Top 10 recommendations by local Londoners

By Vanessa Teo

We know how important getting to know a city is when you’re on holiday and we know how going ‘off the beaten track’ is on everyone’s agenda. We decided to round up our team of local Londoners to get some of the best tips to share with you before you come to the city. From the best places for afternoon tea to where to watch the latest indie film, we came up with 10 top things to do in London – as recommended by local Londoners.

  1. For Great British food you can’t beat a good old pie and mash for warming, hearty comfort. One of our favourites is the L Manze eel, the traditional pie and mash shop in Walthamstow which dates back to 1929.
  2. Explore London below ground with the miles of tunnels that run under the city. From the spooky tunnels you can explore through the London Bridge Experience, to the Old Vic tunnels or Clerkenwell House of Detention (sadly only used for film sets now) there is a hidden underworld to be explored...
  3. A great one for the kids, make the most of the sunny autumn days and visit Battersea Park to hire out banana bikes and go cycling round the green. These go-kart-come-bikes are great fun for those small enough to fit in them while parents can enjoy views over the Thames.
  4. A fan of Big Ben? Well if you plan in advance (and come from the UK) you might be lucky enough to get a space in the Big Ben tour where you can climb the 334 steps to hear the bell toll on the hour. Note: tours book up 6 months in advance!
  5. Chelsea Physic Garden is a hidden gem tucked away behind the Thames where visitors can learn about the importance of plants in medicine and in society. This botanical garden is great for any passionate gardener, or those in need or some peace and quiet.
  6. Another hidden gem of the garden variety is the Barbican Conservatory. Nestled in the City of London, among the high rises and banks, is London’s second largest conservatory – a surreal urban oasis with over 2,000 species of tropical plants.
  7. You can’t leave London without enjoying a spot of afternoon tea. We recommend the Orangery at Kensington Palace for a real royal affair. Look out over the manicured gardens while you eat your tea and scones and take in the scenery of one of London’s most important palaces.
  8. If you like your indie films or want a break from the overcrowded cinemas, Soho Curzon Cinema is a favourite haunt of the film buff. Showing foreign films and those with limited release, you’ll be bound to catch a cult classic.
  9. Hyde Park pet cemetery is a wonderful place for the morbidly curious. With over 300 graves of some of London’s most adored animals, it’s a strange place to visit but you can’t help but pop in if you’re in the area. From the first dog, Cherry, buried in 1881 it’s quite a sweet little shrine.
  10. Unwind and relax after a long day of sightseeing at Gordon's Wine Bar by Embankment. As the oldest wine bar and cellar in London, circa 1890, it’s a cosy retreat and a huge hit with Londoners. We recommend you get there early as tables fill up quickly after 6pm.

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Secret Cinema Presents Stranger Things

