- London is big. Really big. In fact, it’s huge. Let me put it like this – New York is approximately 350 square miles; London is 600. I know! Plus it’s jolly well expensive. When I was handed £120 and ushered on my way to the English capital with a to-do list that included a West End show and the Tower of London among other things, the words ‘oh’ and ‘how’ quickly sprung to mind. But I’m not one to give in easily, and ever since I was mockingly nominated for a school Students Council at the tender age of 16 but still managed to get myself elected, challenges and I have formed quite a solid relationship.
Before embarking on a day’s sightseeing in London, you have to acquaint yourself with London’s underground network which is an integral part of any tourist’s quest to see as much as they can in a short space of time. All the city’s premier attractions are identifiable by a tube stop. Mention Blackfriars and those familiar with the underground can guess that you’re visiting the Tate Modern. Say South Kensington and the National Science Museum is a more than likely destination.
Hostels in London Kensington
If the funding for each single tube journey is acquired from the change in your pocket, after a while the noisy ‘ching’ it makes will slowly disintegrate into a faint tinkle. Don’t let this happen. Purchase zone 1 and 2 off-peak travel cards. Costing £4.30, it may seem like a big chunk to slice out of your daily budget solely for transport but believe me, you will get your money’s worth. Nearly every tube journey in London involves at least one changeover so they really are instrumental in a day’s sightseeing.
Galleries, both old and new
A host of London’s most visited attractions impose an admission fee, but thankfully most of the city museums remain free to the public. Passing through the doors of too many museums in one day can become an all too boring affair so choose which ones you visit wisely. Two which are within 5 minutes of each other and manage to blend with ease are the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery, both on the edges of Trafalgar Square. The former's most prized work is Van Gogh’s ‘Daffodils’, while the latter is where you will see photo upon photo taken by renowned fashion photographer Mario Testino which will cause you to think ‘Oooh, I didn’t know he took that’.
Further out of the city centre is the Tate Modern. Also free, there is no doubt that a fascinating collection of art is housed here, but it may leave you confused. Unless you are acquainted with the eclectic world of modern art, latch on to one of the free guided tours (hourly from 11am to 3pm) to make the most of an afternoon here.
One of London’s most visited attractions is the Tower of London (Tower Hill tube station). With a whopping admission fee of £13.50, you may be a bit reluctant to slide your money over to the cashier upon entry, but inside the tower’s wooden gates is everything London – beefeaters, ravens and even the prize Crown Jewels which are under surveillance 24 hours a day. Guided tours leave from just within the entrance every 30 minutes and, led by the beefeaters, they give you an interesting insight into the tower's various stages and roles from palace, to prison, to fortress.
Walking was something which I had anticipated I wouldn’t be doing a lot of in London. Ok, I lie. Waking was something I hoped I wouldn’t be doing a lot of in London. I was nursing a foot with ligament damage and the thoughts of any walk stretching more than thirty minutes made me squeamish. But embarking on a stroll at Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament with the London Eye just across the Thames, I was astounded by the number of instantly recognisable landmarks which I covered in 90 minutes. Just a half an hour’s walk from the aforementioned, and also Westminster Abbey, is St James’ Park. From here stroll onward to The Mall, and this mosey ends pleasantly at Buckingham Palace where it is almost obligatory that you wave irritatingly at the guards.
One thing I hadn’t anticipated was finding the best value when it came to dining out in London’s pubs. Take a break from walking around looking at guards with big fluffy hats and no doubt you will see a menu offering ‘2 meals for £7’ staring you temptingly in the face. I first came across this widespread offer at a pub in Kensington. But the offer doesn’t restrict itself to the inner city suburbs. The Two Brewers on Monmouth Street is a watering hole that also specialises in main courses which will set you back a mere £3.50, once you are with somebody else of course. Luckily I was being escorted round London’s streets by three American friends so I availed of this offer more than once. But if you are on your own, a quaint little café called Franks on Neal Street, also in Covent Garden, has a wonderful array of meals which fall in the £3-£5 bracket.
An average pint in London should cost you no more than £3. As it isn’t as student driven as other cities in the UK, the whole drinks promotion phenomenon to lure scrounging students through the bars’ doors hasn’t really taken off in London. But as I only managed to check out some of the haunts in the city centre I felt there was more to offer than what I saw. One place which does sell cheap booze on Mondays is the Long Island Iced Tea Shop at 1 Uppers St Martin’s Lane when all cocktails are no more than £2.50. It was in here that an extremely helpful fellow called Henry told me Camden on Thursdays is where it’s at. I’ll remember that for the next time.
Hostels in London Camden
Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!
While London is infamous for its nightlife, arguably its best known nocturnal activity is a show in the West End. I had read before that the TKTS booth on Leicester Square is where to find the lowest half-price tickets on the same day of performance. But standing impatiently in the queue something inside me told me I should explore the rest of the area to see if I could scour cheaper tickets. Not thinking that my hunt on the streets branching off the square would be a successful one, my five minute trek was rewarded with a pair of tickets to ‘Jerry Springer the Musical’ from one of the alternative half price ticket booths on Cranbourn St at a saving of over £10 on each one. They say you learn something new every day!
Hostels in London Piccadilly
While it doesn’t really sound like words of advice from a backpacker, before you go to London do some research. Choose which museums you are going to visit, see which underground station is nearest the attractions you wish to visit and have a look at a map to see what else is nearby to really utilise an afternoon. Even though it doesn’t really ooze spontaneity, it does pay off. Not all the time though. It’s always fun to take some time out to explore,and London covers more than enough ground in which to do so.
Is there something about London you are curious about but isn't covered in this story? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.