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Current Tips on London

These are just a few data bits from my recent stay in London:

  • Someone on the forum posted about a Dale Chihuly glass exhibition at Kew Gardens, which immediately went to the top of my list for London. It runs through October 27. There's no extra charge, but the regular Kew ticket is pricey. Non-solo travelers should check out the 2-for-1 offer. I've always used the Tube to go to Kew Gardens, but I believe there's a regular rail options as well, which should qualify ticketholders for the 2-for-1 deal. You need to have the appropriate form.

Edited to add: See also my second post (below) for a recommendation at the Imperial War Museum, running through January 5, 2020.
Kew is huge. You should pick up the a little flyer showing the location of the Chihuly pieces, but it's not super-precise. In particular, it's useful to know that though there's just one location dot shown in the large glass house, there are actually at least 4 Chihuly installations in there. I spent virtually the entire day at the garden, primarily tracking down the Chihuly pieces. There was not time for a lot of the small specialty gardens.

  • In walking from the Premier Inn Country Hall (near Waterloo Station and the London Eye) to the Imperial War Museum, one must at some point cross under a cluster of elevated railway tracks. I fortuitously chose to use Royal Street. To my very pleasant surprise, I discovered about two dozen ceramic artworks by different artists installed along the dark street where it runs under the tracks. Each is about the size of a window in a house, and they are all based on the works of William Blake, who lived in that area. Very cool.

  • This is the 40th year of the BP Portrait Award competition conducted by the National Portrait Gallery. I've been able to see the winning portraits exhibited at the gallery the last two years and have really enjoyed them. There is no extra charge for the exhibition, which continues through October 20; the museum itself is donation-requested. This year I believe there are 42 portraits displayed, so it doesn't take a great deal of time to see the exhibition. The gallery is located very near the National Gallery on St. Martin's Place. The exhibition will travel to Edinburgh and Belfast after closing in London. The London dates vary somewhat from year to year.

  • There's a freestanding artisan chocolate stand at Borough Market. I don't know exactly what those chocolates cost, but they are pricey. That sort of thing is in the $40- to $50-per-pound range in the US--more than I spend on chocolates for myself. But at the Borough Market stand there is usually a bin of little bags containing seconds (misshapen pieces). I didn't count them, but I guess there must be about 10 pieces in each bag. The bags cost £2.50 each. This is one of the best food bargains in London.

  • I agree with whoever posted that the war rooms part of the Churchill War Rooms is rather small. What's time consuming--and frankly what I think makes the sight worth the time and high cost--is all the information about Churchill's life and activities before, during and after the war. I think those who aren't interested in museum-like displays related to Churchill should consider skipping the War Rooms and using the time elsewhere. I happily spent the entire afternoon there, but the price of £22 (for adults) is pretty high if you don't care about the Churchill Museum section.

Posted by
149 posts

Completely agree on the Chihuly exhibit. The pieces were so great I was determined to see them all and ended up missing a couple of the smaller gardens in the process. I loved it, and surprisingly to me, so did my mom, I didn’t think she would care for it too much.

Posted by
14788 posts

Thanks for posting this. I will look for special exhibitions (in 6 months time) and won't forget about the chocolates. Borough Market is permanently on my list for a grilled cheese sandwich.

At the Churchill War Rooms, were there still videos with interviews of people who had worked there during the war? That's where I spent most of my time and would have spent more if I'd had the time. I agree that if all you want to see is the rooms themselves, the price is steep.

Posted by
20849 posts

Yes, there were videos. I enjoy those in 20th-century-history museums. They add a lot of time to a visit, though, and I know many travelers schedule themselves too tightly for that. It's easy to see that's the case, because you rarely have to wait for a headset, even in a rather busy museum.

I have another recommendation to mention--not included in the original post because I mistakenly thought the exhibitions had closed. The Imperial War Museum has three small exhibitions under the umbrella title, "Culture Under Attack". All interesting and not terribly time-consuming. But of course the museum itself can easily be a multi-day affair. The special exhibitions run through January 5, 2020. The IWM often has small, interesting, exhibitions. I think I learned of "Culture Under Attack" from a poster in an Underground station.

Posted by
4674 posts

The place in Borough Market for chocolate is L'Artisan du Chocolat. They have other locations but I think they only sell the misshapes at Borough Market.

Posted by
897 posts

I agree with you about the Churchill War Rooms, they weren't my favorite. I mean, they were cool and all, but to me, not super spectacular. If you look at what else RS gives 3-diamonds in London, e.g. Tower of London, Westminster...those are heads above the 3-diamonds he gives to the CWRs, IMHO. Of course if one is a huge WWII buff the answer may be different.

