Today (February 1, 2016): 10 things to do in and around London.
As one of the most recognizable cities on the planet, London is a frequent stop for tourists traveling in Europe. In some instances, it’s a convenient starting point for a tour around the continent, and in others it’s a full destination in and of itself. Either way, it’s a magnificent city that deserves some thorough attention if you ever get the chance to travel to the area. But like a lot of the world’s great cities, there’s so much to see and do there that planning a trip can be a little dizzying. I wanted to share with you 10 of my best tips for what to do in and around the city.
If you have your own suggestions to add for a perfect trip to London, please add to this list in the comments section, or take my poll below.
I’ll start with the London Eye because it’s just the sort of apparent tourist trap that a lot of seasoned travelers might avoid. In this case, I recommend you forget about the image of being “touristy” and take a ride on what’s essentially a giant ferris wheel on the edge of the River Thames. The view of the city from the top is unparalleled.
One of the most surprising things for a lot of visitors to London is that the city is so walkable. It’s quite large, to be sure, but a lot of the best sights and most well-known areas are fairly close together. For this reason a walking tour can be a great way to see a lot of the sights in a relatively short amount of time. Here, you can find several different ways to enjoy the city on foot, and to an extent you can tailor a walk to your specific interests.
London has a lot of famous shopping streets and districts but Oxford Street is arguably the best of them all. If you tend to enjoy seeing this side to a city, or even if you’re just curious about the area, it’s worth a stop. There are department stores, high-end shops, and even side streets that function as miniature shopping districts of their own.
I mentioned that you can see a lot of the key sights in London through a walking tour or exploration of a few main areas, but Westminster Abbey is one landmark that merits a special stop. It’s a gorgeous building on the outside, an even more incredible spectacle within, and its history is simply breathtaking. This list of famous scholars, political figures, and artists buried and/or memorialized in the Abbey (including the likes of Jane Austen and Lewis Carroll) makes the place feel almost like an historical museum.
Hyde Park is no quaint little meadow where you can rest your legs and sit on a bench for an hour. It’s a sprawling, 350-acre area filled with walking and cycling paths, lakes, swimming spots, and even places to go horseback riding. But it still functions as a wonderful place to take a break from the city, or really to spend an entire day.
Another wonderful thing about London and the UK in general is that it’s fairly compact, and a day trip can expose you to a whole different part of the country. And one of the best ways to spend such a day is by taking a trip through the beautiful Cotswolds and to Cheltenham for an annual horse racing competition that’s one of the most enjoyable events in the country. According to this site, the Cheltenham Festival as a four-day occasion with highlight races and different themes for each day. It’s a wonderful chance to enjoy the festive side of British culture, and it’s perfectly accessible from London.
For another sporting occasion that keeps you in the city, try to take in the London Boat Race if you happen to be in the area in March. This is a collegiate contest held between Oxford and Cambridge that’s been a tradition for nearly 200 years. The race itself is usually close and compelling, but it’s also a pretty wonderful spectacle to see people lining the sides of the Thames to pause their lives and watch.
Another idea for a day trip is to travel south to take in one (or even a few) of the country’s famous medieval castles. The Tower Of London is actually a popular attraction in this same category, but Bodiam Castle in East Sussex is perfectly accessible and stands as one of the most impressive castles in the UK. Built in the 14th century by a knight under King Edward III, it resembles a lot of people’s fairy tale image of a moated, high-walled castle. It also still looks capable of fending off attacks.
London is pretty big on live performance, but why anyone would seek out a play anywhere else before checking in on the Globe Theater is beyond me. Yes, it’s only a replica of the original theater that Shakespeare essentially turned into his home venue. But it feels like a piece of history, it still showcases Shakespeare’s plays as they were viewed hundreds of years ago, and it’s in a lovely location right on the river.
London seems to gain a better reputation for cuisine just about every year. There’s plenty of local fare, there are lots of French restaurants, and in general there’s a satisfying and varied international influence. But this ranking of the world’s best Indian food outside of India identifies the capital of the UK as one of the top options. It may sound like a strange recommendation, but a good Indian restaurant in London is about the best food you’ll find in town!