Learn a skill, have some fun: one-day courses in Covent Garden

One of this year’s buzzwords in travel circles is “experiential”. The definition is a little hazy, but it refers to travel that enriches you in some way – think cooking lessons with local people instead of topping up your tan by the pool. With that in mind, we’ve been looking at some of the coolest, quirkiest courses in our neighbourhood. Whether you’re into flowers or street art, these experiences that’ll take your visit to another level, leaving you with unique skills and memories to take away. If you take one, tweet us at @strandpalace and let us know how you got on.

Screen printing at Print Club London

In action since 2007, this workspace at Somerset House provides education and equipment to amateur and professional printers and designers alike, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You need to be a member to use the hardware, but beginners can sign up for a fascinating one-day course that covers history and basic techniques, and finishes with producing an A4 design to take home. If you’re serious about design or just curious to know how cool posters, tees and tote bags are made, this is the course for you.

Asian cooking with School of Wok

The pun may be terrible, but if you’re a fan of Asian food, School of Wok is the place to brush up on your skills and knowledge. It runs scheduled group classes throughout the week, ranging from dim sum to street food to knife skills. If you’d like to see a bit of the area too, try the food tour of nearby Chinatown – you’ll spend a few hours sampling delicacies and shopping for ingredients, before returning to the school to cook what you’ve bought.

Designing with flowers from New Covent Garden Market

Floral design school The Academy of Flowers offers a day-long tour and workshop aimed squarely at the tourist market. The days starts at the school’s Covent Garden headquarters at 8am start (stay with us here), then shifts to the wholesale flower market over in Vauxhall, which is at its bright, bustling best in the morning. Course leaders will help you select your own flowers, then it’s back to the academy to turn them into something modern and stylish.

Dance classes at Pineapple

Pineapple tends to be associated with serious, even professional dancers, but dig into the schedules and you’ll find several classes suitable for complete beginners – and the calibre of the school means you can be sure of a good instructor. Fleur Murray (who has popped up as a boot camp instructor on The X Factor) teaches a jazz class for absolute beginners, and there’s also a come-one-come-all burlesque session led by Covent Garden-based team Burlesque Baby.

Street art with Graffiti Kings

Based over the river in legal graffiti hotspot Leake Street (which is worth a visit in its own right) the Graffiti Kings can organise both group and one-on-one workshops, and they’re more than happy to welcome absolute beginners. The business also does professional commissions, and demand for its services is high – so if you fancy giving this one a go, get in touch with them to discuss your session well ahead of your visit.

BFI’s sci-fi season: 4 screenings and events we can’t wait for

We’ve talked about the bfi before in these pages – we love it, and it’s just over Waterloo Bridge. Now the film-lovers’ paradise on the South Bank is gearing up for one of its biggest-ever special seasons, and it’s going to be a serious treat for sci-fi fans.

The theme is timely, because the genre is set for a cracking summer. For mainstream fans, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy looks like a(nother) critical and commercial triumph – Wired’s reviewer even called it “this generation’s Star Wars”. If you’re into meatier fare, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar is coming later this year, with trailers suggesting a brooding, philosophical piece in the vein of Contact, Sunshine or 2001: A Space Odyssey.

While Guardians won’t be part of the Days of Fear and Wonder season, you’re likely to see Interstellar at the BFI IMAX (a short walk south of the main building) when it releases on November 7. And the core programme, running from October right through to December, will feature plenty of classics, oddities and special events to whet your appetite and build up your genre knowledge, including some pre-season outdoor showings at the British Museum.

The BFI is still finalising the programme, but here are four events worth keeping an eye out for:

DJ Yoda Goes To The Sci-Fi Movies

When: November

There’s no exact date for this yet, but the BFI promises a whole new show from the brilliant, witty cut-and-paste artist DJ Yoda, premiering some time in November. Be quick, because tickets will fly out of the door – Yoda has a passionate following.

Last Angel of History

When: TBC

Afrofuturism is an underexplored corner of the genre, and if you’re eager to know more, British-Ghanaian filmmaker John Akomfrah’s rarely-shown 1996 documentary is a great place to start. Combining interviews, archive footage and surreal narrative sequences, it’s an enlightening, enriching watch with flashes of humour.

Primer + Q&A

When: TBC

The time-travel feature divides viewers: some consider it an underappreciated gem, some think it’s a triumph of complexity over depth. Catching it on the big screen will give you a chance to make up your own mind, and the BFI is laying on a Q&A with director Shane Carruth – which might give you a chance to figure out what’s going on in the film.

