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London My Favorite City
London is my favorite city in the world and it's a place that draw me back to it again and again. My first trip to London at the age of 19 was my first solo trip anywhere. I found a homestay program in one of my guidebooks and so I spent my first several days staying on the outskirts of London near Ealing Broadway. Each morning the older lady I was staying with would come into my room and place a cup of tea by my bedside and then wake me up so I could have breakfast and start my day of sight-seeing. It was like having my own British grandmother.
On that first trip to the UK, which was three weeks long, I was supposed to spend a week in London and then the rest of the time in Liverpool with a pen pal of mine. Well, after traveling up to Liverpool and spending two days with him, I determined we really weren't such great friends after all, so I spontaneously decided to take the ferry from Liverpool to Dublin and make my way to County Galway to see some of my family. Partly, I wanted to go to Ireland. And partly, I just wanted to get away from my penpal and couldn't afford a whole week on my own in England, so family to the rescue!
After a great week in Galway with my relatives who lived out in the middle of nowhere I went back to London for a few more days and ended up staying with some relatives there I didn't even know I had.
One of the funny things about that entire trip was that every single day I was in London it rained. The only time it didn't rain was the week I spent in Ireland.
Other trips to London
After the success of my first trip to London,I was back over there again in 1987. This time I went with some friends of mine at college. We were going to the World Science Fiction Convention in Brighton, England, but we scheduled several extra days around it so we flew into Paris, spent a few days there, took the train/ferry to England, spent several nights in Earls Court, London and then went to the convention down at the Brighton coast.
While at the Convention I met my Australian ex-husband-to-be (*g*) and that led to a return to London in 1988, this time for six months. During that trip I was actually living and working in London. I worked for British Gas and my then-boyfriend worked for British Telecom.
After that trip, I moved to Australia and didn't return to London until after returning to the US permanently so it was about six years before I got to see my favorite city again. Since getting back to the US in 1994, I've been back three times, but it's now been about 3 or 4 years. Between airfares and the exchange right I haven't found the right time to go, but I'm always on the look out for deals :)
More about London
- The London Underground
My hub about using the London Transport System -- known as the London Underground or Tube.
- Where to Stay in London
Where you stay in London in large part depends on what you plan on doing in London while you are there. Here's my neighborhood picks!
- London Theatre Tickets
One of the best reasons to visit London is the theatre. I'm obsessed with it, so I've put together a short resource guide.
When it comes to touring London and what sights you should see, I'm the worst possible person to ask. I didn't even get around to visiting the Tower of London until my fifth trip to the UK. I hitchhiked all the way to Stonehenge and then stayed outside the gate because I thought the tickets were too expensive. There are dozens of high profile museums I've never visited. I spend most of my time shopping, eating, visiting and drinking with friends, and going to the theatre.
During the six months that I lived in London, we went to the theatre every weekend and I always cram in at least one or two shows while there. I've seen Derek Jacobi play Richard II and Richard II, Ralph Fiennes in Ivanov, Rowan Atkinson in Chekhov's The Sneeze, and Diana Rigg in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. The list goes on and on. If you want to see amazing actors in great productions, London is the place to do it and tickets are cheaper than Broadway for comparable seats.
On my last trip to London, I actually spent two days holed up with some friends of mine in their apartment drinking vodka and watching episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer I'd already seen at home. And my first night of that trip was spent holed up in my hotel room talking to another British friend of mine on the phone all night long. So I tend to treat London more like a place I live than a place to visit as a tourist *g* I go to just be there because when I'm there I feel like I am in the place I was meant to be. It feels like home to me.
That said though, I do have some favorite neighborhoods and areas to just hang out and soak in the atmosphere. Here are some of my favourite places in London.
One of my favorite neighborhoods is Knightsbridge, home of Harrods and Harvey Nicks (Harvey Nichols, to those of you who don't watch Absolutely Fabulous). In my 20s I rarely spent any time in Knightsbridge, much preferring Sloane Square and Kings Road with all it's punk shops and antique stores. But over time my tastes have changed so I tend to visit Knightsbridge at some point. The Food Hall alone at Harrods is worth the trip and I rarely make it beyond the first floor. I also usually go to Harvey Nichols for lunch. They have a great restaurant there and I'll pick up a couple of bottles of wine at Harvey Nichols as well. Across from Harrods is the Burberry store and I always go inside to drool over all their great handbags. I love the Burberry plaid, but I'm way too cheap to ever buy it!
Leicester Square Signpost
Piccadilly Circus and the West End
To my mind, Piccadilly Circus is the absolute heartbeat of London. It is to London what Times Square is to New York City. It is noisy, bold and brash. Huge neon signage crowds up against buildings that are hundreds of years old and all day long and late into the night it is just jammed with humanity. Be sure to go into Virgin Records as well. If you visit Picadilly Circus and don't visit Virgin Records you are a crazy person.
If your intention is just to wander on foot for awhile I think Piccadilly Circus is a great place to start because it is the hub of a spoked wheel that stretches out into Leicester Square, Soho, and Regent Street, and then Oxford Street. Most of the major theatres are an easy walk from here, as are Trafalgar Square, Charing Cross Road, Shaftsbury Ave and Covent Garden. On any visit to London I spend most of my time in this immediate area, and broadly the entire area referred to as London's West End.
I visit Leicester Square to check the half-price tickets board for the theatre or to see a movie (this is where all the big celebrity premieres take place), Soho for shopping and dining, Charing Cross Road for bookstores and theatres, Covent Garden and the surrounding area for more shopping and eating. This is where I'll end up buying touristy knickknacks to take home, and then Regent Street for yet more shopping. Occasionally I will also wander up into Oxford Street, but I tend to spend less time there because the shops on Oxford Street are more or less akin to the shops you'd find in any American mall, i.e. they are chain stores. Also, Oxford Street is usually so crowded that I start to get edgy and annoyed.
Have I mentioned that I love to shop? I don't even really buy that much when I visit London. I jut like to look at everything. I don't cram this all into one day though I do tend to spend a lot of time crossing back and forth across Leicester Square.