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Richmond Bridge
After a short distance the path becomes more rural and approaching Petersham Meadows you will notice steps up to the main road.  Opposite here are the Terrace Gardens and climbing up the path leads to the top of Richmond Hill.  Looking back, there are spectacular views of the Thames, Twickenham Rugby Stadium and Windsor to the far west (it was a gloomy, February morning so my photo doesn’t show it at its best).   Nearby are the entrance gates to Richmond Park, the largest of the Royal Parks and a national nature reserve.  Deer roam freely in the park but sadly this morning we didn’t come across any as we took a loop walk to the lake.  It was bitterly cold and although we enjoyed our morning stroll , we looked forward to warming mugs of hot chocolate back in the town centre.

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View from the top of Richmond Hill
Next, it was time for a little retail therapy at one of our favourite London shopping destinations, Sloane Square, Chelsea.  Most first time visitors head for Oxford Street but it’s always crowded and apart from Selfridges, John Lewis and Marks & Spencer many of the other smaller stores are very touristy.

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Saatchi Gallery, Sloane Square
Sloane Square is the home of the John Lewis Partnership flagship store Peter Jones and walking along the Kings Road you will find a good mix of designer chic and high street favourites.  Tucked behind the Kings Road lies Duke of York Square where every Saturday Partridge’s Food Market takes place.  It’s a foodies heaven with a mix of local and international food stalls overlooking Partridges food store, one of the only remaining independent grocers still trading in London.  Do take a look inside as its an epicurean delight with a wine bar and cafe.  Across the square lies the Saatchi Gallery where admission to all exhibitions is free of charge.

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Trafalgar  Square
After enjoying afternoon tea in Chelsea, we headed back to Piccadilly Circus where we walked along to Trafalgar Square for a look in the National Gallery.  We dined this evening near Tower Bridge and after a late evening stroll along the river to London Bridge station we returned to our hotel feeling tired as we had walked almost 13 miles today!

 

 

 

Day 4. Little Venice and Chinatown

Breakfast in our hotel again this morning then a tube journey northbound to Camden Town.  A popular market is held here at weekends but to be honest,  I’m not a fan of this one as it’s mostly a collection of touristy stalls and shops along the road.  The reason for our visit was to take a morning stroll along the Regent’s Canal.  It’s easy to find, on leaving Camden Town underground station turn right walking a short distance past the market until you reach Camden Lock.  Overlooking the lock you will find a pub and across the bridge, Camden Lock food court where you can find some tasty snacks in an attractive outdoor setting.

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Camden Lock Food Court
Follow the towpath along Regent’s Canal and you will soon find yourselves far away from the hordes of tourists visiting Camden Market.  Regent’s Canal was originally built as a link between the Grand Union Canal and the River Thames but is now a haven of tranquility with many points of interest along this three mile stretch to Paddington.   It’s one of our favourite Sunday morning London walks and I believe, one of the capiral’s best kept secrets.

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Narrowboat homes with their own small gardens
Strolling along, one can view elegant waterfront mansions and the large aviary of Regent’s Park Zoo which borders the canal.  A little further along,  the towpath passes the Little Venice basin in Maida Vale, home to a collection of narrowboats, most of these being permanent homes.  I especially like this section of the canal as the narrowboat residents take great pride in their homes and even have their own small gardens across the towpath.  Apart from spring bulbs, there’s not much in flower in February but walk along in a few months time and there will be magnificent displays of trailing wisteria and clematis.

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Little Venice, Maida Vale
From the canal basin it’s possible to take boat trips and there are some attractive cafes, and one of them is actually on a narrowboat.   It’s then necessary to leave the towpath for a short distance but the canal walk is signposted and rejoins the canal a little further on.  Towards its end near Paddington Station there are more cafes, bars and restaurants.  Of course, the walk can be taken in reverse starting at Paddington and ending at Camden but please bear in mind that if you are visiting at weekends Camden station is for exit only due to the large crowds and you may need to extend your walk along to Mornington Crescent station to continue your journey.

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Gateway Arch to Chinatown
From Paddington we travelled along to Piccadilly Circus, a square that’s always bustling with activity.  From here, it’s only a short walk to nearby Leicester Square,  another popular tourist hub.  Located just off Leicester Square is London’s Chinatown with its ornate gateway arch and as it’s not so long since Chinese New Year, the streets were still festooned with bright orange paper lanterns.  Chinatown only covers a small area but it’s fun to explore and perhaps enjoy a meal in one of its many restaurants.

A short walk from Chinatown lies Covent Garden, an attractive tourist location situated around the former fruit and vegetable market.  The area was transformed in 1980 when the elegant old buildings were tastefully refurbished into bars, cafes and small shops.  A craft market takes place in the former Apple Market whilst street performers entertain crowds – it’s certainly a vibrant place to visit in central London.

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National Gallery, Trafalgar Square
Our afternoon stroll continued to Trafalgar Square, home to both the National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery, both free to visit except for special exhibitions.  I particularly enjoy visiting the National Portrait Gallery where one can view portraits of famous British people from the 17th century to recent times.

All this walking was making us hungry so we headed off to a branch of Pizza Express near the Royal Festival Hall on the south bank for a meal.  It was then time to return to our hotel in Vauxhall to collect our luggage in good time to take the 7.30 pm train home from King’s Cross station.

If you have enjoyed reading about some of my favourite parts of London,  I will be returning again in late May when I plan to visit some more of my hidden gems.  If you are looking for ideas of how to spend  your time in London, you can read my other London weekend posts here.

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