Category Archives: Activities

Get involved – things to do as well as see

Totally Thames 2020: Celebrate the capital’s lifeblood with an outdoors and digital festival

This year’s festival will feature a mix of online and socially-distanced outdoor events.

Aïcha El Beloui Totally Thames

Moroccan artist Aïcha El Beloui took part in the Rivers of the World project at this year’s Totally Thames festival

Although many popular London festivals have been postponed until next year, one of my favourite ones – Totally Thames – is fortunately returning in September (its usual slot). However, the 2020 edition of the annual festival will be a mix of digital and outdoor events, so people can take part safely through social distancing or the comfort of their own home.

Now in its 24th year, Totally Thames is a celebration of the River Thames which flows through our capital. Kicking off on 1 September, the month-long festival will include arts events, activities, environmental initiatives, heritage and education programmes. Some of the outdoor events include paddlesports (kayaking, canoeing and stand-up paddleboarding), angling competition, public art walks, workshops, boat trips, guided walks, art exhibitions and more. Meanwhile, there are plenty of digital offerings, including storytelling, audio and virtual tours, kids’ choir and more.

One of the highlights of this year’s festival is Rivers of the World, with artists working remotely with over 2,000 13 and 13-year-old students around the world to create river-themed art. The participating students created art from home during the Covid-19 lockdown thanks to digital briefs and short films by the artists teaching them new skills and about the importance of the river. The artworks will be displayed on boards and flags by the river alongside the Tate Modern this September.

  • Totally Thames 2020 takes place from 1 – 30 September 2020. At various locations (physically and online) including the South Bank and the Totally Thames website.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Ultimate London Quiz Part 2 | Questions and answers about the capital

Test your knowledge of London and its history in your next virtual pub quiz with these questions and answers.

St Pauls © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020Earlier in the Covid-19 pandemic, Metro Girl published its first Ultimate London Quiz. It proved popular with many readers, so here’s a sequel! Although lockdown has eased, many people are still sheltering at home so quizzes can provide an opportunity for entertaining and socialising.

Next time you’re hosting a Zoom, Hangouts or House Party video quiz with your friends and family, why not test them on their knowledge of London?

Here’s a specially selected 20 questions and answers on the capital, If you don’t know all the answers, hopefully you may learn something new instead.

This second London quiz covers a wide range of trivia and history, from Roman Londinium, to Victorian train stations to The Shard.

London quiz questions

Q1) Britain’s oldest door can be found in which religious building in London?

Q2) Which English monarch brought in the rule that the Tower of London’s ravens should be protected?

Q3) Which London department store has a weathervane on the roof depicting The Mayflower?

Q4) What is the capital’s oldest mainline train station in zone one?

Q5) How many times has London hosted the Olympic Games?

Q6)  What year did the Romans found Londinium? A) AD72, B) 10BC or C) AD43.

Q7) Which European country donates a Christmas tree to the City of Westminster every year?

Q8) The Buxton Memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens (beside the Houses of Parliament) commemorates which important law?

Q9) Which famous talk show host was born at Highgate tube station?

Q10) Which Soho street is named after a Charles Dickens character?

Q11) How many Premier League football teams are there in London?

Q12) Who was the first monarch to live in Buckingham Palace?

Q13) Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital in which London attraction/building?

Q14) Great Ormond Street Hospital hold the rights to which famous children’s book?

Q15) What London street is famous for its medical clinics?

Q16) What is the shortest line on the London Underground network?

Q17) Six people climbed The Shard in 2013 to protest in the name of which charity?

Q18) What London park hosts a temporary pavilion every summer?

Q19) What do you call the Royal Navy equivalent of the Chelsea Pensioners?

Q20) Brunel’s Thames Tunnel connected the south London district of Rotherhithe with which East London district?

Read the rest of this entry

London pride | Celebrating the capital’s women of World War II for VE Day 75

Discover the stories of the London women of the Second World War

This May marks the 75th anniversary of VE Day. Moving the Bank Holiday from the usual Monday to Friday 8 May 2020, we will commemorate the end of World War II. Today, there aren’t many alive who remember the war, so it’s important to keep the stories of heroism and sacrifice alive so we’re always reminded to never get in another conflict like this again.

