So for the past couple of years I’ve been traveling around the world, getting to know a lot of really cool places. But one of the places I have come to know the best is definitely London! I wouldn’t call myself a London expert by any means, but I have used it as a home base during my travels and have been fortunate enough to be able to really immerse myself into the London culture, experiencing what it’s like to be a Londoner!
London is a fantastic, brilliant city loaded with history, architecture, art, food and entertainment. There is never a dull moment! So, as I do, I’m going to give you my take on London. But this time I’m going to do it a little differently…Im going to take you on a hypothetical journey through the city that ensures you experience London to the fulest extent. If you are planning on visiting London for the first time or are living or staying in the city for an extended period of time, I’ll also point you to some social media links that will keep you updated on what’s going on and when, in such a crazy city! It’s a lot of information…but we’ll get through it!
So…Check it out…
Before I get into my hypothetical journey, lets talk about transportation in London. This is a choice you will have to make when you arrive in the city and its best that you are well aware of all your options. Your transportation method can actually change as you please to fit your journey and/or destination….so check it out. Here are some essentials…
Wether you live in London or you’re visiting for the first time, the tube (London’s train system) is something that you will inevitably cross paths with. It is London’s largest, most commonly used, and convenient means of transportation. Below is a map of the London tube system. Do not fear, these are displayed at every station for reference when needed.
The Oyster Card
So…to travel on the tube you will need to purchase a pass of some sort. The Oyster card will be one of your pass options. At every tube station there are Kiosks (you can’t miss them) for you to buy/top-up your oyster card. The kiosks will also provide you with options for purchasing a 7-day pass, a monthly pass, or just putting money directly on your oyster card. Depending on the purpose and length of your time in London, some top-up or purchase options may be better suited for you than others. Make sure to look at all of your options so you can make the best use of your money! For extensive information on the the various options you have for your oyster card top-ups and purchases, visit the tfl website.
2. Public Bikes
One of the coolest things about London transportation is that its public bike system is available to the general public all day, everyday! Bike stations have been strategically built throughout the entire city so that people can rent a bike nearby their location and return the bike near their destination. Sweet eh!
So check it out…to rent a bike it’ll only set you back £2 for 24 hours of cycling. All you need to do is find the cycle kiosk (there’s one at every bike station. It’ll look like the one on the left in the picture), have a debit card with a chip ready, and follow the instructions on the screen. Don’t forget this next part…You may only use a bike for 30 min at a time. After every half-an-hour you must return the bike to a nearby station, wait 5 minutes, then rent another bike (free of charge). Every kiosk is programed to recognize your initial transaction for 24 hours. You’ll receive a new code to release a bike every time you rent a new one.
3. Taxi or Uber
eh….too crowded…takes forever…where’s the fun in that?!
Before you read any further…stop and download the “citymapper” app. This will come in reaaaally handy when you want to create your own journey around London. It’s really easy to use and it’ll give you the best transportation options, prices, and times for any journey you input! Plus…it’ll tell you exactly where you can find a nearby bus, cycle, tube, rail, ferry, or tram station. London simplified!
Our Journey begins in East London, Whitechapel. You might know this place as part of the cheapest properties on the monopoly board…or as the place where Jack the Ripper committed his first murder! If that interests you, sign up to take the night tour down all the streets where Jack the Ripper murdered his victims. If not…we’ll keep moving forward until we arrive at Brick Lane!
This is a really cool street for walking and browsing, grabbing a bite to eat, listening to street performers, etc. It has a hipster feel to it with a hint of bohemian in there. There’s a really nice chocolate shop here called Dark Sugars. Check it out! They make some amazing chocolate and its sold at a pretty good price! Also, every Sunday Brick Lane hosts a big outdoor market. Local restaurants, food chains, and other businesses buy stands to market their companies. All the food is usually priced pretty well and you can find pretty good deals at all the other stands selling jewelry, electronics, bags, etc.
Note: If you are into photography, this is a good place to post up and capture raw moments and natural shots of people. (If you look out for them, you’ll notice that there are quite a number of photographers discretely taking pictures of people in Brick Lane.
