Our Top Five Tips for your London Stay!

London should be on everyone’s bucket list but you could easily spend a couple of weeks in the city and still not see everything it has to offer. On your England trip, we understand that your time and budget in the English Capital may be limited so here are our own tips to make the very most of your visit to London!

Travel like a Londoner – Buy an Oyster Card.

Oyster Card and Tube Map
Oyster Card and Tube Map

With one of these in your back pocket you’ll travel London like a true local.  But “what is an Oyster Card?” I hear you say – basically it is a travel card which is valid for use on all of central London’s public transport networks, namely the busses, some over ground trains and of course the famous tube (underground rail network).  The card itself costs only a couple of pounds and then you pre-load it with credit which is deducted each time you use it.  The card is easily charged at any ticket office and is easy to use by simply swiping it at the barriers in the tube stations or at the dedicated pads on board a bus. And the best thing is that it will always charge you the best fares possible so if you’re using it all day it automatically stops charging you once you hit the rate of a normal full-day ticket!

Enjoy the free Museums!

British Museum, London
British Museum, London

They say that the best things in life are free and that’s certainly true when it comes to London’s museums.  Whilst London can be an expensive city, all of London’s publicly owned major art galleries and museums are totally free to enter.  So whatever your interests – whether it’s the faces of English Kings and Queens in the National Portrait Gallery, the ancient artefacts of the British and Natural History Museums, the latest gadgets in the Science Museum or the newly revamped Imperial War Museum make the most of this and explore some truly fascinating and world-class exhibitions!

Shop at the Markets.

Covent Garden Market, London
Covent Garden Market, London

There’s nothing quite like a London market – whether you’re in to vintage clothes, music, arts & crafts, gifts and souvenirs or simply to pick up something tasty for dinner that evening there’s a London market perfect for your purchase.  The atmosphere of the London street market is entirely unique, a bustle of activity with the local stall holders calling their prices and conversing in cockney rhyming slang.  They are a part of London life that’s fantastic to behold –  and of course, they are the best place to pick up a bargain or two.

See the Skyline of the City.

London Eye, London
London Eye, London

London is great from the ground but for some truly magnificent views of the vast cityscape in all its glory it is good to get above the rooftops.  And it’s easier than you might think – the London Eye which was originally built as a temporary structure to celebrate the turning of the Millennium remains the tallest observation wheel in Britain offering romantic views over the city from its enviable position on the South Bank of the river Thames directly opposite the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.  And if that’s not high enough why not head over to the East of the city to the city’s most recent addition at the architectural masterpiece of the Shard, now Europe’s tallest building with a viewing platform some 800 feet above the ground.

Do the Open-Top Bus Tour

City Sightseeing Tour Bus - London
City Sightseeing Tour Bus – London

Like many major visitor destinations, there is an open-top bus tour operating in London.  And as in most cities the tour offers excellent value and a convenient way in which to see the major sites.  However in London the value is amplified – all of the major operators have combined to offer one ticket which includes three separate tour routes around this vast city, not to mention a complementary River Cruise on the Thames and various themed walking tours.  The tickets are valid for a 24 or 48hr period from the point of validation meaning your exploration can span two or more calendar days and the tours are overwhelmingly manned by live-guides in the main season ensuring you gain real personal insight on board.

Why not check out our London City packages or ask your adeo Travel agent regarding adding a London stay to your Self-Drive or Rail Tour of Britain.

When in England, do as the Romans do…!? Our Top Five Roman Sites of England.

Late last year during the building of a new hotel in the heart of the city of London, workmen discovered the statue of an eagle clutching a writhing snake.  So well preserved, it was unimaginable that the statue could have been of Roman origin however specialists later confirmed that it did indeed date back to the 1st or 2nd century AD when the World’s greatest Empire had spread throughout England.  Today, the statue is on full display to the public in the Museum of London but if you want to get more in touch with Roman Britain why not walk in the footsteps of the Roman people themselves and visit some of the country’s most stunning excavated Roman sites.

Below is adeo Travel’s countdown of our Top Five Roman sites of England:

5. Roman York

Minories Roman Eagle Statue - Museum of London
Minories Roman Eagle Statue – Museum of London

The Romans had an excellent eye for identifying strategic locations for their settlements and this was never truer than when they inhabited what was previously an unsettled area in Yorkshire, but which would soon become the undisputed capital of the North of England.  The city of York was born in AD71 when the Romans pushed their empire North from Lincoln and gave them a strategic base at the point where the River Fosse meets the River Ouse and from whence they could continue to push north.  Today the Yorkshire Museum in York houses some of Britain’s most impressive Roman artefacts including mosaics, sculptures and tombstones whilst existing Roman remains can be spotted in situ at Multangular Tower and in excavations in the under croft beneath the magnificent York Minster itself.

