With the festive season just around the corner, teachers all around the country will be on Christmas countdown.
I remember those days well, my favourite time of year in school (if you weren’t nervously awaiting the dreaded brown ‘OFSTED’ envelope!)
The first signs of Christmas always started in early November, signalled by rehearsals for the annual Christmas nativity. Early December, the children eagerly handed over their miniature baked bean tins in preparation for the annual Christmas cake making activity and the school would be filled with the delicious aromas of spices and fruit as they operated-on overdrive.
Mid December, parents and grandparents filed into the classrooms for mince pies and mulled wine (minus the wine) joining their loved ones for an afternoon of creativity…. otherwise known as the annual ‘Decorations Day’. Finally, with the end of term approaching the packed halls for Christmas carols, the inevitable colourful Christmas fair and my personal favourite the infant nativity play. Let’s face it, all it took was your child wrapped up in a sheep’s costume, a few spoken words “No room at the inn” and singing their hearts out to ‘Away in a Manger’ and there wouldn’t be a dry eye in the house! Christmas at school was done.
Now the real fun starts! Just enough time to chance the crowds on Oxford street for some last-minute Christmas shopping (unless, unlike me, you’ve already organised your Christmas courtesy of Amazon), endless trips to Sainsburys or Aldi to fill the fridge with all manner of Christmas delights, the obligatory bottle of Baileys and Christmas take 2, is well underway.
Once all the Christmas festivities are over and you’ve exhausted all the Christmas movies, turkey a few days left to get out and do something. And if you’re lucky enough to be staying in London over the Christmas period ... A chance to explore!
Surprisingly, this time of year, our joyful capital is not as busy as you may think. It came as a surprise to me (this being my third Christmas in London) to discover that many of the residents actually flee the city making room for the thousands of tourists that flock into the city, in search of great shopping (some of the best in the world), world famous iconic buildings, fabulous museums, (192 to be exact, and most of them are free) not to mention the vibrant food and drink scene with something to cater for every taste. I’d previously only ever been a ‘tourist’ to London and had inevitably only visited the classic tourist traps. But there is SO much more and it’s so easy to get around.
Our tangled network of underground tubes is pretty incredible, but stations can be so close together that we often miss out on seeing some of the best bits. So, if you have a few spare days this Christmas, take a respite from the stuffy, noisy tubes and the overcrowded hot spots like Covent Garden or the Southbank. Wrap up warm, put on some comfortable shoes and in no particular order, we’ll show you some of our favourite ‘less well known’ gems that are off the infamous tourist track.
Sleepy Little Venice is a series of tree-lined canals that’s easy to miss during a trip London. Spanning from Hyde Park to Warwick Avenue, what makes Little Venice unique is that it’s completely unlike anywhere else in the city. Colourful canal boats roam the waterways, and many serve as tearooms and cafes. Amble along the canal at a snail’s pace and make your way to:
Café Laville: Serving Italian and Mediterranean dishes in a glass-fronted building overlooking the canal in Little Venice. The views over the canal are beautiful, especially at sunset.
Nearest Station: Warwick Avenue
Spitalfields and Brick Lane
We are so fortunate that this exciting, vibrant area of London is on Career Teachers doorstep. It has something for everyone. The perfect place to pick up some last-minute unique Christmas gifts offering something quite different than the 3 for 2 deals at Boots or M&S! Meander around the colourful market stalls selling beautiful hand-crafted wares. Exotic smells from the many curry houses and street food stalls is intoxicating. Head on down to the streets and alleyways of Brick lane. There you’ll find world famous street art, eclectic vintage stores and for chocolate lovers you’ll discover the best chocolate shop in London (Dark Sugars). Just point your noise in the right direction and the smells will carry you there. You’ll be greeted by the ladies and gentlemen behind the counter dancing and handing out great chunks of delicious chocolate for you to try. The variety of hot chocolate on offer is an unforgettable experience.
Discover one of many Jewish delis serving famous mouth-watering salt beef bagels (be aware, queues for these may look long but they go down fast!).
You’ll also find yourself in Jack the Ripper territory and there are plenty of opportunities to learn more about the serial killer by visiting some of the old English pubs he frequented in Victorian times: slightly scary but equally fascinating!
Thrill seekers: If heights excite you, you must take the lift the 38 floors of Heron Tower. Sushi Samba, a beautiful Japanese restaurant located on the 38th and 39th floor. The speed of the glass lift is not for the faint hearted but the views are breath-taking. Grab a cocktail under their striking Orange outdoor tree and keep warm under cosy rugs by the roaring firepits. For an extra special experience, you can enjoy elegant dining offering a unique blend of Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian culture and cuisine. It’s free to go up too!
