As we watch athletes from around the world embark on London for the 2012 Olympic games, I couldn’t think of a more befitting post. Although very much like some international cities here in the US, London certainly is one-of-a-kind. From the tourist traps to the slightly lesser knowns, here’s what you might want to check out or avoid if ever you’re there.
My first stop before diving deep into city life was the quaint village of Stratford where William Shakespeare was born and raised. Yes, the lines in and out of his house can be annoying, to say the least. However, I enjoyed seeing his home “just as it was in 1564″ and the performers in “authentic” dress reciting one of Shakespeare’s many poems to an adoring crowd. I even got a kick out of visiting his beloved Anne Hathaway’s nearby cottage. I couldn’t help but imagine the melodramatic love scenes that must have occurred outside those windows.
You know what is, even if you don’t recognize the name. It’s the giant ferris wheel that sits on the River Thames. I do believe the structure was supposed to be temporary, much like the Eiffel Tower. I think people may have grown fond of it, and so it will remain. Hop on the slow-moving ride for a nice view of the city, but expect to wait in horrendous lines and pay an even more horrendous price (about $28 for a one time ride). Not worth it, in my very humble opinion.
Double Decker Bus
London has a lot of iconic images: Big Ben, red phone booths, and double decker buses. Although they may be a bit on the cheesy side, I enjoyed the hop-on, hop-off tour we took of the city. Not only were we able to learn facts we would have never known otherwise, we paid a one-time fee for a ride around the city; much cheaper than a taxi. For about $35 (keep in mind the price of just one cab ride!) you’ll get a ticket good for 24 hours and a drop off at most attractions. Many companies even offer a free Thames River cruise or walking tour as well. Really, you can’t beat it.
Bath and Stonehenge
No, these world heritage sites aren’t in London, but they’re only a short distance. Bath, a vacation spot for Romans back in the day, was unlike anything I had ever seen before. Until I got to Stonehenge. Although my tour guide, bless his heart, was extremely knowledgable about these mysterious stones and he did his best to explain exactly how and why it was built, I still don’t get it. But I am so glad I got to see it for myself.
My favorite part of London, no doubt. Upon a recommendation from a friend that had visited the city a few weeks before, my mates and I took the tube to the wonderful district of Camden. Mostly known for its markets, we spent an entire day rummaging through jewelry, clothes, fruit and vegetable stands, books, junk, and everything in between. Make sure you visit on an empty stomach, the food options are overwhelming.
Not too far from Camden is the infamous Abbey Road, known to most thanks to the Beatles’ studio album of the same name. It took us quite some time to find the intersection that John, Paul, Ringo, and George crossed before us, but with a little help from the locals we finally made it, took a picture, and promptly left. That was it. If you want a good idea of the dangerous situations pedestrians put themselves in for that perfect photo-op (myself included), you can always check out the Abbey Road crossing webcam to see it happen live. Really, if your time is short and you’re feeling stretched thin, I would leave this one off the itinerary.
What I can only describe as the hip district of London. This stretch of road lies in the East End and has become popular for art and fashion students. Sample one of the delectable curries from the numerous curry houses you’ll find here. And don’t be alarmed by all the graffiti. It’s cool, man.
But if you may only do one thing, I ask that you drink an authentic Pimm’s and Lemonade.