UK – London
London to me is one of the most energetically charged cities in the world. Yes the title of the city that never sleeps definitely goes to New York, London on the other hand has that old school classy appeal that is in a league of its own.
London is a cultural melting pot of cultures, ethnicities and languages which has a lot to do with Britain being previously an Empire that dominated a substantial percentage of the globe for a very long time.
The London Underground system is the life blood of the City and it’s roots date back to 1829 when the first horse-drawn carriages were made available to commuters in the city. ‘The Tube’ as it is known by residents of the city, caters to 3 million commuters every single day. That is a huge amount of people to be ferried around so before you set foot on a train, be aware that there will be many other people on it with you and it might at times become a little crowded.
The first step for us was getting from Heathrow International Airport to our hotel in Queens Park. This sounds like a pretty simple start but be aware that the City is vast and the congestion can cause considerable delays. There are 2 main underground methods of getting from the Airport to Paddington (Main train Junction) the first being the Heathrow Express which only takes about 15minutes but costs £25 ….. That was a little too rich for my blood. The alternative that we used was the normal underground system and while it did take double as long, it was only at a fraction of the cost. The system works with what is called the Oyster card. This can be purchased for £5 at the airport automates and can be immediately loaded with credits. Each time you enter or exit a station, access control requires you to swipe you card. An automatic fare calculation and done and the amount is deducted from your card. Simple system that works very efficiently and can be used through the system including the tube, overland and bus services.
The fares that you are charged work according to zones that are predefined and available both online and at the stations. The peak commuter times also increases the cost of the fare so be aware of the times you are out and about. The card is not redeemable when leaving London and there is no other way to access the system so you are forced to purchase one.
Accommodation can be expensive when visiting London however it is largely dependent on the location, time of year and the stars you want on the wall. We paid a little extra for our hotel as we favoured location over price but still within reason. The time and cost of travelling to and fro from your accommodation can often cost more than the initial cost of accommodation closer to the action. It is difficult to quantify the monetary value of travel time but think of it this way that you have paid a lot of money to see a city which you are wasting by commuting long distances to inexpensive accommodation.
I have had relatively good experiences with booking lower end accommodation with the view to upgrading upon arrival. This generally works better out of peak times as there is a better chance of the upgrade being available. This has saved a lot of money for us as the costs to upgrade when arriving are often substantially less than doing it online or in advance. You get the saving for taking the risk.
When booking accommodation, it is always a good idea to check first where the closest public transport is and how it fits into the links to the places you want to visit. The system is well laid out with multiple junction points to change lines. The local transport app that I found indispensable is called “London Underground” that is available for both IOS and Android operating systems.
Red Bus Tour & Thames
As I have mentioned in a number of my travel blogs, I love the Red Bus Tours as this provides a great overview of the city that you are visiting and enable you to become spatially aware of where things are in relation to one another. London s Red Bus Tour is no exception with a number of routes being on offer covering all the major sites such as Buckingham Palace, Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Big Ben just o name a few.
We opted for a ticket that included a cruise on the river Thames, which provided a unique perspective on the city. I like the commentary on the tours as the often include certain information that would be difficult to include should you be travelling only with a travel book. By the time you had read about a certain area in a book, you would have already passed 3 or 4 other world-famous sites so to have this type of commentary on the city really assists you to not miss anything.
A combination ticket for the bus and boat tour will typically cast around 33 Pounds sterling ($43) and is valid for a full 24 hours. This means that you can start the tour at say 11am and it will be valid until 11am the following day. There is also an extension price which is a small amount as compared to a new ticket that extends the tickets for an additional 24 hours should you be interested in doing so.
There 6 different bus routes on offer that take you to various sites in the city. These routes are designated according to colours namely Yellow, Blue, Green, Orange, Purple and Black routes and the bus intervals range from ever 10 – 30 minutes so if you do miss a bus, there is no need to panic as another should be along shortly.
