Welcome to a (not-so) brief summary of my favorite bits of London from my latest adventure. I spent 10 days truly exploring the city – no map, no plan, just curiosity. Here’s what I got up to!
Southbank – I ended up in two different hostels while I was in London, the second of which was located on Borough High Street, on the south bank of the river. A short stop from the famed London Bridge *cue Fergie*, this put me in the perfect place for shopping, eating, walking, and sightseeing along the Thames. The first (and many future) stop of my walk was Borough Market. After studying abroad in the city for 6-months in 2012, this became a frequent stop for me on weekends, whether it was to pick up a few things for lunch in the coming days or just to graze, there are options for every craving or cuisine desired. I usually grabbed an almond croissant and fresh pressed juice, and headed to my favorite spot on the river, right next to The Golden Hinde, a replication of the ship Sir Francis Drake used to circumnavigate the globe. The picnic tables show views of St. Mary’s Axe (The Gherkin), 20 Fenchurch, The Leadenhall building The Monument all of which rise above the business district on the north side of the river.
As you continue along the river, just past Shakespeare’s Globe, you come to the Tate Modern museum in it’s old factory glory. I always enjoy sneaking up to the 6th floor where there is a cute cafe and restaurant with some of the best views of the city, especially St. Paul’s Cathedral and Millennium Bridge (shout out to all Potterheads). Amongst the shops and business buildings, stands the OXO Tower, which is home to boutiques & restaurants. I stumbled upon this large heart-shaped topiary that corresponds with the LOVE festival that was happening that weekend, but are also strategically placed along the river throughout the city all summer long.
After wandering through Gabriel’s Wharf, I came to the ultimate destination of Southbank, near Waterloo station, where there are amazing views of the London Eye which is not to be understated by Big Ben and Parliament just north of the river. At this point it was a balmy 90 degrees most of my first weekend in town, so I grabbed the biggest bottle of water I could find and settled into the shade in Parliament Park for a quick rest before continuing my adventure toward Trafalgar Square.
Wharf Walk – Most days I decided to just wander. No plans, no map, just wander. The day I ventured to Butler’s Wharf was one of those days. I began at London Bridge and made my way to Tower Bridge. After singing ‘Wannabe’ silently to myself, I made my way through the mass groups of people and headed to the less crowded and less explored east side of the bridge to the Wharf. As I continued my way through the narrow cobblestone streets, I stumbled upon the Design Museum, a destination on my ‘if I get to it’ list, but not something I was expecting to see. I wandered the museum shop, and because it was just such a gorgeous day, I opted for a flat white on the patio overlooking the city center. Some seriously amazing views!
After my coffee and a quick read of Time Out magazine for a few adventure ideas, I continued east along the Wharf, over a few rickety river bridges, and found myself in the quiet, grand, industrial area of the Wharf. There were old factories converted into glamorous Advertising firms, Real Estate offices and chic flats (add that to my list of Dreams), and they were all tucked away in these quiet streets just along the river, but hidden behind these grand factory buildings. It was surprisingly nice to find a bit of quiet to walk around the otherwise hectic city.
City Escape – After my quiet stroll, I decided to head back into the crazy city bustle and made my way over London Bridge, passing by the Tower of London (an overpriced touristy destination, if you choose to go) and walked and walked and walked. I intended on grabbing the bus toward Trafalgar Square, but all the stops seemed to be closed, so I just kept walking until I managed to jump on one of the old Routemaster #15 buses running through the city in honor of the anniversary of the double-decker buses. Quite a cool experience to sit front row in the top-deck as the domed roofline nearly grazes your head as you sit down. As we drove down Fleet Street we passed The Bank of England, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Temple Church, Somerset House, until we arrived near Charing Cross station where I hoped off, spotting another small market. It was here where I met the best donut I’ve had in my entire life: a chocolate, salted caramel, banana donut from London’s best Crosstown Donuts. We (my donut and I) ventured just a few yards down the road to Trafalgar Square, where we shared a moment of bliss overlooking Whitehall with Parliament in the distance. A well-deserved moment of bliss after nearly 20,000 steps (all before 2pm).