Nearest tube station: Liverpool Street
London’s Sky Garden
Not far from here is London’s Sky Garden also known as ‘The Walkie Talkie’ with landscaped gardens, observation decks, and an open-air terrace, it’s also free to go up and has almost 360-degree views of London. The bird’s eye views of London are stunning, from the front you are facing the Shard directly.
Sunrise and sunset are always beautiful times to visit either for dinner or a drink at the rooftop bar. Or just wandering around the botanical garden while you take in the views of the city.
Although the Sky Garden is a hidden gem not known to most London visitors, it’s still very popular and can get busy at times so it’s definitely worth booking your visit!
Nearest Tube Station: Monument or Bank
This market hall is quite hidden away, so isn’t as well visited as others. It can get busy during the week as the city workforce in the Square Mile often flock there for a lazy lunch or after work pint!
It’s a covered market hall, with a beautiful ornate roof which features glass windows and curved beams. It dates from the 19th century, brightly coloured and the perfect photo spot for all you Instagrammers!
Most visitors on foot will access it via one of the narrow pedestrian alleyways. It can be hard to spot, so having a map or an app with the location saved will help.
Film buffs will recognize it as one of the Harry Potter filming locations in London. The market was the location for one of the entrances to Diagon Alley.
It has an endless supply of great eating places, but my personal favourite is: Cheese at Leadenhall: Seating is indoors or outdoors under the heaters. It’s fancy cheese and wine in a fancy part of town. You can order some olives, charcuterie or salad with your cheese and seek the staff's knowledgeable advice on which aromatic wine to pair it with.
You’ll find plenty of other eating options like Lockfyne Fish Restaurant, Leon, Pizza Express all set under this most beautiful of London locations.
A surprising aspect to London is the abundance of green parks there are, wherever you are; including Hyde, Regent, Holland and Kensington Gardens all very beautiful and manicured. But nothing quite compares to the wild expansive beauty of the Heath in Hampstead Village.
With a historically artsy past, so many creatives have lived here including D.H. Lawrence, Sigmund Freud, Robert Louis Stevenson. As well as varied and interesting paths for walking, there are riding lanes for horses, many ponds where one can find people and swans swimming alongside. If you climb to the top of the heath on a clear day, you will be greeted by a spectacular view of London and all its famous landmarks. There are also private mansions, such as the Kenwood House which has been a backdrop for countless period films. The rustic café is great spot to indulge in some home baked coffee and cakes.
Nestled beside the Heaths leafy wilds is the charming village of Hampstead. Bordered by beautiful ancient walls it’s a concoction of cosy pubs, cobbled streets and upscale boutiques. Some of the winding side streets evoke quite a ‘French’ continental feel. Hampstead is one of my personal favourite places in London.
Nearest Station: Hampstead Heath Station, Highgate Station, Belsize Park Station
The Parkland Walk
If you want to escape the city (although you’re actually still in it) head out towards the Parkland walk to take in some real, country air. Experience a little un
seen London and feel like your miles from the busy, buzzing capital city. The route follows a long disused railway track & splits into 2 sections:
Parkland Walk North – From Cranley gardens to Muswell Hill
Parkland walk South – Runs between Highgate and Finsbury Park. Both areas cover in the region of 5km in all, making it a perfect family opportunity to get out on Christmas day and walk all that rich food off. For more details go to : https://londonist.com/2015/06/weekend-walk-haringeys-parkland-walk
Imperial War Museum:
You’re so spoilt for choice with museums around London which are all free with most offering paid exhibitions. One of the most interesting is this one and from the moment you step into the world-famous atrium countless discoveries await you. Its compelling, thought provoking, emotive and completely unforgettable. Here’s a sample of some of the paid exhibitions on offer:
The Holocaust Exhibition
(not recommended for children under 14)
It provides a comprehensive account of the events that became known as the Holocaust
The Berlin Wall Exhibition
From 1961 to 1989 the Berlin Wall stood a s symbol of the Cold War, separating East and West Berlin. This explores the political and personal consequences of this barrier. It’s fascinating!
A Festive Library Tour
This Christmassy tour is an exciting opportunity to see some printed treasures, not normally on public display and to see behind the scenes.
Nearest Station: Lambeth North/Waterloo or Elephant & Castle
The Thames Barrier
This incredible feat of engineering is a vital function in preventing flooding in our wonderful city of London. Opened by the Queen in 1984, the Thames Barrier cost £500 million to build and spans 520m (1,706ft) across the River Thames at Woolwich Reach, in South-East London.
