When me and my boyfriend decided to visit London, I tried to recall memories of a student exchange to England many years ago. I must have been eleven years old or something but I remember quite a lot. Apart from being on the big wheel “London Eye” and feeding grey squirrels in Greenwich Park the most distinct memory I have is: Confusion. Now that I saw London again I can totally understand that again. For a tourist London is primarily a noisy city crammed with people. Around the world-famous destinations you can hardly move to left and right on the sidewalks, you are pushed forward by the crowd and traffic noise prevents any normal conversation. But it’s not only that. London is beautiful, London is impressive, multicultural and colorful. History calls you on every corner and there are green parks and street markets vibrating with life. To be honest it’s not fair to rush through it on only three days. You would have to spend a whole life there to understand London properly. But the little bit that I learned about this city I would like to share with you.
How to see and learn very much in short time: Free City Tours!
I love these free guided tours since I first did one in Australia. The concept is easy: The tours are completely free, you just meet the guide at a certain time and place in the city and then he or she will show you around and share history and local knowledge with you. Of course you should tip your guide in the end because they don’t get paid, but it’s still a lot cheaper than commercial tours and mostly very funny and informative. We decided to go on the “Royal Tour” starting from Parliament Square, at the statue of Winston Churchill.
We learned stories like the one of Guy Fawkes, the terrorist who tried to blow up the House of Parliament (Palace of Westminster) on 5th of November 1605, the opening day of parliament. Our guide even recited the poem about this “gunpowder plot” that all English children learn at school:
Remember, remember the fifth of November,
gunpowder, treason and plot,
I know of no reason why gunpowder treason
should ever be forgot.
Of course you will also see the change of guards at Buckingham Palace, and all the locations of government and residences of royal people and the prime minister. I have to say I never understood the hype around the royal family in the UK, but well, they do have nice houses! The change of guards is clearly overestimated though. They just march past to some music, angry policemen on horses shout at photo-obsessed tourists to get out of their way and then the whole thing is over again. I only pitied these poor guys, marching around in their uniforms at 28 degrees.
Another reason why these free tours are amazing: The guides can tell you very useful things that many people don’t know. Like how to get into Westminster Abbey for free AND hear the choir sing! 😉 Normally there is an entrance fee of 16 Pounds. But if you wait until 5 pm you can get in without paying anything – you just have to attend the Church Service. This requires to sit still and follow the procedures for about one hour, but it’s definitely worth it!!
Spend some time in the Green: Parks of London
During our three-day visit in London we stayed in Hackney, a lovely part of the city. It is far enough from the center to be peaceful and quiet, but close enough to get everywhere quickly. I booked via Airbnb and my host gave me the best hint: Breakfast at “Pavilion Café” in Victoria Park! It’s so yummy! 🙂
You want to see a really cool shopping center? Go to “Liberty”, located in an old building in Soho (Soho in general is awesome for shopping and going out). You can’t really afford buying something there, but it’s great to just walk around in this building with its beautiful wood carving everywhere and be impressed. I also think it’s a very cool alternative to “Harrods”.
And last but not least, if you’re in London on a Saturday, go to the street market in Notting Hill. The whole Portobello Road is packed with people and you can literally buy everything there, from exotic street food to authentic antiques, from clothes to tourist souvenirs. I totally fell in love with a 1973 copy of Lewis Carrolls “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”. Now it rests in my shelf in the living room and reminds me every day of these wonderful three days in London. ❤