A few years ago I shared my thoughts on wandering around an abandoned Central London, and this Christmas I went again and have to say that it’s definitely not as deserted as before. When I got there at 7.45 AM (same time as before), there were already a fair number of people and cars on Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Street. Covent Garden and Trafalgar Square even felt like a Sunday morning before the shops open.
Is everything really closed?
No, not everything, there was a Pret as well as a few Caffe Concerto branches open. On Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus I saw some tourist-focused eateries open and the Hop On Hop Off bus was driving around.
Who do you run into?
People doing the same thing as you, some confused tourists, locals walking their dog and homeless people. Around Covent Garden I also spotted security and a street sweeper.
Is it still worth waking up early for?
Actually yes, not for a 28 Days Later or eery vibe, but there is something magical about walking from Leicester Square to Covent Garden without anyone in your way and seeing new details that you might miss as you don’t have to watch where you are going. Also, renting a bike and cycling around with a smaller chance of being hit is amazing.
Anything else I need to know?
– Though there are a lot of people, you can still get a photo or two without anyone in it. Patience. A lot of patience.
– Skip Westminster Bridge as Elizabeth Tower is still under scaffolding, go to Embankment instead for the perfect London Eye and Westminster Bridge shot.
– Just like last time the small side streets are my favourite as those are the ones you usually don’t see empty
The Swedish have introduced us to some great things: ABBA, Meatballs and the Billy bookcase. Last year it was ”Flygskam” (flight shame) that spread across the globe, and now it’s the 2020 buzzword “Tagskryt” (train bragging) which has just started to hit off.
Travelling by train is my favourite mode of transport – I took my first long distance train trip when I was 12 and have since done more rail journeys that I can count throughout Europe. I’ll keep some of my favourite train bragging stories for another time and focus on why you should consider taking the train.
GREEN WAY TO TRAVEL
Depending on the type of train and length of the journey, it’s one of the greenest ways to travel. We’re very lucky that trains in Europe have started using renewable energy: Dutch trains are powered by wind energy, some trains in Belgium run on solar power and German long distance trains are using green renewable energy.
One of my favourite things is that most stations are located in the city centre, so when you reach your destination you’re pretty much where you need to be, and there are no extra costs, time or stress for airport transfers.
OFF THE BEATEN PATH
Thanks to Europe’s wide-reaching rail network you can go off the beaten path and take the train to smaller and lesser known destinations.
THE EVER CHANGING SCENERY
For me it’s not just getting from A to B. No, it’s the journey and the ever-changing scenery that are a treat and give you a better insight in everyday life. But if we are talking about the destination, then thinking about how the train station is going to look like is something I can always look forward to: Antwerpen-Centraal Station in Belgium to St. Pancras Train Station in England and Trier in Germany are some of my favourites.
You can take more luggage with you! I usually travel with my small backpack, but I love to bring things back. Think wine, cheese and – my personal favourite: jars of peanut butter. Also…you are not giving your luggage away so there is almost no chance of losing it.
TRAIN ROUTES & DESTINATIONS
I feel like most people think they’re only limited to taking the train from London to Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris, but there are so many more destinations to consider. Some routes that I have been looking into are:
I was very excited to read that there is going to be a night train between Brussels and Vienna/Innsbruck from January 2020, which makes taking the train to East Europe so much more attractive. How about the below trip for Summer 2020? I’m thinking:
LONDON = BRUSSELS = VIENNA = LJUBLJANA = ZAGREB = BELGRADE = BUDAPEST = VIENNA = BRUSSELS = LONDON
Soak up some sun in the south of France, make one of the bigger towns your base and visit the smaller villages from there on. Throw in a French baguette and cheese for lunch, and I am sold.
LONDON = PARIS = AVIGNON = MONTPELLIER = PARIS = LONDON
The train in Switzerland must have the most gorgeous views in Europe! I’ve been wanting to see more of Switzerland for forever and the below itinerary has a high priority.
LONDON = PARIS = LYON = GENEVE = BERN = BASEL = ZURICH = INNSBRUCK = BRUSSELS = LONDON
The Mosel wine region is a destination that I really want to re-visit and – and try out all the Riesling. The best thing? It’s doable by train – even to some the wine tasting spots in the smaller towns
As we finally reach the festive month that is December, here’s a bunch of things to see and do in the merriest month of winter in London. From traditional Christmas activities, to mouthwatering menus, as well as Christmas markets and workshops, I’ve got you sorted.
