6 unique and unexpected things you can do in London
Once you tick off London’s iconic attractions there is a whole host of unexpected experiences to uncover. Big Ben and Westminster; the London Eye and Buckingham Palace; icons like red phone boxes and black cabs. All are among London’s classic drawcards, yet the UK capital offers much more than what meets the eye.   Dig under its surface and you’ll find some unexpected locations and experiences that will open your eyes to a different kind of London, the kind that Londoners love.   Here is how to explore the unexpected in London. 1. Get under the rails Once home to industrial storage, motor services and shady characters, the railway arches of London look very different today.   Most visitors exit the London Bridge tube station with the Shard as their goal, before wandering towards the River Thames to explore the Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.   Unbeknownst to the crowds, the old and dirty brickworks of the railway arches just a few streets behind these attractions have been transformed into some of the most popular local hangouts.   live with markets, microbreweries, bakeries and gin distilleries, these arches are now the place to be. Check out the popular Maltby Street Market for amazing gourmet street food, bars and cafes, or keep going along the other side of the railway line and join the Bermondsey Beer Mile to sample London’s finest craft beers. [caption id="attachment_48189" align="alignnone" width="600"] Where the locals hang out (Photo: Amy McPherson)[/caption] [caption id="attachment_48188" align="alignnone" width="600"] Maltby St Market (Photo: Amy McPherson)[/caption] 2. Street art of the East End London’s East End was not traditionally considered glamorous. Once notorious for pirates, prostitution and – in more recent years – dodgy curry houses, its cheap rents first made it a haven for artists and creative types in the 1990s and the area has since transformed into one of the city’s coolest. [caption id="attachment_48190" align="alignnone" width="600"] Street art prevails in East End[/caption] Today’s East End is a sassy gourmet hot spot, full of fashionable boutiques and mixed with an edginess that still lingers in the atmosphere. The community of artists have transformed it into an open gallery of street art, which is best discovered on foot.   Go for a walk along the famous ‘Curry Mile’ on Brick Lane and venture through the narrow alleyways and car parks for the best graffiti in town. Even better, combine it with a culinary experience at Eating London Tours, to get a true taste of a part of London that was once neglected. You might even stumble upon a Banksy on your stroll. You just never know. 3. Yoga on the bridge Catching a double-decker bus across the iconic Tower Bridge is a rite of passage in London. As is photographing it from the riverbanks of the Thames. But you’ve probably never thought to do your morning yoga session along the walkway at the top of the bridge. Well, now you can! [caption id="attachment_48191" align="alignnone" width="600"] You've probably never thought of finding zen in the middle of a bridge...[/caption] On a selected day every month you can sign up for a session of Yoga in the Walkways. Not only will you be energised for another day of sightseeing, you’ll be treated with great views of the city while saluting the sun.   Sessions are limited so book early. 4. Enjoy Jane Austen era’s high society It is compulsory to mingle with high society on every trip to London. What does that mean exactly? Enjoying the best high teas London has on offer. If you’d like to keep it traditional, book your afternoon high tea at the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon at the prestigious department store Fortnum & Mason. For a more modern experience, make your booking with a London Landmarks architecture-themed afternoon tea at The Kensington hotel. [caption id="attachment_48192" align="alignnone" width="600"] Fortnum & Mason tea salon[/caption] Granted, having high tea isn’t the most unexpected thing you can do in London, but here’s where things get extra special. Once you’ve had your fill of the delicious sweet treats, it’s time to get your dancing shoes on.   Attention fans of Jane Austen: Mrs Bennet invites you to dance at a ball! Yes, this is a proper regency dancing class that will have you dancing like Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy in no time. Mrs Bennet’s Ballroom classes are run in Surbiton, Fulham and Camden. Book your class in advance and pencil in some extra time to explore the neighbourhood while you’re there. 5. Hang out by the canals King’s Cross station isn’t just a gateway for the cross-Channel Eurostar trains, it’s also the perfect place to start exploring the Regent’s Canal. Stretching all the way from Paddington in central London to the River Thames at Limehouse in the east, the canal was once used to transport London’s cargo throughout the country. [caption id="attachment_48194" align="alignnone" width="600"] Canal book shop (Amy McPherson)[/caption] Kick off your canal tour by stopping in at the London Canal Museum and learn the history of the canals, as well as the stories of the people who once worked and lived there. Around the corner you’ll find the Word on the Water floating bookshop: a repurposed 1920s Dutch barge and surely the most unique bookstore in London.   Continue along the footpath to find the narrow houseboats that line the canal, and for something a bit more adventurous you can tour the waterways on a kayak with London Kayaks. 6. Get drinks in an underground loo Going to the loo has a very different meaning in London these days. You’ll find some of the city’s trendiest bars and restaurants are now located in old underground public toilets. Don’t let their former function put you off. You’ll want to start your morning with a cup of quality coffee at Attendant in Fitzrovia. The former loo is still decorated with the original troughs and flush. For an amazing selection of fine wines, meats and cheeses, head to the WC in Clapham Common.   If you’re planning a night out on the town, you can’t go past Ladies and Gentlemen in Kentish Town. Choose from a selection of inventive cocktails in what were formerly – you guessed it right – public ladies and gents!   Alternatively, for all things public toilet related, why not try a quirky way to get to know London intimately by taking a Loo Tour? It really does exist, and is surprisingly fun and informative!
