Top places to find street art in London

One of my favourite things to do (and see) in London is its street art. London has amazing street artists and a great artistic vibe. If you’re looking for a great experience and you want to go off the beaten track, make sure to include street art in your London schedule.

We took two great street art tours in London:

  • London Alternative Tour: We took the walking tour (in English) and had a great guide. The tour lasted about two hours and took us to all the highlights.
  • London Street Art Tour: We also opted for the English walking tour. This tour ended after about four hours (including a lunch break). The pace was a bit slower, we saw all the same highlights as in the London Alternative Tour and some other streets we hadn’t visited yet.

Both tours are a great option, depending on how much time you have to spare.

Not into tours? All tours booked up? Want to explore on your own?

Although we had so much fun during our tours, we saw the most amazing things when we went to explore to city on our own. Are you planning a visit to London? Visit Shoreditch / Hackney Wick to make the most of your visit. Make sure these streets are on your list:

  • Brick Lane
  • Redchurch Street
  • Hackney Road
  • Fashion Street
  • Rivington Street

Want to get to know some of the most famous street artists you can spot in London? Here are some of my favs:

  • ROA: Belgium’s first, graffiti artist from Ghent. Can be spotted in Hanbury Street, Chance street,…
  • Mobstr: Always funny or thoughtful. Can be spotted in Hanbury Street, Tabernacle street,…
  • Ben Wilson: Genius who turns chewing gum into little pieces of art. Can be spotted on Millenium Bridge and throughout London.
  • C215: France’s answer to Bansky. Can be spotted in Brick Lane, Blackall Street,…
  • CityZen Kane: 3D pieces which can be spotted in Brick Lane, Redchurch Street,…
  • Eine: His iconic font can be found in Middlesex Street, Old Street,…
  • Jimmy C: Make sure to spot his iconic pieces in Whitby Street.
  • Obey: Nowadays known as a clothing designer but also a great street artist. Can be spotted in Batemans Row.
  • Borondo: True art. Can be found alongside Regent’s Canal.
  • Phlegm: So pretty. Can be found in Rivington Street.
  • Pure Evil: Can be found throughout London and has his own gallery in Leonard Street.
  • Space Invaders: 80s back, in Brick Lane, City Road,…
  • Stik: KISS, Whitecross Street, Redchurch Street,…
  • and lots more

If you want to spot a Banksy, you can track his work on Google Maps. It tells you in which condition his street art is. Some of his work is preserved behind plexi glass, such as two pieces in a beer garden in Rivington Street. Always a save shot.

Interested in free (street) art galleries?

London: 10x off the beaten track

London is my absolute favourite European city. I like to visit at least twice a year, just to see what changed. I like to go by train (Eurostar) since I only live across the English channel. Arriving in St. Pancras: it gives me goosebumps every time.

I still have a lot of exploring to do, but I’ll sum up some of my favourite off the beaten track things to do/see. No Big Ben, Madame Tussauds or London Eye in this list.

  1. Alternative Walks London: I cannot stress this one enough. I talk about it with everyone I meet, regardless of their interest. A colleague recommended this tour in 2014 and we did the walking tour straight away. It took us to a less known neighbourhood and gave us the chance to get to know a ‘new’ side of London. We saw really amazing street art, the guide was friendly and entertaining and we discovered new restaurants and shops. We went back to the neighbourhood (near Spitalfields Market) in 2015 and were surprised by how much the neighbourhood (and street art) had already changed. The neighbourhood is definitely being upmarketed so if you’re planning on visiting: be quick. Sooner or later the neighbourhood will be a hipster hangout and the real underground vibe will probably shift to another neighbourhood.
  2. The Book of Mormon:  Okay… Visiting a musical in London isn’t really going off the beaten track, but this isn’t a musical like The Lion King or Mamma Mia. It’s created by the South Park team so you know you’ll be in for a great night. Great show, great actors and voices. Side note: If you do not like South Park humour, you should probably not visit.
  3. Greenwich: Most tourists don’t take the time to visit Greenwich, but you can easily go there by public transport. It’s a great escape from the busy London vibe. If it’s sunny you should jump on the train and go picnic on one of the lawns of Greenwich Park (near the world-famous Observatory).
  4. The O2 Arena: Also in Greenwich, but feel I must make this a new item. This concert hall isn’t only a concert hall but a whole artificial city. It used to house the amazing British Music Experience (which was unfortunately closed in April 2014). Even without the BME the O2 Arena is an experience in itself and chances are there’s a great show on while you’re in London. Not for the fainthearted though, the tribunes are steeeeep.
  5. Anthropologie: I must admit I am a sucker for this chain of clothing stores. Their shop on Regent Street has a beautiful hanging garden. You can dump your more conventional travel friends at Hamleys which is not far away. If you like a less crowded shopping experience there’s always the shop on Kings Road (and other shops I haven’t visited yet).
  6. The Comedy Store: If musicals aren’t your thing you can always catch a nice comedy show in London. We were recommended the Comedy Store and it truly was a great experience. In high season shows can be sold out, but there are lots of other comedy joints.
  7. Just walk: my best London experience was the time we just walked for hours. We didn’t enter any museums, churches or shops… we just walked. We went past all the well-known monuments and enjoyed them from a distance. No long queues, no noisy people and no rip-offs. Do wear appropriate footwear, since you ca easily walk for hours straight in this lovely city. We went past the London Eye, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Parliament, Piccadilly Circus,… They’re all walking distance so no need for The Underground, just enjoy the view. You can also easily walk along the Thames!
  8. Highgate Cemetery: We visited the East and West Cemetery. You can only visit the West Cemetery by tour (worth it!). We had a really funny tour guide (in an appropriate way, since you’re still visiting a graveyard) and learnt a lot about the history of the cemetery and London in general. Better than Pere Lachaise (Paris) and Kerepesi Cemetery (Budapest).
  9. Huntarian Museum: Weird yet beautiful. A museum full of animals and human body parts, mostly preserved in jars. If you’re not a medical professional it does require some time to get used to seeing some of the abnormalities but in its core the museum just shows how beautiful nature can be.
  10. Kew Gardens: Not necessarily off the beaten track, but often left aside due to time restrictions. If you have time the gardens are worth the visit. If you don’t have time you should make time.

