[T]his is the second part of ‘the 26 places to see in London before you die’ to cut out and keep. The choice of what is best in London is by its nature subjective, and inevitably I’ve left some places out, I have not, for obvious reasons, been on the Big Bus Company’s excellent tour of London. More importantly at the end I have included some popular tourist activities you should, in my opinion, avoid.
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National Gallery’s collection of French Impressionists is one of the finest in the world, but if you want to examine some of the collection in more detail then join one of the evening lectures conducted by an art expert. When you have seen enough of the world’s masterpieces the restaurant at the top of the Sainsbury Wing has tremendous views towards Buckingham Palace.
Opening approximately 500 times a year Tower Bridge should be on everyone’s itinerary. But don’t just take a picture and move on, go on the Tower Bridge Tour and experience one of the world’s most iconic bridges. Best photographed from the car park of the Gouman Hotel and not standing on the bridge like most tourists seem to favour.
Phantom of the Opera was first performed 25 years ago and still pulls in the crowds, particularly liked by the Japanese. When you see it you’ll understand just why Lloyd Webber is simply the greatest living writer of musicals. The stage design by Maria Björnson is worth the price of the tickets.
Queen’s official residence in London is Buckingham Palace and from the outside it is probably the most boring palace that you’ve ever seen. Come in August and take the tour inside to see its magnificence – every room designed to proclaim you are in the presence of royalty.
Routemaster Bus Ride, take a bus ride on a piece of London history. You can take a ride on a one of those iconic red double decker buses, it beats me why all those tourists that get excited every time they watch one go past, never actually go for a ride on it. Only two Routemaster routes exist nowadays, on what are known as ‘Heritage Routes’ numbers 9 and 15. Take the ride you know you want too . . . a real piece of nostalgia.
St. Paul’s is Christopher Wren’s masterpiece a tour will show you why Londoners just love this building. Wren was one of the first to have been buried in the crypt, his tomb marked by a simple black marble slab reads “Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice” (Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you) – precisely.
Tate Britain, not to be confused by Tate Modern. By all means go to Tate Modern to catch the boat which runs between the two “Tates”, then head for the Clore Gallery, which is dedicated to the work of England’s greatest painter J. M. W. Turner.
Underground or the Tube as Londoners call it, among other things. It was the world’s first subway system and many of its regular users would say that it still retains much of its original charm – and infrastructure. Don’t let that put you off, when it’s working the tube is by far the easiest way around London. The iconic signage with the roundel, Art Deco stations like my favourite Southgate and the much copied underground map are worthy of attention.
Victoria and Albert Museum has representation of cultures from around the world. That said much it is “acquired” from Great Britain’s Dominions or in modern parlance, taken from its subjected peoples. It’s free and whatever civilization you have an interest in you’ll find it represented here. If you have children then take them to the Science or Natural History Museum nearby – both are great fun for children and adults alike.
Wolf’s Statute high up in Greenwich Park gives you the most commanding view you will find of London. Nearby Maritime Greenwich is a world heritage site. Only a short ferry trip away from central London, yet many of its inhabitants have never bothered to visit. Home to Greenwich Mean Time (have yourself photographed standing astride the meridian line), Maritime Museum, Royal Observatory, Christopher Wren’s Old Naval College, Inigo Jones’ Queen’s House and presently being restored after a fire the Cutty Sark once the world’s fastest tea clipper. Spend the day but wear sensible shoes for the hill is quite a climb.
X marks the spot where all measurements from London are taken. King Charles’ Statute on Trafalgar Square should be the start of a walk through Admiralty Arch and into St. James’s Park, London’s prettiest open space, head towards Buckingham Palace at the other end of the park. Double back to the Houses of Parliament nearby.
Ye Old Cheshire Cheese, located on Fleet Street is probably the most popular tourist attraction pub in all of London. Famed for being one of the oldest pubs in London and what I like about the place is that it still retains much of its old world charm. The pub is said to have been frequented by numerous famous literary figures, including Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mark Twain, Alfred Tennyson and William K Wallace! I constantly hear people whining on about the Ye Old Cheshire Cheese being a tourist trap, but if a tourist trap is a bar full of people from all around the world, having a few drinks enjoying themselves, it is a good place to be if you ask me!
Zoo in Regent’s Park is one of the world’s oldest menageries. Now dedicated to conservation and education. I spent much of my childhood there and loved watching the penguins in their beautiful pool. Alas the penguins have been moved into a new enclosure, but the pool designed by Berthold Lubetkin is a Grade I listed building in the UK Government scheme for protecting important buildings. Don’t miss the new rainforest constructed in the old mammal house – fascinating.
There you have it my personal favourites. And here to save you time and money is a selection of the things you should avoid.
Madam Tussaulds. Yes I know its London’s most popular tourist destination, the queue outside is testament to that. Not cheap a combined family ticket with the next choice on my list to avoid costs £159.60. The only realistic waxwork is Colonel Gadaffi and he looks like a waxwork in real life.
London Dungeon, personal choice here, if you like blood and gore under a Victorian railway arch this is for you. I found it depressing.
Steak Houses. Two chains of tourist trap steak houses are scattered around London, not an all inclusive price, you pay for the “extras”. And Hey! Who wants to eat black forest gateaux these days it’s a relic from the 1970s.
Mini-cabs, if you take just one thing away after reading these posts, it should be this: Don’t get into a vehicle that the driver claims is a cab, many are expensive, dirty and dangerous. Hail a black cab or go to a mini cab office registered by the PCO and stay safe.
London Aquarium. I’m probably being unfair here, the kids seemed to enjoy it, but London’s aquarium isn’t a patch on many others around the world. It also is quite dark in there, but if it’s raining, there are worse places to go – no restaurant or tea room though.
Oxford Street. If you took out Selfridges and John Lewis this mile long shopping thoroughfare would have nothing to commend it – except a traffic jam of buses and road works. Try Regent Street or Knightsbridge.
Billed as the world’s longest running theatre production, the Mousetrap seems to be a must with American tourists. London has over 100 other theatres each providing better drama and entertainment. Ask me nicely and I’ll tell you who done it.
I’ve lost count of the number of people who wanted to see Notting Hill in my cab. Trust me all are disappointed, it’s nothing like the film. Having said that the writer of Notting Hill, Richard Curtis still lives there, but you won’t see Hugh Grant or Julia Roberts.
Abbey Road pedestrian crossing made famous by the Beatles’ last iconic LP cover. But it is just that – a pedestrian crossing. If you do get run over by a frustrated motorist who is fed up with tourists just standing in the middle at least it’s on CCTV as a live feed is to be found on the web.
London Bridge is on the site of the Thames earliest crossing, don’t confuse it with Tower Bridge, it is what it calls itself – just a bridge.
Pedicabs or rickshaws – It’s not a matter of “if” rather than “when” a serious accident or fatality involving a London rickshaw takes place. The rickshaw drivers do not have criminal record checks, and are not tested on road safety or their knowledge of London streets, with the result that the streets of Soho and Covent Garden have become a dangerous free for all with over 400 plying for hire and already one London pedicab driver has been convicted of raping a passenger, they are also the dearest way to get around London – you have been warned.
Mobile hot dog stands. Why anyone would buy food from the itinerant food venues is beyond me, the man preparing the food hasn’t the facilities to even wash his hands. So don’t blame me if after eating one you spend the next day using the en-suite in your hotel room.
So there you have it – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of London – the list isn’t comprehensive but I hope at best the selection has given a flavour of what can be found in our Capital City. As the great Londoner Samuel Johnson said: “Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”