Londontown: Pt. 2
London is just a little too amazing of a city to only spend one post on it, and because I did study abroad there during college, it’s especially hard for me to pick and choose what to share! For that reason, this is Part 2 of a 3-part series to serve as your guide to London (unless nostalgia or reader requests drive me to write more)–enjoy!
How to Make Your Time in London EXTRA Special:
Go see some shows! You may think that New York is the hot spot for theater, but London is all that, but cheaper, and actually, better. If a hit musical or play comes to New York, there is a good chance it was in London first. Example? Jude Law was hugely praised for his role in Hamlet (he may be mediocre in chick flicks, but give this guy a role that doesn’t require him to be merely pretty, and he shows he has some serious acting chops), and when he came to Broadway tickets were a minimum of $25 for a shoddy seat. But just a few months earlier, he was in London, and you could snab great seats for around $15. This is not just a special case–it’s the norm!
To score dream tickets (I’m talking front row even), go the-day-of to ticket kiosks, whether it be the show’s main center or off-site ones. With my ISIC (International Student Identity Card–definitely worth the investment!) I was able to see Wicked, Les Miserables, Avenue Q (which is absolutely hilarious–you’ll love it even if you normally hate musicals), and tons more musicals and plays, and each time I only spent $10-$25 for a ticket that placed me in the first few rows.
Plus, you never know what celebrities you’ll meet while they also flock to see theater’s best performers and shows…
Yes, that is Clive Owen. No big deal or anything. We were just chillin’ with him in the lobby of the Old Vic before we saw his friend Ethan Hawke perform in a play directed by Sam Mendes in a theater held under the artistic direction of Kevin Spacey. No biggie.
“All The World’s A Stage, and All The Men and Women Merely Players”:
Sorry, I’m getting more sentimental about my English major now that I’ve graduated, so to be cheesy I whipped out a Shakespeare quote. London has been the home to countless famous authors and poets–Shakespeare, Blake, Donne, Keats, Shelley, Yeats, Eliot, Plath, Woolf, Dickens–the list goes on–and it is still home to admired contemporary authors such as Ian McEwan, who wrote the novel-turned-movie Atonement (he actually lived down the street from our dorm!) I won’t include the nitty-gritty on these authors and where to see their houses and what sites in London inspired them (although if you would like me to, shoot me an email and I’ll be happy to pass along what I know), but if you want to experience the most famous example of London’s literary past, you might want to check out the Globe along the South Bank.
This reconstruction of the original open-air theater calls to mind the age of Shakespeare, when the Queen herself would sit in the theater and watch his comedies and tragedies unfold. As an audience member, you get to walk around as much as you want and lean against the stage (which is actually what people did back then–it was routine for audience members to interrupt the performers, calling out “No, don’t kill him!” and whatnot), which makes it much easier on kids. I’m not saying you or your kids should shout things during the play–you would be kicked out–but you are allowed to walk around, stretch your legs, and stand in front of the stage during the performance.
In addition, the show goes on, rain or shine. It is typical in England to have sunshine one minute and a downpour the next, and when I went to the Globe it began to thunder and rain, but the actors continued on, making it one of the coolest theater experiences I’ve had.
If Literature Isn’t Your Thing…
…you are still bound to come across some pretty neat cultural history, especially in music. England is not just home to the Beatles or the Rolling Stones–I saw the flat the Sex Pistols rented in Hampstead and ate in the pub where the Pink Floyd legacy began. Now tell me that isn’t cool.
A Royal Affair:
Speaking of royalty (rock royalty that is!–like my transition there?), a trip to London is of course nothing without a stop at the Tower of London. Originally a palace for the royal family, the Tower of London later became a place of imprisonment. Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey, and countless others in the court of King Henry VIII were all beheaded under the King’s orders, and their ghosts are said to still haunt the residence.
