To the question, "in what other city could you stay except Thessaloniki", the answer would of course be London. This is evidenced by the fact that it is the only city I have visited three times (!) and my anticipation of visiting her again is inexhaustible. A city whose rhythms have nothing to do with the Greeks, a cosmopolitan megalopolis, which has enchanted me more than any other in the world. Maybe that's why I'm so intrigued to discover London inch by inch. Although every time I come face to face with new images, new experiences and new adventures, I feel that I am able to share with you the best of them.
A few words about the city
London is the capital of the United Kingdom as well as of England and is built along the River Thames. It is one of the most" important" European cities, since it counts over 2000 years of history, playing a leading role in many historical and economic events. London is home to people from all over the world, and more than 300 languages are said to be spoken within the city. Taking into account the urban areas of Greater London, its population is 13.708.000, making it the largest municipality in the European Union (as long as it is still included). The truth is, that I have never met anyone who has visited London and has not loved it, as the British capital can charm even the most skeptical and demanding traveler. The London of theatre and arts, squares and bridges, avant-garde architecture, sport, shopping and nightlife, history and admirable multiplicity. The centre of Europe, if not the world, has many aspects, which is why it is so attractive, especially for those who visit it for the first time. Certainly no one can see London in just a few days, but my object is to suggest to the "rookies" what they must not miss.
Big Ben-House of Parlaments-Westminster Abbey
As a traveler who visits London for the first time and respects himself, the starting point is one, the famous Big Ben. The clock tower of the Westminster Palace is the hallmark not only of London, but probably of the whole of Britain. Completed in April 1858, this spectacular creation is the largest four-sided bell clock and the clock tower is the third tallest in the world. Unfortunately after 158 years of uninterrupted operation Big Ben is no temporarily showing time to Londoners, since it is under maintenance.
The entrance to the Palace of Westminster, which houses the Parliament of the United Kingdom (House of Representatives), is also a must. It is the meeting place of the two houses of Parliament, the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The first royal palaces were built on the same area in the 11th century and were the main residence of the English monarchs until 1512, until a fire destroyed most of them. Then the palaces became the seat of Parliament, which had been sitting there since the 13th century, as well as that of the Royal Court, which occasionally sat either in or around Westminster Hall. In 1834, an even greater fire destroyed the reconstructed Parliament, and the only important buildings that survived were the Westminster Hall, the Inner Courtyard of St. Stephen's Church, the Chapel of Our Lady of the Crypt and the Tower of jewels. What remained of the old palaces was incorporated into the structure we see today. By entering given free audio tour, which helps you get a better understanding of the extremely interesting rooms that will make you feel like one of the Members. Admission costs £16.5 for adults and £14 for students and people over 60.
Finally, you should not miss the Westminster Abbey, which is located directly opposite Big Ben and is the coronation place of the Kings of the United Kingdom, as well as their last residence. It is a church that began to be built, in a mainly Gothic style, from 1245 to 1517 by Eric III and today it is under the control of the Royal House of England. Admission costs £20 if you book online and £22, if you buy your ticket from the cashier.
With your first step in London, you will understand the "madness" surrounding everything related to the Queen and the Royal Family. Starting from the currency which has her face printed, to souvenirs of all kinds with her doggies. So Buckingham Palace, which is her official residence, could not have been the most famous building in London and one of the most recognizable landmarks of the city. During the summer months, the public halls are open to the public, with visitors rushing to admire the royal thrones, the ballroom, the indoor gallery, and also its vast gardens. Of course, Buckingham Palace is famous for the changing of the guards, which takes place daily at 11:30, weather permitting and is an admirable sight for anyone who is there.
