London: a tale of eternal love
Ever since I heard the nursery rhyme “London Bridge is Falling Down” in pre-school, every bridge to me was the “London Bridge”. I used to walk around and tell everyone that I wanted to go to London to see that bridge. Little did I know that this dream will come true one day. However, with it came the realisation that the London Bridge is actually the Tower Bridge and a regular-looking bridge nearby, is the “London Bridge”. If you didn’t know this, I totally get what you are feeling right now. This feature is a major throwback to my first trip to London. The ones who have read my previous blogs know that I love sharing intrinsic details of my excursions as I am a travel fanatic.
London, the capital of England, is among the oldest cities in the world with its history spanning nearly two millennia. No matter what’s your reason for visiting this city, London has something for everyone. History buffs looking to brush up on the British narrative will delight in the Tower of London. Admirers of art and theatre will praise the National Gallery and the West End Theatre District, while fans of the royal family can’t skip Buckingham Palace. Despite being one of the most expensive places to visit, every tourist attraction in London has something exciting to offer. If you’re overwhelmed by the number of things to do and are short on time, you can always consider signing up for one of the city’s top tours.
I landed at the famous Heathrow Airport, which is known to be one of the world’s busiest and the city’s main hub. For my stay, I lived in the residential area of Wimbledon which is home to the Lawn Tennis Championships tournament. During June-July, Wimbledon takes place in the city, and fans from all over the world come to witness this spectacle. With outdoor screens and the Tennis Museum around the corner, it is the perfect place to enjoy and familiarise yourself with the sport even if you are not a fan. There’s much more to explore in the vicinity with Wimbledon Stadium and Theatre situated in neighbouring blocks.
Getting around the city
The best way to reach the City Centre is the London Underground Train network also called the “Tube”. When people tell you that the best mode of transportation in London is the Tube, trust me it’s true! All you need is a map, Visitor Oyster Card, or a Travel Card and your travel within the city is sorted. Oyster cards can be used on the Tube, Overground and National Rails Trains, buses, South London trams, the Thames cable car, and the Docklands Light Railway, pretty much everywhere. The London Travel Card is a travel pass that works for either a single day or seven days and can be used for different travel zones. However, whether you get a Travel card or not, depends on the duration of your stay and the frequency of using public transport.
What not to miss when you are in London
Founded by the Romans in 43 CE, the city attracts over 27 million visitors every year and it comes as no surprise that London reserves a place on many people’s bucket lists. It is one of the most diverse cities in the world, with a rich history and some of the world’s best art, entertainment, shopping, dining places to visit. Safe to say, it is impossible to resist.
The British Museum was the first national museum to cover all fields of human knowledge. It opened its doors to visitors from across the world in 1759. The museum is both an architectural beauty and a trove of some of the world’s most noted antiquities. In fact, I would say that it’s the best museum I have ever visited. Entry to the museum is free and the visitors can marvel at the sight of eight million artefacts. From the Rosetta Stone to the Parthenon Sculptures, to Mesopotamian objects, the immense collection may overwhelm the viewer. It is advisable that you study the map and visit the exhibits that intrigue you the most. Set aside several hours as visiting in a hurry won’t do justice to the place.
One of the most popular tourist attractions, the Tower Bridge is a bascule and suspension bridge on River Thames. It is a distinct landmark that aesthetically complements the Tower of London, which it adjoins. To hear about the lives of the people who kept the bridge going, head to the magnificent Victorian engine rooms. Enjoy a panoramic view of the city life from the glass floors of the high-level walkways which are 42 metres above the river. Time your visit to coincide with a bridge lift and see the roadway rise beneath your feet, something I deeply regret missing.
Tower of London
Prepare yourselves to get dazzled by the breathtaking, world-famous collection of 23,578 gemstones, making it one of the most popular attractions. Guess what caught my eye, the Koh-i-Noor diamond. A 900-year-old castle and fortress, the Tower of London is renowned for housing exquisite crown jewels and for holding many prisoners. It is a popular subject for history enthusiasts. The legendary bearded Yeoman Warders also called “Beefeaters”, guard the place and a flock of ravens resides at the tower. Apparently, legend says that the tower and the monarchy will fall if the six ravens ever leave the fortress. Today, the Tower of London is one of the most famous castles in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site attracting more than two million tourists a year.
Cruising on the Thames
The Thames is the lifeline of London, bringing industry to the city for centuries. Travelling along with the river is one of the best ways to see several key sightseeing locations such as Tower Bridge, the Houses of Parliament, and the London Eye, among others. With some events regularly taking place on the cruises, the river lights up at night giving a mesmerising view.
“You see, but you do not observe”
Escape the hustle-bustle of the city to step into the world of fiction. Only a true fan will know the place I am talking about. Yes, the official home of Sherlock Holmes – 221B Baker Street. Inaugurated in 1990, the Sherlock Holmes Museum hosts thousands of visitors globally. The small and intimate setting of 221B has authentic Victorian furniture and hidden treasures for you to unravel. Whether you’re a die-hard devotee of the original stories or a more recent Cumberbatch convert, pay a visit to the Holmes and Watson’s home and imagine how fascinating it would be to put on the detective’s hat. This mystery is a no-brainer. The only way to solve it is by visiting it.
The multi-purpose indoor arena is a premier destination for live music and stage shows that hosts the biggest entertainers. Apart from a cinema hall, it houses bars and restaurants that offer diverse cuisines to satiate your taste buds. The O2 Arena, formerly known as ‘The Millennium Dome’, was originally constructed in celebration of the third millennium. It is an ideal spot to hang out with friends. If you’re seeking some adventure, you can climb up the dome to the roof and enjoy a beautiful view of the city.