4. Roman Amphitheatre in Chester

Roman Amphitheatre dig in Chester
Roman Amphitheatre dig in Chester

Chester, or Castra Devana as it was known by the Romans, was once England‘s largest Roman settlements covering some 60 acres.  It is thought the site was used for legionary training and as a strategic naval base on the River Dee as far back as 75AD.  With parts of the area having been carefully excavated since the 1960s it was not until 2004/2005 that archaeological investigations uncovered (literally) parts of England’s largest Roman amphitheatre which at its peak could have seated 7000 spectators and included a shrine to the Goddess Nemesis.

3. Cirencester, Capital of the Cotswolds

Roman Mozaic Corinium Museum, Cirencester, Cotswolds
Roman Mozaic Corinium Museum, Cirencester, Cotswolds

As a result of Roman settlement, the charming town of Cirencester became capital of the region which would later become known as the Cotswolds located in the heart of England.  Constructed in the 2nd Century AD, the Roman amphitheatre in the town would once have seated more than 8000 people; today it remains largely unexcavated but offers excellent walks for views of the town. In the heart of Cirencester however you’ll find its true gem at the Corinium Museum, a treasure-trove of local Roman heritage which houses arguably the best collection of Roman artefacts outside of London.  Also well-worth a visit are the nearby excavations of the Chedworth Roman Villa.

2. Roman Baths in Bath

Roman Baths in Bath City
Roman Baths in Bath City

Possibly England’s most visually spectacular Roman remain, the Roman Baths in the city of Bath were constructed as far back as the 1st century AD.  After discovery of hot water springs from the nearby Mendip Hills, with magnificently advanced engineering the Romans constructed their Temple of Sulis Minerva which was soon regarded as one of the best bathing stations throughout the entire Roman Empire and drew visitors from across Europe, even in those times!  Since its rediscovery in the 18th century, when workmen uncovered the bronze head of the goddess Minerva, the magnificent temple has been fully excavated and restored and today you can walk the worn slabs that the Romans themselves strolled along and even sample the mineral-rich water which drew them here in the first place all those centuries ago.

1. Hadrian’ Wall

Hadrian's Wall, North of England
Hadrian’s Wall, North of England

Undoubtedly one of the greatest achievements of the Roman Empire in Britain, Hadrian’s Wall stretches from coast to coast across the North of England for almost 80 miles.  Constructed by Emperor Hadrian as a barrier to keep out the “uncivilised” Scottish Pictish people the wall was an early form of border control with deep ditches, tangled undergrowth and frequent forts and watch-towers defending the wall itself which in places reached 15 feet tall.  Long stretches of the wall remain in-tact today and provide excellent hiking routes whilst the Roman heritage comes to life at excavations and the best of the remaining wall-forts including those at Housesteads Fort, Chesters Fort and Birdoswald Fort not to mention at the Roman Army and Vindolanda Museums at Hexham.

For more information on experiencing first-hand any of the above locations as part of your tailor-made tour of England, simply ask your adeo Travel Britain vacation expert.

Burns Night – A Scottish Festival

The Scottish know how to have a good party – in Scotland both January 1st and 2nd are public holidays (so as to offer good recovery time from Hogmanay) and the national day, St Andrews Day, is patriotically celebrated.  There is little excuse needed then for a further festival which takes place across Scotland on January 25th each year to celebrate possibly the nation’s greatest poet – Robert “Rabbie” Burns – and few festivals could carry with them such intrinsically Scottish tradition!

Scottish Poet Robert Burns
Scottish Poet Robert Burns

Taking place on or around January 25th, each year, the Birthday of Robert Burns, “Burns Night” is celebrated widely throughout Scotland as a tribute to the life and works of this great Scottish poet.  Robert Burns, who was born in the 1700s and loved in the Scottish Borders region south of Glasgow, was, and still is, revered as a master of the Scots Language as well as writing in English and a Scots dialect of English; his poetry and folk songs are widely known across Scotland and indeed the world and include the famous “Auld Lang Syne” which is traditionally sung at Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve) each year and of course, his “Address to a Haggis” a fantastic work dedicated to Scotland’s national dish.

Piping of the Haggis
Piping of the Haggis

The Burns Night celebration usually takes place as a traditional Burns Supper which can be a formal meeting and meal of a society, club or social group or simply a family gathering. Nowadays this gathering can take many forms however typically the evening starts with contributions from the attendees which could be story-telling, recitals of verse or performances of songs, original or old but most definitely including some of Burns’ work.  Then to the important business of food and drink – the main dish is of course Haggis (minced offal and oats cooked with onion and seasoning and served in a sheep’s stomach lining) usually served with neeps and tatties (Parsnips and Potatoes).  Traditionally the meal is served only after a recital of the famous “Address to a Haggis” often accompanied by the sound of the bagpipes in the background.  The dish is of course washed down with some quality single malt scotch whisky!  In more formal quarters the evening is then rounded off with “a toast to the lassies” whereby a male speaker shares his views and words of wisdom on the subject of women followed by what’s now often referred to as the “toast to the laddies” in which a female responds with her insights and anecdotes regarding  the male species!  And all followed with general socialising, drinking and banter that the Scots are so good at.

