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Alexandra Sims

Alexandra Sims

Alexandra Sims is Time Out's former London Deputy Events Editor.

Articles (52)

11 of the most beautiful wild swimming spots in the UK

11 of the most beautiful wild swimming spots in the UK

It might not seem like the most obvious of pastimes, but more and more people are stripping off and swimming in the cold rivers of the UK. Why? Well, you won’t really know until you’ve given it a go. The most beautiful wild swimming spots in the UK offer a freer-than-free way to reduce anxiety and embrace the magic of nature, all while getting some decent exercise along the way. What’s not to like? Sure, it is chilly, but how often do you get to wear a swimsuit and a bobble hat at the same time?The hardy types here for the shivering are descending upon ponds, rivers and lakes and knocking out a few lengths. Throw in some rural rivers, tidal lagoons, waterfall plunge pools and lochside beaches, and you’ve got another string to the UK’s fabulous natural bow. And if you’re not convinced yet, here’s our guide on how to get into outdoor swimming (and stick with it). Please note: Wild swimming can be dangerous. It’s best to avoid taking the plunge if you’re not a strong, experienced swimmer. Please check for potential hazards before you swim. Please be mindful of the people who live locally, check whether car parks and toilets are open before you set off, do not leave litter, and adhere to social distancing guidelines at all times.

15 of the best places to see bluebells across the UK

15 of the best places to see bluebells across the UK

The UK is spoilt when it comes to bountiful blooms. From elegant branches of lilac wisteria to heavenly scented lavender fields, there are plenty of day trips for a dose of flower power. And what's one of the most anticipated events in the gardener’s calendar? Bluebells, of course. For a few short weeks every spring, carpets of cobalt bluebells bloom across the UK. In fact, it takes several years for the plucky bulbs to become established and flower, making it an extra special event. No wonder when the elusive wildflower comes out to play, people will go out of their way to catch a glimpse. From pretty Victorian estates in Cornwall to magical forests in the Scottish Highlands and cliffside crops of colourful flowers in Wales, here are the most magical places in the UK to see the bluebells. RECOMMENDED: The best places to see wildflowers in the UK

The 18 best and coolest seaside towns in the UK

The 18 best and coolest seaside towns in the UK

If there’s one thing the UK has a lot of, it’s coastline. Our island nation is edged with some brilliant beaches (several of the world’s most beautiful beaches, in fact) – and many of the towns and villages clustered around them are having a renaissance right now.  You can forget the clichés of rain, pebbles, chippies and faded towns well past their heyday. These ace seaside towns come with cutting-edge arts scenes and destination restaurants making British seaside holidays cool again. From arty hotspots in Cornwall to quaint fishing towns in Wales and secluded coves in Scotland, consider this your ultimate UK seaside guide. This way for sun, sand, sea air and all the ingredients you need for brilliant beachside breaks this summer.  Heading out from the capital on your jaunt? Check out our guide to the best seaside towns near London.

The best places to see cherry blossom in the UK

The best places to see cherry blossom in the UK

There’s nothing quite like the cheery sight of pastel-pink treetops to remind you that winter is well and truly over. It’s a sure sign that warmer days and longer nights are on the horizon, and now we even have candyfloss-coloured petals to gaze at while we wait. Lucky us.  The springtime spectacle that is the UK’s cherry blossom season starts in March and lasts until May. In Japan, cherry blossom season is a major event with people flocking from across the globe to see the trees turn rosy. Our own sakura season might not be famous, but if you know where to go you’ll find the UK has plenty of pretty spots brimming with blossom, too. Head to one of these bloomin’ beautiful places, from cherry tree-edged parks to castles with manicured fruit orchards, to see cherry blossom in the UK. Just make sure you get an eyeful before the blossoms blow away in showers of confetti.  Recommended: The best places to see wildflowers in the UK

The 18 best things to do in Whitby

The 18 best things to do in Whitby

Welcome to Whitby, a perfect British seaside destination boasting a whole lot of fun things to do. Here in this idyllic former fishing town on the North Yorkshire coast, you can expect a dramatic coastline, soft stretches of caramel sand, exquisite seafood, a quaint harbour and more quirky charm than you can shake a stick at. From its spooky abbey and cliff-top graveyard to lamp-lit cobbled streets and whale bone monuments, it exudes more Gothic splendour than David Bowie in The Hunger. It’s no wonder Bram Stoker set his vampire-filled novel ‘Dracula’ here, or that groups of black-clad music fans descend on the place twice a year for the Whitby Goth Weekend. Whether you visit in the summer for a sunny stroll along the beautiful Blue Flag beach, or in winter to shelter in a quirky pub with some steaming fish and chips, there’s plenty to sink your teeth into this town in England. Not only that, but in Whitby you are perfectly located to explore loads of beautiful nearby coastal towns, villages and beaches. Here are the best things to do in Whitby right now. Find out more about how Time Out selects the very best things to do all over the world.

