London is too large a city to really cover in one visit. I’ve been there five times (once for 12 months) and I still haven’t seen nor done everything I want. The same goes for creating this guide. Consider this the first installment, a London Part I, if you will.
I’ve taken my cue from the Tate Britain. They created these humorous guides a few years back to help visitors narrow down what they wanted to see at the museum based on their mood. The few that I picked up were “The CALMING Collection,” “The HAPPILY DEPRESSED Collection,” “The I’M HUNGOVER Collection,” and “The ‘_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _’ Collection” for one to fill in his own title.
Below you’ll find my take on the guides for London in “The PASSION Guide,” “The CRIME AND PUNISHMENT Guide,” and “The CHILDLIKE WONDER Guide.”
The PASSION Guide
When I think England I think royalty. The two royals who screamed passion the most to me were Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Their story sounds like a modern tale – young girl gets set up on a blind date by a family member, they fall in love, and she proposes to him. We’ll just skip over the fact that they were first cousins and she was Queen. They married and had nine children. Albert passed away after 21 years of marriage. Victoria wore black for the remainder of her life.
Kensington is where to find the visible reminders of their love. Queen Victoria commissioned the Albert Memorial located in Kensington Gardens. The 176 foot memorial was completed in 1875. Cross the Kensington Road and there’s Royal Albert Hall. Either take in a concert or show, or just take the tour of this great concert hall. One place to stop when you have time on your hands is the amazing Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum. What’s at the V&A? What isn’t?! This museum’s main ‘category’ is art and design but the depth and breath is fascinating. Be sure to stop in the gift shop for some great souvenirs.
Another monarch known for his thirst for passion is Henry VIII. He had many paramours including six wives. And what says ‘I love you’ more than a beheading? The Tower of London is where Henry submitted two wives to this fate. Anne Boleyn, his second wife, was the first to be decapitated. The trumped up charges? Adultery, incest, and high treason. Her actual “crime”? Not producing a male heir and the King’s boredom. One death and one annulment later Henry married Catharine Howard. She was beheaded due to allegedly having an affair, though these charges were most likely true.
Many people have a passion for food. Borough Market in Southwark is perfect for foodies and those who love them. Take in the sights, sounds, tastes, and smells. On Bedale Street one sight to see is the building used for the exterior of Bridget Jones’ flat. It was from here that she wrote in her diary and shunned all “workaholics, commitment phobics, and emotional fuckwits” in her search for true love. And then she met her Mr. Darcy, Mr. Mark Darcy.
Shakespeare wrote of many passions. Check out the Globe Theatre for a performance and enjoy Shakespeare the way his contemporaries did. Perhaps his star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet, will make an appearance. Tours are also available.
Today some of the strongest of passions are played out on the football pitch and in the stands. If you’re a Blues fan, head to Stamford Bridge in Fulham. If you’re a Gunners fan, head to North London to Emirates Stadium. Tours are available for both. If you can get tickets to a match, even better.
The CRIME AND PUNISHMENT Guide
First, we need a crime. Are your whiskers feeling a bit long? Think you need a shave? One place I would not recommend going is Sweeney Todd’s barber shop said to once be located at 186 Fleet Street just next to St. Dunstan’s Church. Rumor has it that the church, the barber shop and Mrs. Lovett’s Pie Shop in Bell Yard were connected by underground passages and that the catacombs of the church were used by the nefarious pair.
Once the sun sets – beware! The infamous and unsolved mystery of Jack the Ripper still haunts the east end neighborhood of Whitechapel. To bone up on your history, take a Jack the Ripper night walking tour. There are a number of them. It’s best to research the reviews to find the right experience. A great guide can make all the difference.
Next, we need our sleuths. Start with 221b Baker Street, home of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Stop in and speak with his friend, Dr. John Watson. He’ll regale you with all the details of the duo’s adventures. You can even become your own Sherlock by trying on his iconic deerstalker cap and ponder the evidence while holding his pipe.
Should Sherlock be on a case, another sleuth can be found in Charterhouse Square at Florin Court, better known as Whitehaven Mansions to Hercule Poirot. He’s Agatha Christie’s Belgian (never French) detective with the perfectly manicured mustache and mild shades of OCD. His “little gray cells” always solve the crime. While in the area, stop in the Museum of London to check out the exhibits that speak to London’s dark past.
If you are more of an armchair detective, spend your evening watching a whodunit play out before you in Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap at St. Martin’s Theatre. It is the longest initial run of a play ever.
Finally, justice is served – in wigs! The bad guys have been caught, now find out what it is like to see them on trial. At the Royal Courts of Justice on Fleet Street or the Old Bailey (Central Criminal Court) you can sit in the galleries and watch the proceedings of an actual case.
The CHILDLIKE WONDER Guide
The bad news first. According to my A to Z London Street Finder, there is no Cherry Tree Lane. The Banks family and their nanny, Mary Poppins, cannot be visited. However, you can go in search of the Bird Woman on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral. It was here that Diana Spencer became Princess Diana when she wed Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales.
And where do Prince and Princesses live? Palaces! London boasts a number of royal residences. The most easily accessible are Buckingham Palace, home to Her Majesty, the Queen, and Kensington Palace. But if you are looking for a great Tudor experience complete with a maze, take the 35 minute journey out to Hampton Court Palace, favorite home of our passionate Henry VIII.
Another official royal residence historically is the Palace of Westminster or the Houses of Parliament. Here you’ll find the Clock Tower housing the famous Big Ben bell. Mary Poppins took the Banks children on a smoke-reinforced stroll across the front of the clock face. Peter pan has also been spotted flying by via fairy dust and happy thoughts on his way to and from Neverland with the Darling children. In the event you miss a fly-by, be sure to visit his statue in Kensington Gardens.
If you are like Michael Darling and love the comfort of a teddy bear, stop by Hamleys toy store on Regents Street. The Museum of Childhood at the V&A will answer any questions you might have about what children have played with and found interesting all the way back to the 1600s.
Did you spend your childhood out of doors? Then get yourself over to the Natural History Museum to see bugs and bones and creepy-crawlies. For lions and tigers and bears (oh my!) visit the ZLS London Zoo at Regent’s Park. They often have special events. But you can always stroll through the grounds. When you’re visiting the camels, watch out! They spit.
Additional website to visit for planning your trip: