London - mind the gap


There is a certain smell in the air. We all know it, like we know the smell of your favourite restaurant, or the smell of an airport. It’s usually accompanied by a feeling of euphoric excitement. London has a distinct smell that can only be compared to the freshness of an earth well watered.

When you have cleared your bags and are deciding how to get to town, you need to consider three methods. The first of which being the Tube, or Underground. (And be sure to listen for the “Mind the gap” announcements as proof that you have indeed left your distant shores.) The tube takes about an hour and a half to any “end-of-line” station. So you can get to the opposite side of town in ninety minutes, or to north London, Wimbledon etc. I still feel that the true experience of London, very much requires you to take the tube and smell the smell that still defines London for me. It is a very safe, and good system, albeit a public space, so still be vigilant of your luggage and self.

The second option is to take the Heathrow Express, which takes you right to the centre of town – Paddington to be exact - within twenty minutes. This is quite a nice way to get there, but will be more costly, so make sure that it is worth it. A question you can ask yourself is, “how far is Paddington from my final destination in London?”

The third is a pricy option, but can be for the hassle-free, non-cash-strapped traveller. Take the taxi. There are plenty of Taxis from outside each terminal, and depending on the time of day and your destination, it can range widely in price. Put £100 aside for this, just in case or consult your friendly travel agent.

So you have taken your personal favourite means of transportation all the way to your destination. Now what? You have a whole day ahead of you and you want to see everything that you have read about. However, since this is the real world and with fluctuating conversion rates, we don’t always have quite such deep pockets, it might be nice to do as much as you can, rather than as much as your wallet will allow. So here’s a question:

Did you know that most of the Museums in London and many parts of the UK are free?

In fact the only unavoidable costs are the daily travel cards and dining. You can buy a weekly travel card, which give you discount equal to the cost of five days. So you get 7 days for the price of 5. With these tickets you can also get into some of the attractions that charge admission, on a buy-one-get-one-free basis. This is seasonal, but well worth looking into. The current cost of a daily travelcard covering zones 1-4, is £7.20 per day (as of 1 Oct 2011).

With regards to lunches and dinners, you will find plenty of public houses – or pubs – as a well priced restaurant quality food and an authentic part of English life.

I have picked some of my favourite spots in London, both free and otherwise. Let’s face it everybody has their own perception of what is fun, so take a look and hopefully you will find some use for it.

The Tower of London

This is the famous home of the crown jewels. Tickets cost about £14.95 if you book in advance. They do concessions and group discounts when at the gate, so it is well worth looking into when you are there. Also often you get specials for presenting your underground ticket. Find out about the “travel by rail” specials at any station. There are usually leaflets at the ticket counters.

The tower itself is filled with history and stands as a testament to the tradition within Britain to honour traditions. You will find that it captures everything you might want to understand about the culture, and this is what travelling is all about, is it not?

Just be aware that there is always a queue to get into the vaults, which house the crown jewels, so leave half an hour for this. There are plenty of food stands around if you are travelling with little ones.

The closest station is Tower Hill and you can see the gorgeous sight from the moment you step out of the station.

The Tower Bridge

If you are in the area at about 15:30, you will be able to see this majestic bridge lift for oncoming vessels. It is also a fascinating museum to visit if you are after the history of London or interested in engineering. You can go to the top at certain times and with fantastic vantage points to the rest of the city, it is well worth seeing.

On the south bank, there is a lovely pub in Horselydown lane, called The Anchor Tap. This little pub has a garden area as well as a fantastic selection of its own microbrewery ales. You haven’t experienced London until you have had real ale. If you are not a beer drinking type, get it in your meal, with a Steak and Ale pie. You will not be disappointed.

The closest station is London Bridge or Tower Hill.

The London Zoo

The Zoo is very old and very big. It is magnificent for two reasons.

  1. It is drenched in history.
  2. It has a fantastic collection of animals, because of its high-tech facilities, allowing it to house very exotic species.

If you are into this sort of thing, go and see it. Tickets are about £15-£20 and can be bought with your underground ticket for a reduced rate. The closest station is Camden Town tube station, but the zoo is located at the top of Regent’s Park, so if you were experiencing a particularly nice day, then this makes a beautiful walk.

The Fullers Brewery in Chiswick

So you went to the Anchor Tap around the corner from the Tower Bridge, and you loved it! Now this is a must see for those beer drinking, open minded individuals who will miss England for the beer, if nothing else. Tickets are around £10-£12 and you get to taste beer at the end of the tour. The English aren’t stingy with beer, so be prepared for a number of pints included in your ticket.

An added bonus is that there is a beautiful old pub attached to the brewery, which offers high-quality food, for good price and some more of that wicked stuff.

The closest station is Turnham Green station.

The Shepherds Neame pub, in Smithfield

This is tipped as the oldest Brewery in England. They make such greats as the Spitfire, Bishops Finger and other seasonal ales. The pub, however, is a completely different experience as you go there for a meal.

It is situated in Smithfield, which is where William Wallace (Braveheart) was beheaded after capture, by the English. The famous story of him not giving in to his torturers and denying the King of England as his own. This is now a National Heritage site, as declared by the Queen Mother in the nineties. What is a unique site is the old abattoir walkway that disappears below the road, like a spiral, underground car parking garage. It still functions as a meat market, but only in the early mornings for trucks buying for butchers from all over the country.

The pub is only open from Monday to Friday, because it is predominantly a “professional” area. This means that there are mainly offices and no houses or flats. It is completely deserted over the weekends, which is eerie when you have stumbled off of a busy tube.

