Traveling is always more enjoyable, not to mention easier, when you have done your research. Not the sort of furrowing through piles of travel books and scribbling notes sort of research, but just an easy flick through a travel guide to get a rough idea of routes and recommendations.
After more people than I can count consulted me on how to spend their free time in the UK capital, be it a few hours in between flights, a night after work or a couple of days backpacking, it seemed sensible to produce an “official” version. So, here it is, my tourist tips for London.
London is the home of so much history, it would be silly to miss some of the top spots. That being said, you also don’t want to spend your entire trip traipsing around various Royal/Parliamentary/Legal (delete as appropriate) establishments and miss all the other good stuff. The trick is to be smart; put aside a day, or at least a few hours, to dedicate to such places.
The easiest way to dip your toe into London’s history is to take the Underground (otherwise known as the “Tube”, which translates to Metro/Subway) to Waterloo, and follow the signs in the station to the ‘London Eye Pier’ exit. You will emerge on the banks of the River Thames, next to the London Eye (a large Ferris wheel that offers a wonderful view of London), thus already ticking off two major tourist hotspots. The Eye is expensive, and can be disappointing if not ridden on a sunny day, but if you’re open to treating yourself it is worth a trip.
Walk on to Westminster Bridge (passing the London Dungeons and the Sea Life Centre as you do, both worth a trip) and cross the river. You will then be looking at Big Ben, the House of Commons and the Palace of Westminster, with Westminster Abbey just behind. Again: tick, tick, tick.
Should you wish to visit Buckingham Palace, it is but a ten minute walk away. However, I would suggest saving that for another day and combining it with a visit to the Natural History Museum or the Science Museum. Both of which are FREE (as with all museums and galleries in London, though you usually need to pay to enter a specific exhibition).
So, consider tourist-y things done.
Shopping! (And All That Comes With It)
Most people would advise you to go to Oxford Street, and whilst it is teeming with high street stores and
sales, it can be chaotic and overwhelming. If crowds aren’t your thing, head to Covent Garden, where the
same shops are situated in a more muted setting. Don’t forget to leave some time to explore the indoor market and catch one of the street performers before sitting down with a glass of wine.
For a funkier vibe, head to Camden Market, where high street meets boutique and vintage. This end of town is far more than shops, ensure you go hungry to catch a bite from one of the various food stalls selling cuisine from all over the world. Then, head to ‘CyberDog’ where fluorescent colours and freaky clothing make for a futuristic, trippy experience.
To get a feel for the up-and-coming, “cooler” part of London, head to the East, specifically Brick Lane. Aldgate East or Liverpool Street are the closest underground stations, with each around a 10 minute walk away, so plan your route beforehand or have a map handy. Sundays are definitely the fun-days around these parts, with vendors and buyers crowding the streets of the market, hoping to find a good bargain. As you browse, keep an eye out for the amazing Street Art that adorns the walls, many of which by big names such as Bansky and Ben Eine. Don’t miss popping into the many vintage stores to style up your look.
Where to Eat
A guide to eating in London requires a post, if not a large book, for itself. However, one should always be aware of culinary institutions. The Borough Market dates back to the 13th century, and has been going strong since then. Offering bites for every taste and budget, this is definitely an eatery to hit up. Closest underground station is London Bridge. Along the same veins, Spitalfield Market is not only a hub for vendors and clothing, but also for food. Use it as an energy source before delving into the delights of East London.