I’ve been to London 5 or 6 times, but can never remember exactly where I stayed, or what I did. Ok, perhaps my attention span is really limited, and most times I was there for a specific reason, like work or wedding or visiting a friend. Which is one great way to know places: un-touristing.
Nonetheless, I love London, somehow. Flashes that come through my memories include crowds crossing King’s Cross; seeing the Black Eyed Peas live, randomly, at a rooftop bar at Piccadilly Circus; drunk night-outs on Soho; naked bike ride on Hyde Park; and innumerous visits to Primark. [Last time I had an overnight connection at Gatwick, I made sure to sleep near one of the locations of this amazing discounted department store.]
You can find innumerous sites advising you what to do in London, but here I’ll tell you the what with the why, perhaps inserting a little true tale in the story.
Picadilly Circus: It’s the epicenter of London’s tourism. A British version of Times Square, if you will take such horrible comparison, but as in NYC, Picadilly is full of billboard, lights, people. Quite a circus. Once I was there with three girlfriends, we had no money, but we were hoping for a night out. And you know how it is: positive energy, wishes mentally made, wishes come true: we were approached by a party promoter, who invited us to a Black Eyed Peas party. Sure! We love them and thought a party in homage to the group could be fun. Went up to a rooftop club. Beautiful views of the London Eye, that I was admiring from the balcony most evening until I heard what sounded like fans freaking out at the start of a live band. “What’s happening?” I asked the promoter. “Oh, Black Eyed Peas started.” What? They aren’t actually there, are they? I couldn’t believe it. But it was true, I had an amazing night, and even managed to snap a picture kissing Will.I.AM’s cheek.
Soho: I think there are often conflicting opinions about Soho. I remember heading there, on my second time in London, to get free drinks from club promoters. It’s like Temple Bar in Dublin or that side street on Leidseplein in Amsterdam: promoters give out free drinks to call people in to their bar or club. Then last time I decided to get an Airbnb right there, and it was crazy. Daytime is very busy –I guess the entire city centre is, though– but we had a lot of fun at night, again. Especially as our apartment was next door to 5-star hotel The London Edition, and every night we would have a nightcap there, often seeing the rich and famous being photographed by paparazzi at the door.
Camden Town: First time I went, in 2006, Camden was darker, gothic, and the best place in town to find drugs. I went into a ‘variety’ store – with mostly bongs, pipes, etc – and asked the guy where to buy weed. In a matter of minutes, I had it in my hands. Was it there that I also bought poppers? A disgusting thing that thing is. Last time I went, 2015, it was a different scenario. Camden had been transformed in almost a sanctuary for Amy Winehouse, who passed in 2011. I loved her and spent the afternoon looking for her statue at the Stable Market. Couldn’t find it, but loved that place! Great vibe. Camden post-Amy is perhaps still melancholic, but in a romantic way. Just like the brit diva’s soul.
London Bridge: Hello. It’s a bridge. You might be thinking of the Tower Bridge – way more interesting and pretty.
Tower Bridge: This is, yes, the majestic bridge. It inspires the kingdom, royalty, and monarchy. And it also connects you to the Tower of London, the one and only tourist attraction I strongly recommend you to visit in London.
Tower of London: When I was traveling the world in 2008, my mom chose London to meet me up. Guess what that means? Heavy touring and shopping. So she wanted to visit the Tower of London, and at first, I rolled my eyes; but, as usual, she was right. We spent a few hours exploring the castle and reading its fascinating stories – that was where Anne Boleyn, Queen of England from 1533 to 1536, was held prisoner and eventually beheaded by order of her own ex, King Henry VIII. Who else saw The Tudors? What a great show.
Portobello Road: another thing I love to do in London, especially because some tourists don’t know about it (but don’t be mistaken, it’s packed anyway). It’s nice to walk around Notting Hill, such a cute and posh residential neighborhood, and then see the creative stuff they have at the market. Saturday is the most complete day, but also the busiest. So go whenever, but do it.
London Fields: then once I went to visit my good Brit friend and stayed at her house, which was near London Fields. Loved going to the park, but mostly to the bar there. ‘Pub on the park’ is the name, and it’s deliciously British, without being dark and stinky as most city pubs.
Hyde Park: I only have beautiful memories of the city’s main park. First and best: got there and suddenly people started stripping. Like getting butt naked! I was like ‘what the hell’… until I understood: it was naked bike ride day, an event I had never heard about it, until then. So naked pale bodies, of all kinds and shapes, started moving around the park as they got ready to ride and manifest against the abusive use of cars and other extreme capitalism. My Brazilian friends and I saw the opportunity for a historical pic and quickly took out our tops, thinking ‘we’ll just be another one’. Somehow all cameras instantly turned at us and started clicking. Hilarious, embarrassing, confusing… loved it! Another memory is of me crossing Hyde Park and just happy walking along the beautiful royal-like Kensington Gardens. Third and last: the Winter Wonderland, that happens during the holidays and transforms the park in a magical place with fireplaces, ice-skating rink and fun rides – including a boozy carrousel bar.
Enjoy: the British dry sense of humour, and fish & chips.