Exploring London’s Underground Secrets

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Over the past century and a half, London’s Underground has seen two world wars, millions of passengers, and more secrets than we could begin to count. The “Tube” is used by Londoners and visitors to the beautiful city every hour of every day, but most are unaware of the history they’re traveling through.

Once you learn of the 150-years’ worth of secrets and history housed below England’s capital, you’ll earn a completely new appreciation for this feat of engineering and human-kind.

Underground History

In the early 1800s, London was booming. The influx of people bustling about quickly made it apparent that a better method of mass transportation was needed, and fast. The Metropolitan Railway took on the immense challenge of constructing the first underground line below the city. After months of construction, the 3 and three quarter mile railway carried 38,000 passengers safely to their destination on the inaugural ride on January 10, 1863.

soldiers parading on the streets of London

For the following five decades, London’s Underground saw changing ownership, builders, and thousands of passengers. However, once World War I began London saw its first air raid, and the tube was transformed into much more than a transportation system. The safe-haven continued on into the World War II.
Image Source: BiblioArchives

abandoned bomb shelter

Initially, British government officials tried to prevent the tube stations and lines use as bomb shelters. But, after their attempts to keep people from taking shelter there were decisively ignored, they decided to regulate the shelters instead. Trains continued to run on certain lines, bringing supplies, food, and other Londoner’s seeking shelter. A number of unused stations were converted into factories for wartime productions.
Image Source: secretlondon123

While the Tube was considered by many to be the safest haven, no place in London was completely protected from German Blitzes. Hundreds of Londoner’s lost their lives when the tube was hit by German bombs in 1940 through 1943.
Even in the times of crisis and tragedy, the Underground has remained as a point of togetherness for the people of London. It’s an unmistakable symbol of the ingenuity and strength of Britain as a whole.

Traveling the Underground Today

The Underground lines cover nine zones and stop at more than 200 stations. Even though there are nine zones, tourists typically stay in Zones 1 and 2 because they cover Central London where many of the major tourist attractions and hotels are located.

These days, 11 Tube lines transport locals and tourists throughout Britain’s capital:

  • Bakerloo Line
  • Central Line
  • Circle Line
  • District Line
  • Hammersmith & City Line
  • Jubilee Line
  • Metropolitan Line
  • Northern Line
  • Piccadilly Line
  • Victoria Line
  • Waterloo & City Line

Generally, the Underground runs are between 5:00 a.m. — 12:00 A.M., Monday through Saturday. Sunday times are reduced by a few hours with later starting times and earlier stopping times.

Secrets Along The Stops

We alluded to the importance of the Underground during the World Wars, and proof of that is beneath 8 of the 11 Tube lines. For under these lines sit deep-level air-raid shelters. The construction of the shelters took place between 1940 and 1942. Originally reserved for government officials, 5 of the 8 shelters opened up to civilians as bombing intensified.

abandoned tube station in London

Image Source: secretlondon123

The shelters that were constructed include:

  • Chancery Lane
  • Belsize Park
  • Camden Town
  • Goodge Street
  • Stockwell
  • Clapham North
  • Clapham Common
  • Clapham South

After the war ended, several of the shelters were still used by London’s military. The Goodge Street shelter was used by the army until the 1950s. The Chancery Lane shelter was used for the Kingsway Telephone Exchange during the Cold War years.

Recreated World War 2 communications room

Image Source: Shiny Things

In addition to the secrets you’ll uncover while traveling the Underground, you’ll also see all of the most iconic sights of the region.

Circle Line – Tower Hill Station

Tower Bridge – Built 120 years ago, the Tower Bridge is an engineering marvel and arguably one of the most recognizable attractions in the world. If you’re feeling brave, trek out onto the high bridges suspended between the bridges towers.

Tower Bridge in London

Image Source: spacedust2019

District Line – St James’s Station

St. James’s Park – Millions of visitors flock to the beautiful St. James’s Park every year. It’s the oldest of London’s eight Royal Parks, and it includes The Mall and the Horse Guards Parade.

