Category Archives: London for free

52: Check out the latest trends in architecture at the Serpentine Pavilion

As I was writing my latest post on London as a site of architectural experimentation, I thought of a place where you can check out cutting-edge structures in the making.

The Serpentine Galleries, with an unbeatable location in the heart of Kensington Gardens, commission every year a temporary summer pavilion by an internationally renowned architect. This project started in 2000 with Zaha Hadid (who also designed the newly opened Sackler Gallery on the opposite side of the Serpentine lake).

Serpentine Gallery

This year the Serpentine Pavilion is one of the weirdest ever. Designed by Chilean architect Smiljan Radić and open until the 19th of October, it is a donut-shaped structure resembling a shell – or maybe a prehistoric egg – or maybe a UFO – with a café inside.

Serpentine Pavilion

The Serpentine Galleries are free and definitely worth a look if you find yourself in the area.

And while in Kensington Gardens, go and look for Peter Pan’s statue – less cutting-edge of course, but with the advantage of longevity: erected more than a century ago, it will outlive many more Serpentine Pavilions.

Nearest Tube: Knightsbridge

51 : Walk around Pimlico

With the accumulation of different styles over the centuries, speaking of the variety of London’s architecture is somewhat of an understatement. To be honest, sometimes it feels like the whole city has been designed by a schizophrenic architect. This lack of unity, of course, reinforces its cultural wealth and dynamism.

Walking around London you may encounter architectural oddities just around the corner. In Pimlico for instance, a neighbourhood more renowned for its impressive regency style than for its eccentricity, stands a block of rather funny-looking buildings with striking checkerboard patterns.

Grosvenor Estate

Built between Page Street and Vincent Street, they are actually part of a social housing complex of around 600 dwellings called the Grosvenor Estate. It was designed in the 1930s by Sir Edwin Lutyens, who had never designed council houses before and was more famous for the grand houses he’d designed for wealthy client and is best remembered for his work in Delhi.

So who said social housing had to be bland and depressing?

 

Nearest tube station: Pimlico

 

50: Fall for the views on Saint Paul’s

All it takes to get to the best views on Saint Paul’s Cathedral is to take the glass elevator at the core of the shopping centre One New Change. The open-air public terrace offers a spectacular panorama on the iconic dome and on the city beyond. Icing on the cake, the place tends to be quieter in the weekends, when city boys desert the area.

Image

Tube stations: Saint Paul’s, Mansion House

48: Dream of Italy in Little Venice

The water pool where Grand Union and Regent’s Canals meet, directly north of Paddington, is affectionately nicknamed Little Venice.  If you actually know Italy, don’t expect to find it back there; you’d be disappointed. The small, quiet canals of Little Venice have nothing in common with the gorgeous ones of La Serenissima. Yet this peaceful area still seems exotic: walking along the canals, you can feel like you’re thousand miles away from London’s hubbub, although you’re only minutes away from busy Paddington.

Little Venice

Follow the canal downstream through the tranquil neighbourhood of Maida Vale and you’ll reach Regent’s Park in half an hour; if you’re brave enough, you can keep on walking all the way to Camden Town to admire Banksy’s graffiti.

Nearest Tube: Paddington station

47: Take a Sunday stroll around Richmond

A recent survey has showed that the residents of wealthy Richmond upon Thames were among the happiest – if not the happiest – of England. This is hardly surprising: only a few miles away from London’s bustle, Richmond is a haven of peace.

Located on a meander of the River Thames, Richmond boasts a large number of parks and open spaces including one of England’s most famous greens (Richmond green).

Richmond Hill rises a few hundred meters south of the city centre. Though only 165 ft (50m) high, the view from its top has inspired such artists as J.M.W. Turner and Sir Joshua Reynolds and is one of the best-known on the Thames. You may find that the landscape has changed little since its depiction by these masters two hundred years ago.

Image of the view from the top of Richmond Hill

To the south of Richmond Hill lies Richmond Park. Three times the size of Central Park in New York, it was originally a hunting reserve of king Charles I and is famous for the hundreds of deers it still hosts.

On Sundays, a stroll along the river Thames is a popular activity for families and lovers alike. Even if as a broke londoner, you may not afford to live in Richmond (after all, the council prides itself on being “a favourite retreat of Royalty, the rich and the famous”…), you might still wish to check out why Richmond’s inhabitants are so happy with their lot.

Tube station: Richmond

44: Visit the unusual house – to say the least – of architect John Soane

Designed by Sir John Soane, the architect of the Bank of England, to house his collection of works of art, this intriguing museum is packed with quirky architectural experiments, antiquities and paintings. The house has been kept almost exactly as Soane left it when he died in 1837. No room looks like the next one and Soane even created a gothic room to host his parties. His eclectic collection includes an Egyptian sarcophagus, greek statues and paintings by Turner and Canaletto. A visit doesn’t take much time – around an hour, say, during which you’re bound to make some intriguing and fascinating discoveries.

John Soane's museum

Tube Station: Holborn

42: Smell the roses at Queen Mary’s rose garden

Queen Mary's Garden - rose 1

Located in the heart of Regent’s Park, Queen Mary’s garden holds one of the finest collections of roses in the country and its access is free of charge.

Queen Mary's Garden - rose 2

Going to a rose garden in the middle of September may not have been my brightest idea, but the blooms of Queen Mary’s garden were still perfuming the air.

Nearest Tube Station: Baker Street