Home to O(10,000,000) people, London is a city with a rich history and is an important city today for trends, fashion and arts. So we decided that it was worth a stop here for a week to see the sites. Truthfully: I don't like cities. Large crowds make me anxious and it seems you have to spend a lot of money to do just about anything.
However I went to London with an open mind (and a beautiful wife...) and had a great time (for relatively cheap)!
Things to do:
- Watch a musical in London's West End. Don't be afraid to pay a few extra £s for a better musical, although cheap seats are fine (especially when the row immediately in front of you is $25 more). This was my first live musical, one of my favorite activities, and totally worth it.
- Go on a Yeoman's tour of London tower (and buy your tickets online). The tower is kind of pricey to see, but worth it for it's rich history. The Yeoman's tours are free and leave fairly often. Also, watch this video before you leave to help you understand the purpose of the tower!
- See the Museums: including The Tate, The British Museum (home of the Rosetta Stone), The Victoria and Albert (hosting many cool collections), The National Archives, The Tate Modern (some of my favorites: salvador dali, Alexander Calder, and Henri Matisse) and many others. These are free, and any one of them could take a full day if you let it..
- Eat Pub Food. We were fortunate to meet up with friends a couple times in London. If possible, go on a sunday night for sunday roast. Try to find a pub with good reviews in a more residential area for an authentic british experience. But be cautious: we had some of our best, and one of our worst meals at pubs.
- Evensong at Saint Paul's. The church, an icon of the city, is beautiful but normally quite pricey to see as a tourist, however everyone is welcome to their services. They do Evensong at 5pm every weekday, a sung liturgy which will prove a meditative time for those of any regligion. Because of the resonance of the large building: it's difficult to understand what they're actually saying, but it is in english.
- Walk the River Thames. There are paths on either side of the river for miles. a walk or jog on these is a great way to spend some hours.
The busses, tube, and trains are the way to get around the city. I think you'd be crazy to try to drive here, and to keep traffic down there is a congestion tax just to go into the city. There are various transport passes, including the 7-day Travelcard and Pay-as-you-go Oyster. To be honest, I'm not sure what we ended up buying, because what we have looks like the Oyster but acts like the travel-card. (although we paid ~10£ more for ours at the counter at Heathrow than the advertised price online). Another way to get around (although it costs more) is the Thames Clipper: It's great to see the city via boat and it's worth it to ride it at least once for the full route length.
Things I'd skip:
- Our first night we opted for the cheapest west end show we could get tickets for: Mousetrap. It was fine, and entertaining but if you're going to see one pay a little bit more for a nicer theater.
- The changing of the guard is a lot of pomp and circumstance with huge crowds. the most entertaining part for us was watching a family of Texans try to get their child's shoe back that had fallen through the fence. I'm not sure why they thought all their hollering and arm waving would get the Queen's Guard, who's famous for never flinching or moving, to come over and grab the flip-flop.
- I'm a wanna-be foodie, but eating out in london is very expensive. We made sandwiches daily and ate in parks, which is very nice. If you don't have a fridge, there are a few shops with ready-made sandwiches and wraps that are cheaper if you get them to-go. I'm sure the dining here is world class, but there are other world-class places you can eat at in other cities for a fraction of the cost.
We used the site airbnb to rent out a flat for our first few nights. It was wonderful. It was in a quiet neighborhood and looked like something out of a design magazine, for a cost just slightly more than a bunk-room in a hostel. The next 3 nights we stayed in a shared room closer to the city center, also from airbnb. This one was closer to a hostel accommodation, but fine for our needs.
(P.s. we had unusually warm and sunny weather for our entire stay. For discussions on seasonal trends, check out weatherspark, realizing that discussion based on the past 12 months may not give you accurate information for your future stay.)