A Quick Guide to Making the Most of Your Time in London
A stroll in the bustling lanes of Southall aka Little India, drooling over hot Jalebis and Bhajis made in the outdoor stalls; craning my neck to gaze at arrays of glittering sarees hung high up in the saree shops; supermarkets selling green chillies and raw bananas, I couldn’t tell I was in London. In fact, my English friend showing me around Southall looked like an immigrant. And I must say, I ate the best Dosa of my life in Saravana Bhavan, London.
Living in London or just visiting, I wonder if anyone ever feels like a foreigner in the epitome of multicultural society. Caribbean, Greek, Lithuanian, Mexican, you name it, the odds are you’ll find the nationality in London. The packed London Underground aka Tube testifies to the diversity of people living in the global city, and why it is a cultural capital of the world. And London is also the most visited city in the world at that.
Standing tall and looking sprightly on River Thames, London offers art, culture, education, entertainment, and a great deal more to locals and visitors alike.
Here’s a quick guide to London
1. On top of my list is Royal Observatory, Greenwich – The home of Greenwich Meridian Time (GMT)
As a kid, I proudly rattled off Greenwich Meridian Time conversion for many countries every chance I got. Although we switched to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) as a standard now, I’m fond of GMT especially because it reminds me of my childhood.
Royal Observatory Greenwich on top of Greenwich Park houses the Prime Meridian Line; which also means GMT +00:00 starts at this line.
Before GMT, every town in the world maintained its own time. Read more about Prime Meridian and GMT here.
The Prime Meridian Line passing through the centre of the Earth divides the earth into Eastern and Western Hemisphere. Before the invention of accurate time, it cost many sailors their lives. It’ll send goose bumps down your spine as you discover how time evolved, and what the world looked like before GMT was defined. It is also fascinating to watch people queuing up to pose astride the Prime Meridian.
Astronomer, mathematician, history buff, or a tourist, this place, laden with history, will inspire everyone. Maritime, Greenwich is also a UNESCO World Heritage. Atop Greenwich Park, you’ll get the best views of River Thames and London.
2. A guide to London will not be complete without a mention of London’s free museum galore
My jaw dropped when I first found out that the museums in London don’t cost a penny.
You can indulge to your heart’s content in art, history, literature, wildlife, fashion and the list goes on.
Here you’ll find a list of 25 free Museums to choose from.
And my favourites museums are Natural History Museum and British Museum
Note: Although there are more than enough free museums to keep you busy for over weeks, London also has museums you must pay to visit.
3. Watch a play the English way
No trip to London is complete without visiting a theatre.
War Horse: My first play in London
Dime a dozen theatres to choose from and if you’re a Shakespeare’s fan like me, you will be happy to know that Shakespeare’s plays are always showing somewhere in the town.
Here you can find a list of theatres and shows playing.
4. Change of Guard at Buckingham Palace
British soldiers dressed in red tunics and bearskin fur hats marching in the courtyard of Buckingham palace; bands playing music; scores of tourists standing to watch the ceremony seems like a festival. You can’t afford to miss it, for nowhere else in the world you’ll see such a ceremony.
I suspect part of the soldiers’ responsibility is also to entertain tourists. When I was there, soldiers rode up to the crowd on gorgeous horses. They made an announcement in English, heavy English-accented French and German. Owing to the four-legged magnificence I was facing, the announcement was lost on me. The ceremony lasts around 45 min and it’s free.
5. Explore London on foot
Regent’s Canal and Camden Lock market
Wander along the Regent’s Canal watching boat houses and exploring the “little Venice” of London. After the lovely walk, all you can think of is food and Camden Lock market, which is right around the corner, comes to your rescue in a timely manner.
Camden Lock market flanked by waterways is one of the world’s famous markets. And it is a major tourist attraction. You can find all sorts of things imaginable: from books to antiques to perfumes to jewellery to handmade souvenirs. The air around the market is heavy with the enchanting aroma of spices from all over the globe. I managed to trace the aroma of Indian spices. I snaked my way through the myriad of food stalls and treated myself to a delicious, hot, Kati roll.
Notting Hill is another place you can’t afford to miss, not just because you might meet Hugh Grant in a bookstore. Portobello Market in Notting Hill is one of the best markets in London. It has a bohemian quality to it. The affluent district houses some of the quirkier art galleries, theatres, unusually themed restaurants, pubs and boutiques.
South Bank and Trafalgar Square
If you are in London only for a couple of days, South Bank and Trafalgar Square should be on your list.
Southbank – London Eye
South Bank is Mecca for entertainment: River Thames, Bridges, London Eye, National Theater, London Dungeon, Sea Life London Aquarium, and the list is endless.
The iconic Lion in Trafalgar Square
You cannot not visit Trafalgar Square when you’re in London, considering the terrific landscape with spectacular views of Big Ben and white hall. It sits wreathed in beautiful architecture, galleries, monuments, fountains, museums and fascinating history to go along with it.
5 tips for traveling in Europe might help you plan your trip to London.
If you are student check for a student discount at museums, movies, theatres, clothing stores, etc.
Buy Vistors Oyster card to travel around London, works out cheaper than buying single tickets.
Buy train tickets in advance if you’re travelling by train within England, it’ll save you a LOT of money.