If you find yourself in Scotland in January, don’t miss out on a chance to experience a Burns Supper and even if you’re not here for Burns Night itself you can still enjoy a traditional Scottish evening in Edinburgh including the piping of the Haggis.

Scottish Festivals is one of “Top Five Reasons to Visit Scotland
For the full poem “Address to a Haggis” click here and to hear some stunning recitals click here.

Stonehenge – New Look for an Ancient Site

Stonehenge is one of the most iconic and instantly recognizable sites in England; and with around a million visitors each year, it is also one of Britain‘s most popular tourist attractions.  Which is why, last week, English Heritage finally opened the long-awaited state-of-the-art visitor centre which aims to offer a guest experience fitting of such a magnificent slice of British pre-history.

Stonehenge
Stonehenge

For those who have visited Stonehenge, few can disagree that it is a truly enchanting site; huge monoliths standing eerily on the Salisbury Plain and shrouded in mystery.  Pre-dating the Egyptian Pyramids, why did an ancient people go to the effort of creating this ring of stones; a pre-historic calendar mapping the seasons? An ancient burial place? Or a site of worship to a pagan god?  There are theories but still no one really knows!  And more to the point how on earth did they do it?  The stones are estimated to be around 50 tonnes each and are believed to have come from the Preselli Hills of South West Wales, some 250 miles away!

New Stonehenge Visitor Centre
New Stonehenge Visitor Centre

So there is no denying the appeal of Stonehenge, however many of those who have already visited, also agree that the overall visitor experience has not, in the past, done it justice.  In 1989 a government committee called the visitor facilities a “national disgrace” – a tiny gift shop and snack bar, underground toilets which flooded and a narrow tunnel to reach the stones themselves.  And then whilst you were trying to immerse yourself in the enigma of the stones, your audio guide was competing with the traffic noise from the A334 route which ran to within less than a 100 yards away.  But fortunately, this is all now set to change so that guests can enjoy modern comforts on their exploration of this ancient site.

Stonehenge's New Exhibition
Stonehenge’s New Exhibition

The A334 was finally closed in June offering a more peaceful visitor experience and the new facilities of the long-awaited visitor centre, which opened last week, are a world apart from those previously offered.  Modern but elegant, the grey low-standing building blends in to the moorland landscape perfectly and, located 1.5miles from the main site, it is unimposing and does detract from the atmospheric surroundings of the stones themselves.  Within, guests can enjoy an enhanced gift-shop and cafe but also a stunning range of exhibitions; from a 360-degree projection which catapults you back through the millennia of the site’s history, to an array of genuine ancient and priceless artefacts dating back to the peoples who constructed it.  A highlight is the 5,500 year old skeleton, and subsequent facial reconstruction, of a man excavated from a nearby barrow burial mound – was this Stonehenge’s first ever visitor?  And all this before you even make your way via the shuttle transfer or a stroll through nearby woodland to reach the majesty of the Stonehenge itself.

The new centre means an increase in admission and that pre-booking a slot for your visit is essential but we think it’ll be worth it for the enhanced experience – it may have been several thousand years in the making but, it seems, visitors to Stonehenge are finally getting the treatment they deserve!

Remember, remember the fifth of November…

No, it’s not my Birthday –  this is actually the line of a rhyme that all children in Britain know well.  But why should we remember November 5th? I hear you ask.  Well, it’s actually a very important date that could have changed British history and the cityscape of London as we know it today…

Palace of Westminster - Parliament
Palace of Westminster – Houses of Parliament

Renowned in Britain, “Guy Fawkes night” or, as it’s sometimes known, “bonfire night” falls on November fifth each year – it was on this cold and misty November day back in 1605 that Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators attempted to blow up British parliament by planting kegs of gunpowder in the cellars of Westminster Palace. It was a plot to “destabilise” the protestant government of King James by the English Roman Catholics following his savage verbal attack on them previous year.

Fortunately, the plot was foiled; Guy Fawkes was discovered guarding the hoard of explosives which, had they been successfully detonated, could have destroyed much of the Palace of Westminster which was later extended to include Big Ben itself.  Following the failed plot, bonfires were lit across London on the 5th November to celebrate the fact that the King was safe and an effigy of Guy Fawkes was usually thrown on top for good measure.

Bonfire night in England
Bonfire night in England

This slightly grisly tradition endures today; in early November you will often see children asking for a “penny for the Guy” as they assemble their own effigies of old clothes stuffed with newspaper or straw to be thrown on to the local bonfire.   Fortunately however, in recent decades the celebration has become more of a social event with families coming together to attend the huge bonfires of their local community and to enjoy the spectacular organized fireworks displays which accompany  them.

Tradition is something the British do well and to this day when the Queen enters Parliament on her once yearly “State Opening of Parliament” her Guards will search the cellars of the Palace of Westminster just in case there’s a keg of gunpowder down there.  So if you’re here in England in late Autumn, remember the fifth of November and pop down to a bonfire near you!