You are on: darsys.com
LOCAL PAGE LINKS
Top of Page
Walk And Drive
ERIC'S TOUR OF
Clicking on the Roundel Logo will take you to the official Tube site and
the London logo will take you to the official City of London site.
Before I start, I have to let everyone know that many Americans go to England
expecting it to be easy because they're just like us. That isn't entirely
accurate, and despite the language differences, which are minor, there
are enormous cultural differences that are quite tangible. I have tried
hard to explain them to no avail. Along comes Jane Walmsley with a book
Ameri-Think which explains it all nicely and the reasons
behind it. It's rather witty yet entirely accurate. Follow the aforementioned
link to Amazon and buy it. It's a fantastic book.
I walk or take tube almost everywhere and so should you – it's
cheap, easy, and convenient. There is no need for a cab 99% of the time.
You'll need a one week (7 day) travelcard for zones 1 and 2 (if
you will frequent other zones you may buy more zones of course -- and in
fact if you're going to visit zone 3 more than once, just get a three zone
card instead of two) which is around £35
and well worth
it, since all trip charges are distance based.
On arrival to the airports LHR or LGW
take the train (Heathrow
Express to Paddington Station or Gatwick
Express to Victoria Station) into the city. If you're not in a hurry
you can try coach (bus) service or Heathrow Connect. Either way,
cab it to your hotel from the train station. Make sure you use a licensed
cab at a taxi stand or your run the very real risk of being ripped off
or robbed. THE
TUBE IS NOT WELL SUITED FOR LARGE LUGGAGE! At the risk of sounding
discriminatory, London has many areas that are not accessible to those
who are mobility impaired -- if you walk with a cane, brace, need a wheelchair,
or other device, you will find London to be less than fun, as much of
the city is very old and simply not accessible to you. Besides, you want
the chance to experience the dreaded "tube
most things here do not have air conditioning and in the summer it's
hot. I would suggest spring or fall. Winter is probably too cold for most
people, especially since it will also be quite wet. Still, it's my favourite
time to go because I like the cold.
I have deliberately left off accommodation recommendations
since a lot of that is personal preference. London happens to be home to
Claridges, widely regarded as the very finest hotel in the world.
If you can muster up enough cash to stay here for one night, you won't ever forget it. Let me put it to you this way: when they deliver your morning
paper, they iron it for you and it comes with white gloves so your hands
need not get dirty.
Except as noted to the contrary, everything recommended here
I have personally experienced,
so I am confident in the suggestion. I have many things yet to do, and many
things I've done that I'd not recommend. In short, if it's here it's great!
For your convenience, I have listed the nearest tube stop in blue lettering.
(If you are concerned about something that is missing, please contact me
and I will tell if you it's left off because I didn't like or because I hadn't
yet got to it.)
Most of the public museums are free nowadays. A few still charge.(A word of
warning: The Sherlock Holmes museum is really boring. I wouldn't suggest
it unless all the other museums are closed and it's your last remaining choice
-- or if you're a huge fan.)
- Victoria and Albert or the V&A as it is called. (South
Kensington) Lots of historical significance here. A quick walk
to the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum. It's more interesting
for the temporary exhibits than the standard ones.
- The Science Museum (South Kensington) --
hi-tech stuff. I enjoyed it. This is my type of museum. From the science
of space to the science of your body. This takes me hours to go through.
- Museum of Natural History (South Kensington) --
dinosaurs, minerals, meteors, and stuff. Conveniently next to the Science
museum. I rather enjoy a quick walk through of some random galleries.
- Museum of London (St Paul's) is
a fantastic museum not to be missed. Very well done. The history of
London. Views of the original Roman wall that surrounded Londinium. Absolutely
- London Transport Museum (Covent Garden) is
one of my favourites but if you're not into transportation this one
isn't for you. Trains, busses, subways, trams, and all those fun things.
You can do it in an hour or a day.
- Photographer's Gallery (Oxford Circus) has
some great exhibitions from time to time. It's well worth a look. It
has recently moved so be sure you have the current address on Ramilles
Street -- many guidebooks have the wrong address.
