London inspiration list

My blueprint to be a tourist in my own city.

Since one of my travel resolutions for 2009 is to be a tourist in my own city and make the most of what London has to offer, I thought I should make a list of things to do. I’ve been here four and a half years and I’ve seen a lot of the city already so this won’t necessarily include things that would make the top of a tourist hit-list such as visiting the Tower of London. In no particular order, it’s a list of 10 things I’m yet to do in London and want to, or haven’t done for a while and would like to do again. The plan is that this will serve as a blueprint for how to spend my weekends over the next few months – and of course I’ll write about it on the blog. As an added challenge I’m going to try to keep it under £150 for all 10 activities.

1. Go ice-skating at Somerset House
London has several seasonal outdoor ice-skating rinks and my favourite is at Somerset House, just off the Strand. I usually go every year but I’m yet to go this winter and there’s only a few more weeks left before the rinks close for another year. I bought a fabulous pair of 1960s red leather skates when I was in Brooklyn last year and I need to take them out for a whirl. Cost = £11.50 including cloak room.

2. Go back to the National Gallery
I’ve been to the National Gallery at Trafalgar Square but I haven’t been through all the rooms. It’s odd how I’ve been to the Louvre in Paris and the Prado in Madrid and the Met in New York and I haven’t actually completed the National Gallery. I love art so it’s not a chore – I think I’ve just been complacent because I can go any time. Cost = free.

3. Visit the Museum of Childhood
I’ve been meaning to go to the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green for a while and I’m yet to do so. No  more excuses – it’s just up the road from me now that I live in the East End and it looks like great fun! Cost = free.

4. Visit Hampton Court Palace
I love Tudor history but I’m yet to go to Hampton Court Palace. It’s even got a maze for goodness’ sake! Enough already … it’s time to put this to rights and plan a day trip. I really should do this in summer so I can get the riverboat along the Thames but waiting another half a year is a little too much like procrastination. I’ll settle for the train. However, Henry VIII’s state apartments are closed for renovation in January and February so I might plan this for early March. Cost = £14 for entry, plus £6.50 for the train.

5. Go clubbing
London is famous for its night-clubs and I’m still young enough for the occasional big night out. I was never truly into the nightclub scene when was younger and I’m still not but once in a while is fun. New Year’s Eve reminded me how much I enjoy dancing. Ultimately it’s all about the people so I would want to round up half a dozen good friends and then hit some of the famous night spots. Cost = £50 including entry, drinks and half a cab home.

6. Go to Madame Tussauds
It’s cheesy and it’s a tourist trap and I would urge any visitor to London to avoid the queues and save their money. And yet, I still want to go and see the wax works at Madame Tussauds. I’ve heard about this place since I was tiny, after all. This is not one to do with my fiancé – I want to go with a friend with a similar sense of humour and take silly photos. Cost = £22.50 with online booking.

7. Go to an international politics lecture at the London School of Economics
I’ll spare you the write-up since it’s only marginally to do with travel but I have a Masters degree in International Relations so I find this stuff interesting. So does Helen from one of my favourite food blogs, World Food Guide, (both find it interesting and have a Masters) so we’ve made plans to meet up and attend one of the LSE’s public lectures. Cost = free.

8. Have high tea at Yauatcha
Afternoon tea is a tradition in England. High tea in a grand hotel consists of assorted fancy sandwiches cut into quarters with the crusts cut off for ladylike nibbling, scones with jam and cream, petite fours (small cakes and slices) and copious amounts of tea. In 2004, our first year in London, my birthday treat was high tea at Claridge’s. I chose it over the Ritz because the art deco aesthetic of Claridge’s appealed to me than the pink splendour of the Ritz or any of the other grand London hotels. At £28 per person (at the time) it was expensive but good value for the oh-so-decadent feeling of luxury and the food was plentiful and quite wonderful. The tea menu had at least a dozen pages of different teas and the attentive waiters never let your teacup get empty.

High tea at Yauatcha promises to be an entirely different experience. Yauatcha is part Michelin-starred dim sum restaurant, part tea house and part French patisserie. They make quite the most heavenly (and most expensive) macaroons I’ve ever tasted. And apparently they serve high tea but with dim sum! I have to go. Cost = £30.

9. Make a photography excursion to Highgate Cemetery
Highgate Cemetery is apparently a lovely, atmospheric old cemetery and it’s also the resting place of Karl Marx. I have never been but I actually really enjoy old cemeteries in foreign cities, such as Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris or Green-Wood Cemetery in New York so I’m sure I’d get a lot out of Highgate. I’d like to either go on my own or with a fellow photography enthusiast and mess about with my SLR. Cost = £8 if I visit both East Cemetery (£3) and West Cemetery (£5).

10. See an opera at the Royal Opera House
I’ve seen a ballet at the Royal Opera House but I’ve never seen an opera there. It’s not called the Royal Ballet House so I feel I should see the art form that it takes its name from. Cost = variable (more research needed). But it’s bound to be a LOT more than £7.50 so yup, I think I just blew the budget!

