The Strand Palace is, of course, wonderfully located for a traditional tour of London’s greatest attractions. It’s a short walk from Buckingham Palace and The Houses of Parliament and located opposite Somerset House.
London’s Theatreland is on the doorstep and the hotel stands on the fringes of fashionable Covent Garden and Soho. Every first-time visitor to London should make a visit to any or all of these world-class attractions.
But, suppose a guest at the hotel wants to see beneath that very glamorous surface and find some of the secrets of this great, historic city? Well, here are a few tips to see a side of London that many locals don’t even dream about.
A good way to start is with a Magical Tour of the City by one of London’s authorised Black Cab City Guides. Driver George Shipton – can arrange up to a dozen cabs for organised tours.
A favourite is a trip around London’s historic public houses including Fleet Street’s famous Cheshire Cheese, the drinking place of choice for generations of journalists during Fleet Street’s heyday and probably the oldest pub in London. Vying for that title is The Prospect of Whitby overlooking the Thames in Wapping where drinkers can look at the spot where the notorious Judge Jeffries hanged pirates from the gibbet.
Few of the millions of locals or visitors who throng to the theatres around Shaftesbury Avenue know one of London’s most surprising attractions – The Phoenix Garden. Proudly claiming to be “home to the West End’s frogs since 1984” the garden is located behind the Phoenix Theatre at the junction of Shaftesbury Avenue and Charing Cross Road, near Centre Point.
The Phoenix Garden is a community garden and registered charity, managed by volunteers, created to provide a green retreat from the stresses of London’s West End and a vital habitat for urban wildlife.
The garden is maintained using sustainable techniques and an innovative approach to wildlife gardening. It features plants that grow reliably in dry conditions, that look good all year round and that will be of maximum benefit to wildlife. There are many different habitats to encourage as many species as possible.
Punch & Judy
The traditional seaside favourite of Punch and Judy puppets was, in fact, invented in nearby Covent Garden. The first recorded performance was in Covent Garden in May 1662. Samuel Pepys came to see the performance of ‘an Italian puppet play which is very pretty, the best I ever saw.’ This is the first record of a ‘Punch’ show in England; it was probably a novelty at the time. Street performers perform every day in the Piazza around the old market buildings.
Little visited but among the most spectacular – and most filmed – buildings in London, few people realise that anyone can tour the Grand Hall and the formal ceremonial areas. The ultimate “secret society” opens the doors of the spiritual home of the United Grand Lodge of England most days – but visitors should check before visiting as the Grand Hall is often used for ceremonies and occasions.
Plotting On the Strand
To this day the UK “celebrates” the 5th of November which is the day in 1605 when Guy Fawkes and his conspirators plotted to blow up and destroy the Houses of Parliament and murder King James 1. To celebrate the King’s survival fires were lit around London and the practice spread each November 5 throughout the country and continues to this day. A lane, down a flight of steps just off Surrey Street, beyond Somerset House and King’s College (on the other side of The Strand to the hotel), leads to a Roman Bath which is said to be where Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder plotters met. The bath was also once used by Charles Dickens.
Denmark Street: London’s Tin Pan Alley.
Located close to Tottenham Court Road, Denmark Street is a must-see for all die-hard music fans. Elton John, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, The Kinks, David Bowie and many other well-known stars wrote and recorded their music here. Today it provides an eclectic mix of unconventional attractions, gardens, music shops and jazz cafés and remains the centre for all music services in the Capital.
On The Trail of King Lud
Although legend has it that King Lud was a founder of this great city and that Ludgate was erected by him as an entry point – and that he fought great battles with the Roman occupiers – it appears that all stories may be just that. No-one knows for sure if he even existed! However, Ludgate does exist to this day. There is a statue of King Lud and his sons in the porch of St Dunstan-in-the-West Church on Fleet Street in the City and in Ludgate Circus, you can see medallions of the King on the roofline and over the doors of a branch of Leon which was formerly the King Lud public house.
A Glockenspiel In Leicester Square
Formerly a high-class residential area with famous inhabitants including the artist Williams Hogarth, Sir Isaac Newton and another painter Sir Joshua Reynolds, Leicester Square has long been a centre of entertainment. One unusual feature is a ten-metre tall glockenspiel that was a gift from Switzerland and Liechtenstein. There are 27 bells. Beneath the bells are 11 wooden figures of people in historical dress and animals. On the hour each afternoon, the figures walk in procession as the bells ring out. On top of the structure is a Swiss clock.
Lots to enjoy in the location – that even the locals don’t know about!
Jay Fagan is a published writer and journalist. From the Daily Mail to City-Am and many glossy magazines he specialises in lifestyle commentary, reviews plus quirky and different looks on life. He lives in Wapping and is married with one daughter who shares his passion for music.