- Tate Modern (Southwark + fairly long
on the exhibits, it's good. The building alone is worth the trip as
it's a converted power station. Awe inspiring is the best way to describe
it. When you leave, walk across the impressive Millennium Bridge
and you'll be at Saint Paul's Cathedral.
- If you like money, the Bank of England Museum (Bank) is
interesting but open weekdays only during Banker's Hours. Lots of
cool coins to see in addition to bills and manufacturing information.
And a great gift shop for collectors. No free samples unfortunately.
- Imperial War Museum. (Lambeth North) I
thought I'd hate it when my friend Jan insisted we go, but I didn't.
I loved it. There was an amazing exhibit on the Holocaust there (for
14 and older only) that will blow your mind. Very painful, I must say.
I won't ever go again, but you should see it once.
- The most famous museum is, of course, the British Museum (Russell
Square or Goodge Street) which
is akin to the Smithsonian, and to be sure, you should go. But to be
honest, I didn't think it was much better than average because I am just
not personally into ancient artefacts (but that's my thing and your results
may vary). The museum includes the Rosetta Stone, Cleopatra, and the
Portland Vase among other things and some amazing Egyptian antiquities.
- Museum In Docklands. (Canary
Wharf or West India Quay DLR) What
a cool museum about what one might assume is a dreary topic. It's not.
I loved it. Quite a bit about the Thames and the Docklands area. And
after I toured it, I found out it was part of the Museum of London
which explains why it's so good.
(Top of Page)
All attractions charge admission.
- Westminster Abbey (Westminster) Don't
miss it. Period. Everyone who's anyone is buried here. This building
is from the 1400s and is the home to most of the rulers of England;
greats from Chaucer to Shakespeare to Churchill. Awe inspiring in every
sense of the word. (Across the street you can see Parliament and Big
Ben. A few blocks away is #10 Downing Street.)
- London Eye (Westminster) Way
worth it. Get there first thing in the AM or be prepared
to wait forever. Clear day only. Bring a camera to capture the amazing
views. Sometimes they have night rides and you should do that as
well. They day ride is more important, but the night ride -- for
frequent visitors -- is unique.
- St Paul's Cathedral. (St Paul's) --
not much to say except you NEED to see this. Like Westminster, this
is awe inspiring. You may attend services here if you so desire. I
sat through a bit of one but I was uncomfortable so quietly exited.
- British Library (King's Cross) Enter
in through front door and go left to the interactive exhibits. See
the very first Gutenberg Bible. Hear some of the most historic speeches
of all time spoken by the original person. See Beethoven's own handwritten
compositions. The Magna Carta, Declarations of War (WW1 and 2), Tolkien's
draft of LOTR. Everything is here. Fantastic! Stamp collectors please
note that the legendary Penny Black is here -- straight to the back
with the stamp collections on the back wall.
- Speaker's Corner (Marble Arch).
Sunday Mornings 11am to 1pm only (for the best part). The famous
ritual in England where all the nutters come to speak on various topics
and face merciless heckling from their audiences. (Allow 30 minutes
- London Zoo (Camden Town tube + 274 bus):
Kick ass. Not only do they have some unusual animals, they have an
underground vault in which they keep nocturnal animals. Penguins, Bats,
Meerkats, Otters, and the usual gang of critters populate this zoo,
with the larger animals (Elephants and such) at a different zoo well
outside the city. Early AM weekend is best or weekdays if school
is in session. Limited tube service on some weekend days -- check before
going. Return bus takes you to Baker Street tube as well if you prefer.
- Harrod's is listed under shopping (below) because
it certainly qualifies as shopping, but it's definitely an attraction.
- Tower of London (Tower Bridge).
Get there Sunday Morning for the first tour -- about 930am to get your
tickets. No lines to speak of at all. Take the first Yeoman Warder
tour (1hr long and free with admission) and then after the tour,
hot-foot it to the crown (drool!!) jewels. Not to be missed. If you
don't do it exactly in this order, you will have an interminable queue
and waste half a day.
- London Walks Tours The Ripper tour (take at night only, please)
is the best and scary. Other tours are good. Select according to
interest. Various tube stops as indicated in the brochure. Visit
their official website for a complete list of available walks.