Hotel Review: Good Hotel, London
We test out Good Hotel: a new-breed, social-good hotel, lugged to London over water from Amsterdam. Details Good Hotel Royal Victoria Dock, Western Gateway, London, UK The history A hotel with a cause is not something you come across every day. Especially not one that’s been designed in the Netherlands, before being barged along the North Sea Canal and over to the River Thames.   The eight-million-kilogram Good Hotel spent a year in Amsterdam where about 100 long-term unemployed were trained in hospitality, before it took its mission to the UK. [caption id="attachment_47394" align="alignleft" width="600"] First impressions at The Good Hotel[/caption] I’m all for supporting those who work hard to climb the ladders of life, so I’m on board with the concept before I even see that the hotel fits into the quirky, design-oriented, boutique style I favour.   It turns out chic-budget digs asking under £100 per night are trending in London, and this one is part of the new wave. Plus £5 ($9) from every direct booking at the Good Hotel, per night, is donated to underprivileged kids – even better. I click ‘book’. First impressions A moment’s walk from Royal Victoria DLR station, I’m greeted by what looks like a mass of grey sea containers stacked on a floating platform, linked to the docks by a drawbridge. Pulling my roller bag to the entrance, I feel like I’m boarding an ocean liner, only with large, square windows. [caption id="attachment_47393" align="alignleft" width="600"] Explore the communal 'living room'[/caption] Inside, it’s a freelancer’s dream. Felt chairs mingle with pine stools on sand-hued mats, pastel ottomans and grey couches are strewn with cushions and a mix of statement light shades and Edison globes deliver a decidedly hip vibe to the painted black interiors. [caption id="attachment_47386" align="alignleft" width="600"] The shared spaces are a freelancers dream[/caption] Check-in is streamlined – I’ve pre-entered most things online – with the only disappointment being advice that the rooftop is closed for an event. The room I’m soon in a rather industrial lift heading to my room – one of 148. Its pale grey walls are bare; there’s no TV or USB points but, for London, it’s huge – I wonder if I got upgraded and they forgot to mention it.   My king-size bed is dressed with crisp, clean linen, and there’s complimentary sparkling water and appropriately moral bathroom accessories by FAIR CosmEthics. [caption id="attachment_47391" align="alignleft" width="600"] A deluxe room at The Good Hotel[/caption] It’s pin-drop quiet overnight. I’ve sprung for views and the scene of frigid Brits swimming in the crane-dotted docks the following morning is well worth it.   Before setting off for the nearby Emirates cable car (a cheap and sensational aerial adventure), I’m wowed by the high-end brekkie spread. Fresh blackberries, dried cranberries, mini Bonne Maman jars and French pastries are served among the usual suspects.   The floor is packed with people of all ages from all over the world, all looking as pleased as I am that we chose to be Good. [caption id="attachment_47390" align="alignleft" width="600"] Have a drink at the Good Hotel bar[/caption] The verdict A modern, industrial-chic hotel with double-barrel attractions: it engages in social good while offering some of the most affordable, quality rooms in London. Location: 6/10 It’s a 40-minute, two-tube ride to London’s heart – but the dockside views make up for it. Style/character: 9/10 Budget doesn’t mean boring; trendy communal areas, free fruit and mags invite you to linger. Service: 8/10 Service is impressively polished, and staff have good knowledge of the local area. Rooms: 7/10 Minimalist with limited mod cons, yet my ‘deluxe water view room’ was spacious and the essentials well above average. Food and drink: 10/10 This is one of the biggest and best brekkie smorgasbords I’ve seen, and for £13.50 ($25) it’s worth indulging. [caption id="attachment_47396" align="alignleft" width="600"] The Good Hotel food is a definite highlight[/caption] Value for money: 9/10 London is an expensive city, so anything for £100 ($180) or less is regarded as a bargain – I paid just over.
