A gripe I often have is when people say they have ‘done’ a place. This attitude, I suspect, has its sinister origins in the quest for attaining social media nirvana. Travel for me is experiencing things that I can’t read about on Wikipedia, adding anecdotes to my repertoire, the weird and wonderful tales of people I meet.
London is strange and splendid and eccentric and full of character. You discover new places each time you step out. With so many delightful sights to visit, I find the long queues of tourists, battling the temperamental London weather to get into Madame Tussauds, a bit batty. When Marie Tussaud opened the Baker Street museum in 1835, the life-like wax dolls would undoubtedly have been a marvel. Clicking selfies today with wax imitations of Johnny Depp or Audrey Hepburn frozen in action poses, however, seems rather preposterous. Considering that entry costs over Rs2,000, Madam Tussaud’s, with its claustrophobic alley-ways, is probably the most antiquated attraction that London hosts.
For my part, I feel like I’m spoilt for choice with museums in London hosting masterpieces, unremorsefully pillaged from across the world. The Natural History Museum, National Gallery and British Museum are all brilliant, especially on days when the weather is not too benevolent. Equally rewarding is the alternative of sipping beer at, say, The George Inn, the watering hole Charles Dickens and Shakespeare visited, so well preserved that if either went in today, centuries later, they would still recognise it. There are plenty of other quintessentially British bars one could visit, like The Scotch of St. James, celebrating the patronage of legends like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones. While I’ve never been tempted to stand in the way of the bright red London buses, you could also get the Beatle’s experience at the zebra crossing across Abbey Road Studios.
Another attraction where you will not spot a Londoner is the London Eye. Instead, use your Rs2,000 to have a drink at one of the sky bars in London’s shiny new scrapers like the Shard, the tallest building in Europe, Sky Garden at the Walkie Talkie, Duck & Waffle at Heron Tower, or Searcys at the Gherkin. London has some awe-inspiring architecture, ranging from English Renaissance, English baroque, neoclassical and imperial Gothic buildings to Victorian and Edwardian architecture, alongside Roman and Romanesque archaeological remains. They all make for spectacular views from some of the skyscrapers.
One of my favourite walks is from London Bridge down to Tower Bridge, and across towards the Tower of London. As soon as you emerge from the London Bridge Tube station, dodging ‘vampires’ and ‘zombies’ beckoning you to buy tickets to the one of the many Dungeons, walk down south on Tooley Street and then through Hays Galleria towards the Thames River. Even though I’ve lived in London for years, I am compelled to take pictures of the Gothic-style Tower Bridge every time I’m there. If you’re lucky, you might even see the bridge open up through the middle, to allow a boat to pass by. You can get beautiful photographs of the Tower of London while crossing the Tower Bridge. My suggestion would be to not go inside to see the Kohinoor. The museum is a bit of a bore, unless you are really into British history. A lovely spot for a stopover on the other side is St. Katherine’s dock, a little marina dotted with restaurants and yachts.
While they’d say the sun never set on the British Empire, it’s a slightly different story in Britain, where we obsess over every drop of sunshine. Londoners typically head to Hyde Park, Regent’s Park, Hampstead Heath or any other patch of green to bask in the sun. Packing a few beers, bags of crisps and a frisbee, and sprawling across the grass is a very London thing to do in summer.
Shoreditch, once London’s underbelly, gentrified only in the last decade, is where I would head to witness London’s alternative culture. From vintage stores in Brick Lane to breweries and pop-up bars and art galleries in and around Hackney, Shoreditch has come a long way with its vibrant energy, blending hipster culture with the trendiest bars and fashion stores. It’s oddly exciting to spot new street art, Googleing to check whether it might be another Banksy!
Exciting is not a word I would use for changing of guard at Buckingham Palace, another box I recommend leaving unticked forever.