I was six years old the first time I set foot in London. Although the memories from that 2000 trip have become pretty fuzzy, some moments will stay with me forever… seeing Buckingham Palace for the first time, getting a very 90s hair wrap on the pavement of a busy street, going crazy with 101 Dalmatians paraphernalia at the Disney store, seeing very life-like moving dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum, picnicing on the lawns opposite Big Ben and visiting ‘Piccalilly Circus’ (as I was adamant it was called) for the first time are my most vivid memories of that trip.
The next time I visited the city I was eighteen and on a whirlwind post-matric trip with my best friend, Emma. As two young, naive South Africans we somehow managed to stumble our way through the city, shopping up a storm, hitting up every free museum and cultural site we could find, revelling in the snow (it was the first time we had seen any) and getting spoilt by a multitude of friends and family along the way. I look back at that trip with fondness. Although our priorities were definitely questionable, we made the most of our time there and my love for London was truly ignited.
Fast forward to the beginning of 2018 and I found myself in the gorgeously gloomy melting pot yet again – this time as an adult. Luke had never visited before and I was so excited to watch him experience the magic of such a vibrant, diverse and architecturally beautiful city. We spent a week in the centre of London adventuring all over with Luke’s family. Instead of gushing about all the normal touristy spots like Harrods, Tower Bridge, Oxford Street, the V&A and St Paul’s, I thought I’d talk about the lesser known attractions that I loved just as much as the famous guys. These locations hold some of my most favourite memories and made up some of our most enjoyable days. If you’re ever in London, I couldn’t recommend these activities enough.
I am a serious Christmas fanatic so it’s no surprise that a visit to Winter Wonderland was one of my favorite things that we did while in London. Completely free and so beautifully festive, this humongous market/carnival is magical. Although it might be gimmicky for locals, for a bunch of South Africans used to warm weather Christmasses it was so great to be able to experience the Christmas spirit in the typical Northern Hemisphere setting. It was pretty chilly but even our freezing cold toes didn’t spoil our excitement. Gobbling up a hot German pretzel (and Bratwurst for the meat-eaters) followed by fresh, crispy churros certainly warmed us up!
Crumbs & Doilies and Soho
If you’ve read any of my baking posts, you’ll know that I looove Cupcake Jemma and her YouTube channel. So of course visiting her cake shop, Crumbs & Doilies, was very high up on my list of things to do while in London. Even though my expectations were very high, it didn’t disappoint. From the cutest little shop front to a super impressive display and yummo cakes, I was seriously inspired. Who knows, if writing doesn’t work out maybe I’ll become a baker! I know there are plenty of cafes and cake shops in London, but if you’re interested in trying something a little different, Crumbs & Doilies is a must! The shop is also situated in Soho, one of my fave areas in London, so it makes for the perfect pitstop while exploring the area.
Don’t get me wrong, Kensington Palace and gardens are absolutely beautiful but they are rather touristy and a bit predictable – I found walking through the nearby park a little more enjoyable. It’s quieter than Hyde Park but still full of locals walking their dogs, foreigners passing through, friendly squirrels begging for nuts and, weirdly enough, a family of green parakeets. Yes it is as random as it sounds. If you find your way to a certain area of the famous gardens, you’ll be able to watch and interact with hundreds of bright green, orange-beaked birds. They land on your head, your shoulders and your outstretched hands looking for nuts and fruit. As someone with a bit of a bird phobia it was a little scary at times, but the birds really are beautiful and surprisingly tame. They also make for great wildlife photos or Instagram posts!
Art in Shoreditch
Grungey, vibrant and very trendy, Shoreditch is pretty much the definition of hipster. Although the area is home to some amazing shops and cafes alongside some very interesting people, the street art is what Shoreditch is renowned for. Winding our way through a plethora of streets lined with moustached cats, unreadable bubble letters and multi-coloured faces we reached a beer garden that’s home to two treasured Banksy pieces – both sealed carefully behind clear plastic. The poodle and her policeman welcomed us warmly. We sat on the red bench below them and said hello – taking plenty of photos of course. Further along came a slain red fish, a rainbow boy and then right at the end Banksy’s rocket dog – a personal favourite. Diverse and character-ful, Shoreditch is an area I’d love to see more of.
The Best Free View in London
Although the view from the top of the shard must be beyond incredible, paying £30 to see it is just a little too steep. We did pop into the bar/cafe half way up but the view wasn’t thaaat great and we didn’t feel very welcome, so we went in search of a free view instead. Before she departed Minette, Luke’s mom, suggested we try the Walkie Talkie – a skyscraper located in the City of London. If you get to the building before 11am entrance is completely free, which is a great deal considering how epic the view is. The walls of the Sky Garden – the building’s lookout point – are made entirely of glass and it feels as though you can see the whole city from the indoor greenhouse. Be sure to head out on to the balcony for an unobstructed view.
The Lion King
How can you not see a show while in London?! This is definitely the most touristy thing in this post but I had to include it because seeing this production really was one of the highlights of our adveture. Minette got us all tickets weeks in advance as a very generous Christmas gift. When the night arrived all five of us set out in the rain (of course) and eventually found our way to our gallery seats. From our raised viewpoint we watched wooden antelope – attached to a human arm – lunge across the stage smoothly, birds soar in circles overhead, towering giraffes teeter on tip-toe, giant ellies shake their huge heads, a gorgeous life-size cheetah puppet strut confidently from curtain to curtain and stupid hyenas giggle and gawk. Timone and Pumba stole the show while the pride of captivating lions kept us singing along and absolutely riveted. Anyone who has had the privilege of seeing the show before will understand the feeling of awe that sets in while watching. As South Africans, it was the perfect show to watch while in London – a taste of home even though we were so far away.
With so much on offer, of course other more touristy parts of London stole my heart as well – Camden, Notting Hill, Trafalgar Square and Piccalilly Circus hold some of my happiest memories. I’m already dreaming of visiting them all again.
Thanks for reading,