Here we are again, about to set off on another guided tour around London. As a cabbie in the capital for many years, I know the sights, I know the sounds and I know the smells.
Let me take you on a journey around the city, giving you my top picks for places to stay, places to eat and drink, and things to do. There's so much here, so whilst I can't promise I'll cover everything, I'll certainly let you know my favourites. Hopefully, you'll try out my recommendations, or at least it'll speak some inspiration to journey to some places not so well known and others away from the beaten track.
Today's trip is going to take us to Kingston...
You won't be needing a taxi in Kingston as I'm here to take you on a ride. Buckle up, the cab engine is running and I'm ready to do the talking. As always with these special virtual tours, the meter isn't running and this one is on me!
A Little Bit of Background...
Like our previous destination of Richmond upon Thames, Kingston is another town situated on the Thames and is also formerly part of Surrey. Again, I'm not going to reveal my age here but I remember the borough becoming part of Greater London, and I suppose, it was a while ago now!
Located in South West London, the main town is Kingston upon Thames and the borough includes Surbiton, Chessington, Malden Rushett, New Malden and Tolworth.
Kingston is an area filled with history. If you're a bit of a history buff like me, you might be interested to know that like many other places across London,l and indeed the UK, Kingston hasn't always been called Kingston.
Kingston has previously been called Cyninges Tun (838 AD) and Chingestune (1086), Kingeston (1164), Kyngeston Super Tamisian (1321), and Kingestowne upon Thames (1589). Before you ask, I don't remember is going by any of those other names! If you're even geekier, you might like to know that prior to 1965, Kingston upon Thames was spelt Kingston-Upon-Thames - note the hyphens (I might remember that change).
The name comes from the old English words cyning and tun, a modern translation of this is "the Kings manor" or "the Kings estate". The town was given it's name due to its once regal role. With a prominent location, which once was on the boundaries of the ancient kingdoms of Wessex and Mercia, Kingston became a crowning place for Saxon Kings with the creation of the kingdom of England in the early 10th century by King Athelstan.
Two kings are known to have been crowned in Kinsgton, for sure. These are Æthelstan and Æthelred the Unready, and this is known due to records of this having been recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. However, evidence suggests that Edward the Elder, Edmund I, Eadred,
Eadwig, Edgar the Peaceful and Edward the Martyr all also had their coronations in Kingston throughout the 10th century, though it can't be said for sure.
In more recent times, Kingston was a major manufacturing centre for military aircraft, with many of Britain's famous fighter aircraft starting life on drawing boards and factories in the town. This began with the Sopwith Aviation Company being founded in 1912 in the town by aviation pioneer Tommy Sopwith. The town was then home to Hawker Aircraft and Hawker Siddeley, which then became British Aerospace. As a result, famous aircraft such as the Sopwith Camel, Hawker Fury, Hurricane, Hunter and Harrier Jump Jet were all designed and built in Kingston.
Places to go, rain or shine!
Because I love my History, the first place I'm taking you today is the Kingston Museum. Built in 1904, the museum has a number of permanent exhibitions including:
The Ancient Origins exhibition: This is a display of many items from the Palaeolithic Period through to the Pagan Saxon period
The Town of Kings exhibition: This exhibition traces Kingston's history as a crowning place for Saxon kings, as I mentioned above
The Eadweard Muybridge exhibition: Eadweard Muybridge was a renowned photographer born in Kingston in 1830. He initially found his fame as a landscape photographer in San Fransisco after emigrating to the USA and selling his landscape views of the Yosemite Valley and San Fransisco Bay. Greater fame came after he invented a device called a zoopraxiscope, which is considered an important predecessor od the mover projector. Upon returning to Kingston int the late 1890s, he bequeathed his equipment and prints to Kingston Museum, where they are still on display today as part of his exhibition.
The museum is open Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 10am to 5pm, and Thursdays from 10am to 7pm. The museum offers free entry and there's plenty to see.
The best thing is that you won't need to find a taxi to get you there as you can call on Parker and get there in comfort and in style!
Address: Wheatfield Way, Kingston, KT1 2PS
Phone: 020 8547 5006
All that history often gets my brain in overdrive and in need of a caffeine fix!
To perk myself up, I recommend nothing more than leaving the cab where it is parked for a bit, taking a walk through the Memorial Gardens and heading on over to Local Hero on Thames Street.
Local Hero is a great little coffee shop and is the perfect spot for all you youngsters looking to get that perfect ain't picture - something the guys and girls do well themselves, as you will see here - www.instagram.com/localhero.coffee
However you take your coffee, they will be able to provide you with the perfectly brewed pick-me-up you need. And find you are hungry, they have a cracking brunch menu! My personal favourite from the menu is their grilled halloumi bun, which is filled not only with halloumi but also sauteed spinach and sweet tomatoes with a balsamic glaze and aioli. It's so good!
If you're looking for something simpler, they also do scrambled or poached egg on toast, and bacon sandwiches. Other items on the menu include eggs benedict, English breakfasts, French toast and a great range of toasties.
Encouraging you to have some downtime and for it not to be all about work, work, work, Local Hero also ban the use of laptops in their shop at the weekend.
They also have a shop over in Fulham if you're ever over that way too - if not, you don't need a taxi - you can always book a car when it suits you with Parkers and we can get you your daily dose of caffeine!
Address: 22 Thames Street, Kingston upon Thames, KT1 1PE
Phone: 020 8546 8551
Chessington World of Adventures
And with the mention of downtime, that brings me onto my next recommendation for the Kingston area - Chessington World of Adventures. Great for the kiddies and big kids alike, Chessington World of Adventures has grown from the original zoo, which opened in 1931, to now be a fully-fledged resort consisting of a theme park, a zoo and a hotel complex.
