Over the COVID19 pandemic, everyone at Tours of the UK has come to miss so many of the things that we used to take for granted. From grabbing a quick coffee from one of the many food and drinks markets to enjoying a stroll through the streets of London everyone is missing what used to be boring and mundane. With this in mind, we asked our London based team the palaces that they are missing and why.
1. Gordon’s Wine Bar, Villiers Street. Nearest Tube: Embankment
Gordon’s is believed to be the oldest wine bar in London, having been founded in 1890. Called “London’s Worst Kept Secret” in The Londonist this bar is a favourite of Londoner’s and tourists alike. Serving only wine and water, and covered with old posters, newspapers, and magazine cuttings from the bar’s illustrious history it is a place to sit, people watch, and relax. Famed for its barrels behind the bar (pictured below) and the candlelit ambiance of its cellar bar CJ who works in our office said “I miss spending evenings here with my boyfriend. He’s a guide with Tours of the UK and was the first person to take me to Gordon’s. The first time we went it was freezing and we had to sit on the terrace in one of the seats without heaters. The amazing thing is that the atmosphere, and the wine, kept us both warm. I really wish we could go here and enjoy a nice bottle of wine and some of their amazing cheeses! It’s one of the few bars in London where people will still talk to each other. We went here the night before lockdown started and it was the only time, I’ve seen it quiet. I can’t wait to get back there and enjoy a bottle (or two) in the sun!”
2. The Southbank, Southbank. Nearest Tube: Embankment OR Waterloo
The Southbank is home to several of the major cultural organizations in London, including the Royal Festival Hall, The Queen Elizabeth Rooms, the Hayward Gallery, the BFI and the National Theatre. In the summer you will see throngs of people walking along the river Thames stopping wherever they can to enjoy a cold drink – usually a glass of Pimms. Outside the Royal Festival Hall is an art installation called Fountain: Appearing Rooms by the artist Jeppe Hein which is hugely popular with kids (both young and old). Our Head Guide Dewi said “One of my favourite things to do at any time of year is to walk from Waterloo, along the Southbank, past Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, and Borough Market and over London Bridge to Fenchurch Street Station where I get my train home. In the winter it can be pretty cold, but there are plenty of places to stop and warm up such as the Founder’s Arms or The Anchor. Both are great pubs and are great places to drink at any time of year. In the summer I tend to walk all the way without stopping and treat myself to a G&T on the train home. Or if I am with friends, we will pop into one of the bars at Gabriel’s Wharf or have a drink outside the National Theatre. I’m awful for getting distracted by the National’s Bookshop whenever I walk past it and usually end up buying something. I also tend to loiter under the south side of Waterloo Bridge if the Southbank book Market is open as you can always find a book there that you didn’t know you wanted, but definitely needed to add to your collection! I’m really missing the walk, not so much for the exercise, but for the chance to stop and look at the books, people watch and just enjoy the view of the City of London from the south side of the river. It’s a walk I’ve done thousands of times when I want to be alone with my thoughts and I miss it”
3. Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, Bankside. Nearest Tube: London Bridge
This was a popular choice with several of our guides who come from a theatrical background. Opened in 1997 this replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is a popular destination for theatre lovers, students, school groups and tourists. Offering a wide range of productions, including new writing and special commissions, the Globe is a must-see for anyone who has a love of theatre. Dewi, Jan and Henry all agree that standing as a groundling is the best way to see a production as you are often involved with the action, with the actors walking and performing amongst the audience. However, if you cannot stand for the duration of the play (and it’s a struggle for Dewi, Jan and Henry when they go) then we suggest you take or hire, a pillow as some of the seats can be very uncomfortable. Henry said “I’m not a Shakespeare expert, but I love the Globe! I usually go at least once a year, sometimes with Dewi who has been studying and teaching Shakespeare for years, and sometimes on my own or with my girlfriend. I remember seeing Titus Andronicus with Dewi a few years back and being shocked how gory it was! That said I have never seen something at the Globe that I didn’t enjoy. I think this year will be the first year since I moved to London from Aberystwyth where I won’t have been to see a performance here.” If you are planning to visit the Globe Dewi recommends the guided tour which is provided by the Globe Theatre. It gives you a deeper understanding of the Globe Theatre, Shakespeare, and the context in which his plays were written.