London Tower-Tower Bridge
The London Tower is a huge fortress built on the banks of the River Thames, which has been remembered as a place of convicts, but has a more glorious past. Its construction began in 1078 by William I and was subsequently expanded by other monarchs, with the aim of protecting London and intimidating the Norman invaders. It hosted, and still hosts, at very thoughtful exhibitions, the crown jewels of the respective Kings, the mint and the arsenal of the city. The tower is guarded by 35 guards, ex-military men with long-service honors, dressed in Tudor-era uniforms. Legend says that if the ravens ever left the tower, the monarchy would collapse. Admission to the tower costs £22.7 for adults and £17.7 for the reduced.
As soon as you leave the tower, you will see the impressive Tower Bridge, which was built in 1894 and is a miracle of neo-Gothic architecture. You can walk the 90-meter bridge and admire the beautiful views over the Thames River. In addition, inside the bridge is hosted an exhibition on its history and the way of construction, as well as the engine room of the bridge, from which formerly went up and down to pass merchant ships.
One place that few know about and rarely meet in travel guides is the St. Katharine Docks. It is a former dock, on the north bank of Thames River, just after the London Tower and the Tower Bridge. From 1828 to 1968 it was one of the most commercial docks in London Harbor, but today it has a purely touristy existence, with many restaurants and cafés giving you a different view of London.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
The magnificent St. Paul's Cathedral was built by Christopher Wren, between 1675 and 1711. It belongs to the Anglican Church and is the seat of the bishop of London. It is one of the largest cathedrals in Europe and even its dome comes second in size, after that of St. Peter in Rome. The dome reaches 111 meters high and weighs about 66,000 tons, is supported by eight arches and on its top there is a large lantern weighing 850 tons. The church was a landmark in important historical events, such as Admiral Nelson's funeral in 1806 and Winston Churchill's funeral in 1965. Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer married here in 1981. The 560 steps leading to the top of the dome will take you through the three galleries housed within the dome, while from the top you will enjoy the panoramic view of the whole city. The entrance costs £18.
If you are a museum and history lover, London will certainly not leave you complaining, since there are dozens of museums and art spaces in the city. Below I will list the most important of them:
- The British Museum is the oldest museum in the world and of course the largest in the country. It hosts rich finds from every known and unknown civilization of mankind and of course the Elgin Marbles of the Parthenon. Even if you consider a visit to a museum a waste of time or money, this particular one is worth a try because of its impressive architecture, both externally and internally, but also its free entrance.
- The National History Museum, which most of you will know from the famous movie "One Night at the Museum", is one of the most interesting museums in the city. Its fascinating collections include about 70 million exhibits, both about the geological history of the Earth and the wide range of life it hosts. The museum holds surprises from the entrance, with the huge skeleton of a dinosaur welcoming visitors. The entrance to this museum is free, and during the Christmas season there is an ice skating rink and an amusement park in the courtyard.
- The National Gallery of London has about 2,300 paintings, from the early Renaissance period to the Impressionists (1250-1900), developing one of the largest collections in the world. The most famous exhibits are Van Gogh's renowned"Sunflowers", Botticelli's "Venus and Mars", as well as works by Turner, Monet, Cezanne and Renoir. You will be bored reading that the entrance is free, but this is a common occurrence in England. It is located in the famous and beautiful Trafalgar Square, with the impressive lion statues surrounding it and the fountains dominating its center, making it a gathering place of itinerants, street artists and of course tourists.
- Tate Modern and Tate Britain are two of London's most fascinating art galleries that host magnificent collections of international art. Tate Modern focuses on contemporary works after 1900 and Tate Britain on works of art from 1500 to today. Of course the entrance to both galleries is free.
London Eye- Madame Tussauds-Aquarium
I would suggest taking advantage of some online hassles that allow access to a group of attractions at lower prices, always in conjunction with avoiding long queues. An ideal combination would be a visit to the London Eye, the Madame Tussauds Museum and the Aquarium.
The London Eye is the tallest articulated wheel in the world, consisting of 32 closed capsules, which hold 25 people each and offer full visibility in all directions and of course excellent views. A London Eye “flight” lasts 30 minutes, and it is said that when the sky is clear, rare in Britain, one can see up to 40 km away.
