My wife and I are headed over to London for 10 days at the end of June and we are, suffice it to say, looking forward to the adventure. We are doing the research, digging into the guide books (RS' and otherwise), prowling the websites, you name it. What I am seeking now is your input on the intangibles. What are some of your favorite London locales/events/stores/pubs/restaurants? I am particularly interested in the kind of places you may have only stumbled by accident upon but which then turned out to be among your trip's highlights. Thanks in advance for the insights.
I don't kid myself that no one else knows about these. But for your consideration, some special spots:
1) Syon Vista at Kew Gardens.
2) Treetop Walk, Kew Gardens.
3) Also, reading "The Little Book of the London Underground" whilst (speaking Proper English when in the UK) on the Tube, it gives you something to do other than the very transparent setting up of the Evening Standard as a portable partition between you and your fellow passengers.
I'm not sure I've stumbled upon much, although just walking down a random street can be rewarding. I always make deliberate plans to stock up on cheese at Neil's Yard Dairy and to see "serious" theater at the National Theatre and perhaps the Old Vic (but have not yet been in the proper summer months for seeing plays at Shakespeare's Globe).
Brian, after looking in vain for a central London hotel last year, I expanded my search to B & B's and we found a great one in Muswell Hill, in North London. It's about a thirty minute Tube ride on the Piccadilly Line, and what we enjoyed about it was that it was sort of a slice of life in a cool area. One could likely find this in any direction from central London, but we found Muswell Hill with its nice village atmosphere, a number of very good restaurants, the Alexandra Palace, and some nice views of London. It's nothing like a Stonehenge or Cambridge, just a nice change of pace from the hustle and bustle of London. It was our last stop on a three week trip, and it was perfect.
The other really memorable thing we did was to take in a play whilst in London. We saw Monty Python's Spamalot at The Playhouse, and with a crowd that seemed to be a majority of Brits, so that was great.
Well, I wouldn't say that no one else knows about it, but one of my favorites is Waterstones Bookshop Picadilly.
It has six floors of books, great travel book section, great maps for driving or traveling in England, great books on English history, and that is just a small part of the bookstore. You can spend hours browsing, just to relax from the pace of sightseeing. There is a cafe/bar on the fifth floor where you can get coffee and a sandwich or pastry and just unwind.
The small hidden park adjacent to St James of Piccadilly. Perfect spot for a coffee from the Coffee Nero, Tea and Tattle in Bloomsbury, Cow and Coffee Bean in Regents park, walking along the Regents Canal, Mudchute Farm and Park, evensong at St. Brides of Fleet Street, the Art Deco of the Blackfriar Pub, the Jim Henson Memorial Bench in the Hampstead Heath, Karl Marx's grave in Highgate Cemetary, tea dance at Spitafield's Market, Trinity Buoy Wharf art center and Wilton's Music Hall off of Grace's Alley.
The Priory Church of St Bartholomew the Great, in Smithfield. The entrance is now through a Tudor building, but once you enter, parts of it are a Norman church that was built in 1123.
On the northern edge of Regent's Park (which is a lovely place for a walk), you will find Regent's Canal. There is a towpath beside it upon which one may walk west to a neat little place called Little Venice. Also available at the northern edge of the park is a canal boat which will take you there. Little Venice is a waterway, with many houseboats parked alongside, at the junction of Regents Canal with Paddington Basin/Grand Union Canal. There you will find many cafes and coffee shops. The neighborhood is beautiful for strolling; townhouses face the waterway, and the canal boats are decorated with bright paint schemes, and colorful flags and flowers. (Can't say that no one else knows about this one; but it was new to me when I found it, and delightful.) The neighborhood is called Maida Vale, and to the east is the neighborhood (and tube stop) St. John's Wood, which is good for strolling, and has restaurants and coffee shops. Lots of celebrities and rock stars live in St. John's Wood. Nearby is Abbey Road Studio.
The Prospect of Whitby is a historic pub located in Wapping (to the east of the Tower Of London some distance) overlooking the River Thames. It makes the claim to be the oldest Thames-side pub and inn in London, back to the time of Henry VIII. Charles Dickens and Samuel Pepys both drank there. The interior is authentically old and not remodeled; the view is fabulous over the river, and the food and drink are excellent.
The Mayflower Pub is located in Rotherhithe, a historic dockland area on the Thames. From this location, the ship The Mayflower left to go to Southampton to take on supplies and passengers for its voyage to America in 1620. The Mayflower Pub was then known as The Shippe. The Mayflower Pub has a great view over the River Thames, and good food and drink. It's pretty far off the tourist trail, but that's what I enjoyed most about it.
The Cutty Sark Tavern is in Greenwich, on the River Thames waterfront. It is northeast of all the tourist attractions on the waterfront in Greenwich, so it is usually full of locals, not tourists. Great place to get a drink and sandwich or fish and chips while enjoying a view of the river in a historic place.
If you're in Greenwich on a Saturday or Sunday, visit the Greenwich Market, in the town centre. Lots of vendors with food and antiques. I especially liked the food cart selling chocolate-dipped strawberries.