4. Borough Market, London Bridge. Nearest Tube: London Bridge
Borough Market is the oldest market in London dating back over 1000 years to the 10th Century. Situated on the south side of London Bridge, and next to London Bridge Underground Station’s Borough High Street exit the market is a Mecca for local office workers, NHS Staff who walk from the nearby Guy’s Hospital, Londoners who are looking for a taste of home, the exotic, or to try something new, and tourists looking to explore this foodie paradise. Often you will find Harry Potter Tours traipsing through the Market as the Mexican restaurant El Pastor on Stoney Street was the filming location of the Leaky Cauldron in “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” while the Globe Pub (where it is said the Great Train Robbery was planned) is a filming location for the Bridget Jones films. Every tour guide in London adores Borough Market as you can always find something to eat here, even if you aren’t hungry! Kate loves the perfect pasta from La Tua which is tucked away in the Borough Market Kitchen area, while Dewi highly recommends the Ethiopian curry from Ethiopian Flavours (located in the Green Market, close to the railings of Southwark Cathedral), and Henry loves the chocolate from Rabot 1745 (who have their shop on Bedale Steet). Kate said that “I love walking through Borough Market, the smells are always amazing! It’s usually packed but I think that’s part of its charm, that everyone in London comes here to eat and drink. I love that in the summer you can get glasses of Pimms or Sangria. In the winter there is always the most amazing smell of mulled wine – I usually come here with my partner who always gets carried away buying gifts for people. This year we are going to treat ourselves and buy a turkey from one of the butchers and pretend we’re Bridget Jones and Mark Darcy! I miss being able to treat myself to something tasty and worry that some of my favourite places won’t reopen after the pandemic”
TOP TIP: If you are planning to visit Borough Market after the lock-down we suggest you visit on Thursday as this tends to be the quieter day and so social distancing should be easier. Also, if you are planning to eat here, take a good stroll first and look at all of the options that are available to you. Often people buy the first thing that looks delicious (and it all looks delicious) and are disappointed to later find out that their favourite food was just around the corner. We suggest a good look around first and then if you are in a group you can split up and meet back at the seating area in the Borough Market Kitchen area of the market, go and get what you really fancy. Of course, if you are feeling hungry you could just eat everything you see, but even those of us with massive appetites might struggle to manage this!
5. The Harp, Chandos Place. Nearest Tube: Charing Cross
“I hate it when guides tell tourists about The Harp!” exclaimed Henry when we told him that his favourite pub was going to be included in this list. He went on to moan that “it’s difficult enough to get in there at the best of times, but if we all keep telling tourists to visit there, we’ll never be able to get in, let alone to the bar!” sadly too many of our guides mentioned that they were missing this beautiful boozer and its impressive selection of beers, ciders, wines, and spirits for us to miss it off this list. Often packed with locals (who would also rather we didn’t tell you about this impressive hidden gem), the best time to visit The Harp can be earlier in the afternoon before the ‘locals’ finish work, or on Sunday evenings when the bar has a much more relaxed and calm atmosphere. The first thing you will notice when visiting the pub is the huge number of Pump Clips (pictured below) hanging from above the bar and how small the bar area is. We suggest that you grab a drink and, if the weather is nice, head out the back of the pub into Brydges Place where crowds of people stand clutching their pints. Due to the UK’s smoking laws, this is usually where smokers and their friends hang out, but if you can stand the smell of cigarette smoke it is an excellent place to people watch and spot the odd actor and celeb from the nearby theatres. If drinking al fresco isn’t your thing head up (the very steep steps) to the rooms above and relax in one of the armchairs – the only problem with this is carrying your pints past people coming down the stairs from the pub’s loos.