5 secret bars in London and how to find them
Hidden in London’s rabbit warren of streets – between the old pubs and office buildings, trendy cafes and quirky shops – are some stellar secret cocktail bars to get acquainted with. The Blind Pig Hidden above Michelin-star restaurant Social Eating House in Soho is the American underworld-themed bar The Blind Pig. Named after American slang for a drinking den during the Prohibition, this has strong whiskey and cigar vibes reminiscent of 1920s New York.   All dim lighting and mahogany trim, this establishment is decked out with vintage fittings, an antique mirrored ceiling, reclaimed wooden chairs and a copper-topped bar. Boasting cosy leather bar stools and booths, and a drinks menu of strong spirits, quality cocktails and craft beer, this is the perfect London hideout.   Cocktails are also named after your favourite childhood tales: think The Very Hungry Caterpillar’s 5 a Day (Patron Silver tequila, lime cordial, apple, pears, plums, strawberries and oranges); Harry Potter’s Best Bottle Butter Bitter (Scotch whisky, beer, butterscotch, bitters, thyme and citrus); and Jemima Puddle-Duck’s Fowl Play (Aylesbury Duck Vodka, blood orange, honey, herbs and spices). The menu is an artwork in itself, with each cocktail description paired with a gorgeous illustration to feast your eyes on.   Finding this gem of a bar, from street level, is a challenge. Look for the vintage, neon red and white ‘Optician’ sign, and below you will find a brass, blindfolded pig doorknocker. Once you find this, you’re in. Just don’t tell anyone.   Address: 58 Poland Street, London W1F 7NR Discount Suit Company Named after the tailor’s shop that was based at this spot, and whose sign is still (mostly) mounted on the brick corner of the old building, the Discount Suit Company is an underground bar with the best of everything: in the heart of London, very intimate and home to the best exotic and classic cocktails. [caption id="attachment_46741" align="alignleft" width="600"] With the original sign (somewhat) in tact, the Discount Suit Company holds plenty of history[/caption] With exposed brick interior walls, wood furnishings and ambient lighting, this bar blends romance with a touch of grunge. The dressmaker’s mannequin in the corner of the bar is a true tribute to the bar’s former life, but I am very sure the space is happy with this new breath of life.   Nibble on artisanal cheeses from London’s own Neal’s Yard Dairy as you sip your Wooly Back (pisco, white Port, coconut, jasmine, citrus and vitamin C) or your classic Piña Fumada (mezcal, Velvet Falernum, pineapple, lemon, honey and club soda).   Locating the entrance is tricky, and once you do, watch your head on the steep descent into the basement (and be even more careful on your way out, half intoxicated).   Address: 29a Wentworth Street, London E1 7TB Experimental Cocktail Club Found in the depths of bustling Chinatown behind an old door with peeling paint, the ECC is an easy one to walk past on first go, but a hard to resist once you’ve found it.   Spread over three storeys, the establishment’s industrial bones – pressed-metal ceilings and exposed bricks – are offset by minimalist interior design, mirrored walls and blackout curtains to atmospheric effect. It’s the perfect combination of lively and intimate, but make sure you book in advance – this is a popular spot. [caption id="attachment_46742" align="alignleft" width="600"] Brooding interiors at The Experimental Cocktail Club[/caption] Experimental cocktails include the Stockholm Syndrome (Ketel 1 vodka infused with cumin and dill, Linie Aquavit, lemon juice, syrup, pink Himalayan rock salt and bitters) and the Grandaddy (Buffalo Trace bourbon, Cynar, lemon and grapefruit juice and rosemary-infused honey). Classics are also on the menu, with a choice of 50s, 60s or 70s gin in your vintage martini.   Address: 13a Gerrard Street, London W1D 5PS Milk & Honey A member’s bar with a yearly fee, this is an upper-class club with a lot of sass. Serving a bunch of house rules with their amazing cocktails, you are expected to dress a certain way and act a certain way as a condition of entry.   As a non-member, you can still frequent the bar if you book a table in advance, preferably earlier in the week. There are non-member specific spots in the three-storey establishment, housing chesterfield couches, low lighting (aided by candles scattered through the bar), and pressed-metal ceilings. Just stepping in this exclusive bar makes you feel like a politician, a movie star or a someone who plays golf on a weekday.   The Bumblebee cocktail is divine, with dark rum, honey, lemon and angostura, and Satin Sheets tastes like it sounds, with a combination of tequila, falernum and lime. Of course, this bar also serves a range of fancy Champagne and wines, and a grazing menu worthy of kings. Try the homemade tuna samosas, the buttermilk-fried chicken bun or the cured meat board.   With no signs, the big metal door is the only signifier that Milk & Honey really exists. Check left and right, make sure no one is looking, and then enter. Voilà, you’re in!   Address: 61 Poland Street, London W1F 7NR King’s Head Members Club Positioned in the hip East End suburb of Hoxton, this bar is hidden behind the facade of a rundown British pub – but don’t be fooled: inside is another story. Its opulent and eclectic interiors are characterised by a startling collection of exotic taxidermied animals, including a cheetah standing atop an antique cabinet.   Thousands of butterflies line the dining room and peacocks are scattered around the bar; an assortment of antique furniture, much of it lined with red velvet, create a luxurious ambience. [caption id="attachment_46743" align="alignleft" width="600"] Unexpected interiors at The Kings Head[/caption] The King’s Head is another private member club and non-members need to score a spot on the guest list to gain entry – whether that’s to the bar or one of the club’s many events, from life drawing to burlesque shows. Emailing in advance to scope out what’s on is your best bet for getting in.   The club is home to some knock-out cocktails including the Goose Lemonade (Grey Goose Vodka, Chambord black raspberry liqueur, fresh raspberries topped with lemonade) and Aviation (Bombay Sapphire Gin, Maraschino liqueur, crème de violette and lemon juice).   Great drinks, an eccentric theme and unique events make for a marvellous time at this exclusive and secret London bar.   Address: 257 Kingsland Road, London E2 8AS
