Having spent a semester in England, I fell in love with the country. It is a truly amazing place chock-full of attractions and their royal tradition. Considering our ties, no wonder why I felt so comfortable there. Very similar , but not quite the same. Pie and mash shops, London markets where you can experience foods from all over the world, antiques, art and what not, punk culture give this city a unique flavor that some metropoles don’t have. I guess I successfully dealt with cultural shock. Well, what is good must come to an end, and after my semester ended I departed England.
Last summer, I decided to go back and spend my vacation sightseeing in London. My boyfriend and friends weren’t available and up for an adventure so I traveled solo. For a casual tourist, 7 days in London are more than enough. The British Museum, Tower of London, Trafalgar Square, National Gallery, Buckingham Palace… all these attractions are truly wonderful and far from the tourists traps.
However, if you’re a serious, passionate traveler like me, you’ll want to experience London as its natives do and get away from the hordes of people with cameras. As London is swarming with all sorts of amazing attractions, there is no risk of boredom and a failed vacation. Don’t hesitate to step off the beaten path and seek some not-so-visited, alternative London sights. Here are my 7 personal recommendations.
Chelsea Physic Garden
You can’t visit London without enjoying its major parks – Holland, Hyde, Regent’s Park, Greenwich Park, etc. Although they are quite beautiful and so large that you can easily escape other tourists, I yearned for a more tranquil place to enjoy some time in nature on my own. A friend recommended a must-see park, both small and exquisite, tucked away beside the Thames. Chelsea Physic Garden is London’s oldest botanic garden, founded in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries. Visit it and offer your support – the garden’s existence relies on visitor donations.
Wherever you go, you just can’t miss panoramic sightseeing. You know the process – you wait in a long, long line, get in the huge Ferris wheel, ride in it a minute or two and that’s it. As most other cities, London has its sightseeing Ferris wheel called The London Eye. I wasn’t in the mood for a ride, so I decided to visit one of the many clubs and cafes that offer a panoramic view of the city. I decided to go to Paramount Bar at the top of Centre Point which has a 360-degree view of London. Instead of giving money for an entry fee, I spent it on sipping amazing cocktails!
Fortunately, I had lots of time in London, so I could fully enjoy all aspects of the city – the historical monuments, museums, shopping centers, nightlife, restaurants and finally – cultural events. London’s venues are full of breathtaking plays and performances. I was in the mood for something lighthearted, so the musical “Mamma Mia!” in Novello Theatre was the most logical choice.
This is a real hidden gem of London and a must-see for all serious music lovers. Musical Museum is relatively young – it was opened in 2008 and not very many people know about it yet. It exhibits a wide range of musical instruments and the incredibly kind members of the staff are willing to tell you all about them. The highlights of the collection are the Wurlitzer organ, exhibited in the concert hall as well as the museum’s tea room. I needed a couple of hours to see it all – take your time and you won’t regret it.
The Painted Hall
If you decide to visit the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, you’ll have a chance to enjoy one of the most amazing sights in London – free of charge. This hidden gem is a venue for formal occasions and one of the largest painted rooms in Europe. Sir James Thornhill is the painter who stands behind this magnificent work of art, and it took him 19 years to complete it.
Jack the Ripper, Vampire Tour, Pirate Walk, Dr. Jekyll and Mister Hyde… choose your favorite story and have your own fright-night! Some streets of London are so spooky at night that you don’t need a special story and monsters to feel the dread. However, if you’re traveling alone like I did, I recommend you stick to the group. Our guide was an amazing storyteller and I enjoyed every second of it. If you’re not a big fan of the horror genre, you can always opt for a Sherlock Holmes tour around Baker Street instead!
Oldest pubs of London
In London, you can experience the taste of the native pub atmosphere that only a British tavern can give you. London is swarming with old, historical “public houses” as they were called back then, so don’t miss the opportunity to visit at least one of them. Being a huge fan of pubs and home-made ales, I couldn’t come back home without finishing my pub crawl, touring 7 of them in one day!
However, I was most thrilled by visiting The Grapes in Limehouse. You may not know this, but its owner is the one and only – Sir Ian McKellen. You’ll realize this when you see the Gandalf statue in the pub’s corner. Continue to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, The Blind Beggar, Mayflower, The Prospect of Whitby and other amazing pubs and taste some of the best ales in the world!