Over the last 7 months I have had many opportunities to explore and visit London, and can say confidently I think I can navigate the CBD of London better than I can Sydney… Based around the Thames (one of Britain’s brilliant phonetic names) it is the hustle and bustle, absolutely condensed with people, business and history. I’d love to share a few of my experiences tainted with smidges of opinion of my time in ‘The Big Smoke’.
My first sighting of London was through a plane window after Christmas in Holland. I’d said goodbye to family and embarked upon my first truly solo adventure, and thanks to a break in the clouds as the plane banked towards Heathrow I was able to see London in it’s bright sunlit majesty. I remember being awestruck realising that I was suspended in the air above the city which has directed the world in industry, politics, sport and the arts. Unfortunately the plane was late and I missed my coach to Cheltenham, which made for a stressful first day before I even got to work!
After getting over my initial frustrations, I realised it is my duty as an Aussie Gapper to spend a few days in London. I booked a three day break over Australia Day and covered the bucketlist locations. With the winter weather I must say the lines were particularly short so I was not waiting long, but after doing the same ones again in the summer there is a quality trade off between the seasons! The London Eye is a must do, as even in the rain it allows you to familiarise yourself with the layout of the city. In the sun it has some incredible views and beautiful scenery!
Once you have seen it from above, I strongly suggest doing hop on/hop off bus tours. You can buy a ticket for a few days and use the service as a way to get to all the major points. I chose the bus tour over the tube as it was a very tourist friendly, clean and regular service which also provided a tour guide with running commentary about the city and places that I wouldn’t get time to visit. I used the original tour here: http://www.theoriginaltour.com/
There are 4 classic spots which every first time Londoner has to do. First is Big Ben and the famous houses of parliament. You don’t need to do more than a walk around and a few standard tourist snaps in front of the gothic palace, however you may like to take a walk into down the Thames on both sides to truly appreciate the majesty of the area. Secondly, Tower Bridge for a walk through is a bucketlist must-do. Depending on time and money you may want to visit the top, but it is more architecture museum than cool views… Next up is next door at London Tower, where the castle remnants is a great introduction to British history and culture. However it is very commercialised and feels more like you are walking through a supermarket aisle than anything else. Lastly is the beautiful Hyde Park, which in the summer can be the most amazing place around. It was King Henry VIII’s personal hunting ground and has been turned into an amazingly beautiful public park. If you are lucky you will see a number of activities, from parades of full traditional soldiers to the finish line of marathons there is always something new to see and buzz around!
London isn’t worth more than a few days unless you live a bit like a local. My first trip included a visit to Clapham Junction, which is considered to be the young Aussie working traveller capital. I was there for an Australia Day party, but the vibes of a town transformed by culture and not tourism was incredibly exciting and brilliant fun. Later on I visited London and just explored by foot. I walked the streets with a work friend just outside the main tourist area to get a better image of how the city buzzed. I found it interesting how everything is brilliant and fancy on one end of the street, before a block away to have run down community housing. I felt this was a prime example of London’s ever changing social standing. Areas develop and crumble all the time, and therefore there is such a vast mix of social classes in the bubble!
A major London Local hotspot to get cultural vibes and have a great day is Camden Markets. A recent visit left me revelling in the atmosphere, and maybe wanting to grow a beard and manbun. It reminded me of Newtown but with an established identity, it is an area that has found its mark and everyone loves it. The incredible cuisines from every country and continent and the clothing and gadgets that can be found at the Lock made me come back again the next day!
The town of London is a historical haven of recorded history. It was the epicentre of politics and the town that pretty much made the western world. It means there are so many buildings, palaces, cathedrals and streets to immerse yourself in. Once which I recently enjoyed was Westminster Cathedral (no not the abbey) which is full of altars to various saints and you can read about their part in Church history. Another good one is Hampton Court Palace, which was the home of the famous Henry VIII and the Dutchman Wiliam III. It told the story of both great kings through an audio tour and a walk through the great palace and gardens.
A big part of London’s history was the great fire of 1666 (ominous year…) which decimated most of the city. Today there stands a monument which you can climb up for less than a fiver. It is 311 steps but provides panoramic London views! You can walk around the top and get a different perspective of the city, which while is not as great as the eye, still is awesome!
I’ll finish on London’s transport. Every time I come into London congestion is ridiculous-regardless of peak or off peak. As such there are some useful ways to get around. I find the best way to observe your options is via the Citymapper app on iPhone and android. Very useful app with details for many major cities’ transport systems!
- The tube: With an oyster card the tube is the quick fix for getting anywhere and everywhere in London. With connections to the overground, and all major services a subway map will get you around. Try to time it so you are travelling off peak, as it will save big $$$
- Bike: Santander bike hires are everywhere and can be hired for 2 quid a day. I would only recommend this option if you are a confident cyclist and know where you are going. It saves heaps of time and money!
- Buses: Make sure you have an oyster card, and a bus can be a cheap way across town!
- Taxi: For a group of 5 or more a big black cab is the cheapest way to go, price pp goes down when shared and its much safer. London cabbies are renown for being very knowledgeable about their city if you need help!
- Walking: Free, burns fat, and allows you to observe the city. If you have the time this is my no.1 option. I love walking through London as the buzz is incredible!
That’s my two cents on London! #jongmasjourney has just begun the summer holidays so expect a few more regular posts!
Thanks for reading, feel free to drop me a comment or message with suggestions!
As always, and as Grandma’s friend Laurie says…
“Love all around”