From time to time I am asked for travel tips by friends visiting London. This page is a handy place to point people. If you're only visiting for a few days, you can mostly stick to the Top 40 hits, which for the most part don't disappoint. But there's still some room for meandering. Here are some of my favorite things to do in London, from both categories:
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- Watch something at Shakespeare's Globe. It doesn't really matter what they are performing. Get the cheap standing tickets and arrive a little early so you can stand near (and if you're lucky, lean on) the stage. There's no other theatre experience quite like it. Take in some beer or wine with you too.
- Visit Borough market. Yum.
- Walk the South Bank. Lots of nice views of Westminster and some of London's bridges. It's not a long stretch. Start or finish with a stop at Tate Modern, the National Theater, or the BFI - all of them are great. And maybe take a spin on the London Eye for even better views of the city.
- Drink with the white collar wide boys. Only consider this one if you have the stomach for it. Get off the tube at Bank or Monument at 5pm and head for a bar. Any bar. Mix with all the traders until the novelty wears off and then take a walk amongst the skyscrapers. There's a great mix of modern architecture and classic London institutions. Alternatively, visit on a weekend. Nothing is open and the place is deserted. Pure 28 Days Later territory. St Paul's is close, too.
- Spend an evening in East London. This is my favorite part of London. East London is to the rest of London what Brooklyn is to New York. A healthy mix of hipsters and first generation immigrants. Except with more Dickens and curry. Take one of the Jack the Ripper tours (try to get on one with Donald Rumbelow) - they start at the Tower of London and weave through the history and geography of the area, in gruesome death form. It's better than it sounds. Then head to Brick Lane for that pinnacle of human accomplishment, the British curry. You will be 'encouraged' to enter fifteen different restaurants by Ibiza-style curry-pushers with promises of free drinks, appetizers, etc, but you might want to Yelp one beforehand. It's hard to go too wrong, but I personally like Sheraz. Before or after dinner, you can get drinks at Vibe Bar or The Big Chill. You might also pop into Rough Trade East. Shoreditch and Hoxton are where all the trendy night life is - I would recommend a couple of places except I'm sure they're sooooo 2010 by now. Oh, and you might happen to pass this cool church and/or the Royal London Hospital. The latter is where Joseph/John Merrick lived (in fact his skeleton is still in there somewhere). If you haven't seen David Lynch's movie, watch it on the plane - it's a great mood setter for a London visit.
- Visit Camden - Canals, pubs, goths, clubs, markets... Camden is always fun, especially at night when it is at its disgusting apogee.
- Go to a football/soccer match. You're mostly going to experience the crowd, so it doesn't really matter who you see. There are many Premier League teams in London, but you'll get the same atmosphere at lower league games too. For conevnience, I recommend Fulham FC - not the rowdiest of grounds, but the tickets are usually easier to get hold of and the stadium is quirky (it contains both a cottage and a statue of Michael Jackson for no reason). Try to sit at the Hammersmith end. There's nothing like the noise of 40,000 people singing swear words to keep warm.
- Of the more obvious London draws, I especially like St Pancras Station, Trafalgar Square, Picadilly Circus, The British Museum, The Science Museum and The National Gallery. Oh and Westminster Abbey. Hyde Park is beautiful, and Buckingham Palace/the Mall is surprisingly fun. If you visit Buckingham Palace, don't bother squinting through the gates at the guards - instead, walk around the corner to one of the nearby residences and get in their face.