London is more than Big Ben, Buckingham Palace (both still very pretty) and big red buses. London is full of culture, and there is something for everyone. The tube (subway for the Yanks) is probably the most convenient public transit system I have seen, and it relatively clean and safe as long as you are smart. Be sure to Mind the Gap!
This phrase is repeated endlessly in tube stations to caution travelers (especially those that never look up from their phone, you know who you are) not to trip over the gap between the car and the platform. It has now become the unofficial motto of the city and plastered on everything from billboards to thong underwear (not even kidding about this- funny story about that later).
I was lucky enough to spend about 6 months living in London, and feel like I have a pretty good grasp on the city. Every day I did something different, and I still didn’t see everything. Here are the top 10 most epic adventures for your London stay- however long that may be. They are not in any particular order- just all fun experiences that I would love to repeat.
1. Jack the Ripper Night Walking Tour– this sounds so touristy but was really one of my favorite things I did in the city. The first night I got there, especially to help with the jet lag, my mates and I signed up for this. We left at dusk, and thereafter began several mile long walking tour of all the spots that Jack the Ripper was thought to be, and every where he murdered his unsuspecting victims in the most bloodthirsty fashion. It was eerie, spooky, and I loved it. Hey- if nothing else you get a great tour of the city at night.
2. Leicester Square and the Theater District– London’s theater district is really incredible. I would argue better than Broadway in New York. They have scores of theaters, and in Leicester Square you can get half price tickets the day of for non sold out shows. Great seats- not just crummy ones. I saw probably 10 plays at least. One of my favorite memories was seeing Patrick Swazye in Guys and Dolls on one trip. Even if you aren’t “artsy” there is something for everyone- you won’t be sorry
3. The Tower of London– so this is probably one of the biggest tourist spots in the city, but with good reason. I am a history buff of Tudor England, and standing at the spot where Anne Boleyn was beheaded on orders of Henry VIII gave me goosebumps. Plus, you can see the Crown Jewels. Not too shabby.
4. Wimbledon- Take the tube out and visit at least even if it’s not tennis season. You can tour the facility and museum, its gorgeous and immaculately kept. Be sure to get some of the famous strawberries.
5. Kew Gardens- One of the larger botanical gardens I’ve been to, and the fact that it is so close to the city is wonderful. It’s tempting to spend all day there and just exist. I think I spent the entire afternoon wandering among the flowers and lily pads- and had a dead iPhone battery to show for it.
6. Wallace Collection- Remember that I am an art history nerd, so this our de rigeur foray into that arena. This a lesser known gallery, but not lesser in importance in terms of its collection. While you will have to probably fight the crowds in the National Gallery to see the Arnolfini Wedding Portrait, the Wallace Collection is delightfully calm and refined. They have a superb porcelain and armory collection, but the paintings are what I came to see. They had Titans and Rembrants, but also two important works- Fragonard’s The Swing and Nicholas Poussin’s Dance of Time.
7. Sherlock Holmes museum- Dedicated to London’s most famous detective, this museum pays homage to Sherlock and Watson. The staff was incredibly nice, they insisted on letting me behind the velvet ropes and taking pictures of me trying on the props. What a fun time.
8. Harrods- If you like to shop at all, or just want to be amazed then head here for a look see. Not only do they have every upscale designer on Earth, but legend has it they once sold a lion (not cool). My favorite is the Food Halls. It has every kind of food counter you have ever heard of and a dozen you haven’t. Stay for afternoon tea if there is an opening. They have a large and very popular sale in the summer- avoid that if possible. Beware Harrod’s is always crowded and you will have to fight your way through lesser known Saudi royal family members to buy anything, they seem to pretty much live there.
9. Chinatown- London has a healthy and vibrant Asian neighborhood with fab restaurants if you are looking to avoid the greasy pub fare of fish and chips. I would regularly eat in this neighborhood and just wander around.
10. Notting Hill- this quite neighborhood is famous for its colorful homes and picturesque streets. There are also several fun flea markets in the area. Come here an instagram to your heart’s content.
*Honorable Mention- The British Museum- This is one of the largest, if not the largest museum in London, and seems to have a bit of everything. Famously it hosts the Elgin Marbles, and pieces of the actual Parthenon from Greece that somehow found their way there after one of the wars. Greece is extraordinarily sore about this, and is constantly pressing for their repatriation.
**So, remember Mind the Gap? I found some thong underwear that says “Mind the Gap” on the front. Very cheeky as the Brits say. I purchased them and stuck them in my friends suitcase for her to discover when she got home from her trip. Now every time we see each, we try to hide them in each other’s bags, homes, etc as a joke. Fairly embarrassing to pull out your wallet at a store and find those instead.