London is one of the top ten destinations for tourists around the globe. Its rich cultural heritage, albeit due to the reaches of their once worldwide empire, makes the city vibrate with historical significance and character; Londoners are very well educated, polite and carefree. Well dressed and elegant people flood the streets in their best garments, from saris to button down suits. This is the home of James Bond, covered in cranes and shrouded by a cool thick fog; an enterprising cosmopolitan giant of industry.
If you are ever in the vicinity of the river Thames on business, or even staying in the outskirts of town. Farnborough perhaps? Check out the top ten things to do in Downtown.
1. Walk with the crowds
Similar to Times Square, Leicester Square has big jumbo trons, billboards, shops and restaurants. This is the best place to take in the city, get acquainted with the culture and walk to nearby theaters and galleries. If you want a change of scenery, nearby Trafalgar Square, with Nelson’s Column in the middle, is a meet up place for tours, tour buses and parade crowds. The architecture is very beautiful and engaging in this open space used for cultural events. I was there during the St Patrick’s Day Parade and it was a sight to see. Check local holidays and festivals before booking travel as to not miss the fun. Keep heading towards the water and you will hit the Jubilee Bridge and Walk/Promenade which houses the London Eye and hosts many street performers and entertainers.
2. Rise above the fog
Once the tallest and biggest Ferris Wheel in the world, the now called Coca-Cola London Eye is a great opportunity to take pictures of the city from over 135 meters (~400 feet) off the ground. Located right next to the Thames off Waterloo Station, it is a convenient tube or train ride away from almost anywhere. The views are spectacular and you won’t want to miss the street performers and crowds that gather at its base. Get a Fast Track ticket online and avoid queueing. You can also pair the entrance fee with a couple of other local attractions at a discounted price. (The London Dungeon is one of the options.)
3. Visit The Tower of London, take a picture of Big Ben and walk along Parliament.
Home of the crown jewels, The Tower of London dates back to 11th century and is one of London’s most notable landmarks. A few steps away from the London Eye and Trafalgar Square, you can easily access it (via the Tube or Underground), Big Ben and Parliament via Westminster Bridge. If you time it correctly and secure tickets, a stop here would fit nicely with a double decker tour route or a visit to the Jubilee Promenade attractions. (The tour bus is a convenient and inexpensive way to get around town and does a loop in 2.5 hrs.)
4. Search for a good book or a Harry Potter British Edition.
Check out Daunt in Marylebone High Street which is considered one of the world’s most unique booksellers. Book lovers will enjoy the many rooms and tomes avaliable at this establishment while admiring the decor. If you can get to this location, there are many more to choose from! Foyles is another chain store with an excellent selection of topics. Keep your eye out for smaller shops in the area. You may discover an unpolished gem.
5. Hop on board a train
The tube or Underground will connect you quickly and effectively with any point of the city. Easy to navigate, the public transportation system can help you arrive to your destination in no time at all. I took a trip into the city from Farnborough via Waterloo Station, and enjoyed the scenery and free/included wi-fi for the hour long ride. If you are a Harry Potter fan, make sure you visit King’s Cross Station and Platform 9 3/4. They even have a cart halfway into a wall and a gift shop. It’s not the Hogwarts express but it will do.
6. Book a Harry Potter of Downton Abbey Experience Tour
For those so inclined, Warner Bros has a tour of the Harry Potter sets and many excursion groups offer a similar experience for Downton Abbey fans. The studio tour is outside of London though so it can turn into an all day event. I don’t follow Doctor Who, but I am sure there are tours and experiences for them as well. Check out http://www.britmovietours.com for more on all offerings.
7. Enjoy the local cuisine at the hotel
Many high end or business hotels have lounges, pubs or restaurants in their lobby or penthouse floors. Although they can be a bit pricier than local offerings, they are conveniently located so you can experience a gourmet meal without having to stray too far. In all my years traveling, I haven’t had a bad experience at the hotel’s eateries. Their take on local and international menu items will surprise you. If you are looking for traditional or local fare, search for a proper fish and chips place, and stop at an Indian food restaurant. Divine!
8. Use the spa and gym priviledges at your hotel
Many people forget that they can use the pool, sauna, jacuzzi and exercise machines at the hotel which are included in the room charge. Some will loan you clothes or equipment. Ask the concierge about the facilities and opportunities. My last hotel had Zumba classes. Zumba classes! Best stress decompressor and weight gain avoidance method known to humankind.
9. Taste the local beers or spirits
London is the center of the United Kingdom and as such benefits from a variety of ales, pilsners, breweries, scotch and whiskys. I had a Ringwood Best Bitter, served cold but closer to temperature, and remembered that Guiness is considered a local beer around here. The quality of the locally served taps is higher than the exports because of the lack of preservatives. Brewed and served fresh beats bottled any day. The same applies to Harp and other concoctions. The local pub bartender will steer you in the right direction.
10. If you were sent there for business, take advantage of airline perks for business travel
Get a sleep suit. Keep the nice leather toiletry bag. Crash the airline or partner lounge. Drink and eat to your heart’s content! Verify with the ticket agent what kind of perks you can expect with your fare class and sit back and enjoy your flights to and from your destination. It is never too late to enjoy life from the premium cabin…