While it was predominantly men on the battlefield and leading the government during the war, women paid vitally important roles in WWII, both on the home front and abroad.

To mark VE Day, let’s look back at some of London’s women who made great contributions to the war effort.

  • Dame Doris Winifred Beale, DBE, RRC & Bar (1889-1971)

Born in Forest Hill, south London, Dame Doris grew up to become a military nurse. During the war, she served as Matron-in-Chief of Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service from 1941-1944. She was made a Dame in the 1944 Birthday Honours. She is also believed to have died in her home district of Forest Hill at 84 London Road.

  • Faith Bennett (1903-1969)

Born Margaret Ellen Riddick in East Dulwich, south London, she went on to have contrasting careers in acting and flying. While acting under the name Faith Bennett in the 1930s, she also took flying lessons, earning licenses in both the US and UK. After divorcing her husband Charles Alfred Sewlyn Bennett, she joined the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) in 1941. She was assigned to the No. 5 Ferry Pilot Pool (F.P.P.), but two days later sustained ‘slight injuries’ after she made a crash landing due to bad weather and engine trouble. She was assigned to the Training Ferry Pool and remained with the ATA until July 1945.

  • Captain Hannah Billig, MBE GM (1901-1987)

Born to Russian refugee parents in Hanbury Street, Spitalfields, Hannah Billig won a scholarship to read medicine at the University of London in the early 1920s. After qualifying as a doctor, she set up a small clinic near Cable Street in 1927, later moving round the corner to 198 Cable Street in 1935 (where a blue plaque commemorates her today). During the Blitz, she was the chief doctor for the air raid shelters in Wapping, tending to the sick and wounded in incredibly challenging conditions. She was awarded the George Medal for a particularly courageous act in March 1941. Billig broke her ankle when a bomb blasted her out of a Wapping shelter, where she had been attending to those inside. She bandaged her own ankle, rescued those trapped in the rubble and provided medical care to them, earning the nickname ‘The Angel of Cable Street’. In 1942, she went to Calcutta, India, with the Indian Army Medical Corps. She received an MBE in 1945 for her efforts during the war. Following VE Day, she resumed her practice on Cable Street and later retired to Israel.

  • Lady Ursula Isabel d’Abo [née Manners, formerly Marreco] (1916-2017)

Born into wealth in London, Lady Ursula joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment during World War II. She started out cleaning railway carriages, before working as a nurse at Battersea General Hospital, and later St George’s Hospital at Hyde Park. She managed to survive uninjured when her mother’s house in Mayfair was bombed. After leaving London, she started working at an ammunitions factory in Grantham, overseeing 2,000 women. The war years are just a small piece of her fascinating life, which is detailed in her autobiography The Girl with the Widow’s Peak: The Memoirs.

  • Martha Gellhorn (1908-1998)

Missouri, USA-born Gellhorn was a pioneer as a female war correspondent, whose coverage of WWII and the Spanish Civil War was well respected. She spent her latter years living at 72 Cadogan Square in Knightsbridge, where she is commemorated with a blue plaque. Read the rest of this entry

Scenes in the Square: Meet icons of cinema on Leicester Square’s art trail

Going to ‘town’ | A guide to Jane Austen’s London

Find out where Jane Austen stayed, shopped and socialised during her many visits to London.

Jane Austen
(1870 engraving based on sketch by Cassandra Austen)

Jane Austen (1775-1817) spent most of her years living in Hampshire and Bath, but visited London frequently throughout her adult life. Her favourite brother Henry Thomas Austen (1771-1850) lived in the capital for a lot of his life, while publishing houses were another incentive for the author to visit London.

