Getting the Royal Treatment
by Meg Mathies, Sidney J. Weinberg, Jr. Professor of Natural Sciences, emerita
Having lived in London for this past year, it’s impossible to adequately convey all my feelings and responses to this wonderful city.” I’ll try to focus on a few highlights.
What to bring
It’s obvious, but needs to be said anyway-an umbrella, good walking shoes, an open mind, and a resilient attitude.
If you plan to be in London for a week or more, it’s cheapest to get a weekly travel card, which allows you unlimited use of the tube and bus lines (within a given zone).To do this you need to bring an extra passport (or photo-booth) picture.
An excellent source of information about what’s going on in London is the weekly Time Out magazine. It runs from Wednesday to Wednesday, is available at newsstands, and lists special events around town, festivals, lectures, walking tours, art exhibits, concerts, films, theater, and more.
Even as a new resident of London, I have to say that several of the well-known attractions are still worth doing, e.g., the British Museum (including the new Great Court), the Tower of London, the London Eye (great views out over the city), boat trips on the Thames to Greenwich or Hampton Court,The Victoria and Albert Museum, and the City of London Museum.
In addition to the major collections (National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery,Tate Britain,Tate Modern, Royal Academy of Art, etc.), be sure to check out some of the lesser known but equally impressive exhibitions and halls, such as the Wallace Collection, the Dulwich Picture Gallery, Kenwood House (at Hampstead Heath), the Queen’s Gallery (at Buckingham Palace), the Courtauld Institute Gallery (at Somerset House), and the Saatchi Gallery.
London offers superb music-and lots of it! It boasts three or four major orchestras, numerous chamber ensembles and early music groups, lots of choral music, and several special festivals. In addition to the large concert halls (the Royal Festival Hall, Barbican, and Royal Albert Hall), there are the not-so-obvious venues. Several lovely smaller venues have excellent acoustics and atmospheres, such as Wigmore Hall, St. Johns Smith Square, and various local churches.
And if you’re here in the summer months, be on the look-out for special music festivals, such as the Lufthansa Festival, the City of London Festival (held at historic venues in the City) and the BBC Proms (at the Royal Albert Hall.) Check Time Out for free noontime concerts, and attend evensong at Westminster Abbey or St. Paul’s Cathedral for a special experience of choral music.
Some of our favorite walks in London are on Hampstead Heath (stop at Kenwood to enjoy the art, and then have a drink at the historic Spaniards Inn pub), Kew Gardens (wonderful trees, shrubs, and seasonal floral displays), and Regent’s Park (wander through Queen Mary’s Rose Garden or the formal border gardens, and watch the ducks and swans on the lake).
Contrary to commonly accepted myth, there’s lots of good food available in England these days. Our favorite Indian restaurants are Mela (on Shaftsbury Avenue) and Masala Zone (on Upper Street in Islington), and for Chinese food we especially enjoy Poons (on Leicester Street) or Fung Sheng (on Lisle). Good pretheater meals are available at the Mediterranean (on St. Martin’s Lane) and Bistro 1 (on Southampton, near Covent Garden). Several new “Gastro-pubs” (e.g., The Engineer on Gloucester Road, The Eagle on Farringdon, or the Duke of Cambridge in Islington) offer interesting menus and good food. We also enjoy the Nam Bistro (Vietnamese restaurant) and Angel Mangal (Turkish food), both on Upper Street in Islington, and the Quality Chop House (on Farringdon, just south of Rosebery).
For information on London accommodations, events, and tours, check out the London Tourist Board Hotel Booking Line, 020 7604 2890/020 8759 3909/020 7802 5480, or www.londontown.com, or www.a-londonguide.co.uk; for information about the London Underground (the Tube), try www.thetube.com.