Once you’ve hit the northern end of Brick Lane, you’ll have reached Shoreditch High Street, running perpendicular to Brick Lane. This street is packed with local restaurants, pubs, and nightclubs! Definitely check it out if that sounds like it interests you. Another great part about this street is “BOXPARK”. If you head west on Shorditch high street you’ll eventually come across what looks essentially like a big “box park”. Local restaurants, food chains, bars and pubs, all rent out a box within the park and sell select items from their menu as a form of advertising. Many times you can find yourself eating really nice food for a pretty nice price.
Now…this where it starts to get super awesome! Check it out…if you head south towards the river thames you’ll eventually run into Tower Bridge. This is in my opinion, the most EPIC of the London bridges. It is a fantastic sight to see, great to admire from afar and amazing to walk across. I have countless great memories on and around Tower Bridge. Another plus about the bridge is that it is right next to the Tower of London and St. Catherines Docks. So…when you’re done checking out the bridge, you can check out the cool stuff around it! Theres lots to see and its always pretty busy and exciting around that area. The pictures you’ll get of the bridge will likely be the highlight of your day in London and if you line your shot up right, you can get a cool picture of the Tower of London with the Shard in the background!
So once your done cruising around Tower Bridge…cross the bridge and head west! This is going to give you a close up view of the Shard. It is the tallest building in Europe and is fairly impressive. If you’re feeling fancy, you can go to one of the many restaurant/bars inside the Shard. Be prepared though…they won’t let you in unless your looking spiffy. Dress shoes and pants required! You WILL get turned away without them. If your not feeling the restaurants/bars you can always go enjoy the view at the top of the Shard. For 35 British Sterling Pounds you can buy yourself an elevator ride to the top to get what I’m told is quite a breathtaking view…I’ll take their word for it. (;
When your done checking out the Shard make sure to hit Borough Market (only on Thursday’s and Saturday’s) off the west end of the Shard. If you ask someone where its at around the Shard, they will certainly be able to point you in the right direction. Borough Market is an excellent place to hang out, grab some street food and roam. A lot of times they have some really nice cheese and olives for sale. If you find the right booth, you might be able to make it out of there with some nice cheese and olives with a nice bottle of wine to go with it without breaking the bank!
If you continue walking Westward a ways, you’ll eventually hit Millennium bridge. It has a much more modern feel to it but its right next to St. Pauls Cathedral, which is an incredible historical and architectural landmark of London! Its actually the location of the original church that St. Paul established in 604 AD! Catholic or not, its a beautiful monument that attests to the history of London. It survived World War II by some miracle as well!
When you’re wrapping up with St. Paul’s Cathedral, proceed westward following the River Thames southward until you hit the London Eye. On the way, lookout for the Southbank Skatepark. Its a cool spot to stop and watch some local talent. There are usually a lot of buskers playing modern tunes in the area. Its very cool to engage with the talented people of London. Also, be sure to look out for the Royal Festival Hall and British Film Institute (BFI). You never know who you might see walking around! Make sure to have your camera!! After passing all that, you should be coming up on the London Eye! I haven’t actually been on it but it looks like it would be a sweet place to take some shots of the city. Its always packed with tourists though, so make sure you account for that when going into the area.
If you continue southward following the Thames, you’ll come to Westminster Bridge. If you cross the bridge westward you’ll end up right next to the Big Ben and Houses of Parliament! Now…this is definitely an incredible sight to see! You should definitely try not to miss this! These buildings have been famous since they were built in 1859. Do you remember in Disney’s PeterPan when Peter and the gang land on the hour hand of the big clock…thats the Big Ben! Everybody can probably find some kind of connection to the clock, perhaps you identify with Remember, remember, the 5th of November!
Once your finished snappin selfies in front of Big Ben, continue westward and have a nice stroll through a very well-known English Park known as St. James Park. You might recognize it from the Monopoly board as St. James Place, however the two are completely unrelated! St. James park was named after a Leper Hospital dedicated to St. James the less, while St. James Place is an actually street in the St. James district of London. With all said and done, it’s an absolutely magnificent display of nature and royalty all in one.
