Tate Modern

Opened somewhat recently in 2000, London’s Tate Modern museum is a veritable treasure trove of paintings and sculpture.  Part of the larger Tate family, the Modern is housed “Bankside” along the Thames in a reformed power station originally constructed in 1963.  At 99 meters tall, the imposing tower is easily one of the museum’s top draws.  Of course, the five levels of breakthrough art that spill out from its five levels as though falling through a drain probably also have something to do with the Tate Modern’s popularity.

While its sister museum, the Tate Britain is home to more traditional English relics, the Modern is the place in London to check out your favorite creative movers and shakers from the 20th century and beyond.  We first visited back in 2004, impressed by Cornelia Parker’s Cold Dark Matter:  An Exploded View, the three-dimensional restoration of an exploded garden shed.  More recently in February of 2012, the retrospective of Yayoi Kusama’s polka-dot induced zaniness had us bamboozled from beginning to end.

Elsewhere in the permanent collection, the Tate Modern thrills with Cubist, Futurist, Surrealist and Vorticist pieces by the likes of Rothko, Pollack, Hockney, Duchamp and Warhol.  You can bet a plethora of similar merchandise awaits you in the Tate Modern’s well-appointed gift store!  Set of Drifters tip:  Don’t forget to check out the massive Turbine Hall, the space previously used to store electricity generators that is now home to intriguing performance art, film screenings and other artsy-fartsy gatherings!

The Tate Modern is open Saturday through Thursday from 10:00 AM until 6:00 PM and on Fridays from 10:00 AM until 10:00 PM (closed Sundays).  While the permanent collection is always FREE to the public, expect some admission for special temporary exhibits.  Currently in the pipeline for 2012, Damien Hirst tickets sells for £14 (about $22 USD) while entrance to the Edvard Munch show are £15.50 (about $25 USD).

Set of Drifters video:  Check out our YouTube Channel for video from this event! 

Tate Modern - Bankside (entrance along the Queen’s Walk), London  SE1 9TG, (011) 44 20 7887 8752


Ye Olde London

There’s no doubt about it.  London is a modern city, often leading the way in terms of cutting edge music, art and fashion.  That being said, we bet there’s more than a few of you out there who may be interested in taking a peek into the past of this centuries-old world-class city.

Your best bet is to head to the center of London, where a number of higgledy-piggledy structures, lanes and squares compete for space in the bustling, ever-changing metropolis.  One of our favorite cutaways to yesteryear is the alley known as Goodwin’s Court.  Located about halfway from Covent Garden and Leicester Square, and specifically between thoroughfares St. Martin’s Lane and Bedfordbury, this 1630’s-era throwback charms with original Georgian architecture, highlighted by still-functioning gas lamps, bowed-glass windows and an assortment of polished knobs and knockers!  (Set of Drifters tip: The location is so evocative, it was even used in one of those silly Harry Potter films.)

History-hounds should also not miss the City of London’s financial hub where, despite vigilant bombing from enemy forces during World War II, a number of important buildings still remain.  Over on Portsmouth Street lies “Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe,” what many have dubbed the “oldest shop in London.”  But the jury’s still out on that; while proprietors state their modern shoe shop is housed in the 1527 structure that gave Charles Dickens’ famous novel its name, many argue this is not the original.  Why don’t you visit to judge for yourself?

And speaking of verdicts, those visiting Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe just happen to be only a few stones throw from the imposing Royal Courts of Justice.  (Yes, this is where all those dudes with powdered wigs lay down English law.)  Located at the edge of The Strand, the exquisite Victorian Gothic structure was designed by George Edmund Street in the 1870s, and opened upon its completion some ten years later by Queen Victoria.  It’s definitely worth a look if you’re into imposing edifices of yore.  And how do those barristers get to the Royal Courts?  Many of them first pass through the Honorable Society of Lincoln’s Inn, a preparatory and professional association that offers lawyers access to records libraries, dining halls and accommodation.  Lincoln’s Inn has a long history dating all the way back to the 1400s, and the many lovely brick buildings that make up its grounds are sure to impress you in their stately elegance.  (This might be a nice spot for a picnic lunch!)

Of course, if you still have not had your fill of “Ye Olde London,” just keep your eyes on the hunt.  While hints of the past can still be found in most neighborhoods, Spitalfields and the South Bank also quickly come to mind for offering glimpses into Old London.

