Growing up in the London suburbs had its advantages. Every few months and especially during the Christmas shopping period, my Mother would announce that it was time we “went up to London” for the day. This was something I always looked forward to. Even though we lived a mere twelve or thirteen miles from the capital, nothing could match the excitement, the hustle and bustle, and the sheer energy of being in central London. My Mother used to declare that Piccadilly Circus was the “center of Europe” and that “if you are tired of London, you are tired of life”.
We would take the train from our local station to Victoria station in London. Mileage wise it’s not a long distance at all, but the journey would take about 35 minutes (on a good day) as the train snaked its way through the congestion, railway signals, homes and offices, past Battersea Power Station and finally across the River Thames. Once we were in London we would take the “Tube” or a double decker red bus and spend the day shopping in Oxford Street, checking out the museums, or browsing the various outdoor street markets at Petticoat Lane. There are so many sights to see and things to do in London that it is hard to squeeze it all into one, or even two days. London is a relatively expensive city, however one can still see a lot and not break the bank. Here are some of my favorite places to visit:
The Victoria and Albert Museum (Or the “V&A” as it’s more commonly called): Being a girly-girl I loved coming here to see all the historic costumes and dresses. The museum was founded in 1852 and officially opened in June, 1857, and is the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design, housing over 4.5 million artifacts! Named after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, it covers 12.5 acres and has 145 galleries, and includes textiles, jewelry, ceramics, glass, and furniture. The museum like other British National museums has been free to the public since 2001.
The British Science Museum: Originally part of the Victoria & Albert Museum the Science museum opened in 1857 and is located in South Kensington, and boasts 3.3 million visitors annually. Interesting items on display include the oldest surviving steam locomotive, the first jet engine, and a prototype of the first typewriter. Collections include clinical medicine, biosciences and Public Health. Again, admission is free!
Camden Town: Located a little north of the center of London, Camden town offers an eclectic experience of markets and music. Camden was a residential area up until the 1790’s, but when the Grand Union canal was built, and improved railway services to the area, it became a bustling part of London. In Camden you can shop the markets for unique gifts, sample cuisine from all over the world, have a drink in one of the many pubs, and listen to live bands in this diverse and colorful melting pot area.
Visit Oxford Street: Located in London’s West End, it is Europe’s busiest shopping street and has around 300 shops. Many of these are department stores, such as Selfridges, and many of the U.K. retailers have their “flagship” stores here including John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, and the House of Fraser. Europe’s largest music store, HMV, is located here. As a teenager I remember shopping here for CD’s. During the Christmas period the street is decorated with Christmas lights and decorations, and each year, a celebrity turns the lights on. For those who enjoy window shopping, Oxford Street stores produce some of the most fun and imaginative window displays in the world.
The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben: No trip to London is complete without visiting these two iconic landmarks. The houses of parliament are home to the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Parliament exists to challenge the work of government, approve new laws and debate government policy and current issues. Tours of Parliament are given at various times throughout the day. Big Ben has tours Monday through Friday at four times a day. These tours are also free, making it an appealing attraction. Officially known as the Elizabeth Tower, Big Ben is the nickname for the great bell of the clock, although it is often extended to mean the clock and the clock tower. It was completed in 1858 and has become one of the most prominent sights of London and the United Kingdom. Interesting fact: the clock stopped at 10.07pm on May 27th 2005, possibly due to hot weather as London had reached a balmy 90 degrees Fahrenheit! The clock resumed ten minutes, before stopping again for a further ninety minutes.
This is only a small sampling of what London has to offer. By the time you have taken in all these sites you are sure to need a stop for fish and chips and a beer or cup of tea. Take a break in one of London’s many historic pubs; the chain of Weatherspoon’s Pubs are a particular favorite of mine. If you still have the energy and time, take in a show in London’s theater district, Shaftesbury Avenue. Originally designed as an area to house displaced impoverished city workers from the city center, it is now home to the historic Lyric, Queen’s and Palace Theaters.
By this time, your wallet may be empty, your feet sore, but you will be invigorated by the sights and sounds of London. Make sure you return to the station for the last train or tube home! London has a great public transport system, but only a limited nightbus service runs 24 hours. The trains and tube usually end around 11pm to 1am and resume again in the early hours of the morning. However, you can always a ride in a black cab if need be, as these run twenty-four hours a day.
*This will be my final blog for this class as the Semester is ending, but keep checking back, as I may continue this blog just for fun! I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed producing it.