London for Visitors and Expatriates
One View of the Ten Best Places to Go
Americans in London: Visitors and Residents
Americans make up the largest group of foreign visitors to the United Kingdom, over 3.5 million yearly, with the total certain to rise with the Olympic games hosted in London in 2012. Although most American tourists flock to the sights of London from the Tower and Trafalgar Square to Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, the sheer variety and diversity of this city offer so much more than what is immediately apparent. Whether you’ve decided to live in London for a few years or simply spend a little longer here on your holidays, there are a number of interesting places to visit and things to do, all within easy striking distance of central London and not all of them overrun by tourists.
Early Morning: Best Market
Brits have discovered a taste for good food over the last decade and all across the country the organic, local produce revolution is in full swing. Gone are the days of bone-dry Sunday roast with lumpy gravy and over-cooked vegetables. Instead London is fast becoming a foodie heaven and Borough market is truly the jewel of the crown. Borough is Britain’s oldest food market, some 250 years in its current location, although there’s been a market in the vicinity going back some 2,200 years. The market is open for wholesale trade every night except Saturday and to the public Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, when the place really comes alive. Stalls selling the very finest of British produce from venison sausages and wild rabbit to fresh oysters and smoked salmon, jostle for space with the best of the bunch from the continent. There are French wines and pates, Spanish chorizo, Portuguese honeys and all the beers of Belgium. Visit early at the weekend. Borough is the most popular place for fresh food shopping in London with locals, tourists and celebrity chefs alike.
Further info: www.boroughmarket.org.uk.
Getting there: Borough Market is located near London Bridge Station on the mainline National Rail network and London Underground’s Northern Line – City Branch.
During the Day: Best Sight
The London Eye
Since opening in 2000, the London Eye – the world’s tallest observation wheel at 135m – has become not just very popular with Brits and visitors, but also one of the most distinctive features of the London skyline. Being one of the capital’s newer sights, it opened around the same time as two other additions, Tate Modern art gallery housed in the restored Bankside power station and the Millennium Bridge, spanning the Thames between St Paul’s cathedral and the Tate. The leisurely ride in the large observation capsules takes about 30 min and offers some of the best views of London. There’s no need to fight your way to a window as there’s plenty of space and plenty of glass throughout the capsules. Admittedly with 10,000 visitors a day, queuing to get on the wheel itself can present a bit of a challenge and it’s best to pre-book tickets. There are a variety of different options apart from the standard 30 min ride. You could book a champagne or a wine capsule, take your sweetheart for a trip in a cupid capsule or try out a London summer favorite – Pimms cocktails and fresh strawberries.
Further info: www.londoneye.com.
Getting there: The London Eye is approx. 5 minutes walk from Waterloo and Westminster underground stations, as well as 5 minutes walk from Waterloo main line railway station.
Bookings: Bookings can be made online (these include a 10% discount). It’s also possible to queue for tickets at the Eye itself:
Westminster Bridge Road,
London SE1 7PB. Telephone: +44 (0)870 5000 600.
Full-Day, Afternoon or Evening: Best Spa
The Sanctuary women-only spa very much lives up to its name. A haven of blissful calm and refined pampering in the heart of central London, a stone’s throw from Covent Garden, this spa has had an interesting past. The building where it is housed has in the past been everything from a “house of ill repute,” to a banana warehouse. After over a decade as a dance school it opened as a women’s spa in 1977 and has been restoring the calm to many a set of jagged London nerves ever since. The spa takes over five floors and sees some 50,000 visitors a year with a maximum of 190 a day. Be prepared for absolute relaxation - a day here is sheer indulgence, with everything aimed at soothing the body and mind. It’s possible to spend a half day, full day or just an evening at The Sanctuary and the entrance ticket covers a wide range of facilities from the signature Atrium pool with its swing above the water and an exercise pool for the more energetic, to several Jacuzzis, a solarium, as well as a sauna. The koi carp lounge, with its easy chairs and comfy cushions, is perfect for relaxing or having a chat and a day at the Sanctuary is a great place for an outing with female friends or colleagues. There is a fully licensed restaurant when you get peckish and more snack food available in the koi carp and spa booking lounges. The snooze zone offers reclining chairs for those in need of quiet time or try the free color therapy room, where soft greens and blues accompanied by relaxing music gently enfold you. The spa also offers a wide variety of treatments from massage, aromatherapy and exfoliation to manicure, pedicure and facials.
Further information: www.thesanctuary.co.uk.
Getting there: Covent Garden underground station on the Piccadilly Line and Leicester Square underground station on the Piccadilly and Northern Lines are the nearest. Charing Cross British Rail is also within easy walking distance.
12 Floral Street, Covent Garden,
London WC2E 9DH.
Bookings: The best way to book is to call the reservation line on 0870 770 3350, Monday-Friday 8 am-8 pm, Saturday 9 am – 5 pm. It’s also possible to book via the website or at the spa itself in person.