View of St. James Park, London

Image Source: foshie

Jubilee Line – Westminster Station

Big Ben – Is there a more iconic London sight than Big Ben? Lucky for visitors, this sight is right along the Jubilee Line outside of Westminster Station. Whether you’re a history buff or just want to check it off of your bucket list, you need to stop by Big Ben.

Night view of Big Ben and Parliament Buildings

Image Source: Nan Palmero

Northern Line – Waterloo Station

London Eye – The London Eye is a larger-than-life Ferris wheel on the River Thames in London. From here, you will be treated to the most spectacular views of the city and a ride you won’t forget.

The London Eye at night

Image Source: Altug Karakoc

Piccadilly Line – Covent Garden or Leicester Square Station

Covent Garden – The district of Covent Garden in London is a hub for local shops, delicious food, and incredible street performers. Once you hop out of the Covent Garden station, you’ll have a tough time fitting everything you want to explore into just one day.

Covent Garden

Image Source: Aurelien Guichard

Parts of the Tube’s storied history are somber, but the incredible spirit of London persists and prevails. For once you wander the stations and secret passageways hidden beneath the surface, you’ll never think of London the same way again.

Christmas in Vienna

A Christmas in Vienna is one not to be missed. The Christmas markets in Vienna are truly something magical. Soft sparkling lights, gently falling snow, the smell of freshly roasted chestnuts, and musicians marching through the streets. It sounds and feels like a fairytale, but Christmas in Vienna is very real. It’s worthy of “bucket list” inclusion and one you will always remember.

From mid-November until the end of December, Austria is the place to enjoy traditional Christmas markets. Festive lights, seasonal treats and snow-covered roofs make for a special experience that only Austria can provide. Austrians often refer to the Advent period as the country’s “fifth season”. Vienna is arguably the top place to visit in Austria. It always shines, but during the Advent season, it dazzles. Festivities take place in historic squares and pedestrian areas, making long walks from cafés to museums and shops even more enjoyable.

Christmas Markets in Vienna

In Vienna, the markets are an age-old tradition that put a smile on everyone’s face and provide an overwhelming spirit of Christmas. The forerunners of the present-day markets date back to 1298 in the Middle Ages when the Duke of Austria granted Vienna’s citizens the privilege of holding a “Krippenmarkt” or December Market. The character and prevalence of these markets has naturally changed considerably over the centuries.

Vienna itself says that there are 20 official Christmas Markets. There are in fact many more smaller ones. As you walk through the central old city, you’ll come across small squares (or platz) where small markets and vendor booths are open and waiting for you.

The most well-known and largest market is at Rathausplatz and known as Vienna Christmas World. The market sits right in front of the Rathaus (Town Hall) with some 150 booths. The adjacent City Hall Park has an ice rink, ice paths through the park, and a children’s area with nativity path, reindeer train, ferris wheel and carousel. The unique arts and crafts blend perfectly with baked goods and sausage stands.

A short walk away is the Christmas Market on Maria-Theresien-Platz, between the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna and the Naturhistorisches Museum Vienna. Over 70 booths offer traditional Christmas handicrafts and original gifts throughout the season of Advent. There are regular visits by Gospel choirs and music groups to amplify the festive mood. The Christmas Village then transitions seamlessly into the New Year’s Eve Village.

Christmas in Vienna

The Imperial and Royal Christmas Market on Michaelerplatz, in front of the Imperial Palace features Austrian products, sweets, pewter figures, hand-made crafts and more in its white huts. The Christmas Market on Stephansplatz focuses more on tradition, with some 40 booths and huts beside St. Stephen’s Cathedral offering high-quality Austrian products. The Advent market at the Opera House has gingerbread, cheese, meats, punch and wine from regional producers in Austria.

The best time to head to the markets are weekdays and early evening when the lights come on and the day turns into evening. Weekend days are very busy.