As well as being a frequent visitor to London, the city also served as inspiration for Austen’s novels. Some of her wealthier characters had homes in the capital, while it often poses as a location for many scandalous scenes. Who can forget Lydia Bennet and Mr Wickham eloping to London and being made to marry in a City church? Or Marianne Dashwood realising Mr Willoughby is engaged to another woman while in the capital with her sister Elinor? While London is full of adventure for some of Austen’s characters, one in particular wasn’t so fond. In ‘Emma’, the title character’s father Henry Woodhouse laments London’s pollution, declaring: “The truth is, that in London it is always a sickly season. Nobody is healthy in London, nobody can be.”

Guide to Jane Austen’s London haunts

Find out where Jane Austen lodged, socialised and shopped during her frequent visits to London.

  • Cork Street

Jane and her brothers are believed to have slept at an inn on Cork Street in Mayfair on her first visit to London in 1796. Cork Street was a short walk from White Horse Cellar on Piccadilly (the present site of the Burlington Arcade) – where Jane was likely to have disembarked as it was a popular coach drop-off for travellers from the south and west of England.

– Cork Street, Mayfair, W1S. Nearest station: Piccadilly Circus or Green Park.

  • 64 Sloane Street

Jane’s older brother Henry and his wife Eliza moved from nearby Brompton (where they lived in 1808) to Sloane Street by the time Jane visited in 1811. Henry was a banker at the time so could entertain his sibling with parties and trips to the theatre. Jane returned for another visit in 1813. Today, the building is Grade II listed and is home to an investment bank, with its façade dating back to a redevelopment by Fairfax Wade in the late 19th century. The original house inside dates back to 1780.

– 64 Sloane Street, Knightsbridge, SW1X 9SH. Nearest station: Knightsbridge or Sloane Square.

  • 10 Henrietta Street

Jane lived with her brother at Henrietta Street during summer 1813 and March 1814. In 1813, Henry was devastated by the death of his wife Eliza. Soon after her passing, Henry moved to rooms above Tilson’s bank on Henrietta Street. Jane and their niece Fanny Knight visited him there in the spring of 1814.

– 10 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, WC2E 8PS. Nearest station: Covent Garden or Charing Cross.

  • 23 Hans Place

Henry moved round the corner from Sloane Street to Hans Place in 1814 – a year after his wife Eliza died. Jane stayed at the house during her visits in 1814 and October-December 1815. Jane was fond of the building and the square’s garden. The author travelled to London in 1815 while she was preparing her novel ‘Emma’ for publication. While there, her brother became seriously ill so Jane remained in the city to nurse him back to health. It is believed this was Jane’s last visit to ‘town’, as she died in Hampshire 19 months later. Today, No.23 has been redeveloped, but No.s 15, 33 and 34, as well as the garden from the original period, still exist. A blue plaque commemorates Jane’s time at the residence.

– Hans Place, Knightsbridge, SW1X. Nearest station: Knightsbridge.

  • Carlton House

During her visit to London is 1815, Jane was invited to the Prince Regent’s (the future King George IV) library at Carlton House by the royal librarian James Stanier Clarke (1766–1834). The latter suggested Jane dedicate ‘Emma’ to the prince, and despite her disdain for the royal, she was in no position to refuse. Carlton House was demolished the following decade, with Carlton House Terrace being erected on the site in the 1820s.

– Carlton House Terrace, St James, SW1Y 5AH. Nearest stations: Green Park or Piccadilly Circus.

Buy some tea like Jane in Twining’s flagship in the Strand

  • Twining’s flagship store

The oldest tea shop in London has been trading on Strand for over 300 years. The Austen family, including Jane, visited the shop to buy their tea. Jane wrote in her diary that her mother Cassandra (1739-1827) had asked her to pick up some Twining’s tea to bring back west. She also refers to the price of tea going up in a March 1814 letter to her sister Cassandra (1773-1845), written from Henrietta Street.

– 216 Strand, Aldwych, WC2R 1AP. Nearest station: Temple. For more information, visit the Twining’s website.

  • Astley’s Amphitheatre

Jane was entertained at Astley’s Amphitheatre during a trip to London and referenced the location in ‘Emma’. The performance venue was opened by Philip Astley in 1773 and is considered the first modern circus ring. Although the Amphitheatre is long gone, a plaque on the site remains today. It makes an appearance in ‘Emma’, as the location of Robert Martin and Harriet Smith’s reconciliation and subsequent engagement.

