London, as a tourist

London.  Bit big, innit?

I used to view London as a necessary evil – something I had to get through in order to get wherever I was actually wanting to go.  I’d arrive at Charing Cross and make my way by the shortest/fastest/most direct route to either Birkbeck or King’s Cross.  Occasionally I’d divert via the Orc’s Nest, or Forbidden Planet, but museums? That stuff’s for tourists.

That was 10 years ago.

Now, I’ve just got back from a fantastic weekend in London doing all the touristy things I could think of with Thing 3.  In no particular order, we hit the Tower of London, HMS Belfast, Wahaca, the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, Wahaca, Shrek, the Underground, the O2, the cable car thingies, the DLR, Forbidden Planet and the Orc’s Nest.

So.  My tips for doing London…

  • Plan.  Know which tube stations you’re going to need, which museums are currently closed for renovation (we couldn’t do the Imperial War Museum for this reason), what their opening times are have an exit strategy.  Many museums will have something special going on – the Google Labs in the Science Museum, for instance.
  • Don’t expect to achieve much after lunch.  Especially if you’ve had a big morning.  Your day should be:  Big thing / Lunch / Little Thing or Show / Dinner / Crash out and get ready to do it all again.
  • If you really want to do a museum, give yourself at least 3 hours in there.
  • Carry water.  And snacks.
  • Have the slow-roast pork burrito at Wahaca, and the chocolate-chilli-tequila toddy.
  • Whatever show you see, it’s going to be spectacular. Shrek was superb.
  • Those London Cards might not be what you need – It’s not always possible to get your money’s worth out of them in a day. Look at where you’re going, see what you’ll need to pay for and do the math(s).  If, for instance, you’re hitting the Tower of London and a show, a 1-day London Card will cost more than your tube fare plus admission price.
  • Use the underground!  Those escalators are amazing, especially on the Northern Line.  Man, they dug that one deep.
  • Walk!  Get a coffee and stroll on the riverbanks.  Unless it’s raining.
  • Look up!  You get out of the habit of doing this, especially if the buildings around you aren’t that tall.  The architecture in London is beautiful and the gargoyles in the Tower are all characters.
  • Keep a diary.  We’ve made a “London Book” – tickets, boarding passes, photos, mementos of all kinds.  Thing 3’s not big on writing yet, so there’s little writing, lots of pictures & things.
  • Hold doors open for people, offer help with puschairs and heavy bags on the Underground!  Yes, this marks you out as “Not a Local” but it reminds those dour, unhappy, insular Londoners that there is life and kindness in the world*.
  • Leave something out.  Give yourself a reason to go back.  We barely scratched the surface of the Natural History and Science museums this time, didn’t get to the Imperial War Museum… Always stuff to do.

Best museum?  HMS Belfast.  It was my first visit, we spent 3 hours exploring her from end to end and side to side.  The family audioguide is excellent.  After that, has to be the Tower.

Best restaurant?  Well, we kinda got stuck in Wahaca.  The Mexican street-market-food is just sublime.  Man, what I’d give for one of their burritos right now!

Bottom line, just enjoy.  And do the touristy stuff!  That’s what you’re there for.

* Not that any of the Londoners we met were dour, unhappy or insular. That’s not the London we experienced at all.

One response to “London, as a tourist”

  1. What a trip. Sounds incredible – and exhausting. I think I’ve just about done all of that (except Wahace) in my 20 years down here. Yes, it’s taken me 20 years to do what you did in a weekend. *doffs cap*

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