EuroChameleon: Returning to London
I told myself before that if I ever went back to London I would pay more attention to the city in terms of its landscape, people, transportation, buildings and parks as opposed to just visiting the tourist spots and checking them off the Lonely Planet Guide Book (I love doing that honestly). And this time I did pay attention as we walked, took the bus, the trains to rediscover London. I feel the city despite it being filled with crowded tourists still managed to keep its’ identity and London charm. Talking to a friend about this great city the other day reminded me of how much London is like a lady; the more you get to know her, the more she reveals those hidden gems underneath. It’s definitely a place where you need time to slowly get to know her, or else you’ll just end up visiting the more obvious places and missing out on the less obvious ones.
I thought I would highlight the things, places that are less obvious but good ones that you can take notice if you happen to be in town. There’s also places that are prone to be crowded with tourists and visitors alike (including me) that might be of interest. Look out for these things whenever you’re in London and let me know if there’s anything else that you noticed in this miss-mesh city.
#1 Those pretty homes & office buildings.
Whenever I gaze out or walk the streets of London, I would observe the building designs made of bricks, carved pillars, unique balcony cut-outs and those colorful doors. These homes and offices sometimes come with a small gate, a floor mat to wipe off your shoes, a brass knocker or the modern door bells. Sometimes through the window, you can catch the lights from the dining area and someone standing at the kitchen counter fixing lunch or dinner. I couldn’t tell which was the office buildings or homes unless there’s a signage out on the front with the name of the business. Otherwise it’s just a plaque with the house number that you can see on the wall.
#2 The iconic Shard Glass tower.
While most part of London has historical bits to it, the modern iconic Shard stands out, piercing the sky with its tall demeanor. The Shard is home to offices, retail boutique arcade, residences, restaurants and bars, Shangri-La hotel, and the awesome viewing deck. Made of glass, the Shard is the second tallest building in London with a 360 degrees view of the city from floors 68, 69 and 72. Tickets are sold in advance and on that day however as there might be a chance of full booking, it’s better to purchase the ticket a day earlier.
Location: The Shard, 32 London Bridge Street, London | Opening Hours: 10:00 am – 7:00 pm (winter) | Price: £29.95 (on-the-day purchase), £24.95 (advanced booking) | Website: The Shard
#3 Hamleys Toy Store.
They say that everyday is a magical day in Hamleys and when you’re here you really don’t feel like leaving. The famous toy store was built by the ambitious William Hamley who had wanted to have the first toy store in the world. At Hamleys you can find the Paddington Bear, the latest cartoons on Disney, action figures, soft animals, dolls and many others. Make sure you bring enough cash with you especially when you’re bringing the kids along.
Location: Hamleys Toy Store, 188-196 Regent Street, London | Tel: 44(0) 371 704 1977 | Opening Hours: 10:00 am – 9:00 pm (except for weekends) | Website: Hamleys
#4 Statues around the city.
London has its’ share of public arts in the form of statues which can be seen around the city. This particular one on the women of Word War II was seen in the middle of the Whitehall street, a popular spot among the tourists. The bronze sculpture shows the uniforms and working clothes of women during the war. Along this street there are other statues of fellow historians and monarchy icon which are hard to miss. Some of them come with a little story at the bottom and makes for an interesting statue hunt in the city.
#5 Counting the hours in London.
If you’ve forgotten to bring your watch for the day, no worries as the city is filled with clocks (mostly analogs), nicely designed making it an unforgettable piece on buildings. There’s the Big Ben of course, with a clock face that can be seen from a distance but I’ve noticed other clocks perched high on certain shops, universities and Government offices which are simply charming.
#6 Those Gothic looking sculptures on buildings.
This was also one of the things that I noticed in London, the Gothic sculptures with demonic faces perched on window sills and at the edge of the roofs. Have you ever seen them and wondered what they they meant? These sculptures are part of the buildings’ identity which came from the olden days of London. I’ve tried capturing them a few times but because they’re mostly high above, it’s quite hard to zoom in when you only have iPhone in your hand. Perhaps you will have better luck in capturing these stunning sculptures when in London.