Goodwin’s Court - located between Covent Garden and Leicester Square, specifically between St. Martin’s Lane and Bedfordbury (near Charing Cross station), London WC2N 4LL

Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe - 13-14 Portsmouth Street, Holburn, London WC2A 2ES, (011) 44 20 7405 9891, http://www.curiosityuk.com/

Royal Courts of Justice - The Strand, London WC2A 2LL, (011) 44 20 7947 7726,
http://www.justice.gov.uk/ and http://www.royalcourtsofjustice-events.co.uk/

The Honorable Society of Lincoln’s Inn - Lincoln’s Inn, Holburn, London WC2A 3TL, (011) 44 20 7405 1393, http://www.lincolnsinn.org.uk/

London canals

Venice has got them.  So does Venice (California).  But who knew that London (and really all of Great Britain) also had its own set of canals, constructed some 300 years ago as a means to bring heaps of goods to and from the city?  Well, we s’pose Britains knew, that’s who!

Today, London’s canals still serve a purpose, albeit a less important one.  The waterways now offer neighborhood-to-neighborhood ferrying service for locals as well as tourists looking for a unique London experience.  If you plan on visiting, the most popular route is from Camden to the heart of “Little Venice” near Paddington.  Walker’s Quay offers the most reliable service on their “Jenny Wren” boat, the only to pass through a traditional “lock” in both directions.  Four trips per day leave from Camden at a cost of £9.50 (about $15.50 USD) for adults and £4.50 (about $7.50 USD) for children aged 3-15. (Infants are FREE).

We recommend experiencing the canals during summer months when weather is not so foreboding.  That being said, if the rain or fog just won’t part for a moment from your trip, why not check out the London Canal Museum instead?  Here you can learn about the intricate waterway system’s unusual history.  For starters, imagine yourself at a time when canal boats were not led by motors, or even a gondolier, but by individual horses that trotted nearby on a towpath?  The introduction of load-bearing horses to Britain’s canal system was so efficient that it slashed the price of coal in half!  (With the water’s buoyant help, the horses could carry more than ten times the amount of cargo than on land!)

Visitors to the London Canal Museum can also venture out onto the Battlebridge Basin to the oldest-surviving canal maintenance tug, the Bantam IV, or peer down into the depths of the historic building’s ice well, an underground warehouse once used by a Swiss family to import chilly goods from Norway.  The London Canal Museum is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 10:00 AM until 4:30 PM.  Set of Drifters tip:  Since the museum is operated by a charitable organization, donations are suggested, but not required. Visiting soon?  Don’t miss the temporary exhibit “The Regent’s Canal in 3D,” on display until the end of May.

Set of Drifters video:  Check out our YouTube Channel for video from this event! 

Walker’s Quay - 250 Camden High Street (accessible via Hampstead Road Lock), Camden, London  NW1 8QS, (011) 44 0207 485 4433, http://www.walkersquay.com/

London Canal Museum - 12-13 New Wharf Road, London N1 9RT, (011) 44 20 7689 6679, http://www.londoncanals.co.uk/ and http://www.canalmuseum.org.uk/

Neal’s Yard

At the convergence of Monmouth Street, Neal Street and Seven Dials, Neal’s Yard lies as an oasis of food and shopping opportunities smack dab in the middle of Central London.  While the colorful destination was originally founded back in 1976, this well-hidden courtyard still thrives today as a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of Covent Garden.

Neal’s Yard was conceived by Nicholaus Saunders, a New Age traveler who traded in his favorite truck for a large warehouse that would soon house three separate businesses.  All of these, the Monmouth Coffee Company, Neal’s Yard Remedies and Neal’s Yard Wholefood Warehouse, are still in business today, and have remained London institutions ever since.

We recommend spending the afternoon here, sitting outside with a cup of coffee, or taking a stroll along the adjacent lanes.  While Set of Drifters Doug’s favorite record and vintage clothing shops are all gone now, a number of Vegan restaurants, New Age shops and perhaps even a few tarot card houses compliment Saunders’s original Neal’s Yard ventures.

A must-stop is the Neal’s Yard Dairy.  Though we warn you might end up spending heaps, the spot showcases some of the best English cheese you’ll ever taste, and in a setting that is as friendly as they come.  One of Neal’s Yard Dairy’s best assets is its staff, who will gladly cut off a piece of fromage for you to try.  Many moons ago (no cheese pun intended), Doug actually had the rare treat of descending into the Neal’s Yard Dairy cellar, where the pungent smell was truly overwhelming, but in a good way.  Set of Drifters tip:  If you have issues with stinky cheeses, stay clear.

