Millions upon millions of things have been written and said about London and its huge history, from locals and tourist alike. And even though one is hardly off the beaten path visiting it, there can be ways to make your trip much less typical. Fact is, London is a busy metropolis of 15M people and without some triggering it can turn into a sleepless nightmare with swollen feet. Her’s a take on how to avoid that :
A. Before you go
Choose your companion wisely. Large female groups might look good in selfies, and you’ll have a hell of a time downtown at Soho after midnight, but you will not see much. London moves fast,, you have to catch a cab after a bus after a subway and if one is hanging behind going through her purse yo’ll end up visiting 1 attraction per day max. (By the way, this piece is intended for museum and culture geeks, not luxurious travellers so if you are going for Harrods only, feel free to skip to the end). I’d recommend 3 people max, but I have to admit I had the best time with 2 that we split our ways sometimes, as there is a lot to absorb solo from that vibe.
Like most big cities, London is a splurge. Do not expect even a weekend there to be cheap, even with the pound drop (whoever booked tickets right after Brexit, sir, I salute you). So in reference to keeping it tight but not stingy, the ways to go are easyhotel.com or airbnb.com – the first can be combined with an EasyJet flight from Europe for an additional discount. Sometimes there are good deals in booking.com as well, which make clicking the “non refundable” button a bit less painful. My point here is, you will look for a bed to crash, a hose to shower underneath and not much else (and that is exactly what you’re getting at an EasyHotel), you’ll pay through the nose and be ecstatic about it as anything else is simply inexplicable. I stayed at the Easy in Victoria Station, perfect location for day and night, good value booked 2 wees before plus it was quite fun how one of us had to go out of the room so the other could dress as we simply could not open the suitcases with both people in the room.
C. Gatwick express
BOOK ONLINE IN ADVANCE. You’ll thank me when you breezily bypass 50 odd people queuing for the tickets in front of a closed (!) desk while the train leaves in 4 minutes. Same goes for Heathrow. Lyton and City are closer so you can get regular transportation but if you are arriving in one of the other two it can take hours to reach the city.
D. Big Ben
Actually my outtake on the was not Big Ben (which I passed by, took my 15 pictures and moved on), not the Eye (ONLY to recommend on a sunny day), neither the Buckingham Palace with all its glory (which I didn’t enter finding the fee exorbitant). It was the Borough Market, and afterwards taking a detour from the London Bridge to stroll across the Tower Bridge to reach (what else?) the Tower of London, which was built on tears and spend an afternoon tracing with my finger in the air the words of trapped inmates to their loved ones who most likely would not see them again. To this day there is my little flask of truffle oil, still strong smell, and I can recall the taste of venison and amazingly fresh scallops, washed down with an original turkish coffee.
As sights are concerned, a nutshell below :
Kensington Palace, which is still glorious and much cheaper than Buckingham, plus marginally less crowded.
Tower of London, I simply could not miss. And I also did not want to leave. Pack a lunch and spend the better part of a day, it is simply moving. The Crown Jewels that are in the midst usually have a queue worthy of the name, I would have liked to see them but I am not standing in line for 3.5 hours. It’s up to you.
Hyde Park- Green Park-St James Park Oh yes, every time of the year. For a breath of fresh air, literally.
Holland Park-Kyoto Garden Hidden gems. We were brought here by a passport mishap, it is where a lot of embassies are as one of the finest London neighborhoods. Purely residential, a place to see where and how the truly wealth leave. Again a peaceful corner, great for a relaxing morning. The gardens are quite lovely and well kept, truly off the beaten path.
Borough Market Well, I said it all before. Please go.
Piccadilly Square This is (surprisingly) a square. You will pass by it many times as you go through the city, not a great place to meet as it is huge and crowded, you have to specify and exact meeting point which is not the metro exit as it has 3. This is also a place to absorb the metropolitan atmosphere, as it has dineries around of every culture imaginable plus 100% British stuff like an M&M boutique (it is funny cause it’s true!)
Museum of Natural History Free and amazing. Great collection of species and gemstones. Not to miss.
Science Museum Also free but a tad boring. A lot of tech from the years before, but you have to be into it to enjoy it.
Kings Cross Station For us that know. Not suitable for Muggles.
***Please keep in mind to search and book your tickets online in advance for a huge time/money saver***
E. Oyster card
Please, otherwise you will strand. Buy it immediately, load it, and keep it ready. The stations are an attraction of their own, including places to grab a bite on the go. Author’s note : allow yourself at least once a slot of a ride on top of a Big Red Bus. And make it a long one.
All in all, my take would be to be armed with comfy shoes, lots of camera memory and a raincoat (umbrellas are dangerous, especially there). The best time you’ll have is walking around and seeing stuff that you cannot read about, and absorbing the vibe. Marks and Spencer is your friend with many surprisingly tasty value for money options for a bite on the go – in any case, you are not missing much if you do not eat at a restaurant, as the local cuisine does not have a lot to offer.
That’s that folks and happy Londoning!