Before I begin I have a confession to make:
I have never been a big fan on London.
In fact, I would go as far as to say that previously, I would have done everything in my power to avoid going anywhere near the city.
Honestly, I have no idea. I’ve been to some pretty big cities in my life, some hugely over-populated ones, the kind where you can barely move for tourists, taxi’s and busy commuters. New york, Paris, Berlin, I’ve frequented them all but still there is something about London that makes it all seem 10 times worse. I’ve managed to navigate my way through metro system after metro system abroad, even when it was written in a foreign language and yet just hearing the words ‘London underground’ sends me into a frenzy of panic and I end up running towards the nearest old man (they always seem to take pity on me as I have the face of a lost 12-year-old) to ask for help.
However, all that being said, for the past 4 weeks I have being staying with friends in London and by some miracle, Ive actually started to warm to it. That doesn’t mean I particularly ‘like’ it yet, but it’s definitely no longer the place I would have done everything to avoid anymore. So, some improvement! I guess London is like any other city in the world, its all down to a joint combination of the company you keep and what you make of it.
So without further ado, here are 5 of my favourite things to do in London:
As much as I hate to be a noticeable tourist, sometimes you’ve just gotta cave in and go for the all-out tourist look (backpack and oversized map optional). And there’s no better time or place to act like a tourist than when you’re in the big smoke, surrounded by some of the most notable attractions in the UK. Big ben? Check. The British museum? Check. Houses of parliament? Check. Piccadilly circus? Check. The list of tourist hot spots goes on and on and can sometimes turn into a week-long event. I would recommend visiting them all if you can, partly just so you can say ‘I’ve been there’ but partly because they’re actually pretty cool. If a week-long tourist event isn’t your kind of thing then try squeezing in some of the best. Covent garden has a great vibe to it and there is always some kind of free entertainment taking place, from live music and street performances to magic shows. There are also a gazillion coffee shops here so you can sit and soak up the free entertainment over a nice cup of tea (or in my case an extra strong coffee). Buckingham palace changing of the guard is one of those things you just have to see and then slyly spend 5 minutes doing everything you can to try and make them laugh- I may be 25 but if you tell me that nothing will stop a guard from keeping a straight face then challenge accepted!
Shop till you drop
It’s a well known fact that London is one of the best places on planet earth to indulge in a bit of retail therapy which is probably why Oxford street has been voted one of the busiest streets in the world! With pretty much every high street store in one place, including the biggest and coolest Topshop I have ever seen in my life (they literally had a DJ playing in the corner?!) and an elaborately decorated Harrods which is particular beautiful at christmas time, shopping here becomes quite a magical experience. Just make sure you walk in a meandering river kind of way so that you can avoid the thousands of people stampeding towards you. If the high street aint for you then take a look at the abundance of markets dotted all over the city. Portobello is vibrantly buzzing and you’ll find loads of cheap discounted clothing and shoes which makes it ideal for bargain shopping. Camden market is another one of my favourites and has such an amazing artistic vibe to it. You’ll find all kinds of free-thinking creative people wondering along here making some pretty bold fashion statements! Brick lane and Borough market are also great spots to nab yourself a bargain whist mingling with some fashion-forward artsy types, providing you with some inspiration for your next purchase(s).
Stick the kettle on
We Brits are renowned for many things: complaining about the weather, actively joining queue’s in an orderly fashion and waiting patiently, our overbearingly dry sense of humour and sarcasm which can sometimes leave people clueless as to whether we are actually just joking and of course, our good old Queenie… But if theres one thing we’re really famous for, it’s our love of a good cup of tea. Whatever the occasion or situation, a cup of tea will always be the first point of call. And so it makes sense that London has a gazillion places where you can sit back and relax in true British manner over a nice pot of piping hot tea. Lavish Habit in Balham is a small and quirky vintage cafe run by two sisters, the decor is a bit like alice in wonderland meets someone with an addiction to hoarding mis-matched tea cups. I’m probably under-selling it but trust me, its a great little joint. Wild Food Café in Covent garden is another quirky favourite, with its vibrant and almost spiritual decor, it makes for a great place to unwind and get some inspirational juices flowing. Well-known for it’s healthy foods and drinks, this cafe is often packed full of tourists and locals alike waiting to wet their whistles with everything from herbal and medicinal teas to carrot cake and hazelnut brownies! Alternatively, if you want to experience something a little more fancy and budget isn’t an issue then check out Claridge’s for some afternoon tea. After serving tea in fancy cups for more than 150 years, you can be sure this experience will be a rather glamorous one. Prices start from £55 per person and the dress code is (for obvious reasons) smart.
The grass is greener
Turns out that for a big, congested city, London actually has a lot of grass (the green kind of course). The city bears several vast and beautiful parks including the infamous Hyde park which is home to a number of famous landmarks such as the Serpentine Lake and the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain. Richmond park is another absolute gem and is also a National nature reserve and a European special area of conservation. You’ll likely find the park is crowded at any time of the day and not just with other people, it’s green fields are home to hundreds of Red and Fallow deer which are a truly beautiful site to behold (and make for some equally beautiful photos!). Primrose hill at Regents park is one of my absolute favourite spots in London and is also one of the six protected viewpoints in the city. Standing at the top of the summit on a cloud-free day, almost 63 metres above sea level, you get a magnificent view of the city. With everyone sat at the top looking out across the city, it gives the place an almost cinematic atmosphere.
It’s showtime, baby!
And finally, you just can’t visit London without watching a West end show! With the West End theatre showing some of the highest quality theatre productions in the world, from musicals to classic plays and comedies and all with some big star line-ups, you’re sure to find the perfect show for you. Wicked, Les Miserables, The Lion King and Billy Elliot are some of the most highly acclaimed and commended shows but with around 40 theatres in the west end area, there are hundreds more to chose from. Take a look at visitlondon.com and westendtheatrebookings.com to get up to 60% off your tickets when you buy online.