“Discover the London you won’t find in the guidebooks”, Alternative London Tours proudly asserts. London’s “off-the-beaten-track” tour provider takes visitors to the hub of the capital’s East End to explore this unsung cultural hive.
East End specialists, the Alternative London Tour takes the visitor away from the normal and traditional tourist hot spots, such as Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey. Fine as these historical buildings are, if you are looking for some unusual cultural inspiration in the capital, than witnessing the works of street art and spirited community of the East End will provide a liberating day out.
So popular and successful have the Alternative London Tours been that in the last two years the company has been awarded certificates of excellence for its service to the London tourist industry.
The conception of this unique tourism venture derived from a young chap called Gary, who saw a hole in London’s crowded guided tour market. Gary proceeded to recruit young street artists, amongst others, to join the team guiding people around a part of London which was comparatively unknown and did not appear in any of the tour guide literature of the city.
If you are looking to have an educational and enlightening start to the year in London then you should think about visiting Sir John Soane’s Museum. Situated in the City of Westminster this unique museum is the idiosyncratic legacy of the great Neo-Classical architect, Sir John Soane and is filled will all manner of surprising and interesting artefacts that are in the same state as when Soane died in 1837.
Sir John Soane was a bricklayer’s son who was propelled to fame and high acclaim when he designed the Bank of England. Soane’s best known work had a widespread effect on commercial architecture. This great British architecture of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries also designed the Dulwich Picture Gallery. With its top-lit galleries, Soane’s Dulwich Gallery also had huge influences on subsequent art gallery and museum architecture.
John Soane was the professor of architecture at the Royal Academy from 1806. Like so many of his British predecessors, Soane travelled to Italy where he picked up many design ideas and weaved them into British architecture. Purchasing paintings directly from artists who he had befriended during his travels including three works by J. M. W. Turner, Soane filled his houses with works of fine art.
The Sir John Soane Museum holds wonderful pieces from the ancient world, with his collection of antiques, furniture, models and paintings on display. The museum’s fine library houses more than 30,000 of Soane’s architectural drawings. Architectural drawings by the likes of Sir Christopher Wren are also on display at the museum.
When you consider Britain’s long-lasting love affair with cartoons, puppets, satire and comics, you could say the Cartoon Museum was late coming to London. Although better late than never and since the Duke of Edinburgh officially opened the museum in 2006 – fairly sporting of him when you consider the amount of cartoon lampooning aimed in his direction – the museum as been a roaring success.
Situated on Russell Street in Bloomsbury, the Cartoon Museum is thriving with a library of thousands of books and comics and a constantly changing display of more than 250 exhibits from its collection. The exhibitions run for a month or two and are focused on different speciality subjects. The museum’s curator, Anita O’Brien said:
“There has never been a cartoon museum (in Britain)… In spite of the very strong historical tradition here, there has always been a very strong ambivalence towards comic art.”
From February until April, 2014 the Cartoon Museum will run the Spitting Image exhibition Spitting Image needs little introduction. The award-winning British satirical puppet show was co-created by Roger Law, Peter Fluck, John Lloyd and Martin Lambie-Nairn.
Why not make March in the capital a month of historical enlightenment? There is nothing quite like the Vikings to rouse and fascinate the imaginations of children and adults alike. On March 6, 2014, the British Museum will open its doors to a Viking display unseen for thirty years.
The Vikings had a long-standing relationship with Great Britain and Ireland and became an integral part of our history. They fought us, ruled us, plundered and pillaged us. Remains of Viking settlements can be found all over the British Isles and all in all this barbaric bunch spent nearly as much time in the UK as the Romans did.
The Vikings first came to Britain in 789 and announced their arrival in typical savage fashion by destroying the abbey at Lindisfarne on the north east coast of England. Scholarly monks were murdered by the pagan hoards – A brand new terror had arrived to Britain and it would take strong men to stand up to them. One such man was King Alfred who beat the Vikings off and at least managed to take control of half of England.
In 1066 Harold Goodwinson, the last Anglo-Saxon King of England, fought the Vikings at Stamford Bridge. What became known as the ‘Battle of Stamford Bridge’ saw the King defeat the Vikings, a fight which marked the end of the Viking Age.
One of the best components about London is that the whole family can have a compelling, exciting and fun day out without spending a penny. Yes you did read correctly.
London might have a reputation as being one of the most expensive cities in the world but because the city is made up of so many fascinating and incredible buildings and sites, you can spend whole days just meandering round London gazing in awe at its truly unmatchable landscape.
If spending a day casually snaking round the British capital getting all the best sites ‘ticked off’ sounds appealing, be sure to include a visit to St. John’s Gate in Clerkenwell. Built in 1504 by the Prior Thomas Docwra as the south entrance to the inner precinct of the Priory of the Knights of Saint John, St. John’s Gate is one of the few physical remains retained from Clerkenwell’s monastic past.
It all began in the 12th century when the Knights of the Order of St. John took it upon themselves to build a hospital, no doubt to nurse the wounded crusaders who were returning home from their “Holy War” abroad, battered and bleeding. A priory was soon added to the hospital which covered a vast four acres.
More than 300 years later the splendid gate was built as a magnificent entrance to the priory. The Knights of the Order of St. John did marvellous charity work in helping the sick, wounded and infirm. Today the St. John’s ambulance brigade is active in the building and owes its origins to the very Knights who initiated the idea more than 900 years ago.