Flash Gordon

When: August 30

One cool film, one enlightening film, one confounding film – so we’re rounding out the list with a dose of pure, campy fun, served on a huge screen in the British Museum forecourt. Last year’s outdoors shows for the Gothic season were a huge hit, and this year’s promise to be just as good, with an even bigger screen. Gordon, full of pulpy, quotable lines, is perfect stuff for a relaxed, boozy watch in a massive group.

Win a weekend stay for 2 at the Strand Palace Hotel – #TheLondonSelfie

How to participate and enter the chance to win an amazing stay at the Strand Palace Hotel:

  • Follow us on Facebook to participate
  • Take a ‘selfie’ with your favourite London attraction, landmark or friend (as long as it’s in London)
  • Share your selfie with us on our Facebook wall, Googple plus page or twitter profile @StrandPalace using the hashtag #TheLondonSelfie (Bonus points for creativity and originality)

#TheLondonSelfie social media contest Strand Palace Hotel

 

THE PRICE INCLUDES

  • A weekend stay for two people in an Exectuive Room with full English Breakfast included
  • A bottle of cava upon arrival
  • Complimentary Lunch at the Strand Carvery (set menu)
  • Complimentary dinner at Daawat for two including beer/wine (set menu)
  • 2 cocktails (one for each person) at the Mask Bar up to a value of £12 pounds each
  • A complimentary travel card for each person
  • A £15 Palace Pounds voucher
  • Late Checkout


Terms and Conditions

This contest is in no way sponsored or administered by Facebook. The information you provide will only be used for this contest’s purposes.

Copyright of all images belongs to the participating photographers. By participating in this contest, members will allow Strand Palace Hotel the rights to reproduce the images for publication and promotion purposes including website, email promotion and marketing purposes.

  • All fans must include their real names, contact numbers and emails along with their submissions
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  • You may share your picture/link with as many friends and family and they may share through Facebook/Twitter but you must not use third party sites (such as forums), vote exchange websites/Facebook groups or use unfair behaviour to win the competition. If we or any other person finds evidence of any of this behaviour the photo will be immediately disqualified. Our decision will be final
  • The Contest can be withdrawn, amended or changed at any time
  • Participants might send multiple images, only the earliest received will qualify
  • Winner(s) will be announced once competition has closed
  • Strand Palace Hotel judges will vote for their favourite photo
  • Stay is subject to availability
  • Your data will be stored securely and won’t be shared with any third parties, view our privacy policy
  • Set menus might vary based on availability.
  • Prize must be claimed within one month of the winner being announced
  • Prize is not exchangeable for cash or transferable. Any prizes not claimed within one month from the date of the results announcement will be forfeited and no further claims thereafter will be entertained. Prizes are subject to terms & conditions and also subject to availability
  • Contest closing date 31/09/2014
  • Decisions of the judges are final

Dub Jam Review, Bedford Street

Review: Dub Jam, Bedford Street

 

Interior of Dub Jam

 

The hearts of purists likely sank at the thought of The Adventure Bar taking on Jamaican food and drink. While the Covent Garden-Dulwich-Clapham chain knows how to put on a party, it isn’t noted for its subtlety. Would this be a travesty, complete with cheesy cultural references and neutered food?

Thankfully, Dub Jam is nothing of the sort – apart from a few silly names on the menu, which we’ll put down to over-enthusiasm. It’s cool, friendly, and most importantly it’s putting out some fantastic grub.

The space itself, right next to the Adventure Bar’s Bedford Street entrance, is tiny – move it a few postcodes to the east and it’d be deemed a ‘pop-up’. But it makes a good fist of balancing Jamaican motifs with London chic. Behind its cluster of tables is a huge sheet of graffiti-splattered corrugated metal, while lighting comes from customised tin cans and buoys.

 

Dub Jam Speakers

 

Up at the counter, the chalkboard menu is crowned by a fat stack of speakers, and the excellent rum punch – sweet and powerful, with a warming kick of cinnamon – is dispensed from a tube that runs through it. “It’s infused with reggae,” staff explained. We’re not sure about the science behind that, but it’s a cute touch. As for beer, don’t expect any concessions to new-school styles: it’s Carib and Red Stripe all the way, and they actually pair well with the rich, spicy flavours Dub Jam serves up.

 

Punch at Dub Jam

 

The short menu is soul-food-meets-street-food. A soft, sticky slow-cooked pork skewer was the best of the bunch; the chicken skewer was punchy but a little drier, and improved when dunked in the fierce scotch bonnet salsa. Veggies can opt for a pepper and halloumi version, and there’s also a small (and not particularly Jamaican) range of burgers.

