Bought your tickets for the Olympics? Know what you are going to do with the rest of your time while in London?
London was the first place that I ever traveled to in Europe. And between that and the fact that I studied English history, I have always had a soft spot for London. A year living there did not cure me of it. I don’t mind the Londoners rushing from place to place with their coats pulled up over their mouths and their hats over their eyes. I don’t mind the crowded Tube tunnels and escalators that magically move millions of people daily around the city. I don’t mind the perpetual sound of cars and humanity.
Those are all things that are part of London – a city, a metropolis, a world onto it’s own.
There is so MUCH to choose from regarding what to do and see in London. A musical? (There is a musical advertised onto the Tube escalator walls for just about every film you’ve ever seen!) A gallery? (Many ones to choose from especially on Bury Street – just off St. James Street.) A museum? (Don’t miss the incredible British Museum – for it’s collection of mummies and Anglo-Saxon treasures as much as for it’s covered courtyard and dazzling reading room!) Or afternoon tea at the Orangery in Kensington Palace gardens? (Really excellent scones!)
Or…Try to squeeze all of it in!
I was in London last October. Fall had definitely arrived with its golden colors and orange hues. And the city was ready for Halloween with decorations everywhere. I had lived in London as a student, and was excited to visit some of my favorite old haunts.
But London in preparation for Olympic-level festivities has seen some changes- and I found myself mixing old pleasures with new discoveries.
Always a favorite to visit – the National Galley on Travalgar Square. Traveler Tip: don’t enter through the incredibly crowded main entrance. Instead, enter through the Salisbury Wing entrance (as you face the museum, it’s the building adjoining it to the left). There you can enter via a quiet route past my favorite museum shop. As you take the stairs, note that they are angled to encourage you to turn left at the top of the stairs into the Renaissance collection.
In this wing, don’t miss the “Arnolfini Wedding” by Van Eyck. A Flemish masterpiece that has stunning detail and lots of mystery. This was always one of the highlights of my days of teaching art history.
And when you are done gazing at the art, head around the corner to the National Portrait Gallery. Skip the gallery if you must (although it’s fun!) and head up to the third floor café for a glass of wine or a cup of tea and a scone while enjoying one of the best views of London!
For a stroll between quaint boutiques and smart galleries, head to the Bermondsey area, south of the Thames. In my student days it was only worth a visit if you needed to get on the train at Waterloo or if you were crazed enough to go stand in the line at the London Dungeon. But now this area is filled with charming restaurants, cafes, boutiques, and one flower shop after another – selling, in the perfect combo for the poor guy who has found himself in the dog house, not just flowers, but flowers AND chocolate! And in some cases, flowers, chocolate AND wine! Genius!
Good place to stay if you want to be close to the Bermondsey cafes, restaurants and shops: The Bermondsey Square Hotel. Chic. Cool. Modern. And yet also with great character. The rooms are lovely and large for a London hotel room, and best of all… great location within a short walk to the offerings of the area as well as the Tate Modern and Tower of London. (Make sure to stop at the Borough Market and buy some fabulous snacks!)
For dinner, London is the land of milk and honey – you can have ANYTHING your stomach desires. London’s food options are eclectic, varied, and… expensive. But if you are looking for something ‘traditional’ that will help you get a sense of ‘local’ food and fit the budget bill – head to one of the many gastropubs that have become popular in London.
While visiting London in October, I had dinner at a gastropub called “Bumpkin.” Yeah – as in country bumpkin.
They have more than one location, but I had a chance to meet a friend at the South Kensington spot on Old Brompton Road. Beautiful interior, with a nice mix of modern light fixtures, antique chairs, soft blue walls, and impeccable service – dinner at “Bumpkin” was exactly what we wanted: great food in a pub-like atmosphere that encouraged us to sit back, chat and enjoy!
And enjoy we did – their gourmet take on simple dishes like pumpkin soup, steak and ale pie, and baked Scottish salmon, were all winners. Presentation was eye-catching and unique. All in all – Worth a gold medal during an Olympic visit! They now also have a new location next to the Olympic Village in Stratford!
Featured writer: Elloise Bennett