A bit of domestic tourism for today. Or rather, not tourism at all, since I live in London and have done all my life. Every so often I read articles about things to do in London and tbh they are quite stupid. I read one today:
- Changing of the guard
- Go to the pub to…
- … have a pint.
And so on and so forth.
I don’t want to pooh-pooh everything touristy in London because some of it is great. However, most of it is expensive and inauthentic, designed to fleece tourists while giving nothing back in return. Therefore, I thought I’d write a list of some easy replacements of touristy things with better things (also generally cheaper things).
1. Instead of The London Eye, how about Sky Garden?
Admittedly, I’ve never been here, but it’s on my list! Listen, the London Eye is very very very expensive and takes a long time. Sky Garden is free, you can stay for as long as you want and the view is (almost) exactly the same (I hear).
While you’re in the area, you can do some people watching. The area to the north/east of Fenchurch Street is called the Square Mile and it’s where they do all of the business that makes London rich. Go at lunchtime to watch stressed bankers and lawyers grab their daily Pret.
2. Looking for greenery? Forget Hyde Park, check out Hampstead Heath
I only slightly understand why so many tourists go to Hyde Park (or indeed Green Park or St. James’ Park). It’s in town and seems very convenient. It’s also exceptionally ugly and boring.
Get to Hampstead Heath on the Northern Line to Hampstead or the overground (not advisable) or the 168 from near the British Museum. It’s so much better.
There’s also a lot to do. I recently went into Kenwood House for the first time (usually we can’t go in as we are wearing big walking boots) and it was excellent: it has a very famous Rembrandt and the library is swell (and it’s free). You can also go swimming at any time of the year in one of the ponds, but be warned that the queue is unreasonable on a sunny weekend. There is also a beautiful view over London from Parliament Hill (or Kite-flying hill to the locals).
Afterwards, go for a pub lunch at the Spaniards or a nice pint at the Flask, or bring a picnic and eat in the park.
3. If you want some theatre, leave the West End and go somewhere trendier
Obviously, the West End has some of the best theatre in the world. It’s also very expensive. Finally, the quality for some of the tourist musicals (*cough* Aladdin *cough*) is very low because they know it doesn’t matter. This can leave a very bad taste in your mouth.
Instead, check out something better.
Off the top of my head, check out for the Mernier Chocolate Factor in London Bridge, the Hampstead Theatre in Swiss Cottage, the Southwark Playhouse in (you guessed it) Southwark, the Almeida in Islington, the Tricycle in Kilburn, the Royal Court in Sloan Square or the St James Theatre in Victoria.
4. British Museum: skip the Romans and find something you like
I frequently visit the British Museum because I love it and it’s free. However, the number of tourists I see sullenly walking around the Greek and Roman exhibits when there’s so much more to see in rooms that are practically empty.
There’s a ritual sacrifice knife in the Mexico room. There’s a room filled with Chinese porcelain that so thin and pure it glows.There’s a Japanese scroll that they only bring out 4 times a year because it’s so delicate (you might want to check the timings on this one).
Sometimes they even let you touch stuff, just ask at the desk if any volunteers are about that day.
Finally, if you aren’t liking what you see, just leave! It’s not compulsory and it’s free so nobody cares if you just take a turn around the Great Court and then go somewhere else. Oxford Street is just round the corner. Speaking of which…
5. For retail therapy, give Oxford Street a miss and hit up Camden Market instead
Oxford Street is the worst. It’s only acceptable on weekday mornings. I understand that there are lots of shops but really, I mean really, it’s horrific.
Camden, on the other hand, has lots of nice shops, lots less people (especially during the day) and you’ll get something unique and beautiful instead of an H&M top you could absolutely get at home.
In case anyone thinks I’m too ‘NW’ focused, you could always check out Brick Lane. It’s not as much fun as it was but the atmosphere is still nice and the food is smashing.
6. For a real look at politics, turn left at Big Ben and settle down in St. Stephen’s Tavern
I mean, feel free to take the photo where it looks like you are touching/pushing/kicking the Palace of Westminster. Whatever.
But once you’ve done that, take in the sights and smells of St. Stephen’s Tavern. It’s on the corner of Whitehall and Parliament Square and it’s so Westminster that there’s a bell in the bar to tell MPs when to go and vote. You will definitely see an MP or civil servant when you’re in there (regardless of the time of day), although you probably won’t recognise them!
7. Madame Tussauds? Try the Museums on Exhibition Road instead
I went to Madame Tussauds one time, which is more than most people in London. If you’re a tourist, please tell me: why did you go? What attracted you? Were you satisfied?!
Exhibition Road, on the other hand, has three museums, but the best are obviously the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum.
The National History Museum, on the other hand, is great. Instead of the 100 year old dead wax people, try 100 million year old moving plastic dinosaurs. Plus a massive blue whale and the Earth Galleries, which are so nineties and great.
The Science Museum, on the other hand, has Launchpad (although you need a child for that) and aeroplanes and space ships and the best gift shop in London.
And they’re both free. Did I mention that?
8. Instead of the Open Top Bus tours, just walk (or get an Oyster Card)
I promise you, London is not that big. Everything is much closer together than in Paris or Vienna, for example. There are helpful signs everywhere telling you where to go. The only thing that is far away is Tower Bridge, which is on the other side of the City.
If you walk, you see more of the actual city you’ve come to visit. It gets you out of that ‘sight sight sight’ tourist mentality. If you walk, you get tired more easily and then you stop in little cafes (not Costa, please not Costa) or grab a cola and sit on a wall and watch the world for a while. I walk everywhere I go, whether in London or abroad, and it’s just better. Please walk.
However, I understand that if you have children or short legs (or children with short legs) then walking is not an option. In that case, please get Oyster Cards or travel cards and go it alone. You’ll have a proper adventure and the transport is really very easy to use, I promise.
9. Have fun!
Tourists, why are you always so grumpy? London isn’t going anywhere, and even if it’s you whose going somewhere, cramming it all in will just make you hate the holiday.
You can slow down, chill out, miss out a sight. If you don’t enjoy going to museums and art galleries at home then why do you make yourself go when abroad? Do something you actually like doing: go to the park, eat out, read a book, whatever.
London is filled with beautiful, magical things: the other day I walked along a public footpath that went through an office. I have no idea where it was and could never find it again. This is the city where Platform Nine and Three Quarters is, the Leaky Cauldron, the Ministry of Magic, St Mungo’s. It’s the city where Thomas de Quincy took opium and Nell Gwyn grew up. In London, my granny drank champagne and ignored the Blitz and my parents met at university.
Take a moment.
With love x