Day 1.  A Short Break in London

I never tire of a few days in London so recently I managed to fit in a short break to the capital.  Travelling by train took just under three hours from my home in the north of England enabling me to arrive into the city around lunchtime.

Piccadilly, London

My first stop was at Piccadilly,  a short hop on the underground.  Piccadilly Circus is the beating heart of London, a vibrant square that’s always crowded and where traffic moves extremely slowly.  The iconic Piccadilly Lights advertising screens are currently out of action whilst a new, single screen is installed.  The new screen due to be operational in November 2017, will be the largest digital advertising board in Europe, retaining its curved style.  Whilst the installation takes place, advertising banners are covering the scaffolding.

Buckingham Palace, London

After pausing for a quick lunch I continued along Piccadilly to Green Park which is one of the Royal Parks and a pleasant open space in the centre of London.  Walking through the park the path leads to The Mall and Buckingham Palace.  Returning to Green Park station along yet another path I noticed deckchairs set out on the grass.  A few were in use but at £1.60 to relax on one for an hour it wasn’t surprising that many were unoccupied.

Canary Wharf Station, London Docklands

Moving on, I took the Jubilee Line to Canary Wharf in London’s docklands and on leaving the station I paused a few minutes to watch some Filipino dancers who were helping to promote tourism in the Philippines.  I was asked to take part in a free prize draw for a week’s holiday in Palawan so I gladly entered my details, I never win anything but there’s always a first time, one can dream.

Philippines Tourist Board Event

My tour of Canary Wharf started at Reuters Plaza, recognisable because of its series of clocks, an art installation entitled Six Public Clocks.  Konstantin Grcic’s clocks were the winning design in a 1999 competition and were based on the iconic Swiss railway clock but here each of the twelve faces displays a single and different number.

Six Public Clocks, Reuters Plaza

From Reuters Plaza I walked along to Canada Square to take a look in the delightful Crossrail roof garden, a calm oasis above the yet to be opened Crossrail Station.  The roof garden is free to visit and is open daily.  It features a self watering roof with the planting reflecting the docklands heritage as a trading centre with plants native to the countries visited by the ships.

Crossrail Place, Canary Wharf

I then met up with my son and we ate dinner in the nearby Ledger Building which was constructed in 1803 to the designs of the West India Dock Company.  The building was used to house the ledgers from all the various departments of the docks.  It remained in use as the Port of London offices until the 1970’s and has since been transformed into a J.D. Wetherspoon public house.

The Ledger Building, Canary Wharf

After enjoying steak and chips we caught the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) to Prince Regent which was then about a 7 minute walk to our hotel the Ibis Styles London Excel. Directly opposite the hotel stands the Custom House DLR station but this is undergoing major renovations and is closed for 11 months necessitating a slightly longer walk.

Ibis Styles Hotel, Custom House, London

Check in was quick and the receptionist kindly gave us extra supplies for our tea maker which was very useful.  After enjoying cups of tea and Kit Kat we felt tired and it was not long before we were tucked up in our comfortable bed fast asleep.


Day 2.  Exploring London’s East End

Buffet style breakfast is included in the room rate at Ibis Styles hotels and there was a good selection of both hot and cold dishes to set us up for the day in its brightly coloured restaurant.  Setting off, I walked the short distance to Prince Regent DLR station and made my way via Canning Town and Stratford to the Central Line as I wished to visit Bethnal Green.

The Victoria & Albert Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green

I’d never been to Bethnal Green before and the reason for my visit was to take a look inside the Victoria & Albert (V & A) Museum of Childhood  which is located a few steps away from the underground station.  I’ve visited the V & A main museum in South Kensington many times and having enjoyed the Museum of Childhood in Edinburgh I was eager to see how this compared.  Entrance to the museum is free of charge as for the main V & A museum in South Kensington.

Interior of the V & A Museum of Childhood, Bethnal Green

The building was completed in 1872 and officially opened as the Bethnal Green museum but after the First World War it began to focus collections of interest to children.  Since 1974 the decision was made to dedicate the museum to the subject of childhood and the V & A’s collections of children’s costume, books, nursery items, art and furniture were relocated to Bethnal Green alongside the museum’s existing toy collection.

Dolls houses in the V & A Museum of Childhood

I adored everything about this museum from the magnificent large hall with its wrought iron pillars to the exhibits on display.  One of my favourite displays was of an art installation featuring 150 vintage dolls houses in a variety of architectural styles and averaging approximately one metre high.  The ‘village’ sits on a stepped platform evoking a sprawling hillside community.  Some of the toys featured I remembered from my own childhood and there were board games and Matchbox cars on display that even my own children had more recently played with.

