Jan 31, 2013

Where to go if you've got 3.5 days in London

Jackie's going to London for a short while and I was going to write him an email with a list of the places I really enjoyed when I was there last year. Then I wanted to attach pictures to the email, and then I thought, why not share it with others who might want to find out more?

Okay. So for those of you who don't know, I went to the UK on my own for a month last year, from October to November. I went to Oxford, then central London, Edinburgh, Coventry (Also went to Stratford-upon-Avon and Birmingham for a while) and finally Barnet (where I also spent some time travelling back to central London). I stayed with friends (or parents' friends, or friends' godparents) and I had my friends who were studying in the universities around the area to take me out and stuff. There was Sarah in Oxford, Geraldine and Jia in London, Christabel in Edinburgh and Jaslyn in Coventry. I stayed in a vineyard and visited 12-century churches, crashed lectures, got lost in the woods very often, went to church... and I have yet to do a proper post about my trip, but oh well. This is more urgent.

Okay, Jackie! Firstly, here's the London tube map. You need to get an Oyster card to get around - you can get one at the tube station when you arrive at Heathrow.

I'm going to do parks first, because I really enjoyed them. Being a city girl in a place that's 30 degrees or more all year round, walking in the woods in the nice chilly weather was heaven to me. Okay, fine, that was in autumn and it's winter now so they'll look very different, but still. Whatever.

1. My personal favourite: Hampstead Heath! (Tube: Hampstead Heath - Zone 2, Overground)
Okay, it probably looks extremely different now, but when I was there it was beautiful. Could have spent the whole day there if I had the time. It's great for a morning stroll. 

2. Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park (Tube: Queensway - Zone 1, Central Line)
I absolutely loved the Swan Lake, of course. We fed the squirrels around the area too. It's lovely that they don't run away from you immediately like they do in Singapore. Until I went to London, all I had seen of a squirrel in real life was its tail.

Okay. Keeping in mind the fact that Jackie only has three days and they're already partially taken up by other things, I guess two parks are enough. I did a lot of walking around in London, and Little Venice was quite pretty too. I also got to take a quick look at the Royal College of Music, Imperial College London and King's - and walked past UCL - but didn't get to crash any classes.


3. St. Paul's Cathedral (Tube: St. Paul's - Zone 1, Central Line)
The reason I wanted to check it out was because John Donne was Dean there once, but that aside, it's magnificent. And huge. It costs quite a bit to go in, though, so I only stayed outside. One day when I've got a bit more money I'll go.

4. Westminster Abbey (Tube: Westminster - Zone 1, Circle / District / Jubilee Lines)
Costs a little more than St. Paul's to enter, so I just stayed outside and checked out St. Margaret's Church, which was right next to it. Wasn't able to catch their services or Evensong sessions either :( But dang, it looks amazing.

By the way, if you're planning on visiting a lot of the attractions where you need to pay to enter, check out the London Pass - it might save you some money!

If you visit Westminster Abbey, you've also got Big Ben and and a view of the London Eye right there, and the Horse Guards building is very close by.
A cute conversation I overheard:
"Daddy, is he a horse-man?" "No, he's just a man." "...Really? :("

5. Southwark Cathedral (Tube: London Bridge - Zone 1, Jubilee / Northern Lines)
I did most of the church-visiting in Oxford anyway, where they were incredibly old and beautiful, from the stone walls and engravings to elaborate statues and stuff. But Southwark (pronounced suth'-urk) Cathedral was free, so I had a look. It's a lovely cathedral, too - not huge, but beautiful all the same. Shakespeare and Geoffrey Chaucer used to attend services there, and John Harvard was baptised there.

From the Cathedral, it's also really easy to get to Borough Market, and London Bridge's right there. The Tower Bridge and the Tower of London are also only a short walk away.

In fact, the day Geraldine took me out, we didn't take the tube at all - we walked from King's Cross to her school (King's), which is near Temple / Charing Cross Station, I checked out the British Museum and a bit of Leicester Square while she had lessons, then we went to St. Paul's, and then walked down London Bridge and went to Southwark and all. It's very walkable.

Museums, anyone?
6. The British Museum (Tube: Tottenham Court Road / Holborn - Zone 1, Central Line and more)
Rosetta Stone, y'all. I mean, yeah, it's just a stone, but still.
Well of course. It's bloody amazing. I loved the mummies sections and all the statues and hieroglyphics and EVERYTHING!!!

7. National Gallery (Tube: Charing Cross - Zone 1, Northern & Bakerloo Lines)
Uh, the 'Healing' banner isn't a part of it. My host parents were conducting street healing!
Also amazing, right at Trafalgar Square. The paintings were amazing. Diego Velazquez. Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. Peter Paul Reubens. (And no, I'm not an arts person. I just say 'this is pretty' and 'this is not pretty'.)

