I think London is officially my favorite city in the world.
Yes, I love my city of Philadelphia, and I love New York for Broadway and San Diego for the temperate climate and Paris for its romance … but having recently spent a week in London, my heart now belongs there. And beats wildly at the thought of returning someday.
I love London.
For so many reasons. The sheer history everywhere you go is pretty stunning (I visited a church that was built in 1008!). The art and culture and dining and the veddy veddy Britishness that is so charming.
I was lucky to travel with my fabulous friend Lois, who is always up for fun, and our visit was exactly that.
I have already waxed nostalgic over our memorable meals in London. But for what to do when you’re not eating (which for us was less time than I would have thought), here are some of the things we enjoyed most.
There are way more than 10 fun things to do in London.
The thing about London is that you have to go back again and again because there is so much to see and do, you would need a month to do it all. And then some.
So bear in mind, this list barely scratches the surface. My advice? If you are planning a trip to London, you should start thinking about going back again already.
1. The Victoria and Albert Museum
There are two exhibits running that are well worth a look see.
Wedding Dresses 1775-2014
Who doesn’t love looking at wedding dresses? And as the mother of a groom-to-be, I have a special interest. The dresses were beyond spectacular, as you can imagine — creations of key fashion designers such as Charles Frederick Worth, Norman Hartnell, Charles James, John Galliano, Christian Lacroix, Vivienne Westwood and Vera Wang.
Lois and I were transfixed watching a video of royal weddings over the years, and got teary-eyed seeing Diana in her beautiful gown.
Model Jenny Bishop in Ian Stuart wedding dress © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
How does art and design overlap with social activism? This exhibit explores the powerful role of objects in movements for social change, such as a hand-painted placard made by gay rights activists in Russia and anti-Apartheid badges from South Africa. With meager resources, organizers of political demonstrations employ ingenuity and the use of new technologies to mobilize.
Inflatable cobblestone, Barcelona
© Oriana Eliçabe/Enmedio.info
The objects on display, all previously used, have been loaned directly from groups from around the world and are accompanied by newspaper clips and information from the maker to explain how and why the object was created. Especially with the turmoil in the world this summer, I found this to be a powerful experience.
2. Kensington Palace
It was blind luck that we happened to be at Kensington Palace on the day of Prince George’s first birthday, so there was quite a bit of excitement (we saw the Queen arrive for the birthday party as we waited by the gate with an enthusiastic crowd and plenty of paparazzi).
Granted, not every day is a future king’s birthday. But don’t let that stop you from going. Kensington Palace is full of magic and majesty; with the ghosts of generations of English royalty whispering around every corner. History unfolds through the costumes, furniture and artifacts in each room. Don’t miss the current exhibit, “Fashion Rules,” a visual feast of selections from the wardrobes of HM Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret, and Diana, Princess of Wales.
Featuring rare and exquisite dresses from HM Queen Elizabeth II
, Princess Margaret and Diana, Princess of Wales, this exhibition will provide a feast for the eyes and a nostalgic glance back at recent decades. – See more at: http://www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace/WhatsOn/FashionRules#sthash.Iklr3vWR.dpuf
Featuring rare and exquisite dresses from HM Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Margaret and Diana, Princess of Wales, this exhibition will provide a feast for the eyes and a nostalgic glance back at recent decades. – See more at: http://www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace/WhatsOn/FashionRules#sthash.Iklr3vWR.dpuf
Lois and I picked up some awesome souvenirs at the gift shoppe. We couldn’t resist stopping for tea and a scone before we left.
3. Carnaby Street
If you’re a boomer like me, you’ll probably think of the Beatles, bell-bottom pants and Peter Max when you hear this name. Carnaby Street back in the day was the cool, counter culture place to hang out, and for teenagers obsessed with the British invasion (music, that is), Carnaby Street was our Mecca. Although now more mainstream, it is still cool, with cute boutiques, trendy restaurants and lots of people still just hanging out. I enjoyed being part of the crowd, and dinner at Antidote just off Carnaby Street with my son and his lovely fiancee was terrific.
4. Highclere Castle
If you are a Downton Abbey fan — or addict, as the case may be — this day trip from London to see the home of the fictional Crawley family is not to be missed. About an hour and a half west of London, the castle is, in a word, extraordinary. You can stroll through the first two floors and marvel over the exquisite furnishings and architecture, and peek into the bedrooms of Ladies Mary, Edith and Sybil. Incidentally, just to give you a sense of how vast it is, the third floor — off limits to visitors — has 80 bedrooms!
The castle sits on a property of 5,000 acres. There are fields of grazing sheep and magnificent gardens. These are just a few of the many photos I took of the flowers.
5. Harrod’s and Selfridge’s
These famous department stores are fun to browse through. Harrod’s is the more upscale and high end. Think Neiman Marcus vs. Macy’s, if you want a visual. But the food courts at both are ah-maz-ing!
6. The London Dungeon
Call it hokey or cheesy or what have you. This attraction, which takes you on a sometimes scary, sometimes macabre but always fun tour back through London’s darker days, is a screamingly good time. Actors portray a variety of criminals and no goodniks and, with a wicked sense of humor and the use of special effects, pull audience members into the fray. You’ll meet Jack the Ripper and Guy Fawkes and other sinister characters amidst blood curdling shrieks and rattling jail cells. Poor Lois was thrown in jail for, um, impertinence? I begged her captor for her release and thank God, her captor showed mercy.
7. London theatre
Be sure to catch a play when you are there. London theatre is terrific and there are many shows to choose from. We saw “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime” which was excellent. By the way, “Curious” opens on Broadway this fall, and I highly recommend it.
8. Afternoon Tea
Of course, a visit to London would not be complete without at least one of these. We learned that the correct name is “afternoon tea,” not “high tea.” The explanation was that, starting in the 19th century, high tea was what workers had at the end of a long day — after dinner — and afternoon tea was what the privileged class had in the late afternoon before dinner. Anyway, you can find many places in the city that serve afternoon tea, and if you happen to be shopping at Harrod’s, you can spend a relaxing interlude from shopping sipping tea and eating dainty tea sandwiches and pastries at the tea room in the store.
9. Take the tube
By the end of the week, Lois and I were taking the tube like rock stars (although, I guess in reality rock stars take limos). Taxis can get pricey, and traffic is frequently bottle-necked, so London’s underground system is the best way to get around. It’s efficient, inexpensive and clean. Here we are looking very pleased with ourselves.
10. Walk and explore.
Wear comfortable shoes because London is a city made for walking. Before we left for our trip, Lois and I read about Books About Town, a collection of 50 book sculptures in bench form. We were intrigued, and set off on a walk to find them. Since they are spread out all over the city, we only saw a few, but enjoyed discovering these benches adorned with artistic renditions of some of our favorite books.
And they were perfect for taking a rest before moving on to our next adventure.