Every true Londoner knows and has visited Brick Lane multiple times. This vibrant street is one of the most famous of the city, and is the perfect medicine for Sunday blues. Because, if it’s Sunday, Brick Lane didn’t get the memo.
There is so much to do, see, eat and drink. But the main visual attraction is street art. Just keep your eyes very open, it’s everywhere and all around!
For my birthday this year one my boyfriend’s gifts was a vegan tasting menu in a London restaurant which was once awarded a Michelin star.
My boyfriend isn’t vegan, and in fact loves any kind of meat, so when eating out we normally resort in omnivorous restaurants, and most of the time in Indian (which I love) and Chinese. None of my girlfriends are vegan either, so I normally end up eating chips or salad, which I don’t mind at all. The vegan restaurants I’ve been in London have been nice but still not mind blowing.
Welcome to the most amazing city in the world! If it’s your first time, well sir or madam, you’ve got your hands full! There is a gazillion things to do in London, more than someone could ever do. But you gotta start somewhere, so start with the below. If you’ve managed to finish these then check out my list of more unusual things to do.
Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park & Kensington Palace, St James Park, Green Park
Buckingham Palace, the Royal icon of London, is surrounded by beautiful parks: Hyde Park, St James Park & Green Park. Make sure you walk them all and burn those fish & chips! Although you can visit it on your own, I recommend you take the free tour from Sandemans instead to get a bit of context on what you are seeing. It covers these areas and a bit more of what I mention below. If you are around at 11.00 AM you can see Buckingham Palace’s change of guard.
Last, towards the most western part of Hyde Park you will find the lovely Kensington Gardens and Kensington Palace which you can chose to visit inside.
Covent Garden, Soho, Regent Street & Oxford Circus
These are all mostly great shopping & eating destinations just in the heart of the city. Again the guidelines are to just walk around and go check out the places that call your attention. Start in Oxford Circus and check out the big stores.
If you are the artsy type the most prestigious art galleries in the New Bond St and they are free of charge, usually with pretty cool exhibitions. If you are the luxurious type or just like window shopping the expensive brands make a turn on Regent Street. A nice store to visit is the Liberty London Tudor builiding building, gorgeous on the outside and inside.
After that, walk into Soho for more shopping or eating. The best bars and restaurants are here. If you are a music lover drop by Ronnie Scotts, a legendary jazz club, or Ain’t Nothin but Blues Bar – which I also mention in this article. Last, head to Covent Garden’s pretty cobbled streets, walk through the Seven Dials, where seven streets converge, and make another shopping stop at Covent Garden Market.
Westminster Abbey & Big Ben
Also a stop in the Sandemans tour, you can’t leave London without a picture of the most famous, tallest and biggest clock tower: Big Ben. Close by you’ll find Westminster Abbey where the coronation and burial ceremonies of British Royalty take place. It’s a majestic gothic abbey but if you are not into churches at all it’s fine to skip and just enjoy its outside as it’s pricy.
Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus & watching a West End musical or play
The famous Leicester Square is well known due to its concentration of cinemas and theaters, this is typically where the big movies premieres take place so if you are lucky you may spot some celebs. Then walk down to Piccadilly Circus, the British version of the Times Square for a picture of its neon signs.
Your visit to London isn’t complete without watching a musical in the West End. If you haven’t seen Les Miserables, the West End version is impeccable. Have an inner child? Then you might try Wicked. Looking for something different? Then go with Book of Mormon, from the creators of South Park. There is no rule for buying the cheapest tickets unfortunately, what I usually do is check Amazon tickets and the app TodayTix and then compare the prices with the play’s official page. If you are unsure about the seating, then SeatPlan is your friend.
This London neighborhood is famous for its markets: Camden Lock Market, Stables Market & Buck Street Market. You can find all kinds of things, from clothing to antiques and great street food. Camden is also famous for selling bizarre & “alternative” clothing and items. You mustn’t miss the Cyberdog store, it will blow your mind! The are also has great pubs & bars, some with live music, great for a night out.
Notting Hill and Portobello Market
Another London neighborhood, most famous for the Portobello Market, the largest antiques market in the world, and for, well the movie! The main street features colorful houses and cute antiques & vintage clothing stores, great for a photo op.
The Tower of London & Tower Bridge
Tower of London, one of my favourite tourist attractions, this historic castle, founded in 1066 is a gem of British history and great entertainment. Don’t be put off by its entry price, it’s worth it. Make sure you allow enough time to visit and try to book online to skip the line.
Right outside you’ll find the famous gorgeous bridge you see in all London pictures which is not London Bridge, it’s Tower Bridge so don’t confuse them!
The pub, a pint, fish & chips & English Breakfast
If I have to choose something that represents the UK and brings its inhabitants together, I choose the pub.
The pub is everything! The pub is for eating, drinking, meeting with family and friends, etc. Grandmothers and grandparents go alone, or with their children and their grandchildren, even if they are newborns. In the morning, at noon, in the afternoon and at night. It’s always a good time to go to the pub.
