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London: 5 best May values

By Alex Robinson
October 3, 2012
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Alex Robinson

In May the flowers are in bloom and the English are busy pottering about the garden, planting and pruning. And London itself celebrates with bursts of color from window boxes, flower shows and…pachyderms.

Elephants in London

Brilliantly colored elephants have been appearing all over the city since the beginning of the month…in Hyde Park, on the streets of Mayfair near Harrods, outside the Royal Academy of Art, and inside railroad stations. And these are no ordinary elephants. They've been especially designed by the city's top fashionistas, such as Alice Temperley and Lulu Guiness, in sky blue, with fluffy clouds, paisley, or even chintz. There are some 250 fiberglass tuskers placed around the city to raise awareness of the plight of the endangered Asian elephant. They'll be here until July, when they are to be auctioned off at Sotheby's. free, elephantparadelondon.org.

The Chelsea Flower Show 25–29 May
The British are passionate about gardening. This is a country whose citizens sit glued to the TV on weekend nights watching reality TV shows about gardening; where the locals discuss roses, peonies, and magnolias with the gusto which Americans reserve for the Super Bowl. May sees the biggest annual celebration of the English garden with the Chelsea Flower Show. This takes place in a huge open space next to the Thames. It's one of the largest flower shows in the world, covering 11 acres and attended by some 160,000 people, including the Royal Family. Tickets ($28) are selling like hotcakes. rhs.org.uk

Regent's Park Open Air Theater

From May and through the summer summer, the Open Air Theatre company performs drama under the stars in one of the city's prettiest green spaces, Regent's Park. This year's season kicks off with Arthur Miller's The Crucible and continues through the summer with a healthy brace of Shakespeare plays which include the Comedy of Errors and Macbeth. visitlondon.com tickets from about $7. openairtheatre.org

The Soccer FA Cup

May 15 sees the biggest event in the annual domestic Soccer season, the FA Cup played in the sport's premier venue, Wembley Stadium in northwest London. Tickets for the 2010 game, which is a match between London club Chelsea and south coast underdogs Portsmouth, have long sold out. But beer-bellied British the capital over will be congregating in sports bars and pubs to cheer and jeer from kickoff at 3 p.m. Loyal Chelsea fans unable to make the game will descend in a riotous sea of blue at the former Shed Bar (now called Blues Sports Bar) in Chelsea Village at the clubs grounds in Chelsea itself. free.

Painting for kids and teenagers at London's top galleries

Two of London's top art galleries are running free activity days for kids this month. Somerset House's Wet Wash on May 29 invites 6–12 year olds to play around with pots of watercolor paint under the supervision of an artist. Meanwhile, on May 31, the National Portrait Gallery begins a week of workshops for 14-to-21 year-olds inspired by their current Indian Portrait exhibition. free, somersethouse.org.uk.

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Inspiration

Philadelphia: The City of Murals

On the buildings along the Schuylkill River, vibrant murals welcome visitors into Philadelphia. They've been peeking out from underneath bridges and along cement walls since 1984, when the city established the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network, to redirect graffiti artists' energies toward enhancing their community. Over time, the nation's largest mural effort, the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, sprung up. Now, in collaboration with local photographer Jacques-Jean "JJ" Tiziou, the mural has been elevated to an all-new level—seven-stories high. At Philly's airport, a nearly 50,000-square-foot piece will cover one side of the parking garage stretching from Terminal A to Terminal F, with roughly 18 images of community dancers narrowed down from thousands. The City of Brotherly Love has a history of dance, and JJ Tiziou has been right alongside the movement to document it. The project will employ 35 artists and take 18 months to complete before its final dedication in June 2011. The energy of the design, entitled How Philly Moves, will be palpable at 60 MPH while driving past it on Interstate 95, and it will be clear why Philadelphia could as easily earn a new nickname—the City of Murals. 25 Reasons We Love Philly Tickets Now on Sale for Philly's Cleopatra Exhibit More Top Travel Blogs