- The changing of the guard (Green Park,
St James's Park or Victoria) is
very popular, but I don't know why to be honest. I guess it's the
history. I suppose it's something you should do once. It's at Buckingham
Palace, of course. Check times as they vary according to her Majesty's
- Portabello Road (Notting Hill Gate).
Cool in-the-street shopping. Old curios, antiques, and such. It's
an outdoor flea market. Don't expect bargains though. Go Saturday
only (go early 10am latest) even though open other days, you
don't get the street stalls that make this world famous. (Again this
could go under shopping but it's more attraction than anything else).
- Camden Market (Camden Town).
Cool in-the-street shopping on Sundays only. Get there early, but not too
early. 11am is just about right. Allow some time and roam about. When it
gets crowded, they close the tube for entry and you'll have to take a bus
or taxi to your next destination.
- Madam Tussaud's Wax Museum (Baker Street) --
the original tourist trap. You've got to do it once just to see some
of the way cool statues. Early AM please as the queues are horrendous.
You probably won't want to go back, but it's worth it for one try.
They have a "horror" section and you should save your few pounds and
skip it unless you like people jumping out of dark corners to scare
you. That part is really for teens -- it's like a mini London Dungeon.
- The Greenwich Foot Tunnel is cool. You can see how people
used to walk under the Thames to and from work in olden times. (Island
Gardens DLR or Cutty Sark DLR) There's
a DLR stop at each end so walk one way and you're done. Start at
Islands and walk to Cutty Sark, which gives you the benefit of touring
the area when you get there. You can also continue to walk through
to the Greenwich DLR and on to the Royal Observatory.
- The Royal Observatory (Greenwich DLR).
This is a not-unreasonable walk from the end of the Greenwich Foot
Tunnel, so you can do it as part of the same trip.The Royal Observatory
itself is not all that interesting, though it is worth a look for the
views. The real attraction here is that Greenwich Mean Time starts
here. You can stand right on the line under a cesium atomic digital
clock. It sounds hokey but it's pretty cool, just like standing on
the dividing line between two states or countries. The view from up
here is bloody fantastic.
- Thames Barrier (Pontoon Dock DLR).
This is an amazing feat of engineering. Many thought it couldn't be
built, and it was the subject of "Engineering Marvels" on
the History Channel. It's also got a nice park to walk through. You
cannot walk to the barrier and security is heavy, but if you've got
the time and inclination, it's worth a visit. (Zone 3 tube
- Abbey Road. (St. John's Wood).
Walk to the famous Abbey Road studios, and you can take your picture
in the same crosswalk the Fab Four used. Be careful as it's much busier
than when they did it. Some days you can actually stand in the doorway
and take your photo. Be there early in the day and avoid weekends as
it will be crushingly crowded. Also admire the graffiti on the wall
which is whitewashed frequently as it fills up rapidly.
- Old Operating Theatre. (London
Bridge) Very macabre and gristly. The entranceway stairs are
terrifyingly decrepit, and narrow. But it was a very enjoyable experience.
- The O2 Arena (aka the Millennium Dome) (North
Greenwich) This famous dome on the Isle of Dogs in the Docklands
is an amazing building. The O2 is an amazing arena. It's been -- since
it opened -- voted the best arena in the WORLD by Pollstar and I
must agree. I've stolen
some facts from their website:
* The O2 has an overall diameter of
365 metres, an internal diameter of 320 metres, a circumference of
a kilometre, and is 50 metres high at its central point
* The twelve steel masts are 100 metres high
* If you turned The O2 upside down, it would take Niagara Falls 15
minutes to fill it
* Alternatively, you could fill it with 3.8 billion pints of beer or
the contents of 1100 olympic-sized swimming pools
* The volume of The O2 is equal to thirteen Albert Halls, ten St Paul’s
Cathedrals, or two old Wembley Stadiums
* 18,000 double-decker buses could fit into The O2
* The Eiffel Tower could fit inside The O2 lying on its side
* 12 football (soccer) pitches or 72 tennis courts could fit in The
The bottom line is you have got to go even if it's to walk around, see a movie, take in their indoor ski slope, eat at one of the many restaurants. But try and get tickets to a concert. It's worth it.
