About Harriet Constable
Harriet Constable is a communications executive and freelance travel writer and blogger. At the age of 23 she stepped foot on Antarctica, and in doing so achieved her aspiration of traveling to every continent.
Harriet is the founder of Harri Travels aka http://www.harrietconstable.com/, a travel blog focused on providing affordable stylish adventure inspiration across the globe. Harriet lives in London and when she isn’t half way across the world she can be found exploring her home city for awesome new things to do. You can follow her on twitter: @Hconstable.
Latest Posts by Harriet Constable
The holidays and in particular Christmas is my absolute favourite time of year and I happen to consider myself something of an expert on the best activities to do in England’s capital city. Luckily for you, I have spent years crafting this perfectly pruned list of the very best festive holiday activities in London. From steaming mulled wine and mistletoe to bright frosty park walks and sparkly lights, oversized Christmas jumpers and Bridget Jones running through the snow in her knickers, Christmas is London at its most enchanting.
Here’s how to make the most of festive London this winter:
Carol Concerts at St Paul’s Cathedral
St Paul’s puts on a series of spectacular carol concerts at Christmas in its magnificent domed cathedral. Some are free and some ticketed, so it’s worth looking at the website early to book a place if need be. If you’re attending the family carols arrive very early as the queues can wrap around the cathedral.
Ice skating at Somerset House
Each year as the winter chill enters the air ice rinks start to pop up across London. Somerset House is by far my favourite with its picturesque setting and rink-side bar where you can wrap your frosty fingers around a warm drink whilst the skaters slide by.
Lighting of the Christmas Tree in Trafalgar Square
At 6pm on December 4, the countdown to Christmas starts with the lighting of the tree in Trafalgar Square. The Norwegian Spruce is a gift from Norway to London to say thank you for Britain’s support during World War II, and the historic tradition has happened every year since 1947.
Mulled Wine at Borough Market
Borough Market has that magical ability to transport itself from summer sun spot with punters perching on pavements sipping Pimms to one of the most festive spots in London. Wrap up in your hat and mittens and take a stroll around Borough Market with a cinnamon mulled wine freshly scooped from a steaming cauldron.
Frosty walk followed by Bailey’s hot chocolate at a cosy pub by the fire
My favourite spots for a festive stroll in London – and cosy pub to follow – are: Hampstead Heath followed by The Wells, Regents Park followed by The Edinboro Castle or The Spread Eagle, St James’s Park followed by The Clarence on Whitehall, Hyde Park followed by The Brittania just off High Street Kensington.
Harrods, the food hall and Christmas window displays
The world’s most famous department store also happens to be one of the most fabulous for Christmas cheer in my opinion. Of an early evening the building twinkles into life as thousands of bulbs illuminate the snowy Christmas window displays. Inside, you can taste the food hall excitement where wrapped chocolate glistens in tall piles and the rich and famous purchase luxurious Christmas hampers.
Fortnum and Mason Christmas Department
As you enter the duck egg blue and gold building on Piccadilly in the lead up to Christmas the sound of carol singing drifts into range – singers regularly perform in the middle of the store by the spiralling stairs. A few levels above, London’s best Christmas department awaits with quintessentially British and traditional decorations beautifully displayed.
Southbank Centre Christmas Market
In November each year traditional wooden chalets line the Southbank waterfront serving up festive food, warming drinks and selling Christmas gifts. I love to take a stroll when it starts to get dark and the wooden cabins’ twinkly lights come on.
Covent Garden’s Christmas Decorations
Covent Garden is a beautiful part of London all year, but the Christmas decorations are always the best around and add an extra special something to the covered market. I prefer to visit Covent Garden when the market stalls are packed away and just the shops are open – it’s quieter and makes for better photos of the decorations.
Mince Pies and Festive Cheer at Leadenhall Market
In the cobbled walkways under the glass Victorian roof Leadenhall Market brims with festivities. The Christmas lights have just been turned on and the decorations are up, so head over for mince pies and a mulled cider from one of the many pubs in the Market.
Have you spent Christmas in London? I’d love to hear your favourite festive things to do!
Last weekend, I tested out the London Pass, which is sightseeing city card that gives you entry to a choice of over 60 popular tourist attractions in the city and is available for either 1, 2, 3, 6 or 10 days.
In one day, I reckon it’s possible to get around four tourist attractions if you start early – but be warned, you will be exhausted by the end of it. We managed to make it to the Churchill War Rooms, Westminster Abbey, Tower Bridge and used our London Passes to get free tickets to the Curzon cinema in Mayfair to see The Imitation Game. I’ve put together a short break-down of each attraction below in the handy tabs below, and at the end I’ve summarised what I thought of the London Pass.
- CHURCHILL WAR ROOMS
- WESTMINSTER ABBEY
- TOWER BRIDGE
Buried in a once-secret basement next to Horse Guard’s Parade the Churchill War Rooms offer a fascinating insight into war-time London and the war cabinet that were secretly fighting for Britain from this dank dark basement. There’s an impressive museum section with tons of interesting Churchill facts and artefacts displayed in modern, visual ways. It’s also cool to see the original rooms like the Map Room where they planned their attacks and Churchill’s bedroom where he spent many a sleepless night.
However, do not be fooled – as we were – into going to the introductory talk by the Churchill War Rooms volunteer speaker. Yes, he was a nice chap, but he spoke for NEARLY AN HOUR about every minute detail you were about to see, from the tissue on Churchill’s desk to the pen he held to the toilet lid he sat on – thus rendering the experience of walking around the War Rooms somewhat pointless as we already knew everything the signs were telling us.
GOOD BITS: no que, great museum section
BAD BITS: boring bastard speaking for nearly an hour
London’s spectacular Westminster Abbey is at the top of many tourist’s hitlist. And quite rightly, it is one of London’s most spectacular Cathedrals and home to an impressive number of important dead people. We spent about half an hour wandering around, gazing at the impressive architecture, stained glass windows and elaborate coffins.
Sadly, it’s popularity meant that the queues outside were large and we had to wait 20 minutes in the cold to get in. This was particularly disappointing as the London Pass booklet that we were given with the cards advised that ‘fast track’ entry was available for London Pass holders at the Abbey. When we asked, this wasn’t the case and we were sent to the back of the line.
GOOD BITS: spectacular building
BAD BITS: massive queue, no fast track
Having once lived in Borough I had passed Tower Bridge many times but never gone up to the exhibition. Thus, we deemed it an important addition to our London tourist day activities. The queue was fairly small, although still no fast track (even though it was advertised). Within about 15 minutes we were up at the top of the bridge.
The exhibition wasn’t particularly impressive – just a video playing that was really aimed at children. And I’m afraid the view from the top wasn’t that spectacular either as all the iron infrastructure means there are only small gaps to look through and a mass of glass and padding (presumably to make it safe) obstructs the best views. Walking over the glass see-though walkway looking down to the river and bridge below was certainly entertaining, and fairly vertigo-inducing – that was certainly the best bit.
The London Pass will save you money, if you are prepared to do 4 or more tourist attractions in a day since it costs £49.If you are desperate to see all the London tourist sights and you only have a weekend or so to do it, a London Pass probably makes sense. However, London is full of so many fantastic free museums, markets, walks, cathedrals and icons I just don’t think you need to spend out £49 per person to make the most of it.
Tenerife, the largest of the seven Canary Islands, is famed for its sandy beaches and turquoise seas. Tourists flock to its shores for the year-round sunshine, and quick four-hour flight from London.
I spent a very lovely Monday evening meeting the Tenerife tourism board at restaurant Hispania near Bank in central London. I expected to be impressed by the diversity of the island from hip bars to tranquil retreats, but was surprised to find the standard of food and drink so high.
We tried a whole selection of treats such as the trio of ‘mojo’ sauces with “papas de color” (small baked potatoes). The sauce was drizzled into the warm centre of the potato, which made a delicious starter. I also enjoyed the sweet potato crisps with intense and strong “almogrote” cheese paste. The canapés were paired with the crisp Altos de Trevejo sparkling wine.
I also tried several other wines from the Spanish Canary Islands. Humboldt 2012, a sweet white wine that was paired with the desert course, was my favourite. Grown in the traditional and long-established region of Tacoronte-Acentejo, the vineyards here are located on steep, north-facing terraces at altitudes of 330ft to 3280ft (100m–1000m) – perfect conditions for high-quality wine production I’m told.
So where does one go to find these food and wine delicacies in Tenerife? The best places, I’m told, are markets such as “Nuestra Señora de Africa” (Santa Cruz) and the Market of San Cristóbal de La Laguna (La Laguna). There are also popular local farmers’ markets such as the “Mercadillo del Agricultor” that takes place in Tacoronte and Tegueste, amongst other towns.
With it’s burgeoning gastro scene and year round gorgeous weather it’s easy to see why Tenerife has become such a popular tourist haunt.
I’m on a mission to find the world’s best vegetarian food and this month, this self-set assignment took me to the Wild Food Café overlooking colourful hippy-haven Neal’s Yard in Covent Garden.
This laid-back, all-inclusive restaurant centres around raw superfoods that taste ‘orgasmic’ and look delicious to boot. “We focus on wild, fresh, colourful gourmet ingredients & plant-based (vegan and vegetarian) cuisine.”
The café was set up by Joel and Aiste, both of whom are devoted to making vegan and vegetarian cuisine mainstream diets. We pulled up a corner on the communal benches staring out of the brightly coloured window and drooled over the menu choices.
To drink, we went for the ‘Forgotten Ecstasy’ – raw cacao liquor, cacao nibs, dates, figs, almonds, coconut, cinnamon, vanilla. It tasted like a healthy chocolate milkshake.
To eat, we opted for the sourdough bruschetta with new season cherry tomatoes, creamy avocado, shallots and basil, and a side of sweet potato chips, which were soft and flavoursome (although nothing beats a proper bowl of chips in my mind). The bruschetta was crunchy and tangy and left us wanting more.
After a recent piece in FT Magazine about the future of food I was delighted to have found a café so focused around changing the food agenda, and showing that vegetarian is the way to go. The FT Magazine piece agreed: “the way food arrives on our plates today is offensively wasteful, harmful to the planet and unkind to its residents, both four-legged and bipedal.” Wild Food Café, I’ll be back.
Roll up roll up, to the Union Street Coffee House in London. Run by the ‘Gentleman Baristas’ this newly opened coffee haven is situated close to London Bridge Station and the popular foodie destination of Borough Market.
Conveniently close to the FT, where I’m based Monday to Friday, I popped in on my lunch for a hot chocolate and a chat with one of the ‘gentleman baristas’ himself, Henry C. A. W. Ayers.
The idea behind the shop is ‘well mannered’ coffee, and Henry is an exemplar of this vibe. Charming and friendly with a very British moustache in tow, he pulled up a chair next to me and talked about the building’s origins dating back to the 17th century. It was originally a coffee house and a meeting place, then a butchers and the offices for the coffee federation but for the last year and a half it’s been empty.
Here are some great travel apps worth noting, most of them mobile apps.
One of the most confusing things about travel can be mentally converting costs from your home currency to the local currency, and understanding how much you’re actually spending. XE Currency is my favourite app for this: it uses live currency rates and allows you to calculate prices with your smartphone on the go. It also has historical currency charts, so you can track your costs from last week or last month at the correct exchange rate.
Useful whether you’re travelling or have friends living across the globe, the World Clock app does what it says on the tin: an interactive map of time zones across the globe, as well as daylight saving times.
