We love traveling and there is so much to see in our world! One of the places I have always wanted to go was London. During the April/May round of Solidarity Sisters I got to know Alessia. She’s from London and I knew she was the perfect person to share a few places that are a must see for a first time visitor to her beautiful city!
It’s difficult to choose 5 places to see in London: it’s such an amazing city, and it’s so big and full of things that it’s possible to make top 5 places for every possible interest someone has. So, when faced with this question, I have thought of it as such: “Which are the 5 places that can give someone from outside the best idea of what London is about?”.
The Victoria and Albert Museum
While all the museums in London have great offers, I think nothing speaks more of what London is about than the V&A. Situated in South Kensington, not far from the area most known for antique shops and Georgian architecture, and side by side to one of the most stunning churches ever built (most commonly known as the Brompton Oratory), the V&A is a collection of history, art and design that has its origin in the Great Exhibition of 1851. It is an immersive historical experience, and it’s like the people of Victorian London experiencing for the first time the marvels of design and technology from all over the British Empire. Within walking distance are also the Royal Albert Hall and the Albert Memorial, worth looking at.
You may not be as excited as I am by the prospect of seeing the clothes in which the Admiral Lord Nelson died at Trafalgar, but this Unesco site with the Maritime Museum, Queen’s House, Royal Observatory, old fashioned food shops and lovely 18th century maritime town feel (enhanced by the presence of the Cutty Sark) is one of London’s gems. If you can forget the sight of the modern buildings in Canary Wharf it feels like taking a step back in time. Getting there by DLR is an experience in itself, as it’s a train going by the docklands with no driver (so catch the front seat in the direction of travel and enjoy the ride!).
All of the Royal parks are amazing, and there are such lovely views of St James’s Park, but they are nothing in comparison with seeing stags and a view down to St Paul’s Cathedral from the highest point in the park. To be followed by a walk down the river and a drink on the terrace looking over it at one of the trendy bars in the town. A quick trip across the bridge from the main shopping district will uncover some high quality charity shops, where it’s easy to find a designer bargain if lucky.
The City of London
Announced by a dragon at the site of the old walls, the City of London (currently its own administration since time immemorial, still functioning with the same system as in medieval time) is mostly known nowadays for being one of the world’s financial centres, but at weekends it becomes almost a ghost town and you can see roughly the city as it was when London was just that big. It also has the Museum of London, where more on the history of how London became the metropolis we know, and roman ruins are still visible at the Guildhall. If you go during the week (prepare for enormous queues at lunchtime!), you will get access to churches and other places of interest, including St Andrew’s Holborn, which has been in the backdrop of the life of Dr Sacheverell (a much unappreciated historical period on which I wrote my dissertation) and where 19th century PM Benjamin Disraeli was baptised.
A trip to London wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the theatre, whether it’s a musical in the West End or an independent production in smaller theatres, standing for 3h at the Globe or chasing celebrities at the National Theatre and more. There are plenty of options for as low as £5 per ticket, and many important names (especially British actors) are on the stage quite often. It really is a big part of the culture here. Theatre-goers also benefit from reasonably priced 2 and 3 courses menus in nice restaurants in Covent Garden (Boulevard Brasserie on Wellington Street is great for French food).
Wherever you go, though, you can’t avoid at least a drink in one of the many traditional English pubs at every corner, because, really, if there is something London is about it’s bringing people together over a drink (for those who don’t drink alcohol, there are plenty nice non-alcoholic traditional drinks like a good old Victorian lemonade, ginger beer or elderflower cordial). Some pubs are historical (as far back as the Middle Ages in some cases!) and worth a visit for that alone.