I stayed at the RE London Shoreditch for two nights in late May 2014. I was searching for a hotel in the Shoreditch/Hackney area to be to close to the Aegon Retiready event which I was attending for my personal finance blog.
I booked the hotel around ten days in advance of my stay through lastminute’s ‘Top Secret’ hotels. I reckoned that the “4 star jewel in East London’ secret hotel priced at £177 for two nights, on a room only basis, was the RE London Shoreditch, which had a standard price of £238 for two nights. I hadn’t been too bothered if the ‘Top Secret’ hotel wasn’t the RE, as the hotel was guaranteed to be in the area in which I wanted to stay.
It took me 15 minutes to walk to the RE London Shoreditch from Bethnal Green Underground station.
I arrived at the hotel a few minutes after the check in time of 2pm. I was hoping for a quick check in, so that I could head straight for the Horniman Museum. I had to queue for around ten minutes to check in. Although I’d requested a quiet room on the lastminute.com booking form, I was allocated a room at the front of the hotel, right above a pelican crossing on Hackey Road. As I didn’t fancy two nights of disturbed sleep, I decided to go back down to reception to request a quiet room. I had to queue for around ten minutes again. I was offered a room which faced the internal courtyard. However, that room wasn’t ready, so I was asked to wait in the lobby. A receptionist came over to give me key to my new room.
I was really glad that I changed rooms. My new rooom was cooler and quiet enough to leave the window open overnight.
I thought that the room was low key but functional and comfortable. There was a fridge which was great for storing milk and fruit. I was glad that I was staying alone, as the duvet didn’t seem wide enough to cover two people.
The hotel offers free WiFi throughout but you need a username and password for each device. I was unable to use the WiFi. When I tried to connect both my netbook and mobile phone, there was a “this connection is untrusted” message. I played it safe by sticking to my mobile broadband. I did mention this issue on check out, but was told I was the first person to have a problem with the WiFi connection.
There were some tasty biscuits and drinking chocolate sachets in the room. However, I think that there should be more than two teabags and two sachets of regular coffee in rooms. I doubt if the one small tube of shampoo and shower gel supplied in the bathroom would be sufficient for two people.
It’s a ten minute walk up to Broadway Market, held on Saturdays. Regent’s Canal, Hackney City Farm and Haggerston Park are a few minutes walk west along Hackney Road. There’s a Tesco Express close by on Hackey Road heading east towards Cambridge Heath station. The Geffyre Museum of the home is a 20 minute walk, located next to Hoxton Overground station.
In summary, I was happy with the RE Shoreditch, my room was very quiet for London, clean and comfortable. However, it could be improved by doubling the supply of toiletries and tea/coffee sachets, a larger duvet and WiFi which doesn’t require usernames and passwords or have security issues.
I booked a room at the Colonnade Town House Hotel in Little Venice through lastminute.com’s ‘Top Secret’ hotels. I was searching for a reasonably priced hotel for a two night stay, in an area I hadn’t previously explored, one week before my stay in late May 2014.
I’d worked out that a hotel described as a “4 star Victorian boutique hotel by Little Venice and Paddington” and priced at £155 for two nights (after using a 10% discount code) was likely to be the Colonnade. This was a massive saving of of £284, compared to the £439 price of being guaranteed that you were booking the Colonnade.
The hotel is located a one minute walk from Warwick Ave Underground station on the Bakerloo Line. It all looked very promising as I approached the Colonnade, the area was beautiful and the hotel exterior impressive.
I thought that the lobby was a bit over the top. There was a cat basket in the corner of the lobby and a friendly cat wandering around. Not ideal if, like me, you are allergic to cats.
Things got worse when I entered my room. It was at the back of the hotel with two frosted white upvc windows with mould in some sections. This made the room so dingy that I needed the lights on during the day. There were two heating/air conditioning units, one in a corner of the room and one under the smaller window (which prevented the blind from coming down fully.) As I didn’t require the room to be heated or cooled, I didn’t investigate further, but I didn’t understand why two ugly units were requried and why they weren’t located in more discreet locations. All in all, the room was not quite in keeping with the touted Victorian luxury town house.