The boat tour runs between Tower Pier near Tower Bridge and Westminster Pier and runs from 10:00 to 18:00 with the last boat leaving to Westminster Pier at 17:20. The tour takes about 40 minutes and you can do either a one way tour or return trip should you wish to get off where you started.
Pub Life & Eating Out
Londoners have traditionally been people who spend much of their time in either pubs or restaurants for a number of reasons. Some of these include the need to be social, the small sizes of apartments as direct result of the extreme costs and the weather that is not always great thus forcing people indoors.
There is absolutely no shortage of places to eat or pubs to try out. From the traditional pub lunch fish & chips to the Michelin Star Dining, there is something to suit everyones taste. Be aware though, eating out in London is not considered cheap as we found out. A typical fish & chips lunch that we by no means consider fancy will set you back about 12 Pounds Stirling($15). So while there is no shortage of options, be prepared that eating out will quickly dent your budget if you are not properly prepared.
The restaurant called Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese kept popping up when we were researching great places with quirkiness and it did not disappoint us. The restaurant has multiple levels which are located mostly below ground level which restricts natural light to, well, nothing. This gives it’s a dungeon like feeling with low ceilings and original, old style, woodwork and crooked walls. The service is great with a good selection of local & imported beers and ales.
There is also an interesting board located on the outside of the restaurant which you can see to the right. It illustrates how old the establishment is and how many monarchs have come and gone since it was first opened in 1667. This should be intriguing enough for anyone looking for a pub with a little character.
Other cafe style restaurant that we tried out for breakfast were Jackson & Rye. This is a cosy bakery styled resturant that seems to be packed almost every day of the week. This seems to be a popular style of cafe in London which you can find all over.
Tower of London, Museums & St. Pauls Cathedral
St. Pauls Cathedral is an absolutely beautiful building that has dominated the London Skyline for Centuries. This is the 3rd version of the building as it stands in its current form. There is no photography allowed inside the building itself and there is no cost to enter the building however there is a cost to climb the stairway to the top of the dome. The view is magnificent and provides the basis for some stunning photos of London. This is a major tourist attraction so try to get there early to avoid the crowds.
The Tower of London should be one of the top priorities for anyone visiting London. It was first established in 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest of England but the castle itself was constructed in 1078 by William the Conquerer. Since then there have been numerous rebuilds and expansions to meet the needs of the times. The people that have been linked to this historic site had a profound impact on the world that can still be seen even today.
There are 6 main areas within the Tower of London namely the armoury, treasury, a menagerie, the Royal Mint, public records office and the famous Crown Jewels of England. The Tower of London was up until the times of the Tudors (before 15th Century) used primarily as the Royal Residence after which the defences started to lack in terms of keeping up to date with modern artillery requirements.
During the 16 and 17th Centuries the Tower was used primarily to house prisoners of various types. Some of the notable “guests” of the Tower were Sir Walter Raleigh, Elizabeth I and Elizabeth Throckmorton with Anne Boleyn being the most famous gues being executed at the Tower in 1536 by Henry VIII.
The site received around 2.5 million visitors per year so you should aim to be there early and budget 4 -5 hours to see all the exhibits. The lines to the exhibits might appear to be long i.e. the Crown Jewels, however there is a mechanism in the hall to ensure the people continue to move which makes the lines move relatively quickly.
A special tour with the Yeomen Warders (Beefeaters) is really worth the effort. These members of the British Army live at the Tower and provide tours and ceremonial duties while stationed there. There is much humour included in the tour and you will be thoroughly entertained by them. Photography and videography is not allowed during the tour unless permission is granted by the Yeomen Warder.
The London Science Museum was one of my favourite museums in London. You can spend an entire day there as there is just so much to see from the development of steam in the Industrial Revolution, development of flight to the first space missions and more. If you are interested in technology and how this has shaped our modern world then look no further as this is the place to be.