- Movieum (Westminster) If you're
a movie fan, you'll like this tourist trap. Lots of stills, authentic
props and costumes and the like. If you buy your ticket from the booth
you'll pay a few pounds less than the box office. This was the London
Film Museum and they've just renamed it to be more 'hip'
- Further afield you can try Oxford -- a cool college town.
Windsor is ok if you're into the royal castle and such. I think Oxford
is of wider appeal and has more to see. You will need to check the trains.
Thameslink is the train service you'll take for either destination. Times
and fares vary.
(Top of Page)
Many shops are closed Sundays even those in the tourist areas. In non-tourist
areas, shops close much earlier than you're used to back in the States.
- Harrods (Knightsbridge) -- if
Harrods doesn't sell it, it doesn't exist was the old saying.
It's not nearly what it used to be, but worth a shot. Go to the top
and wind your way down over the course of an hour, leaving via the
food halls. Other stores of renowned include Selfridges, Fortnum & Mason,
Harvey Nichols, and John Lewis.
- Piccadilly Circus tube exit at night
after 7pm or so and walk towards Leicester
Square tube. The night
walk to take. Lots of cool things to see: both shopping and people
watching in the area. For movies, the Leicester Square Odeon is
where all the big movies premiere.
UK movie theatres are reserved seating and be prepared for severe
sticker shock at £10 or more per person. It's also a short
walk to Trafalgar Square. You can make this a longer walk by going
from the London Eye, across the cool metal bridges, and up the
street through Trafalgar Square into Leicester Square and doing
the walk in reverse.
- Book Row as I call it. Exit at Tottenham
Court tube. Go down Tottenham Court Road towards Foyle's
the second largest retail bookstore on the planet -- the first
is in Oxford (via train).
Continue down the street passing lots of smaller bookstores until
you get to Leicester
Square tube. (Forbidden
Planet is the best Science Fiction & Fantasy bookstore on the
planet but is not on Book Row any longer, having relocated to near Holborn tube
on Shaftesbury Avenue.)
- Walk up Oxford Street to pass all the main shops and many
department stores (and many of these are open Sunday). Exit
up the street until you're tired or until you hit Tottenham Court Road
and Oxford Circus on the way). You'll pass Savile Row if you need
- Hamley's Toys is enormous and is just a few blocks from Oxford
Circus tube on Regent Street.
- Also a few blocks from Oxford
Circus is Carnaby
Street. Although it's not much now, everyone should say they
were on Carnaby Street. Walk towards Hamley's down Regent Street.
It's behind the Liberty store.
- Lilywhite's is the unfortunate name of this store located in Piccadilly
Circus. This is the largest sporting goods store anywhere. It's
six floors and makes Sports Authority look like the men's room at the
- See Portabello Road under "attractions" also.
(Top of Page)
WARNING: Avoid ABERDEEN STEAKHOUSE PLC
chain at all costs -- there are several restaurants in this chain, but they
have the same look. It's unclean and very bad food; it's a health
risk. Seriously; even the Travel Channel had a show about it. DO NOT
GO. I unwittingly ate there and speak from personal experience. Here's a
article from the London Times on that same chain. Now
that we have that unpleasantry out of the way, we can move on. Whilst in
England, there are a few things you might wish to know:
The English (excluding pubs) are much more formal. Everything
is polite and proper with adults. Kids, it appears, have no manners in any
Service here is much slower than the United States. At restaurants you will never get the check if you don’t
ask for it. It’s called “The Bill,” so when you’re
ready, ask your waitperson “May I have the Bill please?” Many
establishments include the gratuity and some don’t. Check carefully.
Tap water is drinkable here -- a really odd taste to it
in my opinion whilst others think it's brilliant. Always get a bottle of
water at the table – “sparkling” or “still” as
you prefer. If you order meat, many restaurants will not ask you how you
like it cooked and just bring it to you how they think best -- medium-rare
usually. Deal with it or make sure you specify how you want it done.
Smoking is allowed pretty much everywhere outdoors in the UK.
Due to recent changes in laws, the UK is much more smoke free including most pubs
Many still may have smoking sections, though this is slowly changing. Smoking
is tolerated in in many places you wouldn’t
expect like restrooms. Accept it, because you can’t change it -- but
the law slowly is.
- Bunches of Grapes Pub: (Halfway between
Knightsbridge and South Kensington). Traditional pub fare.
