Lost in London
Oscar Wilde once said “Oh, I love London Society! It has immensely improved. It is entirely composed now of beautiful idiots and brilliant lunatics. Just what Society should be".
Awesome! (I mean, Jolly Good!), I'll fit right in here!
As I darted through the sea of humanity that is Heathrow Airport, I turned to the couple I had befriended and asked: "How do you say thank you in England?". Nice one Ella.
That being said, I'm sure you are wondering how I manage to travel the world on my own.
The answer is, I just get totally, utterly and beautifully lost, and I enjoy every moment of it.
I always start with a plan, but there just seems to be wonder around every corner in the cities that I am visiting.
When it came to London, I didn't really have a plan or a set list of things that I wanted to see. I have been here a few times before and I have seen a lot of the main sights.
So without a map or a plan, I took to the streets of the United Kingdom capital, guided only by faint memories and my knowledge of places on a Monopoly Board.
I jumped off the train at Waterloo and collected 200 selfies as I passed 'Go'.
I began by strolling along the River Thames but took every turns at every street, nook, and lane that tickled my fancy and ended up covering a fair bit of the city.
I was also lucky to have friends in London that showed me some of their favourite places.
You could literally NEVER run out of things to do in London, but if you wanted some inspiration, here are some things that I love to see and do:
Because you simply have to visit the Queen when you're in London. I joined good ol' Lizzy for a cup of tea when I was in London town (out of a takeaway cup with a fence in between us, but hey! It is the thought that counts right?). In the summer months, you can take a tour inside the palace. I didn't bother this time round because I have been there and done that - but it is definitely worth it! There is also a changing of the guards outside the palace at 11.30am daily.
Sitting pretty on the South Bank of the River Thames, this giant Ferris wheel is a modern contrast to the historic cityscape. Riding the London Eye gives you a great overview of the cityscape and the main London landmarks.
BIG BEN AND HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT
The Westminster Palace, which is today referred to as the Houses of Parliament, is the oldest royal place in London and one of the most recognised buildings in the world. 'Big Ben' is the nickname given to the bell inside the Clock Tower of the Houses of Parliament whose chime rings across the city on the hour. In 1995, a flock of birds landed on the minute hand of the iconic clock causing it to run 5 mins late.
This iconic gothic style church in the City of Westminster. The abbey commonly holds coronations and formalities of the British Royal Family. There is 20 pound entry fee into the abbey or free entry if you are worshipping on a Sunday.
TOWER OF LONDON
Built by William the Conquerer in 1078 this palace on the north bank of the River Thames is richly embedded in English history. It has a very dark side to it, a gruesome history of torture. It brings shudders to imagine and find out about what went on within those walls. Tickets are cheaper when bought online.
ST PAUL'S CATHEDRAL
With a rich history and a distinct place in the London skyline, this Anglican cathedral perched on Ludwig Hill has an elaborate interior and boasts stunning views of the city from the Dome. You do pay an 18 pound entry fee to climb the 528 stairs to the Golden Gallery at the top of the Dome which does seem a little bit 'steep' (... sorry, excuse my lame pun!) but the money goes into maintaining the beautiful Cathedral. As with the Westminster Abbey, entry is free into the Cathedral on a Sunday if you are coming to Worship.
CATCH THE TUBE
Anyone who makes jokes about England being cold obviously hasn't caught the tube on a scorching hot day. Nonetheless, the tube is a great way to get around London and it is an experience in itself.
Set in the tranquil Kensington Gardens, the Kensington Palace is a haven from the hustle and bustle of the city that encompasses it. The palace has been a residence of the British Royal Family since the 17th Century and many significant figures have called it home; from Queen Victoria to Wills and Kate.
