10 Things I Learned After Several Trips to London
Big but cozy, noisy but full of silent places, old and modern at the same time: these are all things that can be said about London! Apart from its famous landmarks, there are other things in London that will either attract you, or scare you away; but they are what make the the city on the Thames what it is. But perhaps the best part about London is that you don't have to spend a lot of money to have a good time.
This Bright Side author has been to London several times and invites you to read some stories about the things that make the British capital so special. If you ever plan to visit this wonderful place, be sure to remember the things on this list.
A careful combination of modern and old
In this city, modern skyscrapers don't infringe on the peace of the older buildings. Everything looks as if it was planned to be this way in the first place, and the technical progress won't disrupt London's traditions. There is a legend called, The Ravens in the Tower that goes: If the ravens fly away, Great Britain as a country will cease to exist. At the time, there were six ravens and today you can see the different ribbons attached to their feet.
These smart birds are okay with being constantly photographed and are used to appearing in a selfie or two. But if you're planning on touching them, it isn't the best idea. Even though they look inviting, they do not enjoy other people touching them, and can peck you if you try to do so. There is a special person taking care of the ravens called, The Overseer. According to his Twitter account, he admires the birds and they trust him to protect them.
Just like many other landmarks, the Tower Bridge hasn't changed its appearance all this time on purpose. But it does have one new feature: you can do yoga on it. As you might have guessed, yoga cannot be done on its lower part since there are cars going across it, along with the fact that it's a drawbridge.
Yoga classes are held on the upper pedestrian part of the bridge on the glass floor 137 ft above The Thames. It's quite scary but there are a lot of people who enjoy doing it there. The classes are held twice a month (you should sign up for the lesson beforehand) and they cost £25 which is fairly inexpensive. And you'd better bring your own yoga mat because there may not be enough for everyone.
The most disciplined lines in the world
In the central streets of London - especially at nighttime- there are thousands of students who photograph everything around them to put onto live streams on Instagram. There are also very long lines of people waiting to enter the free museums (which we'll tell about later in the article) like The London Eye and other cultural centers. But the British lines are extraordinarily disciplined. As you can see in the photo, the people don't need barriers to maintain order.
Even though the lines are efficient, if you are planning on visiting one of these landmarks, plan your visit in advance in order to avoid wasting a lot of time waiting. The British do all they can to decrease the waiting time. For example, if you are waiting in line to enter the London Aquarium, an employee will be sure to come up to you and tell you how much time you will have to wait and advise you a more comfortable time to visit. Or you can buy tickets online in advance and enter any center without having to wait in any lines.
Shopping for all tastes and incomes
Just like any other capital, London offers a lot of opportunities for shopping. It's true that this is a very expensive city but it doesn't mean that an average tourist can only afford souvenirs. The people who love boutiques will find their way themselves, and won't hesitate to spread the word about the cheapest places around town. This is also great for people who don't like shopping all that much but do love to spend time taking pictures instead.
Even if you prefer only high end clothing, you can still attend Primark stores where you can buy a full set of clothes for just 100 pounds. We can't say that the quality of the clothing there is ideal, but for 8-pound jeans or a 5-pound bag, that's a price we can all get on board with! And as for the Harry Potter, Star Wars, Nickelodeon and Disney fans, they'll definitely enjoy the goods and clothing with the logos of their favorite films and cartoons on them.
If you are traveling with your children or you just love Legos yourself, you should definitely check out the Lego store in Lester Square. Yes, you can buy Lego toys anywhere, but it's not everywhere that you can take pictures in front of the Elizabeth Tower with the Big Ben or sit inside a toy train car and enjoy a beautiful picture of London - all made of Legos! These amazing Lego structures attract just as much attention as the store's goods do.
After you leave the Lego store, you'll see another store that both children and adults love: M&M's World. This store is incredibly big, selling not only delicious candy, but also different souvenirs and clothing items. You can even expect to be greeted with candy upon entering the store. And if you decide to buy nothing, you will have a blast taking a picture with giant candy characters and their friends posing as The Beatles from their Abbey Road album cover.
