“London is boring. There is nothing to do.”
I am a member of a travel forum and this statement was posted by another participant. I wouldn’t take this personally…except that maybe I do. For one, I owe London a big deal. My son was born in the city while we were temporarily stationed there. He was born with a rare medical condition that required several surgeries over the course of a year. Not a penny was demanded from us. The country’s health system afforded us the luxury of free treatment, and the doctors and staff at the hospital won our hearts. Loving and caring; on top of everything; never discriminating. Some were Londoners; some probably weren’t. And that’s the beauty of the city. It is home to more immigrants than it is to the English people. And that’s why, when you step into the city as a tourist, you immediately feel like you belong.
So then, coming back to: “London is boring. There is nothing to do.”
Approaching the statement very objectively, this is factually wrong. London is abuzz with concerts, shows, theatre, talks, conferences and festivals throughout the year. No matter what your taste, there is something on offer. There is always something to do or see. If you can’t find anything, you are most likely not looking in the right places.
I can maybe concede to the fact that some people might not find London clean or refined. There are as many types of people as there are cities in the world. You like some. You don’t like some. I’m still going to try and convince the pessimists out there.
Imagine you are standing in London somewhere. Imagine it is the Marble Arch. Where do you go from there. There’s vibrant Notting Hill in one direction, the Arab eateries of Edgware road in another; the finesse of Knightsbridge and South Kensington are conveniently accessible on the other end of Hyde Park for some Harrods therapy or museum loving; fine dining options are dotted all across Mayfair behind Park Lane; and in yet another trajectory from the Marble Arch, lies the mecca of all shopping strips: the Oxford Street. Strolling down, taking in known and unknown high street brands and the iconic Selfridges, you can choose to turn left on Orchard Street to take you right into Baker Street and over to the Sherlock Holmes Museum or Madame Tussaud’s.
And if that is not your cup of tea, keep strolling down Oxford Street. Grab one of Ben’s Cookies along the way. That’s heaven in your mouth. Ed’s Diner, right behind Ben’s Cookies, offers halal hot dogs with black beans. Once you reach Oxford Circus station, you again have 3 options. Turn left for Regent’s Park, or go straight for New Oxford Street. Soho is nestled in somewhere down there. Try the area for a cheeky night out with friends and snicker away.
And if that is not your cup of tea, turn right for Regent Street. This curved – an almost concave – structured line of upper scale shops is a sight for sore eyes. This is the home of bespoke tailoring for gentlemen. But forget that. Whatever you do, do not miss Hamley’s Toy Store. It is unimportant if you don’t have any kids in your bandwagon. Just walk in. It’s magic. It puts Hamley’s stores in other cities to shame. I could easily spend an hour inside. At the other end of Regent Street lies the iconic electronic billboards of Piccadilly Circus. Granted it doesn’t quite match up to the vibe of Times Square in New York, it has still served as a fantastic photo op for tourists for decades. Stand across the road and look for props on the screen. There are, yet again, several directions to choose from. China Town, Leicester Square or Trafalgar Square. Lots of music, hullabaloo and street performances encapsulate Leicester Square and China Town on weekend nights.
And if that is not your cup of tea, walk towards Trafalgar Square. Admire Nelson’s column, the fountains and lions. The monumental National Gallery on Trafalgar Square is unmissable – and free. What’s your choice of monopoly property here onwards? Towards Charing Cross, right off the Strand, lie the electric Covent Garden on one side and the Waterloo Bridge on the other. Try The Icecreamists for guilty pleasures in Covent Garden. Their Breast Milk ice-cream was a bit too adventurous for us to indulge though (has this place shut down?). The Waterloo Bridge, on the other side, offers beautiful vistas of the city by the Thames.
And if that is not your cup of tea, maybe head down to the Houses of Parliament, the Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey via Whitehall. Say hello to the prime minister at the unassuming 10 Downing Street along the way. The London Eye and South Bank Centre, both situated south of the river, are also iconic landmarks. London’s southbank also hosts one of the biggest iMax screens in the continent.
And if that is not your cup of tea, walk down the Mall from Trafalgar for views of Buckingham Palace. St James’ Park is another popular royal park situated in this area. A section of the Buckingham Palace is open to the public for some time in the summer months. Do check. Other popular palaces in the city are Princess Diana’s Kensington Palace or the Hampton Court Palace associated with Henry VIII.
And if that is not your cup of tea, try the gothic currents of Camden Town, the modernity of Canary Wharf and the O2 Arena, which is a good venue for dinner and a movie at the end of the day. Access their website for upcoming shows. You never know, you might stumble upon Disney on Ice, Sonu Nigam in concert, or a BSB-NKOTB reunion to relive the obsessions of teen years.
It is impossible to wrap all of London in a blog post, I concede. I have been to churches and cathedrals across Europe, but few beat the magnificence of St Paul’s Cathedral. It is jaw-dropping from the inside. A guided audio tour will totally be worth your while, and a hike up the spiral staircase will test your mettle and core strength. Are you up for the dome? Along the way, stop for a breather and some fun at the Whispering Gallery. This was featured in a Hollywood movie which I cannot quite recall. Maybe one of my readers can jog my memory.
Further down the river, lies the Tower Bridge (often mistaken as the London Bridge). Next to it, sits quietly, the Tower of London, which offers history buffs, a solid rendezvous into London’s gory yesteryears. Also nearby, stands the Shard – a modern addition to London’s skyline.
I haven’t as yet fully covered the city centre, and there is so much more in the outer (and conveniently accessible) zones of London.
It is best to spend more than a week in the city if you really want to take it in, but if you’re in a hurry, check my guide on How to Use the London Pass.
Boring is not a word I would associate with this giant metropolis. Tens of day trips from any of its major rail stations are yet another reason why it makes such a good base to see more of England. Something tells me, I will keep going back. And so will many of you.
London is not boring. There is so much to do.