 

Dub Jam Menu

 

As for sides, we were wowed by a tub of perfect sweet potato chips, which are fiendishly hard to get right. These are fluffy on the inside, seriously crunchy on the outside and dredged in a moreish seasoning – a killer dish that’ll keep us coming back for more. Rice and peas were a great foil to the juicy, fatty pork, soaking up the flavours and cutting through the grease, and coconut salsa delivered a welcome bit of crunch and coolness. Other choices include skin-on potato chips, corn on the cob and a Jamaican cheese patty.

All in all, Dub Jam is a fantastic addition to our neighbourhood. It’s worth going early if you want a seat – it doesn’t take much to fill the place up, and Covent Garden’s after-work crowd have taken to it rather well. We can’t blame them.

Four easy day trips from Strand Palace’s doorstep

Four easy day trips from Strand Palace’s doorstep

If you’ve been following our blog, you’ll already have plenty of tips about our immediate neighbourhood, from eccentric shops to late-night bars. But with Waterloo, Charing Cross and the river on our doorstep, we’re well-placed for day trips further afield too.

Greenwich

Though part of the town centre’s waterfront has fallen foul of identikit, chain retail regeneration – hello Frankie & Benny’s, Zizzi et al – there’s still plenty to love in this green, historic outpost of London. The National Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory are genuinely superb cultural attractions, the huge park has wonderful views down to the Thames, and the cluster of independent boutiques and stalls around the market help the shopping experience retain a bit of edge. London brewery Meantime is also here, offering a range of pre-bookable tours.

If you’re feeling energetic it’s possible to walk there down the north bank and cross at the Thames tunnel – leave several hours, and take a break in one of the riverside pubs around Wapping and Limehouse. For a more relaxing journey, take the Thames Clipper, which departs from Embankment pier and takes Oyster cards, or jump on a direct train from Charing Cross – they depart every half an hour.

Kew by boat or train

London’s gorgeous botanical gardens are always a treat, but going by boat adds to the experience. Boarding at Westminster Pier (one stop from Embankment on the Circle and District line), you’ll float past several riverside landmarks including the Houses of Parliament, the disused Lots Road Power Station and Chelsea’s Royal Hospital, and see the city centre slowly give way to green suburbs.

At the gardens themselves, the huge Victorian Palm House, built in 1854, still has the power to impress, and the Princess of Wales Conservatory offers a whistle-stop tour of ten climatic zones, from arid desert peppered with aloes and cacti to a dripping, verdant rainforest.

The smaller outdoor gardens are wonderful too – we love the Mediterranean garden, perfumed by pine, lavender and cypress, and the elegant, precise displays around the Japanese Gate. For something a bit less sedate, test your nerves on the 18m-high skywalk.

If you don’t have the time to do it by boat, there are regular direct trains from Waterloo to Kew Bridge station, just a few minutes’ walk from the gardens.

Bermondsey

Are we really suggesting a trip to Bermondsey? Yes, we are. Not traditionally a tourist hotspot, the half-residential-half-industrial neighbourhood a mile or so south of the Thames has lately become a Mecca for craft beer lovers. A cluster of excellent young breweries open their doors on Saturdays, creating one of London’s least picturesque but most rewarding pub crawls. The star of the route is arguably trailblazer Kernel, the first to open in the area and justly celebrated for its hoppy US-style fare – but Partizan, Anspach & Hobday and Brew By Numbers all have wide ranges and a readiness to experiment, while Bullfinch and Fourpure do solid takes on a couple of classic styles. You’ll need some grub, so take a pit stop at the Ropewalk street food market, one of London’s best-kept culinary secrets.

To get there, take the Number 1 bus from Aldwych towards Canada Water, getting off at Beamish House in Bermondsey. Fourpure Brewing, the first stop on the crawl, is just around the corner.

Hampton Court

You don’t have to head into the countryside to see a stately home – one of the country’s best is right here on the fringe of London, and it’s a great day out for history buffs, families and garden fans (its grounds may not quite equal Kew, but they’re pretty spectacular).

Hampton Court will be forever associated with the larger-than-life Henry VIII, who took it from original owner Cardinal Wolsey and set about enlarging it, adding tennis courts, bowling alleys and huge kitchens; some 150 years later King William III added several new buildings and extended and landscaped the gardens. The palace reflects two very different periods of British history, bringing them to life for younger visitors with games, storytelling and reenactments.

Essential sights include the famous maze, the ‘Real Tennis’ court (a rather complex-looking predecessor of modern tennis) and those enormous kitchens, which occasionally host live Tudor and Georgian cooking events.

Riverboat services are available from Westminster Pier, and direct trains to Hampton Court station (around five minutes’ walk from the palace) run every half an hour from Waterloo.

