With London playing host to the 2012 Olympics, the city is under immense pressure to impress not only the Olympic performers and visitors to the games, but the rest of the world too, as all eyes focus on England’s capital.
Many travellers will undoubtedly do their best to avoid London during this, its most busy time, but as I’ve always had something of a love affair with the city, it would take more than a few crammed buses and busy streets to deter me from heading there.
Having lived with London a mere two-hour train journey away, I’ve visited the city many times over the years and for many different reasons, but every time I go there I still find myself succumbing to its unique atmosphere. As the train approaches its final stop at Waterloo and I catch a glimpse of the London Eye on the banks of the river Thames, my heart beats faster and I’m conscious of looking like an over-excited tourist — not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course!
As I disembark and plough my way through the throngs of passengers to the street outside, I start to feel as if I’m being sucked into a colourful vortex, where people of all different nationalities weave their way from place to place and buskers, artists and other performers entertain small crowds of people.
There are beautiful historic buildings every which way you look (too many to mention, in fact) and after having read countless history books about London, I could easily envisage them with horse-drawn carriages trundling past, up and down the cobbles; top-hatted men and corset wearing women tipping their hats or curtseying to each other as they went about their business all those hundreds of years ago. I know I have a somewhat romanticised view of the city that friends of mine who live there find naive, as they tire of telling me that city life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but to me, there is no place like London for imagining how our ancestors of yesteryear used to live. I can think of no better form of escapism than that.
Being a fan of all things historic, and particularly if it involves an element of gruesomeness, I highly recommend the London Dungeons, The Tower of London and the Clink Prison Museum, situated on the site of one of the oldest prisons in England, dating back to 1144. All are informative, fun and thoroughly worth a visit, and while I will admit that many of London’s top tourist attractions can be a little costly, particularly if you’re on a budget, I believe some of them are unmissable if you want to get a true feeling of the city’s fascinating, two thousand year history.
Following on with the gruesome theme, should you happen to be as fascinated as I am with the world’s most infamous serial killer, Jackthe Ripper, then you simply must join one of the city’s walking tours, in which an experienced guide will help transport you back in time to the days when a vicious and calculating killer prowled London’s gas-lit streets late at night, in search of his next unsuspecting victim.
I haven’t always been so obsessed with London’s horrid history when I’ve visited, though, and sometimes a leisurely stroll along the river Thames with the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben in the background or a pigeon-feeding session at Trafalgar Square has been just what I’ve needed to get me back on track. Failing that, why not bear witness to a spot of British pomp and tradition with the Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s official London residence? It’s an amazing centuries-old tradition that happens daily throughout the summer months and on alternate days the rest of the year.
If the inevitable crowds should get too much for you at any point, though, you’re never more than a few hundred metres away from a park where you can sit, stroll or skip to your heart’s content, and let the jostling battle for pavement space become a distant memory .
To try and mention all of London’s highlights in a short article is nigh on impossible, but if after reading this you decide not to place London on your bucket list of cities to visit, do drop me a line and I’ll do my best to convince you otherwise!