Almost everyone that I know has a wish list of dream places to go. It could be the perfect beach in Maldives or the top of an Alp in Switzerland, but for me it has always been London. Growing up as a kid who listened to The Beatles, reading Enid Blyton and Agatha Christie, and crying endlessly when Princess Diana died, Britain has never ceased to impress me. Luckily, my dream was finally fulfilled just recently.
Text and photos by Erza S.T.
Everything that my friends had told me about London was true! It was raining every day with wind that makes you feel like Mary Poppins. The scary currency rate, especially against the ever-decreasing Indonesian Rupiah, and the big size of the city also created a bit of a confusion.
But here is the thing, you need to spend at least a week there to feel like a real Londoner and get the best of the city. Though you won’t be able to see all in just one week, but at least you can enjoy some famous sites and get the city vibe. Here are my one-week highlights from London.
From History to Arts and Fashion
As one of the most popular cities in the world, London offers everything from history to the latest trends. To get a quick understanding on the history of life, you might want to start in South Kensington and visit the Natural History Museum. One of the largest museums on Exhibition Road, the Natural History Museum is home to life and earth science specimens comprising some 70 million items within five main collections: botany, entomology, mineralogy, paleontology and zoology. Highlight here includes the specimens collected by Charles Darwin, dinosaur skeletons and the treasury chamber inside the geology wing, where they show some of the best gemstones and meteorites in this world. The Victorian-style architecture is also stunning to see.
Right next door is another famous museum called the Victoria and Albert Museum. Founded in 1852, the V&A is the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design, housing a permanent collection of over 4.5 million objects from ancient times to the present day, from the cultures of Europe, North America, Asia and North Africa. What made it so special to me was the fashion section where you can follow the history of fashion from early times to the Victorian era right up to the modern day, and many big names like Dior, Balenciaga, Galliano, Gaultier, Chanel, Pucci are here.
Something else that I would recommend is the Tate Modern. It is one of the most visited modern art galleries in the world, and features a great collection of international modern and contemporary artworks. In this former power station you can find some of the world’s masterpieces from big names such as Dali, Monet, Bacon, Wou Ki, Cy Twombly, Rothko, Tracy Emin and many more. The gallery often has exhibitions by famous international artists. It is definitely not to be missed! London is like a magnet for great international exhibitions; so do check out the exhibitions that happen in places like the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery at Trafalgar Square, Somerset House and other similar landmarks.
What to Do? What to See?
You can easily enjoy London by just taking a long walk around the Bankside where the Tate Modern is located and see the stunning views around it. You can also take a stroll around Westminster to see Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Walk up The Mall and see Buckingham Palace, or visit Trafalgar Square to see some great monuments. To see some of the city’s modern and classical architecture, you might want to visit Tower Hill where you can see the most famous and handsome Tower Bridge crossing the river Thames. Surrounding this area are some of London’s modern architecture marvels such as The Gherkin, Heron Tower, Lloyd’s of London, The Shard and City Hall. It is a great way to spend your afternoon.
If you are a shopaholic, then there are two interesting places that you might not want to miss. Portobello Market in the famous Notting Hill area is such a great spot to visit if you are into antiques, vintage, quirky fashion, and bric-a-brac, to even furs and real crocodile bags! Open only Saturday and Sunday, this road is a great place to find things old and new. There are also plenty of nice cafes and restaurants here too.Click to view slideshow.
London definitely ain’t cheap, and that goes for food too. However, with the price that we paid came great service and food quality that was truly memorable.
As for more branded and high-end fashion items, then the designer outlets of Bicester Village are the places to go. Located on the outskirts of Bicester, this designer outlet is just two hours drive from downtown London. With around 130 stores from great fashion brands such as Alexander McQueen, Prada, Burberry, Marni, Versace, Gucci, Armani, Dior, Bicester Village is a true haven for fashionistas. Forget Harrods or Selfridges, as all the collections at Bicester Village are discounted all year long. In January where they do a winter sale, it can go up to 70% even 80% on some brands. You can also apply for their VIP services where you can enjoy the beautiful lounge, get your shopping bags delivered to the lounge and get an extra 10% discount on top of what you pay.
For a night out, I chose to go to the West End and enjoyed the musical stage show “We Will Rock You” at the Dominion Theatre. A musical based on the songs of Queen about a group of Bohemians, who struggle to restore rock music, was not only funny and entertaining, but also brought us to a rock concert-like ambience. Never before have I seen a musical where the audience was all jumping up and down and singing along to all Queen’s great songs. I felt the true spirit of being a Brit.
A day trip to the famous and historical university town of Oxford also makes for a great day out while in London. Either by bus or train, Oxford is quite close and will offer you an enchanting and charming experience of England. Do not miss a visit to Christ Church College and see the famous dining hall that was replicated for the Harry Potter series to create Hogwart’s dining hall. It really felt like you were sitting in the movie.
A Shot of Caffeine and A Hearty Meal
London definitely ain’t cheap, and that goes for food too. However, with the price that we paid came great service and food quality that was truly memorable. For an upscale experience, Bar Boulud at Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park on Knightsbridge serves amazing food by the famous chef Daniel Bouloud. Dishes such as fresh charcuterie, sausages, and of course the irresistible burgers with beef patty or confit pork belly are just to die for. The lunch at Bar Boulud accompanied by a great bottle of white wine from the cellar collection definitely sits as one of my best experiences ever!
The UK is also big on Indian food and one of my best finds was Dishoom at Covent Garden. Drawing its inspiration from spice-meets-the-hustle-and-bustle of Bombay, this Indian bistro really brings the best in terms of flavour and taste. They even serve great home cooking that we rarely see in normal Indian restaurants, particularly the dish known as haleem. Part of chef’s specialty, haleem is made from lamb, cracked wheat, barley and lentils that are pounded and cooked for hours. Served with sesame-onion-seed naan bread, this dish was delicious. The great service came at affordable prices, even for dinnertime; nevertheless booking is necessary or be prepared to wait for around 45 minutes like we had to do.
When it came time for the perfect caffeine shot in London, I went to the uber famous Monocle Café in Chiltern Street. The creation of Tyler Brule from Monocle Magazine, this café also reflects the finesse of the magazine. Serving one of the best coffee shots I have ever tasted from Allpress coffee, they also had a tasty menu, especially for breakfast. It was quite interesting to try the £6 package where you can get a hot drink of your choice with a copy of the latest Monocle Magazine.
A Home Away from Home
When you are 16 hours away from home, accommodation plays an important role in making your trip perfect, and as London is a city that is filled with a wide array of hotels, choosing one could be quite a challenge. I chose to stay at Royal Garden Hotel where the beauty of nature was the hotel’s best feature.
Located in the Kensington High Street, Royal Garden Hotel is a five-star business hotel that has a dazzling direct panorama to London’s lungs, Hyde Park, and its surrounding landmarks. Built in 1965, the hotel has 400 rooms and possesses an elegant modern interior design. The garden room category where we stayed was quite spacious and has an upper level floor where large sofas and big windows showcase the serene Hyde Park views.
As a sophisticated business hotel that is also family-friendly, Royal Garden Hotel is also known for the famous Chinese restaurant called Min Jiang. Highlights here include spicy Sichuan dishes and the Peking duck. You can also savour the dim sum selection during breakfast time. With a location that is so close by all the major attractions, the Royal Garden Hotel is a great place to stay while you are in London.
And in the End?
There are still many great things that I could write about London and why the city is so much fun, but then it would be a never-ending story. The bottom line is that you just have to go there to enjoy the experience. It is surely worth the price.
Royal Garden Hotel
2-24 Kensington High Street