Some views of the London skyline are so spectacular that the vantage point is protected. Primrose Hill is one of those places, separated from Regent’s Park by Prince Albert Road and the London Zoo. The summit is about 206 feet above sea level and the trees are kept low so as not to obscure the view. Like its neighboring park, it was once part of a great chase (hunting land) appropriated by King Henry VIII. In addition to its unparalleled views of the skyline, an oak tree on the slope marks Shakespeare’s birthday. Originally planted in 1864, a replacement tree was planted in 1964. While you’re enjoying the view, why not download the Music for Trees mobile app, featuring compositions by students from the Royal Academy of Music interpreting the characteristics of trees in the park.
On the northern boundary of Hampstead Heath stands Kenwood House, a stately home that served as a residence for the Earls of Mansfield through the 18th and 19th centuries. Originally a brick house built by King James I’s printer, the current home is a masterpiece by renowned 18th-century Scottish architect Robert Adam, the star attraction being the Great Library. It’s also prized for its stunning artwork (most notably Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait with Two Circles) and 112 acres of parkland including ancient woodland, three dairy buildings, sculptures and a sham bridge.
Reportedly the largest institution of its kind in the world, the V&A Museum of Childhood is the nation’s Museum of Childhood. It holds the largest collection of dolls in the U.K., from contemporary objects like Barbie and Bratz to Bähr & Pröschild models from the 19th century. Overall, the facility boasts over 35,000 objects and 61 archival collections from 1600 to the present day, featuring Britain’s oldest rocking horse and an internationally renowned collection of over 100 dolls houses. Currently located in Bethnal Green, the museum will be moving to the Collections and Research Centre in Stratford’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
Linking London and Birmingham, the Grand Union Canal is grand, indeed. The main line extends 137 miles from the Thames to Birmingham, leading you out into the rolling Chiltern Hills, through rural Northamptonshire and Warwickshire and into the Birmingham suburbs. The hustle and bustle of the Paddington Arm signals the start of summer, and you can get a free, 10-minute tour of the canal courtesy of the Paddington Water Taxi. Pick it up next to Paddington Station’s canal-side entrance or at Merchant Square.
London’s largest and best rose garden is fit for a queen. It is, after all, named after the wife of King George V. Opened in 1932, Queen Mary’s Garden in Regent’s Park boasts 12,000 roses, the city’s largest collection. You’ll find 85 single variety beds on display, exhibiting most rose varieties from the classics to the most modern English roses. The upcoming first two weeks of June offer the best blooms.
You’ve heard the expression, “everything old is new again.” That certainly applies to London’s Alexandra Palace, reopened after 80 years. A marvel of Victorian engineering, the theatre at Alexander Palace (affectionately known as Ally Pally) first opened in 1875 to audiences of up to 3,000 people who were entertained by pantomime, opera, drama and ballet. The impressive stage machinery was ahead of its time, designed so that performers could appear, fly into the air and disappear through the stage. Now that it’s been refurbished, Ally Pally is ready to give the West End a run for its money. Wood Green is the nearest underground station on the Piccadilly line.
Fenton House is a 17th-century London house in Hampstead with a treasure trove of objects to discover. Let’s start with the walled garden, which leads to a historic orchard containing 32 different heritage varieties of apples and pears. Inside the home you’ll find a collection of early keyboard instruments, a collection of paintings by Post-Impressionist painters called the Camden Town Group, biblical scenes and imagery featured in a beautiful collection of intricate 17th-century needlework and Chinese, English and German porcelain collections. If that weren’t enough, the balcony affords stunning views of the City, especially on clear days.
Victorian industrial London is well preserved at Shad Thames, a cobbled, pedestrianised street just a stone’s throw from Tower Bridge at Butler’s Wharf. One of its most distinctive features is the series of overhead iron bridges linking Butler’s Wharf with neighboring buildings. In the 1800s, those bridges transported tea, coffee and spices from what was once London’s largest warehouse complex. Now lined with shops and restaurants, this cozy nook in the city is a great place to watch the sun set behind the bridge.
Touted as the world’s first cheese conveyor belt restaurant, The Cheese Bar in London offers Pick & Cheese, a bar featuring a conveyor belt with glass-domed plates of cheeses sourced around the U.K. Pick as you please; prices vary according to the color of the plate. Bar seats are available on a walk-in basis for a one-hour period. In the heart of London’s West End, the venue is located just two minutes from Covent Garden Station at Short’s Gardens.
One of the most esteemed music halls in London, Royal Albert Hall has a colorful history. For starters, it once hosted a séance. It also flooded the auditorium with 56,000 litres of water for an opera concert, and its stage has sported the likes of criminals and politicians as well as musicians. You’ll learn more about these and other facts during a Royal Albert Hall Tour, the most popular introduction to the venue. During January and February you can also book a behind-the-scenes tour that delves into areas not generally seen by the public, including under the stage, into a dressing room and into the loading bay deep underground.