BY Sandra Chambers
One never has enough time in London! It’s a place you can visit over and over again WBM contributing writer Sandra Chambers returned from London with some great recommendations and tips for first-time visitors as well as seasoned travelers.
and still feel like you’ve just scratched the surface. It truly is one of the world’s
most remarkable cities and it has something to offer every traveler.
One never has enough time in London! It’s a place you can visit over and over again
WBM contributing writer Sandra Chambers returned from London with some great recommendations and tips for first-time visitors as well as seasoned travelers.
To truly appreciate London one must experience the city from the inside out not only as a tourist being whisked around on tour buses and guided excursions.
If it is your first visit to London by all means don’t miss Big Ben Westminster Abbey Buckingham Palace and some of the other amazing tourist sites but be sure to take time to savor some of the local history culture theater food and shopping while you’re there.
You will be surprised how easy it is to get around in London. While it is a huge culturally diverse metropolis of more than 7.5 million people it is easily accessed by the underground Tube system by bus and by foot. In fact London is a true walker’s city having been laid out before the advent of cars and trains.
London is not one huge metropolis but rather is divided into several smaller neighborhoods or boroughs each with its own unique characteristics and flavor. And surprisingly more than 30 percent of the city is comprised of parks and green spaces.
Where to Stay
Selecting the right accommodations can make a big difference at the end of a long day of sightseeing or shopping. You will appreciate easy access as well as a little pampering so if you really want to experience true English hospitality ditch the big hotel chains and opt to stay at one of the small luxury hotels such as the five-star Draycott Hotel in Cadogan Gardens in Chelsea. The 35 rooms and suites occupy three red brick restored Edwardian townhomes with glorious views of a private garden. As their guest expect to be treated like royalty with 24-hour concierge service a delicious full English breakfast afternoon tea and nightly champagne.
Another wonderful option is the Royal Park Hotel in the upscale Mayfair neighborhood. The three restored Georgian townhomes are located just two blocks from Hyde Park. This four-star luxury hotel offers 48 beautifully furnished guest rooms outstanding service and British hospitality.
Both hotels are in great areas of the city and perfectly located for easy access to the underground Tube which will connect you to all the major tourist sites as well as restaurants museums and theaters.
Popular Tourist Sites in the City and the South Bank
The City as it is called is technically the only part of London that’s London. It is the historical center where you can still find the remnants of lanes and streets that date back to the Roman period.
If you haven’t already visited some of London’s main attractions I recommend starting at the South Bank where you can take in the British Airways London Eye a futuristic wheel with glass-enclosed cars which offers an amazing 360-degree-view as you ascend 443 feet above the city. Be sure to snap a picture of Big Ben and Westminster Abbey while aloft.
Once you’ve landed head east along the waterfront toward London Bridge.
Check out the Tate Modern a fun place to spend a little time even if you aren’t into modern art. It’s free as are many museums and galleries in London and kids will love the hands-on exhibits and slides between floors.
Whether or not you have a literary inclination you won’t want to miss a tour of the Globe Theatre a replica of the original Shakespearean theatre. Finished in 1997 it was constructed totally by hand using wood from 1 000 oak trees. And if you visit between May and October you can take in a Shakespearean performance in this open-air theater.
Another tourist favorite is the Tower of London which houses the Crown Jewels but if you go plan to spend quite a bit of time in the queue (wait line).
Westminster Cathedral may be the most famous church in Great Britain and is certainly worth the visit but St. Paul’s Cathedral rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren is one of the largest and most beautiful cathedrals in Europe boasting one of the largest domes in the world. If you’re up to it you can climb to “Golden Gallery” where you’ll be rewarded with another spectacular 360-degree view of the city.
For a quick lunch that beats fast food try a freshly-made organic sandwich or salad from Leon. With five locations one of which is at The Strand within easy walking distance of St. Paul’s Cathedral you can eat healthy and pocket your money for an upscale dinner.
Touring Soho Covent Gardens Westminster and Mayfair
Spend a few days checking out the sites in these neighborhoods.
One queue you won’t mind standing in is located on the south side of Leicester Square where you can purchase same-day half-price theater tickets to many of London’s famous West End theaters. Since London ranks right up with New York for theater don’t miss this opportunity to see at least one show.
