If you’re planning a visit to London, it’s probably a good idea to have a think of what you might like to do before embarking on your adventure to the capital. There is always so much going on, where do you start?
Let’s begin in the centre of town – Covent Garden, Leicester Square and Soho. In the heart of bustling Covent Garden you have the Piazza, a covered market on two floors full of shops, restaurants and stalls selling jewellery, crafts, paintings, handmade clothes and all sorts. One part of Covent Garden that you won’t miss for sure, are the street performers, ranging from the somewhat questionable (!) to the fantastic and intriguing. Try to visit at off peak times, as with many areas of commercial London, it can get extremely busy.
For the Bond fans out there, whilst in Covent Garden pay a visit to the London Film Museum. Bond in Motion is the current exhibition at the museum, displaying the largest official collection of original James Bond vehicles. The Cars of Spectre is the newest display and includes vehicles, models, props and costumes from the latest film release.
Head slightly northwest and you’ll hit Shaftesbury Avenue and the mass of theatres. This is London’s Broadway. There really is something for everyone to enjoy, from serious dramas to clever comedies and spectacular musicals. If you have nothing booked, it’s worth asking at the box office to see if they have any day seats available. Avoid booking at one of the many unofficial kiosks that you’ll see dotted around, apart from the Official TKTS Booth at the south end of Leicester Square, which offers genuine discounts and won’t overcharge you.
Nearly all of the restaurants in the area offer pre and post-theatre menus, where you can generally get a good deal. There are, of course, a huge number of restaurants to choose from. If you’re having trouble deciding on what kind of cuisine you fancy, the obvious choice would be Chinese, what with China Town being slap bang in the middle of it all. Of course, there are many other options, too. Steak Houses on practically every corner (check out Steak & Co. where your rare steak is presented to you on a hot stone for you to cook to your personal perfection), fine dining, modern cuisine… and for the vegetarians amongst you, you will find the menu of your dreams at Mildreds in Soho. Warning though, the restaurant doesn’t accept bookings and gets very busy, so be prepared to wait! I can tell you though, even as a non-vegetarian, that it’s worth it.
So let’s now traverse eastward a little into The City of London. This business district is steeped in history, from famous landmarks such as St. Pauls and the Tower of London to the lesser-known The Garret. The Herb Garret within St Thomas’s Church, which was rebuilt in 1703, was used by the Church’s Apothecary to store and cure herbs. Adjoining The Garret is the oldest operating theatre in Europe and one of the most fascinating and unique museums in London.
In contrast, practically next door you have The Shard. This magnificently modern and imposing building opened in 2013 and within the first year, hit the one-millionth-visitor milestone. If you have a head for heights, jump into the super speedy lift and be whizzed up to the 68th, 69th and 72nd floors for The View from the Shard. Here you’ll be greeted with 360-degree breath-taking views of the city. You really don’t want to forget your camera for this one! If you’re partial to a garden with your view, over on Fenchurch Street you have Sky Garden. These unique landscaped gardens inhabit the 35thfloor of 20 Fenchurch Street and are free to visit. It’s advisable to book in advance, although they do have drop-in hours at certain times during the day.
Whilst you’re in the London Bridge area, a visit to Borough Market is a must – a seventh heaven for foodies, who will no doubt at the end of the day find themselves a few pounds heavier in weight and a few pounds lighter in pocket!
For the adrenaline junkies amongst you, book a speedboat trip on the Thames. Zooming down the river at speeds of up to 40mph, you won’t experience a more exhilarating sightseeing tour of the iconic sights of London. If you’d rather something a little calmer, perhaps a Thames River Cruise would be preferable. There are a number of different companies that provide these trips and most of them include on-board lunch and dinner packages.
Head further east still, and you’ll reach Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. This is home to The Stadium, which hosted the 2012 Olympic Games and the Arcelormittal Orbit, the UK’s tallest sculpture standing at 114.5 metres high. The public can visit the 80th floor for amazing views of the park.
Whilst in east London, take a trip to The O2. Originally The Millennium Dome, this immense structure houses the O2 Arena and an array of restaurants, a cinema and a bowling alley. Though, the most tempting activity to partake in in my opinion has to be Up at The O2. Strap on a harness and climb over the iconic roof. Reach the summit and be rewarded with stunning views of historic Greenwich. Not for the fainthearted! …How best to travel across the Thames to North Greenwich, you ask? Via the Emirates Air Line cable car, of course!
Moving up to north London you’ll find colourful Camden Town. Characteristically goth and punk dominated, this buzzing and diverse area has unfortunately become more mainstream over the years, but luckily many of the alternative shops, market stalls and nightclubs remain. Walk along the high street and you’ll reach The Stables Market, full of unusual stalls and shops. The heart of the market is home to street food sellers of world cuisines, who aren’t shy about tempting you with samples! In the summer months, the canals of Camden become a lovely but busy hangout spot.
En route to Camden, Harry Potter fans would be Muggles to not pass through King’s Cross Station, where you can pay a visit to none other than platform 9¾. Hogwarts scarfs are available to borrow to make your spellbinding snapshot complete.
An area worth visiting just north of central London is trendy Islington. Upper Street is full of the finest and funkiest restaurants and bars providing a fabulous evening hangout spot. During the daytime you have a wonderful antique market and the canal to take a gentle stroll by.
For some education and culture, Exhibition Road in southwest London is a must-do. Here you have the Science Museum packed with fascinating facts and a brilliantly fun hands-on approach, The Natural History Museum with its iconic building and famous dinosaur display and the V&A Museum, full of stunning and inspiring galleries and exhibitions, both historical and contemporary. Each museum is free to visit, though may have chargeable exhibitions at times. Some of the other attractions worth visiting include Madam Tussauds near Baker Street, The London Dungeon near Waterloo, and whilst you’re in the area there is of course The London Eye.
Perhaps it’s time for something slightly more chilled out during your busy schedule. Become at one with nature in one of London’s parks. From vast Hyde Park in central London, Regent’s Park with its stunning gardens and Hampstead Heath in north London, down to Richmond for beautiful Kew Gardens, you’ll find your relaxation spot nearby wherever you are. In the summer months, the butterfly dome at Clissold Park in Stoke Newington is open and worth a visit.
Mentioned so far are only a fraction of the attractions available and areas to visit in this great city. You may not have time to do everything in one trip, but that can’t be a bad thing if it means coming back!
Article provided by Mike James, an independent content writer in the travel industry – working with a selection of companies including Function Fixers, who were consulted over the information contained in this piece.