Posted by
20849 posts

Thanks, Tom. It's a substantial savings for Kew Gardens.

Posted by
3586 posts

acraven: Adding it looks like rail in more expensive than the tube, about 4 GPB each way. So factor that in (unless I did the fares wrong, picked Highbury-Islington as the start for each method).

Posted by
20849 posts

I actually used a weekly travel card, purchased at a rail station, to qualify for the Kew 2-for-1 offer, so I didn't have to pay the regular train fare. The Oyster-Card Tube fare from Zone 1 to Zone 3 is £3.30 during peak periods and £2.80 off-peak each way, making the round-trip between £5.60 and £6.60. It appears you can take the train for £7.30 round-trip, using an Oyster Card, but I've never done that and may have it all wrong. On the face of it, it seems two people would save money with the 2-for-1 offer even if they paid the somewhat-higher train fare.

Posted by
119 posts

Just to mention, London Overground, the orbital line that's twin orange on the tube map and uses an orange Roundel for branding is not operated or run by National Rail, its operated as a franchise by Transport for London (TfL) so tickets bought from almost any of the (orange) Overground stations won't as far as I know qualify for 241/days out. You need a ticket issued on National Rail paper stock from a station outside London to a London terminal station, you also need the blank days out vouchers from the days out booklet to present at the attraction.

From experience Kew Gardens do scrutinise your train tickets, the lady in the ticket kiosk told me when she refuses people because their tickets aren't correct people are abusive to her.

Kew Gardens station shares zones 3+4, I find its best to think of Oyster fare caps rather than what separate journeys cost, you know then what your maximum outlay is that day, nothing else to work out or think about.

Fare cap table below.

Posted by
20849 posts

I admit to being confused about London Overground, which I have never used.

Are we saying there's no way to take a train to Kew that would allow a visitor to qualify for the 2-for-1 offer?

On a day including a trip to Kew, I don't think the Oyster Card fare cap will necessarily come into play. The gardens can easily be a full-day affair, especially when one is admiring a dozen or so glass installations as well as the plants. And the travel time from London by Underground is substantial. I certainly didn't have time to go anywhere else that day, though an evening theatre performance would have been possible.

Posted by
27474 posts

While it is true that tickets issued by Overground - like all TfL issued tickets - are not valid for the Days Out promotion, tickets issued by a National Rail station ARE valid on Overground.

For example it is easy for Paddington ticket office to sell a ticket from Hampstead Heath to Kew Gardens on the Overground.

Not a route that would appeal to me though.

There is also no reason that a Zone 1-4 Travelcard issued by a National Rail station wouldn't be perfectly fine on the District Line.

The problem with Overground is that it really isn't convenient for most tourists - it truly is a commuter only line.

Posted by
5332 posts
Posted by
20849 posts

I haven't stayed at either of those hotels but spent 2 weeks at the nearby Premier Inn County Hall last month. I find Premier Inns a very good value for their room quality; just understand that they don't spend a lot of money on service. You don't strike me as a traveler who needs a lot of hand-holding, so I think you'd be fine at a Premier Inn.

One quirk worth mentioning is that PIs (I've stayed in six) tend not to have power outlets by the bed, but rather on the opposite wall. This can be annoying if you like to prop yourself up in bed and use an electronic device a lot in the evening. Even if you were inclined to leave a tablet in the room, charging (I certainly wouldn't), you probably wouldn't be able to do so because the power works only if the room key is left in the slot by the door. We were told by a check-in person that if we left one of our keys in the slot, the housekeeper would take it out.

The PIs I've stayed in have had good sound-proofing. I don't know whether either of your proposed hotels sits right on top of a Tube line; I guess that could mean vibration in lower-floor rooms, but I don't remember reading complaints about that with respect to the Waterloo PI.

The area between the Waterloo and Westminster Underground stations was extremely convenient for me, with many different Tube lines accessible and often no need for transfers. It helped that I had several South Bank sights on my target list. There's an M&S Food Hall on York Rd.

Posted by
875 posts

We were on the 7 day London tour this past May.

Agree about Chihuly.... we arrived in London at 6 am, made our way to the tube entrance, bought an all day pass . Easy ride in the tube to our hotel by green park stop. Found hotel with ease. Very fortunate that they gave us our room early am. Dropped off bags and gathered our belongings and headed to kew via tube. We did not purchase online tickets because we were not sure of arrival timing since this was our first day getting off the plane. Arrived too early so stopped at cafe for a pop. I think the gates open at 10. We spent most of day and lunch looking at the art. Rec’d map of all the pieces and did not have time to explore more, hubs wanted to go to Wimbledon, so that was our next stop. Boy .... busy day but fun. Highly recommend kew if you go before the closing of the exhibit