“There’s nowhere else like London. Nothing at all, anywhere” – Vivienne Westwood
It’s my capital, so I’m biased, I know. And I haven’t visited every city on Earth. But London for me really is something wonderful. London was the first place I moved to when I left home aged 20, London was where my Nana was born and raised (East London) and London was also my first experience of finding adventure in a non-foreign land after catching the travel bug. It’s a really great place to explore as a local or in the way non-Brits do, and the love affair continues today. No matter how often you visit, there’s always something else to discover. I’m fortunate to live under an hour from this cosmopolitan city of England and it is one of the places in my country I am most proud of.
Recently, I took a helicopter ride over this brilliant metropolis. VVB Aviation in Hertfordshire offer 30 minute pleasure flights, travelling along the Thames and giving you a wonderful display of some of London’s most iconic buildings. Capture a birds-eye view of the London Eye, Houses of Parliament, O2, the Shard and the Gherkin, to name a few. Why not make a day of it? Get up early and grab brunch in Delisserie in Elstree before you fly, and afterwards enjoy a drink in the cafe that overlooks the runway and watch many private planes and helicopters take off and land.
Although the helicopter gives you great views, to experience London fully you need to be on foot. This city really does have it all; galleries, museums, landmarks, exhibitions, restaurants. It’s impossible to get bored. The downside to London is the cost of everything. From food to attractions, London is expensive so if you live close too, do things in bite-size chunks whenever you are looking for a day or weekend of fun. It’s ideal in all weathers, which is pretty lucky because it rains a lot here. I can’t cover everywhere I love in London in one blog so instead I’ll give you a taste of my ‘don’t miss’ bits.
Venn Street Records is one my favourite bars in London. Get yourself to Clapham Common tube station and from here, it’s about a 1 minute walk. On Thursday and Friday evenings, it hosts incredible live music. The cocktail menu is adventurous and the décor is fabulous, with vinyls from some of the world’s greatest musicians on display. The atmosphere is relaxed and welcoming, so whether you come once in a lifetime or every week, you will feel right at home and fall in love. Order yourself a drink, grab a table and sing along to tune after tune of exciting music to suit all ages.
If you love heights and want a fantastic view of the city of London, choose Sushi Samba. Heron Tower lobby boasts a 70,000-litre aquarium containing hundreds of fish, but the elevator of this impressive building is the real draw here, with floor to ceiling glass that gives you a once in a lifetime experience as you ride up to the 38th floor. The elevator travels at 5mph and when it was first created, it had to be slowed down because people experienced travel sickness whilst riding it. Sushi Samba offers a fusion of Japanese and South American cuisine in its gorgeous high-floor restaurant. The staff are attentive, the food is exquisite and the prices reflect this. It’s well worth an evening for a special occasion and I would highly recommend hanging around afterwards on the outside decking under the tree lights, savouring the city from a great vantage point.
The Sky Garden is absolutely wonderful anytime but how about popping along on a Friday evening after work? Live bands play feel-good tunes and this beautiful land in the sky of green transforms into a quirky bar with cocktails and fantastic lighting. You can eat here but I would recommend a more reasonable meal nearby in one of London’s many popular chain restaurants, then make your way up before sunset. Watch the moody sky change from grey to black and feel this lively bar spring to life. Entrance is free, just arrive before 10pm. It’s another great way to experience London from a height, but this time without having to spend a small fortune.
London’s westend shows some of the best musicals in the world and if you only get to visit London once, an evening here is a must! Last November, we watched fairly new musical Aladdin. Grab food in a local restaurant (Benihana is our top pick in this area), before enjoying an incredible performance, whichever show you pick. The singers and dancers are exceptionally trained and perform passionately. I can’t think of a better way to feel moved and uplifted, and I always find myself singing the whole way home. I love the stage and still remember my first ever visit to the westend for my 7th Birthday, where my parents and I watched Beauty and The Beast. The spirit of London is best experienced in the streets and bars of the westend. Book a hotel, get dolled up, and make a night of it!
Another place I love for eating and drinking is Shoreditch, where you can find a real variety of bars, clubs, restaurants and quirky shops too. Stop by Spitalfields Market to enjoy the stalls of goodies not far from Liverpool Street Station, and if you have a sweet-tooth, this area is one location where you can find a Hummingbird Bakery. Cake never tasted so good! For dinner, choose a curry house on Brick Lane. There are so many to choose from it’s best not to have a plan in mind, just go with the feel and enjoy this exciting area of modern London.