TRADITIONAL CHRISTMAS THINGS TO DO IN LONDON
Natural History Museum Ice Rink Set against the backdrop of the Waterhouse building, the Ice Rink at the Natural History Museum is one of the most magical places to be this winter. Experience the thrill of skating surrounded by fairy lights nestled in frost-covered trees, with the smell of mulled wine and toasted marshmallows in the air.
Winter Wonderland, Hyde Park Returning for its 12th year, head down to this annual, family-friendly event in Hyde Park. With a huge Christmas market, a stunning ice kingdom, big-top shows, an ice rink and a host of Christmas-themed activities and fun, you’re sure to feel festive in no time.
Christmas in Leicester Square See one of London’s most famous squares transformed for the festive season as part of Christmas in Leicester Square. The festival features a traditional Christmas market, a Santa’s grotto for families and a Belgian spiegeltent.
Winter Festival @ Southbank Centre The Southbank Centre will be transformed into a magical Christmas landscape this winter, with a bustling market, twinkling lights and a host of seasonal events. The festival offers a packed programme of free and ticketed events for all ages – from world-class theatrical performances and festive concerts, to social dances, community choirs and activities.
The Great Christmas Pudding Race @ Covent Garden, 7 December One of the most exciting events of the Christmas season, this charity fun-run takes place in London’s iconic Covent Garden, helping to raise vital funds for the charity Cancer Research UK. Teams in fantastic fancy-dress costumes race to compete the festive course, navigating obstacles such as a giant inflatable slide and a crazy foam slalom all whilst balancing a Christmas Pudding on a tray!
Skate at Somerset House Make the most of the wintry weather as one of London’s most beautiful outdoor ice rinks returns for Skate at Somerset House. In partnership with Fortnum & Mason, this icy experience is open all day and well into the evening, when the rink comes alive with special club nights featuring top DJs.
Skate in the City, Broadgate Ice Rink Embrace the magic of Christmas in the heart of the City. Broadgate Ice Rink is just a two-minute walk from Liverpool Street Station, in the midst of an impressive array of Christmas decorations, shops, bars and restaurants.
Tower of London Ice Rink Skate in the grounds of one of London’s most dramatic landmarks, and soak up the centuries-old historic atmosphere at this exclusive outdoor ice-rink.
ALTERNATIVE CHRISTMAS THINGS TO DO IN LONDON
CHRISTMAS MARKETS AND POP-UPS IN LONDON
Frost Fair festival @ Museum of London Docklands, 21 – 22 December
When the River Thames would freeze over, many years ago, huge celebrations called Frost Fairs were held on the ice. Join the Museum of London Docklands for a weekend of festivities recreating the magic of these special festivals, with interactive games and workshops, enchanting performances and arts and crafts.
The Peter Pan Cup @ Hyde Park, 25 December Watch one of the more unusual London events in December, as brave outdoor swimmers compete in the icy waters of the Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park for the annual Christmas Day race. Don’t miss this event, which has been taking place on Christmas mornings since 1864.
Enchanted Eltham Palace @ Eltham Palace, 12 – 15 December Once a favoured medieval palace and then the childhood home of Henry VII, Eltham Palace was transformed into a striking Art Deco mansion by eccentric millionaires Stephen and Virginia Courtauld in the 1900s. Explore the stunning historic landscape lit up after dark with the return of their popular enchanting evening, with an illuminated trail, interactive colour displays and fairground rides.
Maltby Street Christmas Night Market, 6-20 December As nights draw in and the festive season approaches, Maltby Street Market warmly invites everyone to join them on their beloved Ropewalk for the first run of their seasonal after dark markets. We’re talking carolling, hot mulled wine and mince pies, as well as responsibly sourced Christmas trees you can buy.
Plastic Freedom Pop-Up 6 – 8 December If you’re looking for gifts that are plastic free to spread that eco-love to your family and friends, then this pop-up is your go-to destination. The Sea Containers London X Plastic Freedom pop-up will sell a wide variety of items, from limited-edition Self Care Company X Plastic Freedom candles and specially curated grooming gift sets to Christmas sock sets and brass and wood Christmas tree decorations.
A sustainable gift-wrapping station will be setup within the space, where guests can either bring in their own items to be wrapped or have items purchased on the day wrapped for them using recycled, hand-printed paper, boxes and hessian bows.
Christmas at Brixton Village
London’smost diverse and vibrant market, Brixton Village, has a really exciting line-up of events, and has been kitted out with full Christmas sparkle, pop-up street food in partnership with Street Food Union, and even a specially designed Instagram Mural for visitors to capture their perfect Christmas moment. As well as all of this, there is a really great line-up of festive music performances (detailed below), both this weekend and during upcoming weekends in December. There are also some great Christmas deals such as Salon’s Christmas Banquet, raclette and champagne at Champagne & Fromage, and Lost in Brixton’s festive drinks packages.
