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.
Ever wonder what it was like being a Cold War spy in London? You can catch a glimpse into the world of espionage with a spy and espionage tour conducted by an expert in the subject. A three-hour bus tour visits real-life sites used by British Intelligence as well as sites where secrets were exchanged, even by double agents. The tour ends at St. Ermin’s Hotel, former headquarters of MI6, where a very James Bond-like vodka martini awaits you.
Designed by Sir Christopher Wren and opened in 1694 as the Royal Hospital for Seamen, few would argue that the Old Royal Naval College is Wren’s riverside masterpiece in Greenwich. Just don’t overlook the interior. Described as the “Sistine Chapel of the UK,” the Painted Hall is the greatest piece of decorative painting in England and the largest painted interior in Europe. Created in the 18th century by Sir James Thornhill, the epic painted ceiling recently reopened after a multimillion-pound conservation effort. The paintings celebrate England’s naval power and mercantile prosperity as well as its monarchs and other historical figures. On the first Wednesday of every month, the venue offers a “Pay as you wish Wednesday,” giving visitors the chance to take a tour with access to the Painted Hall and pay what they want.
By Linda Tancs
London’s Faraday Museum is named for 19th century scientist Michael Faraday, who contributed to the study of electromagnetism and electrochemistry. Located at the Royal Institution (Ri), the museum celebrates his achievements as well as those of other Ri members, 14 of whom were Nobel Prize winners. The exhibitions include the actual objects Ri scientists built and used in some of the world’s most famous experiments. Admission is free.