In the Evening: Best Social Event
Answer English language nights
Answer English language service is quite a new and small company, based in London, but they’ve come a long way in a short time. Originally catering to foreign students arriving in London and providing them with the full package of finding schools, accommodation and more, since last autumn the company has been branching out into informed social evenings that mix networking and language learning. These events take place several times a month and the emphasis is on meeting new people while improving your languages as well. So far there are Spanish, French, Italian and Mandarin nights, bringing together a wide variety of nationalities in centrally located London bars, e.g. Gerrard Street’s The Exchange Bar in the heart of London’s Chinatown. The choice of bar can’t be a coincidence – the evenings are firmly based around an exchange taking place, so that those who would like to improve their English also get a chance to practice with native speakers. Managing director James Herbertson says “I found that for many who come to the UK, it can be surprisingly difficult to meet and practice English with native speakers.” He also found that many English speakers, both British and American, wanted to improve other languages and the social evenings have attracted a fair share of expats. The company has plans for German and Japanese evenings and there’s even been calls for Russian, Hungarian and Polish.
Further information: www.answerenglish.co.uk/english-schools-social-activities.php.
Getting there: Nearest underground stations are Piccadilly Circus on Bakerloo and Piccadilly lines and Leicester Square on Piccadilly and Northern lines. Address:The Exchange Bar,
32 Gerrard Street,
Soho, London, W1D 6JA.
Bookings: Online at www.answerenglish.co.uk or in person at the bar.
Photo courtesy of Answer English.
In the Evening: Best show
Wicked – the Untold Story of the Witches of Oz
London has always been an excellent place for musical theater and the last few years have seen a great deal of change and renewal on the musical scene with numerous long-runners such as Miss Saigon, Starlight Express and Cats saying their good-byes and making way for a series of exciting new innovations. One of the very best is Wicked – The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz, which started running at the Apollo Theatre near London’s Victoria Station, following on from its Broadway success. The London show has been no exception. It was an instant hit that continues to pull in the crowds even on the traditionally quieter Monday nights. Originally a book — Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West — written back in 1995 by American Gregory Maguire, the book and musical are loosely based on Leonard Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, but Maguire’s fairy-tale has a distinct feminist twist. Be prepared to be dazzled by the stunning stage décor, the sumptuous colorful costumes and some excellent music, singing and dancing.
Further info: www.wickedthemusical.co.uk (official UK website)
Getting there: Victoria, Circle or District Line to Victoria underground station. Over ground trains to Victoria mainline station. A wide variety of buses. The Apollo Theatre is right outside Victoria Station.
Address: Apollo Victoria Theatre, Wilton Road,
Bookings: Can be made via Ticketmaster online www.ticketmaster.co.uk or in person at the theatre or at one of the many reduced price ticket booths in central London, such as the one in Leicester Square.
Outside of London
Although vibrant and exciting, London can be a bit overwhelming at times and it’s hard find some quiet nooks and crannies. Here is a list of the best spots to enjoy a more peaceful aspect to the big city during the day and in the evening.
In the Morning and Daytime
This hide-out is hard to beat. Situated between Earl’s Court exhibition center and Chelsea football ground it’s difficult to imagine anywhere quite so peaceful in such a location. Originally known as the West of London and Westminster Cemetery, it opened in 1840 and today it’s one of the best examples of 19th century cemeteries in London with many of the 35,000 monuments designated as national treasures. The cemetery is open year-round and keeps longer opening hours during the summer. Although perhaps best avoided on Sundays when many Chelsea football fans use it as a shortcut from Earl’s Court Underground to their favorite football stadium, during mid-week this is a haven of peace and quiet, just a stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of the tourist hotels and corner shops of Earl’s Court, known for its transient population of migrants and visitors. Once entering the cemetery gates it’s hard to believe that only five minutes walk away you’re in the midst of the London buzz. Brompton Cemetery inspires quiet contemplation. A number of luminaries are buried here, from Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928), suffragette and staunch supporter of women’s rights, to Austrian composer Richard Tauber (1891-1948). This is also the final resting place of American Blanche Roosevelt, of Sandusky, Ohio, who studied music in Europe and became the first American to sing Italian opera at the Covent Garden opera house. During the summer months there are guided walks around the cemetery on the weekends for those in search of information, rather than introspection. For quiet reflection, interesting history and beautiful monuments this place is well-worth a visit.
Further info: The Friends of Brompton Cemetery. Tel. 020 7351 1689, www.brompton.org.
Getting there: The cemetery’s south gate is off Fulham Road and the north gate off Old Brompton Road.
Underground: West Brompton - District line (Wimbledon branch) is the nearest, or Earl’s Court on the District and Piccadilly lines.
Bus: 14, 74, 190, 211, 328, 414, 430, C1, C3 also operate near Brompton Cemetery.
