by JOANNE HO
“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford”, said somebody smart (actually Samuel Johnson, an English writer and poet)
London, in my opinion, is one of the most exciting urban cities in the world. I’m not usually about the hustle and bustle but if you get a chance to go to London, you may find that it truly has a corner for every kind of traveler. Here are some tips and highlights for a quick visit to London.
Capital of England
Getting into the city
Note that if you are flying into London Heathrow, there are various ways to get into the city. Being cost-conscious, I would recommend their subway system which is only around £6 to get to central London, but takes about an hour. If you have much to do, then a good alternative is to take the Heathrow Express train that takes you straight to Paddington in around 15-20 minutes, but at a premium of £22, or £25 during peak hours. I’d avoid a taxi, because it can easily run you up £100 and London has some pretty silly traffic that can take you over an hour.
Please do yourself a favour and see Big Ben. The first time I went to London, I had no intention of going out of my way to see a clock tower, but I happened across it at sunset and it literally took my breath away. No picture will do it justice because it will never capture how the gold of the tower glitters in the sky. Day, night, sunset… it doesn’t matter – it is still much more astounding in person. Dare I say it’s even more romantic than the Eiffel Tower? Well – I’ll let you decide. Fun fact: only the clock is called Big Ben. The tower itself is called Elizabeth Tower.
Eat very well
Make sure you prepare your stomach because London has some of the best food in the world. At the time of writing, London has 71 Michelin-starred restaurants. This is very exciting for a little adventurous food-lover coming from Canada where there is…none. Ball out at Gordon Ramsay‘s 3-star Michelin restaurant which has kept 3 stars since 2001, or for a modestly budgeted St John Restaurant which Anthony Bourdain touted as his favourite restaurant in the world, or try something different like Japanese-Peruvian food at Chotto Matte in Soho.
Borough Market and London Bridge
While we’re on the topic of food, check out Borough Market – renowned for offering local gourmet foods and produce. Cheese… so much delicious cheese. It’s also a short walk away from the infamous London Bridge so I’ve put the two into one category. If you have some time, continue walking along the river for 15 minutes to Tower Bridge’s glass-floor walkway for some great views of the city.
If it’s good enough for the Queen to shop at Harrods, then it’s good enough for me! And if you can afford the luxury goods, then more power to you (and get me a little something while you’re there)! If you like to eat, make sure you check out the Food Hall where they have gourmet…everything. A friend recommended to pick up Harrods’ Earl Gray tea here, and I pass on the same advice to you. Best tea ever. Which makes sense as the English do take tea quite seriously.
And since I mentioned tea, do try to book an appointment for afternoon tea because again, the English take tea very seriously. And scones. And jams. If you’re not fond of the traditional fancy tea-party, like afternoon tea at the Ritz, try heading into Shoreditch for a fun, hipster take on it at Hoi Polloi. If you really want one for the ‘gram, check out sketch London, a 2-star Michelin restaurant, where the experience is kind of like diving into the mind of a mad artist, and you end up with beautiful Instagram photos and an absolutely unforgettable experience.
If you find yourself in London on a Sunday, head over to a nearby pub for some Sunday roast. It would be a really good idea to get yourself some Sunday roast because it’s a very happy and delicious thing to look forward to on a Sunday and the Brits get it right everytime.
Let me just clarify that just because this shows up low on the list does not make it any less significant. London offers world-class museums and galleries that are completely free to the public, making it easy to duck in and out (especially on your wallet) if you’re pressed for time. There are 23 museums but of note, the British Museum holds a notable collection of artefacts, including the Rosetta Stone right on the main level of the museum, and the Natural History Museum, which boasts a skeleton model of a blue whale impressively suspended from the ceiling. And if you’re not into boring history, the buildings themselves are remarkable.
The parks, the parks, the parks
London is so rich with parks and a stroll through them is always an incredible experience. My favourite is Regent’s Park, especially in the fall when the leaves are changing and the rose gardens are in bloom. A visit to Hyde Park is also particularly lovely at sunset. Get a seat at Lido Café’s restaurant or outdoor terrace in Hyde Park, with a wine or tea in hand, and enjoy views of the setting sun with the lake and swans floating by in front of you.
There’s so much more you can do in this city, such as Buckingham Palace, Brick Lane, London Eye, etc. But these are the experiences that continue to stand out for me and I try to hit these highlights every time I visit. I hope you fall in love with this city like I have!
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