So where to start with London… The capital of my homeland and one of my favorite places on earth!
To see the tourist spots, get an open top tour bus (in my opinion better than the underground because you actually get to see things).
First stop, Buckingham Palace. Most people think the queen actually lives here but in fact she lives just outside of London. You can tell if the queen is visiting as the flag will be flying on top of the Palace (she was in when we visited). Also, when she is visiting, she stays in the smaller yellowish building to the left of the Palace and not in the famous large white building. You can take tours of the Palace, shamefully I have never done this, it’s on my list to do…
Heading down the Mall you will get to Trafalgar Square, the home to thousands of pigeons. In Trafalgar Square, is a rooftop bar at the top of the Trafalgar Hotel that I can recommend for alternative views of the city.
Not far from Trafalgar Square, just off Whitehall you can catch the changing of the guard at Horse Guards Parade. It is a precession with soldiers and horses and it takes place daily at 10am but 11am on Sundays.
Continuing down Whitehall you will get to the Houses of Parliament. A lot of people think the clock tower is called Big Ben but it is the bell inside the tower that is Big Ben
On the opposite side of the river is the London Eye. If you want to go on this book tickets in advance as the queues can get pretty lengthy at peak times
If you continue down the river you will pass the Tate Modern Art museum. All museums in the UK are free to visit but you can make a donation if you have enjoyed your visit. Inside the Tate you will find many pieces on show some by Picasso, Dali and Warhol to name a few. You will also pass Shakespeare’s globe, a replica of the Elizabethan theatre.
Eventually you will get to Tower Bridge and the Tower of London.
The Tower of London historically was a prison but nowadays you will be able to marvel at the breathtaking crown jewels, stand on the execution site of three English Queens and view the Royal Armory. It is a very interesting visit and gives an insight into some of the Royal history.
Just around the corner from the Tower of London is the newest addition to the London Skyline, The Shard. The building is a mixture of offices, hotel and restaurants/bars.
There is a viewing platform on level 72 that is accessible with a small charge however; I would recommend visiting Aqua, the cocktail lounge on level 31 open throughout the day into the evening. Expensive drinks but the atmosphere is chilled and you can relax by the window admiring the view. Thirty one stories is definitely high enough to see the whole city. There is quite a strict dress code so no trainers or sportswear, but the warm toilet seats are definitely worth making the effort for.
Back across the river is St Paul’s Cathedral and the Banking district. During the week this is the busiest hub on London where you’d be lucky to even getting a phone signal as there is that are people in such a small area.
During the weekend the place is deserted and most shops are closed. I’d say this is the best time to visit as you aren’t fighting to walk down the street and you can actually admire the architecture around.
There is a great mix between modern high-rise skyscrapers such as the Gherkin and older stone buildings like the Bank of England and St Paul’s.
So that’s the main sights sorted. Let’s talk food and drink!
One thing that London isn’t short of is eateries or drinking holes after all it is home to many a Great British Pubs.
My best advice to find the best pub, look down backstreets and find the smallest, oldest looking pub and the probability is it will be a gem.
Don’t order a bottle of beer (you will get funny looks) draft beer is what you want to order and maybe try one of the local ales.
A national pub chain called Wetherspoons, won’t give you the homely pub feel but it will definitely supply you with cheap food and drinks in a city otherwise on the expensive side.
China town is home to some of the best Chinese restaurants in the city. To be honest it is standard Chinatown affair but everyone loves a good Chinese meal.
Not far from Chinatown is Soho, in the past this was the seedy part of town and also home to the gay scene. Now, even though the gay bars and clubs are still there they are a lot more welcoming to the straight crowd and its reputation has been revamped and cleaned up dramatically. A great night out can be had here, whatever your music taste, I guarantee you could find a bar that plays it.
One thing to note, is that the UK standard measure of spirits is smaller than the US so don’t think they are trying to cheat you.
Leicester Square is probably best known for its film premiers but it is also home to tkts, discount theatre tickets. If you don’t care for the best seats in the house but you’d quite like to see a Broadway show then hit this place up in the morning for a guaranteed bargain. There are a lot of smaller outlets around Leicester Square selling show tickets they also can get you a good deal on tickets if you don’t fancy queuing up in the tkts line.
There are many restaurants round Leicester Square, Bubba Gump Shrimp, a restaurant based on the film Forrest Gump, Bella Italia, a chain Italian restaurant. All serve good food but you won’t find anything out of the ordinary here.
Covent Garden is an area with a lot of street artists and on a sunny day (yes they do happen in England, a couple of times a year) you can sit outside and enjoy a cup of tea and watch the world go by.
There are many boutique restaurants around Covent Garden, some a lot more expensive than others so definitely check before you sit down and order! But all of the ones I have been to have been delicious
One dish you have to eat whilst making a trip to the UK is the traditional Sunday Roast with Yorkshire puddings. You will find this in many restaurants and pubs.
Just a short tube ride out of the centre and you can get to Camden Town. This area is an eclectic mix of shops, bars and restaurants.
There is a large market selling everything from t-shirts to soap. Not everything sold here is the real deal so if the deal is too good to be true, it probably is!
There are many food stalls on the market, a visit here should not be optional, some great food here!!
So that is a quick run down of the essentials to see in London. It is one of my favorite cities for sure. An insider’s guide of secret bars, best eateries and other things to see will follow soon!