Friday, 2 September 2011
On this walking tour we'll get our Sherlock Holmes on and investigate why this city has much more culture then it's typical stereotypes. Firstly however, whether you've arrived at Heathrow Airport, Euston train station or Victoria coach station, you'll have to ride the tube at least once for experiences sake, hate it or love it (we're somewhere in the middle). Take the subway service a few stops (and maybe a few changes, depending on the route) to the core and epicentre of the big smoke and lets start our journey in Oxford Circus in this big top town from East London to Westminster.
Oxford Circus really is an extravaganza of great shops, coffee houses and restaurants. From walking up London's royal, infamous, high-end, boutique bountiful Regent Street to heading up to Marble Arch (which also makes for a great photo opportunity) by way of dominant department stores like the world famous Selfridges and its notorious, grand shop-front designs. Still let's stay on course with Regent's Street (if your wallet can take it) and pass the magnificent marble buildings that these shops inhabit. This is London, in all its traditional, epic, structural stature. As is the legendary, classic Carnaby Street, if you take a side street on your left. This pedestrian street is driven by the perfect mix of shops and independent restaurants, bars and business'.
Keep up pace and you'll end up in what should really be called the entertainment district of London, as you reach Piccadilly Circus. Sure you won't see any clowns or lions, but what you will see is a nice group of neon signs that are almost as famous as Times Square. Also a famous fountain is a fond place for tourists to sit as the Ripley's 'Believe It Or Not' museum opposite, but let's keep it moving, even past the new, great M&M store (I know you want to stop and snack, but we can get back to that).
Now you'll find yourself central in Leicester Square. Which if you circle round you'll find it covers an equilateral mix of great restaurants (like Chiquito's, Garfunkels, or the many self-owned, tasty Pizza joints) and epic cinemas. Speaking of movies this place was (until recent renovations due to be finished in 2012) and will again be the perfect place for world premieres and the best way to meet and be struck by your favourite Hollywood star. From Clint Eastwood, to DiCaprio, Depp and R-Patz, they and many more scrolls down the A-list have been and will be here, once this place re-opens next year. Except the park in the middle of this square to look even more picturesque than it already did. Plus for all your premieres you can divert to the Westfield Shopping Centre in Shepherds Bush, which also makes a great place to spend a few hours and pounds with all it has to offer.
Still let's forget about currency and stay current for a minute. Staying on with the squares its time you reached Trafalgar Square, and how's the nice National Gallery, Nelson's Column, beautiful fountains and royal lion architecture and a countdown clock to the Olympics for your four corners? Speaking of the Olympics, this is another reason why you should visit this city, London is hosting the Olympics in 2012 and we've been to the Olympic Park and it looks incredible and almost ready too. It's just a shame its all getting scrapped after the games as it should stand as a great memory and legacy to it's holding of the worlds best sporting stage.
Once you've taken in the vast triumph of Trafalgar you've got two choices to make as you go forward. You can head right to the magnificent, Paris feeling Mall, en route to a royal appointment with the beautiful Buckingham Palace, where her Highness resides along with those guards that don't smile or move whatever you do, but just you try. Or on your immediate left as you head forward you can pass 10 Downing Street (where the Prime Minister lives and worth a visit, just don't expect to get an answer if you knock on his door) on your way to the bold and brilliant Big Ben and the historically perfect Houses of Parliament, one of the city and countries most iconic images is ready for your camera lens. As you take in all the delicate detail you have to wait around to hear it's legendary chime on the hour.
Then nearby this and 'some' protesters is Westminster Abbey, another wonderful site and the place where Prince William and Kate Middleton got married this year in front of the whole world. Worth writing home about and saying you where there. Past Big Ben however is the infamous London bridge. London's bridge falls you in perfect line with views of the terrific Thames and colossal Canary Wharf, the great Gherkin building and the developing financial district (there's even more towering towers being built right now) which is well worth affording a visit. London Bridge is not to be confused with the legendary Tower Bridge in the distance. You must bridge the gap to see this incredible landmark, but before you to take in some of the amusements and fun on the way and to gain the best perspective and view on everything why not take a look through the excellent London Eye and take the perfect vantage and look of this city on this wheel, day to night. Don't sleep on the eyes truly epic and evoking look of London.
Then you almost circle round and be back to Trafalgar and square one, this time however before getting back to Oxford Circus via the happening Tottenham Court Road you must spend an afternoon or evening in the classy Covent Garden with its quaint, vintage Europe styling. There's great places to eat, drink and relax and unimposing street entertainers bring family fun and frolics all night long to this classic, cobbled stone, ambient area. Still if you want to relax more then how about taking a walk in the park. From the glorious Green Park to the highs of Hyde Park (who's vast greatness is rivalled only by New York's Central Park) you can be at one with the nature and atmosphere of this city that really is friendly if you look in the right place. This is the place too. Especially Hyde decked out with deck chairs, bikes, fountains, bridges and interesting walks for your exploring. This walk in the park also doubles up as a great, epic venue for concerts as the Summer season rolls round the traditional 'Hard Rock Calling' has seen legendary acts like Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder and Bruce Springsteen grace the stage over the last few years. Now tell me you can't rock with that?
Speaking of concerts and other entertainment, London really is the ticket. Venue from the massive O2 (which even headlines some NBA games) to the bunker beauty of the Barbican Theatre and many more in places like Hammersmith and Camden (which is also home to a favourite, must-see market) have everything you need for bringing your favourite acts live. Still just like New York, the city of London is a theatre town and you can see it all from Billy Elliott to Wicked, or Thriller to Mamma Mia, in London's legendary theatres (like the Royal Court or the Old Vic) littered around the city but concentrated in Leicester Square where you can also pick up legit discounted tickets for your travel budget. Musically speaking, listen to this; from Waterloo, to Bakers Street and a couple of tube whistle stops to The Beatles famous Abbey Road you can crossover pop culture and history in just a few tube connections. Now isn't that worth a picture?
Still if you fancy something a little more ordinary with all these different things London town still has plenty more to do and offer. With great restaurants for all cultures (try the Chinese 'Yauatcha' near Carnaby Street) to the traditional British tastes of fish and chips, bangers and mash, and beef and ale pie, these pub classics are must eats. Pubs also make a great place to relax, drink and socialise, but for those less easy going, their are hip and happening bars, like the below zero 'Icebar' in Mayfair (woolly coats provided) which is real cold and cool. Then when its time to hit the dusty trail London will lead you to an endless list of hotels from the quaint and quiet stop overs to the bold, extravagant, more expensive than the flight places. Just take your pick. Still either way your guaranteed a great nights sleep in this after midnight calm city. Just make sure you set you alarm as London's calling for your next travel trip. Its time to answer, no question. TIM DAVID HARVEY.