#7 Healthy sandwiches on the go at Pret a Manger.
I’ve never seen so many sandwich and salad outlets as much as in London and Pret a Manger was one of the places which served all those things plus GOOD coffee. In the morning, we would queue with the people who were heading to work and chose a salmon sandwich with avocado slices and lettuce in wheat bread. I never feel cheated when I buy the sandwiches here because the fillings are in good portion and eating two of it with a hot drink fills up the tummy quickly. Besides sandwiches, there’s baguettes, salads, fruits, muesli and cereals that you take with you on the go or quickly eat it there at the bar tables.
#8 Follow the shopping crowd from Oxford Street (Marble Arch)
There’s so many shopping areas in London that can make one feel overwhelm with many choices. Picadilly Circus is on of the shopping streets with many brands from high end to medium market. We started from Marble Arch with the big Primark store and walked downwards to Regent Street, ending up in Picadilly Circus. It is also a popular meeting point with friends as the Picadilly Circus Tube is located at the main junction between Regent and Picadilly area. At night, the sparkling neon lights would brighten up the entire street that would make any person who fears the dark be happy.
#9 Figuring out the magic buskers at Trafalgar Square.
I was amazed with this trick so much that I stood there trying to figure out how they did it. How did they gravitate in the air like that? Don’t they feel tired? Where did the put their leg? So bizarre. You’ll find a row of these magic buskers (I call them) right in front of Trafalgar Square where they try to pull you towards them with their costume. Yoda has got to be my favorite character while Bart chose a photo opportunity with the grim reaper for 1 pounds.
#10 Paperchasing at Paperchase.
From Aldwych bus stop and on the way to Charring Cross Station, we saw this stationary shop called Paperchase which had cute animal cartoon design items. Each theme has its own table with items such as diaries, pencil case, name card holders, pens, mugs and all sorts of other things that I just love. There’s even the colorful London Underground Tube stickers which makes for a memorable souvenir of London.
Location: 213-215 Tottenham Court Road, London W1T 7PS, United Kingdom | Tel: +44 20 7467 6200 | Opening Hours: 9:00am – 7:00pm
#11 Stalking eccentric train station buildings.
Each train station in London has its own unique identity. For example the Victoria Station is built with tall white columns and wide entrance arches that looked like an olden day colonial building while the St. Pancras International Station comes with many tall windows and a tall tower, reminiscent of a Harry Potter movie. It was opened in 1868 and has Gothic Revival architecture! If I had more time, I would have loved to visit all of the unique train stations in the city to admire the details of the building, inside and out.
Location: Euston Road, London N1C 4QP, United Kingdom | Owner: Eurostar
#12 Poppy’s flowing out from Tower of London.
This was an exception to everyday London as it was a celebration to mark the centenary of World War One. For this special day, a installation called Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red made up of thousands of ceramic poppies can be seen at the Tower of London. Each of the flowers represent a soldier or colonel that was killed during the First World War. There were many people of course, queuing up from the bridge, all the way around the tower trying to get a glimpse or photo of these flowing poppies. We were lucky to have gotten on the Big Bus and capture this scene from the double decked bus.
Location: London EC3N 4AB, London | Tel: 44(0) 844 482 7777 | Opening Hours: 10:00 am – 4:30 pm | When: 5 Aug 2014 – 11 Nov 2014 (poppy installation)
#13 Changing of the guards at the Horse Guards Parade in Whitehall.
We nearly missed the Horse Guards Parade in Whitehall because due to spending more time at Trafalgar Square. When we arrived, we walked passed the guard manning the front gate, not moving a muscle even when kids try to make them smile. Inside, at the courtyard we saw a line of Horse Guards waiting to change shifts with the next group of guards. The changing of the Guard takes place from Monday to Saturday at 11 am and lasts for 30 minutes.
#14 Harry Potter 9 3/4 Platform
The Platform 9/34 is located in the St Pancras International Station and it is easy to find as we looked out for the wall between 9 and 10. For Harry Potter fans, this is one of the experiences they would not want to miss out on. There’s also a few long scarves just like the ones in the movie, used as props for this featured wall. I chose the red and pushed the trolley while I had my photo taken. Some jumped, skipped and pretended to look hurried, imagining themselves as part of the movie. There is a staff who will take your photos and you can buy them at the Harry Potter store next door which has all the paraphernalia from the movie including the magic wands.
