Why I went? I am a certified anglophile; naturally, I wanted to visit the capital of this once very mighty country. My fascination with England dates back to my childhood. My knowledge of English history was unrivaled, although years of neglect caused it to deviate. I love English football, the BBC, Harry Potter and I probably know more facts about the Queen than most. London is able to keep up with modern times without losing the grandeur of its historic past, and that is why it remains my favourite European capital.
Best time to visit? Springtime from April to mid-June will be your best bet. You have wonderful, mild weather. Days are a bit longer and the crowds of tourists aren’t aplenty.
Best way to get there? DFW has direct flights via several major airlines to London Heathrow. From Heathrow, you can take the Tube and head on to any major stops in the city. Heathrow is on the Piccadilly line and a one way trip will cost around five pounds.
What to see/do? London has loads of sights to see and things to do, and since it’s impossible for me to list them all, I will limit it to a handful of landmarks and activities; places that you ought not to miss on your first visit to the city. First is Westminster Abbey. It’s rich in history dating back to the Anglo-Saxon period. Every monarch since William the Conqueror has been crowned here and it serves as the final resting place for English kings, queens, and other notable men and women. Two of London’s most recognized landmarks are the Clock Tower, more famously known as “Big Ben”, and the adjacent Palace of Westminster that houses the bicameral seat of government for the United Kingdom. The latter used to be the primary London residence of the monarch before a fire destroyed most of its original structures. Both the Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey are UNESCO World Heritage sites. The Tower of London is an imposing monument built in 1066 to “tower” over London and to protect the city from invasion. It served as a palace and a fortress particularly during the midst of the 15th and 16th centuries, as well as a place of execution for queens of the realm. Yeomen warders continue to guard the Tower up to this day and their daily tours are included with your entrance fees. I highly encourage taking this tour when visiting because not only are they entertaining, but they also provide the most accurate description of historical markings. London is also full of world class museums but if you only have time to visit one, my suggestion is the British Museum. This diverse museum houses over eight million pieces of artifacts depicting thousands of years of human history and culture and best of all, it’s practically free (the museum itself doesn’t charge per se but it requests donations from visitors.) This was my first stop in London and it was one of those places that I could have stayed for hours on. Lastly, what is a visit to London without stopping by Buckingham Palace and witnessing the ever famous Changing of the Guards? Buckingham Palace is the official London residence of Her Majesty the Queen and other members of the Royal Family since the reign of Queen Victoria. Its infamous balcony has been the sight of many royal appearances and smooches. The event that draws the crowd to the palace is the ceremonial Changing of the Guards. It occurs daily at 11:15am from late spring to early fall and every other day from fall until early spring. Check the calendar for exact dates.
Food and drinks: This town is a smorgasbord of eclectic delights. Over the years, immigration to England and to London in particular, from previous Crown colonies became so abundant that it isn’t surprising at all to find the same number of curry shops as sandwich places here. Apart from fish and chips, cucumber sandwiches and the occasional banger and mash, I’m not that excited about English cuisine. However, if there’s one type of food they can boast about, it’s their pastries, and for some of the best and widest selection, you ought to go to Harrod’s. This luxurious department store has several floors of shopping space but they also have a gourmet food hall on the ground floor. Visit the patisserie here and you won’t be disappointed. Tip to the wise though: just bring cash you’re willing to spend and leave your credit cards in your safe lockers. I am speaking from personal experience. It was very easy to spend so much money here in so little time.
England is known to consume exorbitant amounts of alcohol, particularly beer. When you visit a pub, try one of their local ales or porters. The English are also avid tea drinkers. The customary high tea in the afternoons has been part of its culture for ages. For the ultimate tea time experience, go to one of London’s posh hotels like The Ritz, The Dorchester, or The Savoy.
Where to sleep? During my stay in London, I booked a bed at the newly opened YHA London Central hostel. It’s centrally located in the city and just a couple of tube stops away from Piccadilly Circus on the Bakerloo line. This is my favourite hostel thus far. The wifi reaches the rooms here with no trouble, bunk beds are conveniently equipped with their own sockets and lights and the location is in a safe and easily accessible area. I highly recommend this for those on a budget, and I am likely to book here again upon my return to the city.
Daytrips: There are several destinations outside London that are worth exploring and can be done in a day’s time. First of them is Stonehenge. The perfectly symmetrical arrangement of stones continues to be an unanswered mystery to this day. It is also one of the world’s remaining prehistoric forms of architecture. The ancient city of Bath, located in the southwest corner of the Cotswolds region (Britain’s heartland), has been a spa destination for centuries. It also contains some of the country’s best preserved examples of Georgian architecture. Stratford upon Avon is the birthplace of the Elizabethan poet and writer William Shakespeare. There’s nothing like seeing a Shakespeare play, performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company, in one of the three Royal Shakespeare Theater. Lastly, visit one of the two premiere and historical universities in the country. Inhale the country air and engage in philosophical arguments with one of the students. Whether you choose Oxford or Cambridge, chances are, you’re going to meet somebody who’s going to be of significant importance one day.
Why I would go back? There’s still so much to see and do in this large metropolis and of course, Wimbledon, the grandest of all tournaments in the tennis calendar year. Watching a match here is my ultimate sport dream, so that in itself guarantees that I will return. When I first came to London, I felt anxious about it. It was my first destination on European soil and after all those years reading about the old world, it started to unravel on me. Anxiousness became excitement, and then suddenly, I was elated. I was going to see with my own eyes, places I’ve only read about for years. It was like a kid’s first time in a candy store, but instead of indulging on candy, I wanted to indulge on iconic monuments and historical sites. It was also one of the cities that filled me with confidence. There wasn’t a concern about a language barrier (years of watching English telly paid off) and my knowledge about the city allowed me to blend in easily. I wouldn’t mind a repeat of that entire experience.