Brompton Cemetary: Graves and Weeds
All Day: Best Day Out
The suburb of Hampstead, on the northern outskirts of London, has really kept its village-like atmosphere over the years. Home to a mixture of artists, writers and musicians, it retains an air of bohemia that appeals to many American, as well as French, expats with the likes of Bob Hoskins and Madonna living nearby. Part of the London Borough of Camden, Hampstead is one of the wealthier suburbs, with large, luxurious houses dating from the 1870s and 80s, many of which line one of London’s largest, oldest and “wildest” parklands, Hampstead Heath. No day spent in Hampstead is complete without at least going for a short amble across some of the Heath. It covers 791 acres, has 25 ponds – some of which are excellent for a swim on a hot summer’s day -, ancient woodland, grassland and even its own little police force. Kenwood House, at the northernmost tip, is part of English Heritage. Tea, as well as lunch and refreshments, can be taken in its garden. If it’s a more substantial meal you’re after, the pub grub in Hampstead is some of the best in London and the pubs themselves are an added incentive for visiting the area. After a few hours of leisurely exploration of the Heath and the Hampstead Village shops, there’s nothing better than settling in for a good pub lunch, something that could easily turn into a pub crawl with such an abundance of historic drinking establishments. There’s the Magdala, where Ruth Ellis, the last woman in Britain to be executed, shot her estranged lover in 1955; the Flask, opened in 1874 as a Victorian working class pub; the Holly Bush up the road, is a converted stables dating back to the mid-17th Century and then there’s Spaniards Inn built in 1585 for the Spanish ambassador.
Further info: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hampstead
Underground: Nearest stations are Hampstead and Belsize Park on the Northern line.
Rail: Nearest railway station is Hampstead Heath station on the North London line.
Bus: A variety of buses run from Central London and Camden Town, north London, to Hampstead. Also see Transport for London to plan your journey: www.tfl.gov.uk.
The Flask Pub in Hampstead.
In the Afternoon: Best Pastime
Although there are all manner of different modes of public transport and much of the city center can easily be seen on foot, one of the better ways of seeing London is by boat. Even if you’ve spent some time in the city already, a trip on the river Thames often gives a different perspective, as well as great views. As many of the river cruises have excellent guides, even if you think of yourself as “an old hand”, you invariably come away with additional knowledge about London’s history, both ancient and recent. Even quick hops, such as the 40-minute cruises departing right next to observation wheel The London Eye, are jam-packed with interesting tidbits and take in the main London highlights from the Houses of Parliament with Big Ben, to St Paul’s Cathedral, Tower of London and Tower Bridge. The trip also explores more modern features including Millennium Bridge and Tate Modern, both opened in 2000, the latter housed in the former Bank Power Station. Then there are more futuristic buildings, e.g. the so-called Gherkin and the London Mayor’s office, City Hall. Although there is of course a sundeck onboard, all boats have good indoor seating as well, as a precaution – London weather is notoriously unpredictable and even on the sunniest of days you can experience the odd downpour. The Thames is still very much a “working river”, constantly in use. Apart from the organized cruises with guided commentary, a wide variety of boats ply the river, many of them carrying commuters. At night, dinner and party cruises take over, offering the best of London by night and if a quick hop seems too short, there are longer boat journeys going as far out as Richmond and Hampton Court on the far western reaches of London. The northern part of town has a winding canal system where old-fashioned barges offer scenic trips and communities of houseboats remain moored, particularly in the young and bustling market area of Camden Town. It’s safe to say that many of the boat journeys tend to be blissfully quiet and peaceful compared to the underground and other means of public transport and they make for a unique way of experiencing the capital.
Further info: www.londoneye.com (40 min river cruise); www.tfl.gov.uk (for info on regular passenger services).
Getting there: The London Eye river cruise is approx. 5 minutes walk from Waterloo and Westminster underground stations, as well as 5 minutes walk from Waterloo main line railway station.
In the Evening: Best Evening Meal Experience
Brick Lane in “Banglatown”
London’s East End still holds a special place in the minds of many Londoners. This is where London remains somewhat rough around the edges. From Jack the Ripper in the late 19th Century, to the Kray brothers and other gangsters of the 1950s and 60s, the East End has long been associated with the murkier, seedier side of London. However, over the years this area has turned into one of London’s most vibrant and culturally diverse, with Brick Lane at the heart of it all. Brick Lane, situated in what is often referred to as Banglatown by visitors and locals alike, has seen wave upon wave of immigrants. Now mostly populated by London’s Sylheti Bangladeshi community, it has also been at the heart of the Jewish community and before that the Huguenots. It’s the wave of Bangladeshi immigrants arriving in the 20th Century though, that can take full credit for making Brick Lane into the best and most famous place to sample what has become a British institution: curry. Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani restaurants line the length of Brick Lane, serving up excellent dishes at very reasonable prices, simply because the competition is so stiff. The restaurants that started out as little cubby-holes have with time become larger and more fashionable, but the food has also improved in quality and diversity. Now there are many regional specialties from southern India to the Bengal in the north. Weekends and lunchtimes are extra busy, as many people drop in after taking a look at the various East End markets in the area, but mid-week is a good time to try out the restaurants in the evening. Not all of them serve alcohol, but you’re often allowed to bring your own to wash down all that spice.
Underground: The nearest station for Brick Lane is Aldgate East on the District and Hammersmith and City Lines. Other nearby stations for the East End markets include Liverpool Street on the Circle, Metropolitan, Central and Hammersmith and City Lines, as well as Aldgate on the Circle and Metropolitan Lines.
Buses: a variety of buses serve the area. Also see Transport for London to plan your journey: www.tfl.gov.uk.