Madness have been singing about London for 30 years and now the group’s frontman, Suggs, has written a book about his top spots in the English capital. CD Traveller thought it was about time we shared a few of our own favourites…
A is for the Astoria
The dark, sweaty venue that is the Astoria is home to London’s largest gay club, G.A.Y (good as you.) Situated on a scruffy street corner in the West End, pure pop prevails; pop princesses Kylie and Britney have both performed live. Free condoms are distributed in the foyer of this gay clubbing icon.
B is for Bloomsbury
The academic and intellectual heart of London; the Bloomsbury Group (an assortment of artists and writers including EM Forster and Virginia Woolf) and other authors such as George Bernard Shaw, Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin and William Butler Yeats all lived in the vicinity. Today the area is full of students (the University of London is based in Bloomsbury) and bookshops.
C is for Covent Garden
London’s first planned square, the magical Covent Garden Piazza is the perfect place to take a seat at an outdoor cafe and be entertained by some of the street performers who stand in front of St Paul’s Church where the first Punch and Judy show took place in 1662,
D is for The Dorchester
The Dorch’ as it is affectionately known is the Grand old dame of London hotels whose high profile past guests include Marlene Dietrich, General Dwight Eisenhower and Tom Cruise. Even if you can’t afford to stay here, pay a visit and potter along to The Promenade –the social hub of the hotel – where you can listen to a pianist play while enjoying a buzzy afternoon tea featuring fresh and interesting sandwiches, rivers of refreshing teas and extravagant cakes.
E is for The Electric Cinema
On a dark, damp winter’s day nothing beats catching a quality flick on the big screen. However don’t just visit any old cinema; multiplexes are making way for quirky, independent film houses. CD Traveller loves The Electric in the achingly fashionable Notting Hill, with its luxurious leather armchairs and sofas and well stocked bar serving champagne and cocktails (www.theelectric.co.uk.) Now that’s the way to watch a film.
F is for Fortnum and Mason
London’s oldest department store (Fortnum and Mason celebrated its 300th birthday in 2007) doesn’t disappoint. Customer service (staff are still dressed in old fashioned tail coats) is excellent, as are the products on sale: you’ll find the famed food hall selling hampers, English teas and the like on the ground floor; clothes, toiletries and gifts occupy the other floors.
G is for Greenwich
Home to the Royal Observatory and the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich has been on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Buildings since 1997. And for good reason; Greenwich (the prime meridian of longitude meaning Greenwich Mean Time dictates how clocks around the globe are set) is a gem of a place and one of the highlights of any visit to London.
H is for Hamleys
Got kids? Then head for Hamleys which is reportedly the largest toy store on the planet. It’s easy to get lost in the world’s most famous toy store so allow CD Traveller to make things easier: computer games are in the basement, science kits on the first floor, toys take up the second, third and fourth floors while Lego World and a cafe can be found on the fifth floor.
I is for the Isle of Dogs
The Isle of Dogs over in Docklands has emerged as a mini Manhattan owing to its multitude of modern skyscrapers. But it wasn’t always this way. To see how the isle looked as recently as 50 years ago, make for Mudchute Park & Farm – see www.mudchute.org for more information.
J is for Joe Cooke
The Chingford resident and owner of London institution F Cooke – a pie and mash shop that’s been sat on the same street in Hoxton for over 100 years. In the old days, a pie (made from minced beef) and mash (potatoes made from powder) were a staple part of Londoners’ diet. You can pick up a pie at F Cooke for approximately £2.50, along with extras like liquor (a green sauce made from parsley and vinegar), jellied eels and, a CD Traveller favourite, mushy peas.
K is for King’s Road
The well heeled King’s Road, which begins at Sloane Square, is celebrated for its chic shops; King’s Road residents have the highest income of all Londoners. To see how the other half live, get off at Sloane Square or South Kensington tube station.
L is for the London Eye
Suspended in an enclosed space age glass pod over the Thames, a ride in the London Eye cannot be beaten. It’s no roller coaster, but the 30-minute wheel provides you with a stunning view of one of the world’s most famous panoramas – from the ill-fated Dome to the splendour of Buckingham Palace. Couples wanting privacy can ascend on a Cupid’s capsule for a more intimate ride. Book your tickets online at www.ba-londoneye.com
M is for markets
Searching for interesting accessories? Make for one of London’s many markets. Portobello showcases up and coming designers while the stalls at Spitalfield have gone from strength to strength stocking a wide range of quirky individual accessories. Other markets worth a look include Bermondsey, Berwick, Camden and Covent Garden.
