Several years ago Denise traded in the sunshine and palm trees of her hometown of Los Angles to live the expatriate life across the pond in London. During business hours, Denise works full time helping clients with improving their businesses as a project / programme management and change consultant. Outside of working hours, she focuses her time on balancing exploring new places, amateur photography, culinary delights, attempting staying healthy and more. Denise has recently launched a travel and lifestyle blog to document her weekend and paid time off adventures abroad as well as her local London explorations.
Standing by the river Thames, London is the capital and largest city of England and United Kingdom. A city with past names like Londonium, Ludenwic and Ludenburg, which houses around 170 museums, more than 860 art galleries and where over 300 languages are being spoken, London boasts the greatest concentration of culture and history. It is also the most populated city of Europe after Moscow and Istanbul.
London is also a land of innovations and firsts. London got the world’s first traffic light and also the world’s first underground railway system in 1863 when trains ran only between Paddington and Farringdon.
When is the best time to visit London?
London is a great place to visit anytime of year. Summer here is one of my favourite times of the year because of the longer days which makes everyone feel like they need to seize the day (and potentially good weather) even after a full day at work. The city comes alive in the summer and don’t be surprised if you see loads of city workers gathering outside of the pub that spills into the streets or groups of friends having picnics in the parks during the weekends to enjoy some nice weather out.
Which is the most convenient and favoured transport of London?
The most convenient way to get around London is by Tube or Bus by far. London buses are all cashless, so you would need an Oyster card, travel card or contactless payment to pay fare. However, I love to walk to places as much as I can as that’s my favourite way to explore the city.
London has lots of airports (6 in total), however the most common ones to fly into are Heathrow and Gatwick.
If you’re coming from Heathrow Airport, the tube is definitely the cheapest, but I also recommend Heahtrow express which takes you straight to Paddington. It’s a bit pricer but roomy for those travelling with kids or a lot of luggage. Expect this to be about an hour’s journey into the city.
Gatwick on the other hand is roughly 35-40 mins from Central London. If you’re coming from Gatwick there are trains that can take you directly to London Bridge or Victoria Station which are well connected to transfer to a tube or bus to your final destination.
What are the top three must visit places in London?
My three recommendations would be the following –
Tower Bridge : Normally I would say Parliament and the Elizabeth Tower with the infamous clock and Big Ben bell would be the quintessential tourist spot to visit. However, since it’s currently under renovation until 2021, my actually top recommendation for an iconic London landmark is the magnificent Tower Bridge. Tower Bridge is often mistaken for London Bridge which is about a half a mile west of it. When you walk across the bridge (at your own risk as it does get quite busy) you can get great river view with the Shard, Gherkin and the Tower of London in sight. My photo tip for the best photos is either standing on the London Bridge side of the river in front of City Hall or walking across and further east towards St Catherine’s Dock for a more unique view.
Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) : London is one of the best cities in the world for culture with a number of free museums to enjoy. On Exhibition Road in South Kensington, you can find many museums close together.As a lover of art, design and fashion,the Victoria and Albert Museum is right up my alley. Whilst you do have to pay for limited time exhibitions like the Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams one that’s currently on, they consistently put on beautifully curated displays that are well worth the price. Plan ahead and book early if it’s you’re intention to see a special exhibit as they are very popular among locals and tourists so they sell out well in advance. They also have one of the best museum gift shops for great souvenirs to bring back home.
Borough Market : Borough Market is not only one of the most famous food markets in the world, this must visit foodie destination is the oldest market in London. Open from Monday through Saturday you’ll find food stall selling everything from street food, cheese, bread, seafood, sweet treats, and more. The best time to visit is between Wednesday to Saturday when the market is in full swing with it’s most amount of vendors.
If you have enough time to explore, London is of course the city with iconic sights like Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral, London Zoo, Kew Gardens. UK’s largest palace, the Palace of Westminster also known as the Houses of Parliament has 1,000 rooms, 100 staircases, 11 courtyards, eight bars, six restaurants and was cleverly built by the river Thames, so it can’t be surrounded by mob. London Eye, after Star of Nanchang in China is the largest ferris wheel in the world.
What are the best day trips for nature, culture and history from London?
For history and Jane Austen lovers, look no further than a 1.5 hour trip west to the city of Bath. Bath is the largest city in the county of Somerset. Known for its perfectly preserved Ancient Roman baths and picturesque Georgian Architecture, Bath is a visual delight and easy to explore for a day. The Roman Baths museum , Bath Abbey church, Pulteney bridge and Thermae Bath Spa, Britain’s only natural thermal spa are some major tourist attractions in the city. It’s a short journey of one and an half hour by train from the Paddington Station in London.
For nature lovers and those who like good hike, head south to Seaford which is best known for the series of pristine white chalk cliffs along the coastline of East Sussex by the English Channel. There are regular rail services from London to Brighton, Seaford and Eastbourne so this is easily reachable as part of a bright day trip but I personally love going for a nice hike through the Seven Sisters Country Park. It is a great workout an a beautiful spring or summer day. You can also indulge in a myriad of outdoor activities like bird watching, cycling, canoeing and paddle boarding.
What is the most celebrated holiday of the year in London?
Growing up in Los Angeles I never got excited about the time leading up to Christmas, but living in London the city comes alive to celebrate the holiday season.
