London is definitely one of the most iconic cities in the world, so when you visit here you always leave a little bit of your heart behind. Most of us have grown up knowing the names of many iconic places in London, thanks to the original Monopoly, and at some level have a longing to visit. With so many areas to cover and each Borough offering something different, you are guaranteed to leave satisfied no matter what kind of traveller you are.
London is one of the easiest cities to get around, the Tube and bus routes are undoubtedly some of the best in the world, however, beware of the peak times where things can get a little crowded. Purchase yourself an Oyster Card as this is the cheapest most effective way for you to get around, it will work out around 50% cheaper than purchasing single tickets. Also, consider using the Oyster Card and London Underground (Tube) to get to Central London at a cost saving almost half of that for the Heathrow Connect Train.
In our opinion there are only 2 downsides to London;
- Weather is generally cold, but you should see the energy rise in the residents when the warmth of the sun starts to kick in – it is glorious and everyone definitely has a new lease on life.
- Expense, London is a very expensive city, but there are a tonne of things to do that will not burn a hole in your pocket. Do your research, look for free walking tours, cheap eats at pubs and many of the iconic buildings you can walk past and feel satisfied.
Our accommodation was booked in Clerkenwell, which is very close to where Moosh and FT used to live. This locale would provide a real feel for what it is like being a “Londoner”. Although getting there was quite a drama (with the Tube partially closed for maintenance that evening) we jumped off at Covent Garden and opted to share a black cab. Once we arrived at Apartment Clerkenwell One, London, we looked around, dumped our bags in our rooms and chilled for a brief second. The boys went for a walk to get some Nosh and drinkypoos, while the girls stayed back.
Waking up the next morning in the fresh crisp air was certainly a delight (for some) and one where Moosh would take the opportunity to go for an early morning jog around the “Ol’ Neighbourhood”. Pillow over his head FT mumbled, “Girl you crazy”. Now we were all a little hungry (what’s new!?!) so off we went to Ottolenghi, Islington. A venue that brings back fond memories for Moosh and FT, they were thrilled to have the chance to share it with the Vades. The good thing about this place, besides the taste and quality of the food, is that the choices on the menu are limited so you do not spend a lot of time deciding what to eat (and hence eat and be happier sooner). We left feeling satisfied and ready to walk the streets of London. There is usually a line-up around brunch time, so come early and avoid the wait. Worth it, yes indeed!
As we have mentioned London is very easy to get around, you can walk to many spots and so walk we did (our soles can testify to that!). We made it to King’s Cross, jumped on the Tube and made our way to Oxford Circus, Regent Street and Piccadilly Circus. Similar to Times Square in New York, albeit on a smaller scale, you will find neon sign boards with advertisements all around. Being in the heart of London, it is easily accessible and you can walk here from many Boroughs including Soho, Chinatown and the West End. If you are looking for some great priced sportswear check out Lillywhites, they got deals and steals!
After a quick stop at a local pub for some refuelling (wink, wink) we headed for The West End. Covent Garden is a jewel tucked away in the West End of London and the area has pretty much everything you want. Easily explored by foot, it boasts shopping, great restaurants and bars and it is smack bang in the middle of the West End Theatre District. There are plenty of ticket booths around so if you have time, grab some tickets, sit back and enjoy taking in a comedy or a classic musical!
One of our favourite pubs in London was The Easton, (perhaps biased, our local circa 2007-08) this little gem can be found in Clerkenwell and if you find yourself in the area, stop in for a pint or two and some great pub grub. Dinner on that night had been pre-planned, with Friends (London, Vancouver, Melbourne) and Family (Dubai) walking through the door, overdue catch-ups, much-needed hugs and introductions. We laughed and (block your ears Mum) boozed the night away.
There are many, many iconic sights to see in London so, as we did, be sure to maximise your time to get around and see what you can, while you can. Note that the below is in no specific order for an itinerary. London has a penchant for rain, so map your days into zones, but be flexible to swap the days around to suit the weather.
