Wednesday, 16 July 2014

London



If you are planning to come to London soon here are some interesting tips that should help you plan a fruitful and enjoyable short break or holiday – whether that be visiting The British Museum, watching The Phantom of the Opera or taking a river cruise along the Thames.

Museums and Galleries

Having already mentioned the British Museum as one of the must do destinations I thought it was important to point out that this museum, apart from some specialist exhibitions, is free to visit.  It is true that many things in London are expensive but many of our world beating galleries and museums are actually free. 

So any visit to London should take advantage of this fact.

Visit one or all of the following
·         The NationalGallery and National Portrait Gallery on Trafalgar Square,   the Tate Britain and the Tate Modern art galleries on opposite banks of the Thames – a short riverboat journey apart -  the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum in the Museum Quarter of Kensington.

Each attraction is big enough to spend a whole day in, but as they are free, you may want to come and go as you please.

Top Tip for the NaturalHistory Museum: if the queues at the front of the museum are really long walk round to the rear entrance (on the right hand side of the building as you stand at the front). The queues are generally shorter there!

Musicals and Plays in London’s West End

London is famous for its rich variety of shows, musicals and plays.

The main Theatreland area is around Leicester Square and Covent Garden which features around 40 main theatres with a host of smaller ones. This is where the big musicals,  like Phantom of the Opera, Jersey Boys and The Lion King, can be found and the plays and comedies starring famous actors and performers. London theatres will welcome Angela Lansbury, Kristin Davies, Alexandra Burke, Beverly Knight, Nigel Havers, Kathleen Turner, Alex Jennings in 2014, to name a few PLUS new productions of hit shows Cats and Miss Saigon.

Cats
Cats at the London Palladium
Most shows in town don’t need to be booked ahead (unless you are planning to go on a Saturday night), but to avoid dashing round on the day it is probably advisable to do so: especially if you want particular seats.
To keep the cost down there are usually some good deals to be had on midweek performances where seats that are normally as much as £65 can come down to between £30 and £40 – all agents and holiday companies should have access to these savings if you want to plan ahead but the famous TKTS on Leicester Square will also have good discounts for a lot of shows on the day – arrive as  soon as they open for the best deals on the most popular performances, but don’t expect every show to be on sale there.

IMPORTANT:  make sure you ask where the seats are and their “face value”. This will help to make sure that the seats you are getting a “deal” on are good seats and not just cheap ones being miss-sold... and never buy from anyone standing outside of the theatre.

You can use ticket agents, make sure they belong to STAR, but they can charge up to 25%, so be aware.
Other theatres worth mentioning are the National Theatre and Royal Festival Hall on the Southbank, where you can see a wide range of plays and classical concerts. Also make sure you visit Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre which was rebuilt as it was in the 1500’s and now hosts plays in the original style throughout the summer months and during Easter.

If the weather is good during the Summer months the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre is also worth a visit.

Shopping

There are a variety of main shopping areas around London, each offering something different
Oxford Street and Regent Street host all the big chain stores. 

Oxford Circus
Oxford Circus - the Shopping heart of London

Carnaby Street just between the two is nice enough to visit but is not the centre of hip London that it used to be – just saying: don’t get your hopes up!
If you prefer “quirky” then head to Camden and the miles of lanes and alleyways that make up its markets selling clothes, jewellery, music, food, furniture, ornaments, books, more music and more clothes!

Other shopping districts include Mayfair and Bond Street which offer a more upmarket shopping experience boasting brands such as Burberry, Louis Vuitton and Tiffany & Co and is definitely worth a visit – even if you find yourself just window shopping!

Kings Road is full of trendy boutiques, independent labels and smaller designer outlets but for illustrious shops and prestigious brands head to Knightsbridge: Harrods, Harvey Nichols and a host of big-name fashion designers on Sloane Street will woo your wallet!

Covent Garden is a good place to shop with unique gifts, clothes, handmade jewellery, interesting cafes and restaurants (make sure you include the area around Seven Dials too – especially Neal’s Yard)

Travel

One thing that every single place that I have mentioned above has in common is that they are all within zone one on the public travel system.

You can travel by bus, tube and even boat for very little money if you buy a Travelcard or Oystercard. Personally I recommend an Oystercard as you can use it and top it up as you go, but many people like the idea of buying a travelcard and then forgetting about it. Both can be bought at any train or underground station in the city. 

Top Tip: The Oystercard includes a small deposit that you can get back when you leave.
Top Tip: Whatever you do, even if you are only planning a couple of journeys a day, don’t buy single tickets on an ad hoc basis. This very quickly becomes very expensive.

If  I have a choice I like taking the bus as you get to see more from the top deck of a red London bus but there is no doubt that the underground is very handy and quick! It is also not that scary. If in doubt, ask a Londoner – they are human and don’t always scowl – but for goodness sake don’t stop walking just after you have gone through the gates and stand on the right hand side of the escalator: thank you!

If you are looking for a cheap alternative, but don’t have the time to walk, then rent a bike. The City is dotted with stands that automatically rent rather heavy 3-gear bikes from just a couple of pounds but helmets are not provided and whilst London drivers are getting better at looking out for bikes and the town planners are getting better at providing cycle-ways, it is still a dangerous city for cyclists and I really wouldn’t suggest tackling it on a bicycle without a helmet: so bring one with you if you intend to cycle.

Walking

Walking around London is one of the great joys to be had in this life. Walk along the Thames, down the Mall to Buckingham Palace, around the West End with shopping bags in your hands, through one of the Royal parks, explore Soho stopping off for tea or a drink somewhere, or walk across one or two of London’s iconic bridges – during the day or at night: the views are BREATH-TAKING!
If you want to learn something on the way, sign up for one of the many themed walking tours. Whether your interest is literary or historical, or maybe murderous: there are some great walks exploring the streets of the London of Jack The Ripper and Sherlock Holmes!

Of course I could go on forever but hopefully this has given you a little more information on this great city. 

Do say hello when you come!

Author Simon Harding has been working in London’s tourist industry for over 30 years and has recently written an e-guide to getting the most out of your trip to London’s Theatreland which you can download for free at http://www.theatrebreaks.co.uk/london-theatre-book