When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.
Dr. Samuel Johnson 18th century writer & diarist
Other cities may try to claim this enduring epithet but it is to London that it rightfully belongs. As an honorary Londoner having lived here for almost all of my adult life, I am constantly enchanted and inspired by the diversity and immensity of the most beautiful City in the world.
London has it all. The British Royal family and their palaces, pageantry, heritage, tradition, a two-thousand-year history, iconic landmarks, classical and contemporary architecture, culture, fine art, fashion, music, commerce, theatre, museums, international sporting events, vast open spaces and parks, world-class tourist attractions and monuments celebrating literary and musical greatness in playwright William Shakespeare’s magnificent Globe Theatre and the quirkiness of the Beatles’ Abbey Road zebra crossing.
One of the world’ most frequented cities, many visitors and even resident Londoners never experience London’s vast uniqueness and the hidden gems and discoverable secrets on bustling streets from Mayfair to Peckham. Gazing at picture postcard landmarks, riding a Big Red Bus or treading well-trodden thoroughfares provides unforgettable memories but an added dimension is accessed when armed with a wonderful new guide, Insider London, A Curated Guide to the Most Stylish Shops, Restaurant and Cultural Experiences by Rachel Felder. (Harper Collins Design)
The Insider Guide offers an opportunity for a different kind of round London sightseeing tour.
The South Bank of the Thames, a river that stretches for 200 miles, is as good as any place to begin a whistle stop tour of the Capital. The cultural heart of the city entertains with classical theatre, dance and modern drama in the Royal Festival Hall, National Theatre and street theatre with musicians, performers and mime artists.
A bird’s eye view from a glass enclosed carriage at the top of the London Eye opens up a breathtaking panorama of some of the best London has to offer.
The gold cross topped dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, Lambeth Palace, Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, Millennium Bridge, MI5 headquarters, The Shard, currently the highest building in London, the eye-catching Gherkin and Cheese Cutter glass skyscrapers, the Savoy Hotel and the magnificent sweep of the river downstream with its leisure craft, working barges and speedy commuter Thames clippers.
Tate Modern, a former power station towers over the South Bank and is one of the most important contemporary art museum’s in the world.
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, a 1400 seat reconstruction of the original Globe provides an extra-ordinary opportunity to see the Bard’s plays performed in an authentic setting, that being, outside. The open-air theatre operates all year round and every day ‘groundlings’ tickets are available for just five pounds. Wear warm clothing.
The Gold Hind, the galleon of Elizabethan explorer Sir Francis Drakes is now a function venue, moored on the South Bank within sight of the Tower of London. Tower Bridge which spans the river downstream, has a ‘selfie gallery’. A mirrored floor and ceiling balanced between the white and gold embossed columns of the blue iron and steel structure of the stone walkways and balustrades of Tower Bridge, over one hundred feet above the tidal flowing river.
On the mirrored platform capable of supporting a bundle of hay and six elephants, the architect envisioned visitors observing the ‘beastly splendor’ of the river in a constant state of flux, forming and dissolving far below.
As night follows day, energetic sightseeing leads naturally to the need for a nice cup of tea. The grand tradition of Afternoon Tea – a lavish spread with small sandwiches, scones with butter, jam and cream and cake, is a specialty of some of the grandest London hotels, such as The Ritz and Fortnum & Mason on Piccadilly and the luxury department store, Harrods in Knightsbridge.
However, there are also smaller more affordable options at establishments such as Bea’s of Bloomsbury, Postcard Tea by Bond Street and Wringer & Mangle, an old industrial laundry at London Fields. To combine afternoon tea with sightseeing, the BB Bakery Bus Tour serves afternoon tea on a double decker bus or on a boat travelling down the Thames.
Away from the central London tourist hot spots, Camden Market delivers insight to youth culture and offers a glimpse into a mysterious world of flourishing underground tribes of native Londoners and international visitors. Flamboyant clothing geared to punks, goths, witches and warlocks, rock n rollers, bikers, cyber heads and war mongers are all on sale. A theatrical experience, glamorous vintage outfits, ethnic outfits, battle fatigues and glorious gothic fantasy wear are displayed by shop assistants dressed to the nines or made up to hell. Ethnic food stalls conjure up smells and flavors from India, Thailand, Mexico, the Caribbean and good old British fish ‘n chips. There is also a homage booth to the reggae legend Bob Marley selling dreadlock accessories, music, posters and t-shirts.
Weary feet can head to Covent Garden for the restorative treatments offered by Neal’s Yard Remedies or to the not so sweetly named Cowshed, a small chain of comfy and casual spas on Primrose Hill.
To ensure a restful end to the day in your newly discovered secret London, pick up a book at Bedtime from the former home of the novelist and visionary at the Charles’ Dickens Museum in Chancery Lane/Holborn. You can also join a walking tours to visit some of the scenes of his most famous novels, Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby. “You asked for MORE?”
Members of the Magic Circle are sworn to secrecy, but you can experience even more mystery and magic with a late night visit to the Davenport Magic Shop in Charing Cross. For children and adults they run classes in the Magic Studio next door and sell magic collectibles from this family owned store that has been in at the same address since 1898.
Which brings us full circle back to the Abbey Road Studios in St. John’s Wood. Night and day, visitors and fans gather outside in the street by the graffiti lined wall at the recording studios where the Beatles produced some of their most amazing and enduring music. The photograph of the Famous Four walking in step across the zebra crossing is an everlasting image all over the world.
They declared, All You Need is Love. If you love life, it’s no secret, you will love London.
Ellen Frazer-Jameson is a journalist, author, actress. theater producer and drama coach. She co hosted the largest live late night radio show in Europe for the BBC and has appeared on national TV shows and taken leading roles on stage. She lives in Miami and London and loves to dance Argentine tango.