– Cornwall Road, Waterloo, SE1 8TW. Nearest station: Waterloo. Read the rest of this entry

Immerse yourself in a colourful wonderland as Colourscape returns to Wembley

Be entertained by musicians and dancers as you walk through a tunnel of sound and light.

© Colourscape at Wembley Park

Colourscape comes to Wembley Park this Easter

IMPORTANT UPDATE 16/03/20: Due to the Covid-19 virus, Colourscape has been postponed. All ticket holders should receive an automatic refund in the coming days. If you have not received a refund by the end of the week please contact KX Tickets directly at customers@kxtickets.com.

Returning to Wembley Park this Easter is the travelling immersive art installation Colourscape. From 8 – 13 April 2020, visitors can walk through a labyrinth of colour and light while enjoying live performances by musicians and dancers.

Colourscape was originally created by artist Peter Jones in the early ’70s and has previously popped up at the Vienna Festival of Youth, Cologne for the World Cup and Turku for European Capital of Culture. The installation is comprised of a series of interlinked, kaleidoscopic chambers. As visitors stroll through the maze of light, they will be met by musicians playing instruments from Tibet, China and Mongolia. Guests will be given coloured capes to wear so they blend into the interactive tunnel of colour.

Returning to Wembley for the second year running, this year’s Colourscape will be supporting learning disability charity Brent Mencap.

  • Colourscape takes place from 8 – 13 April 2020. At Wembley Park Boulevard (next to London Designer Outlet), Wembley, HA9 0FD. Nearest stations: Wembley Park or Wembley Stadium. Open 11am-4.30pm (sessions last 30 mins). Tickets (must be pre-booked): Adults £5, Children £3. All children must be accompanied by an adult. Wheelchair accessible. No dogs allowed. For more information, visit the Wembley Park website.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

An evening of escape rooms and Murder Mystery at the immersive ‘a Twist of the Rope’

If you’re a fan of escape games and immersive experiences, this fun charity event could be right up your street. This November, KIDS are hosting an evening of murder mystery in trendy east London for one night only.

‘A Twist of the Rope’ will combine the traditional murder mystery format with live performances and an interactive escape room. Visitors will be taken on a mysterious journey to join the circus, where a killer is hiding in the world of ringmasters, lion tamers and mimes. Keep an eye out for clues, solve riddles, interrogate witnesses and unravel the secrets of the circus.

Guests are invited to help Detective Jones find out who killed the circus acrobat, found dead in her dressing room next to a mysterious vanishing cabinet. Aspiring investigators can take part in teams of 2-6 people.

Money raised from the event goes to KIDS, who support over 13,500 disabled children, young people and their families across Britain. Established in 1970, the charity provides over 120 different services and works with 80 local authorities across the country.

  • Murder Mystery: A Twist of the Rope takes place on 13 November 2019. From 7.30pm-10.30pm. Over 18s only. Tickets: £30. Trapeze Bar, 89 Great Eastern Street, Shoreditch, EC2A 3HX. Nearest station: Old Street. For more information, visit the KIDS charity website.

For a guide to what else is on in London this November, click here.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Guide to London’s outdoor ice rinks this winter 2019/2020

Somerset House ice rink © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

Skate in the historic Georgian courtyard of Somerset House

Now autumn is in full swing, we’re now on a steady countdown to Christmas. With the nights getting darker and colder, a visit to a festive ice rink could be just what you need to lift the spirits.

From the end of October until early January, a host of outdoor ice rinks are popping up in the capital. You can ice skate against some iconic London backdrops, such as Somerset House, the Natural History Museum and the Tower of London. Alternatively, there are more unusual venues, like Skylight London in Wapping, which gives you stunning city views from the ice.

Most rinks are open daily including Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, but are closed on Christmas Day.

Here’s a guide to London ice rinks – both outdoor and permanent – open this winter season.