Traditional rocking horse in the Museum of Childhood

In addition to toys there are galleries displaying clothes including uniforms which were popular for dressing up in and playing pretend occupations such as soldiers and nurses.  The nursery equipment also fascinated me, being able to see how prams have evolved from coach built steel bodied versions to what we use today.  Before leaving I had to take a look at the collection of traditional wooden rocking horses two of which were available for children to ride on.

London Underground Roundel, Bethnal Green Station

After leaving the museum I returned to the nearby underground station in search of a National Trust property in Hackney.  Getting there was quick and easy, taking the Central Line to Stratford and then hopping onto the Overground a few stops to Hackney Central.

Walled Garden Walk, Hackney

It was a pleasant short walk to Sutton House along the pedestrianised Narrow Way and then through St. John’s churchyard gardens which led to the Walled Garden Walk.  Along there I found a wrought iron sign pointing to Sutton House which is located on the corner of Homerton High Street.  At nearly 500 years old Sutton House is the oldest home in East London.  Originally built as a Tudor Palace, its final occupants were squatters in the 1980’s before being bought by the National Trust to be saved for the nation.

Sutton House, Hackney

Some original features remain such as intricate patterned woodcarving in the parlour but various modifications have taken place over the years reflecting changes of ownership.  Before Sutton House was built the site was used for manufacturing leather, later becoming a car breaker’s yard.  The garden features planting in old tyres and the shell of a campervan being used as a greenhouse to celebrate the industrial heritage of the site.

Breaker’s Yard Garden, Sutton House

After enjoying my visit I headed back to Piccadilly to find somewhere for a snack and a short rest.  It had just started raining heavily so my cafe stop was well timed.  Later I enjoyed a walk through St. James Park, along The Mall to Buckingham Palace before returning to our hotel in the Docklands.

St James Park, London

Related posts:

The Victoria & Albert Museum

The Museum of Childhood in Edinburgh

Finnish Toy Museum

Day 3.   Exploring Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

After eating breakfast in our hotel located in the Docklands we took the DLR the short distance to Stratford to visit Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park which was the venue for the Summer 2012 Olympic Games.

The London Stadium, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
On leaving the station we took the escalator up to ‘The Street’ which is an outdoor part of Westfield Stratford City, one of Europe’s largest urban shopping centres located next to the park.   Folllowing the path we glanced in several of the shops before turning right at Fountain Square, this walkway taking us to the entrance of the park.
Waterways surrounding the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Walking towards the London Stadium, we crossed one of the bridges over the loop of waterways surrounding the park which are now open for public navigation and pleasure boat trips.  The 6 kilometres of rivers in the park were once a key transport network for the industries that lined the river.  A decline in canal freight combined with a build up of silt resulted in the rivers becoming unnavigable and derelict until restoration work took place as part of the preparations for the London 2012 Olympic Games.
London Aquatics Centre, Queen Elizabeth Park

Built to host London 2012, the former Olympic Stadium was modified and renamed London Stadium and is now jointly used by West Ham United Football Club, U.K. Athletics, World Rugby League and as a concert venue.  It seats 57,000 for football matches and up to 80,000 for concerts and has the longest cantilevered roof in the world.  Stadium tours are available and details can be found here..

Directly opposite the London Stadium stands the London Aquatics Centre which was used for swimming, diving and synchronised swimming events for the London Olympics.  After modifications it opened to the public in May 2014 and has two 50 metre pools plus a 25 metre diving pool with boards at differing heights.

The ArcelorMittal Orbit, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Before leaving the park we took a look at the ArcelorMittalOrbit which is sited between the stadium and aquatics centre and is a permanent lasting legacy to London 2012.  The name ArcelorMittal combines the name of the Mittal company who were chief sponsors, with Orbit,  the original working title of the project.  The art installation which combines sculpture with structural engineering has divided opinion being both praised and criticised for its radical design.  It is the U.K.’s tallest public artwork and has two viewing platforms on its observation deck.   In June 2016 ‘The Slide’ opened measuring 178 metres which is the world’s tallest and longest tunnel slide with riders hitting speeds of up to 15 miles per hour – its definitely not for me but has proved extremely popular for thrill seekers wanting an exhilarating experience.

Westfield Stratford City

After enjoying our visit to the park we strolled back across the bridge into the Westfield shopping centre, stopping off for tea and cakes in the John Lewis department store before making our way back across London for our train home from Kings Cross Station.
Main concourse, Kings Cross Station, London
If you have enjoyed reading this series of posts on London and would like more ideas for places to visit in the capital, you can follow my link here.