Chinatown – a neighbourhood worth the visit
The red arches, Chinese lanterns, a plethora of Asian restaurants, and secret bars welcome you to Chinatown which is located on Gerrard Street. If you seek authentic Asian food, head straight to this place and enjoy delicacies such as the Peking duck. Bubble tea is a speciality that cannot be missed.
The epicentre of leisure and the heart of the city, Piccadilly Circus, is an instantly recognisable square filled with bright lights, big screens, and a busy London intersection. The place is famous for its neon signs and the Eros fountain located in the middle of the junction. Cinemas, theatres, shops, and restaurants, are in plenty but what makes it a hot-spot are the famous traditional English pubs.
Oxford Street for the shopaholics
With more than 300 shops and over 500,000 visitors every day, Oxford Street is not only London’s top spot for shopping but also Europe’s busiest shopping street. ‘Shop till you drop’ in these designer stores and internationally-recognised departmental stores. The best time to visit Oxford Street is around Christmas as the streets and stores add glitter to your evenings along with amazing discounts.
Leicester Square – The Hollywood of London
Known for hosting film premieres of some of the biggest blockbusters, Leicester Square boasts the city’s biggest screens. After exploring London during the day, one can cool off in the garden located in the centre of the square and be part of the liveliness.
It is not just any departmental store, but the world’s leading luxury departmental store. Opened in 1849 by Charles Henry Harrod to expand his East End grocery and tea business, Harrods has an exquisite, historic, and luxurious setting, making its way up to the list of places to visit when in London. With its unrivalled product collection, world-class service, innovative retail theatre, and historic interiors, Harrods remains at the zenith of British luxury retail.
Platform 9 ¾
All the Harry Potter fans know exactly what I am talking about, the station that Harry Potter uses for his journey to Hogwarts. Don’t miss your chance to visit Platform 9 ¾ in real life. Who knows, you might end up catching a train to Hogwarts.
Being one of the few working royal palaces in the world today, Buckingham Palace serves as both the office and London residence of Her Majesty, The Queen. Your trip to London is definitely incomplete without a glimpse of the royal lifestyle. Hang around here for a bit to witness the tradition and the utmost discipline of the Royal Guards – wearing the iconic London bearskin.
Ride on the Eye
The iconic Ferris wheel, London Eye can be seen from quite a distance. Without a doubt, it looks beautiful when it’s all lit up at night. A ride in a private/shared pod would be a perfect choice to get some amazing clicks of the city.
To hear the famous Big Ben chime every hour and feel like a part of the political hub of London, a walk in Westminster is a must. It is home to the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, and Parliament Square – places we often see in the news on occasions such as royal weddings, coronations, and during parliamentary sessions. For bibliophiles, a visit to the Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey, which is the final resting place of famed authors Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens, and Rudyard Kipling among others, should definitely be on your list.
Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens
Just north of the Royal Albert Hall and northwest of Buckingham Palace is Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. Stop here for some fresh air along the Serpentine. One can go for a picnic on a sunny day, just like the locals. It is said that the tranquil atmosphere of Kensington Gardens has a soothing effect. Here, you will find the ornate Albert Memorial, the Italian Gardens, and the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground on-site. If you’re a literary fan, make sure to visit the Peter Pan statue.
Most of us are familiar with Shakespeare’s works. This place is worthy of your time even if you haven’t read any of his plays. Located on the banks of Thames, watch one of Bard’s plays to get transcended. The original Globe Theatre – which staged Shakespeare’s plays and where the Bard wrote “Twelfth Night,” “King Lear,” and several other of his works – opened in 1599 and got burned down in 1613. The current incarnation is a celebrated performing arts venue dedicated to Shakespeare.
Portobello Road Market
Touted as the largest antique market in the world, Portobello Road Market is situated in Notting Hill. The market is loaded with hundreds of merchants selling a variety of items including antiques, art, jewellery, clothing, and food. What stands out about Portobello Market is its collection of antiques and quintessentially English items. The lively market is perfect for you to take a stroll and enjoy an array of antiques as well as pocket-friendly food items.
Saint Paul Cathedral
Situated at the highest point on Ludgate Hill, St. Paul Cathedral was founded in AD 604. The mesmerising structure has one of the largest domes in the world at 366 feet high. The sacred building is also known for its Whispering Gallery which carries sound due to the dome’s unique design.
The place serves as the basis for the world’s standard time zone system. Greenwich Meridian, the imaginary line used to indicate 0° longitude, passes through the Royal Observatory (Greenwich). Don’t forget to take pictures on the line of the Prime Meridian!
Personal picks on where to eat
My favourite market is definitely the Borough Market. Some of the must-visit eateries include Mother Mash, Napoli Gang, Patty & Bun, Shake Shack, Honest Burgers, Duck & Waffle, and Pizza Union.
Best time to visit
The climate is generally mild, with temperatures rarely climbing uncomfortably high or low, although it is totally worth carrying an umbrella throughout the year. The best time to travel to London is during spring (March-April), and fall (mid-September-November) to enjoy the sun as well as the chilly breeze. Summers could be your best bet to see all things royal in London as many residences are only open to the public while the occupants are away for a holiday. For the ones visiting the city to shop, all the best sales in London, including Harrods’ ultra-popular summer sale, happen in late June and early July.
One of the apps that helped me get around was Visit London as it is easy to book/reserve places through it.
Where to stay in London
Whether you are looking for pocket-friendly accommodations or luxury, five-star/boutique hotels, London has something for all. I would highly recommend making all the bookings a couple of months before your visit. Especially, if you plan to travel during the peak tourist months. Pack your bags and get ready to explore this wonderful city!