With the sun finally making an appearance this week in London it seems the perfect time to start getting out there and experiencing this great city.
I like hearing other people’s ideas and thoughts on this great city, of places and things to do and it got me thinking. If I were to guide a visitor around ‘Ol’ London Town’ where would I take them?
I’m a born and bred Londoner, born within the sound of St. Mary Le Bow’s bells.
This in itself confuses many a person, as the Bow Bells does not refer to Bromley by Bow, out East of London, but right in the centre, inside the city itself. St Mary’s is on Cheapside, which runs between The Bank and St. Paul’s Cathedral.
So yes I was born in Bart’s Hospital, one of the oldest and nicest hospital’s in London, now sitting opposite Smithfield Meat Market (not the place for Veggies like Bob, but seriously cool, at 3am).
I grew up in a Victorian Terrace house much like this…
Now some posts give ideas that are good, some are great and most are bloody expensive! But there are cheaper ways around and hopefully this will give you some ideas.
To start, you can always get a black cab, London’s Public Carriage Licensed Taxi drivers have to pass an extensive exam, that (these days) takes about 4-5 years to complete, in theory, by the time they finish ‘The Knowledge’ and get their green badge, they should know, ever, hotel, block of flats, street, pub, government building and every short cut, in London, thus be able to get you from A-to-B in a flash.
The reality seems that they get a badge, buy a Sat Nav, forget everything they just learnt and then spend their entire lives shouting ‘Fuck Off’ to every other road user And Trying to hit all cyclists.
So instead Get on another Iconic symbol of London, a Double Decker. If you catch the number 11 Bus from Liverpool St to Fulham Broadway and see all the sights worth seeing and save yourself about £20 on one of those open top tourist buses – plus ‘open top bus’ in London? It rains every other day on average in London you’re just going to end up cold and wet and you’ll save yourself about £40 from if you got in the cab.
An arty Idea
So where to go? Well a great idea would be Tate Modern an incredible building to start with, tons of incredible art from Warhol to Pollack, Hirst and Whiteread all for free and all inspiring to any creative soul.
Classical and Modern London
Then when you come out, go across the ‘wobbly bridge’ (The Millennium bridge) when first build swayed so much it made people sea sick and got the nickname. Also a little fun thing with this bridge is in the rain you can slide over the metal surface like a kid doing ‘skids’!
At the other end of the bridge is St. Peter’s Hill a pedestrianised road made up of steps in small flights to cure to rise from the river. If you are lucky to time this when the skateboarders are in situ (usually Saturday or during school holidays), you’ll get to see some true mobile artists practicing tricks, jumps and spectacular crashes over the steps.
Then you have a great view of St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Now to get inside this beautiful building is quite expensive (about £15) but it’s kind of worth it, just for the whispering gallery.
A marvel of architectural engineering, so called because if you sit at one side of the gallery and a friend sits directly opposite and you whisper against the wall, they will be able to hear your words.
The new shopping centre next door (One New Change) offers a pleasant shopping experience, but mostly a great view of the Cathedral too from the roof of the rather nice Madison Restaurant
A ‘Bloody’ Expensive idea
Is to go into the Tower of London to see the Crown Jewels, sure they are impressive but it will cost you the price of one of the diamonds just to see them (£25pp). A cheaper idea is to head to Hatton Garden and look in the window of the jewellery Shops, or visit Tiffany’s on Bond St, or Theo Fennell in the Fulham Rd, these are free to enter and you could even buy something you will treasure rather than paying £7 for a ballpoint pen in the tower.
Just a little point for all you tourists (and mostly Americans!) Tower Bridge is the one with the draw bridge and the blue towers, this is not London Bridge, that is the next one along the river, the more ordinary one! Fergie didn’t know what she was singing about!
London Bridge is also the one that was bought by Missourian entrepreneur Robert P. McCulloch for $460,000 and we built another one. This may sound extreme but some rich American wanted it and paid a lot of money for it. He did not however buy it thinking he had bought Tower bridge, he knew what he paid for.
If however you do want a good picture of Tower bridge do go to London Bridge and then climb the stairs inside the Monument. This pillar was built to commemorate the ‘Great Fire of London’ that burnt down a great section of the old city in 1666. The Monument has good views of the city and of Tower Bridge and the Tower of London.
Talking of stairs
When travelling around London on the tube (that’s the underground or Subway if you prefer) you should always take the stairs up to the surface, especially at Covent Garden, Gospel Oak and Holloway Rd among others, to experience the magnitude and engineering marvel that is the London Underground, plus it’s more fun than an elevator! – I think this is a whole different post for another time!
Now Covent Garden is great and I’d live there if I could afford it. It is full of tourists but also has a great atmosphere, a ton of shops, buskers (street entertainment) and great restaurants and bars. One secret is Neal’s Yard, find it from alleyways off of Monmouth St or Short’s Garden. For good Veggie and Vegan food and lovely on a summer’s day (when the sun is out).
A quaint museum
Nearby is Holborn and behind the station on Lincolnshire inns Fields, where the law courts are and barristers offices are located, as well as the ‘Inns of court’ and a truly great secret of London.
The Sir. John Soane’s Museum. This pair of Georgian houses joined to make one house, was the home of a great Englishman, an architect responsible for the building of The Bank of England (at Bank) and also an avid collector of objects and statues, basically a wealthy man who travelled around Europe paying people lots of money for their country’s relics! Get the ushers to move the paintings for you, there are Constables and Raphaels, in amongst Hogarth’s and Turners, all laid on top of each other in tiny rooms.