Theo also wanted to visit the Tate Modern, which is near Southwark / London Bridge. Visit if you like modern and contemporary art!

Other awesome places:

8. Hamleys!!!!!! (Tube: King's Cross - Zone 1, Northern Line and many more)
So it's a toy shop. So the only thing I bought was a packet of sweets. But it's the most amazing place. You could be feeling all gloomy and step in and be a fascinated kid all over again. It's the atmosphere. The people who work there are so full of energy. Theo, Jia and I were trying to guess how much caffeine they had to inject into themselves every morning. We speculated that there's probably a room with piles and piles of coffee, because they'll definitely need a recharge every few hours. The guys show off the toys by tossing the frisbee to you or driving a toy car up the wall next to where you're standing. They're freaking high. It's amazing. There is no pocket of air that isn't infused with life. The place is...a nuclear bomb. Shockwaves and shockwaves of enthusiasm.

9. Camden Market (Tube: Camden Town - Zone 2, Northern Line)
I guess you can kind of liken it to Bugis Street, a little. Cute cheap clothes, souvenirs, cheap food, nice lively market-ish atmosphere. I went back twice. Liked it a lot! It's not as cramped as it is in Bugis Street, and of course, the weather is a lot lovelier.

10. And, of course, watch a play / musical!!!!!!!!
Theo and I caught One Man Two Guvnors - it was really hard to get the thick accents, but it was enjoyable all the same - and I watched the Phantom of the Opera when I was staying in Barnet, towards the end of my trip. Phantom was awesome.

Don't get the full-priced tickets - Leicester Square is full of little shops that sell tickets at half-price (or around there, anyway, but basically they're a lot cheaper). I watched Phantom for 40 pounds for a dress circle seat, and One Man Two Guvnors for 35 pounds in the stalls! Be sure to walk around and compare the prices and seatings between half-price ticket stores, though. One guy said he only had an upper circle seat for 40 pounds, and the next shop I went to gave me the dress circle seat for the same price.

Okay. This post has taken up an incredible amount of space thanks to all the pictures, but I'll briefly go through a few other places.
Leicester Square (pronounced Lester Square) is a pretty cool place to visit; I like the atmosphere. There's also an M&M's World there if you're interested.

Harrods is pretty cool. The expensive adult stuff didn't appeal to me, but I loved the kids' sections. There's a Toy Story section! I took a picture with the life-sized Woody figure. The huge bears are pretty cool. Okay, more than the kids' sections, check out the Halycon Gallery. I fell in love with Lorenzo Quinn's work. Hand of God, What Goes Around Comes Around, Give and Take, Force of Nature, Gravity..
Hand of God - Lorenzo Quinn
I also paid Covent Garden Market a visit. Again, I like the atmosphere!

And then there's Oxford Street, of course... Theo and I made the huge mistake of spending too much time there. I mean, we made three short trips there. We should have spent the time doing a whole lot of other things. Like, I didn't get to visit Shakespeare's Globe Theatre!!!!! (At least I got to go to Stratford-upon-Avon later on in the trip. Lovely town!!) But Oxford Street's cool too - have a look at Selfridges and the big H&M buildling... and check out the insanely cheap Primark. And maybe you'll pass by the perfume shop guy. The guy that hands out free perfume. Don't make the mistake I made of being a shy Singaporean. Go all out for it, man!

Go to church for a service if you can! Whether it's Evensong or Sunday morning worship. Geraldine and Jia took me to Hillsong Church. They have their services in Dominion Theatre on Sundays, but from Mon - Sat, We Will Rock You plays in the same theatre. 

Okay. Jackie, you definitely can't see all this in the time you have there. But try! Does anyone else have any other suggestions? Did I get anything wrong?


Fang Jiunn Ewe said...

OMG THE Rosetta Stone? Dang I must have missed it when I went to the museum.

And my sis and I both agree that Bond Street (off Oxford Street) is waaaay better than Oxford street itself. And there's a Lilywhites on Bond Street and an American Diner with the awesomest milkshake.

Chinatown is just off Leicester Square and Picadilly Circus and is quite worth a visit, they serve huge portions for Asian prices.

Fang Jiunn Ewe said...

Did my previous comment get through?

yy said...

Love this post!! Miss the time spent there and really wanna revisit the places u mentioned.

Hannah Karen Ho said...

@FJ: Haha yes, it did get through, I just hadn't published it yet! Ooh I didn't try any milkshakes! Yeah Chinatown's quite cute but I felt a bit weird suggesting that Singaporeans visit a Chinatown in London. HAHA.

@YY: Thanks! :) It's a lovely place, I really want to go back soon too!