The White Tower
The Tower of London also houses the Crown Jewels, which is a major site-seeing attraction. However, if you don’t think you’ll be all that interested by the Crown Jewels that are housed here, then that is definitely something to skip–lines are insanely long, the crowds are overwhelming, and it takes up a lot of precious time.
An interesting fact? The six resident ravens (plus a spare!) must stay on grounds because according to legend, Charles II believed the myth that “If the ravens leave the Tower, the kingdom will fall,” and demanded that the Tower’s ravens forever be protected.
These guardians of the Tower are under the observance of the Raven Master (I want his job), but some are tricky fellas–according to the website, Raven George was “dismissed” for eating TV antennas (tough economy, even for a raven), and Raven Grog was last seen outside an East End pub.
Get Your Learning On, Museum-Style:
Some people love museums, and some people would rather stab themselves in the eye with a fork. I personally love museums and couldn’t get enough when I was in London, because they have some of the best museums in the world.
While there are tons I recommend, if you are going to try ONE and ONLY one museum while in London, it most definitely has to be the British Museum.
This museum of human history and culture is world-renowned for its extensive collections and one-of-a-kind historical treasures. It has the best collection of Egyptian antiquities, second only to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and it also houses some of the world’s best collections on ancient Greece, Rome, and England during the Middle Ages. Museum highlights include:
- The Rosetta Stone
- The Easter Island Statue
- The Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon
- Objects from the Anglo-Saxon burial mounds at Sutton Hoo
- And over 7 million other artifacts
The Elgin Marbles of the Parthenon
I spent entire days at the British Museum and still only explored a few rooms in the whole museum–there is that much to see and read in each exhibit. I may have spent too much time there, because I was mistaken for a tour guide in the Egypt section, which essentially made my day. Okay, it made my life.
More Museum Action:
Another must-see museum in London is the Churchill War Rooms. This museum is made up of the Churchill Museum, which honors Winston Churchill’s life and accomplishments, and the Cabinet War Rooms, which is an underground complex that served as the headquarters of the British High Command during WWII.
The Victoria and Albert Museum, dedicated to art and design, is also an impressive museum that is worth a visit. The V&A is the world’s largest collection of art and holds more than 4.5 million objects of art.
The Natural History Museum is also really well done, and it was fun to compare it to DC and New York’s versions. This is the most family-oriented museum, and the robotic dinosaurs had kids squealing in delight. My friend from the trip who, like me, went through a “dinosaur phase” was also pretty delighted by the exhibit–I had to pretty much drag him out of there so we wouldn’t miss our class meet-up! Even if you’re not that into museums, it’s hard not to have a blast in this one. Everything is hands-on and way too much fun.
Natural History Museum
Another bonus to all of London’s museums is the architecture–take a look at this amazing room in the Natural History Museum. It feels like you are in a castle and not a museum at all!
There Are No Gardens Like English Gardens:
England is known for its exquisite gardens, and while London has endless gardens you could visit, one of the finest and most well-known is that of Kensington Palace, which has been a residence of the Royal family since the 17th century and was the official home of Princess Diana.
Kensington Palace itself is a great tourist attraction, and a visit to its gardens also gives you the chance to enjoy true British teatime! The Orangery, pictured below, is a cafe that is perfect for experiencing High Tea, or the make-shift equivalent if you’re hoping to save money. I went there for lunchtime tea with friends and without spending too much we were completely spoiled and felt like royalty.
The Sunken Garden pictured below is one of the most beautiful gardens at Kensington. It was planted in 1908 and was designed to be an ornamental garden with vibrant, exotic colors and plants, packed in to create a lush, dense space.
Is this not one of the most beautiful gardens you’ve ever seen in your life? Just imagine what it looks like up close, when you can really see all the colors.
Keep an eye out for “London Pt 3: Day Trip Central” to see why London makes the perfect home-base for day trips to Cambridge, Stonehenge (I camped out for the summer solstice–there are a few wild stories to share!), Hampstead (home to many American and UK celebs), and more amazing destinations.