If you are not really interested in buying clothing, candy, or toys, but you can't live without a good cup of tea, you definitely don't want to miss a visit to the 300-year-old tea store, Twinings on Strand Street. Their prices start at £ 8,50 for a pack of tea, and for just £ 30 you can buy a pack of delicious jasmine tea. Be sure to visit the tiny tea museum and drink a few samples of this warm drink for free.
Convenient public transportation
The London subway seems confusing only when you see it for the first time, but in actuality it's all very clear and convenient. The London subway will help you save a lot of money compared to taking a taxi. For example, instead of paying a fortune for a taxi ride from Heathrow Airport, you can take the Piccadilly line without even having to leave the terminal.
By the way, it takes a long time for the drivers of black cabs to learn the roads before they get their license. They have to pass an exam which checks if the drivers know every single street of the entire city and are able to tell which route they will take if one of the streets is blocked. With GPSs present in most vehicles these days, such knowledge seems useless. But since GPSs can break down at anytime it's good to have a back-up plan.
Buses are also quite convenient modes of transportation - but keep in mind that in some areas there is Hail and Ride Section which means that the buses only stop if you push a special button. If you don't signify that you'd like to stop, the driver will just keep on driving. The Oyster card allows you to pay for the transportation, but it will cost you a pretty penny. However, there is a rule that says you can take one free ride on a bus or tram if you suddenly run out of money on your card.
London pubs have very funny names like, "The Blind Pig", "The World's End", "Couch and Horses", "Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese" — and just about any other creative title that you can imagine. But these are not just places where you can grab a drink. People visit pubs to communicate with each other, watch soccer, play quiz games, pool, or just read the newspaper to relax on their way home.
In some pubs, you can also have lunch and enjoy dishes like the traditional London treat, "Fish and Chips". This meal is quite affordable and incredibly tasty. Unlike other restaurants, it is not okay to leave tips and you should pay right after you order a drink. Here's some useful advice: the further a pub is from downtown, the lower the price. And the atmosphere in cheaper places can sometimes be more pleasant than that of a more expensive pub.
Approximately one month before Christmas, the center of the British capital changes its appearance completely. Fantastic decorations appear on the streets and in store windows. Decorations of birds, flowers, glowing spheres, and anything fantastical fill the streets of London during the holiday. But the most beautiful places this time of the year are Carnaby Street (as seen in the photo below), Oxford Street, and Regent Street.
The illumination of lights make the inhabitants and the guests of the city happy before the beginning of January, but those who couldn't see them on Christmas shouldn't be sad. During winter in London, there is a tradition of holding a festival of fire which presents the installations and light shows from all over the world.
London is probably the only place in the world where you can see so many pieces of art without spending a single penny. Among the free museums in London, you'll find: The British Museum, The National Gallery, The Natural History Museum, The Science Museum (in the photo below), The Tate and Tate Modern Gallery, The National Portrait Gallery, The London Museum, The Wallace Collection and some others. There's also a smaller museum in Bruce Castle that is definitely worth a walk-through (we will learn more about that castle at the end of the article).
Taking photographs is allowed in all museums (except for some halls) but you may be requested to turn your flash off. You can also draw here, making this is great practice hall for artists. And, like we've already mentioned before, it's best to visit these places on days and hours when there aren't too many visitors as not to waste your time standing in lines.
Talented street performers
Just like any other big city, London is full of musicians, acrobats, comedians, celebrity lookalikes (like this above picture of Mr. Bean from China Town), people-statues, and other artists who use the streets as their stage. Some of the performers are so professional that they make you wonder why such talented people are forced to work in the street when they ought to be giving concerts to sold out venues.