My favourite site for an initial sweep of flight prices, Skyscanner searches the web from airlines to deal sites to find the cheapest option for flying to your chosen destination. It’s a good way to see what’s out there all in one place, and there’s also a cool option to pin your search to your start screen and keep an eye on price fluctuations.
Forward your emails for flights/hotels/hire cars/restaurant bookings etc. to trips @ worldmate . com and the app generates a handy itemised itinerary of your upcoming trip. If you upgrade it will also let you know if there’s any delays to flights in real time. Who needs a personal assistant?
This brilliant app allows you to hail a cab to your exact location using the GPS on your phone in a matter of minutes. Hailo also lets you plug in your card details to save needing cash, and emails you your receipt at the end of the journey. I find it unbelievably handy, and it makes my life easier.
Walking around London I often pass cool little shops or quirky restaurants, galleries and more that I think look great and then completely forget about. Pin drop tracks your location and allows you to drop a pin when you see somewhere that takes your fancy, acting as a reminder to revisit in the future. You can also browse user-made lists siting the best places to eat or see in town – great if you’re new or need some inspiration.
Such a good app! Spot a building that’s vaguely important-looking and want to know more? Open this app and point your smartphone camera at it. As long as the building is famous enough it will fire up a Wikipedia page telling you all you need to know.
I wish I had known about this app before having had my possessions stolen in Thailand, including passport. It offers a database of emergency service numbers for just about every country you’d ever care to visit. There’s also embassy details and the option to pin certain services to your home screen as widgets, for one-touch access to police, ambulances and fire engines.
It’s all very well having these cool apps, but mobile data is expensive while abroad. On my Antarctica expedition I accidentally downloaded an email which cost me £120 in data charges… so I know how that feels! Enter Onavo, a nifty little app that drastically reduces the amount of data needed to perform tasks like checking emails and posting to Facebook.
It seems that there is now a Day of the Year for everything. Today, for instance, is apparently Mouldy Cheese Day - but of course you already knew that. Last month no doubt you celebrated Hug Your Hound Day, and I do hope you are looking forward to World Porridge Day tomorrow. Endless celebrations to be had! One of my favourites (naturally) is London Cocktail Week which takes place this year from the 6th to 12th of October.
Now in its fifth year, London Cocktail Week is the biggest drinks festival in the UK with over 250 bars primed to shake and stir you toward a delicious cocktail.
To be part of London Cocktail Week 2014, festival-goers must buy a wristband, which costs £15 from one of the hubs scattered around town. Wristbands give access to the huge amount of free sampling and cocktail demonstrations, as well as the renowned self-guided Cocktail Tours across the capital. Many of the bars also offer £4 cocktails to wristband-wearers.
Dutiful as ever, I took it upon myself to visit the new Hixter at Bankside, one of the many establishments on the list for an after-work stop off. The £4 cocktail on offer was called Tanqueray Autumnal Orchard: Tanqueray No. TEN Gin, pressed apple juice, Martini Rosso an elderflower cordial, served long over ice.
This October I’m heading to SALT, a cultural festival taking place on an Arctic beach in Norway. It looks absolutely awesome. The festival begins its journey on the mountainous island of Sandhornøy, just south of Bodø. Over the coming years SALT will travel across the northernmost part of the globe to Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Ireland, Scotland, Spitsbergen, Alaska and Russia.
Their inspiration stems from the Arctic nomads, whose concern for and close relationship to nature means that archaeologists are able to find few remnants of their culture. In the same way, SALT’s eight year long journey is intentionally low-impact and respectful – it’s a cultural platform focusing on our common future, lifestyle and on environment and climate changes.
They’ve created simple and portable structures which will house art projects, concerts, theatre, readings and local food cultures.
And we’ll be sleeping in these:
They’re called SALT Njallas. I love the name! These houses-slash-tents come with their own wood burning stoves and are light enough to be moved to find your perfect spot on the beach.
My journey there involves flying to Oslo then Bodø, and then taking a boat to Sandhornøy.