15 May Stepping Out: London
Speaking of tea, you’ll want to steep yourself in the tea room culture. After a visit to Buckingham Palace, indulge in high tea on the terrace at the Goring Hotel, an elegant Edwardian grande dame. For a more modern experience, try Drink Shop & Do near King’s Cross station. (You can also get your Harry Potter fix by visiting the western departures concourse: a luggage trolley is “stuck” in the wall at Platform 93/4.) Children will enjoy the arts and craft activities while you linger with your choice of 27 aromatic tea blends. To feel like a spy, don a trench coat and climb the winding stairs to Soho’s Secret Tea Room with 1940s vintage furnishings and jazz music emanating from a gramophone.
If you find local food traditions intimidating—do you really want to try kippers? and what on earth is bubble and squeak?—learn the ins and outs with Local Eats London by Natasha McGuinness, a travel-sized insiders’ guide.
History abounds in this venerable old city. If your main goal is visiting heritage sites, consider the London Pass, which gets you into dozens of destinations such as Kensington Palace, Westminster Abbey, and the Tower of London. Prices range from £69 (children £49) for a one-day pass to £184/£139 for a 10-day pass, a bargain considering admission to the tower tour itself is £25 (about $35). More importantly, you get fast-track entry to skip the lines. Besides the monarchical standards, some lesser-known spots for the history minded include the Churchill War Rooms, the Freud Museum, the Jewish Museum, the Florence Nightingale Museum, and a tour of the Beefeater Gin Distillery.
Aficionados of British literature can tour the Keats House, the Charles Dickens Museum, and the replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. If you are on a budget, many worthwhile museums are free, such as the National Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Want to connect with nature? You can walk 22 miles underground in the man-made Chislehurt Caves, originally chalk and flint mines dating to 1250 and used until the 1830s (David Bowie and Jimi Hendrix performed there!). Inhale and refresh at one of many beautiful parks and gardens, including Kew Gardens, St. James’s Park, Hyde Park, Chelsea Physic Garden, and Kyoto Garden.
Once upon a time, when London’s streets were filled with horses, manure, and sewage, river travel was the fastest, and more pleasant, way to get through London. You can see the city from the River Thames or the Regent’s Canal. There are many options: a sightseeing cruise (including hop-on, hop-off privileges) with City Cruises; speedboat rides with Thames Jet; or canal boat rides with Jason’s Original Canal Boat Trip or the London Waterbus Company. Tip for animal lovers: you can take a canal boat to the zoo.
For many visitors, a pub crawl is an essential part of their trip. Here are a few recommendations for pub drinking: Ladbroke Arms in Notting Hill, The Escapologist in Covent Garden, The French House in Soho, and Bread & Roses in quiet Clapham. TimeOut London has a great site that lists bars by neighborhood: timeout.com/london/bars-pubs/bars-and-pubs-in-london-by-area. DW
By Erika Mailman