London is awesome. That may seem obvious to you, but I’ve lived here for the best part of six years. And sometimes, the minute you start to call a place ‘home’ it’s in danger of starting to feel a bit too familiar and flat; it’s all about the hour long commutes, your local supermarket, the gym, the four walls of your flat… its sleep eat and repeat until Friday at 6pm when we will go home and doze it off. Even in some place like London it’s all too easy to forget all that awesomeness is just waiting for you on your doorstep, whilst you’ve been walking around on auto pilot staring at the pavement.
So remind me, why is London awesome?
Most expensive place on earth, yeah maybe one of them. But whilst we are all paying five times more than we should on the rent, it’s worth reminding yourself about all the free opportunities in the city. Most of London’s art galleries and museums are absolutely free to enter when you are visiting permanent collections.
Whilst it could take you at least half a day to look around the National Gallery’s treasures, you’ll need to find the time to slot in visits to the Science Museum, the Tate Modern, Tate Britain, National Portrait Gallery, British Museum, Saatchi Gallery… not to mention all the other smaller galleries plus all the independent places.
Go East and try out a ‘First Thursday‘ where art spaces will open their doors to the hoards post work hours, and you can grab yourself a few glasses of the good stuff whilst getting your cultural fix.
London is also the absolute best place to get your ‘tourist’ on; you could probably spend at least three or four days simply pounding the pavements. Suffice to say, London is big, one of the largest cities in Europe and there’s some pretty amazing stuff filling this town.
Engage eyes, don some trainers, a rain coat, charge your best camera, download an offline map app (Try Ulmon!) and build a self-walking tour that captures all of the city’s free-to-see sights; Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, Southbank, Tower bridge, The Thames, London Eye, St Pauls, the Shard… immerse yourself in London life without costing yourself a penny!
The concrete expanse that is our capital city is interjected by the odd greenery in the shape our Royal Parks. Again, all free to enter, on a dry day (yes, we do see these occasionally), these green spaces are ideal. The most accessible being Hyde Park that joins Kensington to the craziness of Oxford Street, and Green Park that runs beside the Mall, leading up to Buckingham Palace. Been there done that? Head north to Regent’s Park and then keep going all the way to Primrose Hill, a short walk to Camden Market. On a clear day this park offers you fantastic (and free!) views across the city.
Want a day trip in search of cleaner air? Wimbledon Common and Richmond Park are a short tube ride away into Zone 3/4. Hit it the right time of year get up close with nature, discovering Richmond‘s resident deer herd (or Wimbledon’s wombles!).
A not-so-free but super alternative is Kew Gardens. If you can fork out for the entrance fee of around £14.00 you can easily spend a good few hours enjoying this green space.
Need I list them? Let’s start with Oxford Street and Regent Street. Dive into the crowds and shuffle your way down the road en masse. Great for your big name brands, if you’re willing to put up with becoming one of many. The locals may slightly despise this tourist haven, but actually we should remember to take a moment to look up and admire the grandiosity of the West End architecture… Just three seconds before you get stabbed in the eye with an umbrella. Sorry, no. But impending blindness aside, there’s good reason why our West End is world famous, just think twice if you’re heading by there for the January Sales. This time is reserved for hard-core shoppers only!
Other not-to-miss shoppers’ paradises include the iconic Knightsbridge department store Harrods. Even after living here for six years, I still love wandering around the food court (it’s the best kind of torture, you’ll wish you had three stomachs to fit it all in!).
Selfridges on Oxford Street is a tad more accessible and affordable, but only go here if your credit card is willing to take a battering; it’s nine floors of sheer temptation. Further down the road you’ll find Carnaby Street, which caters for the quirkier customer with its unique boutiques alongside the bigger branded stores.
Venture down Regent Street and take a turn down Great Malborough for Liberty Department Store, instantly recognisable by it’s iconic Tudor-esque store front. Go here to lust over the fabulous Liberty prints.
Finally Covent Garden and nearby Seven Dials, whose gorgeous covered market and cobbled lanes are worth a gander even if you’re feeling a little light.
Market Day in London
Food fanatics need not fear, London’s Borough Market close to London Bridge station will satisfy any taste buds. Camden Market is another foodie haven in North London where you can feast on freshly prepared tortillas, loaded burgers, hotdogs, Italian pizzas, vegan sweet treats, pick up home cooked fudge and freshly squeezed orange juices. On a dry day it’s possible to have your fill and the walk it off down the tow path, or just lounge around by the docks and then discover the stables market nearby for nick-naks.