Seven great hidden picnic spots in London parks

Seven great hidden picnic spots in London parks

Looking for a lunch spot for dates, lunches with friends or a cheeky snooze under a plane tree? Dodge the big, over-subscribed London parks and go for a perfect picnic in a cute, lesser-visited spot. When the sun comes out, the likes of Green Park and Soho Square are always dense patchworks of picnic blankets and denim jackets spread out in the sunshine – but your own picnic doesn’t have to be as densely populated. From central London’s overlooked oasis Phoenix Gardens to South London’s Hilly Fields and the Thames-side riverbank greenery of Richmond, there are little-known gems. Her are our favourites and where to get food and drink nearby, from sandwiches to coffee to beer and cocktails. RECOMMENDED: The best picnic spots in London.

22 places in London that look nothing like London

22 places in London that look nothing like London

London’s great and all that, but sometimes we all need a change of scene. Foreign travel has been a bit tricky recently, so you could do worse than visit a London spot that will transport you thousands of miles away. There are buildings, venues, green spaces and experiences in the capital that make you feel like you’re in another country. Visit an Iranian grotto, a Finnish sauna and a Turkish palace using your travelcard. Traverse the wilds of the Scottish Highlands or go white-water rafting on the Zambezi without crossing the M25. Our list of places in London that don’t look like London offers a world of possibilities.     RECOMMENDED: Secret London.

The Boat Race: everything you need to know

The Boat Race: everything you need to know

Get yourself Thames-side to see academic titans Oxford and Cambridge battle it out once again in an oar-some rowing race on the river. But if – like the majority of the 300,000 people expected to line the banks this year – you’re actually there for the all-day booze fest, here’s our guide to everything you need to know about the Boat Race 2022, so you can at least sound like rowing pro whilst sipping on your Sauvignon. Not feeling the rowing? Head to the Goat Race instead. 

The 22 best things to do in Iceland

The 22 best things to do in Iceland

Iceland is a destination that comes with great expectations, but that’s no biggie. Why feel the pressure when you know you’ve got steaming geothermal pools, smouldering volcanoes and unique museums in your back pocket? The back pocket analogy isn’t entirely accurate as this wild wonderland thrusts its main attractions front and centre, so maybe it is a little more accurate to say that Iceland has the dancing Northern Lights in its back pocket. Imagine a world where the Northern Lights, the Northern Lights, are a cherry on top? That’s Iceland. The best things to do here are out of this world. Reykjavik remains one of the most enchanting capital cities on the planet and is a fantastic base from which to explore the rest of the country and its frozen landscapes, colourful fishing villages and all the rest. Sure, Iceland is weird, but that is sort of the point, and the best way to make the most of this place is to let it wash over you. You’re going to fall in love with Iceland. 

8 of the most beautiful bike trails in the UK

8 of the most beautiful bike trails in the UK

Two wheels are better than four. Does it get any better than conquering the most beautiful bike trails in the UK? Cycling is good for the environment and even better for your health, and it provides unbeatable access to the nooks and crannies of nature that make this such a special place. Sure, you’ll need to get a sweat on now and then, but that is part of the fun. The UK has a long and storied history of exploration on two wheels, so what’s stopping you from adding your name to the history books? From peaceful canal paths to cross-country routes, these stunning rides take in pretty villages, isolated scenery, natural wonders, gorgeous beaches, famous landmarks and much more. What’s more, you’ll get to experience all of this and come out with thighs of steel. What more could an intrepid explorer want?

13 fairytale forests to visit in the UK

13 fairytale forests to visit in the UK

The UK does a fine line in forests; we all know this. Literature is filled with them, and the mysterious magic of a verdant expanse seems to be a frequent starting point for science fiction epics and iconic myths alike. There is a reason the United Kingdom retains its seat at the top of the fairytale table, and that reason is found deep within the country’s forests. These gorgeous woodlands aren’t only home to magical legends, of course; they also happen to be perfect spots for lengthy strolls and all manner of adrenaline-pumping activities, and the best of the best manage to retain a unique atmosphere all the while. The UK’s forests are magical no matter where you stand on misty walks and hobbits. And, to be blunt, these are the best forests to be found in the United Kingdom. Everywhere from the wilds of Scotland down to woods hugging the outer edges of London and beyond is represented here. The emotional healing powers of a hearty stroll surrounded by trees have long been touted, and it doesn’t get much more comforting than the finest forests the UK has to offer. Just watch out for the elves, fairies, hobbits and other mythical beasts, okay? Please note: Travel from England to Wales and Scotland is currently not allowed. Facilities and businesses in the towns and villages we mention will be closed at the moment. Government advice is to avoid public transport, so don’t travel by train or bus. Please be mindful of the people who live locally. And if you decide to travel, c