I swithered about whether to go back down to reception to request another room. However, I could see the advantage of the quiet location at the back of the building. I’d read in reviews that the rooms in the basement were noisy as they were above the Underground train tunnel and I thought that rooms on the top floor might be hot. On balance, I decided to stay put.
The room was so badly designed. There was no place for my case. The wardrobe was too small, so I had to lay the case on the floor. There were no free electrical sockets by the desk. I had to unplug the TV to charge my netbook or boil the kettle. There was barely space on the desk to lay my netbook, due to the TV and large lamp. I ended up sitting the kettle on the carpet and plugging it into the electrical socket by the bathroom door.
There were a few small patches of peeling paint in the bathroom. The bath towels were very frayed around the edges,
There was a safe in the wardrobe, which was large enough to hold my netbook. The free WiFi had a very good signal.
The Colonnade makes a big deal of having a turn down service, where they bring a bottle of water to your room, lay a chocolate on your pillow, change your towels (on request) and fold over the duvet. In my opinion, they need to put a lot more effort into basics such as new towels, providing a suitcase stand and more electical sockets in the bedrooms,
At under £80 a night for a double, my room at the Colonnade Town House Hotel was reasonable value by London standards. I did sleep quite well due to the room being quiet and dark. However, if I’d paid the standard price of £220 for that room, I’d have been livid and left feeling cheated.
When I’m in London, I like to get off the beaten track. I decided to explore Swiss Cottage one afternoon. After lunch at the Tara Tari Buffet Restaurant, I walked over to Swiss Cottage Library. I wasn’t allowed to take photos in the library. That’s a shame, as it has some nice features for a 1960ss building.
We prefer to take our car for trips within the UK. It costs a lot to own a car, so it makes sense to use it as much as possible, especially as we have an economincal diesel super-mini. However, it’s a pretty long drive down from Berwick upon Tweed to Plymouth and the roads in Devon get pretty congested.
Previously, I’d had a quick look at the option of travelling to Plymouth by train. There is a direct Cross Country train, but the return fare is often near enough £200, which seems excessive.
I decided to check out other options for the journey from Berwick upon Tweed to Plymouth in September on the GoEuro site, which searches through all available rail, bus and air routes.
It’s cheaper to take the train via London, first travelling there by East Coast and then by First Great Western to Plymouth. But that increases the journey time from 8 hours to around 14 hours. I did think that with a flexible return ticket you could have at least one stopover in London. We could further reduce the train fare if we bought a Two Together railcard, which gives one third off most off-peak fares for two named passengers travelling together. Although this discount card costs £30, we could save more than the cost on that one long trip.
I hadn’t considered flying, but GoEuro came up with flights from Newcastle upon Tyne to Bristol with easyJet. Surprisingly, even factoring in rail travel from Berwick upon Tweed to Newcastle and from Bristol to Plymouth, the cost was lower than undertaking the whole journey by train. The estimated journey length was around 14 hours, the same as travelling the whole way by train via London.
I wasn’t very keen on that option. I thought that there was a higher chance of things going wrong with the increased number of connections, e.g. if the train to Newcastle was late and we missed the flight to Bristol, or if our arrival into Bristol was delayed and we missed the train to Plymouth.
The cheapest option was taking the coach via London, which again took around 14 hours. I thought that it was quite possible that there could be delays on the motorway, plus I didn’t really fancy spending so many hours on a coach. At least on a train you can walk around more.
In conclusion, I thought that trying to find the lowest fare for the direct Cross Country train would be my preferred option for travelling between Berwick upon Tweed and Plymouth.
Camden Lock Market is another one of these London attractions that I’ve been meaning to visit for years. I decided to walk there from my hotel, the Tune London King’s Cross, via Regent’s Canal.
I have to say that the market was looking pretty tatty on the approach along the towpath.
It’s quite confusing, as each section of the market apparently has a different name, but the demarcationa aren’t very clear. The first area, to the east of Chalk Farm Road, had ‘Camden Lock Village’ painted on the wall behind the stalls.
