The Royal baby watch is reaching a fever pitch, so it’s time to take a second look at everything that’s great about traveling to London. There’s more to get excited about than just the Royal birth. Contributor Lilit Marcus shows how to skip the Royal Family-themed tourist traps and find a more authentic side of London on your second (or third) trip.
London is one of the world’s busiest cities. It’s also one of the most spread out and diverse, which makes it ideal for repeat visits. Now that you’ve crossed off some of the major attractions – the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, and the British Museum, for example – it’s time to delve a little deeper into the city known as The Big Smoke.
The best way to see a city from another angle is to stay in a different part of town. If you stayed in a central, touristy neighborhood like Chelsea or Covent Garden last time, consider something hipper and less expensive in Zone 2 or in East London. While the tube is usually a great option, you should also consider a neighborhood where it’s easier to get around via bus – it’s cheaper than the tube, and you get to see the city the way many Londoners see it.
Now that you’ve hit most of the key attractions, check out a couple of less crowded but equally interesting museums. The Museum of London offers a closer look into the history of this busy, tumultuous city, while the National Portrait Gallery gives you a sense of London through some of its most famous (and infamous) residents. Do some research ahead of time and see what the special exhibits will be at the Barbican Centre, the Victoria & Albert Museum, and Somerset House, three of the best places in London to experience culture – within the past year the V&A hosted an exhibit dedicated to the style of David Bowie, while the Barbican organized a James Bond retrospective. Somerset House is best known for its summer music series and for cool photography and visual art shows. The Time Out London website is also great for local events listings like concerts, readings, and lectures.
When it comes to shopping, you don’t have to return to the predictable Harrods and Selfridge’s. Check out some smaller, more indie shopping areas like Spitalfields Market (near the Liverpool Street Tube station) and Boxpark Shoreditch, a painfully cool ‘pop-up mall’ that features everything from a Wah Nails nail art boutique to Cybercandy, a storehouse of insane candy from around the world.
As much as London has to offer, it’s also important to get out of town. There are plenty of great daytrips from London, including Maritime Greenwich and the Cutty Sark, Oxford University, Stratford-Upon-Avon, and Blenheim Palace. You can reach Greenwich via the local rail system, while the others are easily accessible either by regional transit/buses or by signing up with a tour company.
It’s quite easy to find a tour company that will take you to both Stonehenge (it’s cool, but there isn’t much to see and you can be in and out in an hour) and Bath in a day and have you back in London in time for a late dinner. If you have more than a day, the relative small size of the country works in your favor – consider visiting another city in the United Kingdom, like Cardiff, Manchester, or Edinburgh. And if there’s not enough time to get out of the city, don’t worry – you can have inspiration for planning your third visit.
Don’t Miss Lilit Marcus’ Guide on What to Do on Your Second (or Third!) Trip to Paris.
By Lilit Marcus for PeterGreenberg.com. Lilit is a freelance writer who lives on the Lower East Side and tries to get out of Manhattan as much as possible. Her work has also appeared in Glamour, The Daily, and Jaunted.com. Follow her on twitter at @LilitMarcus.