I’ll be visiting London again in July. We’ll probably (hopefully) visit the Sir John Soane’s Museum, but I’d love to hear about some other hidden gems if you know some!

Two (and a half) days in Dublin

In May 2015 we took a short term citytrip to Dublin. We stayed in Ireland’s capital for two and a half days and we truly made the most of it (or so we would like to believe).

When your time is limited you have to make choices. I’ll tell you about the choices we made and the opportunities we let go. Want some snapshots? You can find them on our Facebook page.

Day One – Top choices

  • Temple Bar Area in the morning: No noisy/drunken tourists for us, but beautiful street art and nice little streets to wander in.
  • Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and Marsh’s Library: I especially loved the little library. Cute and much more quiet than the famous Old Library at Trinity College.
  • Kilmainham Gaol: Even though the most beautiful wing was closed when we were there, it was a really nice tour with a lovely guide and the people working there are some of the nicest people we’ve met in Ireland.
Day Two – Top choices
  • Trinity College: Take a guided tour. It’ll cost you an extra 2 EUR on your entry ticket but it’ll be worth it. Ask for the guide who looks like Harry Potter. After the guided tour you can visit the Old Library (with the Book of Kells) and the Long Room. It was extremely crowded when we were there, so we just glanced at the Book of Kells. The Long Room however was worth the mass hysteria.
  • Take a loooong walk: On our second day in Dublin we went to the outskirts and back by foot. Worth it! We saw teenagers jumping from buildings in the canal, we saw cute little streets and some nice street art.
  • Queen of Tarts: Some sugary go(o)d(d)(n)ess.
 
Day Three – Top Choices
  • The real highlight on this day: Viking Splash Tours! A fun way to explore the city with (adult) children. Become a Viking and roar at passing Kelts. Watch them toss their maps and learn some history of the city at the same time. Plus you get to wear a viking helmet.
  • Dublinia: a nice museum, especially if you have children. If you don’t: just act like one, it’s worthwhile. The museum is connected to Christ Church, you can buy a combi ticket and save some euros.

10 things to do (or not do) in Budapest

I recently visited Budapest on a five day trip with four amazing friends. It was the second time I visited this lovely city and this time I _really_ fell for this sparkling metropolis.

I’ll keep it short(ish) and sum up my personal top ten things to do in Budapest:

1. Visit the Thermal Baths

Oh God, how I love the baths. Usually I am not a ‘spa person’, but in Budapest I don’t seem to mind. If you only have time for one spa I would recommend Széchenyi Baths for their sheer immensity. It has the largest number (and variety) of baths. If numbers mean nothing to you Gellért is also a great choice. It has a limited number of baths but the architecture is overwhelming.

On a side note: during summer some baths organize special events. We went to Sparty (kudos to whoever thought of that name), a late night part at the Széchenyi Baths. Even though I wouldn’t do it again, it was a once in a lifetime experience. If you decide to go however: (1) rent your own cabin, (2) bring your own towel and (3) be prepared for drunken teenagers and lewd behaviour.

2. Eat like you’ve never eaten before

Budapest is a melting pot of different cuisines and when out with a group this is a really great thing. If you visit in spring/summer make sure to go to one of the many kerts (the most famous is Szimpla Kert). These open air venues serve lots of different foods and have a great atmosphere. If you visit in winter/autumn you can always go to Zeller Bistro. A really great Hungarian restaurant serving Hungarian wine and delicious dishes. Make sure to book a table though.

3. Parliament

This will probably shock all my friends (they know how much I love London) but the Parliament in Budapest is the most beautiful one I’ve seen so far. They also have an interesting English tour I would highly recommend.