Where to get started with... Zadie Smith

Where to get started with... Zadie Smith

London has had many chroniclers, but none have quite captured the vibrant, multicultural twenty-first-century spirit of the city like Zadie Smith. The writer, who grew up in Willesden, north-west London, burst on to the literary scene in 2000 attracting all the excited hysteria of a newly discovered rock band. Her debut novel ‘White Teeth’, which she famously wrote while studying at Cambridge, was published when she was just 24 years old. It received tremendous attention, critical acclaim and a slew of high-profile awards: every English lit grad’s dream. Since then she’s written four more novels, a play, essays and short stories, and become a modern literary heavyweight, all while exuding an effortless sense of cool. As well as being a phenomenal storyteller she’s also an accomplished jazz singer, a hip hop fan who can just as easily quote Kanye West as EM Forster and a famous Luddite who eschews social media and chooses not to own a smartphone.  It’s this eclecticism that makes her depictions of London so on point. Smith celebrates the city while not shying away from the unpolished cacophony of its reality. Her London is one of kebab shops, nail salons and shabby roadside restaurants, those patches of urban suburbia dotted around the North Circular that are so often forgotten. She stuffs it with characters who are hyperbolic yet familiar, people whose lives meander and twist together to reveal profound truths about our place in the world. Even when she removes herself from h

Listings and reviews (20)

How to Build a Girl

How to Build a Girl

3 out of 5 stars

Growing up is hard to do, especially when you’re friendless, skint and sharing a bedroom with your brother in a crowded council house in Wolverhampton. This is where we find 16-year-old Johanna Morrigan (Beanie Feldstein) in this warm-hearted coming-of-age comedy. Whipsmart and dreamy, Johanna has read every book in her local library in an attempt to escape her West Midlands surroundings and turns to pictures of her heroes – Julie Andrews, Sylvia Plath, Jo March – who come to life on her wall, for advice.  The film is adapted from journalist and author Caitlin Moran’s 2014 semi-autobiographical bestseller, and Johanna is loosely based on Moran’s own teenage self. That much-craved escape comes when she’s plucked from regional obscurity and flung into the macho, hedonistic world of ’90s music journalism after sending in an eccentric review of the ‘Annie’ soundtrack to the ultracool Disc & Music Echo (or D&ME).  Overnight, Johanna reinvents herself as the red-haired, Doc Martens-wearing journo Dolly Wilde, who navigates the classism and sexism thrown at her by ‘crossing over to the dark side’. Her scornful, scathing alter ego begins spewing out acerbic reviews and revelling in her newfound decadent lifestyle, estranging her family in the process.  Adapted by Moran herself, the film retains the book’s insightful naughtiness, subtle period details and fizzing one-liners. Johanna’s put-down to her snobbish, Oxford-educated lover: ‘I'm not your bit of rough, you’re my bit of posh’,

Museum of Neoliberalism

Museum of Neoliberalism

4 out of 5 stars

Whatever you take away from the Museum of Neoliberalism, you definitely won’t forget the display ‘Bottle of Amazon employee urine’. According to the museum, it came from a worker in one of the company’s fulfilment centres who passed up a toilet break in order not to fall behind on work targets. It’s just one of the ways this place confronts you with how modern economic structures have trickled down into people’s everyday lives.  Tucked between a laundrette and a hairdressers in an unassuming post-war shopping centre in Lewisham, the museum explains its purpose in a window sign: ‘to look back on neoliberalism, what it has done to our world; and what might lie beyond it’. Turns out, it’s quite scary stuff.  The exhibition, which begins with a display setting out the main players of twentieth-century neoliberalism, has been created by satirical artist Darren Cullen and Gavin Grindon, a lecturer at the University of Essex who curated parts of Banksy’s Dismaland.  Like the suspects board of a detective on the edge, it’s covered in a criss-cross of red string connecting  images of Margaret Thatcher, George W Bush, Tony Blair, David Cameron and Boris Johnson.  You’re then exposed to the ways capitalism has seeped into our lives, from Scouts badges embroidered with oil company logos to a replica of the cladding and insulation at Grenfell Tower.  Regardless of your political persuasion, it’s hard not to be moved. The museum admits that it ‘may seem dispiriting’, but it’ll stoke a fire

Choose Love

Choose Love

’Tis the season to be a capitalist consumer, but if scuffles at the tills over Black Friday bargains give you chills, spend discount day at this special shop where the aim is to leave empty-handed. Set up by Help Refugees, Choose Love is the world’s only shop selling real gifts for refugees. Inside you’ll find shelves filled with emergency blankets, children’s shoes and mobile phone credit. Once you’ve bought what you can, the products are distributed by one of more than 80 projects that the humanitarian aid organisation works with around the world. The shop is split into three areas, each containing things that refugees need at different stages of their journeys. In the ‘Arrival’ section you’ll find warm clothing and food; ‘Shelter’ is filled with tents and sleeping bags; ‘Future’ holds education supplies, LGBTQ+ support and mental health care. Items on sale start at £3, or if you’re feeling altruistic, you can buy special collections of gifts like the Bundle of Hope which pays for mental health care, adult learning and women’s support. If you like, you can buy the entire contents of the shop. This is the third year Choose Love has popped up in London in the run-up to Christmas. In 2018 a huge queue snaked outside the entrance. What better way to stick two fingers up at the Black Friday frenzy and do some good instead. 