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Comments

  1. Count me in for high tea at Yauatcha!

  2. Hi Caitlin

    Afternoon tea at Yauatcha doesn’t have to be served with dim sum. I go there a lot. Tea is served upstairs, though now they also serve dim sum in the same area, as it’s quieter than downstairs, which is just for lunch & dinner. It’s not as expensive as you think either (both the afternoon tea and the dim sum). The scones are mini-sized but lovely and served warm.

  3. A splendid list!

  4. Hi Caitlin

    I did make it to the Museum of Childhood when I was in London – it’s a manageable size & a fun place but if you borrow a few kids to take it will be even more fun.

    I like Hampton Court as it’s near where my parents live in Richmond – worth a good day out but best in the spring when the bulbs are out as the gardens are lovely.

    On the afternoon tea front, did you hear about the fashionista’s Pret-a-portea at the Berkeley Hotel?
    http://www.the-berkeley.co.uk/page.aspx?id=504

    No, I hadn’t heard about the Pret-a-portea – sounds interesting. Your mention of Richmond reminds me of something else I want to do in London – horseriding in Richmond Park. – Caitlin.

  5. Hello. I’m just an interloper with a “Royal Opera House” Google alert, but I wanted to point out I have recently bought a £7 opera ticket (lower slips) so it can be done. A significant part of the stage will be invisible from there but I will be able to hear fine. If you want to see the whole stage that can be done for about £25/ticket, so opera needn’t be as expensive as people think. Hope you enjoy it when you go.

    Thanks for the info – it’s useful and interesting for sure. I couldn’t see any cheap tickets over the next few months when I looked online but I will try again. How far in advance did you buy? There’s also the £10 student stand-by tickets but sadly I’m not eligible. – Caitlin.

  6. Hi Caitlin – to find a cheap ticket for a popular show, you are best off checking the website on the day booking opens. The next public booking period opens on 3 Feb I think (but it would be good to verify that on the website).

    If you’re interested in something relatively obscure then cheap tickets are easier to get – “Die Tote Stadt” which opens this month still has some slips and other cheap seats (and standing places!) available. That should be interesting, if weird.

    You could also try phoning the box office as they often get returns, including cheap ones sometimes. Plus they sell a certain number of day tickets for each performance and these again include cheap ones. You probably need to queue fairly early to bag those, but again the box office will advise. Some info is on this blog:

    http://intermezzo.typepad.com/intermezzo/faqs_the_roh_wont_tell_yo.html

    Also keep an eye on papers such as the Metro and on sites like lastminute.com which sometimes have ticket offers (though these often tend to be of the “top price ticket for £50″ variety so not exactly cheap).

    Sorry to write a novel, and good luck.

    Alison PS the English National Opera is worth a look too – their tickets are cheaper and easier to come by, and some of their productions are very good.

    You’re a gold mine of information – thank you! I don’t want obscure – I went to see the Wiener Staats Oper in Vienna just to go to the theatre and it was an obscure German opera and quite painfully dull. The only other opera I’ve seen was Orpheus in the Underworld at the Sydney Opera House and that was fab – very funny and great music too. I’m aware of the English National Opera but I think the Royal Ballet is so much better than the English National Ballet that I’m guessing it’s a similar situation with the opera. Am I wrong? – Caitlin

  7. I’d say the ENO is sometimes as good or better than the ROH – their Britten and Handel productions are often excellent for example. The singers are often (but not always) less well-known ones, and non-English operas are almost always translated into English.

    With them, your best bet might be to read the first-night reviews and book when there’s something you like the sound of. They don’t often sell out completely and again there are day seats (something like £10 in the gods I think). Their Magic Flute (about to be revived for the nth time) is usually a winner.

    It’s slightly different from ballet because apart from the chorus and one or two “young singers”, the performers are generally recruited for each production so you can occasionally get the same ones performing at both ENO and ROH (the very wonderful Gerald Finley, for example, is appearing at both houses in coming months).

    In fact I read about a singer who once performed in both houses on the same night – forget who – and had to sprint the couple of hundred yards from one to the other in mid-performance :-)

    You are clearly very knowledgeable! Thanks for such useful info. If there’s anything you ever need to know about travel or writing, maybe I can help! – Caitlin

  8. Thanks for sharing your list, I visited Highgate Cemetary, such a peaceful place..

  9. I need to do this in my own city. I can’t believe I’ve lived in NYC for over 8 years and have never been to Carnegie Hall. Our tourists are going to put me to shame.

  10. Great list, we all need to do this in our city sometime…there are still loads of thing in San Francisco that I want to do.
    What a cool name for a kids museum too, never heard of it.

  11. When you are in London, don’t forget to visit the parks, Hyde Park in springtime is truly beautiful, an oasis in the middle of the city perfect for a picnic.

    I would also recommend the Harrods and the shopping district that surrounds it.

    This might sound a little too much tourist like but taking a tour on a bus without a rooftop is something i can recommend.

    And to spend the night or nights at famous London Hotels like the Ritz or The Dorchester Hotel will be a unforgettable moments, and costly as well.