4. Castle District

Stroll down the castle districts with its Royal Palace, Matthias Church and Fishermen’s Bastion. If you are on a tight schedule: you can skip the interior bits. Enjoy the warm Budapest weather and take your time to breathe in the beauty. If it rains: yes, you can go inside.

5. Take the right cab

Maybe a weird highlight, but taking the right cab can save you loads of money you can later spend on thermal baths, food, clothing or museums. At one point it seemed like at least one in two cabs were a fraud. You can spot them by looking for a logo. Does your taxi bear a logo? Everything’s fine. Is it just yellow? Turn around and grab another one.

6. House of Terror

We didn’t go to House of Terror this time, but I visited over five years ago. The feeling still lingers: the museum is one giant emotional roller coaster (spoiler: with mostly downs). It is done so beautifully, so sincerely I count it as one of the most interesting history/war museums I’ve ever set foot in.

7. Great Synagogue

We took the English tour and our guide – a lovely young lady – really spoke to me. Historically a really significant place in Budapest.

8. Basilica of St Stephen

Lovely atmosphere on the square next to is, beautiful view from the top and a stunning interior: this is one top-notch cathedral.

9. Street art and architecture

Many facades in Budapest streets are gorgeous. Either because they are so old or because they have great street art covering them. Just get lost in the streets and let the beauty of the city lead you.

10. Opera House

Beautiful building, nice interior and an interesting English tour. You cannot ask for more, can you?

3 Things to do in Stuttg

We spent the first weekend of May in Stuttgart, Germany. We came unprepared, which is unusual. We had little time so our visit was brief.

What did we do?

  1. Visit Sinsheim Technik Museum: We visited the Speyer Technik Museum some years ago and were truly impressed. The Speyer Museum has a Boeing 747. You can walk on the wing! The Sinsheim Technik Museum has a Concorde and Tupolev TU-144. We really liked both Speyer and Sinsheim and greatly recommend both museums. Apart from airplanes you can find cars, motor bikes, robots, war exhibitions (including tanks)… and some really funny show room dummies. If you can, you should visit the Speyer museum during the second weekend in May, when they have their ‘Brazzeltag’. On this day the museum comes to life.
  2. Mercedes Benz Museum: We didn’t get enough in the Sinsheim Museum so we decided to go for a second run at the Mercedes Benz Museum. You can find concept cars, oldtimer cars and the familiar Benz cars. Great for car enthousiasts and architecture lovers. The museum resides in a beautiful building – inside and out.
  3. Schlossplatz and surroundings: While we were there it rained non-stop so we couldn’t enjoy it at its upmost. This great city square is the ideal place for a summer picnic. Not into picnics? You can also shop ’till you drop in the nearby streets or enjoy lots of cultural exhibitions in the surrounding buildings.

Are the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken worth the visit?

Short answer: YES!

Long answer: Yes, because:

  • They were pretty much the most beautiful greenhouses I ever visited. (I liked them over Kew Gardens)
  • They’re only open for public for three weeks a year, when the flowers are at their most beautiful.
  • Awesome flowers.
  • It’s easily accessible (by car or bus)
  • Entrance fee is very low (2,50 EUR in 2015)

Downsides:

  • It was really crowded when we arrived at the Royal Greenhouses. REALLY crowed. It felt like an overpopulated tour in a flower factory.
  • The Greenhouses could use some fresh paint. From the outside they look a bit dilapidated, but the insides make up for it. (The Greenhouses are being renovated as we speak.)

Five things I love about Hallerbos, Belgium

Hallerbos

Hallerbos is a place of magic. During Spring the forest is covered in bluebells, turning it completely purple. The bluebells mostly flower in April, depending on the weather. You can track progress online.

When magic happens, the forest gets kind of crowded. Make sure you arrive early to enjoy peace and quiet. Waking up early for this beauty will be worthwhile. Why? Let me tell you:

  1. The colour purple. It’s absolutely breathtaking. Walking in the forest you can easily image yourself being in some kind of fairytale.
  2. Peace and quiet. Even though the forest can get crowded on weekends during bluebell season, it’s still nothing compared to other parks in Brussels or other big cities. Even during high season you can find a private spot.
  3. Don’t like purple? No biggie! The forest is covered in beautiful trees and flowers. Even if you don’t like bluebells, the forest has enough diversity to please (almost) everyone.
  4. The hiking routes are fairly easy so you can go with a bunch of friends, even the ones that don’t like hiking.
  5. The forest is also famous for their fire salamanders. I haven’t been lucky enough to spot one, but maybe you are?

Some practical advice:

  • Don’t leave the trails. Lots of amateur photographers and tourists leave the trails and walk through the fields of bluebells. Please don’t. The flowers get trampled, leaving a trail of death and devastation.
  • Parking your car is all part of the adventure during high season. If you have a sidekick, let him/her explore the little parking lanes while you wait in your car. Maneuvering out of fully packed lanes is a really hard job, trust me.