That’s not the only confusing thing. You’d imagine that Camden Lock Market would be on Camden High St, but in fact it’s on either side of Chalk Farm Rd. However, it only takes a few minutes to walk up to the market from Camden Town tube station.
You get some of the best views of Camden Lock Market from Chalk Farm Bridge.
There were a number of food stalls in Camden Lock Village charging reasonable prices, e.g. Â£4 for fair sized main course, with seating on canal view motor bike style seats.
For me, the only unit in Camden Lock Village which had some character was ‘Planet’ which stocked punk style clothing.
I didn’t see a name on the two storey indoor market which I entered after crossing Chalk Farm Road.
The circular window was very striking.
There were some unusual items for sale; the ‘Record ‘Breakers’ stall soldÂ clocks made out of vinyl records.
Another stall was selling old cameras and typewriters.
The public toilets are just off the first floor of the indoor market.
There was a courtyard area at the side of the indoor market with lots of outdoor seating. One of dining options was paella served from a huge cooking dish.
The Camden Lock Footbridge was pretty.
Overall, I wasn’t that impressed by Camden Lock Market. I was left with an impression of a shabby tourist trap selling a lot of overpriced tat. Having said that, on a sunny day it could be quite pleasant to sit out with a coffee or drink by the canal.
Kings Place describes itself as “a hub for music, art dialogue and food”. I spotted it as I was walking north from King’s Cross station toward Regent’s Canal to take the tow path to Camden Lock. From the exterior, it wasn’t that obvious what it was, I thought maybe a shopping centre, with the Guardian/Observer premises taking up one side of the building. I did some research on Kings Place back at my hotel room that evening and decided to visit on the last day of my stay in London.
On arrival at Kings Place, I went down to the Gallery area to see the ‘Looking Out, Looking In’ exhibition by Lucy Jones.
Hall One at King’s Place
There’s a cafe and a restaurant with some outdoor seating in a terrace at the back of Kings Place. The tarrace overlooks Battlebridge Basin on Regent’s Canal. There was a Â£10 lunch offer for a traditional British main course with a drink when I was there.
Tables on terrace at Kings Place
It was a wet morning, so there were only a couple of smokers out on the terrace, but I can imagine that it must get very busy on pleasamt Summer evenings.
Swans in Battlebridge Basin viewed from Kings Place
Sculpture on terrace at King’s PlaceÂ
Sculpture on terrace at Kings Place
When I’m catching a train back to Berwick upon Tweed, I like to arrive at King’s Cross Station around one hour before my departure time. Next time that I’m returning from London by train, I’ll probably walk up to Kings Place, instead of hanging around at the station.
After exploring Little Venice,Â I decided to have a walk along the Grand Union Canal heading west to Westbourne Park. Along the route I had a chat with a barge resident who recommended that I visit Meanwhile Gardens.
My favourite part of Meanwhile Gardens was the Moroccan Garden, opened in 2007. The tiled fountain area was pretty.
There were also a couple of rectangular pools.
Further along was a larger pondÂ with water lilies.
There were some ducklings in the thick long grass at the side of the pond.
So if you are walking along Grand Union Canal tow path, take a short detour into Meanwhile Gardens.
I’d been wanting to visit the Wallace Collection in London since I read about it in Margaret’s article on ‘Quirky Collections in London with Free Entry‘ on Europe a la Carte. I finally made it to the museum in early 2014. There’s no admission fee and you can leave your jacket/bag in the cloak room free of charge.
The building, formerly the family home of theÂ Marquesses of Hertford, was bequeathed to the nation in 1897.
The main staircase is very imposing.
The Courtyard Restaurant looked lovely.
I started my visit on the lower ground floor, where there was a selection of modern art. I thought that there was a lot of truth in the words installation.
I wasn’tÂ sure what to make of the next piece. It looked a bit like a giant decorated candle.
I thought that the piece below looked like a red jelly breast squished into the bottom corner of a large cage.
What I liked most about the Wallace Collection was that it felt like walking through a grand home, as opposed to a museum with exhibits laid out.
There were lot of glitzy chandeliers.
The Wallace Collection is home to a renowned assembly of armoury.
