What to do in London, one of the world’s most vibrant, historical and diverse cities? First stop is the official visitors’ guide, VisitLondon.com, which will help you pick and choose elements that most fit your tastes, interests and budget. Next, buy your Oyster Card online for cheap and easy transportation by bus and underground, all with just one smartcard. Finally, check out my 2016 tips for some fun ways to appreciate the city via speedboat, steaks, shopping, champagne and shows!
Rocketing in a Rib
Even in the July downpours, freezing rain and whipping wind, it is exhilarating to ride the waves on the Thames Rocket, a rib-style speedboat which reaches around 35 mph skimming between London Eye Pier and Canary Wharf. Swaddled in loaned waterproofs, you skim the surface of the Thames through the Docklands area where the oldest pub dates back to Samuel Pepys Diary, published in 1660. A fun way to absorb the history of London’s Houses of Parliament, Tower, Buckingham Palace, Cleopatra’s Needle, and St Paul’s Cathedral. It feels like a 007 ride as the rib bounces over boat wakes and does fast banking turns in time to booming modern music. Great commentary including historical facts sprinkled with London irony.
An overview of London from the vibrant South Bank is a must. The View from the Shard gives a really intense 360-degree appreciation of the scope of the city, stretching over 40 miles – best seen from the flower garden on the 72nd floor with a cool glass of bubbly. There are silent discos, album launches, parties and yoga classes, too. In competition, the Coca Cola London Eye also offers a champagne experience now. As the UK’s most popular paid tourist attraction, it’s expedient to get Fast Track tickets to jump the long queues.
Best British Beef
Steak is a stalwart of British cuisine and it is celebrated at the award-winning Hawksmoor Seven Dials in Covent Garden with grass-fed, dry-aged beef from the Ginger Pig, ordered by cut and weight with five different sauce choices and traditional English sides. The authentic steakhouse also has a sophisticated champagne and cocktail bar for ‘prinks’ (British slang for pre-dinner drinks) and an incredible sticky toffee pudding for dessert. For a wider range of contemporary cuisine, join a multi-cultural culinary tour around London’s East End or check out the Shoreditch night market on Saturdays for an international urban food fest.
Shows on a Shoestring
If you’re not too picky about which London show you want to see, wait until the day and go to the TKTS booth in Leicester Square to find last minute bargains. If you get Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, make sure to book the tasty tea party before. Be sure to check out the new immersive underground experiences – Alice Underground, in the Vaults underneath Waterloo Station, and The Railway Children, live at London’s King’s Cross Theatre with a real steam train – for the latest avant-garde interactive theatre. And if it’s summer, the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre is highly recommended, with a choice of picnic, hampers or posh nosh. To further the stage stargazing potential, go to Jo Allen Covent Garden to mix with actors after performances.
The British Museum provides a panoramic perspective of cultures over the centuries and the evolution of ancient art. The perfect place to while away rainy hours, it’s also free and has several comfortable cafés inside. Other free museums include Natural History, National Gallery and Museum of London at the Barbican. Find out more free things to do via Time Out.
Right next to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is London’s oldest pub: the Anchor Bankside. Dating back to the 1600s, it has been central to the London lifestyle for eons. In its various incarnations, as a tavern, brothel, brewery and ship chandlers, it has been patronized by hundreds of literary and political notables. Now, it is a popular pub with beer garden. Other notable drinkeries around London include the cocktail and punch bar VOC at King’s Cross, the Euston Tap for craft beers, Peckham’s John the Unicorn for hipster hedonism over local gin and good pub food, and the rooftop bar at the Bussey building also in Peckham.
For photo opps, Harrods is a must – check out every floor and the Egyptian escalator. Liberty’s is a lovely department store with a picturesque Tudor façade. Go to St Christopher’s Place for alley boutiques and pavement cafés, Covent Garden for entertainment, retail and restaurants, Borough Market for food, Petticoat Lane for cheap clothes, Camden Market for hippy bargain-hunting, and Portobello Road Market for antiques. For upmarket brands there’s Bond and Regent Street; Oxford Street has all the biggest high street stores; and visit Shoreditch/Hackney area for the Boxpark Mall (http://www.boxpark.co.uk/about/) with independent stores and pop-ups.
Films have inspired travel all over the world and London was one of the first cities to capitalize upon the film tour, “set-jetting” opportunity. There are studio, bus, chauffeured and walking tours available with Brit Movie Tours, tracking the footage-steps of movies including Skyfall, Harry Potter, Da Vinci Code, Bridget Jones, Notting Hill and Mission Impossible. For all Sherlock Holmes’ fans, a visit to the Sherlock Holmes Pub is a must.
Although with London’s record of rain, fog and cold temps, there is often hot and humid weather during July or August. Cool down at the ICEBAR LONDON, wrapped in thermal hooded capes and gloves with an ice-glass of champers. Sculpted from crystal clear Swedish ice, the entire bar is re-invented annually with a new theme.
Time for Tea
Afternoon tea is a must in England whether it is at Harrods, at an attraction like a castle or museum, a pub, or a pretty little pavement café. Around 3 or 4 pm is the ideal time for Brits to stop for tea. If you go for high tea at an elegant place such as Tea at the Ritz, it can replace lunch as it involves oodles of exquisite sandwiches, scones, cakes and pastries, all served in delicate chinaware with silver teapots, milk jugs and tea strainers in the old-English opulence of The Palm Court.
By Louise Hudson
Updated: October 30, 2016