Neon light-making workshop

Neon light-making workshop

The dazzling world of neon light-making isn’t as glamorous as I’d hoped. There are some risks involved: three, if you’re counting, which I am. According to our neon pro Julia Bickerstaff, the list includes ‘electrocuting yourself, burning yourself and cutting yourself’, and she’s had all of the above. Along with artist Richard Wheater, Julia teaches the only neon light-making class in the UK, and today, they’ve brought their Yorkshire-based operation to London. Once we’ve been warned of stray shards and molten glass, Richard gives us the lowdown on neon’s history, which goes right back to the 1890s, when two British scientists discovered the gases that create the bright lights. We get to work sketching out our own light designs, and I opt for a River Thames-shaped squiggle, which will be created using a glass tube. To shape the tubes, we lower the them into an 800C flame. It gets so hot and supple I can bend it like a slack hosepipe. As I bend, I also have to blow into the glass using a rubber pipe to stop it from kinking, which is much harder than it looks. Julia takes over, expertly manipulating the stiff glass rods into our designs and sealing electrodes on to the ends. Next comes the gas. I choose to fill my squiggle with icy blue Xenon. Richard wires it onto one of their special machines and my design lies there like Frankenstein’s Monster, waiting to be filled with light. Suddenly, gas comes whizzing out of a silver cylinder and into my squiggle, lighting it up with

Lark & Berry Piercing Studio

Lark & Berry Piercing Studio

Just down the road from the Wallace Collection in elegant Marylebone, Lark & Berry is as far removed from a stereotypical piercing parlour as you could imagine. The jewellery brand’s shop is a light, bright space with royal blue accents and clean glass cases scattered with shiny rings and necklaces. The company specialises in sustainable women’s trinkets using precious metals. They’re also set with cultured diamonds - that’s stones which are laboratory-grown and don’t carry the environmental, political and societal problems associated with diamond mines. You won’t find any chunky ball rings usually associated with first piercings here. Pick from their 14K gold piercing collection, which they say has been developed with an expert body piercer to minimise scarring. There’s a pretty array of hoops and labrets to choose from all in deep golds and glistening silvers and encrusted with diamonds in different colours, shapes and sizes. The in-store piercing studio is hidden away at the back of the shop. At the moment it’s just open on Saturdays and manned by experienced piercers from well-known parlours across London. Don’t expect the breadth of piercings usually available in dedicated parlours. My request for an orbital is denied, however, there are still a nice number of cartilage and lobe options. I settle for a conch instead with a dainty gold band lined with tiny, sparkling gems. If heading to a tattoo parlour feels intimidating, or you want to wear pretty jewellery rather t

Ninth Life

Ninth Life

4 out of 5 stars

Disco music is blaring, drag queens are dancing and a magician is juggling for a whooping crowd. It must be Saturday night in, er, Catford. Despite being home to some cracking pubs, the south east London area isn’t known for after-dark revelry, let alone circus-inspired parties. And following the closure of Little Nan’s Broadway Theatre Saloon last year, things looked bleak for nightlife here. But now, Brighton’s Laine Pub Company has worked its magic (and its magicians) on one of Lewisham’s oldest pubs, The Black Horse & Harrow, a drinking den since the eighteenth century left closed and neglected. A cross between The Mighty Hoopla and an immersive gallery, the labyrinthine Ninth Life is an homage to festival culture with artistic director (yes, a pub with a head of creative) Dr Claire MacNeill drafting in talent from the likes of Boomtown and Wilderness to kit out the space. The exterior is covered in pop art-style graffiti while inside, the bar’s panelling has been swapped for giant crayons. A ‘Cabinet of Curiosity’ lets you peek at silly, mini works by local artists and there’s even an escape room on the upper floors. The zaniness continues outside to a large beer garden with roaming performers. My friend and I opted for pints of Gipsy Hill’s Hepcat paired with jackfruit tacos, before moving on to gin doubles, by then twirling away to a funk and soul set. It was 2am when we left – laughing, sweaty and covered in glitter. Who knew Saturday nights in Catford could be such m

Horizon Insects LTD

Horizon Insects LTD

When I imagined visiting an insect farm, a semi-detached house on a quiet, leafy street in Ealing wasn’t what I had in mind. But thousands of mealworms and crickets are grown in this suburban spot every week, at London’s first and only edible insect farm. I’m greeted at the door by Tiziana Di Costanzo, co-founder of Horizon Insects, who leads me into her kitchen to join five other bug novices for a farm tour and insect cookery class. Tiziana began the niche family business when her son started cultivating insects for a Duke of Edinburgh’s Award project. Things have since expanded, as the house now has a purpose-built insect lodge in the garden. We put on white lab coats and hairnets before heading in. The smell – a rancid hamster cage twang – hits you first and there’s a cacophony of cricket chirps in the air. Scores of plastic storage containers are stacked on wooden shelves, each containing a group of Tiziana’s insect charges. We meet worms at each stage of their growth phase – from microscopic entities to thick tubular creatures pulsing over scraps of fruit. This is no eccentric side hustle, though. Tiziana has hit on a big sustainable food movement. Insects, she tells us, not only contain more zinc, calcium and magnesium than beef, they can be farmed using  little space and feed on food waste. Speaking of food – it’s time to turn the grubs into grub. Tiziana helps us make a three-course feast of fried cricket tacos, burgers filled with blanched mealworms and a cake ba