6 picturesque places to go on a long weekend near London
London is a great jumping off point for exploring the United Kingdom, and is certainly where most travellers begin (often without heading out of the city at all). This is a list of the best towns, counties and villages to get you out of the city for a long weekend, and explore the history of England along the way. Oxford Oxford, dubbed ‘the city of dreaming spires’, has been home to the likes of J. R. R. Tolkien, Oscar Wilde and Emily Davison, all who attended the world famous Oxford University.   If you visit however, you’ll be quick to learn it’s much more than a university town.   The city boasts incredible architecture, history and food, with a trip promising romance, relaxation and a little bit of learning in the middle. Getting there from London: Oxford lies approximately 90 kilometres north-east of London. The journey will take approximately one hour, by both train and car. Best things to do during your stay: EAT Gail’s Bakery Jericho on Little Clarendon Street offers the best in baked goods. Stop in for a croissant/cinnamon bun hybrid, a serve of thick cut sourdough toast with home-made jam and clotted cream or a ham and gruyere cheese croissant. The eat-in dining experience offers quality service, or alternatively, grab it take-away and seat yourself in one of the many university gardens. [caption id="attachment_45908" align="alignleft" width="600"] Gail’s Bakery Jericho on Little Clarendon Street offers the best in baked goods[/caption] For dinner, hit up the best restaurant in Oxford, the Oxford Kitchen, where you can enjoy rabbit croquette for starters, confit pork belly for main and finish it all off with a nectarine parfait. With exposed brick interiors, industrial meets chic in this acclaimed venue. [caption id="attachment_45909" align="alignleft" width="600"] Inside the Oxford Kitchen[/caption] Café Rouge is another great spot, particularly for a nice lunch in the courtyard on a sunny day. Grab a croque monsieur and a coffee, to hit the spot.   DO Punting, usually whilst sipping on a glass of Pimms, is one of the most iconic Oxfordian activities.   Punting is the English version of riding in a gondola, with the punter at the back of the seven-metre boat, rowing with a long pole that reaches the bottom of the river bed.   The best punting can be found at Cherwell Boathouse, where hiring a punt for up to six people on a weekend will cost $34 per hour or $170 for a full day, and slightly less on weekdays. [caption id="attachment_45907" align="alignleft" width="600"] Expect understated but upscale European dining on the river at Cherwell Boathouse[/caption] If you paddle far enough along the river you can stop at a riverside pub for a beverage, or to say hello to the cows grabbing a drink from the river bank.   SEE There are plenty of things to see in Oxford: just walking the street for one, or exploring the libraries and university buildings or shopping.   The University of Oxford Botanic Gardens and Arboretum are a must-see when on a visit to Oxfordshire, and the perfect spot for a picnic lunch or to sit and read a book (how appropriate!). [caption id="attachment_45910" align="alignleft" width="600"] The University of Oxford Botanic Garden is the oldest botanic garden in Great Britain and one of the oldest scientific gardens in the world[/caption] If you are looking for something spectacular to see, and happy to drive 30 minutes out of the town, Waddesdon Manor, built by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in the late 19th century, is a sight for sore eyes.   Set on over 2000 hectares of mostly manicured gardens and forest, the residence boasts a French renaissance style and is home to the Rothschild Collections of paintings, sculpture and decorative arts. You can come and see how the other half lived as the manor house is now managed by the Rothschild Foundation on behalf of the National Trust and open to visitors. Poundon A country hamlet in Buckinghamshire, less than half an hour’s drive from Oxford, Poundon is the ultimate town for a romantic weekend away.   Surrounded by flowing fields of farmland, old local pubs and humble English cottages, Poundon (and a number of surrounding hamlet towns) is an amazing escape from busy London town, offering the authentic country experience you’re looking for.   Getting there from London: An hour and a half by car, Poundon offers a unique country experience not too far from the city. EAT For a fully immersive experience in an English country town, an old local pub can’t be beaten. With plenty in this area the choice is difficult. Perhaps you could be tempted by a roast at the Red Lion, a tiny pub just out of Poundon with a thatched roof and ceilings so traditionally low that you can scarcely stand up.   