“Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, 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
After spending a weekend in London, I feel that Samuel Johnson summed it up in the best way possible. London is possibly the most spectacular city I’ve ever visited. Those who know me know that New York City has always been the city I’ve left my heart in and since I was 15 years old, I’ve known that I wanted to live there. The amazing thing about London is that it has the charm, the bustle, the culture, and the theatre of New York but you also get the history. Big Ben, the parliament buildings, St. Paul’s, Trafalgar Square. It’s the history that makes London so special. And after taking the tube in New York, Toronto, and London I have to say London’s is far superior.
My trip to London started at 5am on a Saturday morning, to catch a bus from Exeter to London to meet Alie, a friend of mine from Canada who’s spending a week visiting me in England. The next three days were packed full of sightseeing and adventure.
Our first stop was Camden Market, a bustling, sprawling marketplace with everything from vintage tshirts, to kitschy jewelry, to some of the best street food available. It’s easy to get turned around, and we circled around a few times before we were sure we’d seen everything. It was basically hipster central, without actually being full of hipsters.
Jet-lag and exhaustion caught up with us, but by Sunday morning we were ready to go again. The first thing we did was (now don’t laugh) and open-top bus tour. For someone who doesn’t like being seen as a tourist, a bus tour might seem like the most cliche, unappealing thing to do in a city like London. And that’s partially true. The best way to see London is to get lost in it, walk down random streets and go wherever you feel is right. But for a quick weekend, when you want to see as much as you can, this was actually kind of perfect. Our guide added the perfect amount of humour and charm to the historical facts he was spouting out that you kind of forgot just how awesome it was to be driving past hundred-year old buildings and parks with stories from kings and queens past. It was overall a great way to see the major sights, and as cliche as it might be, bus tours are around for a reason.
After the tour, we stopped in at the National Gallery. They had Van Gough’s Sunflowers on display, which were really incredible to see up close. Something that struck me most about London was the fact that (nearly) all of the museums are free. We tried to take advantage of this, also going to the Natural History Museum the next day. Something we hadn’t realized was that it was half-term for schools this week, and the amount of kids running around was kind of overwhelming. Kids or no, I still love going to museums.
My favourite part of the weekend was undoubtedly a tour of the Fullers Brewery. For £10 you get a complete tour of the Brewery, including seeing all of the old machinery that was used when the brewery first opened 350 years ago. Our guide was a cheerful, funny man named Martin who took us around the entire brewery, cracking jokes the whole time. I now know a lot more about beer than I’ll probably every need to, and I finally found out what hops are and what they do. I love historical context as much as the next person, but the highlight of the tour might have been the end, where we head down to a bar containing all the Fullers beers on tap and are told to sample as much as we like. Don’t mind if I do!
The cherry on top of a perfect weekend in London was heading to the theatre district to catch a show. We saw Once, which I had seen before in Toronto, but it was just as good the second time around. Not too many people have heard of Once yet (compared to The Lion King or Wicked), but it’s growing in popularity and I’m convinced it’s one of the best new musicals to come out in the last few years. I would recommend seeing it!
Bottom line: I love London, and am already planning my next trip.