The Viewing

The Viewing

Getting on the London property ladder is like chasing a unicorn-shaped pipe dream. Rents are high, deposits are higher and gentrification means even the fringes of the M25 are unattainable. This is the climate ‘The Viewing’ – a nine-room immersive experience occupying the upper floors of Catford’s Ninth Life pub – cleverly plays with. Entering the boozer on a busy Friday night, I head for a mock estate agents called ‘Morgan Turnkey’, which is squeezed next to the bar and plastered with pictures of dodgy listings – there’s a bedroom full of creepy china dolls and a kitchen with a shower next to the oven. Here I meet Larry, a slimy estate agent full of glib phrases and oily charm, who greets me as an eager first-time buyer looking to view a flat above the pub. I’m given a form to fill in – asking how many bedrooms I’m looking for as well as my favourite song and my pet’s name – and a hard hat, before being whisked upstairs with my group to view the newly refurbed real estate. As we look around, it emerges that Billy, a builder working on the site, has gone missing. Following a series of clues that lead us from the drab world of property-viewing into a labyrinth of psychedelically decorated, Lewis Carroll-esque rooms, it’s our job to find the lost contractor by collecting a trail of keys he’s left behind. Part immersive theatre show, part escape room, ‘The Viewing’ is full of madcap characters who help you perform physical tasks and solve bizarre puzzles (all with a fun perso

Adanami Bookstore

Adanami Bookstore

Don’t be fooled by the sign saying ‘De-Luxe Cleaning’, or the food joint that greets you at the entrance. Carry on to the back of this tiny Soho shop and down the stairs to a little secondhand Japanese bookshop hidden in the basement where you can rummage through affordable Japanese-language manga, novels, DVDs and old-school posters. 

Gringotts Wizarding Bank

Gringotts Wizarding Bank

Magic’s been a-brewing at the Warner Bros Studios. After the arrival of the spider-filled Forbidden Forest and a gleaming Hogwarts Express, it’s now the turn of Gringotts’ goblins to slytherin to action at Leavesden’s Harry Potter studio tour. In the attraction’s biggest expansion to date, visitors can now walk through a perfect replica of Gringotts Wizarding Bank. The bombastic banking hall has been designed and built by many of the film’s original crew and it’s packed with wooden desks loaded with inkwells and quills, piles of galleons, sickles and knuts, towering marble pillars and huge crystal chandeliers. There are special displays explaining how the monied goblins were brought to life for the films. Each of the prosthetic masks took weeks to create, with every hair individually inserted and every vein carefully handpainted. You’ll find props here that haven’t been seen since filming of the magical franchise ended in 2010, including the eye-popping Lestrange vault where you can try your luck at spotting the Sword of Gryffindor and Helga Hufflepuff’s cup hidden among 38,000 pieces of rubberised wizarding treasures. But it’s when you reach the dust and rubble-filled set of the destroyed banking hall from ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ that you’ll get seriously spellbound by a life-size (and very realistic) Ukrainian Ironbelly dragon. The all-new Wizarding Bank is a permanent 16,500 sq ft expansion to the existing tour. And while the miserly Gringotts goblins m

Villages

Villages

4 out of 5 stars

Although this independent brewery has only been producing pints for a year and a half, it has already established itself as a craft beer fixture in Deptford. Brothers Archie and Louis Village set it up at the end of 2016 in one of Resolution Way’s railway arches, where they make a core range alongside small batches of experimental and seasonal brews. Its taproom is open Friday evenings and all day Saturday and Sunday, following plenty of pressure from regulars. It has the kind of sleek Scandi stylings that seem popular among London microbreweries, with concrete floors, woodchip furniture, naked light bulbs and potted succulents peppered about. Cosy communal tables surrounded by huge beer vats and a cute bar with one of the brewery’s trademark illustrations hanging above (these appear in pastel colours on Villages cans) endow the space with a welcoming quirkiness. When we visited on a warm Saturday night, the place was filled with friendly chatter and soft flurries of background jazz. A bubbly barmaid humoured our rowdy group, especially when we got overexcited at the sight of a prosecco tap. As well as glasses of fizz, we ordered (cheap) pints of Whistle – Villages’ tasty, citrusy pilsner – and Rodeo pale ale, a smooth, sweet drink with floral flavours. We nursed them on the wooden benches outside and revelled in the buzz of Resolution Way which, partly thanks to Villages, has become a hotspot for eating and drinking in Deptford. Nearly every area of London boasts its own mic

Floating Pocket Park

Floating Pocket Park

Connect with nature while bobbing on top of the Grand Union Canal at London’s first floating public park, launching as part of the Chelsea Fringe. Not only will it feature open lawns, Tibetan cherry trees, decked platforms and walkways over the water (aka perfect pooh sticks potential), it also has a ‘no humans’ zone for wild fowl and is made from recycled material.