With its white facade in the centre of Poundon, the Sow and Pigs dates back to the 1800s. Describing its own menu as ‘swine dining’, this pub will not disappoint. Try the chef’s crackling with apple sauce and the baked camembert with garlic and thyme for starters and the slow-cooked beef brisket for main. You also have the choice to create your own burger for £11.50 and an array of daily desserts to finish it all off. DO Book yourself into a bed and breakfast for a cosy and romantic stay. The charming and peaceful Manor Farm Bed and Breakfast – right in the centre of Poundon and with gorgeous countryside views – has three en suite guest rooms, a communal kitchen and elegant lounge room that invites playing board games and reading books (with many of each supplied). Breakfast is made fresh daily and consists of homemade bread and condiments, or yoghurt, fruit and local honey. [caption id="attachment_45915" align="alignleft" width="600"] Book yourself into Manor Farm bed and breakfast for a cosy and romantic stay[/caption] Another great thing to do when in Poundon is to venture out to Bicester Village: a collection of factory outlets for upper-end brands. Here you’ll find Montblanc, Timberland, Cath Kidston and Gucci at a fraction of the retail price. [caption id="attachment_45914" align="alignleft" width="600"] Bicester Village is home to more than 160 boutiques of leading brands, each offering savings of up to 60%[/caption] SEE: The best thing to soak up in Poundon is the countryside. Take a walk around the narrow country lanes to relax, and even take a stroll past Poundon House, an Edwardian estate nothing short of breathtaking. [caption id="attachment_45916" align="alignleft" width="600"] Take a stroll through Poundon House[/caption] Bath Formerly the home of Jane Austen (and now home to the Jane Austen Centre), Bath is a cultural hub filled with history and atmosphere. [caption id="attachment_45920" align="alignleft" width="600"] Evening view of Royal Crescent, a heritage street in Bath[/caption] With much to do and see in this gorgeous West Country city, any visitor to London must venture out and explore it, at least once. Getting there from London: A two-hour drive or one and a half hours by train will get you from London’s city centre to Bath. EAT If you enjoy a bit of spontaneity, and very fine cuisine, Menu Gordon Jones is the best place in Bath. The concept, created by the up and coming chef Gordon Jones, is that every meal is a surprise. At £50 for a five-course meal, you sit and wait patiently for whatever the chef decides to serve you. This is not only fine dining, but an experience that can only be had in Bath.   Although this isn’t Cornwall, stop into the Cornish Bakery when in Bath for a pasty, scone and an excellent coffee.   For a brilliant breakfast, stop in at Bill’s for a stack of buttermilk pancakes (and nab yourself a side of bacon too!). Bill’s, with a gorgeous deep green frontage, reminiscent of an English pub, is hard to miss – so don’t. DO Bath’s compact city centre can be easily enjoyed by foot, but for a sweeping overview of its majestic architecture and attractions – from the Royal Crescent to the Roman Baths and Bath Abbey – hop on an open-top city sightseeing bus. [caption id="attachment_45922" align="alignleft" width="600"] Visit Thermae Bath Spa: where you can bathe in naturally warm, mineral-rich water[/caption] And for a little R&R after all that sightseeing, visit Thermae Bath Spa, where you can bathe in naturally warm, mineral-rich water, just as the Romans used to do. This spa retreat in the middle of the city is inspired by (you guessed it!) the Roman Baths. SEE The Roman Baths, ancient religious spas situated right in the centre of the city, are a must see-in Bath (considering the city’s named after them). The baths, built in opulence, were public bathing houses that were filled using aqueducts and ancient heating systems, showcasing the sophistication of the Roman Empire. To make the most of your visit, book the ‘above and below’ tours, to see the site below and above ground. [caption id="attachment_45921" align="alignleft" width="600"] Enjoy Bath's rich history, brought to life at the Roman Baths[/caption] Cornwall A county to the south-west of London, Cornwall is made up of many picturesque towns and villages, and is best explored with a car. Getting there from London:  From London, to the most westerly part of Cornwall (and indeed, England), Land’s End is a five-hour drive and almost seven hours by train. EAT Wherever you are in Cornwall, make sure you’re eating clotted cream: on toast, on scones and even as ice-cream.   Another delicacy is the Cornish pasty – a hand-held meat and vegetable pie originally developed as a lunch for Cornish tin miners in the 17th and 18th centuries. If you’re looking for something more than cream and pastry, the 13th-century Turks Head pub in Penzance, complete with underground smugglers’ tunnel, is fabulous for enjoying local beer and seafood. DO Head to the Eden Project, home to the largest indoor rainforest in the world. With a giant flying fox across the tops of the forest, this is not only an educational experience but also an exhilarating one. [caption id="attachment_45924" align="alignleft" width="600"] The Eden Project: the largest indoor rainforest in the world[/caption] SEE Visit Polperro, an ancient fishing village in Cornwall. With narrow winding streets, this small, unspoilt town feels like something out of a fairy tale. There is also a resident stray dog, who hangs with the fisherman who still shuck their oysters on the shore. [caption id="attachment_45926" align="alignleft" width="600"] The harbour of the fishing village Polperro[/caption] Another noteworthy town in this gorgeous county, mostly unknown by tourists, is Charlestown. [caption id="attachment_45927" align="alignleft" width="600"] The Phoenix sets sail from Charlestown[/caption] An untouched 18th century port town that used to be bustling with trade. The port, still completely intact, was used as a set for the first season of Poldark. It’s perfect for photographs, antique shopping and a bite to eat; try scones and English breakfast tea in the Pier House, an inn with accommodation that overlooks the town’s Georgian harbour.   