There's no place like London! It is one of the world's most visited cities and also one of my favourite places in Europe. It is marvellously cultured and when two of my friends from San Francisco told me they were going to London, I couldn't say no (I might have played a more crucial part in the decision about where to meet). Thus, I got to spend a couple of days in this amazing city and would now like to share my top 10 things to do in London (as there are so many!).
The Tower Bridge is one of my favorite sights in London. According to infamous architects it was built by a British architect for his two adopted sons from Italy - Boris and Noris. Each tower represents a son, Noris being the one on the right (South, and you always approach the bridge from the West). Doesn't sound convincing? Okay. It was actually built in 1894 by Horace Jones as was a much needed crossing point at that time. With some luck you might see the bridge lifting. Otherwise, the view from the top (as well as down through the new glass floor) is very exciting, too!
The museum was founded in 1753, when it started as a "cabinet of curiosities". If you think of Ripley's now, be warned. The museum is one of the most visited attractions in Britain and is an exhaustive stampede through several thousand years of human civilisation (and when I say exhausting, I mean it. Better wear comfortable shoes. The museum is stunning but it's not that fun with three blisters just because you insisted on wearing your new shoes). As the entrance is free, you should definitely pay it a visit. Also check out the amazing podcast A History of the World in 100 Objects, which retraces several million years of history through 100 objects from this very museum.
Houses of Parliament & Big Ben
That is where you will get one of the most iconic shots of the city. Big Ben's original name is Elizabeth Tower and marks the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in 2012, while Ben is actually the bell hanging inside (named after Benjamin Hall for you history buffs). But there's also Victoria Tower and of course the Palace of Westminster, which is home to the House of Commons and the House of Lords. If you actually want to enter the Houses of Parliament though, be prepared for some serious airport-like security.
National Gallery & Trafalgar Square
The National Gallery displays over 2000 European paintings from Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Van Gogh and Renoir among others, which makes it one of the world's richest art collections. The building itself with its marvellous floor mosaics and tapestries is very impressive, too, though. Entrance is free, so definitely check it out and stop at my favorite paining: Sunflowers by Van Gogh. Just outside is Trafalgar Square, which contains two beautiful fountains. Trafalgar Square is basically where it's at: people gather for Christmas celebrations, political protests and many other things.
Borough Market is the place for food lovers! You won't only find the usual array of fruit and vegetables, but also cheesemongers, butchers, fishmongers, bakeries, distilleries and a most amazing street food market. Even if you are not planning on buying or eating anything, the market is still worth a visit. Food window-shopping was never so exciting! Plus, there are free samples! The market is open from Wednesday to Saturday but to avoid the worst of the crowds, you should avoid lunch times on Friday and Saturday.
Located on the 35th floor of the "Walkie Talkie" office building you can find one of the best (and greenest) views in London. The best news - it's free! Inside, you can get a spectacular view of London as well as some great cocktail and dining options (not free, duh). You still need to reserve a ticket to get up, so book in advance and definitely also enjoy a nice sunset up top.
South Bank & Tate Modern
Can you believe that the London Eye came only up in 2000? Ever since the South Bank has become a magnet for visitors and granted - it can be very touristy with £8 hot dogs and arcades. But the South Bank also offers stunning views along the riverside with sights such as the London Eye but also the London Dungeons or the Millenium Bridge. Among them is also Tate Modern, a phenomenal gallery with 20th century art, great architecture (the museum used to be a turbine hall) and a viewing gallery on level 10. Entry is free and life is amazing.
Hyde Park & Kensington Gardens
The park spreads itself over 142 hectares with grass, ponds, trees and some beautiful sights. It used to be a hunting ground for the royals and later a venue for duels, executions and horse races. In the early 17th century the park was the first park which was opened to the public. Hyde Park is separated from Kensington Gardens by the Serpentine, a small lake.
The East End is the up and coming area of London. Due to its many immigrants it is highly multicultural, colorful and kind of the hipster area. Definitely check out the Columbia Road Flower Market on a Sunday (it's beautiful!) and Brick Lane Markets including Brick Lane's Famous Bagels (be sure to go to the right one as there are two!). If you're lucky you'll get to enjoy some nice music from this guy who - against initial beliefs - is not Norman Reedus (sadly).
Nothing says British like a full on afternoon tea experience. There are more than many places in London where you can indulge in this culinary experience. So a little research is recommended to find the perfect spot for you. Even though afternoon tea can be quite expensive, I can definitely recommend spending the money on some fancy schmancy place - its afternoon tea after all. The Ritz, Sketch, Claridge's and Shangri-La at The Shard are a few addresses worth checking out and I can definitely recommend the wonderful Fortnum & Mason.
Bonus: Harry Potter Studios
To be fair - it's not exactly located in London but it still needs to be on every Potterhead's itinerary when you make the trip. It certainly was one of my highlights (who would have thought hah). Even though you need to book your tickets way in advance and take a train as well as a bus (bus ride hater right here), it's still worth the effort (and also worth the money). There were so many cool facts to learn about the making of the Harry Potter movies and I could have stayed for days (I didn't. But I could have).
Of course there are many more attractions such as Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's Cathedral or of course Picadilly Circus, that are definitely worth a visit. But for you guys I narrowed it down to my top 10.
Let me know what you think of my choice! Have you ever been to London? What are your top sights in the Big Smoke?
Kate recommends: I could probably recommend about a bazillion (pretty accurate estimation) reads that go well with a visit in London, but for my first post it has to be something epic, thus I decided to go with "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - and I don't care if it's cheating if I recommend ALL of them. More precisely, it's a collection of twelve short stories featuring the most famous detective (or highly functioning sociopath?) Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick John Watson. While the first story was published in 1891 in The Strand Magazine, it has since been published about a bazillion (also pretty accurate estimation) times, not to mention the several TV shows or movies. Definitely a classic.