Location: Euston Road, London N1C 4QP, United Kingdom | Owner: Eurostar
#15 Taking short breaks for soft ice cream.
Near the Marble Arch is this soft ice cream truck which sells ice cream and hot dogs to the thirsty public. I find it rather convenient when there’s food or drinks available just when you need them especially if it’s located in the popular spots in the city. The prices however can vary as those close to the Tower of London tend to be more expensive than other places. Unless the food truck offers amazing food that would knock your socks off, I would suggest to save that money instead for a good fish n’ chips in one of the local cafes.
#16 Look out for the old Fire Brigade on Euston Road.
I was dozing off on the bus and woke to a jolt when it hit the brakes suddenly at a traffic light on Euston Road. Blurred, I looked out and saw this red brick wall building with closed iron doors and many windows that resembled a home. Looking closer at the brass signage on the wall, it dawned on me that this was a fire station except that it didn’t look like any of the modern day version. This particular fire brigade station has been around since 1902 and it is one of the remaining old fire stations in London as the city started closing 9 other stations to save money. I guess it’s best to catch them before they close this one down too as it’s still part of London’s iconic landmark.
#17 All things British in Cool Britannia.
Now we know there’s hundreds of souvenir shops in the city, however this shop, the Cool Britannia has got a great range of London and UK themed quality souvenirs. This particular branch that we stumbled upon as walked towards Trafalgar Square is located opposite the Charing Cross Railway Station and Hotel, in a former fruits and vegetables market of London. Their varieties are hard to match and they have a good selection of hats (caps, Berets, wide brims, bowlers), T-shirts, hoodies, London Bus and Mini cars among other things. I would say this is a good place to spend your good money and bring home some of London to families and friends.
Location: 443 Strand, Opposite Charing Cross Station, London WC2R OQU, United Kingdom | Tel: 0207 240 3355 | Opening Hours: 8:00 am – 11:00 pm
#18 Admire the Admiralty Arch, a Grade 1 listed building.
The buildings in London are grade according to history and architecture, with this particular one being a Grade 1 listed building by the Government. If you’re walking from Trafalgar Square to Whitehall you’ll definitely see this magnificent arch which provides a gateway to The Mall, the road to Buckingham Palace. From what I’ve read in the news recently, this incredible location will be turned into a luxury 5-star hotel (why???) so if you happen to be in London, I hop you pause and have a look at this place before it’s gone.
#19 Getting a nice view of the entire London city from a 360 degrees glass ride.
As you head towards the London Tower, you would be able to see this tall ferris wheel which is also referred to the Millennium wheel of the city as it was built in 1998 (just before the year 2000). These glass capsules can carry up to 20 person in one go and provides a nice 360 degrees view of the city. For the faint-hearted or those with a fear of heights, there’s the seats in the middle of the glass for your jelly legs which would still allow you to get a view of London. Best to go on a clear sunny day or at night when the lights are up.
Location: London SE1 7PB, United Kingdom | Tel: 44 871 781 3000 | Tickets: £29.50 (adults & child on the day), £29.50 (online price) | Opening Hours: 10:00 am – 5:30 pm
#20 Beautiful outside, beautiful inside.
London is full of architectural buildings that comes with such detailed designs making it look like a piece of art. Not to forget the beautiful interior that comes within these buildings that strikes the same chord. I love walking into Museums and looking up to see the unreachable stained glass windows and carved roofs or the train stations with contrasting interior work of modern vs. classical. These interior was designed to grab your attention and make you stop in your shoes (and sometimes in the middle of the walkway) as you go from point A to point B. It also makes for a good conversation piece with your travel buddy.
What are the things that you loved most about London?
About Yafieda Jamil
A Malaysian girl currently working abroad in Phnom Penh city. I love a good road trip, hot cappuccinos, spicy food and staring at old buildings. My mission is to inspire people to see the world differently before we all get any older. Oh and giraffes are the most beautiful creatures on earth.