Tips and Tricks for a Stay in London
In honor of the increasingly popular Buzzfeed lists, here is my personal list of Tips and Tricks for a stay in London. Cheers!
1) Walk –Depending on how much time you have in London, walking everywhere may not be possible or practical. However, if you are able to I recommend walking as much as possible. Walking is the best way to see the real London and get out of the tourist traps. A few weeks ago, I decided to walk to the National Portrait Gallery and cut through a small alleyway. There I discovered the house Handel lived in, which has now become a museum, along with a number of restaurants cozily tucked away in this small alcove. If I had decided to take the quick tube ride instead, I would never have found this hidden treasure. In addition, there are maps every few hundred yards in central London so it is almost impossible to get lost. While I have ruined several pairs of shoes walking around this city, it does not compare to the afternoons I have spent quietly wandering around discovering the different treasures this city contains.
2) Museums –While most guidebooks will recommend a trip to the number of museums here, this tip really cannot be under-emphasized. London’s museums are some of the best in the world and they are all free! This is a real departure from most museums in the States, and in a city as expensive as London finding ways to save money is important. My personal favorites are the British Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. Many people miss the Portrait Gallery because it is a bit hidden around the corner from the larger National Gallery, but it is not to be missed. In it you can see the transition and evolution of the United Kingdom through the eyes of its greatest leaders and influential figures. The identifiable nature of the figures also makes it a bit more interesting for some than seeing the thousandth representation of Madonna and the Christ child that comprise a lot of the art in other museums. Other popular museums include the National Gallery, the Tate Modern, the Victoria and Albert, the Science Museum, and the Churchill War Rooms (though this museum does charge an entrance fee).
My favorite portrait in the gallery
3) Afternoon Tea –This may sound like a cheesy and very touristy thing, but going for afternoon tea is something so quintessentially British that no trip to London is complete without doing it once. Most teas will range in price from around fifteen to seventy pounds depending on where you go and what options you choose to come with the tea. The standard package usually includes one pot of tea per person, finger sandwiches, scones, clotted cream, and a selection of sweet treats. I went to Kettner’s in Soho which costs 18.67 (the year of their founding), and it was lovely. The décor is exactly what you want in an afternoon tea. The walls are painted in a series of light colors, and the furniture is made up of mismatched antiques and plush couches.
Check it out: http://www.kettners.com/dining/afternoon-tea/
Kettner's Afternoon Tea
4) Pub Trip –Going to a pub for a nice pint and a meal with a group of friends always makes for an enjoyable evening. Pub culture itself is also interesting for Americans because pubs do not really exist in the States. Now I know British food has a bad reputation. While it is certainly not healthy, it is just as tasty as a traditional American burger and fries, except for mushy peas. No matter how many times I come here I can never bring myself to eat mushy peas. My personal recommendations would be bangers and mash (sausages and mash potatoes in gravy), the traditional fish and chips, or a steak and ale pie (similar to a chicken pot pie, the steak is marinated in ale and baked into a pie). If you do not want to spend much money I would recommend a franchise pub like a Taylor Walker. They have all the look and feel of a traditional pub with the standard benefits of a franchised brand.
The Eagle and Child in Oxford
5) Cider –Alcoholic cider is one of my favorite beverages and it is very common here. Britain has a number of great beers, ales, and lagers, but cider is more of a novelty for American tourists. Ciders here are also much better in terms of flavor than ones in the States like Woodchuck. My personal favorite is Strongbow or Strongy B as my friend Paul calls it, the man who originally introduced me to Strongbow thereby causing irreparable damage to my bank account. If you are really brave you can try a “snakebite,” which is a pint of equal parts cider and beer.
6) Public Parks –For such a large metropolitan area, London has a number of expansive public parks that would take weeks to properly wander through. Some of the most famous include Regent’s Park, Hyde Park, Hampstead Heath, Green Park, St. James Park, Victoria Park, Battersea Park, and Holland Park. Each park has its own famous landmarks and spots to see. Regent’s Park has Queen Mary’s Garden, which has a superb collection of colorful roses and other flowers. Hyde Park has the infamous Speaker’s Corner where people are allowed to engage in open-air public speaking and debates on any topic.
For a list of the Royal Parks and their major attractions see: http://www.royalparks.org.uk/.
My friends and me in Regent's Park
7) South Bank –South Bank is an area of London directly adjacent to the south bank of the Thames River with a pedestrian walkway along its length. It is roughly a two to three mile walk from start to finish, depending on where you begin and end. Walking along the path gives visitors a lovely view of architecture and culture in London. Along the path there are a number of street entertainers, the London Eye, the Tate Modern, the London Aquarium, the OXO Tower, a skateboarding park, restaurants, a book market, and much more. I recommend starting at the Houses of Parliament and walking down across the river, then to Millennium Bridge and onto St. Paul’s Cathedral or continuing on a little further down to London Bridge and Borough Market.
8) Primrose Hill –Primrose Hill lies right above Regent’s Park and it is one of the only hills in London. Since London lies so low next to the Thames, a trip to the top of Primrose Hill will show you a beautiful panoramic view of the city for far less than an overpriced trip on the London Eye. It is an ideal place for a nice sunset picnic with a few friends and a few drinks.
9) Avoid Oxford Street –Oxford Street is one of the main streets here in London, and it is full of a number of shops and even more filled with hordes of people. It is to be avoided at all costs, unless you enjoy being trapped in a sea of tourists stopping to take photos every five minutes. A lot of the shops are nice and inexpensive clothing stores, but nothing is really radically different from what you would find in the States, and there are far better things to do with your time. If you do want to go visit a shop on the street, I recommend taking streets right off Oxford Street that run parallel to it until you get to your destination. You will save yourself at least five to ten minutes on your journey because you will not have to wade through a sea of people.
10) Markets –There are a number of outdoor and covered markets here, and no trip to London is complete without seeing at least one. Some of the most notable include Borough Market, Portobello Market, Spitalfields Market, Covent Garden Market and Camden Market, but there are many more depending on your tastes and interests. Camden Market is probably the most famous and it is also my favorite. Located in North London, it is next to the locks of Regent’s Canal. The market has a number of clothing and trinket vendors, in addition to stalls with cheap food from all over the world. My favorite place in the market is the Basement Tea Room, a small café underneath the main market located in the old stables. There you can rest your feet from walking around the market and get a pot of fresh tea for only a pound per person.
See http://www.camdenlockmarket.com/ for more information.
The Basement Tea Room
11) Get out of London –London as I have stated ad nauseam is an incredible city, but it is not the only place in the UK to see. If you have time in your trip, I recommend travelling outside of London to see some of the other great towns and cities here. For a rundown on some of the places I have been, stay tuned for my next entry.
Cornwall, No Filter