Traveler: Kari Johnson
London is a wonderful city and if you allow yourself to be wooed by its architectural beauty, vibrant culture, and near constant light rain, you might just feel it’s magic! After living, studying, and working in London for over a year, I compiled a list of some of my favorite touristy things to do. If you are visiting London, new to the city, or have friends in town and you need ideas, I hope at the very least, this list will provide you with a bit of inspiration! Who knows you might even catch a glimpse of the London that so many people love.
- Tower of London – It is one of the more typical tourist hot spots in London, but did you know that you can witness a 700 year old ceremony by getting locked in the Tower of London at night? The Ceremony of the Keys is a unique experience and you have to send in a letter requesting tickets, but it is free. It looks like space is booked up about 10 months in advance, so if you are interested, send in your request soon!
- Fat Tire Bike Ride – This bike tour is a great way to experience the sites of London. If you are terrified of biking in London, let me assure you that the tour guides will help keep you safe. Also, the guides are full of historical knowledge, so you will learn some cool things too.
- West End Theater – Did you know that it is more affordable to see a musical or theater performance in London’s West End than in New York on Broadway? The British actually subsidize some of the theaters, bringing down the costs for all theater tickets. Matinees are an even more affordable option and there are many discount ticket booths in Underground Stations that actually sell cheaper tickets as well. Check out what is showing at this site.
- Embankment Bar Crawl – This is not an official bar crawl, but visiting these three places is a sure way to experience some great pubs and see the city. Start at the Sherlock Holmes Pub near Trafalgar Square for a pint, venture to Gordon’s Wine Bar to have a glass or bottle in London’s oldest wine bar (which is set in an actual wine cellar), and finally visit Tattershall Castle, a floating pub on the Thames, where you are sure to get some pretty spectacular views of the London Eye and Westminster Palace!
- Jack the Ripper Walking Tour – After going on this walking tour, I was hooked on ghost/crime walking tours and I actively seek them out when I travel. The tour will take you through parts of London that you might not otherwise see and you will get a fascinating history lesson. The Jack the Ripper Walking tour will take you through London’s East End, which also just happens to be home to Brick Lane, so grab a curry before the tour.
- Picnic in a Garden – If the weather is nice in London, tourists and locals will be outside in full force. Kensington Gardens is a typical destination for its location and beauty, however, there are amazing green spaces, like Hamstead Heath, Battersea Park, and small neighborhood parks, scattered throughout London. So grab a bite to eat from a shop or a grocery store and find a spot to claim for yourself.
- Day Trip – London is amazing, but if your schedule allows the United Kingdom has so much more to offer! You can schedule a tour through a company, or take the trains and busses all over the countryside. When I had visitors in town we took a company run day trip to Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, and Bath which also has a stop in a small village for lunch. Other great day trip options include Dover, Oxford, and Cambridge.
- Markets (Portobello, Camden, Bourough) – You may not have time to visit all three markets, but choose at least one. Portobello Road Market is lined with colorful homes and buildings and is located in Notting Hill, go to this market if you are into antiques. Camden Market is just north of central London and is filled with fashion, music, and young people, go here if you are looking for something edgier. Finally, Bourough Market, is near London Bridge and just south of the Thames, this is the place to go if you are a foodie.*Note: As of July 2017, due to a horrible fire, Camden Market may not be fully operational, but it is still open.
- Museums (National Portrait Gallery & Natural History Museum) – Hands down my favorite museums in London are the National Portrait Gallery and the Natural History Museum. The National Portrait Gallery is less crowded and houses some stunning pieces of art, and the Natural History Museum is an enchanting building filled with one-of-a-kind artifacts. BUT, there are so many amazing (and free) museums in London, I would recommend checking out at least these two.
- The Shard – As London’s tallest building, the views from the top are spectacular. Rather than standing in the tourist line and buying a ticket to the observation desk, head up to Oblix, a bar and lounge at the top, for a cocktail, it is cheaper and faster, plus they make great cocktails. They do have a dress code though!
Harry Potter Bonus: Not everyone is a Harry Potter fan like myself, but if you are, be sure to visit Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross station. There are also walking tours offered around London and I would highly recommend checking out the Warner Brother’s Harry Potter Studio tour in a North London suburb.