Everyone’s heard of London. In some ways, the British capital is Hong Kong’s complete opposite. Sure, they’re both buzzy cities with amazing skylines and around 8 million inhabitants, but where HK seems to pride itself on tearing down the old and being shiny and new, London is full of history. It’s also a lot more dog-friendly! So much has happened in this old town, which makes it really great both for history nerds – sorry, buffs – and anyone who likes really beautiful buildings behind them in their holiday selfies.
While London has the world’s oldest underground railway system, known locally as The Tube, its age means it has LOTS of problems. Delays and cancellations are a way of life for Londoners; most weekends there are “planned construction works”, and the phrase baby Londoners learn right after “mummy”, “daddy” and “no” is “replacement bus services”. It’s not always the most reliable way to get around if you’re on holiday.
Luckily, you’ll often find a lot of tourist sights within easy reach of one another; what’s more, strolling around the city is one of the greatest ways to take it all in. So, choose a district per day, and do all you can in that area. (The Tube is really expensive, so the less you take it, the less your wallet will hurt! MAKE SURE you get an Oyster card, the London equivalent of an Octopus, even if you’re only there for a few days, as prices are much cheaper that way – like a quarter of the price, sometimes. Yeah.)
What’s so great about it?
Its history. So much has happened in London over the centuries, and successive leaders have done an excellent job of caring for the evidence. You can hardly turn a corner without seeing a blue sign on the wall, telling you that someone famous was born there, died there, or wrote some of the world’s best-known literature there.
It also is incredibly cosmopolitan, and people of different cultures live and work happily alongside one another, often identifying as “Londoner” before anything else. This also adds to the amazing variety of food, performing arts and, yes, even more history.
There’s a very good reason Brits have a reputation for talking about the weather: it tends to be MISERABLE. Rain, fog, rain, mist, rain, hail, rain, showers, drizzle, spitting, mizzle, pouring, chucking it down, cats and my cousins ... rain. So yes, there’s a good chance it will be grey and wet when you visit. It may also be quite chilly, so pack jumpers, a fancy scarf and a raincoat.
On the other hand, if you’re lucky enough to plan a visit during some of the rare, but PERFECT summer days, you will face sauna-like conditions as soon as you step inside (especially on the Tube), as air conditioning is rare. (And have pity on tourists like me who can’t wear layers and have this shaggy coat of fur to contend with!)
Other cool things
- All that history has to be explained somewhere, and many of the city’s hundreds of museums are free. Make the most of this, and devote a couple of days to the big ones: British Museum, Natural History Museum, V&A, Science Museum, Tate Modern and National Gallery are pretty much unmissable if you have even a fleeting interest in ... well, anything.
- You can’t go to Britain without eating fish and chips. The best stuff comes from seaside towns, but there are plenty of places in the capital to eat your fill.
- British food has a reputation for being awful, but that’s not really fair (anymore, anyway!). London is FULL of amazing restaurants, and cuisines you can’t get in the 852; some of my favourites are salt beef sandwiches, Caribbean food (go to Portobello Road or Brixton), and the best Indian food outside, well, India.
- Boris bikes – the rentable blue bikes available on every street corner – are a great way to get around.
- London Eye. You know that Ferris wheel in Central? That’s always empty? Save your money and go on a wheel that actually lets you see a city.
- London is FULL of parks (told you it was a dog-friendly city), and when the sun is shining, Londoners like nothing more than packing a picnic, and enjoying the wide open spaces. Make like a local, head to a supermarket, stock up on sandwiches, grab a blanket and a frisbee, and see what all the fuss is about.
- The West End. It’s a toss-up as to whether Broadway or the British equivalent is “better” when it comes to theatre, but there are some incredible shows every day.
- Shopping. Ever since the Swinging 60s, London has been recognised as a fashion hub, and it’s possibly even more true now. The British high street has a huge range of very affordable styles that you can’t get in Hong Kong, and more second-hand shops than Hong Kong can even dream of. There are also great, affordable makeup and hair product brands, loads of bookshops, and so many places selling unusual sweet treats, so stock up on gifts for everyone back home.