Brighton – The city by the sea, Brighton would have been wonderful on a sunshiny day, with the birds soaring, and the warm water splashing onto the shore – but because I’m me, it was a rainy and 65 degree day. I managed to make the most of my day trip, and wandered through The Lanes – a quaint row of narrow streets filled with stores from TK Maxx to small boutiques with one-of-a-kind finds. As the rain began to hit hard, I made my way to the sea, passing by the unexpected extravagance that is the Royal Pavilion – a palace built for King George IV that was later purchased by Brighton itself from Queen Victoria – that now stands as a museum. Brighton Pier, very similar to its larger younger sister in Santa Monica, plays host to a variety of games, arcades, fish & chipperies, the famed Brighton mini donuts (Think Sils, my Milwaukee friends), and even full-sized roller coasters and rides. An amazing feat for its 116-year old rickety wooden frame, but a definite must-see stop for visitors. While the West Pier, a now desolate frame of what once was, will no longer be rebuilt, I was interested to learn they are building something called the i360 – an elevator of sorts that elevates a glass donut into the air for 360 degree views of the city. Think London Eye, but instead of a wheel, it rotates like some sort of chic futuristic glamour pod. At that point, the weather had become a moody step-child, so in an attempt to make the most of the few hours I had in the city, I escaped to the hop-on hop-off tour bus, which promised to show me from Hove & Brighton from shore-to-shore in an hour loop for a mere 8 quid. This paid off as I received an education via my free headphones and a quintessentially British narrator, while shuttled door-to-door from the best attractions the city had to offer, including the stop at the train station, which was perfectly timed for my hour long departure back to London.
Spontaneous Adventure – My last weekend in London, I met up with an old friend I met studying in London in 2012. Having kept up with each other’s shenanigans on Facebook and Instagram we quickly realized we were both around and looking for an adventure. My original plan was to venture to Primrose Hill for what I heard were amazing views of the city, but David mentioned that the Borough of Greenwich not only had equally amazing views a top the Old Royal Observatory, but there was a cute market for shopping and food and it was just a nice place to experience something new! The view did not disappoint. After a ‘brisk’ walk (I’m lying, I was wearing a heavy backpack and sweating profusely), we made it to the top of the hill and the view was outrageous. As we stood on the Prime Meridian we could see everything from Westminster to Stratford and it was only bettered by the fleet of classic ships coming in for the Tall Ships Festival that day. After cooling down and an unfortunate camera mishap (RIP), we ventured back down the hill through the park and made our way back toward the city of London. Along the way we stopped at Trinity Buoy Wharf, which offered up amazing views of the O2 arena and the Emirates Air Line, but the most unexpected was the amazing Longplayer housed in a small lighthouse in the Wharf. It was an amazing experience witnessing this series of brass bowls howling a resonation of sound (originating from a computer program) throughout the three floors of the lighthouse – and on live broadcast for the world to hear. You truly just have to give it a listen to understand what it was like.
Another amazing art-meets-life experience was the latest installation by French artist Charles Pétillon in Covent Garden of over 100,000 white balloons filled to various sizes and piled together to look like some sort of etherial cloud. The piece titled ‘Up, Up and Away’ was truly something to see, and no matter which direction you viewed the piece, it offered some other perspective on the dimension of tightly packed balloons and the angelic way in which they reflected the light.
I love London. I think I will always love London, but these 10 days gave me a new perspective on everything the city has to offer, even if you decide to toss the map and just wander. You will always find something new to explore and someone new to share a cup of tea with, while you both take in the amazing views.I mean, these were just a FEW of the things I managed to see in my time there! If you ever have the chance visit this amazing city, or any new city for that matter, take the chance, I promise adventure will never disappoint.
Share you latest culture conquest with me in the comments below. I’d love to hear about your adventures or what you love about your city!