Enjoy the Lights Above The Graben And Kärntner Strasse

The Christmas lights of Vienna shine with a magical beauty. Thousands of crystals within giant chandeliers make you feel like you are at an Austrian Ball as you waltz along the main pedestrian areas in the old city center. Start a walk at dusk from behind the State Opera House building, down Kärntner Straße to passing Stephen’s Cathedral. Keep walking along the Graben and up Kohlmarkt through the gates of Hofburg Palace. Walk through the Palace grounds and you’ll end up back at Ring Strasse (and just a few blocks from your starting point).

Christmas in Vienna - The Graben

Walk the Ringstrasse

The Ringstrasse is the grand boulevard that circles the historic Innere Stadt (Inner Town) where ancient fortifications once stood. Along the “Ring” you’ll see museums, parks, restaurants, five-star hotels, luxury stores and Christmas markets. Ringstrasse is decked out with lights and many Christmas displays to highlight Vienna’s impressive architecture. You can walk the “Ring”, get on a public bus or tram, or take a scheduled sightseeing tram with guide.

Weihnachtspunsch Or Glühwein?

Most street corners and markets feature a mulled wine or punch stand where locals and visitors gather for a warm drink and conversation. The local Lions Club has a number of drink stands along with a slightly lower price and a Styrofoam cup. The markets serve their punch in collectable mugs with a unique design for each market. You’ll pay a deposit when you order your drink, so you can keep the mug (or just buy the mugs separately). The slightly more popular steaming mug of warmth is Weihnachtspunsch (Christmas punch). It comes in dozens of flavours across the old city. The more traditional drink is a mug of hot Glühwein (mulled wine). You can’t go wrong with either and should try both. Either choice will take the chill away on a cold winter’s evening. Multiple drinks into the evening may have you singing songs from the “Sound of Music”.

Christmas in Vienna

Try Maronis (Roasted Chestnuts)

You’ll find at least one “Maroni Stand” at every market and at many major street corners in the winter months. Vendors are selling roast chestnuts from one steaming steel barrel and some are also selling roasted potato snacks from another barrel. It’s a Christmas experience that goes back to the Middle Ages. Now you can follow the tradition and blow on a hot, freshly peeled chestnut to cool it down

Christmas in Vienna - Roasted Chestnuts

Eat Sausage or Leberkäse? (or both)

Sausage stands are year-round in Vienna, but they seem more inviting in winter. Austrians love their meat and the roadside stands don’t disappoint for taste. If you need a little food energy and break from exploring, try a Käsekrainer or Bratwurst. The other must try Viennese snack is Leberkäse. It is a kind of rectangular sausage cut as a thick slice of meat on a fresh bread roll with mustard. It is an Austrian staple, cheap and delicious (trust me- I’ve eaten a lot of Leberkäse).

The Austrian capital is the perfect destination for a holiday hiatus. Vienna combines history, traditions and culture into the world’s most livable city.

Your Christmas spirit will come alive in this fairytale setting. Vienna is really the perfect destination for Christmas – this is Christmas in Vienna.

5 Reasons For A Ski Trip To Europe!

If you are a skier or snowboarder, there are at least 5 reasons for a ski trip to Europe. The Alps have a special mix of landscapes, style, glamour and après ski. And when you add the world-class ski terrain in Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, and France, it can’t be beat!

Olympiaregion Seefeld
Olympiaregion Seefeld

A European Ski Vacation blends skiing or snowboarding with the culture, history and alpine views only available in Europe. It’s a unique alpine experience – thermal baths for après ski relaxation; Italian cappuccino in Italy (after skiing in from Switzerland); drinking beer in Munich after skiing all day on nearby mountains. A European ski vacation is the perfect blend of travel experience and incredible skiing!

Here’s 5 reasons for a ski trip to Europe:

Why Europe?

Why not? If you haven’t been to Europe, you have to go (ski season or any season). Almost everything is different – time zone, language, food, and money, electrical outlets too. And now add the ski specific differences in Europe – over 4,000 ski areas; huge terrain; great snow; efficient lift systems and super long top of the mountain to bottom of the valley runs.

