London is one of the world’s oldest and most exciting cities, a place where you can find both tradition and modernity almost in equal measure. Because of its popularity, it’s also a fairly easy place to get to, with airlines frequently offering attractive rates on the London flights from major U.S., Canadian, European and other airports.
Highlights of London
London is one of those cosmopolitan cities that have far too many attractions to list in a relatively short article. Yet if you want to select some of the highlights, here are some recommendations.
- Museums -London is famous for, among many other things, its incredible art and natural history museums. Some of the most impressive include Tate Modern, Natural History Museum, National Gallery and British Museum. You could easily spend an entire day in each one (and several others as well), so you might want to decide what portion of your trip you want to devote to museum-hopping.
- London Eye -Unless you have a deathly fear of heights, this is one of the best places to get spectacular views of some of London’s central attractions. One of the world’s tallest observation wheels, this ride takes you over the River Thames overlooking Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.
- Tower of London -One of the world’s most recognizable buildings, this is the site of many fascinating -as well as grisly- events. Among other things, it was the home of London’s first zoo. Tours will give you a glimpse of the Crown Jewels, Beefeaters and many tales of battles, executions and the Tower’s famous ravens.
- Markets and Shopping Areas -In addition to exploring museums and famous buildings, you should get a taste of London’s unique shopping experiences. Borough Market is a food market that dates all the way back to the 13th century. Covent Garden, probably London’s most comprehensive shopping area, has a wide variety of shops, restaurants and bars. Camden Lock Market, only open on weekends, is a bustling outdoor market full of stalls, food vendors and a place where you can buy almost anything.
- Transportation There are many ways to get around London. Renting a car is possible, though the city always has heavy traffic and, for people from the U.S., there’s the challenge of getting accustomed to driving on the opposite side of the road. Public transportation, including the London Underground, the world’s oldest subway system, and double-deck buses, is always efficient.
Taxis are always available, though often pricey.
Dining and Nightlife
London is one of those cities where you can find ethnic cuisine of every description -in addition to traditional English fare (which you should certainly sample while in London). French, Italian and Indian cuisine is especially well represented, along with many places with contemporary fusion and international menus.
Some of the city’s more renowned eateries include Seven Park Place at the St. James Hotel and Club, a Michelin-starred restaurant with many traditional as well as original culinary creations. For expertly prepared Italian specialties, including pasta, pizza and calzones, try Trattoria Raffaele on Sydenham Road. If you prefer French style cooking (adjusted to English tastes), you can’t do better than Gastronhome at Lavender Hill, with popular dishes such as Dover Sole and Roasted Long-Horn Beef.
All major cities have great sushi, and London is no exception. Rock Star Sushi Bar on Watermill Way is one of the best, with fresh sushi and other Japanese dishes expertly prepared. Online booking is recommended. London also has its own outstanding burger joints, such as Rox Burger on Lee High Road, which has offerings such as Brazilian style burgers, sweet potato fries, chorizo burgers and much more.
London is also a city where you can find great, informal restaurants and cafes as well as pubs with local favorites such as fish and chips almost everywhere you go. Indian curry places are also prevalent, as is pizza, Chinese food and Middle Eastern choices.
For entertainment, you also have almost limitless options. Just as New York has Broadway, London has Piccadilly Circus, where you can see popular shows such as Les Miserables, The Lion King and many others. There’s also comedy at the Comedy Store Piccadilly Circus. You can see concerts at Royal Albert Hall, and the Royal Opera House.
London also has thousands of smaller venues with jazz, rock and every other type of music. Traditional social life in London revolves largely around pubs, so these are always fun to stop in for a drink, casual dining and perhaps live music.
Where to Stay
If you want to stay in one of London’s top rated hotels, you have lots of choices, including The Kensington at Queen’s Gate, an elegant and traditional hotel that has impeccable service and allows you to experience English traditions such as afternoon tea. Another good choice for the quintessential London experience is St. Ermin’s Hotel -Autograph Collection on Caxton Street, Westminster, with its authentic Victorian architecture and convenient location.
For those on a more modest budget, you can find many excellent choices as well, such as Ibis Budget London Whitechapel Hotel, close to the tower bridge or the Tune Hotel Westminster, a small but adequate hotel (rooms are small as well) close to the Westminster Bridge. Pickwick Hall, at Bedford Place also provides good value and a very central location.
Inns and B &Bs can be a charming way to spend your nights in London. Some of the best include Rhodes Avenue Homestay B & B, in a residential neighborhood on Rhodes Avenue and Muswell Hill; John and Norma’s Homestay B & B on Coniston Road in the Muswell Hill area of North London and The Oaks Guest House on Blagdens Lane Southgate.