The Madame Tussauds Museum is one of the most popular attractions in London, as here you will find the waxworks of anyone, from Madonna to Queen. There are several floors divided into thematic groups, such as politicians, singers, actors, movie characters, etc., which will make your smart phone and camera work nonstop. Of course special mention should be made in the Hall of terror, which will bring you face to face with the most famous criminals of London.
Finally, you can end your tour with the Aquarium of London, located directly opposite the London Eye, which host thousands sea animals. Some of them are crocodiles, green turtles, penguins and striped sharks.
If you want to get away from the crowds and the" hubbub", looking for an ideal place to relax, then London is your city, as there are everywhere scattered in the city green oases.
You can start from Hyde Park, one of London's largest parks and known all over the world. Walking in the vast surrounding area, you will notice Englishmen gathering around public orators, believing that you are in another era, you will meet an event or festival, since they are hosted there on a daily basis, you will see animals "sauntering" next to you, people having picnics, running and generally "charging their batteries."
Another must-visit Park is Regent's Park. There you will admire the incredible flower formations, walk along the canal and visit the Park Zoo. Other royal parks worth a visit are the Green Park, the St. James Park, the Kensington Gardens and the Greenwich Park.
The Piccadilly Circus was designed as a hub of the stunning Regent Street, and the Circus is the finishing point of Piccadilly Street. It is renowned for its luminous advertising signs, which mark the entrance to the city's entertainment venues. Bars, clubs, pubs, restaurants, theaters and music venues offer variety and scope for all kinds of entertainment. At the center of the hub is the statue of Eros, which besides being a popular meeting place, is a number one spot for marriage proposals.
The Soho district has been a multicultural centre of intellect since the 17th century. It started as an entertainment district and then became the haunt of the prostitutes. Since the 50s, with the restriction of brothels, its neglected nightclubs house progressive artists and their experimental creations. It is also known for its interesting boutiques and special food, bookstores, antique and engraving shops, the historic Berwick Street Market and the Shaftesbury Avenue, which is full of theaters.
If you are shopping lovers, you should not miss a visit to the Harrods department store. There you will find almost everything, since their "moto" is the latin phrase “Omnia Omnibus Ubique”, which means "all things for all people, everywhere." You will be impressed by the exterior appearance of the building, which is decorated with hundreds of lamps, making it extremely impressive and visible from many meters away. The prices of course are pretty nippy, but even a walk or a try in the world-famous dining halls will reward you. Finally, you should be careful as there is a “dress code” and appearances with shorts, flip-flops and other more simple clothes, may deprive you of entry.
Notting Hill-Covent Garden
London is not just the center, so I would advise you to get out of the narrow city limits and reach the outskirts.
A simple subway ticket will take you to one of West London's richest and bohemian neighborhoods, Notting Hill. Most focus on homes and buildings in the area, with attractive terraces of large Victorian mansions and high-quality shops that depart from the classic motif of the rest of the city. But in the area you will find vintage shops, impressive churches, the London Observatory and of course the endless green courtyard. Saturday Market (Portobello Road Market) and the annual Carnival are some of the events hosted there, and if you have the chance, you should not miss out.
Following the opposite direction to the east, you will find yourself in Covent Garden. An area that was connected to the former fruit and vegetable market in the main square, but is now a popular shopping and tourist district, while there is also the Royal Opera House, which is also known as "Covent Garden." You will have the opportunity to smell new smells, taste new flavors, hear new sounds from the "special" street artists, experience the alternative nightlife of the city and do endless shopping therapy, as well as drink your coffee along the canals.
How to go
In London there are five airports: Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton and London City Airport. So if you choose a combined flight keep in mind that an airline may be using a different airport. The most economical option is that of Ryanair (Stansted Airport), which with proper planning one can find tickets starting from 57€ round trip. Another lowcost option is that of Easyjet (Gatwick Airport), which with proper planning one can find tickets starting from 82€ round trip. Finally, you can choose Aegean (Heathrow Airport) with a stopover in Athens, for a more comfortable flight, from 150€ round trip.
