Summer is here and London is waiting — but how does one make the most of it? Where does one go and how does one move beyond the key tourist attractions that make up most visitors’ ‘to do’ list. Well, here is an idea: Take a bus –the big, red London bus and let it transport you around London giving you a bird’s view from the top deck. Here you will mix with a random assortment of locals who will give you a real sense of the many species of Britons that grace these shores.
First buy a Travel card: This can easily be purchased from the London Underground (Tube) ticket offices. It will give you the flexibility to hop on and off the buses at leisure. Take advice from the staff on the best card for your visit; for example, you may benefit most from a seven-day visitor Travelcard which gives you access to buses, Underground and Overground rail services in London, and the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) which will take you out to the Olympic Park in Stratford.
Now here are some magic bus numbers — take your pick.
The No. 15: Catch this bus opposite Charing Cross Station (on the Strand, near Trafalgar Square; make sure you are going the right way — check with the driver; you want to go toward the City of London). Take a moment to recognize that Charing Cross is a key point from which distances from London are measured. Hop upstairs and sit back to enjoy a scenic journey that takes you all the way down the Strand (don’t forget to take a look at Covent Garden) and the historic Fleet Street (where many leading British newspaper offices used to be located) to St. Paul’s Cathedral, where Princess Diana got married.
It’s amazing to reflect that Charles Dickens and Samuel Pepys used to stroll around these areas. But the best thing is looking at the people going about their daily business on the streets below.
If you go beyond St. Paul’s you will come to the City of London where you can find the Bank of England and the financial heart of the capital. Don’t forget to take a look at Leadenhall Market (dates back to the 14th C and survived the Great Fire of London in 1666), the Lloyds Building (weird industrial design with liveried doormen) and the famous Gherkin — one of London’s most beautiful modern buildings. It’s best to make this journey on a working day around lunch time because then you will see all the city’s workers in their sharp suits pouring out to grab a sandwich.
Now for those who want to see a really posh shopping street in London, you need to find your way to Kings Road. Get the Tube (London Underground) to Sloane Square — and hop on board a No. 319. It’s probably a good idea to get off at the Bluebird to take a look at the lovely fashions in this shop which is more like an art gallery for clothes than anything else. You could also unwind for a moment in the adjoining Bluebird cafe and courtyard. In fact there are amazing boutiques and little coffee shops all along this famous thoroughfare. But when you’re done browsing, don’t forget to hop back on the 319 and glide across Battersea Bridge — this will give you an expansive view of the river.
Another worthwhile route is the No. 137 that takes you all the way from Oxford Street (get on at Oxford Circus) to Knightsbridge. This is a great journey because you go past all the big department stores like Liberty, John Lewis and Selfridges on Oxford Street and then take in Park Lane and Hyde Park Corner, ending up outside the famous Harrods store. There is a welcoming cafe called Chapati and Karak on the Brompton Road within a stone’s throw of Harrods which has a relaxing atmosphere and a simple but tasty menu.
Some key tips for London. Always look up when you are walking along the roads — this is because the period architecture is above the shop fronts — Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian etc. Explore the side streets off the main roads because you will find many fascinating shops and delightful garden squares just minutes off the most populated streets.
Don’t forget to take a stroll down Piccadilly and maybe stop for tea at Fortnum & Mason or the Ritz. From Piccadilly you can walk to Savile Row, home to superb British tailoring. Remember, access to the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery and the British Museum is free — so soak up the culture.
For theater tickets to all the shows and musicals go to the ticket booth on Leicester Square. On Leicester Square you will also find all the big cinemas. Don’t forget to take in the sights and sounds of nearby Chinatown.
Feel confident about asking directions. Londoners are usually very helpful when it comes to offering a bit of guidance.
Always stand on the RIGHT on the London Underground (Tube) escalators. Londoners get stressed if people don’t do this. You walk on the left and stand on the right.
When using the buses remember you must buy your ticket before boarding the bus: you cannot buy your ticket on the bus. There are machines at the bus stops for this purpose or check out the Travelcards, which, as mentioned above, you can buy on the London Underground.
Remember — do not ever stray onto the road especially when walking down busy high streets as the traffic mix of buses, taxis, motorbikes and bicycles is really dense and you can’t afford to make the mistake of forgetting that in the UK people drive on the LEFT.
One more tip: don’t forget the mighty River Thames. A perfect way to go to the Tower of London or Greenwich (where you will find the Cutty Sark, the world’s sole surviving tea clipper ship) is by a boat down the Thames. You can buy a ticket at Westminster Pier (and get a first rate view of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben) and once again you can hop on and off at leisure. You may wish to take a look at the Tate Modern art gallery or Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre which are stops along the route. Have a great trip!