Cecil Court, the West End’s quirkiest shopping street

Models, maps and more: welcome to Cecil Court, the West End’s quirkiest shopping street

To most tourists – and many Londoners – Cecil Court comes as something of a surprise. You might turn onto it by accident, looking for a cut-through between Charing Cross Road and St Martin’s Lane, or catch a glimpse of an elegant shopfront from the main road and take a detour to investigate.

Either way, you find yourself on a short pedestrianised street, lined not with the west end’s usual mix of theatres, bars and restaurants, but with specialists in rare books, die-cast models, antiques and maps. And they all have beautiful Victorian facades painted the same rich shade of green. There are rumours that Cecil Court inspired Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley, and it’s easy to see why.

It wasn’t always like this. The street was first laid out in the late 17th century, on land owned – as it still is – by the Cecil family, descendants of Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury. By the late 19th Century the state of its buildings had deteriorated enough to cause a scandal for the third earl, Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, who was rather inconveniently serving as prime minister at the time. As hostile journalists circled, Cecil Court was swiftly redeveloped into something resembling its current form.

Among its new commercial tenants was a small but influential number of film distributors, producers and equipment dealers, who earned Cecil Court the nickname “Flicker Alley”. Little of that remains now, but the street continues to appear on big and small screens, serving as a location in Miss Potter and in the famous ‘fly fishing’ ad for Yellow Pages. Look out for it at 0:16:

 

To give you a flavour of the street, here’s a whistle-stop tour in five photos…

 

Storeys, Cecil Court

Storeys Ltd

Two floors of antique maps and engraved prints on a huge range of subjects, from military history to costume and fashion. Established in 1929.

http://www.storeysltd.co.uk/

 

Witch Ball, Cecil Court

The Witch Ball

Packing probably the best name of any shop on the street, The Witch Ball specialises in prints and posters related to theatre, music and dance. It joined Cecil Court in 1981.

http://www.cecilcourt.co.uk/witch_ball.php

 

Mark Sullivan, Cecil Court

Mark Sullivan

This unique antique shop arrived in Cecil Court in 1998, and rightly describes itself as stocking “just about anything of particular historical interest”. Expect anything from porcelain statues to scientific instruments.

http://www.cecilcourt.co.uk/mark_sullivan.php

David Drummond, Cecil Court

Pleasures of Past Times

David Drummond’s shop is an established presence on Cecil Court, first opening its doors in 1967. It’s a trove of nostalgia, packed with old playbills, posters and assorted Victoriana.

http://www.cecilcourt.co.uk/pleasures_of_past_times.php

St-Martins Models, Cecil Court

St Martin’s Models

This recent arrival on the street – it moved in in 2011 – is effectively a small but well-stocked showroom for Diecast Legends, with collectible cars and bikes from a huge range of brands.

http://www.stmartinsmodels.co.uk/gallery/

 

Credit: This post draws on the far more the detailed essay on cecilcourt.co.uk.

 

Brilliant bakeries

Conventional wisdom has it that The Great British Bake-Off, a reality-style contest for home bakers, was a ‘surprise’ hit on British TV. Rubbish. Our love of cakes and bread was never in doubt, and if anything it was kicked up a gear by the US-inspired cupcake revival that hit town in the noughties. These days the range of bakeries here in the West End is nothing short of staggering. If you like the kind you find in French provincial towns, we have those. If you prefer the kind you find on posh Parisian streets, we have those too. We have the kind that sells novelty cupcakes to hipsters in Austin and the kind rich Swedish housewives use to cater their ‘Kafferep’ afternoons. In short: if it’s cake, we’ve got it.

Primrose Bakery

It seems remarkable now that there was a time when cupcakes weren’t in fashion – they’ve flatly refused to go away since their noughties resurgence, which frankly suits us just fine. The Primrose Bakery team got in on ground floor, opening in chi-chi North London neighbourhood Primrose Hill in 2004 before expanding into Tavistock Street in Covent Garden. They bake fresh every day, with a basic menu that features carrot, red velvet and salted caramel cakes. But the real magic comes from their rotating daily specials, which range from shameless crowd-pleasers like cookies and cream, peanut butter and Toblerone to subtler offerings like Earl Grey, rose and cinnamon. The Covent Garden branch offers decorating classes on selected Sundays.

