Before I begin this article, I must make an early disclaimer. I love London. It is probably my favourite city on earth and it was my home for a few years prior to me moving to the united arab emirates. every chance I get, I go back to London, but I especially like going back to London in the winter time.
There is just something about how the grey sky wraps itself around you as soon as you exit the airport, like your favourite warm, fluffy blanket. The sense of freedom you feel and the anticipation you experience knowing that in just a few stops on the underground tube, you will be in the centre of one of the world’s most visited cities, with stunning architecture, wonderful museums and art galleries and some of the most exclusive stores in the world.
Taxis abound in London, but if you really want to know the city and feel like a local, hop on a bus, take the train or the underground tube. I normally take the underground from the airport to the city, as it is the fastest, most convenient way to go. The Piccadilly Line services London Heathrow airport and the London Gatwick Airport has the Gatwick express train service direct into the city, Liverpool Street Station. If this will be your first time visiting London then you must do a city tour. This can be a walking tour, open top bus tour or a river cruise. For first timers, Buckingham Palace, London Bridge, Big Ben, St Paul’s Cathedral, The London Eye and the Thames River are a must see.
If you want to feel and act like a true Londoner, then come along with me on my specially designed tour. The first stop on my tour is Camden town, North London. Camden is a music lover’s paradise. Camden Town is awash with clubs and bars playing music of every genre especially jazz, blues and glam rock. Camden is famous for helping in the discovery of new musical talents such as Amy Winehouse. Not a music lover? Don’t worry. Camden Town offers wonderful markets filled with unusual trinkets and souvenirs, lovely restaurants, and exclusive art galleries.
After Camden Town, hop on bus number 168 and head to covent Gardens. Yes I know, we were just in North London, so why are we headed back to the centre of London? Well, for Londoners who enjoy shopping, theatre, restaurants, bars, history and culture, Covent Gardens offers it all. You can spend all day Saturday from as early as 10am to the early hours of Sunday morning enjoying the sights and sounds of Covent Gardens. You can enjoy a full show just by watching the various street performers. They perform in the open air and it’s nice to remember to give them a tip. A bonus is that Covent Gardens is within walking distance of Soho, the River Thames and Trafalgar Square.
If you have had enough of the excitement of the centre of London, then here is something more serene. Get on the number 149 or 279 bus, or the over ground train and head for the Lea Valley River Park. River Lee Country Park, as it is officially called, stretches between Waltham Abbey in Essex and Broxbourne in Hertfordshire. This 1, 000-acre park has a huge variety of activities to enjoy. Perfect for kids and families as well as couples, walkers, cyclists and wildlife watchers.
Enjoy an invigorating walk, run or cycle ride along miles of traffic-free trails. Hire a bike, relax on the banks of the River Lee or let the kids discover natural play. What’s wonderful is that the park is far less crowded during the winter and all the activities are still available.
If like me you love to shop, then no trip would be complete without burning a hole in either your pockets or your credit cards. Here are my top places to shop in and around London. Saturday and Sunday markets and car boot sales are all the rage in London. Portobello Road has been a market since the 1800s but became particularly famous for its antiques in the 1950s. Now, there are numerous stalls offering everything from fruit and bread to posters, vintage and designer clothes, bric-a-brac, music and, of course, loads of antiques! The market is in full swing on Saturdays. Old Spitalfields Market is a popular covered market, offering everything from clothes to food to artwork. Nearby, you’ll also find specialist shops, hairdressers and restaurants. Once you’ve finished shopping, you won’t be stuck for entertainment options; the cool bars and clubs of Shoreditch are just up the road.
Now for those among us who fancy something more up market, head down to Harrods in South Kensington and shop like a royal or a movie star. Harrods boasts the most exclusive brands and even if you don’t intend to spend a small fortune on one item, the store is still worth a visit. Let me let you in on a secret; I normally visit Harrods, purchase sweets and then nicely ask the customer service agent for extra bags. It just feels good to be walking around town carrying a Harrods shopping bag. For more up market designer shopping head to Bonds Street, you will be spoiled for choice.
To top off an already wonderful trip to the capital of the United Kingdom, visit one of the many English pubs, which can be found on nearly every street corner. Enjoy a pint of beer or ale and if you don’t drink alcohol don’t feel left out. Order something soft, sit and relax or join in the conversation about sports or politics with the locals. I am sure your first visit will turn into many more and like me you will always want to give in to the lure of London.