Eat upstairs for the restaurant feel or downstairs for the pub
vibe. A fine place to try the traditional Fish and Chips.
- Patisserie Valerie.(locations all over
only do they serve a typical English breakfast, they have the finest
croissants I've ever tasted in my life. The croissants are better than
anything I've had in France even. (Everyone should have traditional English
breakfast once: eggs, bacon -- it's Irish Back Bacon and not American
Bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes, hash browns, and toast. It's the cholesterol
- Rules (Leicester Square or Covent Garden) One
of the finest restaurants in England (not the fanciest). It's one of
the oldest continuously operating restaurants in Europe and possibly
in the world. Dickens wrote A
Tale of Two Cities while
he ate here and he's not the only famous diner over the years. Kings
and statesmen aplenty ate here. Much of the food
is hunted and killed at their own private preserve. Reservations
are a must. This is probably your number one must-eat experience.
- Hard Rock Cafe. (Green Park) The
original one is right here. They're all the same the world over.
But it's neat to eat at the first.
- Little Italy on Frith Street (walk from
Fine Italian. Reservations suggested. Do not confuse with other places
with the same name. This place serves some of the finest Italian food
I've ever eaten.
- Pasta Brown is a chain, but the food is serviceable so if you
need somewhere safe, look out for these. I'm sure you can figure out
what they serve based on their name.
- Pizza Express is a serviceable
chain as well. I'm sure you can figure out what they serve based on
their name. They have pastas and salads as well.
- Although I've not eaten at Simpson's-in-the-Strand (Covent
Garden, Charing Cross, Leicester Square, or Embankment),
all accounts indicate it's kick-ass and second only to Rules. This
is a formal restaurant and jacket and tie are required for gentlemen.
- Geales Fish Restaurant (Notting Hill
Great place, really and I don't even like fish. John Cleese hangs here
- For fast food, there is a chain called EAT that
is remarkably good, has a decent value for money compared to everything
else, and has locations scattered all over town. Not as cheap as Sainsbury,
Tesco, or M&S but still a good bet.
- There are also a remarkable number of Sainsbury Local,
Tesco Metro, or M&S local stores (small) popping up which are a great
and cheap way to get some basics. I much prefer Sainsbury for everyday
use. M&S is much better for fresh foods: fruits and meats. Tesco just
doesn't impress me. There's also Waitrose but they don't have the smaller
(Top of Page)
(Most theatres are near Leicester or Piccadilly
Circus -- otherwise
known as the West End)
- Mamma Mia: Classic mindless drivel set to Abba tunes. Kitschy
and fun. You'll be stuck with the tunes in your head forever. You
are the dancing queen, seventeen....
- Avenue Q. The famous "dirty puppet" play.
That may sound simple, but it's so much more than Sesame Street Porno.
You really should see it. (See
- Mousetrap: Another good one to see (Agatha Christie) in only
for the fact it's been running for over 50 years (as of 2006) and is
the longest continuously running play on Earth.
- Plus there's the usual lot of rotating Andrew Lloyd Webber: Phantom
of the Opera and
Cats being his best if you feel you must see Webber.
- Les Miserables was born here at the Barbican before moving
to the West End. Everyone should see this period opera at least once.
- Billy Elliot. I can't say if all Americans will
get this play or understand it. But it's an amazing work of art. I
highly recommend it to everyone. It's been called "The Best British
Musical Ever" and I have to agree -- it may be one of the best
pieces of the theatre ever. This work of art is phenomenal.
See it. (See
blog review) Americans will find it easier if they've seen the
- Plays change seasonally and you'll have to wing it, though there's always something
in addition to the classics. If "Dinner" or "Art" are
playing, they're quite good.
(Top of Page)
The Queen’s English and American English are not the same
language. Do not ask for a napkin in a restaurant because they will ask you
to leave. (A Napkin is a Tampon. A dinner napkin is called a Serviette).
Do not ask for the bathroom because they’ll laugh hysterically. You
want the toilet or “gents” or “ladies” or WC. Nobody
there has any idea what an Eggplant is; you want “Aubergine”.
If you’re a druggie and ask for a joint, you’ll get a roast beef.