Definitely one to reserve the day for, Chessington makes for a fun-filled day out and is somewhere I've taken my own children many times over the years. The theme park has over 1000 animals, and there are two on-site hotels and a campsite.
The theme park is based around a world theme and includes a number of different internationally and historically themed areas. There's an English market square, a Wild West area, Pirates Cove - a smuggling port, a European Street with Bavarian architecture, whilst there is also an Egyptian themed area, an oriental area and an area based on the Indian jungle.
Each of the areas has rides which continue the theme. Whether you like your rollercoasters, your log fumes, your gentle river rides of your runaway trains, you will find it here. For younger guests, there are more age-appropriate rides such as carousels and a playhouse.
My personal favourite thing at Chessington is Zufari: Ride Into Africa. Billed as a thrilling off-road journey, it's a safari attraction which allows you to get up close with African animals such as giraffes, white rhinos and zebras, all from the confines of the safari truck. I love it, and not just because someone else is the tour guide, for once!
Of course, the animals you see on Zufari aren't the only animals they have at Chessington. There's also the zoo too. At the zoo, they have lions, gorillas, ostriches, spider monkeys, tigers, sea lions, leopards, flamingos and all kinds of other animals. Plus, there's a sealife centre, which contains all kinds of underwater species.
As I said before, it's a great day out and there is also two hotels ad a campsite housed within the complex. I've not stayed in the hotels or the campsites, so I can't vouch for them but they look very good. I have also been told by some of my clients I have picked up from there that it is a great spot and the hotels are lovely.
Address: Leatherhead Road, Chessington, KT9 2NE
Phone: 0371 663 4477
However, there are two hotels I have stayed in and can vouch for in the Kingston area. Our tour will take you to these next…
The Lensbury Hotel
Beautiful is the first word which comes to mind when I think of The Lensbury. It’s a very serene and relaxing place located right next to the Thames. It’s set in 25 acres of wonderfully landscaped grounds and is a perfect place to go for some relaxation, thanks to its fully-equipped spa.
The spa is stunning and offers all kinds of treatments which will have you looking and feeling good. Treatments available include many different types of facials, body scrubs, hot stone massages, sports massages, Indian head massage, manicures, pedicures and all kinds of waxing treatments.
With most of my life spent sat down in a cab, I find that a restorative back treatment is an ideal way of ensuring I look after myself, and I’m not prone to any of the aches and pains cab and taxi drivers often find themselves faced with.
When it comes to the rooms at The Lensbury, they are stunning. There are 155 of them in total, and they include suites, executive rooms and standard bedrooms...which are anything but standard, in my opinion. All of the rooms are comfortable and are designed to the unique 1930s architectural style of the 1930’s Lensbury.
When you book a room at The Lensbury, you also get full access to the hotel’s leisure facilities, which is great to continue the relaxation. These facilities include a fully-equipped gym with all of the latest cardio and bodybuilding machines, plus loads of free weights so you can pump the iron. There are also two heated pools if you fancy a dip.
The Lensbury is a very popular hotel which we regularly send cars to and I sometimes see other taxis dropping off and picking up passengers.
Address: Broom Road, Teddington, TW11 9NU
Phone: 020 8614 6400
The Mitre Hotel
Another popular hotel in the Kingston area is The Mitre Hotel. I’ve only stayed there once myself but I’ve continually been told very good things about it by passengers since, which makes me want to stay there again. For now, I shall settle on taking you there on our virtual tour!
Located very close to Hampton Court Palace (which we covered in our guide to Richmond) and situated right on the Thames, The Mitre Hotel was built way back in 1665 and retains this traditional look, without looking dated.
A smaller hotel, there are just 36 rooms but as the hotel says themselves, they offer the perfect combination of history and contemporary luxury, and I have to agree. This really is a hotel to stay in when you’re looking for a break from the norm. The comfort and luxury really make this hotel a winner in my eyes.
It’s also a hotel which I regularly take business customers to and which we often take wedding cars to and from. Business customers love the meeting rooms for their character, the rooms really are filled with it and make for a great location to take clients as they offer spectacular views over the Thames and Hampton Court Palace.
Being located right on the Thames, it’s also a popular destination to get married - if I was to get married again, it would definitely be on my shortlist!
Address: Hampton Court Road, Hampton Court, KT8 9BN
Phone: 020 8979 9988
The French Table
All of this driving has got me hungry again and The French Table over in Surbiton is the perfect place to take you for a little luxury.
Not the cheapest option but a great place to go on a special occasion or if you're looking to impress someone, this is the place to go in Kingston if you are looking for contemporary French cuisine.
As I've said before, I'm a veggie and I like this place as I'm well catered for with a dedicated vegetarian menu. I often dine with others who eat meat and there are plenty of options for them too.
Dinner menu choices include pan-fried stone bass with cavalo nero, macadamia nut, artichoke, crispy potato, lobster and Champagne veloute, trilogy of 55 days aged Middle White pig, and Swiss chard, truffle and raclette cheese parcel with roasted radish and black truffle shavings.
For dinner, I recommend the tasting menu. However, I must note that to have this, the whole table must have it. So if you're a veggie like me and your dining companions would rather not have the veggie choice, this, unfortunately, won't be an option. If they do though, it's great and consists of wonderful foods including artichokes, risotto, raclette parcels and souffle.
There's all, of course, the main tasting menu. This consists of items including scallops with a chorizo crust, foie grass on toasted brioche, lamb with smoked spatzle, roasted apricot, goats cheese curd, grilled aubergine, garlic crumb and rosemary jus, and hazelnut shortbread, bitter caramel mousse and vanilla ice cream.
The tasting menus are either £55 per person or £85 per person with match