The first time I went to Europe I did it solo style with a big yellow backpack in hand. This was your typical “backpack throughout Europe and get my fun in before I start my real grown up job” type of trip. I realized, that, out of all the cities I visited (the list included Paris, Cannes, Monaco, Nice, Amsterdam, Barcelona and Rome), I love London the most. Looking back it was hard to explain why: I was staying in a hostel room with twelve other people, the room was infested with mice, when I woke up from a nap on my first day in London I had my own Friends’ version of ugly naked guy stripping in front of me (not what I expected to see upon opening my eyes), the value of the Canadian dollar was zilch compared to the British pound and everything cost twice as much so I really had to stick to my daily budget, and the food was meh. Despite all this, I love London! The experiences I had and the people I met made London one of my all time favorite cities.
Given my soft spot for London, it was no surprise that London was my destination pick for our European trip. Mike wasn’t too excited since he is more of a Dubliner and always saw London as a transit hub and a “stop over” to where travelers really want to go. Determined to change his mind, I wanted to give Mike a different perspective of London.
Here are ten reasons why I love London:
1) Shopping: there are so many amazing stores to visit in London, from historical department stores such as Harrods and iconic fashion houses like Burberry to more recent fashion brands such as Reiss. Yes, Princess Catherine gets a lot of her dresses from Reiss and the white Nanette dress was instantly sold out after Kate Middleton, as she then was, wore it in her engagement photos. Being a fan of Princess Catherine’s fashion style (um . . . really who isn’t?), it was a must do on my list to stop at the Reiss store in Knightsbridge (I was told this was the location she frequented most, but unfortunately I didn’t see her). Having bought more than my fair share of Reiss dresses, I got extra attention from the salesgirl and she gave me her personal email address and told me to send her an email if there were any other dresses I wanted and she would be more than happy to ship them to me. She even found the Nanette dress for me, but given that it was two sizes too big I decided it was not worth paying a small fortunate for the dress only to have to pay and get it refitted.
There are a lot of streets in London, such as Oxford Street, Bond Street, Regent Street, and Carnaby Street that are lined with stores and unique boutiques where you can find something for anyone. For men who want a nice (and expensive) custom suit, go to Savile Row.
For all you shopaholics who are looking for a good deal head to Bicester Village, which is a designer shopping outlet about 45 minutes from London. The best way to get there is by bus, but just keep in mind that it is an all day venture as you only get picked up and dropped off at certain times. Also, make sure to check out the website because they sometimes post deals and you can always find VIP discount vouchers on the Internet.
2) Sites: there is no shortage of things to see in London and there is something for everyone:
- If you are a museum buff head to the British Museum or Natural History Museum. There really is no shortage of museums in London and you can probably spend a full week going to all the museums.
- If you prefer to get your fix of Royalty head to Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace or even the Tower of London.
- If you prefer to focus on the arts then the Tate Modern and National Gallery are necessary stops.
- If you are more interested in seeing the politicians then head over to the Palace of Westminster and Big Ben.
- For those who want to pay homage to religious aspects or even attend a worship service, go to Westminster Abbey or St. Paul’s Cathedral.
- Go to the London Eye to get a different perspective of the city and a great view of the skyline.
- If you want some time to rest and relax find a spot in Hyde Park or St. James Park.
You will never get bored in London. I promise you that!
3) Theatre: I like to see live theatre and there are so many great shows playing in London. Popular shows such as Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables, the Lion King, and Wicked are usually always playing. Depending on when you go, you can even catch shows that are hard to find such as Miss Saigon.
Having watched some of the shows in London and then seeing them again in Canada, I have to say there really is no comparison. I don’t know if it is due to the location, the actors, or the fact that shows in London are performed in theatre houses with better acoustics but . . . when in London go see a show!
It is probably best to get your theatre tickets ahead of time, especially for the more popular shows that sell out every night, but if you are unable to pre-book there are many different ways to get last minute discounted tickets, such as the tkts booth in Leicester Square. Remember to check out the face value of the ticket and the seating plan to make sure you get a good view.
