I am almost through editing and organizing all of my London photos. 30 days and over 3,000 photos.
The hard part is figuring out how to write about London though. It’s unlike most travel experiences. I was on it for “work” (which did carry some stress) and yet had a fair amount of free time.
The trip was also…..sort of extravagant. And cultured. Most of my recent travel experiences have been in Central America, where the focus was on intercultural communication, health practices, spirituality, and better understanding our own privilege.
On this trip, we were becoming more cultured about art and literature and the city itself. Most of our reading was done before the trip and we spent our time in London taking literary walks, listening to Blue Badge guides at museums, attending plays and taking day trip to castles or Shakespeare’s hometown.
That said, most of us understood how privileged we were to be taking part on this course. I thought I’d focus on what I liked to explore and parts of the city that were my favorite to walk around.
While food is expensive, all of the markets, parks and museums are free. And that’s where I spent most of my free time.
Great iconic London sights:
Just walking around London is jaw-dropping. While these might be cliché, I never tired of the River Thames, Parliament and the Millennium Bridge. Although I did discover they were much more interesting at night.
Great (FREE) museums in London:
Victoria & Albert Museum, Natural History Museum, and the Science Museum are all in the same two blocks at the South Kensington Tube stop. (Although, three museums in one day might be too much.) The V&A is incredible, so I would put that down as a must-see. It’s got a little bit of everything there. They have this exhibit on the history of the dress and it is so neat to see the evolution of something like….a women’s dress. This summer they had this special collection called Architects Build Small Spaces, in which a group international architects built a series of structures responding to the theme “retreat”. It was so cool. They had all of these tiny structures within the museum that you could go into: gardens, spiral booths, book towers, etc.
The British Museum also has a little bit lot of everything and a large collection of incredible Egyptian artifacts. It also houses the Rosetta Stone.
Museum of London is free and fantastic. It’s not as overwhelming as other museums and you walk through it chronologically. I liked seeing London evolve from prehistoric to modern times.
The National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery are attached to one another in Trafalgar Square. The National Gallery houses an incredible amount of masterpieces from the 13th –19th Century, everything from Monet and Van Gogh to Carravaggio and in between. It’s only paintings though. The National Portrait Gallery is cool to pop in because you can see how the royals all started to resemble each other after a few generations. They also do this special exhibit called the BP Portrait Award. Contemporary artists from all over the world submit portrait paintings. It’s….awe inspiring. In fact, pop in just to see that exhibit.
Tate Modern is a must see. I must have went there five times. The building itself is an old power station. It’s got this fun, industrial feel to it. The galleries are arranged in this sort of dreamy flow: poetry and dream, states of flux, energy and process, etc. It’s also situated on the South Bank, right next to Shakespeare’s Globe and the Millennium Bridge. It’s a great place just to plop down outside, eat a sandwich and people watch. Tate Britain is a little out-of-the-way, near the Pimlico tube stop. It focuses on mostly paintings as well. It’s housed in this beautiful old building and the inside is made of this creamy stone. It has loads of paintings from John Singer Sargent, whom I loooove. Both the Tate Modern and Tate Britain do neat showcases in their lobby entrances as well (people dancing, planes, etc).
The Courtauld Gallery (on the Strand) is a smaller art museum with an unbelievable range of works of art. It got this cool, house-like ambiance. It’s free on Monday’s until 2 p.m.
Great (FREE) parks in London:
Most of the parks in London used to be land the royals used for hunting, before London sprawled so much that it now envelopes all of the parks. It’s kind of crazy to think about…..although I did see a fox near our flats in London! There are no bad parks in London either. It was much hotter in London this summer (and there is no open container law), so the green open spaces took on this sort of Midsummer Night’s Dream quality: groups of people sitting under trees, picnicking and drinking wine.
I adored Regent’s Park. It has a lot of pretty paths, open air theater, cafes, and the most stunning rose gardens. I have great memories of spending a good hour smelling the different varieties of roses at this park.
Hampstead Heath, ohhhh, I liked it here. It’s north of the city, but it was the closest park to where I lived and much less crowded. There are no “paths” just open spaces and Parliament Hill (aka Kite Hill) offers great views of London.
Great (FREE) markets in London:
I discovered very quickly that no market in London is bad either.
Borough Market was probably my favorite hang-out on Friday and Saturday mornings. It’s a large farmer’s market with the most incredible range of foods. Get there early before the lunchtime crowds.
Camden Markets is a neat alternative area north of London. I really liked the Stable Markets. Great for shopping, eating and most importantly, people watching.
Columbia Road Flower Market is only open on Sunday mornings. It is crowded, but worth it. Duck behind the street filled with flowers and plants to check out neat shops. Hit up the street vendors for breakfast and sit on the street to listen to the loads of musicians that descend on market day.
Brick Lane has a street market on Sunday, but really any day (or night) is fun to walk down this street. It’s filled with great Indian restaurants, vintage shops and funky people (like astronauts).
Portobello Market is a top market….and tourist destination. It’s a beautiful street and mainly an antiques market, however, too crowded on sunny Saturday afternoons.
Great pub in London:
I went to, like, one pub BUT I researched the one to go to and I think I very well picked the coolest. Ye Old Cheshire Cheese is tucked away, practically hidden in this tiny alley off of Fleet Street. You’d walk right by it if you weren’t looking for it. It’s the cat’s meow of pubs though. Old, low ceilings, tiny staircases, creaky wooden topsy-turvy floors, and a favorite watering hole of great writers. You can also get some authentic fish & chips.
Great (kind of cheap) food in London:
It was weird. I didn’t feel like cooking in London, yet I never really ate out in restaurants in either. I ate a lot of street food, eggs, soup from the supermarket or sandwiches from Pret A Manger. Oh, and chorizo sandwiches. You would have seen most of these on the blog.
The funny thing that I noticed was how many pictures I snagged of people eating. I really didn’t even do it consciously, but most of my pictures of people are of them eating food.
Great day trips from London:
Sometimes it’s fun to get out of the city. These are all great day trips that I took from central London.
Windsor is only about 45 minutes from central London and it’s fun to visit Windsor Castle.
Greenwich is fun to get to by boat on the River Thames. Hike up the hill and stand on the Prime Meridian.
Hampton Court Palace is less than an hour away. Henry VIII used to live there and they have a maze, gorgeous gardens and the world’s oldest living vine.
Canterbury has cathedrals, abbey ruins and a lively city center but my favorite thing to do was float down the canal.
Oxford is a beautiful university town. It was fun to see the dining hall that was used for the Harry Potter films.
Cambridge is another gorgeous university town where punting is a main attraction.
Bath looks like a sand castle city nestled in the hills of England. Stay there for the weekend if you can and see Stonehenge while you are out that way!
Brighton is a funky seaside city. It has a very large pier with rides and carnival-like food. The beaches have large pebbles instead of sand.
- Go to a service at a church (such as Westminster Abbey & St. Paul’s Cathedral) to see the inside for free.
- A few locals used Top Table for restaurant coupons, but since I rarely ate out in restaurants I didn’t use it.
- Some of the students found this website, Days Out Guide UK, and we got some steals on train fare. We went to Brighton for 10 pounds round-trip. Check it out if you are traveling. Also, if you plan on seeing more of the UK, you can buy a British rail pass but you need to purchase it in the States before traveling to the UK.
Whew…..I think that’s the end of the recap. I used the words cool, neat, beautiful, gorgeous, and fantastic way too many times. However, London is all that and more. It all makes me want to go back to London. Right now.