The best thing about this city is its people. For the most part, citizens of the world co-exist in peace and harmony, going about their daily business, celebrating their differences and uniting against anyone who thinks otherwise. London is probably home to every race, religion and nationality on the planet. It’s a model of how humanity can work together to achieve beautiful things. Anyone who tries to tell you differently, has no idea what London is really about and hasn’t spent a great deal of time there, doing normal things like working and socialising and really feeling how this city works.
In the summer, try Notting Hill Carnival at least once for a real feel of this incredible diversity and unity I speak of. People of all walks of life celebrate together in the streets with music and colour and passion. Notting Hill Carnival is perfectly safe during the daytime and you will see plenty of families enjoying the fun. Buy food from one of the many homes that set up BBQs in their front gardens and dance along with the parade. It’s a wonderful spectacle that should be kept alive by the attendance of families and communities.
Madame Tussauds is a fabulous rainy day option, with or without children. Take fun photos with the waxworks and enjoy the many exhibitions also available. My highlight is the black cab ride through the different ages of London, capturing the essence of the city and all that it has weathered and enjoyed. You’ve got to love a cheesy, tourist photo!
For a thrilling adventure, try climbing the O2. Pick a time slot around sunset and a non-blustery day if you can. This bouncy walkway takes you from the very bottom of one side, over the top where there is an excellent viewing platform, before descending the other side. It’s a fairly easy climb so is suitable for all ages and levels of fitness. The O2 is another fantastic location for eating and drinking, as well as other events, so after your climb, grab a spot and enjoy the atmosphere in this unique building.
For sport, don’t miss watching England play Rugby at Twickenham Stadium in South West London. Take the bus to the game and join in with the fans as they chant and sing. No matter where you are seated, you will be buzzing from the atmosphere of a game like this. Last year, we saw Wales play England on a brilliant sunny day. Before, after or both, stop at a local pub to eat and drink and be merry.
Christmas in London is really special. There are so many exciting things to do but a few are definitely unmissable. Try ice-skating at Hampton Court Palace where you can wrap up warm and enjoy some outdoor time with a stunning backdrop to your photos. Regent Street and Oxford Street are a must see at Christmas too, even if you can’t bear to shop here because of the mayhem the festive season brings. Just go for the incredible lights hanging high above the streets and grab a hot chocolate from a coffee shop to go. Another magical destination at Christmas is Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, for rides and stalls and mulled wine. With or without children, its another fantastic outdoor event that is perfect for getting into the Christmas spirit.
For my fellow dance lovers, pick an English National Ballet and visit one of the impressive stages that house them. Last year, we visited the Royal Opera House and watched Swan Lake. It was a mesmerising performance, best watched as close as possible to the floor to really capture the incredible talent on display. Even if classical music is not for you, you should definitely watch a ballet at least once. It will have you spellbound, I’m sure.
Landmark wise you are more than spoilt for choice in London. Try to capture and take in at least some of the following; Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, The London Eye, The Gherkin, The Tower of London, The Houses of Parliament, St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square, Hyde Park, Harrods, Hamleys, The Shard, The Royal Albert Hall, Tower Bridge amongst so many other wonderful hidden buildings and statues displaying impressive architecture. The innovative modern designs here are coupled with the ageing yet timeless, historical places. Whatever your preference, you won’t be disappointed by the landscape and a walking city tour with a camera is one of my favourite ways to waste a day.
The other places that are well worth checking out if you have the time are Camden Town for atmosphere and street food, Borough Market for produce and the people, Carnaby Street for drinks and dressing-up, Covent Garden for street-performers and stalls, China Town for everything Chinese, The Tate Modern for art, The Natural History Museum for … history, Alexandra Palace for fireworks on Bonfire night, Leicester Square for cinema viewings and red-carpet glimpses, Ice bar for sub-zero photos, and too-many-to-mention nightclubs and underground raves from Picadilly Circus to the arches of Southwark. Music wise, there’s definitely a scene for everyone’s taste in this great city of London, whether you’re a night owl or a festival goer.
There really are too many wonderful things to pack into this destination so if you only go once, get out and do as much as you possibly can with your time. You can sleep on your way home! If you live close or are fortunate enough to visit often, simply wander and savour each individual part in all its beauty. I’m confident you will fall in love with its spirit and traditions, and also pretty confident you will never get to see it all. It’s a photographer’s dream with sights on every corner. Go, experience my favourite city. See a side to Britain that makes it truly great; the diverse and historical capital of England. I always have, and always will, love London and all the wonderful people I have known there.
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