My Top Sights for London

My Top Sights for London

“Why sir; when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”

Johnson in Boswell’s Life of Johnson vol. II

My Top Sights for London

Couple of folks have asked, recently, for my recommendations for London.

In light of recent events and unfolding daily drama, with a nod to some friends headed over?

My Top Sights for London

Start at the Museum of London, part of the old Roman London Wall is there, history, pre-history, a truly superlative overview of what London has to offer.

Yes, the British Museum, sure, that’s good — where the English robbed the world of its antiquities and monuments — but start with a half day at the Museum of London. Well worth the effort as it encapsulates everything from dinosaurs and cavemen, Angles, Saxons, Britons, to the Blitz. Monty Python? I think there was some reference to the 1960s, as well. Kings and queens, rebels and rivals, history, all in one place, about one place.

The other place to start would be the Number 11 Bus. Look it up. Passes everything worth seeing. Hop on, hop off, I’m totally unsure of the current deal. Used to be there was, like, a $20 week-long pass for London Transit, that’s as inner-city tube and double-decker buses. It is a walking city.

Number 11 Bus? That’s a quick, cheap way to see the heart of London. Bus trip. Got a whole bunch of images in a quick trip, and doing it sitting down, well, mostly. I recall one trip on the bus from the top seat, in front. Amazing images. Totally tourist yet, daily riders, commuters, and London’s assorted citizenry and ilk, on and off the whole way.

My Top Sights for London

St. Paul’s — the seat of England, and so forth. There is a tour, or a walk, or something that lets you climb 500 (?) steps to the top of the dome, an observation deck. Worth the effort if the weather is clear, or sort of clear.

In the basement of St. Paul’s, there was a history display, and of particular note, look at the pictures from the Blitz, as everything around the cathedral was blown up, but the church survived.

My Top Sights for London

Then there is all the South Bank, and the easiest tube stop used to be Westminster. There were two walking destinations besides Westminster Abbey.

Oh, holy smokes, there is a noon service at Westminster Abby that is amazing. Well-worth attending. In and out in about 20 minutes, usually officiated by some high church dude, bishop or something. Very cool. Old testament, new testament, homily, grape juice and cracker. I passed on the sacrament one time because it was a shared cup, and I was following what looked like a sickly street person.

The tour of Westminster Abby is worth it.

Part of the history of Westminster is that it was a holy site, as an island, for up to 4,000 years before it was consecrated “Christian.” Holy ground. Holy spot long before the recent wave of religion from Italy showed up. (Do love me some low church.)

Walk across the bridge and head towards the the ferris wheel, then keep on going, and come to the old, recycled industrial building, the Tate Modern.

Tate Modern

It’s also a walking bridge from St. Paul’s, and dumps right into the front entrance. On cold winter nights, there’s various sweet nuts roasting on the copious sidewalk, and in the summer, performers of all stripes. “Careful with thy wallet,” as Shakespeare said.

I have no idea what’s on, but I have seen some of the modern Picasso stuff there, and it was great, and then, on the top floor, they had a number of the huge Rothko pieces, from New York, I thought, on permanent display. Also got to see a touring exhibit that included Edward Hopper, the famous “Diner” scene, only, in person, it was much more moving. The way he dealt with light and shading.

Last time we were there, the cafe at the Tate Modern had London ‘bucket list’ Fish and Chips. Really kind of tasty.

Just a few blocks down from the Tate Modern is Shakespeare’s Globe.

Shakespeare’s Globe

Shrouded in myth, an American actor set about rebuilding the original Globe, the one used by Shakespeare and the King’s Men, allegedly.

The modern one is built upon supposition, inference, and dedicated academic intrigue, but the raw facts are, “We don’t really know.” However, it was built with tools available to 17th century craftsmen, and with wood harvested locally. The only modern touch is some lighting, fire suppression, and fire-proof chemicals on the thatch roofing.

The season tends to sell out a year or more advance, now, and what was widely regarded as a Shakespeare Freak Show has come to be the crown jewel in London’s Theatre Scene.

There will be some ‘day-of’ tickets and get seats. The groundlings area is fine, but who wants to stand with commoners for three hours? So far, there are no bad seats. See an afternoon show, and be forever changed.

My Top Sights for London

High Tea. While there are many, there’s a very traditional setting at the top of Fortnum and Masons, maybe a block from Piccadilly Circus — on Piccadilly, if memory serves. It’s super traditional, and one summer, I think I was refused because I had shorts, ugly American and all. However as service goes, it starts about 4 in the afternoon, 1600, and ends maybe an hour later with a surfeit of carbs.

The original carbo-loading.

It is a diet-buster, for sure, and worth it. Order tea, get tea service then clotted cream and scones, and little finger sandwich things, and just a superlative experience.

Someplace, there’s a funny image of me, over High Tea, wearing a T-shirt that says “Trailer trash.” It’s an Austin thing, might not translate.

Fortnum and Mason’s is — kind of — like a Neiman-Marcus. Upscale grocery goods. Expensive as can be, but some of the quality is exceptional. I still have a leather notebook from there. More than 20 years old. Some stuff lasts forever. British cow skin, etc., I’m sure.

Hatchard’s Bookstore is right next door, was, is? Right next to F&M. Hatchard’s is a bookstore that’s been there for over 200 years. Interesting selection on three floors, but don’t count on the elevator. I tend to ask the staff what they recommend. Kind of a luckless gamble in recommendations. Some good, some great, some, well, the English do know how to bind up nice-looking books.

My Top Sights for London

“In an English ship, they say, it is poor grub, poor pay, and easy work; in an American ship, good grub, good pay, and hard work. And this is applicable to the working populations of both countries.” (Jack London)

Cecil’s Court is situated behind the National Portrait Gallery, on the way to the Theatre District and — can’t think of the tube stop. As an avowed lover of books this used to be an amazing place, a little cobblestone street, blocked from vehicular traffic, lined with bookstores of all types. Think the value of real estate and the Russian, Middle Eastern billionaires divesting themselves of untenable real estate has driven up the price, and I’m unsure if the little book stalls, and book nooks still exist.

Elgin Marbles/Reading Room/Sutton Hoo at The British Museum. Is that the Rosetta Stone, too? Cool gift shop, too. As an adjunct to the British Museum, there’s the British Library.

London Bridge/London Wall

Standing on the grounds in front of a Beefeater Tour Guide, he asked Americans to raise their hands, and we did.

“Just think, all of this could be yours, if you just paid your taxes.”

London Bridge is cool to walk across, the Palace was little over-rated, in my mind, and the crown jewels, “No honey, we’re not shopping,” weren’t really that impressive. The history, though, was. Been a castle for a mighty long time.

There is a recently uncovered site, near the start of the original London Wall, a temple from the Cult of Mithras, stuff dug up since, if I recall, the turn of the millennia.

My father and I once did a walking tour, on our own, not guided, tracing the extant portions of the old London Wall. Kind of interesting. Not much more than a mile, through basements and along thoroughfares where the top of the all is now street level.

English Language Barrier

The United States of America and Britain: two countries, separated by a common language. I used to land there, walk off the plane, and wish that someone spoke English.

“Wot say guv?”


My Top Sights for London

Other spots worthy of mention, but no one gets it on this side of the pond?

  1. Mornington Crescent
  2. Abby Road
  3. Camden
  4. Covent Garden
  5. Canterbury
  6. Grosvenor Square, like the song

To be in England in the summer time, close to the edit

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