News (591)

Independent London shops delivering Christmas decorations to your home

Independent London shops delivering Christmas decorations to your home

The owners of independent stores across London are beavering away packaging online orders. Whether you’re after traditional decorations, sleek modern embellishments or Joe Exotic baubles, these indie shops have decorations to suit your taste.  After Noah View this post on Instagram A post shared by After Noah (@afternoah) on Oct 29, 2020 at 12:27pm PDT Christmas is the only time of year when it’s acceptable to be impossibly twee, and this little family-run shop on Upper Street has quaint Christmas decorations in abundance. Finish off your tree with a furry panda or squirrel hanging or a felt penguin wrapped in a wool scarf.   Blåbär If we end up being cooped up in our flats this Christmas, better make it hygge: the Danish concept that, roughly translated, means feeling cosy. This Putney shop is fully embracing all things Nordic this Christmas, with golden baubles, soft, scented candles and intricate paper decorations.  Botanique View this post on Instagram A post shared by Alice Howard (@botaniqueworkshop) on Nov 6, 2020 at 12:51am PST You’ve had your fill of DIY meal kits, now get stuck into a DIY wreath kit from this rustic florist and gift shop on Exmouth Market. Like all the products here, it’s been handcrafted and hand-selected by owner Alice and will make your front door look like it could be in Elle Decoration. Choosing Keeping View this post on Instagram A post shared by Choosing Keep

This is London’s definitive foosball bar

This is London’s definitive foosball bar

It’s a heady, enticing cocktail: nostalgic table-top games, football and retro arcade thrills. Ladies and gentlemen, may we introduce you to Foosball Club, a dedicated gaming hub featuring four championship-grade table-football tables. There are also three old-school arcade machines to keep you occupied while you’re waiting for your turn to pull kick.  If you’re a serious foosball player, the north London bar will give you a chance to play in the same conditions as in an international tournament and learn new moves and trick shots via informative wall-mounted screens. While the promise of craft beer and pizza being on hand means there's something for everyone, even if your knowledge of the game stems solely from watching ‘Friends’ repeats.  There is a total of four foosball zones, which each one accommodating up to eight people. This means you can have four players at the table, with another four sat nearby, eagerly spectating, waiting for their turn. Zones can be booked for two, three or four hours. With places like Café Kick in Clerkenwell and Bar Kick in Shoreditch reducing the number of tables available, London’s lively foosball community has been desperate for new place to call home. They’ve definitely found it with Foosball Club.   Foosball Club is 203 Holloway Rd, N7 8DL on Sep 30. Two-hour and four-hour slots are priced at £20 and £40 respectively. Book online here.  More new openings: A new theatre is opening in Camberwell next month.  An entire barge of cheese is dr

The Colindale street that changed an actor's life

The Colindale street that changed an actor's life

I was on Heywood Avenue when I got the call from Rada telling me I’d got into drama school. I’d decided I was going to go to university and get a proper job. At the last minute, I had an epiphany while I was in a school play and decided I wanted to be an actor.  I didn’t have enough money to apply to drama schools. You’re supposed to apply to six or seven and we only had enough money to apply to two. This was in 1998, when only 17 boys out of the 2,000 who applied each year would get in, and only one of those boys would be Black. All the odds were against me. When I got the call saying I’d got in, while I was walking around the Grahame Park estate, it was surreal. I thought: Wow, my entire life is going to change.  That was a huge moment, but so much of my life has played out on the streets of north-west London, because that’s where I spent most of my life growing up. As a mixed Black African and white British person, I loved growing up in a place where there’s such a cornucopia of cultures, be it Caribbean, West African, Somalian or white British. It’s not the flashiest part of London, but it has the richest mix of cultures and people.  O-T Fagbenle is in 'Black Widow', opening in cinemas July 9. Hype Dish: Bancone's silk handkerchiefs and confit eggs yolk £38 for that? London's most expensive breakfasts 

Are holidays in Scotland allowed?

Are holidays in Scotland allowed?

All over the world, travel rules and border restrictions have been in constant flux for the past year. That means many people may well be deciding to swerve overseas trips altogether in 2021.  Even within the UK, travel anywhere has been of the cards since the beginning of the year. Now, as the country’s third national lockdown gradually lifts, domestic holidays are set to be phased in again. Eyeing up a trip to the Highlands? Here’s everything you need to know about when travel to Scotland may restart. Can I travel from England to Scotland? After months spent under the third national lockdown, the UK’s restrictions have been relaxed and overnight stays in self-catered accommodation (including Airbnbs and campsites) are now allowed. However, Scotland’s roadmap out of lockdown will play out a little differently. The Scottish government has confirmed that travel into Scotland from England and Wales will be possible from April 26. This is the same date that other parts of the Scottish economy will open up too, including shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants. It’s not confirmed whether travel from Northern Ireland will be possible from this date, but First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has promised a review is planned for when journeys to Northern Ireland and the Republic will be allowed.  Unlike England, Scotland will re-enter a tiered system, with each area placed into a certain level depending on factors including local infection rates. The level an area is in will determine what v