  • Address: 42 Tavistock Street, WC2E 7PB
  • Walking time: 4 minutes
    • Look out for:
    • Tavistock Street was a fashionable shopping street in the Bedford estate in the 18th Century, but fell into decline in the 19th.>

BB Bakery

Frankly we could just link you to the BB Bakery gallery page [http://www.bbbakery.co.uk/gallery/] and leave it at that. This French-inspired tearoom’s secret weapon is a fantastic modern take on the classic afternoon tea, loaded with cupcakes, macarons, sandwiches and scones. An extra £7 buys you a glass of bubbly to wash it all down with. There’s also a range of gorgeous croques, from the tried-and-tested ‘monsieur’ to the ‘saumon’, with cream cheese, cucumber and smoked salmon. If you’re planning something special, BB offers private rooms and an ‘Afternoon Tea Bus Tour’, which is exactly what it sounds like – guests get their dainties served on a vintage Routemaster bus as it passes some of London’s best-loved sights and neighbourhoods, including the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace and Notting Hill.

  • Address: Chandos Place, WC2H 4HU
  • Walking time: 4 minutes
    • Look out for:
    • Maiden Lane, a former bridleway marking south side of Covent Garden.

Balthazar Bakery

After more than a decade of runaway success New York, Keith McNally’s brasserie concept arrived in Covent Garden in 2013, bringing its bakery offshoot with it. It’s a world away from the quirky flavours and coloured icings of our favourite cupcake bakeries. Expect generous, no-nonsense French pastries and big, gnarled loaves with heavy dustings of flour. The house-made bread is used for robust sandwiches and baguettes, stuffed with big flavours like rare roast beef, cured ham and cornichons, and as you’d expect, the French pastries are out-of-the-park good – if you’re in Covent Garden and need a quick breakfast on the hoof, head here for a croissant or pain aux raisins and a strong coffee.

  • Address: 4-6 Russell Street, WC2B 5HZ
  • Walking time: 4 minutes
    • Look out for:
    • Tavistock Street (see above)

Sweet Couture

New Row is one of our favourite gateways to Covent Garden – a quiet, surprisingly villagey street full of cafes, galleries and gift shops. And right in the middle of it you’ll find the original Sweet Couture. It’s a cupcake specialist, with a mix of regular and special recipes that include a terrifyingly moreish Oreo cake. Founder Risham Shuja’s team are particularly strong on seasonal ideas: at time of writing they’re selling Guinness cakes for St Patrick’s Day and lemon and raspberry cakes to celebrate spring (not technically spring fruits, but it’s hard to argue with a mouthful of brilliant cake). So good are this small company’s cakes that they’ve won a contract with top-end department store Selfridge’s – you can find them at three of its in-store restaurants.

  • Address: 23b New Row, WC2N 4LA
  • Walking time: 7 minutes
    • Look out for:
    • Bedford Street, built on the site of Bedford House (demolished 1705) and the subsequent Bedford Estate.

Bageriet

As much as we love the cupcake specialists on this list, we’d be the first to admit that London has more than its fair share of them. Swedish bakeries are a different matter. Business partners Daniel Karlsson and Sven-Gunnar Appelgren opened Bageriet in May 2013, determined to convert Londoners that their native country’s dizzying range of cakes, biscuits and pastries. It appears to have worked, and no wonder: the menu boasts gems like ‘Ungeherrar’ – vanilla biscuits filled with apricot jam and studded with pearl sugar – and ’Schwarzwaldtårta’, a cake loaded with meringue, hazelnuts and dark chocolate. Expect lots of pretzel dough, marzipan and cinnamon, and for the sake of your arteries try to resist the Klenäter, which consists of – wait for it – deep-fried cake mix.

  • Address: 24 Rose Street, WC2E 9EA
  • Walking time: 7 minutes
    • Look out for:
    • Bedford Street

Small theatres

You probably know that we’re surrounded by big-name theatres at the Strand Palace. The Lyceum, home to the all-conquering Lion King musical, is just around the corner, and beyond that you’ll find the Theatre Royal, the Novello, the Aldwych… the list goes on and on. But London’s theatre scene isn’t just about famous productions in huge auditoriums. We’re also walking distance from some great small theatres showing innovative new comedy and drama, and fresh takes on modern classics. And more than one of them comes with a genuinely great bar and restaurant attached, which the big theatres – as much as we love them – usually don’t. Grab a bite to eat, see a thought-provoking show, dissect it over a drink and be back at your hotel within minutes. What’s not to like?

Donmar Warehouse

This 251-seat independent theatre has been through several incarnations. Originally a private rehearsal studio, it spent just over a decade in the hands of the Royal Shakespeare Company, before being bought and rebuilt by producer Roger Wingate in 1990. Its first creative director was none other than Sam ‘American Beauty’ Mendes, who established a reputation for eclecticism that continues today. Coming up are Privacy, a new work by Olivier-nominated James Graham, and a new adaptation of Turgenev’s novel Fathers and Sons by celebrated Irish playwright Brian Friel. If you’re on a budget, most performances have a small number of standing tickets at £7.50.