We finished rewatching all three seasons of Stranger Things, got together our best approximation of the outfit for the 1980s subculture selected for us, suspended our disbelief and headed down to a secret London location for Secret Cinema Presents Stranger Things. This is what we found there (with all necessary secrets unspoiled), including... What is Secret Cinema Presents Stranger Things all about? Why did they pick Stranger Things for the new Secret Cinema world? Does it work? Do you need to get dressed up? Is the whole thing really secretive or can you talk about the BLANK that happens in the BLANK? And much, much more. What is Secret Cinema Presents Stranger Things? The Latest Immersive World Created by Secret Cinema Secret Cinema Presents Stranger Things is the latest immersive experience cooked up by the fertile, ambitious minds of the culturally on-the-money Secret Cinema team. They’ve been putting on themed cinematic and televisual experiences since 2007, creating participatory worlds straight out of your favourite shows and movies. They give you a character before you arrive, you dress for the part and turn up to be an audience member with a difference. An audience member who’s part of the piece. An extra who’s allowed to talk as much as they like and drink and go to the toilet whenever they want. You're an extra with extra. An extra extra. The interactive world they’ve created this time zaps you into the Stranger Things universe. You’re invited to the Hawkins High reunion (the fictional school attended by the show’s main characters), held on Independence Day. As returning students, each guest is given a character and assigned a clique in advance. You’re also given your mission for the evening, the sketchy details of a mystery it’s your job to solve over the course of the night. As you, 80s-attired and hopefully with a couple of buddies by your side, seek to put together the pieces of your puzzle, you meet all the characters from the show, some involved with your mystery, some not, some propelling the overarching narrative of the evening towards the night’s show-stopping—and secret—finale. Secret Cinema evenings traditionally end with a screening of the film in question. With three seasons of Stranger Things, this obviously wasn’t possible. The workaround they’ve come up with is inspired. And secret. [caption id="attachment_6068" align="alignnone" width="1000"] Matthew Pearson for The London Pass[/caption] Plenty of Sideshows to Explore There are plenty of concession stands selling USA fair food staples, a few bars and loads of mini-games, group challenges and 80s hits blaring out. So even if you don’t want to get too involved in the storytelling side of the evening, there are plenty narrative-free parts of Hawkins to explore. But everyone’s there together at the end. Character big and small. The entire audience/Hawkins reunion goers. All shepherded into the same place for the moment when things get turned....upside down. Why Stranger Things? The Perfect World To Get Wrapped Up In Set in a Spielbergian vision of 80s small town America, the Netflix series is all about normal folk getting wrapped up in sci-fi mysteries; kids facing down authority with only idealism and friendship on their side, and heaps and heaps of nostalgia. It’s perfect thematic fodder for Secret Cinema, who are all about nostalgia and allowing adults to act like kids again, exploring fictional worlds they feel they know every inch of. As well as the series’ main themes providing a fitting home, the world of Stranger Things offers an ideal setting for an immersive experience like Secret Cinema. It’s stylised and stylish, precise yet cartoonish, rich in real world details and underlying mystery. There’s a wholesome sheen to the 1980s small-town USA depicted that is ready to flip into all out horror at any moment. It’s in that tension that Secret Cinema pitches the evening. The all-smiles idealism and bunting-hung patriotism of the American fair is pretty sinister to begin with. So too is the maxed out consumerism of the 1980s playground mall. All it needs is a little push. The illusion can’t hold. Put simply, Secret Cinema gets two worlds for the price of one from Stranger Things. [caption id="attachment_6148" align="alignnone" width="1000"] Matthew Pearson for The London Pass[/caption] A Modern Show That's All About Looking Back, Just Like Secret Cinema Some might suggest that Stranger Things isn’t established or well-worn enough to deserve/need/benefit from the Secret Cinema experience. They may well be right. Compared with what has come before it, Stranger Things can’t claim to have anywhere near as much longevity. Arguably it doesn’t have the same cultural clout as the worlds Secret Cinema has explored before. But Stranger Things itself is a nostalgic undertaking, it is inspired by the