Wednesday, June 26, 2024

City with a Soul - London



I’ve always wanted to explore London and now that my children are there, visiting London seemed like a good idea to escape Gurgaon heat. It was spring in May, the weather was temperate, and we were able to explore places without getting drenched in the rain or bothered by the piercing sun. If you are planning a London vacation, spring is a good idea to beat the summer rushes and long queues.

Our trip began with a five-hour drive to the Cumbria Lake District Park, North-West of London. While autumn is the best season to admire the vivid colours, spring was equally resplendent. After a drive of five hours from London, we stopped at the glistening Lake Windermere, England’s largest lake that allows cruises, scuba diving, hiking and sailing. Given the similarity, people also call it the Lake Como of England.

We had booked an Airbnb in Hesket and the drive to Hesket from Lake Wildermere was breathtaking. We drove past several gleaming lakes, verdant hills and gurgling rivulets. It was so scenic that after a point, clicking pictures seemed futile. The following day we drove around the stunning town of Keswick that sits on the lake of Derwentwater surrounded by lush green mountains. Keswick is famous for its hikes, restaurants, outdoor activities, pencil museum and the ruins of Lingholm castle. Grasmere, another small village is so beautiful that it served as an inspiration for the great poet, William Wordsworth. Whatever your age or interest – hikes, hamlets or history, the scenic landscape of Lake District is sprinkled with everything.

Tip: Spend 3-4 days and hire a car to explore the Cumbrian charm and history.

On our drive back to London, we took a small detour for a stopover at the Bicester village –a designer shopping outlet in Oxfordshire. Built in 1995, this shopping village boasts of fashionably curetted boutique shops and eateries. Despite being a retail outlet, the brands are bound to create a hole in your pocket.

Tip: With sinking value of rupee and almost every brand available in India, shopping is not a great idea unless you are a designer brand buff.

Back in London, it was time to explore the city that opens like a novel with chapters on history, food, theatre and art. If I had to pick a modern city with a soul, the mascot has to be London. Unlike Dubai and Singapore, London is a labyrinth of streets, each one leading you to a new discovery and a new experience. If it’s your first visit, the famous HoHo buses are a good way to explore the city as you can get down anywhere you wish. I had visited London long ago and had no distinct memories, so it was fun to soak in the famous landmark sights of the Notting Hill, Westminster Abbey, The Big Ben, The Hyde Park, Trafalgar Square and The London Bridge. The Thames River Cruise may seem routine, but it’s worth the ride for the panoramic views of the past and future intersecting on both shores. The river cruise gives you a view of the modern Canary Wharf area where skyscrapers kiss the skies and urban life collides with natural beauty.

Tip: The hop-on hop-off bus tickets include the river cruise and are available through apps like the Top View. London is huge, charming and easy to walk with a lot of walking, so don’t forget to carry comfortable walking shoes and an umbrella.

If the British Monarchy piques your interest, there are a number of palaces like the Windsor Castle and the Buckingham Palace that are central to the story of Britain. The biggest museum in London, the National Museum if free and there are long queues over the weekend. Very close to the National Museum, you can grab a bite at bustling China Town with dazzling red lanterns across the streets. Hundreds and thousands of people walk around to enjoy food at quaint little eateries and dessert shops.

Tip: Sit outside in any of the eateries and soak in the multicultural vibe. Dumplings Legend is a nice place for authentic Chinese.

The following day was booked for theatre as watching a play in London is one of the ‘must do’ things. You can pick any of the shows from Mamma Mia to Lion King and be amazed by the hundred-year-old theatres and plays alike. If you are watching a show, do walk around the Covent Garden and its open air restaurants with history peeking in from every nook and corner.

What I liked most about London was how the city has preserved its green spaces. You can scroll down the busiest financial area around Big Ben and within minutes, you can be in the St James Park observing horses, sheep and hen. Do not miss the sprawling Kew Gardens, the Regent Park and the Hyde Park in the centre of the city. A walk around the Regent’s Canal and a visit to the Zoo can be a great weekend activity. Talking of gardens, the roof top Sky Garden on is a great touristy thing to do.

Tip: The Kew Gardens are botanical gardens with an entry ticket. I’d suggest visit any park that’s free and enjoy the verdant greens.

I call London, the city with a soul because you can walk in from a museum to a park to a cathedral to a shop and spend days exploring the city that breathes history, culture, nature and diversity. You can walk around and enjoy beer, coffee or and listen to musicians play with gay abandon. Talking of beer, London Pubs are quintessentially British and some of them were visited by Shakespeare and Dickens. Whether it’s a Sunday roast, quiz show or music, pubs are a great place to hang out with family. If ‘people watching’ was a sport, I would win a gold for not getting bored and watching people from diverse ethnicities, culture and race endlessly.

The last day in London was reserved for a trip to the famous Borough Market - the British Chandani Chowk. The bustling market has food retail shops that date back to the 12th century. Borough market is cramped with stalls that sell artisan cheese, fried insects, oysters, rare spices fruit and more. Some eateries selling authentic British food have long queues that are almost a kilometre long.  Borough market was also the location of the leaky Cauldron in the Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

 Tip: Visit early morning on a Saturday as it gets very crowded. As most shops take cash only, carry cash. The nearest tube station, London Bridge is just 5 min walk away.

What more can you say about a city that has inspired thinkers, poets and authors for centuries? Do plan a visit to celebrate diversity and watch the tapestry of culture unfold in myriad ways.





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