My friend Laura asked me for a list of my 5 favorite things to do in London town. Now, London is one of my favorite places in the world. Even though I've probably only spent less than 4 months in total there to date, which isn't enough, I feel at home every time I go. The hustle and bustle can be exhausting, yes, but the buzz makes it worth it. You're on the pulse of the latest trends, witness to artistic pioneers, and a sponge to an ethnic diversity unlike any other.
She'll be there for 5 days so I've taken the liberty of 5 suggested afternoons, since I don't think I could list just 5 things!
Do the hop-on, hop-off London Sightseeing Tour. I've never done it but I wish I had. A mistake I always make is that I get everywhere using only the tube (I only rarely take the bus since I find it less convenient) and never get to appreciate London scenery. I know it's corny but you get the gist of history you want and you get to see a lot (Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Marble Arch, London Eye, etc.), if only from a distance. London is HUGE and it has SO MUCH you'll want to see, so be selective and get off at only one stop because anyone of those stops will likely take the whole afternoon. The tour alone takes about 2 and a half hours (not including the commute to the departure points)! Here's a map of the three different options offered by the touring company I suggested above. I recommend the yellow tour or the blue tour. Pick anything that tickles your fancy and spend the afternoon visiting it at a leisurely pace. You'll want to take your time because, chances are, if you ever go back to London you won't visit the place again.
Visit the Sir John Soane Museum. It should only take a couple of hours but it's nothing like anything I've ever seen. Sir John Soane was a neo-classical English architect who was an antiquarian. The museum was his house, as he left it, filled with everything he collected; ancient bronze sculptures, paintings by Hogarth, even a sarcophagus. It's one of my favorite places in London and it's free. For what it offers, it's comparable to the British Museum but it's so much cooler because you're walking through this old geezer's house! The Old Curiosity Shop, the oldest extant shop in London, is in the area. They sell shoes now. If I were you I'd make the trip to the museum and then head out of of Holborn as the museum is really the highlight of the area.
TOPSHOP Oxford Circus. Honestly this place keeps growing in size and is now the greatest place on EARTH! If London is a Mecca of fashion then this is your souvenir store. It will take you a few hours to get through this store because it's busy, there's so much to love and you won't want to miss anything. If you get overwhelmed with all the choices they have a style advisor, basically a stylist, to help you style the perfect outfit or answer any other questions you might have. If you're frazzled there's a hair salon that will style you a new do in less than half an hour for 20 quid. Oxford Circus is the zenith for accessible shopping, so there's also an H&M, a Mango, a Miss Selfridge (which you won't want to miss!), to name a few. It is overstimulation of the senses, consider this your warning.
The Victoria and Albert Museum. There are sooooo many museums and houses and palaces worth visiting in London. Being a decorative arts and design museum, the V&A, in my opinion, is a cut above the others. However if you'd prefer something else, I propose these other diverting options:
Tate Modern - for contemporary art.
National Portrait Gallery - LOVE THIS ONE! You get to see portraits from Tudor Royalty to the contemporary glitterati. SO COOL!
Geffrye Museum - a little out of the way but worth it. Physical history of the English living room through the ages. Currently has an exhibit on the eco-home.
There are tons of choices but to not overwhelm you I'm restraining. Here are to other interesting options. Oh! and all museums are free!
Go to a market! Camden, Spitalfields, Brick Lane, Portobello, Borough, any market! Be sure to check when they are open, schedules change depending on the day. Camden (smörgasboard of street culture shtuff) and Portobello (antiques, vintage duds & food) are my favorite so far but I'm dying to see Sunday (Up)Market.
Extra optional excurions:
Knightsbridge. Walk through Harrods and Harvey Nichols and then stroll through Hyde Park. Walk along the serpentine and enjoy one of the quieter spots of the city. It's so beautiful. Harrods and Harvey Nichols are the luxury department stores you want to see because you can imagine how the princesses and Al-Fayeds of the world shop. It will make you sick if you glance at the prices, so don't. Just appreciate that this is commercialism at its 'finest'. It is something to see. The women shopping around are usually dressed to the nines and can make you green with envy or in my case, overwhelmed/disgusted. I know I'm doing a great job at selling it but again, it is something to see.
I'm dying to return after this entry. Too. Much.
Time Out London is always helpful as well, and they have a london-on-the-cheap guide that should take you far.
Have fun Laura! Wish I were going with! x0x