films, games, clothes and music of the 80s, and references its inspirations throughout. It provides nostalgia a step removed by pastiching, recreating that which it loves. Just as Secret Cinema does. And as the company’s first attempt at building a world based on a cultural title that is still an ongoing concern, it works well. Certainly, out of all the TV shows out there right now, Stranger Things seems the best placed to benefit from the Secret Cinema treatment, catering to a class of watcher and audience member who want to get wrapped up in the fictional world they love and dream of exploring it from top to bottom. How Was Secret Cinema Presents Stranger Things? It Was Pretty BLANK. Especially the BLANK. We don’t want to give too much away, which has made writing this whole piece a risky business. However... Secret Cinema Presents Stranger Things is an OTT production. OTT Productions is possibly a better, truer name for the company than Secret Cinema. They’d clearly prefer to do too much than get accused of falling short. From the moment you get your character and realise you’re going to have to go out and buy a Hawaiian shirt and dress as close to 80s pomp George Michael as you dare, it’s big and involving and wants to wrap you up in its world, to make you a part of the set for your own enjoyment and everyone else’s. If you want to turn up speaking hammy lines of dialogue in a wavering attempt at an American accept, you will be encouraged. It looks the absolute business, there’s no doubt about it. Fans of the show will appreciate detail after detail that has been lovingly recreated, brought to life, there to be explored. People who’ve never seen the show will be impressed by the look and feel of the 80s America setting. And the BLANK. The BLANK that you’re BLANK BLANK looks absolutely BLANK. BLANK! Smart Storytelling and a Chance to See the Stars Up Close The storytelling is smart and filled with easter eggs, referencing the series itself while also moving into uncharted territory. The idea of separating the audience into different groups, with each group getting a different mystery to explore is clever. Some people seemed genuinely confused by the whole thing though. With so many stories taking place across the same scene, they seemed to get caught midway between the task assigned to them and wanting simply to explore. They eventually found themselves following three narratives at the same time and promptly gave up. But it’s not hard to follow if you take your time and keep general exploration and story-solving separate from one another. The seemingly spontaneous scenes that break out between cast and audience members are fun. It’s pretty thrilling having Will tell you he’s found a clue, follow me, then deliberately lose you in a sea of Hawkins residents. But when it gets busier and the crowd around each character is 5-10 people don’t feel like you’re in Hawkins anymore. You feel like you’re in London. Get there early and go character-spotting as soon as you arrive. Maybe that’s the best advice. It’s not about the cocktails, of course. But they taste like they’ve been mixed by the kids from the show. It’s not about the cocktails, of course. But 10 quid is a lot of money to spend on some fruity tasting fizz made from all the sodas in Dustin’s fridge. The finale is the best thing about the evening, as finales should be. As soon as the BLANK goes BLANK and the BLANK does a BLANK and you think it’s BLANK, but it’s actually’s pretty damn BLANK. [caption id="attachment_6149" align="alignnone" width="1000"] Matthew Pearson for The London Pass[/caption] What Shows Have Secret Cinema Put on Before? What's next? Previous to Secret Cinema Presents Stranger Things, London audiences have been able to explore the sci-fi worlds of Blade Runner, Alien and Star Wars, and the post-apocalyptic zombie hellscape of 28 Days Later. There’ve been some cheery, dancey, singy spectacles too, including Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge and the Di Caprio-starring Romeo + Juliet. Next up, in Summer 2020, is Dirty Dancing. Secret Cinema Presents Stranger Things runs until March 1st 2020. It’s held at a secret London location. Tickets start around the £40 mark, but it’s very dynamically priced throughout the week and according to availability. There are Saturday matinee performances which are open to those 15 and up, but otherwise it’s an 18+ event. For more details and to book, head HERE. For tickets to the next Secret Cinema event, Secret Cinema Presents Dirty Dancing, head HERE. It'd arguably have been a good idea to stay dry at Secret Cinema Presents Stranger Things. Would have saved a wedge or two. If you're looking to keep it dry, or at least damp, this January, have a read of this. For more info on what The London Pass can do for you, click below...
Matthew Pearson