It’s composed of 10 gates, which are raised monthly for testing. These gates help to regulate the flow of water in the Thames, which is a tidal river all the way to Teddington Lock in South West London. The barrier stops tidal surges from flooding large parts of London, as well as during periods of high flow in Teddington Weir.
Although you cannot visit the Thames Barrier itself, there are several ways to see the structure:
Visit the Thames Barrier Information Centre, which also features riverside walkways, a children’s play area and the Thames Barrier Café. Or Spot the Thames Barrier from the river on an organised boat tour.
Nearest Station; Woolwich Dockyard & Charlton
Head down to the South and you’ll find the relaxed residential area of East Dulwich. It centres on Lordship Lane, a buzzing, lively main street with its trendy pubs and eateries serving fancy burgers, sushi, and curries, plus gourmet food and fashion shops. It’s Café Culture with a capital C but also dotted with lots of green spaces too, perfect for families. Stalls at the twice-weekly North Cross Road Market are filled with baked goods, jewellery, and antique furniture. Visit interesting nearby Peckham, which currently undergoing more regeneration projects.
Nearest Station: East Dulwich
Just to the east of here you’ll find Horniman Gardens & Museum. A fascinating family friendly free attraction with aquarium, animal walks, a butterfly house and musical instrument collections, all set in beautiful landscaped gardens. There’s also a café and a shop. It’s free with a small charge for some of the exhibitions.
Nearest Station: Forest Hill
In complete contrast, you’ll find the chic residential area of Marylebone. Just minutes away from bustling Oxford Street it’s a surprising pocket of calm located in the very heart of London. Distinguished by leafy streets lined with stately period homes and stylish boutiques, it’s a true urban village complete with colourful local characters and a weekly farmers' market. Life centres on the busy high street, brimming with quaint cafes, unique independent stores and high-end design retailers. The Conran Shop is a treasure chest for design enthusiasts, and Marylebone attracts a huge variety of people from celebrities, to city professionals but it’s also kept down to earth by its long-term residents, friendly local shopkeepers and a strong community vibe. It’s a foodie haven, as Cafes and restaurants spill on to the pavements where you can sit (wrapped up) and watch the world go by
Nearby are the famous Tourist attractions of Madame Tussauds waxwork museum and the Sherlock Holmes Museum. The Georgian mansion that houses the Wallace Collection of art and period furnishings typifies the area's elegant architecture.
Step off the vibrant busy streets into a little luxury. Choose from a morning cosy coffee by the roaring real fireplaces or an evening classy cocktail where you may even be rewarded with a glimpse of a visiting Hollywood celebrity. Even though it can get busy in this beautiful ambiance, you feel like you’re in your own personal space. For an evening experience it’s wise to book first.
Cheese enthusiasts will love La Fromargerie – French style restaurant & shop with cheese everywhere!
You’ll also find the very popular Daylesford Organic Farm/Deli shop & Cafe in the heart of Marylebone. With its natural-wood stools and tables it’s the perfect place for seasonal organic plates and salads.
Nearest Station: Baker Street
Finally, a few noteworthy eating places on our ever-growing list of great places to eat in London...
You’ll find their restaurants & delis dotted around London (Spitalfields, Belgravia, Islington & Notting Hill) serving mouth-watering dishes. The sweet selection is just divine. The theme is Mediterranean, European, Middle Eastern, Vegetarian Friendly with lots of Vegan Options.
The founder Yotam Ottolenghi, is also the author of many bestselling cookbooks so you can re-create his dishes at home.
Be sure to book to avoid disappointment
Enoteca Super Tuscan
In the heart of Spitalfields is this authentic Italian wine bar and restaurant. If you didn’t know better, you could be in a Italian piazza in Pisa.
Like all good Italians they believe that good Italian food means quality ingredients cooked with minimum fuss to bring out maximum flavour. This will not disappoint. The restaurant has a buzz like what you’d find in an enchanting Italian piazza in the heart of Pisa. If you’re seated by the bar area, you can watch the Chef’s work their magic.
Early evening you may be able to walk in but it’s always worth booking in advance
Table Du Marche
French Bar & Restaurant situated in the heart of East Finchley, North London. Daily specials with an emphasis on seasonal locally sourced produce. Table Du Marche has a mouth-watering menu at a reasonable price. This is West-end quality, authentic French food at its best. The staff are friendly and make great recommendations for wine pairing! This place gets busy in the evenings so it would be a good idea to book in advanced. If you fancy going on for a Christmas drink after there are great modern pubs within walking distance.
Written by Kate Bellavia, CPD Trainer for Career Teachers.