When you reach the other end of St. James Park, you’ll likely notice the giant palace right in front of you! You have most likely heard of this place or seen it on TV if you haven’t seen it in person. Princess Diana, Prince Charles?? William and Kate?? Queen Elizabeth II?? This is the resting quarters of Her Majesty herself…the Buckingham Palace! This is where you can take pictures doing weird stuff to the guards in uniform because they can’t move. The Palace is quite stunning from the outside, very majestic. I’ve actually never been inside though…I think it might be an “invitation only” type of deal with that. However, If you get there at the right time of day, you might get lucky and see the guards marching/performing in the courtyard. Have your camera ready!
After wrapping up with the Buckingham Palace make your way north-east. Go down a ways until you hit Trafalgar Square. In my opinion, this is an awesome place to hang out and really absorb London for what it is. It is the very heart of the city itself. There’s a ton of history, multiple statues and monuments, beautiful fountains, numerous places to eat and shop and the National and portrait galleries. You could potentially spend a whole day around Trafalgar Square just exploring and taking in the city life. Its quite the sight to see. There are also buskers all around the area that bring a really nice vibe to whole thing. Don’t forget to check out the National Gallery before leaving the area!
Note: If you’re into galleries or museums…they’re all FREE in London. ALL OF THEM! You may have to pay for certain exhibitions once you go in but find comfort in the fact that it will cost you nothing to enter! Take advantage.
Leaving Trafalgar square, if you head north-west, you’ll actually pass through a number of cool spots until you eventually hit Oxford Street, the famous shopping headquarters of London. If you like to shop…this is where you belong! Be ready to elbow your way through the crowds and have your credit cards ready! On your way there you’ll pass through places like Leicester Square , Chinatown, Soho, and Piccadilly Circus. All of them are super cool and hip places. I would recommend feeling out the vibe of each one as you pass through them. They’re all great for finding some nice food and socializing…and Piccadilly Circus is another big shopping area. Chances are…if you’ve been looking for something specific for your entire trip and haven’t found it, you’ll probably find it in this stretch of your journey. Roam free and have a blast!
Now…if you head west form Oxford Street, you’ll eventually run into Hyde Park. However, if you’re up for a slight detour that is well worth you time and money, still in the direction of Hyde Park…check out Kai Mayfair! It’s a sophisticated Chinese restaurant that serves exquisite gourmet cuisine. It’s slightly heavier on the wallet but you are most definitely getting what you are paying for. The restaurant radiates a warm and elegant vibe, while proudly upholding its Michelin star reputation. If you get lucky, you might find yourself eating next to Matt Damon or Mark Hamill, both of whom have been spotted dining here.
Back to Hyde Park…the park is gorgeous and most certainly casts a royal, elegant atmosphere. With the queens swans (the swans actually belong to the queen) paddling on the Serpentine Lake, and the rich green surrounding with the Kensington Gardens at the west end of the park, you may feel transported into a small Utopia right in the middle of London. I actually have some very fond memories riding a bike up to the famous Peter Pan Statue in Kensington Gardens. Its the perfect place to take your significant other, be romantic and eat mango slices while sitting on a bench and watching the swans. Let the romance flow!
The last place I’m going to mention is not very close to where we ended at Hyde Park but is most definitley worth mentioning. Camden town is a really cool spot to hang out, eat, explore, and shop. It has more of a free-spirited street vibe rather than an elegant vibe like Oxford Street and Piccadilly Circus. You can find some reaaaally good food here and really interesting shops to check out. I recommend going into “Cyberdog”. It has a hipster electronic feel to it, and actually lures you in more and more the closer you get to it. Very cool shop!
So that pretty much wraps up our journey together. Feel free to mix it up and go out of order. There is most definitely more than one right way to do London. If you are planning a trip to london and would like some further details about a specific place I mentioned, do feel free to comment. I’m more than happy to help you out with pointers and recommendations. Also, check out these sites for updates on cool weekend events: http://londonist.com/ (all London areas), http://dalstonist.co.uk/ (north/east London areas).
Take care guys. Speak soon.