But fortunately, huge talents don't go unnoticed. Among such artists are Rob Falsini, who deserves to be called one of the best independent musicians of the United Kingdom. Since he was "discovered" by a Cirque du Soleil composer Benoit Jutras, the singer has released three albums and has given concerts in the U.S. and Canada.
And, of course, I have to mention another street musician who just like Rob Falsini, could have been seen with his guitar in Convent Garden. James Bowen and his cat, Bob became real stars after their autobiography was released and in 2016, a movie where they starred as themselves. If you are still not familiar with the story of James and Bob, you should definitely give it a read and learn how anyone is capable of changing their lives better.
A diverse animal world
London is a green city with many big parks (in the photo above you can see Hyde Park), botanical gardens and countless small parks. In many city districts, there are special places called, recreational grounds. These are typically parks with football fields, water reservoirs, sports equipment, and community centers. And in every green area, you can find fun and interesting animals.
In addition to geese, swans, ducks and other birds in Hyde Park, there are South American Monk Parakeets. There's no official story of how they got there but according to one version, the parrots were accidentally released during the shooting of The African Queen in 1951. As a result, the birds somehow stayed in London and some other parts of the country. These birds managed to become accustomed to the climate here, but there are so many of them that the government is even considering decreasing their number. While it's not prohibited to feed them seeds and apples, parrots tend to get scared at times and can hurt you with their sharp claws.
And here are a couple of pelicans from the Saint James Park. At this time there are only three of them, but there used to be more. Any visitor to the park can look at the pelicans and see how they are fed every day, from 2:30 to 3:00 p.m.
Birds are animals that can be seen in any city but it's not everywhere that they are as fat and as satisfied with their lives as they are in London. Many of them have their usual "workplaces". Their one job is to beg citizens and tourists for food. That means that everywhere there are swimming birds, you can find a plaque with a description of the species and tips on what to feed them. It's not recommended to feed the birds bread, but instead, you can offer them cereal, corn, or lettuce. But that doesn't mean they don't love bread - especially cookies.
This cute bird lives in the South Bank of the Thames, not far from the Westminster Bridge. It walks around the bank and makes loud noises to scare away predators and to let people know that he's hungry. People say that the bird loves french fries, but but it will also eat nuts. But don't be surprised if he keeps searching for someone who will give him the french fries he loves most!
Squirrels are always happy to eat some nuts, but it's not recommended to feed these little guys. But who can resist these cute creatures that are always hungry? Just like other London animals, they are not scared of people and happily accept food from their hands.
Other typical park citizens are foxes. You can see them at night when they go out to inspect the dumpsters. Foxes are not scared of people, but they are not friendly at all. The photo above shows a fox that isn't too kind. Some people in London who fall asleep at a bus stop after drinking too much at a party often wake up to find foxs' teeth marks on their shoes.
Picturesque graveyards and... ghosts
London graveyards, just like in many other European cities, are places where the dead truly rest in peace. They are not grim at all, and there is much more life in them than you'd expect. In this Tottenham graveyard, you can see dog owners and other people just walking around. Roses grow all around and there are squirrels everywhere along with ducks, geese, swans, and other birds who swim in the pond. There is no negative energy here, making it quite a peaceful place.
And of course, there are some stories about ghosts. It is believed that the chances of seeing something paranormal in Great Britain are much higher than in any other country in the world. Maybe it's because there are a lot of old castles and every single one of them has a dark history behind it.
The most superstitious citizens say that allegedly, in the Bruce Castle which is not far from the Tottenham graveyard, that on Halloween you can see the ghost of an unhappy wife of one of the castle owners. She walks on the balcony from the room under the clocktower where her tyrant husband imprisoned her and jumps down from it, screaming. It's up to you to decide whether to believe these stories or not, but we don't want to get too close. Do you think there's any truth to them?
Bonus: "I have never seen a ghost in a graveyard but I did see a funny fat goose."
Of course, there is so much else that could be said about London! Perhaps you'd like to share your opinion about this amazing city and give some advice to future visitors. We are looking forward to your stories in the comment section below!