  • Address: 41 Earlham Street, WC2H 9LX
  • Walking time: 8 minutes
  • Look out for:
    • Southampton street, built on the site of Bedford House (demolished 1705) and the subsequent Bedford Estate.
    • Covent Garden Market and St Paul’s Church.
    • Floral Street, renamed in 1895 in reference to the trade in flowers at Covent Garden.

Arts Theatre

This small venue between Covent Garden and Leicester Square opened in 1927 as a members-only venue, which allowed it to sidestep censorship laws and back productions that lacked the obvious commercial appeal to make it into West End theatres. From 1956 to 1959 it was run by Peter Hall (later Sir), who founded the RSC and went on to direct the National Theatre. Ghost Stories, a notoriously scary piece from The League of Gentlemen’s Jeremy Dyson, is running until August, alongside short stints by cabaret legend Eve Ferret and a new production of Philip Glass’s opera In the Penal Colony.

  • Address: 6-7 Great Newport Street, WC2H 7JB
  • Walking time: 8 minutes
  • Look out for:
    • Bedford Street, built on the site of Bedford House (demolished 1705) and the subsequent Bedford Estate.
    • Garrick Street, named after actor David Garrick (1717 – 1779). The Garrick Club was founded in 1831 and still has premises here.

Cottlesloe / Dorfman and The Shed

Okay, this is technically the National Theatre. But the Cottlesloe was introduced as a smaller, more flexible space to give a platform to new plays by up-and-coming writers. At time of writing it is reaching the end of a major refurbishment, from which it will emerge as the Dorfman, which promises ‘even greater creative freedom’ and capacity to run learning activities during the day. In the meantime we have The Shed, a striking red pop-up on the riverfront which has continued to stage new, innovative work in an intimate 225-seat space. May sees the debut of Hotel, a new play by award-winning playwright Polly Stenham, who burst onto the scene in 2007 at just 19 years old.

  • Address: Upper Ground, South Bank, SE1 9PX
  • Walking time: 10 minutes
  • Look out for:
    • Exeter Street, site of the old Exeter House (demolished 1676), Exeter Exchange (demolished 1892) and Exeter Hall (demolished 1907)
    • The Savoy, site of the old Savoy Palace, London residence of the Lancasters.
    • Aldwych, which derives from the Old English for ‘old trading town’ – the ancient Anglo-Saxon town Ludenwic stood here centuries ago.

Soho Theatre

Most comedy-loving Londoners have found themselves at Soho Theatre at some point. As well as full shows by breakthrough performers, you’ll often find established stand-ups using the upstairs room to trial material for upcoming tours – and what those shows lack in polish they make up for in value and intimacy. While the theatre’s programme tends to be comedy-heavy, it isn’t all straight stand-up; this April it has been running Never Try This At Home, a satire on 70s children’s TV, and school-themed sketch comedy from young trio WitTank. You can also catch some new writing – Philip Ridley’s dramatic monologue Dark Vanilla Jungle, running until April 13, has had four-star reviews from The Independent, the Financial Times and Time Out. And the bar’s fantastic too.

  • Address: 21 Dean St, London W1D 3NE
  • Walking time: 15 minutes
  • Look out for:
    • Bedford Street, Southampton Street and Garrick Street (see above).

Young Vic

It’s a bit of a walk, but the Young Vic is more than just a theatre – it also boasts buzzing bar and restaurant on one of Southwark’s liveliest streets, where local arts and media types flock to tuck into the famous soft shell crab burger. Its 2006 refurbishment won it a RIBA London Building of the Year prize, and it now boats three performance spaces: the 420-seat main auditorium, and the smaller Maria and Clare rooms at 150 and 70 seats respectively. Productions focus on modern and older classics, with some new writing in the mix too. Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge is currently running, followed by The Valley of Astonishment, a theatrical exploration of synaesthesia by innovative team Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne.

  • Address: 66 The Cut, SE1 8LZ
  • Walking time: 19 minutes
  • Look out for:
    • Exeter Street, The Savoy, and Aldwych (see above).
    • The National Theatre, Royal Festival Hall and BFI Imax.

Markets in the West End, Soho and Southwark

Londoners love a market. You might come to the city assuming the bustling, built-up centre doesn’t have room for them, but you’d be wrong – within 20 minutes’ walk of our door you’ll find markets tucked under bridges, filling quaint churchyards and hiding behind world-renowned concert halls. There’s plenty of variety there too: on our list are second-hand books, amazing fresh food, unique antiques and even fossils. Whether you make a special trip or drop by between other activities, they’re guaranteed to brighten your day.