You must try the English Breakfast or “Full English”, which typically consists of eggs, bread, sausage, bacon, mushrooms, baked beans, roasted tomatoes and hash brown. A delicious bomb! And in many places they make their vegetarian or vegan version. Perfect to start a long day of sightseeing.
At lunch or dinner, have Fish & Chips. It consists of cod or haddock breaded in a mix of beer, eggs and flour, and then fried. Finally, many chips as a side. And to drink, have a pint of beer!
St Paul’s Cathedral, walking along the Thames, Shakespeare’s Globe & Borough Market
Start by visiting the beautiful Cathedral of St Paul, if you wish to go inside you need to pay. The Thames river is also one of London’s main icons and walking along it is a lovely experience. Alongside it you’ll find the Shakespeare’s Globe, a reconstruction of the Elizabethan Globe theatre. The original theatre was created in 1599 and demolished in 1644. You can go see a play for as little as £5 (standing). It is also beautiful inside. As a warning, your English level will affect your experience – most plays are in old English and even natives struggle to understand it!
Last, you MUST go to Borough Market. It’s one of London’s largest food markets which means lots of variety, yumminess and free tastings! Try to avoid weekends if possible.
London’s FREE museums
Start jumping up and down, London’s museums are free and there is lots of them! Below a list and a brief description so you can chose:
British Museum: Go if you are into ancient stuff.
Imperial War Museum: Go if you are into knowing more about WWI & WWII.
Museum of London: Go if you want to learn more about the city’s history.
National Gallery: Lots of old art, think from Renaissance (think Italian religious art) to Modern (think impressionism) but no new stuff.
Natural History Museum: Think lots of stuffed animals, dinosaurs. For nature fans.
Science Museum: Go if you are really into science, all kinds of machines and how things work.
Tate Modern: Newer art, you’ll find modern (from not so long ago) & contemporary (from today) art here. It’s on the Thames so you can visit it while you walk along it.
Victoria & Albert Museum: Decorative arts, really awesome colorful things to see!
Regents Park & Primrose Hill
Another gorgeous park of the city located in Central London. Bring yourself a nice picnic, and head to Primrose Hill, also in the park, for great views of London.
Abbey Road: get your version of the Beatle’s cover!
Follow the steps of the fab four and take picture on the famous zebra crossing featured on the Abbey Road cover. This is a real street used by real cars so just try to not get run over by a car. Right besides it is Abbey Road studios. Also, be careful, the crossing is not on the Abbey Road tube station but on St John’s Wood station which are in completely different places in the city.
Although the only thing you might be able to buy here is food, this luxury department is a must visit. You’ll find the crème de la crème on everything: clothes, decoration, electronics, food, toys, health & beauty and the list goes on. Be prepared to be wowed by the offerings, and by how expensive they are!
Viewing London from above
Your visit to London is not over without a great picture of London from above! For this you have several options: The London Eye, The Shard or the Skygarden. As I explain in this post the Skygarden is the best and most budget friendly option (it’s free), but it gets booked really in advance so you might have to consider the other two if you are a bad planner!
Hampton Court Palace
This royal palace and it’s gardens are beautiful, fun and full of history. I do recommend visiting them – better on a sunny day! The visit takes at least half day as it’s located in Greater London and there is a lot to cover. You’ll take great pictures!
It’s freezing in London, but that didn’t prevent the Canary Wharf Winter Lights guys from creating free entertainment for Londoners. Canary Wharf Winter Lights features 30 amazing light installations throughout Canary Wharf: sculptures, structures and installations from some of the most innovative artists and designers worldwide. It is actually really cool so get your warmest coat and get ready for a 1-2 hr stroll full of light! Do hurry as it is just two weeks long.
How much: It’s FREE, ain’t London cool?
When: Until Friday 27th of January 2017, from 4pm to 9pm
Where: Canary Wharf tube station Jubilee Line. See map of attractions below:
Ovo: egg shaped sculpture that shoots of vapor – great photo material
Angels of Freedom: Lighted angel wings that change their color and make a nice postcard
The garden of floating words: the name says it all
Light bench: another self explanatory name
Cathedral of Mirrors: 12 towers with moving lights that respond to visitors using sensors
Water wall: a mist screen with constantly moving objects, also allows visitors to interact and paint on the mist canvas by moving
Huge Reeds: vertical tubes with light sapping top to bottom
AND MY TWO FAVORITES
Horizontal Interference: horizontal lighted straps linking trees in a psychedelically marvelous way
Bloom: cute little balls of light and sound which coordinate themselves with changes in ambiance
DON’T MISS THIS! If you did, were curious about it and got this far, I hope you’ve enjoyed the review. And hey, you’ll make it next year! I’m sure there will be another one. Last year we had Lumiere in Kings Cross in January, this year Winter Lights at Canary Wharf…we’ll need to wait until 2018 then!
If you want to see the full list of installations/sculptures you can always visit the Official website.