London is a magnificent city drenched in history and mythology. As a first time tourist, you will undoubtedly want to see the main attractions, and so you should. See Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London. Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus. Go into Madame Tussauds, if that’s your thing. Ride the London eye. Cross the Millennium Bridge. Climb to the dolma of St. Paul’s Cathedral and look across the Thames at the picturesque Bankside, including Shakespeare’s Globe Theater.
Apart from the common tourist things, there are so many other things to see and do in London. After frequenting that remarkable city several times over the last couple of decades, here are my top recommendations:
- Watch the sunset behind Parliament at least once. Choose a relatively clear day, a few clouds make it even better, and cross Westminster Bridge to the South Bank. Stand just opposite of the Houses of Parliament, and wait for one of the most beautiful things you will ever see in your life. I do this at least once every time I travel to London. It’s even better when you get an ice cream cone from one of the many carts on the Southbank while you watch.
- Visit a place called Southwark Cathedral. It is on the Southbank of the Thames near the Globe Theatre, just at the end of London Bridge. London is not short of cathedrals to visit, but this one in particular I find quite breathtaking. The exterior is made with flint, so it takes on a dark, Gothic feel from first sight. I love this particular Cathedral so much that I setting one of my novels there: The Ghosts of Southwark.
- Take The Clipper down the Thames to Greenwich. This is another wonderful way to see the city from a different perspective. Once you’re down to Greenwich, take the skyride from the O2 center over the Thames.
- Hike Hampstead Heath. Nearby is Keats’ House, if you’re a literary fan. Hampstead Heath is where Keats would often walk, and it was where he was inspired to write “Ode to a Nightingale.”
- Go on a London walking tour. There are many companies who do this, but I recommend Richard Jones. The Jack the Ripper tour is of course fascinating, but there are other ghost tours, historical tours, Beatles & Harry Potter tours, and literature tours if those fit your interests.
- Speaking of ghosts, take the London Ghost Bus Tour. It is highly entertaining and hilarious. You will not be disappointed. They took an old red double-decker bus and painted it black. The inside is decked out with tiny Victorian lamps.
- Observe a court proceeding at The Royal Courts of Justice. Many are open to the public, and it’s a fascinating way to see England’s legal world in action. The Old Bailey and site of Newgate Prison is just around the corner. Alternatively, watch Parliament in session from the viewing gallery. This is something I have not yet had the pleasure of doing.
- If you are a Beatles fan, walk across Abbey Road. Although, please remember that daily life is going on in London, and Abbey Road is a fairly well-used roadway. I walked across it this year for the first time since 1987 when I first went over. In ’87, I was the only one doing it. This time, tourists were stopping traffic to pose in the middle of the street. Try not to be one of those people. Respect those around you and wait for the road to be clear, even if it is inconvenient to you.
- If you’re a Harry Potter fan, be sure to visit the trolley stuck in the wall on Platform 9 3/4 in Kings Cross Station. Additionally, make time to see The Making of Harry Potter in Leavesden, about 20 miles outside London. It’s where much of the films were actually shot in the Warner Bros. Studios there. You can get a bus directly from London, Victoria Station I think. These tickets sell out fast, though. Be sure to reserve yours at least a month in advance.
- If you are a fan of Sweeney Todd, enjoy a meat pie (or vegetarian pie) at The Old Bank of England, 194 Fleet Street. It is located between where Sweeney Todd barber shop was said to have been located at 185 Fleet St., and Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop. Tasty.
There are so many more, I don’t want to stop here. So I’ll do one more, just as a bonus:
If you are a fan of Sherlock Holmes, the US TV show Elementary, or the BBC’s phenomenal Sherlock, you must visit Baker Street. If you can, arrived at Baker Street via the Bakerloo line, as you will see one of the most interesting tube stations in all of London. Once streetside, marvel at the huge Sherlock Holmes statue on Marylebone Road before heading down Baker Street to visit the Sherlock Holmes museum. In Northumberland Street, there is The Sherlock Holmes Restaurant which has a section decorated like a Victorian parlor and an interior set of 221B Baker Street.
Enjoy your trip.