The closest station is Farringdon.

The British Museum

This is a beautiful building with a library almost straight out of the pages of a Harry Potter book. It was founded in 1753 and entrance has always been free to any “studious and curious persons.” Here you can see the collection of the British Empire, from Egypt to Australia. You can spend a whole day here. The closest station is Holborn or Tottenham Court Road.

The Natural History Museum

A must see for those individuals interested in fossils of modern and ancient species. Also if you like historic building, you will like this. Entry is free and the closest station is South Kensignton.

The Science Museum

This is located in the same street and right beside the Natural History Museum, so you can do both in the same day. Entry is free, but there are always special exhibitions on, which you can enter at a small fee.

The Science Museum, takes you from steam power to the moon. This is one of my favourites in London, because of its wide selection in authentic historic machinery, vehicles, originals by inventors and the overall entertainment value.

Trafalgar Square

The home of Nelson’s column, you will also find the National Portrait gallery at the top of the square. This is also free and filled with works of Rembrandt, Monet and many others. It is a must-see in London.

Leicester Square

The home of the Odeon cinema, where films like Harry Potter hosts their glitzy red-carpet premiers. It is also the gateway to the West End shows, and quite appropriately you will find the official Half Price ticket booth. There are a lot of people offering this deal, but the official one tends to have the best tickets available. It opens at noon and there is always a queue, but the saving is well worth it.

There is also a lovely restaurant right opposite the exit of Leicester Square tube station, called Fiorie Corner. This is an Italian restaurant, famous for its Lamb kebabs.

The West End shows

What makes the West End special to go and see a show? It’s the fact that every theatre you find yourself in is filled with history. The productions themselves are of the highest quality and matches up to Broadway in New York in the available shows and the quality of the casts. You can often see big names playing title roles, too, so be sure to go and see one.

Oxford Circus

This area is predominantly famous for shopping. Oxford Circus station brings you to the corner of Regent’s Street – the home of Hamleys toy store – and Oxford Street. Oxford Street, runs from Marble Arch to Tottenham Court Road. This is the centre of town.

Piccadilly Circus

This is at the bottom of Regent’s Street and is famous for its large advertising screens and its location in the heart of the West End – these days informally known as “Theatreland”. It’s a must see, even if you are just walking through it on your way to Regent’s Street.

St Paul's Cathedral

Designed by the famous Sir Christopher Wren, this is a beautiful church. You can take tours to see the best of it, and it is recommended that you do climb the dome.

The closest station is St Pauls.

Buckingham Palace

Go and see the famous balcony, and finish it off with a walk through Green Park. At certain times of the day you can see the famous, “changing of the guard,” but be prepared to get there early if you want a good view.

There are three stations – Green park, Hyde park Corner and Victoia – but the best directions are from Hyde Park Corner.

Hyde Park

You can get there by Hyde Park Corner, or Marble Arch. Both are on the corner of the majestic park. If you have some good weather, you will find this a great place for a picnic.

The Royal Albert Hall

If you get out at Knightsbridge station you can walk down the bottom of Hyde Park. This building hosts everything from Rock to the “Last night at the Proms.” The tickets are also very reasonably priced, so if you have a free evening, consider this as your entertainment.

Abbey Road Studios

Abbey Road is close to Baker Street – home of Sherlock Holmes, The Beatles’ official shop, Madame Tussaudes. It is the location of the famous Parlophone records – a subsidiary of EMI – and the home of the recording studios, which The Beatles famously used as the title their final album. Walk across the famous zebra crossing that featured on the cover of that album.

The closest station is St John’s Wood

Lords cricket ground

Go and see the home of cricket on a tour of the Long Room for a small admin fee. Not far from Abbey Road, the closes station is either St John’s wood or Maida Vale. The better walk is from St John’s Wood, for the scenic minded.

Hop-on, hop-off bus

This is an excellent value bus tour, that allows you to hop off at any stop and delve into the attractions. To get to the next one, simply hop on, and they drop you at “the front door”. Adult tickets are about £14 per day, and well worth it to see as much as possible.

Wimbledon Championships

Every year, during the last two weeks in June, you will be able to queue for Wimbledon Championship tickets. If you are a Tennis fan, then this is a definite bucket list item, and thus if you're in town, go and watch a day at these prestigious events. The queue has been famous since the 1930s and you will find a very well structured, and marshalled event.

You can arrive early in the morning (6am) or you can camp overnight for tickets. The earlier you arrive the day before, the better your chances to get the tickets you want. You will see masses of people camping and there are storage facilities for your tents and larger items, which you don't want to carry with you all day.

There are 1500 passes, for the three main courts. So in total, there are 500 for Centre Court (guaranteed tennis with a roof for rain), Court number 1 (usually the best tennis of the day) and Court number 2 (brand new court). If you camp from the night before you should get some of these allocated tickets, but you do get a queueing card when you arrive, with your number in the queue. This way you can weigh your odds of which court you are likely to get and you will be able to ask any of the marshalls for their opinion of the best tennis of the day.

If you want ground passes, there is no need to camp (tent and all), and you could arrive at around 6 am in the morning. Make sure you take cash, because they do not accept card. You can take picnics in, as well as your own drinks, but do yourself a favour and have a bowl of the famous strawberries and cream, as well as a Pimms and lemonade.

There are many more things to do in London, and once you arrive, grab a brochure from your hotel. Once you have all of this in your hands, you might suddenly come to the understanding, that a week is nearly not enough.


Written by Super User