Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.
I was having coffee with a friend the other day who may be leaving London soon to return to the States. Like me, she’s an American who’s been living here for several years. As we chatted about what it might mean to “Go Back” (capital G, capital B), she told me that when she mentioned this to a friend, he immediately asked: “Do you have a bucket list?”
A bucket list – according to the Urban Dictionary – is a list of things you need to do before you die. Presumably, this man wanted to know if my friend had a list of things she wanted to do in London before she departed. She responded that a. she doesn’t “do” lists of any sort (right on, sister!) and b. she’s made a point of already seeing everything she wants to see in London.
I know what she means. While I can’t profess to hate lists, my family has also made a point of really “doing” London during the four years that we’ve lived here. Precisely because we were never quite sure how long we’d stay, my husband and I always approached each year as if it were our last and tried to make the most out of our fair city.
Since I’m told that expats know best when it comes to travel tips, here are my suggestions for five things worth doing in London. (This week’s list focuses on some “obvious” places to see; next week will focus on the less obvious):
1. The Tower of London – Yes, it’s touristy as all get-out, but this historic castle on the North bank of the River Thames is a real gem. It’s loaded with…um…gems, but also armour, torture chambers and even its very own collection of ravens. Extra-special, supercalifragilisticexpealidotious tip? Go to the Ceremony of the Keys which is held every night after dark when the castle is locked up, and has been going on for 700 years. If you’ve read Hilary Mantel’s spectacular, Booker-prize winning Wolf Hall you will be dying to see this place up close.
2. Houses of Parliament – Don’t just go look at them, take a guided tour of them. We’ve done this twice, once when the kids were very little and more recently, when we could actually listen to what the tour guide had to say. These hallowed chambers of British government are chock full of history. And it’s very cool to meld that visual history with the live history that still goes on in the House of Commons and House of Lords to this very day. (After our most recent tour I promptly sent our M.P. a request to watch Prime Minister’s Questions live.)
3. Borough Market – London is famous for its outdoor food markets, and this is the largest of them all. Located just a stone’s throw from London Bridge, Borough Market is positively bustling every Thursday-Saturday with food, people and activity. I’m not much of a gourmand, but I love walking around and seeing the hares hanging upside down in the butchers’ stalls alongside the jars of English jam. It’s a fundamentally social experience.
4. British Museum - Yeah, yeah, I know. This is obvious. With items ranging from the Elgin Marbles (shhh…don’t tell Greece!) to the Rosetta Stone, the British Museum is one of the famous museums in the world. But what I think a lot of people don’t appreciate is how great this museum is for kids. If you wander into the small library that’s tucked away in a far corner on the first floor, you’ll find that you can take out back-packs for children ages 5-11 that will engage them with exhibits on Ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt and many more. And kids over 8 can become a Young Friend of the Museum, which qualifies them to spend an overnight there. (Warning to parents contemplating this activity: get an air mattress. Trust me.)
5. BBC Proms – If you visit London during July- September – and definitely if you live here – you’ll want to take in the BBC Proms. This series of concerts at the Royal Albert Hall features leading international performers of classical, jazz, choral and world music. There are even Family proms. And for those who don’t want to shell out a lot for tickets, you can queue the day of any performance (get there early!) and see it for 5 pounds, as long as you’re willing to stand!
Speaking of London, I recently came across this list of 10 Things Not To Do In London. I agree with all of them, except for the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, which I do think is worth seeing, once.
Image: Changing of the Horse Guards – Buckingham Palace by Popov2007 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.