Jubilee Market at Covent Garden

Most visitors to Covent Garden stick to the tame – and perfectly nice – shops and stalls of Apple Market, in the central Piazza building. But head to the south side of the square and you’ll find a slightly more unpredictable set of stalls. Jubilee Market is the covered area between the London Transport Museum and Southampton Street, and while the square-facing retailers can seem a little tacky – particularly at weekends – you’ll find an eclectic mix of antiques, vintage clothing and crafts if you venture further inside. It’s open daily, and stalls vary throughout the week.

  • Address: 1 Tavistock St, London WC2E 8BD
  • Walking time: 2 minutes
  • Look out for:
    • Exeter Street, site of the old Exeter House (demolished 1676), Exeter Exchange (demolished 1892) and Exeter Hall (demolished 1907)
    • Tavistock Street was a fashionable shopping street in the Bedford estate in the 18th Century, but fell into decline in the 19th
    • Covent Garden Market

South Bank Centre Book Market

This gem has been beneath Waterloo Bridge for years, but little has changed: books are still displayed spine-up on a series of no-nonsense trestle tables, with the bigger hardbacks face-up in the middle. Punters are still trusted to browse freely – so much so that when you do find something you like it can be difficult to work out who you have to pay. Stock is 100% second hand and vintage, and often very keenly priced, though you’ll pay more for some of the more desirable pieces (there’s usually a small selection of first editions). With antique prints available too and the BFI bar just feet away, it’s easy to lose a few hours here. Open daily.

  • Address: Beneath Waterloo Bridge (south side)
  • Walking time: 7 minutes
  • Look out for:
    • Exeter Street (see above)
    • The Savoy, site of the old Savoy Palace, London residence of the Lancasters
    • Aldwych, which derives from the Old English for ‘old trading town’ – the ancient Anglo-Saxon town Ludenwic stood here centuries ago
    • Somerset House
    • Waterloo Bridge

Real Food Market

Londoners over a certain age remember when the patch behind the Royal Festival Hall was a bald expanse of concrete whose only purpose was to be walked across. That’s still the case from Monday to Thursday, but come Friday it transforms into the Real Food Market, a lip-smacking mix of street food stalls and produce sellers. With everything from gourmet hot-dogs to organic salad boxes to small-batch jams and chutneys, you can grab lunch on the go, shop for a picnic or just wander around filling up on free samples. It runs until 8pm on Friday and Saturday, and until 6pm on Sunday.

  • Address: Belvedere Road, SE1 8XX
  • Walking time: 13 minutes
  • Look out for:
    • Exeter Street, The Savoy, Aldwych, Somerset House and Waterloo Bridge (see above)

Soho Flea Market

If you’re staying with us in May, you might catch this up-and-coming ‘artists and makers’ event on Dean Street. Launched in 2012, it brings together independent creatives with stuff to sell – ceramics, textiles, jewellery, you name it – with small food producers, entertainers and musicians to create a buzzing mini-festival in the heart of Soho. The concept has proved popular so far: apparently 10,000 people passed through in 2012, prompting organisers to scale things up for 2013. We await the next installment with bated breath…

  • Address: Dean Street (annual, check cityshowcasemarkets.com)
  • Walking time: 13 minutes
  • Look out for:
    • Bedford Street and Southampton street, built on the site of Bedford House (demolished 1705) and the subsequent Bedford Estate
    • Garrick Street, named after actor David Garrick (1717 – 1779). The Garrick Club was founded in 1831 and still has premises here
    • Leicester Square and Chinatown

Piccadilly Market

It may be small, but this underappreciated market packs plenty of charm and offers a welcome escape from the chaos of Piccadilly Circus. Held in the front yard of a Christopher Wren-designed church, it has a weekly roster – food stalls dominate on Monday, antiques on Tuesday and general arts and crafts from Wednesday to Saturday. In the past we’ve spotted homemade kaleidescopes, handmade printing blocks, vintage nautical equipment, genuine fossils and much more – this is a friendly, well-located market that punches well above its weight.

