Top 5 Monday: London Calling

Europe sure has been getting a lot of attention at CCC lately, but for today’s post my mind was preoccupied with my next trip, which is in just 4 short days, and includes 2 stops – London and New Delhi.  Living in England for a year was one of the best times of my life, so I always love a chance to return.  While this will be a short stop-over of just a weekend, it will be great to see the city again, maybe see a few friends, and soak up the jolly old English-ness of it all.

To get in the mood, here are my Top 5 Things to Do in London.  As we all like to do, I’m going to add a caveat, though – everyone knows that there are certain “must-see” sights in London, as in other cities.  I’ve only included one of these guidebook sights in this list if they make my personal all-time best list as well, so there are a mixture of universally acknowledged musts and my own faves. Cheerio!

1. The £4 Make-Your-Own Red Bus Tour

Since they are universal in many American cities now, many readers are probably familiar with the traditional red doubledecker tour bus. Many tour companies operate these buses in London as well, for a hop-on, hop-off kind of tour around the major sights of the city. However, on my first trip to London, we just bought a one-day bus pass from London Transport (now available with the Oyster card for about £4), which allows you to ride the regular London city buses for the day.  Besides being about £20 less than most of the tours, this is a great plan for three reasons: a) regular London city buses are still the cool, tourist-friendly red double-deckers; b) you don’t have to ride around with a bunch of people wearing fanny packs and Union Jack hats all day; and c) by using only a few bus routes you can see all of the same sights, including Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey and Big Ben, Picadilly Circus, and the main museums, while only stopping at the ones you want to see.  Before you go, check out this helpful primer on how not to be a total Tube rube.

2. Stroll through Portobello Road and Notting Hill

I like a good stroll just about anywhere in London, but one of my favorites is Portobello Road and the surrounding neighborhood of Notting Hill.  The street vendors at the market sell everything from fresh produce and flowers to antiques, authentic and questionable.  While this area has become very touristy in recent years, especially since that one movie with what’s her name came out, it’s still a great place to do a bit of shopping or people watch.  Once you get off the main road and into the heart of Notting Hill, you’ll find some of the best neighborhood scouting around.  I love checking out the upscale homes with interesting doors and windows, and peeping in the neighborhood gardens that are closed to the public.

3. Ben’s Cookies

This may seem like an odd inclusion for a list that doesn’t include any other specific culinary recommendations, but trust me.  These are not just any cookies.  Sure, you should have fish and chips, and try the delicious and cheap Indian food, and there’s tons of other good food…but the cookies!  For lack of a better description, I would say that they are gastronomically a religious experience.  I am sorry to say that I discovered them on my last day in London before leaving grad school, but when my good friend and I went to the airport the next day, carrying our typical American oversized suitcases and struggling to manage it all, we also carried with us the remaining 4 Ben’s Cookies, because no way were those going to waste!

4. The South Bank

Across the River Thames from Trafalgar Square and Westminster, there is a long stretch of riverbank called the South Bank.  The neighborhood includes landmarks such as the London Eye, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, and the Tate Modern Museum, as well as an up-and-coming nightlife.  It is a beautiful spot to walk along the river and capture perfect views of the London skyline.  You can also cross one of the many bridges (a la one of the opening sequences of Bridget Jones’ Diary) and find yourself back in the thick of touristy things.  When I lived in Surrey, the train back to Egham left from Waterloo Station, which is also in the South Bank, so we got to know the neighborhood fairly well while waiting for trains or coming to see a play at the Royal National Theatre.  Some of my favorite neighborhood spots include Wagamama (delicious sushi and noodles) and one of only 2 places that I found in all of England that serve anything remotely resembling Mexican food.  This place also served the dangerous drink, caipirinhas, and was responsible for more than one missed train! 



South Bank walk at night

5. See a play at the Royal National Theatre


Sure, you can find some great theatre over across the river by visiting the tkts booth, but I have great memories of taking advantage of student night at the National.  The theatre itself is beautiful, and great plays come through all the time.  At intermission you can take your drink out on the balcony and take in the view of all of London across the river.  Although I can no longer get in with the great student discounts, shows here are still usually more affordable than the West End.

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