London is at the crossroads not only of Great Britain
’s highway system, but of history, culture, commerce and much more. The iconic Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, Big Ben, impressive cathedrals, pretty terraced houses, inviting lanes, sprawling parks and modern glass towers only set the stage for what makes London such an impressive place to visit. The city draws you in with its possibilities; there is always something to do or see in England’s exciting capital. Eateries, music venues, events, markets... the list goes on.
Many a traveller flies into London, picks up a car rental
and leaves to explore the UK without seeing the city. I think it’s worth sticking around for a few days first - you might just fall in love! I certainly did - here are the top eight things to do in London as judged by a visitor who is truly under its spell.
1 . Walk the Mall
There’s a lot to be said for “authentic experiences” and “taking the road less travelled,” but you will miss out on some of London’s charm if you don’t visit its most famous sights. They are all quite close together, and here’s how you can see them in a few epic hours of sightseeing.
Take the Tube (now there’s an authentic London experience) to Hyde Park Corner, where you will find yourself among war memorials for New Zealand, Australia and the Machine Gun Corps. From there it’s a short walk down the tree-lined Constitution Hill to the gates of Buckingham Palace, where you can stare in awe at the official London residence of the United Kingdom’s royal family. If you time it right, you might even catch a glimpse of the changing of the guard.
From the palace, stroll along The Mall, a very stately avenue, and at the other end you will arrive in Trafalgar Square, where Nelson perches on his column in front of the National Gallery. Then get along Whitehall, past Downing Street where the Prime Minister resides, to Westminster. Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster Abbey and London Bridge are all clustered here, so you can wander to your hearts content. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself humming Clash lyrics! I have to recommend picking up something with a union jack on it from one of the souvenir stands - cheesy, yes, but it will bring back happy memories.
2 . Camden Town
The thing about London is that it contains all kinds of people. No-one is afraid to be a little eccentric, and nowhere is that more evident than in Camden Town. Here you will see punk rockers in full get up, bohemian stallholders selling all kinds of crazy thing, wander into shops full of PVC bodysuits and generally feel that life has taken a turn for the whacky and wonderful.
Take the Northern Line to the Camden Town stop (Zone 2) and you’ll get a feel for the cool Camden atmosphere as soon as you get to ground level. The best way to see what’s there is to just follow your nose and wander, but you must visit the amazing Camden Markets. Camden Town Market is on Camden High Street near the Tube station, selling a huge variety of funky clothing and jewellery, and a little further along (next to the canal) are the extensive Camden Lock Markets. These are full of twists and turns, sprawling through open-air alleys and cave-like corridors, and are full of such a variety of things both new and secondhand that you could spend a whole day perusing. You can pick up quirky clothing and accessories, second-hand and vintage goods, souvenirs, homewares, books and more. The highlight is an international street food area with delicious and inexpensive meals from a variety of cuisines.
3 . Piccadilly Circus and surrounds
Piccadilly is London’s equivalent of Times Square. The bright lights and bustling humanity are the same, but this UK version has a bit of quaint British charm to add to the urban excitement. The Circus itself is a busy road junction, overlooked by giant video display billboards and the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain - at the base of which you will often find some very talented buskers.
As with many parts of London, the best way to experience Piccadilly and the surrounding areas (Leicester Square and Covent Garden are also wonderful) is to set aside an evening and just stroll. The charming streets and lanes are full of surprises: traditional London pubs, interesting restaurants, street performers, boutiques. You will soon come across the theatres of the West End, the delicious delights of London’s Chinatown and the crazy Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum. Sports lovers, don’t miss out on a browse through Lillywhites, an amazing 5-storey sporting emporium located directly on the Circus.
4 . Ride the bus
The good thing about being a tourist is that you generally have all the time in the world, and the thought occurred to me one day while visiting London that although the bus system was a little intimidating, it wouldn’t really matter if I ended up in the wrong place. Buses take longer than the Tube - but they offer some incredible sightseeing opportunities along the way (they are also cheaper). Try to get a seat in the top section of a double-decker, preferably right at the front where you get a completely unhindered view of the locales you are passing through. Bring a guidebook with you, and you have yourself a guided tour at public transport prices.
London is often referred to as a collection of villages, and riding the famous red double-decker buses is a great way to witness the truth in that. Passing through each distinct section of the city is an unforgettable experience, from busy Kings Cross to trendy Chelsea, bohemian Notting Hill, diverse SoHo, luxurious Mayfair, expat-filled Putney and Shepherds Bush, and many more unique neighbourhoods.
