Darragh McGrath tells us the top tips to visit London like a native.
Most of us university twenty-somethings have a list of places we wish to visit at some point in our lives. Dreams of travel and adventure in strange new lands have inspired us from an early age. For me, as a small townie who became a city slicker, the goal has always been to explore the great cities of the world and over the years I have crossed a few off my list; Paris, Rome, with plans to go to New York or Tokyo in the near future (when that elusive thing called money isn’t required for that high maintenance mistress third level education).
Recently, I made my eighth trip across the pond to the metropolis that is London. Not exactly the most exotic destination or the furthest to travel, but there is something about the English capital that has kept drawing me back twice a year since I was 14. The first trip was filled with all the usual tourist attractions: Madame Tussauds wax museum, the London Eye (despite my fear of heights) and of course, shopping in overwhelming stores. Since then, each visit has had some recurring activities that have practically become traditions. My recent stay was no different and made me want to share my experience as a seasoned wannabe Londoner.
First and foremost I must mention the Tube. To me (someone more accustomed to taking the Cork City buses) the London Underground has always been a key component of any visit. It is essential for getting from place to place, granted the map takes some time and patience to decipher and I understand for some people too much commuting is a pain. At the same time, there is no denying that cramming into a stuffy Tube train with dozens of people who are just going about their day to day life somehow makes you feel less like a wide-eyed tourist and more like a part of the city.
As someone who mainly writes about the Arts, I would be remiss if I did not give some bookshop recommendations to my fellow bibliophiles. A bookshop crawl is one of my aforementioned traditions - usually the first one upon arrival. This time I started on Charing Cross Road with Foyles. These five floors are a bookworm’s paradise, complete with a cool café on the top floor. I particularly enjoyed seeing the shop celebrating the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone by lining the staircase with of J.K. Rowling’s works.
Next stop is a must for the self-proclaimed nerd, geek or pop culturist: Forbidden Planet, with everything from graphic novels to anime to all kinds of fandom merchandise - this is where most of my sterling tends to be spent. Finally, for a combination of book shopping and taking in landmarks I recommend Waterstones near Trafalgar Square. It has a great view from the top floor (also a coffee shop) and is just a short walk away from the National Gallery for those of you whose fine art interests stretch beyond cartoons and notebook doodles.
Music and the theatre are practically my family’s religion, so seeing a show on London’s West End is naturally the most sacred tradition, to the point where I now recall each individual visit by remembering which shows we saw that week. Even if you’re not a big theatre fan, an evening in one of those breath-taking theatres is something everyone should experience at least once in their lives. As for musical recommendations I’m going to be predictable and urge you to see one of the two theatrical titans Les Misérables or Phantom of the Opera (just remember to bring tissues).
This year I was delighted to get the opportunity to go to Shakespeare’s Globe, a recreation of the theatre where the legendary writer’s plays were originally performed. The fact that it was raining heavily on the night into the open-air theatre only added to the authenticity of performance of Much Ado About Nothing - I was thankful I had my hat. Recommended not only to passionate English students, but to anyone looking to add some culture to their trip, a visit to the Globe definitely deserves a spot on your travel itinerary.
The visit concluded with a boat trip of the River Thames. I went on a similar tour down the Seine in Paris and the fact that so many of these great cities seem to have their own river always captured my imagination. It is the perfect way to take in many of the famous landmarks and historical buildings from Westminster Abbey to The Tower of London (all of which I’m sure have a rich history I would have learned more about if I had paid more attention to the boat’s tour guide and less time thinking about how realistic these monuments looked in video games).
In conclusion, I hope this overview of my recent trip to London has given you some ideas for your next trip. From immersing yourself in the city life to drinking from the endless fountain of culture, the eight time really was the charm and I am already looking forward to the ninth.