Where to stay
London is a very large city spread over many kilometers, which also means plenty of accommodation. I'm not going to lie to you, prices in most hotels or homes are particularly high, especially if you want something centrally, but opportunities always exist. One of them is the Cromwell International Hotel, located right next to a subway station and 10 minutes from the heart of the city, with comfortable rooms, extremely helpful staff and good value for money. If you have a morning flight from Stansted Airport, a good choice is Days Inn London Stansted Airport, which is very close to the airport and is perfect for this occasion.
How to move
Subway, subway, and subway again. The London Underground, known as the "Tube", is the oldest and most extensive underground system in the world and will definitely get you where you desire, faster and more economically than any other means of transport. My advice is to buy a prepaid card, called Oyster, from a subway station, so as not to constantly issue tickets and avoid queues and additional expenses. Another good solution to travel is, of course, the traditional red buses, which tickets for all routes cost the same, but must be purchased before boarding. In this case, you can also use the Oyster card. When it comes to taxis, you can stop in the street the black cars or call one of the minicabs, which look like buses, but they are particularly expensive. If I were you, I would avoid renting a car, because apart from the fact that it is expensive and that there is a lot of traffic on the roads, in Britain they drive the other way, something that if you are not familiar can confuse you. Finally, in London there is a respect for cyclists, with bike lanes almost everywhere, so I would recommend trying a bike if the weather allows.
What to eat
London is undoubtedly the" kingdom" of street food, while the multiculturalism of the city can be seen in its cuisine, since one can find any flavor one wants. The" National Food" of the British is, without a second thought, the fried fish with the accompaniment of fried potato chips, the familiar to everyone fish and chips, so you can’t leave the city without trying it. A good choice to get initiated into British cuisine is Garfunkel's Restaurant, which besides fish and chips; you will feel Londoners tasting the famous English breakfast.
In addition, I would suggest you eat a burger, since they have many differences from what we have in mind, or a well-cooked steak, as Britain is famous for its meats. For the first, I would recommend visiting BRGR Co., which besides being extremely tasty, closes very late.
Also, if your budget is high, you have dozens of options to dine in some of the best restaurants in the world, featuring dishes from Italian, French and Greek cuisine. If you want to try something more exotic, like Mexico, I have to suggest without a second thought, the Cafe Chula, which may not be in the center (Camden Town), but definitely worth a try. Also you can get good Asian food at affordable prices in China Town.
Finally, do not forget to drink a cup of tea in the dozens of shops in the city, since for the English people the “tea time " is more than just drinking, I would rather characterize it as a rite.
In the United Kingdom, while still is in the European Union, we travel with passport or a new type Police Identity Card, where the details are indicated Latin characters.
In London the language used is, of course, English, and although the locals have a special accent that will sometimes make you not understand what they are saying, they are particularly polite and affable, since they greatly appreciate that you speak their language.
The currency of the country is the British Pound and its exchange rate at the moment is 1€ = 0.8760 £
Convert your money either in Greece, or in small shops, as the exchange markets hold a very large commission.
London is two hours behind Greece (GMT 0).
Getting to and from the airports is simple, since there are continuous bus routes, but also trains, which take you to the city center.
The Greek Embassy in London is located at 1a Holland Park, London, W11 3TP and its phone is 0044 (0) 207 229 3850.
In London, driving is backwards, so be careful how you cross the roads.
If you have time, don’t miss a theatrical performance, a concert or a football match, since you will definitely watch the best of their kind.
The weather in London is usually rainy, so always carry an umbrella with you, while in winter the temperatures are quite low with wind and snow, but it is one of the top Christmas destinations, so get dressed up and enjoy it.
Recommended excursions → Oxford, Cambridge, Stonehenge
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