  • 19 October – 12 January 2020 : Natural History Museum Ice Rink

A 1,000 square metre rink in the gardens of the Natural History Museum in South Kensington. Open 10am-9pm. Session times last 1 hour. Adults from £12.65, Children 12 and under from £8.80. Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, South Kensington, SW7 5BD. Nearest station: South Kensington. To book, visit the Natural History Museum website.

  • 31 October – 25 January 2020 : Skylight London

Skate on London’s rooftops with views of the City of London’s skyscrapers. Features alfresco and covered bars, igloos, and street food. Open Thu-Sun only. Free entry to Skylight. Skating tickets: £12 (45 minutes inc skate hire). Skylight, Tobacco Quay, Pennington Street entrance, Wapping, E1CW 2SF. Nearest station: Shadwell or Wapping. For booking, visit the Skylight London website.

  • 13 November – 12 January 2020 : Skate at Somerset House with Fortnum & Mason

One of the original pop-up ice rinks located in the historic courtyard of Somerset House. As well as general skating, they also host club nights on ice and skate lessons. Session times last 1 hour and are from 10am until 10.30pm (later for club nights and New Year’s Eve). Tickets: Adults start from £11, Children (12yr and under) from £8.50. Somerset House, Strand, WC2R 1LA. Nearest station: Temple. To book, visit the Somerset House website.

  • 16 November – 5 January 2020 : Tower Of London Ice Rink

Skate on a rink in the moat of the Tower of London. After a skate, visit the ice rink café bar serving hot snacks and drinks. (16 Nov-18 Dec) Weekdays 11am-9pm, Weekends 10am-9pm. (19 Dec-5 Jan) 10am-9pm all week. Tickets: Adults/teens from £15, Children under 12: £10.50. Tower Of London (off Lower Thames Street or Tower Hill), EC3N 4AB. Nearest station: Tower Hill. To book, visit the Tower Of London Ice Rink website. Read the rest of this entry

William Shakespeare’s London | Guide to The Bard’s former homes and haunts

Find out where William Shakespeare used to spend his time working, living and playing during his two decades in London.

Shakespeare Jimmy C mural © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2019

William Shakespeare mural by Jimmy C on Bankside

Although he was born, died and spent a lot of his life in Stratford-upon-Avon, actor, playwright and poet William Shakespeare (1564-1616) found fame – and fortune – on the London stage. Over 400 years after The Bard’s death, his life and works continue to fascinate and entertain people around the world. Although many of Shakespeare’s former homes and haunts in Warwickshire are in good condition, it’s rather more difficult to find his London hotspots. Fires, plagues, war and redevelopment over the centuries have changed the fabric of the City of London and Bankside and left little of Shakespeare’s sights. However, fans of the great literary legend can make a pilgrimage to some Shakespearean landmarks, with some buildings still in existence or plaques marking his presence.

What was William Shakespeare’s life like in London?

Born in 1564, Shakespeare moved to the capital in his twenties. It’s been difficult to pinpoint exactly when he headed for the big city, as historians have referred to 1585 and 1592 as Shakespeare’s “lost years” due to lack of records. However, it’s certain that he was a married man and a father-of-three by the time he sought fame and fortune in the capital. He was definitely working in London by 1592 when he was mentioned by a rival dramatist Robert Greene.

Shakespeare lived in London for around two decades, but split his time between the city and Stratford-upon-Avon, where his wife Anne (1556-1623) remained bringing up their children. Soon after arriving in London, he began his career as an actor and playwright, with records showing his plays were being performed by 1592. He started acting with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, later becoming the King’s Men, and became part owner of several theatres, including The Globe. He turned his attention from plays to poetry when theatres were closed during the plague outbreak of 1593. He remained in London for another 20 years or so, eventually retiring to Stratford in 1613, three years before he died.

Guide to William Shakespeare’s London landmarks

  • The Crosse Keys

Today, the Crosse Keys is a Wetherspoons pub in a former Victorian bank. However, the pub takes its name from the former Crosse Keys Inn, which stood near the site in the late 16th century. Shakespeare’s troupe, the Chamberlain’s Men, performed for audiences of up to 500 people in the cobbled courtyard of the Inn on a regular basis in the early 1590s. The original Crosse Keys was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666, with its replacement burning down in 1734.