4) History: London is a city that has more than 2,000 years of history. There are catastrophic events that have made it into London’s history books, such as the plague, the Blitz during World War II, and the Great Fire of London, all of which have shaped the city into what it is today and makes it that much more interesting for tourists.
London is also where gentlemen’s clubs, such as Brooks’ and White’s, were originally created and made popular. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t support establishments that don’t accept women, but I do find the purpose and membership of these places intriguing.
The architecture in London is fascinating and it is not uncommon to see buildings that are over a hundred years old. In Canada, such buildings are rare and would get special status as a “historical building”. I couldn’t help but wonder about the piece of history each building holds and the secrets that are hidden in the walls. I guess that is a normal feeling when you are walking through the streets of a city that was once the epicenter of the world.
5) Energy and Vibe: with a population of more than 8 million and millions more visiting each year, London has a unique energy that is difficult to explain. Commerce, education, the arts, fashion, and music – all elements that make London a global centre also contribute to the city’s liveliness. From Piccadilly Circus to Knotting Hill (made famous by Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant) to South Kensington, each neighborhood is distinct and has something unique to offer. Even cloudy skies and the constant rainy drizzle can’t dampen the pulsing London life and the feeling that runs through you.
6) The Royals: the chances of me meeting Prince Harry, Princess Catherine, and Prince William (preferably in that order) are that much greater in London than anywhere else. In no way would I balk at the idea of meeting the Queen, but the younger Royals are who I prefer to rub elbows with J.
7) Accents: I love the British accent and I honestly think that anyone who has a British accent sounds that much smarter, even though I sometimes have no idea what they are saying because the accent can be quite thick. Some of the words and phrases they use, such as rubbish, jumper, crikey, knackered, “taking the piss”, and dodgy, are quite fun and always puts a smile on my face when I hear them.
8) Pub Grub: I know the English aren’t known for their culinary cuisine, but the food has changed immensely since my first visit to London and the Indian and Thai cuisine are just as good as anywhere else. I had a chance to try some ramen and it was delish!
If you prefer something more traditional, the pub grub is spectacular in London. My go to is the fish and chips because who doesn’t like deep fried battered fish with fries on the side?
9) People: Despite the fact that most Londoners avoid eye contact while riding the Tube and make no effort to converse with you, but really who wants to strike up a conversation with a stranger while packed in a train like sardines were personal space is non-existent and you are close enough to get the weather and not the news, I have always found Londoners to be friendly and helpful. Every time I needed directions or suggestions on where to eat, the people I asked were friendly and provided helpful tips. Also, I found that Londoners were always more than willing to take a couple of seconds out of their busy day to snap a photo for an eager tourist (yes, like myself).
10) The Tube: the Underground, known as the Tube to Londoners, makes it extremely easy to get around London. With 11 lines (Bakerloo, Central, Circle, District, Hammersmith & City, Jubilee, Metropolitan, Northern, Piccadilly, Victoria, and Waterloo & City) and 270 stations, the system is overwhelming at first but all you really need is some patience and a Tube map. After your first trip you will realize how easy and safe it is to take the Tube and there will be no hesitation. It is also the fastest and most affordable way to travel around the city. Not to mention, you get to see many different personalities and tourists at Tube Stations and on the Tube itself. This isn’t always a good thing though, especially during peak hours when the crowds are big and people are impatient but it just adds to the experience.
If the Tube is not your thing, you can always take the bus (there are many of those too), hop in a cab (the black cabs are iconic but quite expensive), ride a bike (the Barclays Cycle Hire make it cheap and convenient to rent a bike), or walk – our preferred and favorite way to see a city.
I think I accomplished my goal and was able to get Mike to see and appreciate a different side of London. Although I still don’t think this is a city he would choose to visit on his own but . . . baby steps my friends, baby steps.
And that’s why I love London!
These stories and adventures give me something to smile about everyday, I hope that it brings you a little something too.