5. Museum hop
Did you know that many of the museums in London, both big and small, are free to enter? History is tangible in London, and there’s no better way to learn more than to visit one of the many museums and galleries around the city.
Art lovers can start in the National Gallery at Trafalgar Square, where masterpieces from virtually every European school of art are stored, including works by Van Gogh, Monet and Da Vinci. Tate Modern caters to more contemporary artistic tastes. On the historic side of things, the centrally-located British Museum gives a good overview (it’s one of the oldest museums in the world) and those interested in combat history should visit the National Army Museum in Chelsea which re-opens in 2016. Of more particular interest are the V&A Museum of Childhood in Cambridge Heath, the Museum of London Docklands in Canary Wharf and the fascinating National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.
The Tower of London, although not free and not exactly a museum, is a must-see for any history lover. The castle complex, still guarded by genuine live-in yeomen, is a genuine artefact of life and intrigue in England over nearly a thousand years. The tours include some wonderful tidbits about the rulers, the prisoners and the various other people who spent time there, as well as a viewing of the Crown Jewels.
Of the many London attractions, food is certainly one of the highest-rated and universal. The city has many Michelin-starred restaurants, and you won’t have to go far to find a gourmet experience. Try some of Jamie Oliver’s homestyle British cooking in Jamie’s Italian or the innovative Fifteen. Expand your mind and your tastebuds at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, serving hyper-experimental cuisine that is half cooking, half science. Enjoy a top-notch Sunday brunch at Bar Boulud in Belgravia, or share some exquisite grazing plates at Dinings in Marylebone.
Of course, you don’t need to spend a lot to get some great grub in the UK’s biggest city. There are no end of pubs, affordable restaurants, small eateries, take out options and chains. Pret a Manger is a UK healthy-alternative fast food chain which began in London in 1984, and it is worth a try, offering some great wraps, sandwiches, salads, soups and more. Like your eats a little exotic? You could eat easily pick a different cuisine for dinner every night in London even if you were there for weeks, the dining scene is so multicultural.
No London foodie experience would be complete without a trip to Borough Market. This is a wonderland of all things edible, with stalls selling fresh fruit and veges, artisanal bread and cheeses, deli meats, chocolates and pastries, fresh juices and all kinds of delicious wares. The best part is the street food stalls with dishes from all over the world - these are different each day so you might want to come back once or twice for lunch.
7 . Enjoy the parks
If you are all out of energy for sightseeing or eating and are looking for a quiet afternoon, you’re in luck. London is known for its extensive green spaces, where you can pack up a picnic of delicious treats from Borough Market, sit on the grass and watch the world go by. This is a favourite pastime of the locals, and an especially good way to spend a few hours in summertime.
There are eight Royal Parks scattered around the city, as well as many smaller garden squares. The Royal Parks cover almost 2,000 hectares of land in Greater London.
- Bushy Park
- Green Park
- Greenwich Park
- Hyde Park
- Kensington Gardens
- Regent’s Park
- Richmond Park
- St James’s Park
For a first-time London parkgoer, I would recommend one of the more central and well-known parks: Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, Green Park or St James’s Park. In fact, these four more or less connect together, and if you are game you could stroll through parkland all the way from Kensington Palace to Westminster.
8 . Take in a sports match
England is very proud of its sporting teams and athletes, and the atmosphere at a game of any description is always a fun thing to be a part of. London is home to some of the most iconic and historic sporting venues in the world, which adds something even more specials to the experience.
Football is a favourite in the UK, and you can visit the home grounds of Arsenal, Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Tottenham and West Ham in the various boroughs. The season runs from around August to around May. Fans of rugby, another winter sport, can pay homage to the several clubs based in the city, and enjoy international matches played at the famous Twickenham or Wembley Stadiums.
The historic Lord’s is the place to catch a spot of cricket, which has an opposite season to football and rugby with matches being held over the summer. Tennis is another summer favourite in London, and the highlight of the roster is the Championships at Wimbledon. This takes place in late June and early July, and draws huge crowds to the famous grounds where spectators watch matches, eat strawberries and cream and drink Pimms cups.
These are just a few attractions and things to do in the wonderful city of London, discover more of the UK with a car hire from AirportRentals.com
. Consider visiting Bristol
and experiencing life on the littoral, or explore beautiful Cornwall from Plymouth
and the rest of Europe is a right at your finger tips - just cross the English Channel and continue through mainland Europe.