Here are the best places to see bluebells in London

Here are the best places to see bluebells in London

Between April and May, the elusive bluebell comes out to play, creating a carpet of cobalt across the country. Here are the best places to catch them in London. Don’t wait around, these guys don’t stay in bloom for long. Just remember, no picking them – the native flowers are a protected species. NORTH Hampstead Heath The sprawling 791-acre heath is patchwork of woodland and meadow where shadier spots, like Lime Avenue Bank, sprout the jewel blue flowers each spring. Hampstead Heath. Gospel Oak Overground. Highgate Wood   City of London Corporation/Cindy Blaney   In 1916 the Natural History Society said bluebells were almost extinct in this ancient wood but they weren’t giving up without a fight; today they carpet it in a deep blue mass. Highgate Wood. Highgate.   Gutteridge Wood   London Wildlife Trust   This ancient oak woodland brims with brilliant bluebells in spring and is a year-round haven for wildlife and wildflowers. Gutteridge Wood. Ruislip Gardens. WEST Osterley Park   National Trust Images John Millar   Osterley is one of the last surviving country estates in London and the woods in its sprawling grounds are a bit of a bluebell utopia. Osterley Park and House. Osterley. Kew Gardens Nestled at the back of the botanic gardens, the grounds of Queen Charlotte’s eighteenth-century thatched cottage has one of London’s most impressive bluebell woods. It’s massive, and parts of it are almost 300 years old. Just look at it! Kew Gardens. Kew Gardens. £15.50 adults.

Can we visit Wales right now?

Can we visit Wales right now?

Across the world, travel rules and border restrictions have been changing constantly over the past year. That means many of us may well be deciding to swerve overseas trips altogether in 2021. Within the UK, domestic trips are being gradually reintroduced across the country after being banned under the third national lockdown. With many of us looking for a change of scene now travel restrictions are being relaxed, Wales is high on the list for many people’s post-lockdown staycations – so here’s everything you need to know about when travel to the country may restart. Can I travel from England to Wales? After complying with the ‘stay-at-home’ order for months under the third national lockdown, the UK’s restrictions have been relaxed and overnight stays in self-catered accommodation (including Airbnbs and campsites) are allowed from April 12. Under Wales’s latest roadmap out of lockdown, restrictions on travelling in and out of Wales from elsewhere in the UK will be lifted on April 12. This means travellers from outside Wales can enter the country and rent out self-contained holiday lets, as long as they remain in their household.  Photograph: Shutterstock Can I go on holiday within Wales? Wales relaxed its lockdown rules more quickly than the UK government’s suggested roadmap and let locals travel anywhere in Wales from March 27. Self-contained holiday accommodation is also open, provided people remain within their households when staying overnight. However, outdoor attract

These are the UK’s most lusted-after Airbnbs for 2021

These are the UK’s most lusted-after Airbnbs for 2021

After a gloomy winter spent in lockdown, we (and everyone else) are dreaming of holidays. In the heady days before the word ‘lockdown’ had even passed our lips, we’d think nothing of jetting off for a European city break or heading on far-flung adventures abroad. But fast-forward a year, and, thanks to the risks and restrictions of travelling overseas this year, it seems we’ve set our sights closer to home. Airbnb has released its list of the Airbnbs that most UK travellers have added to their wish-lists for 2021. In previous years, the number one slot has gone to a sun-soaked Grecian cave or a Swiss Family Robinson-style treehouse in the Balian jungle. But in 2021? The most lusted-after getaway is, er, ‘The Pigsty’ in Winchester. In fact, unlike most years, all the homes most frequently bookmarked by British travellers are in the UK – with tucked-away rural retreats dominating the list. As a quick reminder, under the government’s roadmap out of lockdown, overnight stays will be allowed in England from April 12. That’s when self-catered accommodation including Airbnbs will be allowed to start operating again. Travel rules within Scotland will lift on April 26, with travellers from elsewhere allowed to visit soon after. In Wales, self-catering stays are due to open up by Easter, with travel from outside the country allowed soon after. So it’s not long until your wish-list can turn into reality. But you’d better get booking… Here’s the full list of the UK’s most ‘wish-listed’ p

‘Dragatha Christie’ starring Monét X Change and Courtney Act is coming to London

‘Dragatha Christie’ starring Monét X Change and Courtney Act is coming to London

It’s been a whole year since we were blessed with the viral sensation that was Wagatha Christie, and frankly, we’re ready for more tea to be spilled. It’s good news then, that the Garrick Theatre will be giving us our fix of sass and suspicion by staging a drag queen murder mystery this Christmas. Yes, Dragatha Christie is here.   In a West End first, Australian drag superstar Courtney Act – who appeared on the sixth season of RuPaul's Drag Race – will star alongside the winner of season four of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars, Monét X Change. The show is called ‘Death Drop: A Dragatha Christie Murder-Mystery’, and it promises to have ‘more twists and turns than a drag queens wig’.   Photograph: Courtney Act The mystery, written by drag queen Holly Stars, will take us back to the early nineties with Courtney Act playing an ’80s pop sensation and Monét X Change an American weather girl. They find themselves on Tuck Island, where queens start mysteriously sashaying away. Think Agatha Christie’s ‘The Mousetrap’, but with filthy puns, lip-synching, and a whole lot of vogueing thrown in.  It’s been created by TuckShop, the UK’s only drag-specialist theatre production company, which brought an all-drag pantomime of ‘Cinderella’ to Trafalgar Studios last year. This play will also have an all-drag cast with big names in the drag world like Kemah Bob, LoUis CYfer, Anna Phylactic and Vinegar Strokes involved, too.  The show will add some sparkle to the West End’s first-ever socially-dis

When will shops reopen in London?