N is for the Notting Hill Carnival
Held every August, The Notting Hill Carnival originally started as an offshoot of the Trinidad Carnival. Today it’s Europe’s biggest street festival offering live bands, sound-systems, street food and dancing while remaining true to its Caribbean roots.
O is for the Olympics
During the Blair years, London won the right to host the 2012 Olympic Games making London the first triple Olympic city in history! O is also for the O2 – the huge circus tent shaped structure formerly known as the Millennium Dome. The Dome might have been a disaster but the future is looking rosy for the O2; big names like Britney, Bon Jovi and Barbara Streisland have all played here.
P is for parks
30 per cent of the capital is given over to green space so wherever you find yourself in the city, a park is never far away. Hyde Park on a Sunday is a CD Traveller favourite; this is when the legendary Sunday soapbox orators spout forth at the famous speaker’s Corner. Other parks worth a visit include Regents Park with its secret nooks and crannies, Primrose Hill and Greenwich. London is also a nation of gardeners, meaning there is no shortage of stunning gardens to enjoy. The most famous is of course, the Royal Botanical Gardens located at Kew.
Q is for Queens Club
The world’s most famous tennis tournament, Wimbledon, has been taking place for a fortnight in late June/early July since 1877. The SW19 event is phenomenally popular – something that is reflected in the painfully long queues and extortionate ticket prices. A much better bet is to attend the men’s warm up tournament at Queen’s Club in leafy Barons Court a couple of weeks before Wimbledon. Visit www.queensclub.co.uk for the low down.
R is for Richmond
Originally named Sheen, Henry VII renamed the village Richmond after his Yorkshire earldom. Whatever you do, be sure to climb Richmond Hill – the view from the top has inspired painters and poets for centuries. As such it’s the only view in the UK that is protected by an act of parliament!
S is for South Kensington
And its many museums. Thanks to Prince Albert, the area is home to Victoria & Albert Museum (whose original aim to improve ‘public taste in design’ and ‘appreciations of fine art to objects of utility’ still holds true today), National History Museum and Science Museum. And what’s more, entry to all is free!
T is for the Tricycle Theatre
The CD Traveller team are huge fans of The Tricycle which is situated on Kilburn High Road. Why? Because The Tricycle, with its ‘Pay what you can’ sessions, proves that going to the theatre need not break the bank. For more bargains stand in line at the ticket booth in Leicester Square; here you can nab tickets for same day shows at half the normal price…
U is for the underground
The underground or tube as it is universally known to Londoners, is the quickest and easiest way of getting around London. The first tube operates around 5.30am Mon-Sat and 7am come Sundays, while the last train tends to depart around midnight – although this depends on day, station and line.
V is for The Vortex
The former Stoke Newington Venue (The Vortex relocated to the Dalston Culture House in 2005) attracts musicians from the UK, USA and all over Europe. To find out what’s on and when call 020 7254 4097 or visit www.vortexjazz.co.uk.
W is for the West End
The West End has undergone a renaissance in recent years; nowhere else (except perhaps New York), offers such a wide range of quality productions. Feel good musicals – the perfect antidote to the credit crunch– to catch, include Hairspray and The Jersey Boys. Meanwhile if children are in tow, then a performance of the Lion King or new show Sister Act will go down a treat.
Y is for yoga
London loves yoga and one of the best places to do the ‘downward dog’ is at Triyoga – one of London’s first yoga centres and still its most prestigious. Choose from three venues: Primrose Hill, Soho and Covent Garden. For class timetables and prices, see www.triyoga.co.uk.
Z is for the zoo
Established in 1828, London Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in the world not to mention one of the most progressive. Highlights of any visit include Gorilla Kingdom (a £5.3 million project that involves a gorilla conservation programme in Gabon), the Clore Rainforest Lookout and Nightzone, the Penguin Pool (the most popular penguin, Roxy Rockhopper even has her own MySpace page!), Butterfly Paradise and Meet the Monkeys. The nearest tube station is Regents Park but time permitting, why not arrive at the zoo by Canal Boat from Camden or Little Venice?