There are so many “must sees’ in London that it can get a little overwhelming. On a recent visit, we checked off a good chunk of the guidebook top attractions and we also made a few of our own discoveries. Read about our “top five”—a completely subjective list, in no particular order, of experiences that we enjoyed. “We”, as in middle-aged parents and 17-year-old son. Said son was most interested in visiting the pubs, but sadly for him he was just three months shy of being able to do this without his old parents in tow.
Tally Ho Cycling Tours of London
Cycling in London…you don’t say? It was the perfect start to our holiday and jolly good fun. Unencumbered by maps and guidebooks, we were safely led through the back streets (and a few main streets) of London stopping at famous landmarks and hidden gems, and marveling at the city’s incredible holiday lights display. We enjoyed it so much that we signed on for another tour a few days later. Jack and Tom, our Tally Ho Cycling guides, provided just the right combination of fun and facts about history, culture, and architecture. Amazingly, I felt completely safe cycling on my cushy bike in downtown London. Perhaps the beer and mulled wine stops took the edge off…Tally Ho!
Yeoman Warder’s Tour at the Tower of London
For me, reading plaques and displays can be a little dull, even if the subject is about fascinating stuff like beheadings and Crown Jewels. The one-hour Tower of London tour, included in the admission price, is led by Yeomen Warders (better known as Beefeaters), who work and live inside the walls of the Tower. Despite the crowds, this was probably the most interesting, and definitely the most entertaining tour of any historic site I have visited. Our guide, a highly gifted orator, kept us enthralled with stories about early sewage issues, grisly executions, colourful monarchs, and conflict with the French (his playful dissing of the French was hysterical). Get to this site early as the queues are long.
Eating at Weekend Markets
If food is involved, my son is happy. It was Christmas all over again at Borough Market as he chowed down on goat shawarma, gyozas, carrot cake, chai tea…you get the picture. The market, not far from the south bank of London Bridge, is a mouth-watering cornucopia of cheeses, meats, produce, baked goods and all kinds of delicious take-away items. Borough Market is in full-swing Wednesday-Saturday.
Equally appealing, but attracting a younger, edgier crowd, are the Sunday markets at Spitalfields and along Brick Lane (the Sunday UpMarket). These markets serve up a huge assortment of dishes with some particularly yummy South Asian delicacies. The curry aromas en route are dreamy. This area is also a treasure trove for vintage clothing, furniture and music. Take the tube to Liverpool or Shoreditch stations.
West End Show
Yes it was a tad expensive, but watching a couple of musicals in London’s glitzy theatre district was money well spent. We laughed hysterically during the wonderfully over the top and irreverent Book of Mormon. Discounted last minute tickets can be purchased at a booth in Leicester Square, but if you know what show you’re interested in it’s worthwhile going directly to the theatre to see what’s available that day. We picked up tickets for Sunny Afternoon—a great show if you’re a fan of The Kinks. My son commented that most folks were about 40 years older than him, but I caught him rocking to “You Really Got Me” and “Lola”.
Houses of Parliament Tour
This tour, which is best booked online, follows the footsteps of The Queen at the state opening of parliament—a lavish ceremony steeped in history. We walked from room to room, through ornate halls adorned with grand paintings, sculptures and tapestries. Our guide skilfully relayed the stories behind the art and architecture and explained the workings of the House of Lords and House of Commons. I booked this tour thinking that it would be a good educational experience for my son who is taking a course in Law and is interested in politics. Personally I was a bit worried that a 75-minute tour focusing on politics might be a bit of a bore. Boy was I wrong.
Is that five already! Check out the amazing architecture and street art that caught my eye, and my emotions, while wandering through London. Visit my next post.