CHRISTMAS FOOD MENUS IN LONDON
This festive season, Perrier-Jouët and the Intercontinental Park Lane will launch an exclusive Afternoon Tea experience, inspired by the classic English carol “The Twelve Days Of Christmas”. Featuring an array of delicious sweet and savoury favourites including partridge and pear pithivier and sandwiches such as smoked salmon, roast beef, chicken and beetroot. There is also winter spiced scones, chocolate tart, and traditional Christmas mince pies – all enjoyed alongside a glass of perfectly chilled Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut or Belle Epoque. It’s available daily (from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm) until the 5th of January, 2020.
There is no better way to kick-start your celebrations than at Champagne and Fromage,a shop and bistro in Brixton Village, which will be offering customers a special offer on raclette, the perfect accompaniment to a well-deserved glass of fizz. Champagne and Fromage offers an Authentic French menu with a vast selection of award-winning grower Champagne and over 50 soft and hard artisan cheeses.
Harry’s Bar, James Street is launching a limited edition ‘Golden toadstool,’ a festive take on its most popular dessert. The decadent funghi encompasses a dark chocolate dome encasing iced vanilla parfait with blackberries, salted caramel, and toasted hazelnuts.
A Christmas cuddle in a bun. Blacklock have created the ultimate ‘Christmas burger,’ featuring Philip Warren Turkey thighs rubbed in a mix of Christmas spices, served in a brioche bun with Blacklock sausage and onion patty, middlewhite bacon, cranberry ketchup, and greens.
Big Mamma have gone all out with the ‘Christmas Tree’ pizza. Layered with Mozzarella di bufala, broccoli-parmigiano cream, topped with crunchy potatoes, stracciatella and ‘burned’ tomatoes. This one-off special will be available at both Circolo and Gloria.
Looking for the spot for your festive get-together? Whether you’re planning a meal with friends, a family celebration, or you want to take over the whole space for a blowout lunch or dinner, Salon in Brixton will be providing festive cheer with a set Christmas Banquet Menu for groups of 6 or more. Dishes will include indulgent options such as Aylesbury duck with celeriac and pickled walnut, and Caramelised pear with chestnut and sour cream.
Wahaca’s unique ‘Mince Pie Empanada’ has made a comeback and this year it’s infused with Mezcal and served with Brandy Butter ice cream. This, alongside the ‘Turkey & Stuffing Taquito special with Grilled Hispi Cabbage,’ means Wahaca’s festive menu will be an unmissable treat this Christmas.
CHRISTMAS WORKSHOPS IN LONDON
Gift Wrap Printmaking Workshop with Laurie Avon (free), Thursday and Saturdays, December 2019
Illustrator Laurie Avon is leading one-hour rubber stamp printmaking workshops at Islington Square this festive season where participants can create their own personalised gift wrapping paper to take home. Using simple tools and a take-home approach, Laurie’s workshops celebrate the evolution of stamps – from a historic symbol of authority, to a playful means of expression.
Christmas Leftovers and Fermentation – 11 & 12 December @ Cub Hoxton bar and restaurant Cub has released this month’s Fermentation Masterclasses with a festive twist. Taking place in ‘The Cub Cave’ a subterranean bar beneath Cub, the events are hosted by Dr Johnny Drain, one of the world’s leading experts in fermentation. Guests will learn how to make their own ferments from leftovers whilst enjoying tasty drinks and snacks from the Cub team. Tickets can be purchased here
Wreath-making workshops @ Christmas at The Yards, 28 November, 5 & 14 December
Christmas wreath-making workshops with the Covent Garden Academy of Flowers, priced at £5 and with proceeds going to the charity Action for Children – 5.30pm
Festive craft workshops @ Christmas at The Yards @ Christmas at The Yards // 28 November, 5 & 14 December
Make Kirigami cards, learn how to write beautiful hand lettered gift tags or create pop-up cards and paper baubles as part of a series of creative Christmas craft sessions – 5-7pm & 12-1:30pm
So that’s it for the top treats and attractions you should definitely indulge in this season, but it’ll be over so quickly, I better get started researching next year’s list soon!
Travel guides…once a must-have companion for globe-trotting now seem to have lost their way amid an endless sea of online content – whether just socials, videos, or even humble blogs like this here publication. Of course, these titles have also expanded online, but with patchy updates and content hidden for the paid-for editions, they don’t seem too dissimilar from any free content.
So, is there any need for paper travel guides in 2019/2020?