Mayfair is the area enclosed by Park Lane, Regent Street, Oxford Street and Picadilly. It is a prime property on the Monopoly Board and the stomping ground of the affluent in reality too. I was just wandering London, kind of incredibly lost, when I began to think "Wow... there are some pretty nice cars around here", elegant women poked their shiny high heels out the side of taxi doors and men in tailored suits stomped out of the doors of well-to-do residences and five-star hotels. After having a brief "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore" moment, I glanced up at the street sign that read 'Park Lane'... well that makes sense to anyone who knows a thing or two about Monopoly then, doesn't it?
ROYAL ALBERT HALL AND ALBERT MEMORIAL
Standing proudly at the southern end of Kensington gardens, these monuments were commissioned by Queen Victoria in commemoration of her dearly beloved husband, Prince Albert, who fell ill and passed away in 1861. Royal Albert Hall was opened in 1871, and the Albert Memorial in 1872. Today the Royal Albert Hall is a concert hall that has held world class acts such as The Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Elton John and BEYONCE! It upholds the tradition of summer proms which date back to 1941.
STROLL ALONG THE THAMES
London City is built on the banks of the River Thames which flows through Southern England. While the river itself is not the most beautiful river in the world, I love strolling along the banks of the Thames because there is so much activity and excitement. Cafes sprawl onto the sidewalks, monuments stand proud, and street performers and vendors draw the attention of the crowds as they dart about their daily lives or London explorations. Cruising down the Thames is definitely on my to-do list for next time I'm in London!
THEATRE IN THE WEST END
The term 'West End' came about in the 19th Century as a way of describing the trendy area of London that lie west of Charring Cross. It is the entertainment heart of the city and one of the world's largest and most highly regarded theatre districts -with an international reputation that rivals New York's Broadway. I didn't catch a theater production on this trip to London but I have great memories of watching 'Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat' in the West End as a child. It really sparked my love for theater and performance.
DRINK SOME TEA
I can't think of a more stereotypical thing to do in London, so tea and cake are always a must do when I am there. My friend Beth and I made an event of afternoon tea and long yarns at the stunning Petersham Nurseries in the leafy suburb of Richmond.
On the Eastern edge of the West End, Covent Gardens is the area between St Martin's Lane and Drury Lane (where the muffin man lives!). I don't know if my elation came from the nursery rhyme street name or the contagious spirit of excitement that the crowds and street performers bring to the Covent Garden area. There are many things to do and see in Covent Gardens; great shopping, excellent eateries, markets, theatre, and performances or admiring the Royal Opera House.
Set in quirky Camden Town, the markets open daily from 10am until late. The mish-mash of shops, stands and stalls stretch along the edge of the Camden Lock, through the stables, and into the streets. Home to the eccentric and eclectic, the markets draw in masses of locals and tourists alike to rummage through, bric-a-brac, souvenirs, unique crafts and racks of clothing. There are also lots of options for eating and hanging out. I highly recommend finding a place to sit and simply enjoying people watching. There are some seriously cool and alternative characters around Camden.
CATCH A CAB
I know I am a student, and I can't afford to be taking taxis, and I know that there are plenty of other excellent transport options in London, but I just couldn't resist. I feel like a trip to London is incomplete without a journey in a black cab... even if it is only to travel two blocks down!
VISIT A PARK
When the sun actually decides to come out in London, the Londoners flock to some of the city's many parks. Some of my best childhood memories were made in London's parks. My favourite parks that I have visited in London (mostly for nostalgic reasons) are Osterley, Richmond, and Sion Parks. If you are stuck on choosing a park to visit, I would recommend visiting one of the eight Royal Parks which were once reserved as the private hunting grounds of the Royal Family but now open to the public. Just a pre-warning that while the parks themselves are free, be aware that if you sit down on one of the deck chairs in the park, you may be approached to pay a fee.
Founded in 1834, Harrods is one of the world's most renowned department stores. Located on Brompton Road in Knightsbridge, this luxury shopping destination prides itself on excellent service and seven floors of high-quality goods.