There are over 300,000 items on display that covers the technological developments of mankind. The museum is divided into 8 sections namely:
- Power: The East Hall
- Exploring Space
- Making the Modern World
- Media Space
- information Age
- Engineering your Future
The museum is located next to the Natural History Museum with the closest Underground Station being that of South Kensington Station with a short 5-minute walk to the entrance. The museum received approx. 3.2 million visitors each year which attests to the quality of exhibits and popularity. There is no fee for admission however donation boxes are located at the entrance for visitors to contribute towards the expenses of this museum
Markets & Shopping
London is full of markets which is one of the best things about the city. From highly organized markets such as the one located in Camden that has a rich and colourful history to the neighbourhood food market of Notting Hill, London has something for everyone.
We visited Camden Market on a Sunday (which is the main trading day) and it was well worth the effort going. There are approx. 250,000 per week to this market, gives an indication as to why it is so popular. The market itself is located in the old Pickford Horse Stables in Camden Town with a number of the original woodwork and doors being visible as part of the store fronts. Its is a mixture off all types of crafts such as leather, jewelery, fashion with a number of great street food vendors being permanently located on site. The day we visited, the sun was shining and it was a balmy 32 deg which was perfect to sit outside with some local pints and to soak up the sun.
There has been a lot of effort invested in keeping the market authentic and quirky and one of the way the owners have achieved this is by banning any and all large chain store groups from the market. There is a section that resembles the typical “china town” feel, selling an array of plastic items but this we skipped as this can be found all over. The real market is in an area called Stables Market and this is the place you should be heading to for the real experience.
London is known around the world as a major fashion centre with the Annual London Fashion Week being held in February. There are a number traditional shopping districts in London where all the major brands can be found, here are some of the shopping centres in London and what brands you will typically find there:
- Oxford Street – John Lewis, Top Shop, Debenhams
- Bond Street – Burberry, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co
- Regent Street – Apple, Benson & Clegg, Hamleys
- Knightsbridge – Harrods, Havey Nichols
- Notting Hill – Portobello Road Market, Dolly Diamond, Odabash
- The Kings Road – Duke of York Square, Chelsea Antiques Market
- Covent Garden Market – Tom Ford, Moleshine, Hobbs
- Carnaby Street – Liberty, Paul Smith, Carnaby London
- Savile Row – Gieves & Hawkes, Abercrombie & Fitch
The list of shops are extensive so bring your wallet with should you wish to make a day or two of shopping till you drop.
Night Life & Theatres
Apart from the pubs and clubs, there are many other attractions such as music based venues, theatres and comedy clubs located across the city. Some of the most well-known venues are Shepherds Bush Empire, Brixton Academy, Hammersmith Apollo, Wembley Arena, The Marquee, The UCL Bloomsbury, the Royal Albert Hall and the London Astoria (now closed).
London is best known for its Theatre and dance scene with West End being the top of the list. West End has some 38 different theatres that have had a combined annual audience of some 15 million theatre goers. THis is a staggering amount but also is a testament to the quality of production and the support from the public for such productions.
Some shows that will and have been typically been on offer would be Les Misérables (the longest running musical in history), Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats, The Phantom of the Opera, Lion King, Blood Brothers and the Mouse trap. It must be noted that tickets to these shows are not cheap however you need to apply the principle of “you only get what you pay for” and believe me, you get a world-class performance that will live with you for many years to come.
In addition to the West End productions, there are a number of other arts based attactions such as the Royal Ballet based at the Royal Opera House and English National Ballet based in Kensington, performing at the London Coliseum.
Final Word for Guests of London City
The City of London is one of those cities that you can keep going back to as there is just so much to see and do. The city is constantly reinventing itself which is part of the appeal as it doesn’t loose touch with its rich heritage while doing so.
Whether you are looking get a glimpse of the royal family, eat fish & chips on the Thames or take in a West End Show, London will not disappoint.
Thanks for reading my post and if you have enjoyed reading about London, it would be great to hear from you by leaving something in the comments section.