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Whether you’re into the historic side, or dig more modern scenes, London has is all: museums, pubs, night life, historic land marks, etc.
Do London Right!
Here are some of the top (more touristy) things to see and do while in London:
The Changing of the Guard – You can’t go to London without seeing The Changing of the Guard. It gets really crowded, so get their early. Inside the gates of Buckingham Palace, The Queen’s Guard changes at precisely 11:30am.
Tower Bridge – With its two towers on either side, one can see where this bridge gets its name. I think a lot of people think that this bridge is “London Bridge”. London Bridge is not nearly as grand to look at.
Westminster Abbey – There is an admission charge at the door, unless you attend a service.
Walk Along South Bank – Walking along South Bank will be like an easy walking tour because it’ll allow you to bypass some of London’s more famous buildings: The Tate Modern, Tower Bridge, Shakespeare’s Globe, “Big Ben,” etc. You’ll also see a lot of…
Street Performers – I found very talented street performers right near the London Eye, walking along the river (South Bank) to Tate Modern.
The London Eye – The London Eye is a huge Ferris wheel that rotates extremely slowly so that you can get a great view all the way around London. It takes about a half an hour to make a complete rotation and costs about US$30.
Parks & Gardens
Queen’s Rose Gardens in Regent’s Park – worth seeing and I’ve seen a few reviews online that claim this park is free. However, when I was there, I stopped by but did not walk through because it was one of the parks/gardens that cost money. Maybe I was confused, but I could have sworn this park cost money to enter, which is why I continued onto the following:
St. James Park – (free) right near Buckingham Palace so you can walk through right after you catch The Changing of the Guard.
Hyde Park – (free) nice to walk through
Museums & Galleries
The bigger, more permanent museums are free.
Victoria and Albert Museum – similar to the Metropolitan Museum in NYC: jewelry, antique locks, special exhibits, etc. Get there early b/c you can easily spend an entire day, and leave some time for the gift shop.
Tate Modern – (free) similar to the MoMA in NYC (modern art)
Tate Britain – (free)
National Portrait Gallery – (free)
National Gallery – (free)
Museum of London – (free)
Geffrye Museum – (free) general admission is free, special exhibits will cost just a few pounds for adults. This is “the museum of the home.”
Horniman Museum – (free, Aquarium costs only £3.30) Its eccentric collection of objects is family-friendly, and the museum gardens have spectacular views over London.
Markets and Shopping
Bourough Market – a ton of different sellers from around the UK selling all kinds of produce and giving out samples.
Portobellow Road Market – fashion and antiques
Oxford Street – most famous street for shopping (but very commercial)
Carnby Street, Covent Garden, or King’s Road – all three of these areas have shops that are much more quaint… perfect for finding one-of-a-kind hand-made gems as well as houseware items, fashion, food, etc.
Colombia Road Flower Market
Covent Garden – A great market place to spend your afternoon. This is one of London’s oldest markets and the original market still stands there today.
Festivals (by Month)
January/February: Chinese New Year – Fireworks in Chinatown
March: St. Patrick’s Day Parade
April: London Marathon
May: London Coffee Festival
June: Trooping of the Colour – celebration of the Queen’s birthday via military parade
August: Notting Hill Carnival – Caribbean style festival
September: London’s Open House Weekend – Buildings that are not normally open to the public, are open to take a peak.
November: Lord Mayor’s Show
December: Harrods – equivalent to Rockefeller Center and Macy’s store front in New York City during the holiday season. There are also Christmas markets in Hyde Park and along South Bank.
For a list of all of London’s upcoming festivals, CLICK HERE and find which one will suit you best during your visit.
Festival that I stumbled upon while I was in London – Just a quick bus ride toward the city center, there was an awesome festival taking place. Food, cider, clothes, jewelry, rides, animals, various types of live music, scare crows [that’s right, random scare crows], and much more. I walked around to observe, purchased some cider, and then parked myself in front of the reggae stage… very fun!
If you want more direction walking around the city, try a walking tour. There’s something to make everyone happy: from Jack the Ripper, Harry Potter, ghost tours, and of course, historic walking tours.
Explore by Neighborhood
South Kensington – This is the place to be for museums: Science, V&A, and Natural History. Also near Hyde Park.
Dulwich Village – visit England’s first public art gallery (Dulwich Picture Gallery). From here you can stroll to Herne Hill and go for a swim at the art deco Brockwell Lido which has a poolside cafe that opens for candlelit dinners from Tuesday to Saturday. In the other direction is the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill.
Bloomsbury – London’s academic center. Home to the University of London, the British Library, as well as the British Museum. You might stumble upon some blue plaques outside of house – if you read them, you’ll learn that these houses were once home to a lot of famous writers, philosophers, artists, and other intellectuals that lived in London back in the 1920’s-1930’s.
Chelsea – start at Sloane Square and head down King’s Road for two miles of nonstop window-shopping [see “Markets and Shopping” above].
Richmond – home to the largest urban park in all of Europe! 2500 acres, free-range deer, ancient oaks, and peace of mind. Enjoy a stroll through the park and then, perhaps, pop into the many pubs around for a drink at night.
Notting Hill – has the cutest little coffee shops, markets, hip fashion, etc.
Shoreditch – great street art and hipster boutiques
Greenwich – straddle the meridian time-line!
Highgate – great views over London and an old-fashioned feel. Filled with green spaces, coffee shops, and pubs.
England is not really known for their food. In fact, when people hear of British food, they automatically wrinkle their nose in distaste (at least Americans do). But whether this is true about original British food or not, London has just about every type of food you can think of. Just walk around and you’ll find a little taste of just about everywhere in the world (Italian, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, “American,” etc).
Some of my favorite food whenever I travel is street food. Maybe because it’s cheaper or maybe because I can still walk around while I eat. Nevertheless, I was happy to find that London has awesome street food.
If you’re walking along South Bank, try Portobello Road Market or Real Food Market.
Also check out Borough Market! [see “markets and shopping” above]
Where I ate: “Sarastro“ – An Opera-Themed Restaurant. The restaurant itself is worth taking a look at. It makes use of every centimeter and looks just like and opera house with balcony seats. The menu is of Turkish cruisine and is delicious! I had the duck with glazed carrots, green lentils and apricot sauce [£13.95 or ~ US$22.50]. While you eat, you are entertained by Opera singers. The entertainment was goose-bump inducing. It’s definitely worth experiencing!
Tea – England is also known for afternoon tea. Stop into a cafe for some afternoon tea with pastries and cakes.
Pubs – Oh boy are there a lot of pubs! But I won’t go into great detail about the ones I saw, for you might be in a totally different location and there are a LOT of pubs. Instead, I’ll just give you a website that reviews London’s pubs: Time Out. However, I will advice you to stay away from the touristy areas such as Picadilly Circus and Leicester if you’re planning on drinking a lot – they are more touristy (which is annoying) and more expensive.
Leicester Square and Picadilly Circus
Pictures of London
Things I Found Irritating
Bus system – very confusing. Click to read why.
The Language – Kind of comical that out of all the places I visit where English is a second language, I never have any trouble understanding… but in the UK?! I can’t understand a word! Read more about my experience with the English-to-English language barrier HERE.
While You’re in the UK
You might want to check out Stonehenge! One of the world’s biggest mysteries – about 1.5 hours southwest of London.