You’ll have heard of Portobello Road market, in Notting Hill where the terms ‘one man’s junk is another man’s treasure’ is certainly relevant. Put some time aside to sift through the junk to take home the rare vintage gems.
Not technically markets, but an area not to be overlooked would be East London’s Brick Lane! This lively street is where you’ll be able to grab some of London’s tastiest Indian curries. Remember to engage in a spot of haggling to drive the price down. Nearby you’ll also find Old Spitalfields Market, which often hosts pop up events throughout the year.
China Town in Central London just off from Leicester Square is another of the city’s streets to add to your list. Head through here for a great selection of Chinese buffet lunches or to some of the area’s supermarkets for authentic eastern food.
Whilst we might not have the same get-up-and-go health culture that cities boast, we have all the resource you’d ever need if you keen to keep active. After hosting the Olympics back in 2012, the specially constructed Queen Elizabeth Park has acres of open space to take a run. Pretty awesome to be able to take a jog in the shadow of the Olympic stadium, no?
Affectionately nick-named ‘Boris Bikes’ after our former Mayor that implemented the initiative, the Santander Cycles are a fantastic way of seeing the city from a different perspective. Despite London not being the most bike-friendly town, we’re working on it, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t give them a whizz. Too nervous to take to the streets? Hire it for a couple of hours and take it for a spin around Hyde Park instead.
We might not have any beaches, but we do make up for it with some pretty awesome outdoor swimming, although perhaps something to save for the summer months? Kings Cross Pond Club, Hampstead Heath Swimming Ponds and Serpentine Lido in Hyde Park are just three of many around the capital.
Tea Lovers in London
The British? We all like wearing bowler hats, eating cucumber sandwiches and drinking tea like it’s going out of fashion. Okay the first two aren’t strictly true, but the latter is a stereotype we do embrace! I can’t speak for everyone, but personally I won’t be able to make it through the working week without a bottomless mug of English Breakfast Tea permanently stationed on my desk.
The tradition of ‘afternoon tea’ which consists of a tier of sandwiches and sweet treats and a cup of tea is one that is still going strong across the UK. In London in particular we can enjoy some high end afternoon teas at luxury hotels such as The Ritz, or luxury department stores like Fortnum and Mason. For something different seek out the themed Afternoon teas, like those at Sketch in the West End or indulge in a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party at the Sanderson or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at Old Aldwych. Expect to be paying top dollar for a rather modest amount of food, but the experience is something not to be missed.
For something more affordable head to the Strand where British Tea Brand Twinings have their flagship store. This historical shop has been trading for over 300 years and boasts “Hundreds of teas, accessories and gifts and a state of the art Loose Tea Bar”
We’re in the middle of one of the largest cities in Europe, we’re not going to find any wildlife here? Right? Wrong!
London Zoo is superb day out regardless of age! Situated in leafy Regents Park in North London you can be in the city one minute and chilling with the giraffes the next.
At nearly £30 a pop for an adult ticket, entrance can be steep, but take advantage of the 2for1 offers in partnership with National rail, and when you’re visiting with a friend, your fee halves.
London’s Southbank houses the Sea Life aquarium, again listed on the 2for1 offers, so save some money on the entrance fees.
Something you might not know is that London also has its own City Farms, including ones in Hackney, Vauxhall, Kentish Town and as far out as Merton.
Dog lovers should head to Battersea Park for their cute-dog-fix. Battersea Dogs and Cats home is around the corner and their resident dogs often get their walks in this pretty area of London.
Get high in London, legally of course, and get a load of the view. The Shard is one of London’s most impressive modern buildings, and tourists are now offered the chance of heading to the top of this 95 storey skyscraper in Southwark, near London Bridge. At £25.95 for a standard ticket, the price can rack up if there’s a group of you, so if that’s a bit steep opt for the London Eye at £24.95 and grab a 2for1 National Rail discount. Even cheaper is the free panorama at Primrose hill, where you can drink in the views for free without the need for queues.
One of our major plus points is the diversity of the city. London’s world class education, business opportunities and general high standard of life attracts people from all over the globe, not to mention the millions of international visitors that flock to this capital every year. Living, studying or travelling in the ‘Big Smoke’ not only lets you experience the craziness of London, and gives you a taste of British life, but also grants you opportunities to spend time and make lifelong friends with people from all walks of life. It never gets boring!