When will shops reopen in London?

In just a few weeks the way we shop has changed out of all recognition. Most Londoners have now experienced a socially distanced supermarket trip with long queues outside, one-way routes along the aisles, hand sanitiser by the trolleys and perspex screens in front of cashiers. Shops – both big and small – selling essentials through lockdown have adapted swiftly in these extraordinary circumstances. However, shops selling non-essentials have faced an uncertain future.  According to the government’s roadmap document, ‘Our Plan to Rebuild’, published on May 11, the intention was to open non-essential retail outlets from June 1. Now, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pushed that date back a fortnight to Monday June 15. He has also provided more detailed information about what kind of businesses will be allowed to open again and when.  First of all, it’s worth pointing out that any further easing of lockdown – including the reopening of shops – is contingent upon a continuing fall in the infection reproduction R rate, a decline in new cases and adequate PPE being available for staff. If these conditions are met, here’s what we know about the retail landscape after June 15. Outdoor markets (and, for some reason car showrooms) are allowed to reopen from June 1. Presumably because they are the environments most able to impose social distancing (and who’s buying a new car right now anyway?). Some Ikeas are also planning to open on June 1. High-street chains – including Marks & Spencer,

How to donate clothes to charity right now

How to donate clothes to charity right now

If you still have any of that new year energy left, a lockdown clearout may be on the cards. But what to do with all the clutter you want to offload?  Like all non-essential retail, charity shops across the country are closed at the moment until lockdown restrictions ease. However, thanks to platforms like Depop and eBay, many charity shops are continuing to trade online with some still accepting donations, albeit in alternative ways.  British Heart Foundation – one of the first charity shops to embrace online trading – is asking people to send items via its freepost donation service. All you need to do is head to its website to download and print off a unique label, attach it to the envelope, parcel or box you’ve put your bits and bobs in, and then take your packaged donation to a Collect+ drop-off point from where it will be distributed. You can find your nearest collection location on the website. A similar scheme is being used by Sense. While the Salvation Army’s shops are closed, people can use its donation banks to drop off their items. Other clothing banks across the city may also be open over lockdown. Recycle Now’s website can help you find your nearest facility, but do check with your local authority before visiting as there may be closures and opening times may be different over lockdown.  Most charity shops, including Oxfam, are asking people to hold on to donations until they reopen. While shops are shuttered, organisations including Love Not Landfill and the Cha

Walk through a swathe of ancient woodland in the middle of Zone 3

Walk through a swathe of ancient woodland in the middle of Zone 3

Welcome to our new series, One Good Thing to Do Today. It’s a guide to little things you can actually do in lockdown London that will provide bits of light in these dark times. Today, Alexandra Sims on a favourite London walk. If, like me, you grew up in the countryside, you’ll know the familiar ache to be among the calm serenity of nature whenever London starts to feel like a rat race – easier said than done within the bounds of the M25. Luckily, I have a perfect escape route right on my doorstep. Sydenham Hill Wood in south-east London is one of the last swathes of the ancient Great North Wood that used to stretch all the way from Croydon to the Thames. There are only a few patches of it left and this one, nestled in between Dulwich, Forest Hill and Crystal Palace, feels like an isolated, rural escape right in the middle of Zone 3. As soon as you step into the thick patch of trees, the road noise stops, the light is dim under the canopy of thick leaves overhead and any sense that you might be in one of the biggest cities in the world is lost among the gnarled tree limbs and thick undergrowth, much of which have been here for thousands of years. On every visit you’ll find something new to take your mind off life’s anxieties, like clumps of weird, colourful fungi in autumn, bats swooping through the trees in summer and the remains of a Victorian folly covered in snow in winter. Whenever I need a change of scene, I know Sydenham Hill Wood is there to scoop me up and transport

One in 30 Londoners are testing positive for Covid-19

One in 30 Londoners are testing positive for Covid-19

New figures have shown that one in 30 Londoners tested positive for Covid-19 between December 27 and January 2. The grim figure from the Office for National Statistics is notably higher than the one in 50 people thought to have tested positive for virus over the same period in England. The figures do not include people in hospitals or care homes.  The virus is continuing to spread in nearly all areas of the capital, according to new data released by the Mayor of London’s office. More than 87,000 Covid-19 cases were confirmed in the week after Christmas Day in London, a rate of 971 cases per 100,000 people. And the seven-day Covid rate has risen above 1,000 new cases per 100,000 people in 12 boroughs in the week leading up to December 31, with Barking and Dagenham recording the highest rate in the country at 1,496.4 per 100,000 people.  Professor Kevin Fenton, London regional director for Public Health England, said in a statement: ‘London’s Covid-19 infection rates are the highest we’ve seen anywhere in the county at any point in the pandemic. The new variant of the virus which transmits more rapidly is widespread and dominant across London, so the ask is simple – it is critical we must all stay at home.’  Today, #London has joined the rest of the country in the #NationalLockdown.@ProfKevinFenton explains why it is critical that Londoners stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives.Check you understand the #StayAtHome guidance to #KeepLondonSafe here: https://t.co/oW