I have lived many places during my 25 years and been lucky enough to travel extensively, yet there is one place I have spent as a tourist more than any other and that is London.
Even when I lived there as a youngster I was seemingly a joyful tourist with photos of me in the family albums sat in my push chair at the front of the DLR train with glee on my face as London dashed past through the window pressed against my face. Something incidentally I did every day years later when I was a student in the city and got to use the DLR as part of my journey to uni.
This is not a response piece to the horrific attacks the city has seen this year and indeed this weekend, this is a piece admitting my love affair with the place and sharing with you what makes the city so important and so great. So why is that? What makes it so special and so good in comparison to everywhere I’ve been?
Firstly there’s simply the incredible breadth of places to visit. Not just places that are lovely once you’re there and places which you’re pleased to have seen like in many tourist cities, but places that are truly iconic. Places which everyone who has ever watched television would recognise. The streets of London are perhaps even the definition of iconic. Who hasn’t heard of Buckingham Palace? Westminster? Big Ben? The Tower of London? Oxford Street? St. Paul’s Cathedral? Trafalgar Square? The Royal Albert Hall? The list goes on.
And it’s not just a city standing still and relying on its iconic history but a city whose landscape is ever evolving and hitting home runs with new places becoming just as visually recognisable and world renowned like the o2 and the shard and London Eye. London isn’t a city that gets complacent, it’s a city that is forever striving to please its visitors and get new ones. We saw this with London 2012. The Olympics were simply incredible. And the games weren’t predominantly held with the classic London sights as a backdrop but in a new area of the city out East in Stratford with a new Olympic park and the ultra modern Canary Wharf as its skyline. The city was given a new lease of life and welcomed visitors from across the globe to share in its summer of harmony and thanks to the city the 2012 games went down in history as one of the best.
But it’s not all hectic tourist locations where you can’t move an inch without risking being in a dozen people’s selfies. There are areas to stroll along and escape the throng. This is something Al and I did recently on the bank holiday, taking a stroll along the canals of little Venice which are lined with greenery and waterside cafes and we saw more dogs and cats than tourists.
There are also the parks across the full breadth of the city from out east now around the Olympic park in Stratford to Hampstead Heath in the west giving you stunning landscape views of the city from its high grassy slopes. There is also of course the Thames and its numerous riverside walks which give you not just views all along of the main landmarks but also great diversity from small beaches to historic ships like HMS Belfast and Cutty Sark. Also there are some lovely river side pubs for when you need a break which aren’t that well known but offer great views and great drink.
And what’s so great about the city is that I haven’t in fact yet said anything that would necessarily cost you any money. All of those iconic landmarks are free to see, even if they’re not all free to go around. Yet many of them are. London houses some of the best museums in the world and they’re free! Al and I each booked a day off work last year and met in London and went to several museums and had a lovely day out thanks to this. We went to the imperial war museum, the natural history museum and the science museum. All thoroughly enjoyable, all thoroughly informative, all thoroughly free.
You can walk the city… but to do all i’ve mentioned you would indeed need to get on the tube. And whilst I did this for free at times whilst I lived there and the DLR can potentially be ridden for free if you’re willing to jump ship at a moment’s notice as the ticket man snakes their way towards you you’re best off getting a ticket. But then, who hasn’t heard of the London Underground or seen the iconic map? The tube is part of being a tourist and is as famous as public transport gets. I’m willing to bet everyone reading this, hopefully hundreds and thousands, can name at least one station on the London Underground. How many other cities can you say that for? Kings Cross. Oxford Circus. Camden Town. Plaistow. (Ok so maybe not that last one, but I lived there so it’s now very famous and important). Not to mention also the fact that a station in London is the gateway to the magical world of Hogwarts. What more need be said?
And then for those who are willing to spend more than the price of a ticket to see the city then the world is truly your oyster. After all as that famous guy famously said – When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life. You can catch a world class show at the West End, eat at a world class restaurant, go watch the world’s best club (Arsenal), basically do anything you can imagine and do it at a world class level. And if you’re willing to spend the money you can also have a world class night out and experience the right of passage for the city which is getting the night bus back again at the end of your drunken night. Not that Al and J thank me for that particular experience of theirs when they were knackered, covered in foam and groggy from drink at 4am and then had to travel on a couple and several more busses back out East to my humble (barely affordable yet cheap for London) student home. Oh, and; by the way, we were also dressed as a parrot, Spider-Man and the devil with our onesies drenched to the skin from the now toxic smelling foam.
I could carry on, but this is already a longer piece than I usually write and I’m weary of taking up too much of your time and am thankful for you reading this. So I will end by just saying this: London can simply never be broken and no attack will stop me going there for yet another day of joyful tourism. Thank you.