London is known for many things, from being at the great majestic imperial mother-ship to a vast melting pot of cultures from around the world, London has many rewarding sights to captivate every traveler. On a personal note, London has a special place in our hearts. Early in our relationship, it became the halfway point for us to meet, while Vikram was in the US and I was still living in India. My memories of London are always sprinkled with a little bit of love and romance and a lot of nostalgia. The following are our favorite places to explore in London.
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This square is a great place to start your self guided walking tour of London. It has a special place in my heart as it was originally called "Charring Cross" and we have a square back in my hometown Ooty called "Charring Cross" as well. The square is a busy place and is surrounded by museums and cafes and is frequented by locals and tourist alike. Take a walk around the square, get situated, visit a few museums if you'd like, take the mandatory picture by the Lion and the fountain as well.
St. James Park
The next stop on your walking tour will be St James Park. This is the eastern most park of a chain of parks in Central London. Its a beautiful walk through this iconic park to get to the Buckingham Palace. Enjoy watching the ducks in the water, the flowers if you are in the right season and take a leisurely stroll.
The Buckingham Palace is the residence and the headquarters of the reining Monarch of the United Kingdom. Although the Buckingham Palace in London may be smaller than many other palaces around the world, it still has 775 rooms including 52 Main bedrooms and 188 staff bedrooms and 78 bathrooms. Parts of the Buckingham Palace are open to the public in the summer months. There are different options for tickets starting at £23. Be prepared to spend 2 to 3 hours there. Also try to watch the changing of the guards while you are there. You can get more info on the times here.
This iconic 700 year old Gothic Church is a must see while in London. Royal ceremonies have been held here for more than a 1000 years. It also houses the Coronation Chair. I highly recommend doing the Verger Tours for £5 per person and download the audio app onto your phone prior to your visit. Be prepared to spend a couple of hours here. The tour lasts about 90 minutes. You can get more info and buy your tickets here.
Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament
Big Ben is the name given to the clock in the Elizabeth Tower of the Parliament building. The clock has become a cultural symbol of the United Kingdom, particularly in the visual media. They are one of the iconic landmarks in London. No visit to London is compete without getting a picture of yourself in front of this landmark. Although it is not possible for tourists to go inside Big Ben, you can tour the Parliament. You can buy your tickets here.
The River Thames
Take a stroll alongside the River Thames and enjoy the view of The London Eye, The Big Ben and probably grab a bite to eat on the way. What better way to enjoy your lunch than on the riverside.
The Tower Bridge
We have all heard of the famous rhyme "London Bridge is Falling down". Although the London bridge and the Tower bridge are two different bridges over the river Thames, they were talking about the beautiful Tower Bridge in the rhyme. In a city with plenty of bridges this is probably the prettiest. There are plenty of options to tour the bridge. They have many exhibits and don't forget to get there in time to watch the bridge lift open! You can find the bridge lift times here.
If you have not taken the Tube you have not truly experienced London. It is also the easiest and cheapest way to get around. If you are staying in London for more than a day, which you probably are, Oyster cards are the best option. You can load an Oyster card with as much currency as you wish and use it at the turnstiles to let you in. If you have any trouble don't hesitate to ask one of the Underground employees. Also don't forget to "Mind the Gap"!!
Watch a performance at a West End Theater
Whether you are into plays or musicals, the West End Theater has lots to offer. If you have never watched a Broadway style play or musical, I highly recommend watching one here. Along with Broadway in NYC, the Theater here is considered to represent the highest level of commercial theater in the world.
Portobello Market, Notting Hill
Visiting Portobello Market on a Saturday is like going to a fair, only better! I visited this market with one of my closest friends and I can still remember the vibrant shops, so quaint and pretty and all the street food that was so delicious. I have been to many markets around the world and I still think the Portobello market is one of the best in terms of its charm.
Fish and Chips
Fish and Chips and London go hand in hand, after all it is their National dish. It was our culinary highlight on our UK trip. With each restaurant or Chippie serving different versions of the dish, each equally delicious. Now, if you have had Fish and Chips anywhere else but England and you hate it, it is because you didn't try it in England in the first place. Now, how to eat Fish and Chips : it is usually served with malt vinegar or vinegar, lemon and salt/pepper. You first sprinkle the fish with salt and pepper and add a generous amount of vinegar or lemon. Depending on your taste palate, try it with tartar sauce too. The Fish and Chips in the picture below came with mashed peas which is a classic England side.
Vik still can't get enough of his Yorkshire pudding. It is not a pudding by any means. To me it tastes like a really soft croissant like bread. If you have not tried Yorkshire pudding, you better try it in London, it won't disappoint you.
Chicken Tikka Masala
When the British left India they took a lot back with them and one of them was Chicken Tikka Masala. Just kidding. But the British do love their Chicken Tikka Masala. It is one of the most popular dishes in the country and can be found in almost all Pubs. They also claim that it originated in Glasgow, Scotland! So when you are in England, do get yourself a bowl of Chicken Tikka Masala.
Roast leg of Lamb
We had the best Roast leg of lamb in Bath, England. It was every bit delicious. It came with a side of roasted root veggies, Yorkshire pudding and gravy.
I will never forget our high tea in the tiny town of Stratford upon Avon. It is the birthplace of Shakespeare and you can tour his house. While we were there for the day we decided to treat ourselves with high tea. Along with the many other mini sandwiches, they also served us some warm scones with the softest creamiest butter and strawberry jam. It was the best tea I have ever had. Each bite into the soft creamy scone left me wanting for more. Treat yourself to a scone while in town.
I could move to the UK just for their Cider. Before my visit to England I did not know that this delectable drink even existed! You probably know what a Cider is. If you were like me and have no clue what it is, it is an alcoholic beverage usually made with apples but there are many variations. I personally love pear cider. It has about 7% alcohol by volume and it is usually sweet. I love my cider and even though we get bottled cider here in the USA I prefer the ones on tap in the pubs in the UK.