I have been to London a fair few times. I’ve been to see the Rolling Stones in Hyde Park. I visited the Millennium Dome when it opened. I’ve been to Wimbledon and seen Andy Murray win. I’ve spent hours on Oxford Street getting lost in Topshop. I’ve seen The Lion King live on stage. I’ve done things that you do when you go to London. But I’ve never spent a long time there as a tourist. There were places I’d never been, things I’d never seen, experiences I’d never had. These were wrongs that needed righting. Fortunately, being based in London while volunteering put me in a good position to exploit my Oyster Card and become a bit of a tourist, after all, there were 12 international volunteers who also wanted to see London’s highlights. And so below is a list of the best things I did in London last week. (other than volunteering, obviously)
1) Ceremony of the Keys, Tower of London.
This is a free event and, for someone like me who loves pageantry and tradition and the monarchy and history it was incredible. It might not cost anything, but I understand the procedure to get tickets is a bit complex and you need to book about six weeks in advance to be in with a chance. I was super lucky and had tickets arranged by the church I was volunteering at, but I’d recommend anyone in London to look into it. A bloke in a fancy red coat guides you through the ‘ceremony’ which lasts no more than twenty minutes. It takes place live, complete with beefeaters, the last post and Queen Elizabeth’s Keys live inside the Tower.
2) The Natural History Museum.
It takes a lot to beat seeing a dinosaur and a blue whale. I mean- how do other museums even try and compete with that? (See point 4) I just think it’s really cool. The actual building itself is stunning and worth visiting just for that. Weirdly as well, when I visited my younger brother was simultaneously walking around the Natural History Museum in Manhattan. Super cool.
3) Brick Lane.
We all but dragged our 12 young volunteers here on their Harrods to Hipsters Tour of London, and they were openly unimpressed with our gift of one and a half hours to explore this part of the capital. The majority of them however, got into the spirit of things and enjoyed the opportunity to explore a part of London that isn’t so touristy and some of them (much to our delight) came back with super cool hipster purchases. Great food, awesome atmosphere and super cool shops. Must see.
4) The British Museum.
A statue from Easter Island, the Rosetta Stone, Iranian Gold and Samurai Swords- just some of the highlights included on The British Museum’s 1 hour whistle-stop tour of the hallowed grounds. With a spectacular entrance hall, it’s worth going just to explore the gift shop.
5) Buckingham Palace and the Changing of the Guard.
I’d stood outside Buckingham Palace fleetingly about 18 months ago and had my photo taken, but laden down with shopping bags and tired feet, it was a fleeting visit. This time I’d planned to start our Harrods to Hipsters tour of London at the seat of the British Monarchy. The sun shone, and the crowds seethed and our 12 international volunteers peered over the heads of strangers to glimpse the fluffy heads of the Beafeaters. Historic, traditional, amazing.
6) And the rest……Tower Bridge, Oxford Street, Harrods, St Paul’s, Westminster, Big Ben…. the list goes on and on and on….