Near and Far

Part of Museum Mile, the Brunei Gallery is located on Russell Square opposite the main entrance to the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. A three minute walk from the British Museum, SOAS is the only higher education institution in the U.K. specialising in the study of Asia, Africa and the Near and Middle East. One of the highlights of the gallery is its Japanese roof garden, a quiet haven amidst the hustle and bustle of the city. A place for contemplation and meditation, the garden is dedicated to forgiveness, which is the meaning of the Kanji character engraved on the garden’s granite water basin.

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1300 Years of Faith on Tower Hill

All Hallows by the Tower is the oldest church in the City of London, founded 300 years before the Tower of London by the Abbey of Barking in A.D. 675. Due to its proximity to the tower, it had handled (as one might suspect) many temporary burials for those beheaded at Tower Hill in bygone days. It survived the Great Fire of 1666 and extensive bombing during World War II and witnessed happier occasions like the marriage of U.S. President John Quincy Adams. Later this month on Ascension Day the parish will participate in Beating the Bounds, an ancient custom still observed in many English parishes wherein they reaffirm their boundaries by processing round them at Rogationtide, stopping to beat each boundary mark with wands and to pray for protection and blessings for the land. Every third year the ceremony includes a “battle” with the Governor and Yeomen Warders of HM Tower of London at the boundary mark shared by the Tower and the church. The next (friendly) battle will be in 2020.

A Roundabout View

Located in the large, irregularly shaped island in the middle of the Hyde Park Corner roundabout, Wellington Arch offers panoramic views of the city from its balconies. Originally intended as an entrance to Buckingham Palace, it later became a victory arch proclaiming Wellington’s defeat of Napoleon. The facing masonry of Portland stone is capped off with the largest bronze sculpture in Europe, “Peace Descending on the Quadriga of War,” by Adrian Jones.

An Anglo-American Gem

Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, spent nearly 16 years at 36 Craven Street near Trafalgar Square in the heart of London. The terraced, Georgian house, built circa 1730, is both architecturally and historically significant. Structurally, it holds a Grade I listing and retains a majority of original features, like the central staircase, lathing, 18th century paneling, stoves, windows, fittings, beams and brick. Historically, Franklin worked there during Revolutionary War times, and the dwelling served as the first de facto U.S. Embassy. Open to the public since 2006, the house is the world’s only remaining Franklin homestead.

Diana’s Fashion Sense

Some things never go out of style, like the fashion sense of the late Diana, Princess of Wales. Still celebrated as a fashion icon, the evolution of her taste in clothes is the subject of the popular exhibition, Diana: Her Fashion Story. Hosted at Kensington Palace until 2019, the event showcases an extraordinary collection of garments, including Victor Edelstein’s iconic ink blue velvet gown, famously worn at the White House when the princess danced with John Travolta. Additionally, a recently discovered blue tartan Emanuel suit (worn on an official visit to Venice in the 1980s) will go on public display for the first time. You’ll also be able to view sketches provided to Diana during the design process. Given the popularity of this exhibition, expect lengthy queues and buy your tickets early.

Mail Rail

The Underground isn’t the only means of transport under the streets of London. Once upon a time there was another railway that kept the mail on its appointed course day and night. The Mail Rail enjoyed its heydey in the 1930s before being lost to history in 2003. Now a gem in the Postal Museum’s crown, the revived Mail Rail descends into the former engineering depot of the 100-year-old Post Office railway, where stalactite-filled tunnels reveal the stories of those who worked below ground to usher mail between sorting offices. Located at 15-20 Phoenix Place, the museum’s nearest Tube stations are Farringdon, Russell Square, King’s Cross and Chancery Lane.

Dickens’ House in Town

“My house in town” is how Charles Dickens referred to 48 Doughty Street, the London home that bore witness to some of the writer’s seminal occasions, like the birth of his two eldest daughters and the writing of such best-loved works as Oliver Twist. Now the Charles Dickens Museum, his only remaining home in London houses the world’s finest and most comprehensive collection of material relating to one of the world’s greatest storytellers, with over 100,000 items including furniture, personal effects, paintings, prints, photographs, letters, manuscripts and rare editions. Christmas at the Museum is a particularly festive highlight. Bedecked with holly and ivy, what better place to experience the rich traditions of a Dickensian Christmas than in the home of the author of A Christmas Carol!