Right across from Trafalgar Square with its statue of Lord Nelson is the National Gallery which boasts one of the widest collections of paintings in the world. You could spend days here alone so head straight to the computer room to plan your own personal tour selecting the artists paintings or themes you really want to see. You can even print out your own itinerary — and it’s all free!
If it’s your first time in London you’ll want to at least walk or take a bus past Buckingham Palace (open to the public only two months of the year) and check out one of the newest tourist sites the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park.
Don’t leave London without experiencing the time-honored tradition of afternoon tea. If you want the best London has to offer make reservations at The Dorchester which was awarded the prestigious “Top London Afternoon Tea 2007” award by The Tea Guild. The lush setting of The Promenade at The Dorchester is the perfect backdrop for a restful break from all your sightseeing.
Fine Dining Around London
Once snubbed for its mundane British food London has definitely caught up with the elite palate of international travelers. If you can only splurge for a few meals definitely plan to go to Momo on Heddon Street. Manager Ali Mardassi calls it the “best kept secret in London.” Offering authentic Moroccan and North African food and ambiance it’s sure to be a highlight of your trip.
Another outstanding place to dine is atop the London Hilton on Park Lane at Galvin at Windows. The restaurant offers a great 360-degree view of the city along with an amazing modern French-inspired menu by Chef Chris Galvin. The restaurant’s outstanding service along with its superbly prepared dishes will have you wishing you could return night after night.
Theo Randall at the InterContinental Hotel is another exceptional dinner choice. Chef Randall’s exquisite five-course meal features modern rustic Italian cuisine prepared with only the freshest ingredients served with great wine and great service.
Shopping in London
Everyone knows that London is the site of the world-famous Harrods department store but here’s a little trivia. Did you know that Harrods was the site of the first escalator installed during the Victorian period? Because the ladies were afraid to use it Harrods stationed a waiter at the top who enticed shoppers by offering shot glasses of brandy once they made it to the top.
Unfortunately that’s no longer the case so for shopping that won’t leave you totally high and dry visit a couple of other British department stores such as Selfridges or the well-known Fortnum and Mason which began life in 1707 as the candlemaker to Queen Anne. Don’t miss the store’s outstanding gourmet food section.
Two famous shopping areas where you’re most likely to spot celebrities are Sloane Street and New Bond Street both of which are crowded with designer boutiques and specialty stores. When you’ve tired of window shopping or celebrity watching treat yourself to lunch at Hush Brasserie a cozy restaurant located in a secluded alley off Bond Street. “We’re relaxed and fun and not quite so snobby as the other establishments in the area ” says manager Lauren Milsop.
Before you leave London be sure to take in one or two of the city’s street markets which sell everything from antiques to fashions crafts and food. The Portobello Road Market at Notting Hill Gate is one favorite. Covent Garden a former fruits and vegetable market turned into a popular centre for arts and crafts is another.
When it’s finally time to say goodbye to London you will be amazed at how quickly you’ve grown to appreciate the culture history and people of one of Europe’s most spectacular cities. On the plane back to the States you’ll already be making a list of “must-see” things to do on your next trip to London.
• US Airways flies to London Gatwick Airport from ILM through Charlotte without having to go to New York or Washington D.C. When you arrive take the Gatwick Express train to Victoria Station a 30-minute ride.
• Since taxi fares are high in London plan to use the underground Tube or buses. If you plan to be in London for more than five days it’s more economical to purchase the credit-card size London Transport Oyster Pass which gives you easy access on and off the Tube and all local buses. And be sure to bring a good pair of walking shoes!
• In Britain you’re usually considered a senior if you’re over 60 so be sure to check out senior rates which are available for many attractions.
• Pick up a copy of Time Out magazine as soon as you arrive (it comes out on Tuesdays) for the most comprehensive list of weekly goings-on in London.
• Check out London shows ahead of time at the Society of London Theatre (www.officiallondontheatre.co.uk) and upon arrival grab a copy of The Official London Theatre Guide (free). Although there are many half-price ticket stands the only official stand is TKTS (www.tkts.co.uk) at Leicester Square.
26 Cadogan Gardens
The Royal Park Hotel
3 Westbourne Terrace
The Dorchester Hotel
— Champagne/afternoon tea
Theo Randall at the InterContinental Hotel
1 Hamilton Place
Galvin at Windows
22 Park Lane
25 Heddon Street
73-76 The Strand WC2
8 Lancashire Court W1