TOP 5 FOR LONDON:
- Have a beer (or many) at a traditional British Pub
- Take a hop-on, hop-off bus tour- it really gets you around to all the big sites efficiently.
- Walk through Hyde Park or Kensington Gardens for a serene British breath of fresh air.
- Goggle at the beautiful monstrosity which is Harrod’s department store.
- Wander through Camden Market for a taste of the local & sometimes weird culture of London.
- British Museum
- Natural History Museum
- The Cutty Sark
- Top Kensington Gardens
London is truly a melting pot of so many cultures and people. I love the juxtaposition of a traditional British pub beside an Indian curry shop or a high-end boutique clothing store. I love how staying in Piccadilly Circus vs. Kensington gives you the feeling you have been in two different cities. I love how you can wander for hours and never tire of the sites and sounds.
However, the best lesson I’ve learned while travelling to London is that being frugal is not always a good idea. My second time travelling there, I found a charter flight that flew direct Calgary to Heathrow, then home direct Paris to Calgary, for $1100. Which sounds pretty great, right? Well, the flight from Calgary to Heathrow was literally the WORST flight I’ve ever experienced. I was sandwiched between two tall large man in the middle seat, both of which were somewhat spreading themselves and their belongings over the proverbial armrest barrier into my small personal space. Then that cute little seatback TV that you are supposed to be able to watch all the good new movies on for the next 8.5 hours? The sound didn’t work. And only one channel worked. So I watched Black Swan twice, with no sound- for those of you who have seen it, imagine trying to figure out that movie with no commentary or music. Creepy is all I can say. Anyways, by the time we landed in London I was that overtired crazy looking girl who was ready to scream at anyone that looked remotely happy. Alas. Failed experiment. No more Thomas Cook airlines for me.
The same holds true for accommodations. As London is a rather fantastically-expensive city, I’ve searched high and low for decent hotels at a decent price. . . a challenge to say the least. The Travelodge by Tower Bridge, at roughly $80 CDN per night, was . . . fine I suppose. The room was incredibly sparsely-decorated- bed, chair, TV, shower, and nothing else, and the sounds of passing cars and trains throughout the night was quite apparent through paper-thin walls.
I’ve also stayed near Kensington Gardens, Piccadilly Circus, and the Docklands, and Top Kensington Gardens Hotel is my best budget find by far. Price for a single room was roughly 60 euro per night, including a breakfast buffet. The hotel and room were both TINY, but the building is charming and set on the quaint Kensington Gardens Square, surrounded by equally charming houses and hotels and leafy beautiful trees. The location can’t be beat.
The sites of London are always a treat- putzing around Westminster Abbey, Kensington Gardens, and Camden Market is a good day’s work, if the weather cooperates. Camden Market is incredibly unique & funky, with all sorts of vendors and shops selling all varieties of things. My friend and I perused the food stalls and settled on a bite of Indian, which was not hard considering the heavenly smells wafting from the stall. While Portabello market is fun as well, I would recommend Camden for a more authentic taste of the local cultural diversity. Portabello road seems increasingly gimmick-y and geared too much towards, well, tourists.
If you’re hankering for some evening fun, I would highly recommend taking in one of the many broadway shows around the city. I saw Wicked at the Apollo theatre (after having seen it in Calgary) and have to say it was WAY better in London. Amazing set, unbelievable costumes, astoundingly-talented singers and dancers. . . overall spending the money on a ticket is really worth it.
Not to be missed is the British Museum – housing an incredible wealth of artifacts and fascinating stories from around the world. The V&A (Victoria and Albert) is also worth a trip. If you’re interested in old ships, the Cutty Sark is a fascinating trip. I was lucky enough to board the ship and tour via a private party. . . so the canapes and champagne may have increased my enjoyment 🙂 And of course, no trip to London is complete without wandering through Harrods department store – don’t be surprised if you feel like you’ve entered an alternate universe. The main floor hosts a dizzying array of perfumes, handbags, scarfs, jewelry, & watches, transitioning into an even more dizzying area with every possible food item under the planet. Dates from Morocco? Hand-crafted chocolates from Peru? Exotic star fruit from China? Macaroons from Paris? Whatever you want, they have it. And it’s all wrapped up in a pretty little package of beautiful glossy display cases, staffers dressed up in cute uniforms, chandeliers dangling from the ceilings and decorations dripping off the walls- extravagance at it’s finest 🙂 On the upper floors you will find men’s and women’s fashions, shoes, a pet store, local British souvenirs, and many many more things. . .
At the end of a (sure-to-be) exhausting day of shopping, treat yourself to a pint at a proper British pub. . . I’d be hard-pressed to find a more enjoyable place to enjoy a beer than a real British pub 🙂