Buckingham Palace – Now let’s be honest you can’t visit London without having a gander at Buckingham Palace. Since 1837 this has been the home of the British Monarch. In summer visitors can see the lavish staterooms which are open from late July through to September. In total Buckingham Palace boasts 775 rooms…Wowza! 52 Bedrooms, 78 Bathrooms, 92 Offices, 19 State Rooms and a humble 188 Staff Quarters. Now don’t ask us which room the Queen sleeps in! If you would like to witness the Changing of the Guard – visit here and check the times. Be sure to check out the beauty of St James Park whilst you are in the neighbourhood!
Westminster Abbey – This stunning Church sees over a million visitors per year, not including those that pray at the daily service offering. At 700 years old, this old beauty is the Church where the much loved Royal couple Prince William and Kate Middleton took their vows. Keep in mind that Westminster Cathedral (names often confused) is a different building to the west of the Abbey.
Trafalgar Square – Officially named in 1830, it is a true hub for people gathering and people watching. Located in central London, it’s a perfect place to grab yourself a coffee and amuse yourself watching people taking photos with one of the 4 lions that surround Nelson’s Column (the growl pose…anyone?). The Square is jewelled by 2 glorious fountains and headed by The National Gallery, with the surrounding buildings providing many a perfect backdrop.
Tower Bridge – The iconic Tower Bridge is often mistaken for “London Bridge” (maybe because of the age-old nursery rhyme?). It was built somewhere between 1886 and 1894 and has a Gothic style architectural appearance. It is in close proximity to the Tower of London, so be sure to walk across admiring all it’s glory and make your way to the Tower of London. Tower Bridge would have to be one of the most renowned Bridges in the world, so please don’t miss this… (need we say it?)
Big Ben – For those who don’t know Big Ben is actually the bell that sits atop St. Stephens Tower, at the North End of the Palace of Westminster (aka the Houses of Parliament). It would have to be another one of London’s most recognisable symbols. If you are nearby on the hour, you will most certainly hear the loudest chime and one that people love to hear. If you can manage it, walk past at night and admire how well-lit it is. The illuminated clock faces draw you in to the history and the beauty of the Tower. Oh, and did you know that Big Ben weighs a staggering 13 tonnes! It is a short stroll to Number 10 Downing St the home of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
Oxford Street – Now for any shopping lovers out there, you would have definitely heard of Oxford St, we swear you could spend all day pounding the pavement and still not have been into every shop. You will find some major retailers like John Lewis, Selfridges and Marks and Spencer, plus another 300 or so other stores. We suggest you have your best walking shoes on if you plan on giving your credit card a workout!
Hyde Park – Hyde Park is a huge 142 hectares of green open space in central London. In summer the Park is bustling with people playing Frisbee, having a picnic or simply sunbaking and taking in all the sunshine (whilst they can).
Many a concert have been held there, including The Rolling Stones, Queen, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Nelson Mandela’s 90th Birthday. Hyde Park is open from 5am – midnight every day of the year. During the winter months they host a Winter Wonderland which provides a great opportunity to ice-skate (and fall over) in the iconic park…oh, and a warm mulled wine will add to the memories. They have placed a 7th July memorial to the victims of the 2005 London bombings and a memorial for the Late Princess Diana.
If you’re feeling a little bit fancy you can stop by the Grosvenor House for High Tea. They are well known for their Afternoon Tea service and although it is an expensive affair, it is worth the experience. remember to hold your little finger out and enjoy eating your dainty sandwiches whilst say words like indubitably with your nose held high.
Harrods of London – No trip to London would be complete without visiting the luxury shopping destination that is Harrods of London. The Friends were not in the market for any purchases. But we did partake in some foodie treats and checked out the tribute to Diana Princess of Wales.
Borough Markets – The Borough Markets are a foodies’ heaven. They are open from Monday through to Saturday and closed on public holidays. The closest tube station is London Bridge. Walking through there, you can really admire the history and the smells…. Ohh the smells of all the deliciousness, the delightfulness, the….(you get the idea). One of the most amazing things about such a diverse food market is that each of the Traders aims to have biodegradable packaging with none of the rubbish going to landfill. If you want to find events that are happening at the Borough Markets head here for details. Treat yourself, you know you want to!