Penzance is another beautiful Cornish town. It boasts great shopping and friendly locals and amazing architecture that sparkles on a sunny day. Not far from the centre of the city is Saint Michael’s Mount, which can be ventured to via boat when the sea is not too choppy, or by foot when the tide is low. This mount, a small island just off the coast, is a civil parish and a Cornish Icon.   A 20-minute drive from Penzance is Cornwall’s furthermost point and one of England’s most famous landmarks, Land’s End. Steeped in history and ancient legend, this clifftop destination affords views out of the Atlantic Ocean and more opportunities to indulge in some of the things that Cornwall does best – from pasties to clotted cream ice-cream. [caption id="attachment_45925" align="alignleft" width="600"] Land's End is one of Britain's most magnificent (and visited) landmarks[/caption] Devon Another county south-west of London, Devon is home to exquisite country, coastal and riverside towns.   With so much to do in Devon, a car is the best way to make sure you can get a taste of everything it has to offer. Getting there from London: Approximately three hours by train, and a 3.5-hour drive from London to the centre of Devon. EAT Whilst in Devon, and England for that matter, it would be a sin not to sit down to a Devonshire tea. With English breakfast tea and scones, act like an authentic Devonian. [caption id="attachment_45929" align="alignleft" width="600"] A Devonshire tea is unmistakably a truly British custom known worldwide[/caption] While Devonshire teas can be found at all good cafes and restaurants in Devon. I suggest heading to Exeter for the Hidden Treasure Tea Rooms cream tea. Additionally, The Strand tea rooms, in Plymouth, does the perfect cream tea situated in an old cobbled street location. Finally, the Cream Tea Café in Barnstaple is devoted to Devonshire cream tea and is a must-stop in when visiting this county. DO Why not visit Agatha Christie’s private holiday home, ‘Greenway’ in Brixham, and wander through the rooms where she wrote many of her books? Whether you’re a Christie fan or not, this experience is imperative on a trip through Devon. [caption id="attachment_45930" align="alignleft" width="600"] Wander through Agatha Christie’s private holiday home, ‘Greenway’ in Brixham[/caption] Another must-do in Devon is to hike through the Valley of the Rocks, spotting ancient rock formations, herds of goats and picturesque views of the ocean. SEE Travel through Dartmoor via Dartmoor way, which follows a scenic route through the most beautiful villages and homesteads in the area.    
5 reasons to add Ludlow to your UK itinerary
Every second couple featured on UK show Escape to the Country wants to move to this idyllic market town (or so it seems), and we can see why... Something happens to you as you walk the picturesque streets of Ludlow, known off-record as one of England’s prettiest towns.   One minute, you’re an urbanite trying desperately to find a flat white that doesn’t convince your soul to just keel over and die, and the next, you’ve soaked in enough of the South Shropshire countryside to find yourself wandering around in a middle-aged, pearl-and-twin-set haze saying things like, “It has real chocolate-box charm, doesn’t it?” and “Ooh, look at those lovely exposed beams!”; it all feels like a still from Escape to the Country (you know you know it). This is the power of Ludlow.   For the uninitiated, the medieval town is located bang on top of a cliff overlooking the River Teme and surrounded by the Welsh Marches, as well as that aforementioned gorgeous green countryside. It’s famous for its food and wine, including the annual Ludlow Spring Festival that promises revellers over 200 varieties of real ales plus cider, perry (similar to pear cider) and wine, more than 60 local food producers, live music and hopefully, a decent flat white or two.   And here are five more reasons to stick Ludlow on your itinerary… The Ludlow Food Festival We could talk about the lengths members of Ludlow and District Chamber of Trade and Commerce went to in order to boost the image of Ludlow and surrounding areas or how the popular festival, established in 1995, helps promote the area’s terrific artisan food and wine producers against the backdrop of the town’s historic castle, but instead we’ll just say: sausage trail, cake competition, ale trail, pork pie competition. [caption id="attachment_45559" align="alignleft" width="600"] The festival features a huge range of top quality food and drink producers[/caption] There’s a reason the town’s population doubles from its usual 10,000 at this time of year – why not make it 20,001? Ludlow Castle  In England, it’s hard to visit a simple corner store without tripping over a castle, but gosh this one is pretty. [caption id="attachment_45557" align="alignleft" width="600"] The construction of the Ludlow Castle started around 1085[/caption] Construction on this privately owned castle began in the late 11th century and over the centuries it hosted everyone from Prince Arthur, brother of Henry VIII, who honeymooned here before his untimely death, to Henry’s daughter Mary Tudor, who spent three icily cold winters here. Although it fell into decay, many of its buildings still stand and historians note that it’s a castle where its history is very much reflected in its varied architecture (everything from medieval to Tudor). Top tip? Rug up because it is seriously cold at the top (also a good rule of thumb for life, kids) and warm up afterwards by sipping a hot tea at the Castle Tea Room beneath. Ludlow Food Centre It’s difficult to put this delicately, so here goes: come all the way to Ludlow so you can experience the world’s greatest truck stop.   