Your bags are packed¸ you're ready to go. You've taken everyone's advice and now you can't wait to get there and experience it for yourself. Well, whatever you've heard about London, nothing quite prepares you for your initial “first take” of the city itself. My initial scepticism was laid to rest upon entering on a typical grey London morning.
The city has an amazing buzz about it. It has a modern yet somewhat nostalgic feel to it and one can't help but get really excited about exploring everything. It's also, so very cosmopolitan as you would find out, by noticing your French concierge at your hotel or your Indonesian check-out lady at Tesco. It's a myriad of countries and cultures, yet thankfully for us South Africans everything is in English, which makes for easy navigation around the city.
Accommodation in London varies from budget to super-luxurious; however, do take note of accessibility to the tube station, if that's your preferred mode of travel. If you're staying five-star, it's most likely your hotel would organize private transport by Limo or the famous London Taxis. The tube is the best and most cost effective way to get around, so get a tube map and familiarize yourself with the various routes. The tourist hotspots are pretty busy all year round so it's best to go early if possible and plan your route in case you're visiting more than one place during the day.
The best way to get in all of London in a short span of time is to use the open top tour buses. These busses allow you to see London with an almost bird's eye view (weather permitting). Also the hop-on-hop off feature allows you to get off and explore the areas that look interesting to you.
The London Eye, the world highest observation wheel is a must for any first-time visitor affording you spectacular views of London's best sites. Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum is unmissable, where you can strike a penalty with Rooney or have an audience with the Queen; it's a visual feast of famous faces and celebs. If you fancy more celeb spotting, then a visit to the Odeon is mandatory as you are sure to catch one of the many hip and happening movie Premieres, and a chance of spotting a celeb! If you're the arty type, London will not disappoint, with a variety of museums and galleries, amongst the more famous being the Tate Modern as well as the British Museum.
If you happen to be visiting during August or September, be sure to go to Buckingham Palace as it is open to visitors during these two months and don't forget to catch the changing of the guard whilst you are there. If you're there on a Sunday, a visit to Hyde Park makes for an amusing pastime. This is thanks to the infamous and rather unique Speakers Corner, where anyone who has something to say simply stands on a box and they have an immediate audience.
A river Thames cruise is a great way to explore the city and leisurely take in some sightseeing, including the Tower Bridge, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Another interesting stop is London Dungeon, where medieval London is brought to gory life, quite entertaining and definitely a highlight of my trip.
London is a shopper's paradise as I discovered, albeit very expensive for us Rand carriers. Worth visiting are Selfridges, Harvey Nichols and Harrods, if only to ogle, the latter also having a Princess Diana memorial.
London is also home to some of the finest restaurants specialising in fine cuisine from all over the world. If you can get a reservation, Jamie Oliver's “Fifteen” comes highly recommended. If posh dining is not your thing, not to fret, a variety of fast food brands are available, not to mention our own home-grown Nandos, perfect for that peri-peri fix.
London has everything for the discerning traveller sightseeing, shopping, entertainment and leisure. The only negative besides our paltry Rand is the harsh weather, if visiting in winter. It is an experience you won't easily forget and one you will most likely want to repeat. asa