Skiing in St. Moritz, Switzerland
Switzerland

When To Go?

Generally speaking, most ski areas in Europe open at the end of November and close later in April, with some exceptions.

January tends to hold the best deals for European ski resorts and is less busy than peak holiday times. Most resorts have fewer visitors and are more peaceful. Fewer skiers on the slopes means shorter lift lines! Prices are much higher at peak times such as Christmas and New Year, and during school holidays around Christmas, Easter, and particularly with the now popular February Reading Week.

If you are going on your ski/snowboard holiday during late March-April (with longer and nicer days), you’ll greatly reduce the risk of poor skiing conditions by skiing at a higher altitude resort. Chamonix Mont-Blanc, France; Zermatt, Switzerland; Cervinia, Italy all come to mind. Zugspitze, near Munich, is a glacier and is skiable from early autumn until late spring. It has the highest elevation (2,100m) and is the most snow guaranteed mountain in Bavaria.

Skiing in Val D'Isere, France
France

Where To Stay?

There’s a wide range of places to stay from traditional Alpine chalets and guest rooms; to charming historic hotels; to fully equipped apartments. Deluxe and moderate accommodations are available at or near most ski resorts in Europe. Austria and Italy are known in particular for their great hospitality and value. If you’re after luxury, there’s no shortage of first-class trips with transportation, boutique hotels and inclusive experiences! A few top Europe luxury ski areas include Gstaad, Switzerland; Courchevel, France; and St. Anton, Austria.

Modern ski resorts, (purpose-built ski resorts) are of course built specifically for skiers and boarders. Purpose-built ski resorts are situated at higher elevations and have more consistent snow conditions. They offer ski in/ski out and true slope side lodging. The list of resorts includes the well known Val D’isère, and many other less known like Peyragudes, France (in the Pyrenees), St Johann, (Tyrol, Austria) and Geilo (Norway).

Historic Alpine villages provide both true alpine ambiance and the quintessential Europe experience along with skiing. Walk cobblestone streets; eat delicious local cuisine and stay in centuries old chalets. The nearby slopes are typically a short shuttle, train or cable-car ride away. Think Kitzbühel, Austria; Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy; and St. Moritz, Switzerland.

What To Do? (When You Are Not Skiing)

Many European resorts offer a combination of spas, boutiques, bars, restaurants and other off-mountain activities. Cities near resorts offer city shopping, dining and sightseeing—perfect for a day away from the slopes. As an example, skiers in Seefeld, Austria can take a quick 20 minute train ride down the mountain to Innsbruck. Or do it in reverse – stay in the city and travel up to the slopes. Munich is the perfect springboard to the nearby mountains of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Nearby Wallberg or Alpspitze are great options too. You can ride all day, and then enjoy Munich beer and it’s beer halls by night!

Stay in Munich for A Ski Trip To Europe
Munich

Ski Terrain, Passes and Guides

Europe is home to literally thousands of miles of groomed and off-piste terrain, and several resorts are interconnected by lifts and trails. A multi-resort ski pass like the Dolomiti Superski Pass offers 700 miles of Italian Alpine terrain spread over a dozen resorts. The world’s largest ski area, Les Trois Vallees in France, includes Meribel, Courchevel, Val Thorens and 5 more resorts. The Milky Way Ski Area straddles both France and Italy and let’s you ski and snowboard across actual country borders (and have a French pastry or Italian cappuccino).

A local ski guide is a very worthwhile extra. An experienced local can take you through little known ski terrain, keep you safe and will have local knowledge on lunch spots and après ski parties. A ski guide in Europe packs a ton of value and can go for as little as 200 euros per day.

And at the end of your European ski holiday, you can still have more Europe! Add on a trip extension to an iconic city like Vienna, Frankfurt or Amsterdam, rich in history and culture. Europe ski vacation anyone?