It’s not just any kind of truck stop, of course, but a gourmet wonderland located on the Earl of Plymouth’s 3000-hectare Oakly Park Estate just off the main road on the outskirts of town, which features a play and picnic area, the Clive Arms restaurant and boutique hotel (highly recommended), and on-site cafe Ludlow Kitchen (also highly recommended). [caption id="attachment_45561" align="alignleft" width="600"] Ludlow is famous for its selection of fresh produce[/caption] There are countless reasons to stop by the food centre, but the number one reason is surely Ludlow Pantry, a delicatessen that will leave you gasping at the wonders of culinary life. Just think of a smart food hall filled with the smell of freshly baked Cornish pasties, serving up hundreds of varieties of cheese, meats, baked goods, fresh produce and conserves.   More than 30 per cent of the food sold here is handmade on site, with a further 30 per cent sourced from Shropshire and its surrounding counties. Load up your suitcase; it’s worth making an appearance on Border Security for. The locals I’ll admit it, I’m a big fan of the English.   Not only is my husband originally from England, so are many of my exes and some of my best mates. But I have to say the locals are some of the best people I’ve ever encountered. To illustrate the point, here’s a short tale: I fell in love with what could be the world’s craziest hat at Ludlow’s open-air market, yet walked away without buying it. [caption id="attachment_45556" align="alignleft" width="600"] Famous architecture[/caption] When I went the following day to purchase said hat just before I was due to leave town, the vendor was not there. The story could have ended there, but it didn’t. [caption id="attachment_45555" align="alignleft" width="600"] Ludlow, in South Shropshire, is one of the most attractive towns in England[/caption] Another vendor who heard my woolly plight alerted Tony, the market manager who then called vendor after vendor at home until he found the maker, Heather, who then drove 40 minutes from her home to meet me with a bagful of hats slung over her shoulder. She then drove 40 minutes home, happy that I’d reconciled with the World’s Craziest Hat. That’s Ludlow. Ludlow Walking Tours On paper, Dorothy Nicolle is a qualified Blue Badge guide for the Heart of England region, and a local author, but to me, she’ll forever be known as a national treasure, ready to put herself on the line when it comes to promoting the exquisite towns of Shropshire. [caption id="attachment_45553" align="alignleft" width="600"] Ludlow was famously described by John Betjeman as “the loveliest town in England“[/caption] Rather than wandering aimlessly around town, engage the services of Dorothy and she can run you through one of her extensive, and incredibly thorough tours that include everything from ‘Shropshire’s oddities’ (of which, she informs me, there are many), to ‘People immortalised on pub signs’. [caption id="attachment_45560" align="alignleft" width="600"] Explore the picturesque city on foot[/caption] I went on the standard Ludlow tour that takes in the streets lined with quaint boutiques, cheesemongers and traditional pubs, and the scenic countryside around nearby town Ironbridge. Contact Dorothy at nicolle.me.uk
Cathay Pacific is offering $1000* return flights to London and here’s how to get them
Prepare your passport and hankering for all things British, because this Cathay Pacific flight news is going to have you booking a flight to London ASAP.
The four best American food joints in London
From calorie-laden burgers to New York-style pizza and southern soul food, our pick of the best American food joints in London. As if anyone really needs an excuse to indulge in gourmet fast food, the UK celebrates National Burger Day on the last Thursday of August each year: look out for discounts on burgers as well as limited edition recipes (burger flavoured ice-cream anyone?) in restaurants across the country.   In honour of this icon of American cuisine, here’s our pick of the best American food joints in London.   NY FOLD   [caption id="attachment_44028" align="alignnone" width="600"] Delicious pizza from NY Fold, London.[/caption]   Bringing New York to the streets of London comes easy to Annabel and Michael Wheeler and as New York natives, it’s certainly no surprise. Residing in one of the chic streets of Soho in London’s West End, this gourmet and trendy pizzeria encourages you to fold your pizza for the ultimate double-dose-of-pizza-goodness.   [caption id="attachment_44029" align="alignnone" width="600"] Dessert pizza from NY Fold in London.[/caption]   If you like your pizza that little bit fancy, try the Montauk; with tuna, olives, 100 per cent aged mozzarella, onion, olive tapenade and boiled egg. If you’re a fan of simplicity try the Grandma’s Pie; a combination of mozzarella and pecorino cheese, garlic oil, tomato, parsley and oregano. Either way, Bob’s your uncle! You’ve got yourself on the guest list for pizza heaven that’s open till late with a killer DJ. NY Fold’s sister eatery, Fold, opened in trendy London Fields earlier this year.   DIRTY BONES   [caption id="attachment_44023" align="alignnone" width="600"] Famous fried chicken and waffles from Dirty Bones in London.[/caption]   What do you get when two mates eat and travel their way through New York? They bring a piece of the Big Apple back home with them.   [caption id="attachment_44027" align="alignnone" width="600"] The Mac and Cheese burger from Dirty Bones, London.[/caption]   American-style food that is home-made with a whole lotta love, the guys behind Dirty Bones know how to impress the hungry locals. Boasting bottomless brunch cocktails, Brooklyn-inspired beats and naughty-but-nice American food including tasty vegan-friendly tacos and burgers, it’s certainly no surprise that they’ve expanded, with locations spanning Kensington, Soho, Shoreditch, Carnaby and Oxford.   [caption id="attachment_44024" align="alignnone" width="600"] Succulent glazed wings from Dirty Bones, London.[/caption]   [caption id="attachment_44025" align="alignnone" width="600"] Famous tacos from Dirty Bones, London.