Walk along Regent Street, Oxford Circus and Carnaby for stunning street lights and store front décor. Throughout the city you can see sparkling Christmas lights, including Harrods, Kew Gardens, Trafalgar Square (this Christmas tree is annually gifted by Oslo as a token of Norwegian gratitude for London’s assistance during WWII).
As a local there’s so many social activities this time of year like Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, pop up winter markets along the South bank, and ice skating rinks amongst heritage buildings that really gets you in the festive spirit.
What is the most loved local food of London? Is it a vegetarian friendly city?
A true British classic after the favorite fish and chips and full English Breakfast is the Sunday Roast. Traditionally this meal is eaten anytime from noon to 17:00 (5pm) on Sundays. There’s a variety of options to get with Sunday roast such as turkey, beef, pork, chicken and veggie options but a good signal of a proper roast is the Yorkshire pudding.
Normally you will leave stuffed after this meal, but if you still have some room I recommend ordering a sticky toffee pudding. This dessert consists of a moist sponge cake drenched in a toffee sauce served with custard or ice cream, which is a great treat for those with the ultimate sweet tooth.
London is a very vegetarian friendly city and the number of restaurants that offer vegetarian or vegan food increases the longer I’ve lived here. As someone with some dietary restrictions myself, it’s nice knowing I can easily get accommodations or don’t have to go far to find foods that fit my needs.
Where to head for shopping in London?
Any major shopper will know that Oxford street is one to tick off the box,but know that there will be a ton of people there especially on weekends.Some more unique weekend markets to visit include:
Columbia Road Flower Market : A Sunday only street market for bargain and bulk flowers just off of Shoreditch. It is London’s principle flower market where you can buy a variety of flowers and plants, anything from bulbs, shrubs, bedding plants or tall banana trees, etc. There are also plenty of independent shorts and cafes nearby to explore after taking in the beautiful blooms.
Old Spitafields Market : Open 7 days a week this indoor market is great for rainy days where you’ll find the usual suspects of food, fashion and crafts. They host a Traders market everyday, art market and Saturday only market where you will find on display clothing, accessories an home wares etc. To reach here get down at the Liverpool Street Station using London Underground.
Brick Lane–Backyard Market : Another market best for a Sunday visit, head to the Old truman Brewery on Bricklane for the Backyard Market which has become a well known shopping destination for arts and crafts lover. Popular with young creative types, its stalls are a great place to pick up handmade jewellery, homemade food, unique clothes by up-and-coming designers.
Vinegar Yard : A recent market addition that opened this year, Vinegar Yard not only bring a great outdoor space for drinks and street food, but is connected to the Flea vintage market for those who love vintage and locally made clothes, furniture, books,vinyls, and trinkets.
Maltby Street Market : Located amongst the railway arches of Bermondsey, this market is one of London’s smallest yet most impressive food markets filled with street vendors and cute cafes wtihin the arches. Just this year, the market has slightly extended from the Ropewalk, spilling out onto Maltby street closing the road for the weekend.
Which is the local craft or souvenir of London?
Some unique souvenirs would be antiques from Portabello Road in Notting Hill or crafts from any of the aforementioned markets above. Other uniquely London items to buy for home include tea and biscuits from Fortnum and Mason, Paddington Bear books or toys for children or London Gin from one of the local distilleries.
Which are the best streets of London worthy of taking a stroll on?
Ladbrook Grove and Portabello Road in Notting Hill will make you feel like you’re in a Richard Curtis film set in London. I also really enjoy walking along and around Covent Garden as the buildings there really give you a feeling of being in old London despite all of the modern restaurants and cafes.
Also one of my most favourite walks to take visitors to truly enjoy the landscape of London is along Thames and South bank towards Tower Bridge or past Westminster. You’ll past by lots of well known attractions like the Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe and get some really enjoy some amazing views of the city.
Can you suggest a place from where one can get the best view of London?
To me the best overall view of London is from Primrose Hill. On a really clear day you’re able to see all of the city from West London all the way to the buildings of Canary Wharf. It’s pretty spectacular to see how vast and beautiful London is.
Would you suggest any shows in London to drama, music or art lovers? Where can one spot street art in your city?
London is never short of entertainment to see and experience. From West End for plays and musicals to Soho for comedy shows to music venues in Camden, Shore ditch and South bank depending on your fancy, we’re quite spoilt for entertainment here.
For the best street art I highly recommend going to Shore ditch. Last year I did an awesome street art treasure hunt which was such a fun way to explore and discover street art I wouldn’t normally have seen walking along the high street. This particular street art has been painted by Jimmy C on Whitby Street, off Bethnal Green Road. You can find more of his work here.
Would you recommend any local apps for food, transport or hidden gems in London?
For transport- Citymapper is the best app to download. It gives you the best options to get form one destination to another in greater London and even provide tips on which side of the train is best to sit in order to decrease your walking time when switching between trains.
Whilst these are not apps, I would definitely recommend checking out Timeout London, Secret London and Londonist. I use these sites regularly to keep an eye out for any pop ups or local events and they often have great suggestions.
Do you want to give any suggestion to tourists coming to London?
Weather permitted, walk as much as possible. You never know what you’ll stumble upon just exploring London on foot.