Someone just lamented to me the other day that there's absolutely nothing to do in London. Well, she's born and bred in London so I can't probably fault her for saying that. Then again, how many of us have actually done all the 'touristy stuff' that London is known for? Irony is that the millions of tourists descended upon the capital every year might have seen more of London than many of us.
I had a moment to myself yesterday and it didn't take me long to clobber up a list of 10 things to do in London.
1. Witness the change of guards at Buckingham Palace
There’s something fascinating about those bearskin hats or men in uniforms. Men on horsebacks with the full pomp (swords and all) are always a crowd pleasers. Tourists lined The Mall at least twenty minutes before the allocated time to catch a piece of the action.
The changing of guards at Buckingham Palace takes place every day at 11.30am between May to July and alternate days during other months (check official website for schedule). To have the best view, get to the centre of the huge marble piece (yep, the one with Queen Victoria) at the roundabout before the police cordon off the road.
2. Tour Westminster - Houses of Parliament
You'll be surprised how many Londoners haven't been into this one. Even though the empire that stretches over the globe is no more, the seat of the government is still a sight to reckon with. Get your photos with Big Ben first and the best spot is on Westminster Bridge itself with Westminster as the background.
Once in the Westminster, the guide will bring you through the halls of power, showing you the MPs lounge, House Commons and House of Lords, not to mention the direct line of sight between the two Houses. Note the wear and tear on the House of Commons’ door caused by the Black Rod’s, well, rod.
Free tours lasting 75min can be arranged for UK residents through their MPs but places are extremely popular and you'll be better of paying for one over here. The same applies for tourists as well.
3. Whispering Dome of St. Paul’s
This is worth every penny despite the relatively hefty entrance fee of £12.50. Other than the breathtaking views of its nave, the key attraction is definitely the Whispering Dome. Get your mate to whisper close to the perfectly round dome and you’ll hear every single word if you are standing on the other end. Warning: slight risk of vertigo here although the glass barriers are pretty safe.
After you have had your fun, head upwards still to the watchtower to get a commanding view of the City of London.
4. Stand on the GMT line at Greenwich
Tell your pals back home that you have stood at the centre of the Earth – in terms of time, that is. Interestingly, the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) line hasn’t always been where it is currently marked. There is a roving guide who will bring you through the history of how the measurement of time comes about.
There are a couple of exhibits suitable for both adults and children alike. If weather permits, get an ice-cream or a sausage roll, lie down on the grassy slopes and enjoy the view a bit.
5. Catch a play at West End
Never leave London without catch a show at the West End. Shaftesbury Avenue that stretches from Piccadilly Circus to Charing Cross Road is full of theatres. Besides well known musicals like Les Miserables and Phantom of The Opera, I would recommend The 39 Steps and The Woman in Black for drama.
Get your half price stall tickets on that day itself at TKTS counter located on the south end of Leicester Square or purchase discount tickets in advance.
6. Go for a London Walk
If you have a gap of 3hrs to fill, this is the one to go for. Discover the streets that inspire Harry Porter, London’s dark history and even the precise spot where Jack the Ripper’s victims took their last breath. What about appreciating Westminster when night falls?
Each tour takes around 2.5hrs and payment for the £8 is made on the spot to the guide at the assigned meeting spot (usually next to a Tube station).
7. Tower of London
Tower of London, which was built to dominate the entry point via River Thames had the reputation of not having its prisoners leaving alive. I suspect that’s more of a deterrence than not and many did try to escape and some even succeeded. Interestingly, there had been only 7 beheadings that took place within the tower walls – the rest took place opposite at Tower Hill with the crowds jeering and cheering at the same time.
Be sure to go for the one hour Beefeeters guide, which is included in the ticket purchase.
8. High Tea at Ritz
There is nothing like having an afternoon tea at the opulent Ritz and no one does tea better than the English. Tea at Ritz is a serious affair – men have to be in jacket and tie. Women have it easier - sensible wear will do just fine.
The high tea is charged per head and for that you’ll have a free flow of dainty sandwiches and scones with a wide selection of tea. This is so popular that it is fully booked a few weeks in advance.
9. Get a toy at Hamleys
Hamleys is more than a huge toy store. Originally set up in 1760 at High Holborn, the flagship store in London’s Regent Street is literally an institution in itself. The seven storey (5,000 sq metres) store packed toys for kids of all ages. What sets Hamleys apart from other major toy stores is that its staff are genuinely interested in the toys. Don’t be surprised to see the playful staff getting a bit caught up in the toy demos.
Fear not if you are thinking of buying a huge toy for Hamleys handles shipping all over the world at a reasonable fee.
10. Brunch at Borough Market, Antiques at Portebello Market, knick knacks at Camden Market
Now that I have hit the last item of the list, it took me quite a while to decide which one to include as there is so much to do for the London visitor. But you should never leave London without visiting at least one of the main markets.
If you have time for only one, head to the Borough Market. Grab a salt beef burger, weave through the crowds, taste the wide selection of olives, cheese, artisan bread, a variety of jams on a biscuit. Wash it all down with some mild wine, cappuccino or an expresso and then head for some fish and chips or bangers.
If you time to spare head to Portobello Market and Camden Town too.
Anything more to add to the list? While you are at it, check out 1000 Things to do in London.