London. The kingdom of fashionable wizards and a myriad of tea flavors (tea really is a big deal there). A harmonious blend of high and low cultures—a mecca of fine arts and street art, theater and dub step, The Queen and drag shows. The natural rival of New York and Philadelphia COMBINED.
Yes, I could forever continue these grand yet subtle truths of Londontown. In fact there are an infinite number of blogs, books, and YouTube videos that do just that, so I’ll stop now. I’m a Philly native and I lived in London for about five months. What I am going to do is give some suggestions that I think any Philadelphian will appreciate if they are to travel to London, England.
COMMUNTING: Transportation in London could potentially be one of the heftiest dents in the traveling budget; it’s helpful to plan ahead. The London Transportation System includes the Underground (the sub) with the London buses, the London Tramlink, DLR, the London part of the National Rail and the London River Services
There are tons of things to do in different neighborhoods so plan a head. Depending on how long you stay you many want you get an OYSTER card, the UK version of a transpass. You can “top-up” or charge either pay as you go credit (5, 10, or 20 pounds) or a seasonal ticket to your Oyster Card. When you get an Oyster Card, you have to pay 5 pounds for it, and 2 extra pounds worth of credit, BUT the first 5 pounds are refundable if you decide to return the card (wish SEPTA did this). For more info: http://www.etravelblog.com/public-transport-in-london/
First thing everyone wants to see are the historical sights—as they should. The Identity of the city centers on these sights.
-Buckingham Palace and Pall Mall (If you really wanna be fancy—attend a High Tea at the Kensington Palace Orangery).
-Tower of London & London Bridge are sites that can be done together. While there take a visit to the Southwark neighborhood and take a piece of the Shard, the tallest skyscraper in London.
-Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Parliament, & the London Eye (all within walking distance of one another. These sights can all be experienced simultaneously in one day).
-Trafalgar Square, an awesome public area with photo ops that Instagram is just waiting to exploit.
-Piccadilly Circus, not actually a circus. It’s actually a plaza at the heart of London that connects to 5 major streets: Regent Street, Shaftesbury Avenue, Piccadilly and Covent Street. Piccadilly Circus is now partly pedestrianized and a favorite place for people to congregate before going to the nearby shopping and entertainment areas. Soho, Chinatown, Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square are close in proximity via foot or tube. Piccadilly Circus is also a great place to catch a theatre show! A personal recommendation would be ‘39 Steps’, a prime example of British humor.
-Hyde Park, the Fairmount Park of London (Go to Speaker’s corner on a Sunday). It’s a huge park, surrounded by several small bodies of water, tons of wildlife, and seasonal attractions. The
-MUSEUMS. Get cultured for FREE! My favorites: Natural History, Victoria & Albert Museum, Tate Modern and Tate Britain. Feel guilt free skipping Madame Tussands, it’s not worth the money, or time when so many museums and parks are free.For more info on other attractions check out: http://www.aviewoncities.com/london.htm
MARKETS: When I first arrived in London, adjusting to the food was a difficulty. No matter where I ventured to eat, there’d be that one ingredient thrown into a seemingly normal dish that ruined the entire meal (out of nowhere the hint of pickled beets would be found… in a bagel). I suffered. Or at least until I found the magic of the markets; there are many outdoor-community markets to get good eats and eclectic knick-knacks. (If you’re going to need to go food shopping, go to cost efficient Sainsbury’s)
-Portobello Market (MY FAVORITE) is located in the Notting Hill section of West London. Days of operation are Friday to Sunday. Anything from vintage clothes to antique kettles can be bought in this location. Many vendors are up for bartering! The best crepes and some of the coolest street art along with the only Mexican food spot in Londontown can be found right here!
-Borough Market is a wholesale food market of deliciousness located just south of the London Bridge. Hours of operation are separated by Fruit wholesale at 4am-8am on Monday s through Fridays. The Farmers’ Market hours are from 12pm to 5pm Fridays and Saturdays from 10am to 4pm.
-Camden Market near Regent’s Canal in Camden town in North West London is another amazing market. Here you can find goods, music, collectables, military-surplus, jewelry, incense and clothing.
-Old Spitalfields Market, located in East London on Crispin Street, is one of London's busiest areas on Sundays with hundreds of market stalls specializing in fashion, art, design and vintage with restaurants and food. Old Spitalfields Market is open 6 days a week, with its busiest day being Sunday.
-Covent Garden Market was originally a flower market but the original market building is now a shopping and tourist attraction. There is an indoor market containing stalls selling jewelry, specialty soaps, and tourist souvenirs in the West End of London. This 18th century prostitute quarter has been transformed into a trendy area of shopping alleyways.There are many more markets, more info just click: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_markets_in_London
SHOPPING: Apparently, hipsters are a global pandemic. With that said, note that you can find H&M, Urban Outfitters, and American Apparel throughout London...but do try to stay away from these hipster havens. Do check out:
-TopShop: very trendy shop that is distinctly London in its flair and quirkiness. Pay a little more for excellent quality and top trends. One trip and you won’t be coming back to Philly looking like anyone else. http://www.topshop.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/TopCategoriesDisplay?storeId=12556&catalogId=33057
-Primark: is a Forever 21- H&M mesh that’s super easy on the pounds and so the dollars. HOURS can be spent in this store, but be prepared. Primark is a madhouse on the weekends. A Saturday day of Primark shopping can turn into traumatic experience; people in the UK don’t abide by the “personal bubble” rule. Try going on a Thursday. http://www.primark.co.uk/
-Harrods: This whimsical world of excess may be out of the price range for a good portion of items, however, Harrods is a London tradition. Looking at impractical luxury items followed by a natural “I must try on every pair of Ray Bans” session is a rite of passage. Remember the sun never sets on being badass.
Everyday Culture: London is an urban environment in every sense with many similarities to Philadelphia. Londontown is broken into a neighborhood system, with distinct class and ethnicity boundaries much like home. However, it is important to note that the British have their own separate cultural practices and expectations. Pub culture is the norm and to a degree the equivalent to the neighborhood Applebees. This means you don’t be THAT guy who gets drunk and embarrasses Obama and every Mom in America. Stick to the clubs when partying (try the Brixton and Shoreditch areas).
The Brits still read newspapers for the primary source of information, especially when on the tube. In the morning everyone will be busying themselves with their daily dose of the Telegraph… don‘t expect eye contactor for anyone to care that you’re from the same city as the Fresh Prince. Be mindful that the Brits prefer to ride the train in companionable silence.
Note that no one thinks an Austin Powers impression is amusing. Never forget that you are expected to Mind the Gap.