Royal London Attractions - Our Ultimate Sightseeing Itinerary

Trace the monarchy through the ages at these royal London attractions While the monarchy don't have as much to do with politics nowadays, the royal family are still very much a big part of British culture. London is steeped in history and as such, it's full of royal London attractions spanning from kings and queens hundreds of years past to today's modern descendents. Central London Westminster Abbey Now this is a place you've probably seen on television before, whether you were tuning into Queen Elizabeth's coronation or Kate and Will's fairytale wedding ceremony. In any case, it's a place tied closely to the royals as the site of every coronation since 1066 and it's easy to see why with its grandiose stained glass windows, master artworks and impressive architecture. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it's worth dipping in (even if you're not into the royal family). Buckingham Palace Pay Liz a visit at Buckingham Palace, nestled amongst many of London's most beautiful parks. As the official residence of Queen Elizabeth, it's worth heading over during August and September when the lavish state rooms are open to the public. Currently, you can head over to see the Royal Gifts exhibition where gifts from places as diverse as Hong Kong and South Africa are displayed throughout ballrooms and reading rooms. The Queen's Gallery Open all year round, the Queen's Gallery is an offshoot of Buckingham Palace for the public. It's no surprise that the royal family has amassed some masterpieces in their time and it's here that a selection are curated and put on display in changing exhibitions. Banqueting House As the final remnant of King James I's Whitehall Palace, this impressive structure has seen countless scenes of revelry since 1622. The Palace itself was where King James I lived (before it burned down) and also where he was executed. When you wander in, don't forget to look up at its grand ceiling frescoes and gigantic chandeliers which will take your breath away. Household Cavalry Museum If you're keen on military history, the Household Cavalry Museum is the perfect marriage of Britain's military past and royal lineage. Tucked away within Whitehall's Horse Guards, it still functions as the headquarters for the Household Division and The Queen's Life Guard can be spotted training and looking intimidating around the area. If you're one for pomp and ritual, the changing of the Queen's Life Guard is well worth seeing - a tradition that dates all the way back 350 years. Royal Mews While a stable doesn't usually seem like an obvious tourist destination, the Royal Mews are well worth visiting. It still functions as the royal stables today (Queen Elizabeth is well known for her love of horses) and is also where a number of the gilded carriages are kept. While the ebony and golden Australian State Carriage is currently featured in the Royal Gifts exhibition at Buckingham Palace, there's a number of stunning coaches to see at the exhibition including the Glass Coach and the Gold State Coach - which has taken every royal to their coronation since 1821. Further Out Tower of London Located out in East London, the Tower of London is a legacy of a time long past with its stone walls and years upon years of history. It's worn many hats throughout the years, serving as a fortress, armoury, royal residence, prison and at one point a zoo. The Beefeaters, formerly royal guards, now serve as tour guides that reveal the grand and sometimes bloody history of the tower from stories of the royal jewels through to the execution of Anne Boleyn. Naturally, seeing the Crown Jewels exhibition is a priority for any monarchy buff. Windsor Castle If you don't mind taking a little day trip, Windsor Castle is Queen Elizabeth's weekend home and it makes absolute sense. Quieter than her opulent Central London residence, this 11th Century castle and its grounds sprawl over five hectares so there's lots to explore. From the seren Gothic St George's Chapel to Queen Mary's famous dollhouse, there's lots to see and do here. Kensington Palace Pop over to Kensington Palace and say hi to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who now live there with their family. Beyond being home to Kate Middleton and Prince William, the Jacobean palace is a popular spot on the tourist trail buried deep in the heart of Kensington Gardens. The Orangery is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the royal residence, with marble statues, a lush garden and Roman pillars. (Make sure you stop there for high tea - it's enchanting.) Hampton Court Palace Another big day trip from central London, Hampton Court Palace is one of the most opulent royal residences you'll come across in the UK. It's not too surprising given who used to live there as it was formerly King Henry VIII's residence - there's even a replica crown housed in its halls. It doesn't do things by halves with gigantic Tudor kitchens and has even broken a Guinness World Records with its Great Vine.
Megan Hills
Penguins at London Zoo

