On my recent weekend to London we visited some totally different places to normal. And a couple of extremes. From the discovery of 18 Stafford Terrace, to the light and airiness of Sky Garden.
When we were doing our weekend planning, I was looking for things to see that were a little out of the norm, and came across Stafford Terrace.
18 Stafford Terrace
We visited 18 Stafford Terrace on Sunday afternoon. It only opens a couple of days a week, with various guided tours in the mornings (where you can’t take photos) and open house in the afternoons (where photos are allowed). During October they were also doing 2 for 1 in the afternoons if mentioned on arrival, so we only paid £7 for the 2 of us.
In the borough of Kensington and Chelsea, 18 Stafford Terrace sits amongst the beautiful white town houses. We had a walk round before it opened and dreamed of living in such beautiful houses. 18 Stafford Terrace belonged to Edward Linley Sambourne, an illustrator for Punch magazine (Lord Snowdon’s great great grandfather) and his wife.
Mr Sambourne was a collector of pieces and furniture – he appeared to be like a car boot collector of his time and the house is full of his belongings. When we first arrived, we watched a video from the time he and his wife moved into the house, right through to his son taking over, and then grand-daughter owning it before she turned it over to London to look after and maintain as it was.
The history of the family is really interesting, and Mr Sambourne sounded like a real character. There’s plenty of Punch illustrations on display along with the photography he took up – including friends in poses with props to help with his illustrations and more arty naked shots. Apart from the bedrooms, there was little room on the walls, with pictures covering everything. The whole house therefore appeared really dark, as well as seeming to go on forever.
We were able to find out more by asking the staff around the house in the main rooms, but there were also information sheets in each room which I always find interesting and more helpful than having to buy guidebooks.
We spent a good hour and a bit exploring the house, and thinking about how lonely a time children must have had in those days, being so far away from their parents most of the day, despite them being in the same house.
If you’re after something a little different but enjoy historical houses, then 18 Stafford Terrace is worth a look.
I’ve seen quite a few other posts on Sky Garden, and was determined to get to experience it myself. The website assures you that you need to book although it is free to go, and booking opens 3 weeks out. After obsessively stalking the website waiting for the day I wanted to come up, I managed to get our tickets. You need to name the people going, and everyone needs to bring ID (apart from children).
Typically though, after all the stress of worrying whether I’d get tickets or not, when we arrived the queue was huge. Sky Garden opens at 10am and our booking was 10.15. However, it was a waste of time thinking you’d get in for your hour slot at your booked time. Because of all the security checks (think airport scanners and ID), the queue moves slowly and there’s no queues allocated to times. Basically if you’re on a tight time schedule, turn up well before your time. Speaking to the guy on the door, he said it was fine – if you’re arriving any time within half an hour either side of your book you’ll be ok to get in. The people in front of us were booked in for 10.45 and it was literally people through in queue order rather than time.
What was even more annoying was the website tells you there’s limited spaces and you need to book. But there were people turning up without tickets and being told to go to reception and see if they would let them in anyway. All got let in as far as I could tell. I suppose later in the day for lighting up, this would not be the case, but if you’ve not booked it might be worth risking going to see if you can get in earlier in the day.
Once inside, your bags go through x-ray machines and you walk through the security archways, before waiting for the lifts up to the 35th floor.
Sky Garden at 20 Fenchurch Street is in the Walkie Talkie building. It’s an amazing structure, and the views are worth the wait. We were there early on, and it was a little foggy over London but that didn’t detract from the views. If you want a free version of the London Eye, and don’t want to be stuck somewhere for a set time, then try Sky Garden instead.
Sky Garden wasn’t quite what I expected. It’s pretty spectacular, and there’re great views all around, as well as pretty cool bar areas for drinks and snacks. But I was expecting more garden areas. Instead there’s only a couple as you walk up the steps, the rest is just the views, and the restaurant. Unless you really want to eat in the restaurant, don’t go for the views, because the restaurant is set up nearly into the ceiling and the viewing windows of Sky Garden are lower down, do you wouldn’t actually be able to eat and see the city lights at the same time.
Despite the numbers of people who were obviously being let into Sky Garden each hour, it didn’t feel busy. There weren’t queues for the surprisingly not-extortionately priced refreshments bar. We were able to stand where we wanted and see the sights. There’s also plenty of seating around for viewing, photo opportunities or just sitting to relax. You can’t take selfie sticks or tripods, so taking photos isn’t hard either.
Handily, if you’re not sure what you’re looking at, the windows have pictures and names of key sights out of that direction, although not all were quite correctly places.
I persuaded my friend to have her photo taken to commemorate our weekend away. You can’t have a weekend away to celebrate and then have no proof that we were there!
Handily the toilets are unisex so there wasn’t a huge queue for the ladies, and they were cleaned every few people so they were immaculately clean. Waiting for the 1 lift back down took a bit of time, but it was pretty quick to get us back out into the London streets again.
If you’re looking for a few hours to fill up, then you won’t get that from Sky Garden unless you’ve booked to eat. We were done in 30 minutes just looking round. It was still worth going simply for the view…oh and checking out the history local church and streets.
Are there any more unusual haunts you’ve discovered in London that are worth a visit?
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