Over all, what we love most about Neal’s Yard is the fact that most tourists don’t even know the charming little enclave exists... which means, you better hurry there before the hordes move in!

Set of Drifters video:  Check out our YouTube Channel for video from this event!

Neal’s Yard Dairy - 17 Shorts Gardens, London  WC2H 9AT, (011) 44 20 7240 5700 ‎


London art is everywhere

Like New York City, art and London fit together like a hand in glove.  From the brilliant versatility of the Tate Modern (see above) to the fantastic street graffiti found in London’s East End (see “curry houses” in “eats” for more on Brick Lane), art in London is everywhere, offering something for every taste.

One spot that recently caught our attention was the Halcyon Gallery.  Located in London’s West End near Fenwick’s and other high-end Bond Street retailers, Halcyon is not necessarily the kind of place we would have happened upon if it had not been for their then-current Dale Chihuly exhibit.  (We have been fans of the artist’s colorful undulating glass sculptures for years; see “Phoenix Botanical Gardens” in our Southwest section for more details).  In fact, it was the large works of Chihuly that inaugurated Halcyon’s new New Bond Street gallery to much fanfare at the close of 2011.

Quite simply, this is a lovely and elegant setting to experience art.  Laid out over two stories, Halcyon gleams with opulence (were those marble floors?), though still manages not to feel stuffy, even despite its many celebrity admirers.  (Past onlookers have included Kylie Minogue and Bob Geldof).  We felt Halcyon’s Chihuly exhibit to be completely relaxed, somewhat akin to visiting a museum without all of the hard-sell pressuring from gallery staff.  No doubt, this vibe has been carried over from and to Halcyon’s other three London spaces.  Their “brand” can be trusted across the board to deliver inspirational modern art from both well-established and emerging artists.  In only the last year, exhibits presented at Halcyon have showcased such greats as Andy Warhol,    Mauro Perucchetti, Eve Arnold, Pedro Paricio, Simon Gudgeon and even Bob Dylan.

Set of Drifters tip:  Back out on the streets, a good example of London’s love affair with art was 2012’s “Big Egg Hunt,” a charity event that collected the talents of over 200 artists, designers and celebrities.  Benefitting Action for Children, individuals such as Diane Von Furstenberg and Vivienne Westwood decorated 3 ft. tall fiberglass eggs that was then placed throughout London for the massive 40-day “Easter egg hunt!”  (Our favorite creation was the one with the unicorn horn poking through its shell!)  Eggs were later auctioned off to raise funds, following in the footsteps of a similar 2010 campaign in to assist endangered elephants!

Halcyon Gallery - 144-146 New Bond Street, London  W1S 2PF, (011) 44 20 7100 7144


We also recommend:

BT Tower – 60 Cleveland Street, Fitzrovia, London W1T 4JZ, +44 20 7432 5050, http://btlondon2012.co.uk/

The Camden experience/ Camden Mews – between Camden Park Road and Rochester Square, London NW1; Amy Winehouse House - 30 Camden Square, London NW1 9XA; Amy Winehouse Statue - 407 Chalk Farm Road, Camden Town, London NW1 8AH

Somerset House - Strand, London  WC2R 1LA, (011) 44 20 7845 4600, https://www.somersethouse.org.uk/

Gasworks Gallery - 155 Vauxhall Street, London  SE11 5RH, (011) 44 20 7587 5202, https://www.gasworks.org.uk/

The Royal Parks -

Regent’s Park - Marylebone, London  NW1, http://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/the-regents-park

Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens - Bayswater, London  W2 2UH, http://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/hyde-park and http://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/kensington-gardens

Highgate Cemetery - about 4 miles north from Central London, Swain's Lane, Highgate, Greater London  N6 6PJ, (044) 44 20 8340 1834, http://www.highgate-cemetery.org/

Hampstead Heath - about 6 miles northwest of Central London, http://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/hampstead-heath/Pages/default.aspx

Twickenham Park - 10 miles southwest of Central London, Richmond Hill, Greater London, (011) 44 20 8948 3209, http://www.richmondhill.ca/subpage.asp?pageid=prc_parks_twickenham