Top London Zoo Facts You Didn't Already Know

One of London's most popular attractions and the world's oldest scientific zoos, the ZSL London Zoo houses 698 species of animals, with over 20,000 individuals, making it one of the largest collections in the United Kingdom. Located in Regents Park, it's a fun, fascinating and peaceful animal oasis in the heart of London. Visitors are invited to get up close with some of their favourite animals, watch live feedings and explore the exhibitions. We've got some London Zoo facts that you may not have heard before to help you learn about London's most adorable attraction. 1. It's the oldest in the world Founded in 1826 by the Zoological Society of London, the ZSL London Zoo was originally built to keep animals for scientific research. It was the creation of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles who is also famous for the founding of Singapore (and the famous Raffles Hotel). For the first 20 years, only fellows from the Zoological Society were allowed into the zoo. It was in 1847 that the zoo was opened to the public, to help the Society's funding. 2. It doesn't receive government funding The London Zoo doesn't actually receive any public funding. Its funding comes from admissions, charges and donations. 3. It's a listed landmark While the zoo has plenty of beautiful listed buildings (don't miss a visit to the incredible Reptile House. You might recognise it from when Harry Potter spoke to a Burmese python in the Harry Potter & The Philosopher's Stone film) While at Penguin Beach be sure to seek out the Grade I listed classic telephone box. Painted white with red windows, it's one of only two left in Britain - the other one is in Scotland! 4. A place to call home Home to 698 species of animals, with over 20,000 individual animals, London Zoo stretches over 36 acres in Regents Park. For the bigger animals, you'll need to head to ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, which has 600 acres for the elephants, rhinos and other creatures to wander. 5. Such a cool guy The gorilla statue at the entrance to the zoo is a tribute to one of the zoo's famous residents. A western lowland gorilla arrived at the zoo on 5 November 1947, which happened to be Guy Fawkes Night, and so he was named "Guy". He became a mini-celebrity, attracting thousands of visitors for over 30 years. 6. Think big In 1865, the London Zoo welcomed an African bull elephant who was named Jumbo. Growing to 11ft tall, his name came to inspire the word "jumbo" meaning "very large." 7. Finding inspiration One of the world's best-loved children's characters was inspired by a former London Zoo resident. A black bear named Winnie lived at the zoo from 1914 to 1934 and unlike many bears, was gentle, tame and loved being handled. Author A.A. Milne was so inspired by this gentile bear that he created the Winnie the Pooh character after visiting her with his son Christopher Robin. 8. Darwin's girl While writing the Origin of the Species, Charles Darwin (who was a fellow of the Zoological Society of London) regularly visited ZSL London Zoo to study the first orangutan that lived there, named Jenny. He noticed the human-like behaviour and characteristics of the ape such as listening to the zoo-keeper, throwing tantrums when she didn't get a snack and being surprised by her reflection in a mirror. 9. A baby polar bear is born The first ever British-born captivity-bred polar bear was born at ZSL London Zoo in 1949. His name was Brumas and his arrival caused zoo attendance to jump to 3 million in 1950 with books, postcards and toys created in his image. The amusing part of the story is that none of the papers realised that he was in fact a she! 10. Homemade fertilizer With more than 20,000 creatures calling ZSL London Zoo home, it's no surprise that there is a significant amount of excrement in each enclosure. All the animal poop is recycled and used as fertilizer! 11. Zoo to the rescue In 2006, 950 exotic fish and corals were seized by Customs officers at Heathrow Airport. ZSL London Zoo rescued them and rehoused them in the zoo's aquarium. 12. The golden eagle escape In 1965, a golden eagle named Goldie brought the traffic around Regents Park to a standstill when he escaped his enclosure during a cleaning. He evaded recapture for 12 days with the saga being covered in the papers and on the BBC, as well as being mentioned in a debate in the House of Commons. During his time out he ate a duck in the American ambassador's garden and tried to attack two terriers in the park. He was finally caught, in good health, by the zoo's deputy head after using a dead rabbit to tempt him back. 13. The last creatures of their kind The only living quagga ever to be photographed lived in ZSL London Zoo before the species sadly became extinct in the 1870s. The zoo also housed a number of Tasmanian tigers before their extinction in the 20th century. 14. The human zoo In 2005, the zoo displayed an exhibit called the Human Zoo for four days, during which eight people were "on display". The idea was to showcase the nature of a human as an animal and highlight the impact people have on the animal world. Experience everything London has to offer with The London Pass®  Planning your London trip? With The London Pass®, you can explore big-name landmarks, local hotspots and epic tours, all on one pass, all for one price. Not only that, but you'll enjoy savings of up to 50%, compared to buying individual attraction tickets.   ✈️ Buy The London Pass® ✈️   
Vanessa Teo

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