Camden Markets – The Camden Markets are open from 10am til late every day. Some would say this market is a tad alternative, such that you will find a little bit of everything ranging from jewellery, clothing, souvenir stores and music stores (Vade found some rare Nirvana pressings at one of the stalls). Check out the photo of us re-enacting the debut studio album cover by The Clash. If you want to know about any events just head here for information. Nearby, Cafe Loren is a place noteworthy of a stop for some coffee and a delicious Shakshouka for breakfast. The neighbouring streets of Camden also boast the alternative vibe, somewhat punk-ish, with many colourful stores and street art. Take the time to walk around and take it all in.
St Pauls Cathedral – Sir Christopher Wren’s English Baroque masterpiece sits at the highest point of the City of London. Construction took 22 years (1675-1697) and when you see the magnificent dome, you can appreciate perhaps why. Tickets to go inside can be exxy for families and groups, so check it out on “the Googles” and decide if this is an option for you. Whilst in the neighbourhood some other worthy visits include – for old world charm the Leadenhall Market and for some space-aged wow the “Gherkin” and Lloyds of London.
Every time we travel we like to splurge on dinner one night and this time around our choice was Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. Now to say this place blew our minds is an understatement, a serious understatement! After having the experience of dining at the flagship restaurant you can really appreciate how and why they have received three Michelin-stars, providing their guests with some of the finest French Cuisine utilising techniques that are both classic and modern. We splurged on the Menu Prestige and have to say we have never ever experienced such “Fine Dining”, being treated like Royalty from the moment we stepped in. If you really feel like luxuriating yourselves, you simply cannot go past Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. Note that there is a dress code and for you #foodporn Instagrammers photos are not allowed.
One of the newest icons of London is The Shard and it was most definitely on the list. We chose this option for a City view over the London Eye (weighing up costs is never fun, but realistic). Now you can book tickets to go to The View (levels 68,69,72) or you can do as we did and book a table at GŎNG Bar, located on level 52 (they take walk-ins also, but best to book). By taking this option, we spent our money on champagne and cocktails rather than entry tickets to a viewing level. The view is still amazing….(except for the rain)….and so why not enjoy a cocktail at the same time…just saying! Although there is no dress code per-say for Gong Bar, shorts and flip-flops are not advised if you are a walk-in. You will need to check-in at reception downstairs. One thing to note about photography from anywhere within The Shard is that they have a strict policy (click and scroll down) about handheld cameras only and we were not allowed to take in our DSLR camera! They also forbid photos being taken from within Gong Bar, which is understandable in order to preserve the atmosphere. In saying that we managed to take photos from one of the lower levels (from memory where you change lifts). But…London o London, it was raining and visibility was not optimal and despite our advice earlier, we were caught out on this day!
Now on the completely other end of the scale, we ventured out to Tooting-Bec to visit some dear friends (a previous work colleague of FTs from some 8 years earlier). It was a shame that it rained continuously and our London friend took it upon himself to apologise for both the weather and the lack of available taxis. We took in some hugs, beers and conversation with our Friends at their house, migrating to a nearby pub for much of the same! It was nice to venture out of the city, opting for some local Sri-Lankan Cuisine and honestly it was amazing. Familiar with the menu, our Friend ordered for us all. “Over-ordered” for all of us is more like it! Full bellies, full hearts, we were delighted. Sometimes it’s nice to really just sit back and enjoy the simple things in life like, friends, honest food and a good mango lassi!
Do not forget to take a trip on an iconic double decker bus (public transport not the hop-on-hop tour ones), take the London Eye for a ride, or have some fun taking silly photos with the red phone booths! Oh and one last thing, grab yourself a Cornish pasty from the West Cornwall Pasty Co. you will be delighted…trust us!!
We could go on and on, but maybe it’s your turn to visit London….and write the next paragraph or three?