1. Authority and Trust.
The idea is that the person who’s been commissioned to do a travel guide is a respected, neutral and trustworthy source and so worth listening to. In theory that makes sense. However, when I read that a really big name publication wasn’t paying fair wages – which encouraged writers to not visit everywhere they wrote about and also try to get as many freebies to actually be able to afford to live – it got me wondering about how these people are any different from the millions of bloggers out there.
2. Maps and routes
One of the best things I used enjoyed about guide books was using their maps, they were well-designed and had all the places of interest cleverly pinned. Sadly with the introduction of online maps, complete with everything of interest labelled and transport and travel times, plus the ability to create your own maps has left these in the dust.
I would argue, despite online maps being incredible useful, that one of the strong suits of travel guide books is their suggested itineraries. If you’re planning a big trip across lots of places, they are extremely useful in their suggested routes and timings that will not always be easy to judge from online research. For example, the fact the ferry leaves only on the last Tuesday of the month, that once a week bus route is something you don’t wanna miss!
4. Out of date
As mentioned earlier, these publications do have online presences, but sadly the fast changing nature, particularly of out of the way places, means hotels, restaurants, and other sites they write about in their main editions are prone to close, move or suddenly be not worth visiting. So you will always end up online to find what you need.
5. When you just read them for fun
If you really want to visit somewhere but life gets in the way, they do feel like a guilty pleasure to read in lieu of not actually going there ‘yet’. If you get a good, well written one it can inspire you to actually get off your ass and make that trip finally happen. Also they make your bookcase look much more interesting.
6. Inside knowledge
While trust can be an issue, if you get a good recommendation on a travel guide, I think it can still be worth snapping up for some proper inside knowledge. There are a few authors at certain guides who have lived, worked and travelled in their countries, meaning they offer real proper local tips and tricks that can actually save you quite a bit of money and time as well embarrassment.
So are travel guide publications still worth your time? I’d say increasingly not, unless you need a good cross-country itinerary or get a recommendation for a really well written one from someone who’s lived and travelled there extensively.
I’ve already written about my successes and failures with trying to be more green, eco and sustainable during my travels. Look, I know I won’t save the world by bringing my reusable cup, but the more people do it the sooner it becomes the norm. Thank God sustainable tourism is now one of the fastest-growing travel industry trends, and with more and more companies starting to realise that here are some of their 2020 resolutions. Keeping in mind that some things can be considered greenwashing, or just marketing spin, here’s my honest take on what they are promising!
EasyJet have just announced that they are going to offset the carbon emissions for all the fuel used for all their flights. They claim that the cost of flights won’t be impacted by ‘their’ efforts to reduce carbon emissions, but this is marketing after all, so I’m pretty sure the costs will be included some way or another. Though they are the first major airline to do this, a lot of operators have already been offering to offset carbon emissions on behalf of tourists for some time, and in the grand scheme of things, it’s not going to the have impact some people might believe. What will have more impact and is way more meaningful, is their partnership with Airbus to develop hybrid/electric planes – how surreal is the idea of emission-free flying in our lifetime? I don’t know if I’m ready for it. Another thing I can get behind is their aim to reduce single use plastic with discounts for customers who bring their own reusable cup (here’s hoping alcohol’s included!). Considering they wouldn’t take my KeepCup on my last journey, this is VERY WELCOME!
Choosing to take the train is already a win in terms of direct emissions, but when you know that Eurostar is pledging to plant a tree for every journey from January 2020, and will run its first ever plastic-free service from London to Paris at the start of the year, it’s a no brainer. I also like the idea that they’re going to donate blankets from their sleeper ski trains to the Red Cross in France, and to animal sanctuaries in London and Kent in the UK. Teruffic!
On local level, the public transport system in Luxembourg is set to become free for all from March 2020! This great idea is aimed at encouraging car users onto public transport, and through greater investment they’re also improving the quality and level of service, which is great for the people who work there, but it also means it will be more convenient for visitors to consider as a new long weekend destination. On top of this, the free service will hopefully get people exploring the country in the best way for the environment. I know I will.
I’m curious to see what certain destinations, like Amsterdam, Barcelona, Milan, are going to do about the ever-growing threat of ‘over tourism’. Netherlands’ idea has been to ditch Holland as their main advertising focus abroad, with a new angle targetting the whole country. A good example of this is when NL won the Eurovision in 2019, Amsterdam didn’t even put itself forward to host the next event. All this will hopefully open up the promotion of destinations across the country and possibly encourage new eco developments to boot.
So keep your eyes peeled for more travel eco-announcements and let’s hope they’re not all just talking the talk.
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