So what else?
Well I do not tend to spend a lot of time eating in the best restaurants but I would say if you can get a table at The Ivy, do and have a good look at the menu it is surprisingly reasonable and the fry up is said to be amazing! Also Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen is a must, if you can afford £60 per person for dinner. A great building too (it was once my studio for a short time because he took it over),
I also don’t go ‘Souf’ of the river too often – being a North London boy, I can’t get the visa!!- but Clapham Common and Clapham High Street are great. I spent a lot of time there when I was a photographer’s assistant many years ago. These days the nightlife there is great, tons of bars and clubs, worth the travel once in a while (but I wouldn’t want to live there! – It’s too far south!)
A good crush
Over to the West you of course have Harrods, you can’t visit London without going there, but seriously (many will disagree with me here), but you have to visit the week before Christmas if you go at any time! It is packed, so busy in the front foyer that you get the feeling of being sheep on market day! I love crowds and this is one crowd you need to experience, it’s crazy, all these people thinking they are going to get the greatest shopping experience of their lives in one store, well it won’t be but it’s one to tick off the list!
Better is Harvey Nichols (Harvey Nick’s to the locals), much more the sedate, stylish shopping experience and with their own loyalty scheme a better all round shop.
While you are over this way the Fulham Rd is a delight and a must for food and exclusive shopping, but take your credit cards because it can get expensive.
Also if you’re into spending money The King’s Rd is wonderful and great of a night for drinks. The playground of Trust-Fund babies, 21yo millionaires and Arabian Princes. There are some lovely little clubs, but you will pay for the privilege, unless of course you’re beautiful and in a short dress!! (even the men!)
The lost Camden
Camden Lock and High St used to be a wonder of London, the place where all the city’s freaks went shopping, then Camden Council got wind that tourists were travelling there to experience this ‘Alternative’ Culture and they thought to ‘enhance’ the place. Now it is dead, no freaks (saved those charging for photos) and filled with chain clothes shops and stalls selling the same crappy, chavy t-shirts, junk and tat. It’s really not worth the visit any longer.
Back to the tube station Stairs!
So Gospel Oak or more accurately Hampstead Heath is an absolute must for any trip to London. The ‘village of Hampstead’ itself is lovely and awfully posh! But if you want the Heath and you do. Get a number 290 bus to Kenwood House, walk down the to the wonderful house, around the formal garden and around to the café at the rear, have an really expensive cup tea here and then head down and into the woods to ‘get lost’,
Eventually you will end up out the other side at Gospel Oak or Primrose Hill (hopefully). Great with a dog and kids (of any age).
The best views of London are from atop of Parliament hill or Primrose Hill. The Heath is probably my only place I truly like in London, I tend to lean more towards natural vistas instead of concrete and metal and If I can get away from people I will! You can wander for hours and get away from all the noise of the busy streets.
Bones and a Cool Building
Visit the Natural History Museum at South Kensington, get off at the tube and walk along the underpass, listening to the mix of musicians playing and see the most beautiful building in London (my opinion) you’ll also have to look at boring bones of big dead things (Which is the only good part thanks!) 😕 but the building is great!
Just avoid school holidays, it is a thing that English parents are cruel and punish their naughty children by making them spend their school holiday traipsing around boring museums!
But anyway when you go back to Central London on the District Line, as you enter Sloane Sq tube (& possibly get off for Kings Rd) look up. You will see a green bridge overhead wide, this is the Westbourne River, what is left of it that is. Still flowing from the Thames South and out of London.
Now another essential tube station to walk up out of is Holloway Rd, the spiral stairway was the sight of the first and only attempt at a rotating escalator, it lasted about 30 minutes when open in the early 20th century and it killed about 20 people. Today there are simply stairs that don’t move!
But at the top you can get to the real home of modern football, get tickets ad visit The Emirates Stadium on a match day for a great and exhilarating crowd.
Now there are a number of football teams in London, but only one worth visiting. Arsenal are the oldest and best London team and the stadium is impressive to say the least. Yes I am a Gooner (Arsenal fan) so I may be little biased, but the statistics prove it to be true!!
What else, what else?
Well London has more parks and green spaces than any other major city in the world, so you should try to visit as many as you can.
Some to recommend are Regent’s Park, St. James’ Park, Highbury Fields, Holland Park, Victoria Embankment Park, Blackheath and of course Hampstead Heath.
A great freebie is the Hare Krishna free lunch at UCL every day at 1pm. A lovely peaceful offering from a group of lovely people, you may also see the Krishna musicians dancing, singing and playing music along Oxford St most days, listen for the bells and drums and go say hello, maybe even join in.
The timely Heart Of London
The Greenwich Observatory and Meridian is where time begins and ends – No seriously, it is where you get the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) by which all time in the world is marked. Everyday at midday the ball at the top of the observatory drops (rather slowly – I always felt it should drop with a thump!) to mark the exact time to set your watches by.
The surrounding park is really one of the best in London with great view of the South Downs and down to the south coast.
That is enough to get you started isn’t it?
Now we are suffering a real lack of comments and conversations here on this blog and this should be the perfect time for you to comment, leave some other ideas of what to do in London, maybe put down some suggestions for the south of the river as we rarely travel that way ourselves and then we will get around to writing part two hopefully with your suggestions included.
Now stop wasting your time reading blogs and go visit London – and say we said hello!