[/caption]   If the word ‘diet’ is a forbidden word in your vocabulary, then you’re going to love its cheesy truffle fries and crispy fried chicken with freshly baked waffles and maple syrup. After something a little more sweet? Try their homemade cinnamon sugared donut paired with the coffee gelato. On a diet? Don’t worry, you won’t be after you’ve dined here.   [caption id="attachment_44026" align="alignnone" width="600"] Sumptuous delights from Dirty Bones, London.[/caption]   THE DINER   [caption id="attachment_44030" align="alignnone" width="600"] The impressive pancake stack from The Diner in London.[/caption]   If you’re after the good ol’ traditional American Diner, like your pancakes large and your burgers even larger, you’re going to love these diet-busting joint.   Located in various locations across town including Carnaby Street, Dalston and Camden, The Diner, as its name suggests, has a casual and relaxed vibe, perfect for over-indulgence and eating a day’s worth of calories in one sitting. If you didn’t come hungry, that’s OK. There’s salad. But who goes to a diner to eat salad? The three-stack banana pancakes with butterscotch sauce might change your mind. If that won’t do it, then the strawberry and chocolate pancakes certainly will. Oh yes, these little babies are drenched in chocolate with strawberries – you know, just in case you need to kid yourself you’re eating something remotely healthy.   Travelling on the savoury side? Don’t go past their finger-lickin’ good ‘Diner Dirty Double Cheeseburger,’ paired with two beef patties, US cheese, pickles and Diner burger sauce. Wash it down with the Creamy Nut Hard shake; a combination of Bailey’s Irish cream, hazelnut and pistachio ice cream. Vegan? No problem! The Big V Dog with French mustard; a vegan twist on the traditional American hot dog, is also a crowd pleaser.   STAX   [caption id="attachment_44022" align="alignnone" width="1024"] A delicious spread in Stax, London.[/caption]   Fancy taking a trip down to the American South? If you thought you knew what cheat day was, then you haven’t dined in at Carnaby’s STAX Diner. Taking feed your soul to an entirely new level, this comfy and modest space has a wonderfully tasty not-so-modest menu; and that’s exactly why you should go there.   If you want to get straight into the southern specialties, you can’t go past the Stax Po Boy; Cajun spiced popcorn shrimp on an organic buttery soft bun with spice comeback sauce, lettuce and tomato. If you fancy yourself some traditional southern fried chicken, then the Spicy Hot Chickadee burger is the way to go, with its buttermilk marinated fried chicken breast, American cheese, onion rings and ranch dressing.   If you’re after something small, try the Classic Buffalo Hot Wings with blue cheese dressing and celery sticks or the fried green tomatoes. Feeling super hungry? Then why not enter the Ultimate Stax Challenge to see if you can finish a five-beef-patty Stax cheeseburger, basket of Cajun Boardwalk fries and a super-sized milkshake in under 15 minutes.   National Burger Day takes place in the UK annually, around August or September.
How to get a legitimate upgrade to first class
Okay, so there’s a small catch, but still, getting a free first class upgrade on your next flight is pretty awesome in our book. For those who have been fortunate enough to travel business class in their lives, they’ll tell those not so fortunate one thing: it will ruin you.   What they mean is, once you fly business class once, it becomes painstakingly harder to go back to flying in economy. You’re almost better off living in a world of ignorant bliss – with your dodgy headphones and mid-flight crackers – with no comparisons to draw from.   Can you imagine what it must be like to fly in first class? We’re talking hotel-style plush beds, plasma televisions and champagne and caviar on tap – it’s crazy. Some first class suites make business class feel like you’ve been tied to a pole, fed a bag of nuts and cheap, headache-inducing chardonnay.   Well, you could be about to experience such spoils. The first class treatment, that is – not the headache. British Airways is offering flyers free upgrades to first class on flights to London; the sale it’s been known for in the past. And it’s back, and more appealing than ever. So, what’s the catch? Well, obviously, with limited first class seats on flights, there has to be one. Guests are eligible for a one-way complimentary first class upgrade when they book return Club World business class flights to London (exit Sydney) on ba.com (from AUD$7,717*).   The British Airways first class experience includes the privacy of your own seat, with a fully flat bed, an extensive a la carte menu designed by leading chefs from around the world, and a fine selection of wines and champagne to choose from.   You’ll also feel snug in a pair of wonderfully soft cotton pyjamas and sink into a quilted mattress for a great night’s sleep. Customers are also entitled to a complimentary chauffeur service to or from Sydney International Airport.   Better still, all ‘premium’ customers arriving at British Airways’ home at London Heathrow Terminal 5 can enjoy BA’s arrivals lounge facilities, including showers, breakfast and complimentary Elemis spa treatments. Plus, there’ll be champagne at the exclusive Galleries First lounge prior to their departure. The details: free first class upgrades on British Airways What Free upgrades to first class one way when you book return Club World business class flights to London from AUD$7,717*. When Available on bookings until April 12, 2018. Valid for flights departing Sydney from May 01, 2018, until July 31, 2018. Where ba.com Fine print All fares are inclusive of taxes, fees and charges if booking using a debit card, as quoted on March 27, 2018. Good news for those who fly economy British Airways is investing $8.2 billion in its economy facilities on 128 planes in its fleet with new interiors, improved Wi-Fi and power sockets in every seat.

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