I’d recommend that you visit the Wallace Collection; it really gives you a glimpse into what it must be like to live in a grand home. Especially so if you visit at a quiet time and have a room to yourself for a few minutes.
The Wallace Collection is open seven days a week from 10am – 5pm. It’s located a five minute walk from the Bond Street tube station on Oxford St.
I’ve enjoyed getting off the beaten track in London and exploring some less well known areas of the capital. This approach started for a couple of reasons. I’d seen many of the big attractions in central London and I decided to look further afield to find more affordable hotels.
Based on recent stays at hotels outside the city centre, here are my tips for discovering London beyond the tourist hotspots.
West India Quay
West India Quay isn’t as well known as its neighbour Canary Wharf. It’s home to the Museum of London Docklands, where you can find out about London’s history as a port in this former warehouse. I learned about the Princess Alice disaster, in which more than 650 passengers of this paddle steamer died in a collision with another vessel in the River Thames. The Museum of London Docklands is free to enter and open every day, except 24 -2 December, from 10am to 6pm.
Museum of London Docklands in West India Quay
The West India Quay footbridge sits on pontoons which enable the bridge to rise and fall as water levels change. The bridge looks at its best after dark once it’s illuminated. There are several pubs and cafes with outdoor seating in the Quay. I was there in November, so sat inside to eat my fish and chips at the Via Bar.
The West India Quay pedestrian pontoon bridge at dusk
The main meetings as St Peter’s Barge floating church are on Sundays at 10.30am and 6pm, after which free coffee and cake are served during the open forum discussing a theme from the bible.
St Peter’s Barge church in West India Quay
It only takes a few minutes to walk to Newham City Farm from Prince Albert Station on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR). The city farm has been operational since 1997. I found it interesting to watch a blacksmith shoeing a horse during my visit.Â Newham City Farm is free to enter and it’s closed on Mondays (except Bank Holidays); it’s open from 10am – 4pm in Winter and 10am – 5pm in Summer.
Entrance to Newham City Farm
Donkey at Newham City Farm
In North Clapham’s Landor Road you’ll find the Landor Pub, which has a small theatre on the first floor, and the Sew Over It sewing cafe and shop.
Sew Over It in North Landor Rd
You can have a Greek feast at Sappho’s Meze Bar, just down from North Clapham Tube station, for around Â£11. Make sure that you have cash, as they don’t accept card payments.
Meze at Sappho’s
I walked to the Geffyre Museum, close to Hoxton Overground Station, when I was staying in Bethnal Green, The museum focuses on the history of the home, with rooms from different periods of history. It’s free to enter, open 10am – 5pm, but closed on Mondays (except Bank Holidays).
1960s living room at the Geffyre Museum
Art at the Geffyre Museum
Royal Victoria Dock
Royal Victoria Dock, which opened in 1855, was the first London dock to be built for large steam ships. The Dock’s traffic dropped with the introduction of container ships, leading to closure in 1980. It was in the spotlight in 1988 when Jean Michel Jarre, a French electronic musician, performed an outdoor concert there. Excel, the huge exhibition venue, opened close to the dock in 2000. From the dock you can cross the River Thames in the Emirates Air Line cable car to North Greenwich.
Emirates Air Line cable car at Royal Victoria Dock
You can try your hand at wakeboarding and stand up paddleboarding
Watersports at Royal Victoria Dock
The Crystal is home to the World’s largest sustainability exhibition with ten zones looking at issues such as cities of the future, smart buldings and urban planning. Admission costs Â£8 per adult and it’s free for under18s or those in full time education. Opening hours are Tuesday to Sunday 10am -5pm, with late opening until 7pm on Saturday and Sunday.
I’d seen Limehouse Basin, previously called Regent’s Canal Dock, on many occasions from the DLR train en route to the Excel exhibition centre to attend the World Travel Market. When I was staying in Stepney Green, I finally got around to visiting Limehouse Basin, which was built to enable ships to transfer their cargo onto barges for transportation along Regent’s Canal.
Barges in Limehouse Basin
I stayed in Woolwich, as it was within walking distance of Excel by either taking the free Woolwich Ferry or walking through the Woolwich Foot Tunnel, to get across the River Thames.
