London is a dynamic, sprawling, world-class city with endless possibilities for the interested traveller. But with so many attractions on the ‘to do list, it can be hard to zone in on the really memorable London experiences. To help you get started, here are eight essential London experiences to diversify your London adventure.
Riding the Tube
Famous for being the first underground railway in the world, the London tube system has developed a culture all of its own. Deep down below the city streets, there are social norms, group expectations and forms of expression unlike anywhere else. While also notorious for being congested, confusing and easy to bring to a grinding halt (especially with snow), the tube system, with its 11 underground lines and 270 stations, quite effectively transports millions of people across London every day, making it your best transport bet and a rich source of people watching.
To access this must-see part of London, you can buy and credit an electronic Oyster Card from a station or convenience store to get cheaper fares and avoid queuing for single tickets. Fares are charged per zone and most visitors will only need to move around zones 1-2. While the tube can be a bit bewildering at first, take strength from the general consensus that if you can master the London tube, you can breeze through any rail network in the world. For more information,visit a tube station (as indicated by the red and blue circular symbols on the street) or visit the Transport for London website.
Drinking a Pint in a Pub in London
The long history of the English ‘public house’ or ‘free house’ is well represented by the thousands of pubs throughout London. This is where you go to see workers unwinding, football fans cheering, old men drink you under the table and folk with every English accent you can imagine. Just order an ale, a stout, a larger or cider in a whopping 568 millilitre imperial pint, then sit back and watch London culture in action.
Going to See the Royals
Whether or not you’re interested in Duchess Mary’s new spring look or Prince Harry’s exotic adventure, there is no denying that London is wrapped up in the lives of the royal family. To have a pseudo royal encounter, head to Buckingham Palace to watch the guards march at 11.30am, or Westminster Abbey to see the Coronation Chair or Hyde Park to see the royal swans on Serpentine Lake. You can also join the locals in a bit of royal goss by picking up a daily mag or free paper and reading it on the tube with fellow travellers reading over your shoulder while trying to look disinterested in all things royal.
Spotting a Pearly King or Queen
Recognising a tradition established in 1875 by the London orphan, Henry Croft, the pearly kings and queens wear a distinctive suit decorated in pearl buttons as a mark of working class families raising money for local charities. If you have the rare pleasure of spotting a pearly in you London travels, you’ll likely be gawking at their shiny suit and wondering why Londoners will pass without blinking an eye.
Sitting At the Front of a Double Decker Bus in London
The big red London double-decker buses have been iconic since their introduction to the city transport system in the 1940s. Not only is a double-decker a great way to see the city suburbs, but it gives a wonderful insight to oddball London commuters.
London buses are mostly double-deckers, running pretty much anywhere in the city around the clock. You can buy a ticket on the bus for a couple of pounds, or use an oyster card to touch on at the start of your journey. Timetables can be found at the stops or on the Transport for London website.
Wandering a Market or Two
London’s market culture has been passed down from a tradition of street produce vendors that once served as the city’s primary supply chain. Today London markets offer more than foody delights, with markets specialising in antiques, books, clothes, art, brick-a-brac and almost everything in between. They are the home of quick-whited hawkers, colourful street buskers, harmless neighbourhood drunks and the budding business minds. They are the place to find a morning coffee, a vintage bargain, a community buzz and some fresh cut flowers.
There is a market every day of the week somewhere in London, but Saturdays and Sundays offer a regular high street market in most suburbs, as well as the biggest and the best markets in the city. For more information about the London market experience, have a read of the London Town Traveller’s guide the wonderful world of London markets.
Photographing the River Thames by Night
Every night the blue hue from the London Eye dances across the glassy Thames, melding with the orange glow of parliament and the bright white of the city streets. The foggy city sky looks orange overhead and the fairy-lit trees add a twinkle to the frame as photographers line the banks in search for the perfect snap.
Whether you are a keen photographer or a bewitched tourist, the evening lights across London’s River Thames are best enjoyed with a camera in hand to capture the view. To see the best that the night river has to offer, wander between the Tower Bridge and Lambeth Bridge in Central London.
Getting Out of London
It may sound like an odd London experience, but one of the best things you can do from London is leave the city centre. With more than 30 boroughs radiating up to 70 kilometres from the city centre, the vast London sprawl is something many tourists don’t see. A trip to one of the vibrant zone two or three suburbs, like Brixton or Tooting reveals a new mix of culture in the city’s complex character. You can also take a day trip or weekender to the nearby Stonehenge, Bath, Bristol or Brighton for a peek at the wider urban life and an insight to how British non-Londoners see London.