  • Address: 197 Piccadilly, London W1J 9LL
  • Walking time: 17 minutes
  • Look out for:
    • Zimbabwe House, designed by key London Underground architect Charles Holden
    • William IV Street, created in 1831 and named after the then king. His reign saw considerable change in the layout of Covent Garden
    • Leicester Square, created when the Earl of Leicester bought and built on the land in the 17th Century

Independent Bookshops

You don’t have to go far from the Strand Palace to find yourself in ‘Literary London’. Niche and academic bookshops cluster around the British Museum and University of London in Bloomsbury, while Charing Cross Road has a long history of generalist bookselling and Soho and Covent Garden do a nice line in art and design specialists. On our list you’ll find travel, politics, fashion, and even comics and graphic novels – all of them a short walk from our front door. Even the most devoted Kindle users admit there’s nothing like a real book, so get out there and give these five gems a try…

Stanfords

This venerable travel bookshop – one of the biggest in the world – celebrated its 160th anniversary in 2013. Today, its vast range of travel writing, guidebooks and maps ranges across three floors, and the floors are literally attractions in themselves, adorned with huge maps of the world (ground), the Himalayas (first) and London (basement). There’s a pleasant in-store cafe for day-dreaming about your next trip, and a gorgeous range of globes to salivate over. It won’t help your travel habit, but it’s one of the most inspiring bookshops in the area.

  • Address: 12-14 Long Acre, WC2E 9LP
  • Walking time: 7 minutes
  • Look out for:
    • Bedford Street (see above)
    • Garrick Street (see above)
    • Rose Street, home to the historic Lamb and Flag. The street once extended further south, but was cut off by the construction of Garrick Street in the 1860s

Magma

Oh, we like Magma. If art, fashion and design are your passion, you will too. The mini-chain was founded by two friends in 2000, and has since expanded to Clerkenwell and Manchester – but this small, vibrant Covent Garden store is where it all started. In their own words: “Magma should be like walking into a thermometer, an instrument indicating ‘where things are at’ at a certain point in time and space.”

If that isn’t enough, there’s a ‘product’ branch a few doors down, stuffed with t-shirts, watches, gadgets, games, cushions… anything you can think of, really, as long as it’s design-led and very, very cool.

  • Address: 8 Earlham Street, WC2H 9RY
  • Walking time: 10 minutes
  • Look out for:
    • Bedford Street (see above)
    • Garrick Street (see above)

Forbidden Planet

Remember when comic books and sci-fi weren’t cool? Before Avengers Assemble, the Nolan Batman trilogy and the BBC’s all-conquering Doctor Who reboot? Forbidden Planet don’t. Cross the threshold and you enter a world where this stuff has always been where it’s at, and the rest of us are johnny-come-latelies. Whether you’re a long-term ‘geek’, a new convert or just a dabbler, you’re guaranteed to find something in Forbidden’s dizzying range of comics, graphic novels, DVDs and merchandise.

  • Address: 41 Great Russell Street, WC1B 3PE
  • Walking time: 10 minutes
  • Look out for:
    • Southampton Street (see above)
    • Tavistock Street, a fashionable shopping street in the Bedford estate in the 18th Century. It fell into decline in the 19th
    • Covent Garden Market
    • Floral Street, renamed in 1895 in reference to the trade in flowers at Covent Garden
    • Neal Street, named after 17th Century MP Thomas Neale, who developed nearby Seven Dials

Foyles

It’s huge, it has (almost) everything, and most importantly it remains fiercely independent. Foyles has come a long way since it started life as a tiny second-hand bookshop in Peckham in 1903. A few years later the Charing Cross flagship opened its doors, and decades of ‘eccentric’ management did nothing to dull Londoners’ enthusiasm for this sprawling five-floor emporium. Now thoroughly modernised, it still feels like it is run by book lovers, for book lovers – a rarity for a shop this size. Add in regular readings and exhibitions and a nice first-floor cafe and you have an essential stop for bibliophiles.

  • Address: 113-119 Charing Cross Road, WC2H 0EB
  • Walking time: 13 minutes
  • Look out for:
    • Bedford Street and Southampton street, built on the site of Bedford House (demolished 1705) and the subsequent Bedford Estate
    • Garrick Street, named after actor David Garrick (1717 – 1779). The Garrick Club was founded in 1831 and still has premises here

London Review Bookshop

Brace yourself: things are about to get highbrow. Literary fiction, political writing, cultural theory – the London Review Bookshop has it all in spades, housed in an elegant shop round the corner from the British Museum. Closely related to the none-more-literary London Review of Books, it’s the perfect place to feed your head.

And if it all that brain food gets a bit heavy, there’s real food too – head down a corridor in the history section and you’ll find the Cake Shop, a book-lined hideaway serving everything from shredded duck baguettes to apple and earl grey cake.

  • Address: 14 Bury Place, WC1A 2JL
  • Walking time: 14 minutes
  • Look out for:
    • Aldwych, which derives from the Old English for ‘old trading town’ – the ancient Anglo-Saxon town Ludenwic stood here centuries ago
    • Drury Lane, named after Sir William Drury, whose house stood at its southern end on Wych Street (now Aldwych)
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