The Museum of Childhood is located close to Bethnal Green Tube station. I spotted quite a few items from my childhood, such as a Chopper bicycle and troll dolls. It’s free to enter, the museum is open every day from 10am – 5.45pm.
Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green
Puppets the Museum of Childhood
Brixton Village is a covered market in south London. There’s an array of ingredients for Caribbean cooking and restaurants from around the World. I ate at the Casa Morita Mexican restaurant.
Cafes and restaurants in Brixton Village
Fruit and veg stalls at Brixton Village
The Ragged School Museum was formerly a Dr Barnardo’s school. On Sundays, at either 2.50pm or 3.30pm,Â you can attend a 45 minute Victorian lesson. The teacher will be in costume and you can try writing on a slateboard.Â It’s free to enter the museum (although a donation of Â£2 for the lesson is suggested). Opening hours are limited,10am to 5pm on Wednesday and Thursday, 2pm to 5pm on the first Sunday of the month.
Classroom at the Ragged School Museum
Victorian kitchen at the Ragged School Museum
I hope that you’ve enjoyed my tour of London off the beaten track.
My Tips on Finding London Hotels
I start my hotel search on a price comparison site, such as HotelsCombined, which trawls through 30+ travel sites to find the lowest hotel prices. My next step in finding a hotel in London, is to check out the websites of large chains such as Accor, which have a good selection of value rooms in various areas in London. I’ve rarely found cheaper prices at hotel chains on price comparison sites.
Once I’ve found some keenly priced rooms, I check that the hotels are located close to good public transport links; I find the Tube or Overground easier to navigate than the bus. Then I have a look at things to do and see in, or close to, that area.
Based on my research, I narrow my options to two or three hotels which offer a combination of a good price, accessibility and location in an interesting area. Before booking, I check if there are any discount codes or cashback available for these hotels.
My walk along Regent’s Canal from Kings Place to Camden Lock didn’t get off to the best of starts, as the first section of the tow path was blocked off for maintanance work. However, I was able to do a detour north through Handyside Gardens, west along Handyside Rd and south down Stable St to reach the steps down the tow path to Granary Square.
The ‘Grain Store’ restaurant in GranaryÂ Square
The fountain with 1080 jets at Granary Sqaure didn’t appear to be working. Maybe all the recent rain had flooded the system.
The non operation fountain in Granary Square
There’s a lot of construction taking place by the canal including ‘The Coal Drops’Â – a retail and leisure develpment which will feature the Victorian arches and cobbled street
‘The Coal Drops’ information board
‘The Coal Drops’ arches
The construction site boarding is decorated with fish.
Narrow boat on the Regent’s Canal
There was more tow pathÂ maintenance further along, but this time there was a pontoon provided as an alternative route.
Pontoon on Regent’s Canal
Some of the old gas holders are being retained.
Approaching the St Pancras Lock on the Regent’s Canal
St Pancras Lock house
Skull street art by the Regent’s Canal
There’s a mural adorning the canalside wall of the Constitution Pub in Camden, know as the ‘Con in Camden‘.
‘Con in Camden’ mural
‘Con in Camden’ mural
A bit further along the tow path, there’s what looks like a mural painted by kids under a b bridge.
Mural under a bridge on theÂ Regent’s Canal
Space pod style flats at the canalside
Camden Lock on the Regent’s Canal
The ‘Guilder’s Stone close to the bridge at Camden Lock bears the inscription ‘originally the keystone of the old bridge built in 1815, removed 1876′. I couldn’t understand the relationship of the keystone to a guilder, which I only knew as the former currency of the Netherlands.Â I wondered if it was related to a guild (a trade association) for stone masons. When I did an online search, there was a suggestion that there was an error in the inscription and that guilder should have been builder
Guilder’s Stone at Camden Lock
There’s some more up to date street art close to the Guilder’s Stone. It was strange to see the role reversal in the piece below; the boy with the large rifle on his back and the soldier carrying the toy rabbit.
Role reversal street art at Camden Lock
The face depicted in the tile art looked rather like David Bowie.
Tile street art at Camden Lock
View of Camden Lock from Chalk Farm Rd Bridge in Camden