Inspiration

San Francisco: 5 best May values

Bay to Breakers Marathon The annual Bay to Breakers 12K race* is a quintessential "only in San Francisco" experience. More mobile party than sporting event, the marathon draws more than 50,000 participants (some runners, mostly walkers) who start at the Embarcadero and head through Golden Gate Park out to the beach. Costumes are a must and range from Elvis impersonators to superheroes to Star Wars storm troopers—and some people wear nothing at all (don't say we didn't warn you!) Last year more than 100,000 people showed up to watch the show. While corporate sponsor ING has more recently tried to put an end to the public drinking—no more kegs on wheels—revelry is guaranteed. Top places to watch include Alamo Square, the front of the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, and the Finish Line on the Great Highway on the beach. May 16, 8 a.m.-11 a.m, *Whoops, we originally said "marathon." Yerba Buena Outdoor Concert Series The free weekend outdoor concerts at Yerba Buena Garden's grassy lawn in downtown kick off this month. The series showcases an eclectic mix of classical, jazz, and world music, plus traditional and modern dance performances from cultures around the world. This month includes shows by renowned Arabic musician Bassam Saba (May 22, 1-2:30 pm) and a Taiwanese dance performance (May 9, 1-2:30 pm.) Come June, Yerba Buena offers lunchtime (12:30-1:30 p.m.) concerts as well, drawing gaggles of office workers looking for an outdoor mid-day break. Mission, Folsom, 3rd and 4th streets. Capsule SF Design Festival This street fair of independent designers in Hayes Valley features clothing, house wares, jewelry, kids clothes, and more by 130 local designers, many of which you might know from etsy.com. Check out these gold arrow necklaces by Oakland artist Nous Savon, vintage-inspired house wares by India Rose, and 1.by.liz clocks made from recycled bicycle parts. This is definitely not your mother's arts and crafts fair. Hayes Street and Octavia, Sunday May 23rd, 11 a.m.–6 p.m., free. A New Taco Truck Wake up your taste buds with Curry Up Now's new food truck featuring a rotating menu of Indian street food with a California-Mexican twist (up for a chicken tikka masala burrito, anyone?). You can find the truck during lunchtime rounds in the Financial District. For current locations, follow Curry Up Now on Twitter. From $4.25. Half-priced Tickets to Wicked During the month of May, you can get half-priced tickets to Wicked, the Tony and Grammy award-winning Broadway musical. The show ends September 5, 2010, so act fast. Purchase through shnsf.com, ticketmaster.com, and Ticketmaster Charge-By-Phone and use the promo code 4WEST. You can also get tickets in person at the Orpheum Theater Box Office 1192 Market Street, 415/ 551-2000, tickets start at $44.

Inspiration

London: It's Robin Hood month

This month's debut of the Hollywood epic "Robin Hood"—starring Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett—has spawned a bunch of Robin Hood-themed events in England. While we don't know if Robin Hood truly existed or was merely a creation of medieval poets, we're certain that Sherwood Forest (where he supposedly lived) is one of the oldest and most majestic forests in Britain. It covers 450 acres of protected beech and birch woodland dotted with more than 1,000 magnificent oaks, most of which are over 500 years old. There are exhibitions devoted to the history of Robin Hood at the Sherwood Forest visitors' center, which is just outside of the village of Edwinstowe. Also worth a visit is Nottingham Castle in the city of Nottingham itself. A one-off exhibition by Sonja Klaus, the set designer for the movie, showcases the film's props, weaponry and costumes worn by Crowe (Robin) and Blanchett (Marian). And medieval jousts and archery competitions will be taking place in the castle grounds throughout May. Other Nottingham attractions include the Galleries of Justice history museum, Byron's former home of Newstead Abbey and the Caves of Nottingham Museum—showcasing caverns under the city which have been used as dwelling places since Saxon times. The highlight of the area remains the forest, though, which is magical to walk through. The largest tree is the Major Oak, which was a big even in the Middle Ages when Robin Hood was supposedly firing his arrows. Today it is more than 800 years old and weighs more than 23 tons. You can easily imagine Robin Hood hanging out behind the trees, after having poached the king's deer and robbed from the rich to give to the poor. National Rail from London to Nottingham with East Midlands trains take 1 hour 45 minutes. The Sherwood Arrow bus service 33 between Nottingham and Worksop calls at Edwinstowe. MORE Surfacing: Nottingham's Soulful Side? Ask for trip planning help on Budget Travel's London City Page

Inspiration

London: 4 Top Jogging Paths

The recent London Marathon has inspired Londoners with an urge to shed their winter beer bellies and work on their six-pack abs. You see lycra-clad joggers everywhere. New arrivals looking to keep up the fitness regime during their stay will find that London's a great place for urban running. Here's the best of three routes. The Thames Path, location: central London to the eastern and western suburbs This pedestrian path fringes both banks of the river Thames for 180 miles, cutting through the heart of London and offering the chance to enjoy one of Europe's most scenic jogs. Runs vary from stretches along one bank to loops taking in both banks and two bridges. To take in the most famous sights as you run begin at Tower Bridge (subway: Tower Hill) and jog to Westminster Bridge finishing up at the Houses of Parliament (subway: Westminster), a run of five-and-a-half miles. The Hampstead Loop, location: north London You never leave the city on this hilly run, yet with the muddy footpaths, extensive stretches woodland and welly boots and Labradors you'd be forgiven for thinking you were in the heart of rural England. The run begins at urban Kentish town subway or prettier Hampstead. From either location it climbs up onto Hampstead Heath, a huge hilly park covered in woodland and offering sweeping views out over London. Either option gives a run of four to five miles. Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, location: Central London Central London's biggest green space is criss-crossed with running tracks. The longest is the outer circuit, a long oblong loop taking in the entire park and adjacent Kensington Gardens and passing Kensington Palace and the Princess Diana Memorial. The total distance is four-and-a-quarter miles and the park can be reached via the following subway stations: Hyde Park Corner, Marble Arch, Lancaster Gate, Notting Hill or Bayswater. Richmond Park location: south London In the far south of the city is one of the largest urban green spaces in Europe, so much so that it is home to herds of wild deer. Hampstead Heath in the north has wonderful views out across the city, whilst Battersea Park a mile south of Victoria rail station across the Thames is the only large park in Central London which abuts onto the river. MORE There are many more jogging route options in London, with maps on run.com. Budget Travel's picks for hotels in London

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