Commonly mistaken as being London Bridge (which I must mention is much less exciting), this suspension bridge and its two towers have become a true London icon. The bridge crosses the River Thames connecting the City of London to the South Bank. "How come every time you come around my Tower, Tower Bridge".... yeah, that doesn't have the same ring to it! At least you can cross the bridge and enjoy the view without worrying that "London bridge is falling down".
Smack bang in the centre of London, Trafalgar Square is a public space that has been used for community gatherings, political demonstrations. It is a popular destination for tourists but its central location means that it is part of the daily lives on many Londoners. The square is home to the 145 foot high Nelson's Column monument surrounded by stone lions, several statues, grand fountains and the National Gallery on the northern edge. Trafalgar Square is a great place to stop, enjoy and absorb the energy and effervescence of the buzzing city centre.
MUSEUMS & GALLERIES
London's museums and galleries give you a bit of background to the dense history and diverse individuals that make the city what it is today. The best part is that you don't need to spend a single pound, many museums and galleries have free entry.
HAVE A PUB MEAL
London pubs serve the same purpose that coffee shops do in New Zealand, they are a place where people come to sit, relax, work, catch up and banter. Often old establishments in buildings with charm and character, the pubs provide cosy escapes from gloomy weather. These pubs create a sense of community and are ingrained into British culture. I hit up a British pub for a typical British pub meal; roast beef, spuds, gravy and a Yorkshire pudding.... just like my grandma makes it!
Borough Market in Southwark is one of the oldest and largest food markets in London. The sprawling maze of artisans and top quality eateries make this place an absolute foodie heaven. I ate a customised scotch egg from Scotchtails and chocolate chip cookie from Comptoir Gourmand, both were DIVINE! I wish I had more room in my belly and money in my pocket to devour every single thing in this entire market. Everything looks SO good and being decisive is definitely a challenge there.
MAKING A CALL TELEPHONE BOX
I don't care if you have a mobile phone in your pocket, there is aways a good reason for giving someone a call from the comfort of a cute little red telephone booth.
Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest currently occupied castle in the world. Despite being around 40km from the center of London, the trip out to Castle in the county of Berkshire is worthwhile to see this castle that has been the residence of British Kings and Queens for over 1000 years. It is also where Queen Elizabeth still chooses to spend a great deal of her time today. If the Royal Standard is flying from the Castle's round tower, The Queen is in the building too!
This hectic road junction in the West End is like a mini Times Square, with neon signs wrapped around an old London-style building... pretty much the dream for an advertising major like me! I like to sit around the Eros statue and watch the double-decker buses and black taxis weave in and out of the maze of old white buildings to the soundtrack of muffled chatter and tooting horns.
RIDE A DOUBLE DECKER BUS
Not only are they a great way to get around the city, but the double-decker buses are undoubtedly iconic. Designed for mass transport, these busses are not a tourist trap but integrated into the daily lives of many Londoners.
HAVE AN ENGLISH BREAKFAST
Us Aussies and Kiwis do breakfast INCREDIBLY well. With all-day breakfast menus gracing our favourite local haunts and #brunch saturating our Instagram feeds, I thought it would be criminal not to try out a good old' English Breakfast in their natural habitat.
This pedestrian footbridge crosses the Thames, linking Bankside with the City of London. This Modern Bridge provides a bit of contrast to the buildings around it. It is a great photo spot with St Pauls Cathedral in the background (cos, you know that is what all the Millenials do on Millenium Bridge!).
SHOP ON OXFORD STREET, REGENT STREET AND CARNABY STREET
Napoleon referred to England as being "a nation that is governed by shopkeepers". This can still be seen to be true today as crowds of consumers flock to London's main shopping streets each day. With a vast array of stores lining the street and people popping in and out of them, it is no surprise that London is one of the world's top shopping destinations. So get out, and get amongst the maze of retail stores that range from the likes of Topshop to Hamley's Toy Store to Debenham's.
WANDER AROUND AND GET INSANELY LOST!
Yeah, this has to be by favourite thing to do in London. It is often the unexpected turns that lead to the greatest adventures!