– The Crosse Keys, 9 Gracechurch Street, City of London, EC3V 0DR. Nearest station: Bank.

  • St Helen’s Parish

By 1596, Shakespeare was living in the parish of St Helen’s, Bishopsgate, while his family back in Stratford had moved into the recently bought New Place. The exact address is not known, but it is believed he was living near Leadenhall Street and St Mary Avenue. The Bard is listed as failing to pay 5 shillings on £5 worth of taxable goods in November 1597. Living locally, it was likely he worshipped at St Helen’s Bishopgate church and is commemorated inside with a stained glass window of his image.

– St Helen’s Bishopsgate, Great St Helen’s, EC3A 6AT. Nearest station: Liverpool Street.

New Inn Broadway © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2019

Romeo and Juliet mural on the site of The Theatre

  • The Theatre

After the Plague led to plays being banned from the City of London, theatre troupes like Shakespeare and co started to move to just outside the jurisdiction of the City. The Theatre was built in 1576 on the site of the former Holywell Priory by actor and theatre impresario James Burbage – a colleague of Shakespeare at the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. By 1594, the group started performing The Bard’s plays exclusively and it soon became the leading acting company in London. Romeo & Juliet was believed to have been performed at The Theatre for the first time, with the tragedy estimated to have been written around 1591-95. However, The Theatre was dismantled in 1598, with some of its materials being used to build The Globe, after the company fell out with the land’s owner Giles Allen. Archaeologists discovered remains of the theatre in 2008. A building to house offices and a permanent exhibition about The Theatre is currently being constructed on site. Today, a mural of Romeo & Juliet commemorates Shakespeare’s spell in Shoreditch.

– New Inn Broadway, Shoreditch, EC2A 3PZ. Nearest stations: Shoreditch High Street or Old Street.

Read the rest of this entry

Japan Matsuri 2019: The best of Japanese food, arts and culture at a one-day spectacular in London

Head to Trafalgar Square for the Japan Matsuri festival

Japanese cultural festival Japan Matsuri is returning to the capital this September. The annual one-day spectacular offers Londoners the chance to experience the best of Japanese food, music, dance and more. Designed for the whole family, the 10-hour festival is free to attend and takes place in the city’s iconic Trafalgar Square.

Kicking off at 10am, Japan Matsuri will host two stages featuring an exciting programme of traditional and modern theatre, dance, martial arts and music. Acts include Iwami Kagura; ICHI; Joji Hirota & the London Taiko Drummers; Hasiken; Okinawa Sanshinkai / Kenjinkai and Sonda Seinenkai Eisa Group; Hibiki Ichikawa & Akari Mochizuki; Yosakoi London – Temuzu; Hiroko Tanaka Nihon Buyo Group; O-HA-YA-SHI Couple“Reiwa” Group; and Naomi Suzuki. There will also be a family activity tent when visitors can enjoy free workshops in manga, calligraphy and origami, as well as the chance to dress up in Kimonos.

Watch traditional Japanese martial arts displays

Foodies will be in for a treat with a wide variety of food stalls offering classic Japanese street snacks, including takoyaki octopus balls, yakisoba noodles and okonomiyaki pancakes. Or if you fancy something larger, you can choose from wagyu burgers, ramen, bento boxes, donburi rice bowls and sushi. For those with a sweet tooth, there will be plenty of dessert such as red-bean jam dorayaki pancakes to mochi rice cakes.

If you’re feeling inspired to visit the country, the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) will also be on-site offering travel inspiration and information. The JNTO are also one of the event sponsors.

  • Japan Matsuri takes place on Sunday 29 September 2019. From 10am-8pm. Free. Trafalgar Square, Westminster, WC2N 5DN. Nearest stations: Charing Cross, Embankment, Leicester Square or Piccadilly Circus. For more information, visit the Japan Matsuri website.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin