Topics include Dining Scene, United Kingdom: For Foreign Visitors & more!
In a city this large, you can expect to find a vibrant mix of ethnicities and backgrounds and while sometimes the different vibes overlap, largely the neighbourhoods that make up London are fairly distinct. London is official divided into Boroughs (plus the City) and the Boroughs are generally thought of as Inner and Outer. Most visitors to London will spend their time in these Inner Boroughs. But while these governmental boundaries exist, London's neighbourhoods are often referred by geographic names - the West End, East End, South Bank, City and Central London.
The Main Neighbourhoods:
The West End is largely considered the heart of London. Theatre-lovers will think they’ve died and gone to heaven when they get a glimpse of all the marquees with famous names in bright lights. But there’s more than just theatre in the West End. Piccadilly Circus is reminiscent of Times Square with its massive displays of neon lights and advertising. You’ll find some of the best Chinese food in Chinatown off Leicester Square. Shopaholics can easily max out their credit cards with a trip to Oxford Street, an area that gets so crowded with shoppers that it can be difficult to walk through the masses during the holiday season. Hipsters and fashionistas should strut their way to Soho and Covent Garden . And you can’t hang in the West End without visiting Trafalgar Square to see the impressive fountains and statues in front of the National Gallery . Much like in Venice’s Piazza San Marco, you’ll still find hordes of pigeons everywhere, but now that it’s become illegal to feed the flying rats (punishable by a fine if you’re caught doing it), it’s much more enjoyable as the pigeon population dwindles. If you are unlucky enough to get pigeon droppings on your shoulder, the best way to remove it is to let it dry, then scrape off the dried crud with a credit card. It's not an appealing solution, but if you try to wipe it off, you'll only rub it into the fabric of your coat.
The City of London (usually referred to simply as “The City”) is the oldest part of London and you can find the stunning St. Paul’s Cathedral within its reaches, as well as the Tower of London . It is also here that you’ll find the iconic Tower Bridge (not to be mistaken with the London Bridge) that you’ll no doubt recognize from its many appearances in film and television throughout the years. Also in the City are fragments of the original city walls. The role that they played and the history of this city are explained in detail at the Museum of London.
The South Bank is where you’ll encounter the intriguing London Eye, which provides an unparalleled view of London. You’ll also stumble upon the old stomping grounds of Shakespeare and his crew at the Globe Theatre. If you’re looking for a historically inauthentic scare, then a visit to the London Dungeon is a must, where the staff gets almost too much joy out re-enacting the macabre events in London’s history. Be aware that the queues at the London Dungeon can be extremely long and the site is very touristy. The South Bank is also home to the Tate Modern. Housed in a stunning art deco former power plant, it is a must see for architecture buffs, and the core collection is world class (and free). They also have a regularly changing program of paid exhibitions (and a very nice view from the restaurant on the top floor). This area is very much up and coming and there is a cluster of interesting restaurants developing on The Cut and Lower Marsh streets, a short walk from the river. Don't miss a walk across the Millennium footbridge which connects the Tate Modern and St. Paul's cathedral. There is nothing more pleasant in London on a nice evening that a stroll along the South Bank of the Thames - the views of the city are incomparable. The South Bank is also the unofficial home to London's skaters and BMX bike riders. They hang out and show off under the arches near the Royal festival Hall/London Eye. If gastronomy is your thing then visit Borough Market - open Thursday - Saturday (though busiest on Saturday). Situated just 2 minutes from London Bridge, this food market is a firm favourite among locals and tourists alike. From home grown organic produce to specialist foodstuffs, you'll find it all here. Borough Market was recently voted one of the top sights in a Visit London poll.
East End: This area is generally made up of the Boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Hackney, with smaller sub-neighbourhoods like Hoxton, Spitalfields, Wapping and Whitechapel. This area is rapidly gentrifying and is now where much of the young and arty crowd can be found. Places like Hoxton Square, with the White Cube gallery, have been getting trendier by the year. Areas slightly further east that are sandwiched between the City and Stratford (site of the Olympic Park) are seeing tremendous growth and development - not to everyone's liking. But for the tourist this is now an area that should be seen. Located just east of the Tower of London, the Tower Hamlets are contains many excellent sights - including Dennis Sever's House, the Wiltern Theatre, Whitechapel Bell Foundry and Columbia Road Flower Market.
Westminster is less about entertainment as it is the heart of the Government, but there are still plenty of sights to take in, including the homes of the Prime Minister and Queen Elizabeth II. You can also tour Westminster Abbey and snap pictures of the imposing Big Ben clock tower, a must for any visitor to London. Visitors with a UK passport can pre-book tours of Parliament and go up the tower to see Big Ben; check the parliament website for restrictions and how to guide. Other less visited sites but worth a look are the Cabinet War Rooms, Banqueting House and Benjamin Franklin house.
Notting Hill: Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant made this area famous in the film by the same name, but that’s not the only thing it’s known for. The main claim to fame here is the Portobello Market that takes place every Saturday. You can find virtually anything and everything that you might need (and some things you might not need, but discover you can’t live without). There are actually two connecting markets here - an antiques market and a full street market (food, clothes, crafts).
South Kensington: If you're looking to spend a whole day to educate yourself, this is the best place to be. There's the Science, the Natural History, and the Victoria and Albert (or V&A) Museums. Due to their popularity with visitors and Londoners alike, there are times when it can be busy such as weekends. All the aforementioned museums have free admission, although some special exhibitions require a ticket. There are also smaller museums here, like the Museum of Instruments, and some great parks - including Holland Park and the Kyoto Peace Garden.
Hyde Park: Not all of London is crowded with statues, museums and famous homes. For a bit of the country life (albeit wealthy country life) within the city, walk around this park (consider boating or even horse riding here). It’s here in Hyde Park that all the malcontents step up on their soapboxes (seriously) and rant about whatever they want to whoever will listen, as part of Speaker’s Corner on Sundays. Other parks in the area are Kensignton and Green Park - with its gentle grand splendour and it has the gorgeous Canadian War Memorial - a quite stunning sight on any day of the year.
Camden Lock: If you’re hoping to see London at its most rebellious, look no further than this area - home to Camden Market. This area of London has staunchly resisted conformity and its residents are a prime example of that, with their multiple piercings, neon-coloured hair and interesting style of dress. Not far from here in North London is the famous Abbey Road Studios, located right in front of the street crossing where every tourist wants a picture of himself or herself walking like the Beatles, much to the chagrin of local drivers. Don't forget to remove your shoes!
Hampstead: This is another interesting and relaxing part of North London. This sleepy upper class neighbourhood is a place for walking and shopping in cute little bookshops. Bump into celebrities and enjoy the sun on Hampstead Heath. There are lots of nice pubs to warm up in/cool down in around the heath. Many wonderful homes are here to explore as well, include Keats House and Freuds House.
In the neighbourhood of Marylebone and Regent’s Park lies the third-largest tourist attraction of Madame Tussaud’s. Although locals might not see the allure, and this is a clue, tourists routinely crowd into Madame Tussaud’s to gape at the life-like statues of celebrities such as Muhammad Ali and a selection of U.S. Presidents. You don’t have to wait around outside Buckingham Palace to see the Royals, as they are also all on display and ready for a photo opportunity.
Further West London is home to Hammersmith as well as the neighbourhoods Shepherd’s Bush, Chiswick and Barnes. A walk in this area would make an ideal half-day outing, but don't expect neon signs, department stores and roaring double decker buses. Take the bus or tube to Hammersmith and begin your walk at the pretty Hammersmith Bridge--cross or don't cross--either way it doesn't matter. There are some charming streets and beautiful homes along this area of the River Thames and there are many nice pubs, large and small, on either side. Do not miss having a beer in what is supposed to be London's oldest pub still in operation, The Dove. Off-off Broadway plays sometimes perform in this area and there are a smattering of music clubs dotting the landscape.
For a short walk along the river that passes beautiful houses, takes in 3 pubs and leads towards the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, try Strand on the Green. This is easily accessible by road, bus and Kew Bridge station. The houses face directly onto the river with only a footpath to separate them, so no cars to contend with, their front gardens are beautiful and the opposite bank is covered in trees. All three pubs serve food and have seating outside and it's only a 15 minute walk to the other side of the river and the botanical gardens.
Greenwich in South East London is an interesting place to visit for a day trip or even just an afternoon. There are a number of of attractions such as the National Maritime Museum, The Old Royal Naval College and The Royal Observatory as well as Greenwich Park. The town centre is home to a number of quirky independent shops as well as the popular arts and crafts Market. A useful resource for Greenwich is http://www.allthingsgreenwich.co.uk which provides information on the town's shops, restaurants and tourist attractions.
Walthamstow in North-east London has the remarkable survival of Walthamstow Village www.walthamstowvillageguide.com clustered round St Mary's Church, mostly Georgian in ambience. It has two attractions worth visiting, the William Morris Gallery http://wmgallery.org.uk/ and the Vestry House http://www.walthamforest.gov.uk/pages... which holds the first British car, the Bremer. Walthamstow also has the longest street market in Europe. Walthamstow central station is easily reached by Victoria Line.
There are other notable neighbourhoods – for example, Bloomsbury, which is largely considered the academic area of London; Chelsea, the Sloaniest of neighbourhoods; Holborn, Clerkenwell and also Belgravia. But it’s the ones described above that you’re most likely to frequent while visiting London on vacation.