I Love London
“Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
Samuel Johnson, a British lexicographer and important figure in linguistic history, wrote this in 1777 – even 300 years ago, London had all there was to offer. I’m not a Londoner. Far from it – I’m a proud northerner, having grown up in Yorkshire, the biggest county in England. However, I have a very soft spot for London. Recently, it was announced as having been the most popular tourist destination of 2013, with 4.9 million visitors between July and September, a record-breaking high which must have been to do with London being the destination of the 2012 Olympic Games. Whenever people find out I am English, they always ask about London, then the weather, then the restaurants…in that order. We are not famed for our weather, nor our gastronomy, but there must be a reason London continues to draw in millions upon millions of visitors every year, mustn’t there?
London is not famed for being cheap – quite the contrary, there are pubs in which you are likely to pay near enough ten pounds for one pint of beer, and a bottle of coke in Piccadilly Circus once set me back three pounds fifty. A single journey on the metro can be as much as six pounds just to travel from zone one to zone two (zone one being miniscule and probably easier to just walk around). This said, there are so many free activities that one can do in London that I think contribute to making it one of the most visited cities – British heritage and culture play a big part in society and the capital displays this by allowing free entry to many of its most important, not to mention interesting, museums. The British museum, which boasts around 8 million works in its collection, costs not a penny and lets visitors look at human history from Greek to Egyptian relics, Stone Age artifacts to Far Eastern pottery. I visited my brother, who lives in the city, the past summer, and every day was able to go to a free museum, fully enjoying the fact I could engage in such interesting exhibitions without feeling I had to empty my purse. The National Gallery, the Imperial War Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum, and Tate Modern are to name but a few in the grand list of fantastic free things to do in London, with interesting, large and fascinating collections for every type of enthusiast – something which many cities around the world cannot say they offer.
Night life and culture are vibrant and diverse – you could dine on cuisine from any part of the world you so wished, one every different night of the week, if you wanted. It really irritates me when people report the food in London is terrible – I say this is because you are not looking in the right places. Tourists have a habit of going into the dirtiest, most horrible restaurants all around Leicester Square and Oxford Street, choosing accessibility and ease over good-tasting food. I would urge anyone to go to Borough Market, south of the river, and try fresh produce from all over England, home-made recipes and food from further afield too. Pop-up restaurants are becoming increasingly common over the city, only around for a few days, with excellent quality food and something new for everyone to try. Around SoHo and Covent Garden little bistros and cute cafes are in abundance – avoid the tourist traps and you’ll find your wait was worth it.
Street festivals, art projects and exhibitions are dotted around the city and are often free to the general public, meaning you can always find some sort of street theatre, dance show, or artistic venture going on at some point in the city. The South Bank hosts the National Theatre, galleries aplenty, a skate park, and during the summer months, a fun fair, making it a trendy and popular place to amble around on an evening, with no end of things to do and see. It is so popular you might even have the chance to grab a celebrity autograph – I saw Danny DeVito there on my last trip to the National Theatre.
In short, if you have never visited London, I highly recommend it to everyone. There is such a great amount of sightseeing to do – and I would always suggest going off the tourist route. Don’t take the open-top bus, but walk from St. Pancras to SoHo, or from Knightsbridge to the Houses of Parliament – you’ll find it is worth looking at the beautiful houses and pretty streets, and it isn’t difficult to navigate (plus you will save money by not taking the tube). We always rush our holidays, especially around big cities. London is much more rewarding taken slowly, just like sipping a good cup of coffee. London has a special place in my heart, and just like Johnson said all those years ago, is a city I will never cease to enjoy, a city I can never tire of.