I assume you've already been to the Royal Observatory and National Maritime Museum. (Everyone knows about those.) The Ranger's House is a small art museum worth a look. It's in a quiet area of the park not usually visited by tourists. The Fan Museum is great, and serves an afternoon tea with great scones, cream, and jam.
St. Alfege Church has frequent classical concerts, open to the public. Check the schedule online.
I love cemeteries. Any of the Magnificent Seven but especially Highgate. The old part.. reservations required. Karl Marx in in the new section.. No reservations needed.
Also: Postmans Park, The Hardy Tree, Temple Church.
Southwark has a pretty infamous history, and I love the neighborhood. In the days of Henry VIII it was the seedier side of the river. The Anchor pub was once a stewhouse. We would call it a house of ill-repute, or some such, but in those days it was legal and well, controlled. For the ladies who worked there it was just their day job and they went home at night. Also Southwark has the cathedral and the operating theatre museum and the Borough Market.
I will never tire of London and hope that when you come back you will tell us what you found.
Simply love Cafe in the Crypt adjacent to Trafalgar Square.
Great food, good value, cool ambience.
College Garden at Westminster Abbey. Google this as it is only open certain days and certain times BUT it is one of my favorite places to bring my lunch and soak up the atmosphere. Free admission as well!
Also - Kensington Rooftop Garden on Derry Street off High Street Kensington. Lovely spot to have a drink and be surrounded in beauty! Call first as it is sometimes booked for events.
Mount Street Garden by the catholic church in Mayfair. Another one of my favorites!
While I purposely sought out the Hunterian Museum and the Royal College of Surgeons, the park across the street (Lincoln Fields) was a really great place to stumble across to sit on a bench and eat lunch. Even though it's right in central London, both the park and the museum are relatively void of big crowds and hordes of tourists (and they are both free - no admission charged for museum).
if nice weather boats in hyde park was lovely. london eye was great as well.
Churchill Arms on Kensington Church St...they have a Thai kitchen that's actually really good.
Piece of the original Roman wharf just outside the entrance to St Magnus the Martyr.
Hawksmoor Seven Dials for Sunday roast lunch
Derry & Toms roof garden on Kensington High St
Memorial to German Ambassador's dog http://golondon.about.com/od/londonforfree/fr/GirotheNaziDog.htm
Free lunchtime music concerts at many churches
The grilled cheese and raclettes man at Borough Market http://www.yelp.co.uk/biz/kappacasein-london
The portrait of Lady Jane Grey at the National Gallery (the fabrics! how did he paint the fabrics?)
Liberty's department store - not as old as it looks, but it looks good!
Having a drink on the deck of the Tattershall Castle. No view like it in the world! http://www.thetattershallcastle.co.uk/
Pete Marsh in the British Museum http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lindow_Man AND the Vindolanda tablets
The Elizabethan jacket in the Victoria & Albert where they have it displayed by the portrait of the lady wearing it http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O11095/jacket-unknown/
Curry club on Thursdays at any Wetherspoons
The Elfin Oak and the Peter Pan statue in Hyde Park
The Blackfriars pub http://www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/theblackfriarblackfriarslondon/findus/
Walking tours that take you to the amazing places and fascinating history of this marvellous city.
These are all great. Many thanks.
I have a particular affection for the Blackfriars Bridge. Not many stop-- they just keep walking through. If you are a literature fan, and have read George Elliott's Daniel Deronda, it is a magical place, where the main character spies his alter ego, a man who changes his life, Mordichai. This may not help you out though with ideas for touring!
James Smith & Sons, is a family owned shop since 1830. They make umbrella's, walking sticks, etc. http://www.james-smith.co.uk/ It's a fun shop to visit.
Silver Vaults for sure. The Charles Dickens House is interesting and also the Carlyle House (in the Chelsea area). Dickens was a frequent visitor there and it is a National Trust Property. St Bartholomew The Great Church and the area around it is well worth exploring. Our favorite pubs: The Grenadier, Lamb & Flag, Olde Cheshire Cheese. Enjoy London!
Sir John soane's museum and the Benjamin Franklin house on Craven street. They are very different - Soane house is crammed with fascinating art and artifacts, whereas the Franklin house is minimally furnished. But they do a nice presentation of franklin's life in London during the decade leading up to the Revolution. Enjoy!
This was a number of years ago and it was an activity rather than a place. But I recall walking along a pretty footpath all along the Thames river from Hampton Court towards London that passes a number of English Manor homes open to the public and a place called Eel Pie Island which I remember as a pretty art colony. The manor homes you can visit include Strawberry Hill , Marble Hill, Ham House & Syon houses & gardens and end up at Kew Gardens. Pick a nice day. You don't have to do the whole route if you are not a big walker. But it is a nice walk after doing Hampton Court palace or Kew Gardens at the East end.
Peter, the path of which you speak is the Thames Path, very famous. It runs beside the river all the way from London to the source of the River Thames. A walking map can be picked up at the Tourist Center in London. But leaving London walking west, the path goes through some rough, industrial areas, so do speak with someone at the tourist information centre to plan your walking route. You can take the train out to Kew, pick up the path, and walk west, retracing the route Peter mentioned, toward Hampton Court.
I am saving these terrific ideas for a future trip. Thank you!