If you ask for a Macintosh you’ll get a raincoat.
In short, you might want to have a copy of ISBN 0-902920-60-X
and read it before the trip. There's also a website of
some value in this regard. It’s a suggestion because you’ll have
no trouble without it, but it will save you some embarrassing moments. Another
good website for comparing our cultures and language is effingpot.
England and America are two countries separated by a
--George Bernard Shaw
(Top of Page)
Dorling Kindersley's book "London: Eyewitness Guide" is
the ONLY tour book you need. Period.
at your local stockist, and be sure the issue you have is no more than one
year old. Current edition is ISBN 0756615461 and is for 2006.
If you want some reading that captures the essence of London,
I suggest "smoke: a London peculiar" -- a wonderful magazine about which
I have blogged.
(Top of Page)
Walking & Driving :
When you walk, drive, and whatnot it will be on the opposite side
of what you’re used to. It also means to look the OPPOSITE way when crossing
a one-way street. Your first day there, you will forget at least once and
have at least one near-death experience. Do not jaywalk in the UK. It’s
(Top of Page)
The English always apologize
giving the illusion of politeness. They
never say excuse
"Sorry" is the official apology after
caused offence or "Pardon" or
"Pardon Me" if in advance such as you
need to get by in an aisleway. If you
bump someone, you say “Sorry,” but
if someone is blocking your way it’s "Pardon
(Top of Page)
Money is simple. There are 100 pence to a pound
sterling(£). All coins and bills are different sizes
and colours. Money is called out “four
pounds fifty” which means £4.50. You may use
your ATM card here if you have a four digit PIN, however
your bank may charge you an excessive fee for international
ATM use, so check first. Stick with the credit card for the
more favourable exchange rate. Traveller's checks are not
include all 17.5% VAT taxes (reduced to 15% at the moment
on many items). Save all receipts for anything you buy
that you do not consume whilst there and you
may be entitled to a VAT refund on departure. More importantly,
in the event of a customs dispute on arrival in the USA,
this is your only proof you’re right. You
are guilty until proven innocent. $800 per
duty free. Many items -- especially fresh foodstuffs -- are
prohibited, so check before buying.
(Top of Page)
What To Wear (Clothes) :
Clothing in the UK looks the same as in the US
and Canada, but some things aren’t
the same. You won’t see sandals anywhere except maybe
at the beach. Shorts are relatively rare. T-shirts are
common and sometimes are even considered fancy if plain
(no writing at all).
Overall, people dress more formally, at least
inside London itself, than here. A typical day out for
a Briton would be business casual for us. At theatre proper
attire is still common though not generally required. Jeans
are not common except as day-wear, and even then blue ones
are not seen much except in the touristy areas. Eschew
blue jeans -- black is okay.
Button down shirts for gents and a proper
blouse for ladies are the order of the evening. During
the day a rugby or golf/polo shirt will do. Slacks all
around or khakis or a smart pair of cargo pants (not the
baggy type) also work. A sweater (jumper) over it all will
work wonders at night -- weather permitting. Summer
visitors should be reminded there is no air conditioning
in most places (hotels, stores, restaurants) and the
tube can be especially unbearable.
has become more casual recently, that simply means you
don’t need a tie and coat. Short
sleeves are pretty much unwelcome at many higher-end restaurants
even in the dog-days of summer. In the winter, it’s
still very formal and proper dress will be required. Restaurants
here are more than happy to turn you away with un uplifted
nose if not dressed properly.
Here's the current weather courtesy of BBC:
(Top of Page)
Will my mbile phone work in London? If you are a US/Canadian
resident, the answer is complex. If your carrier is T-Mobile
or AT&T, the answer is yes. Make sure, if you're on AT&T
your phone is Quad-Band -- Tri-Band phones don't always work
everywhere. If your carrier is anyone else, the answer is probably
not. Most US carriers operate on the TDMA or CDMA networks. Europe
uses GSM. Although US carriers are offering GSM service now,
most phones do NOT have this multi-mode capability. Further your
GSM phone must operate on the European GSM frequency which
is different than the US frequency. In short, check with your
carrier. (Also check your rates. T-Mobile is around 99 cents
per minute for UK calls while the others are $1.50 per minute
(Top of Page)