‘No place like London’
Stephen Sondheim, my favourite musial composer, once penned these lyrics for his musical masterpiece ‘Sweeney Todd’, and these words always resonate with me. When I think of London, I picture bustling tube stations, towering buildings, the steps of St. Paul’s cathedral from the Mary Poppins movie, the stunning West End, and it’s breathtaking theatres, leafy avenues, the visually stunning Buckhingham Palace, Harry Potter, Charles Dicken’s landmarks, Sweeney Todd’s Fleet Street,Trafalgar Square, and simply a city oozing with remarkable history, and character. All of these traits combine to make London my favourite place in the world. It just holds a special place in my heart!
Last September, feeling fairly shattered, after a busy Summer Wedding Season, and not having been on holidays for a year or two, I decided on a whim, to book a solo trip to London for a week! Feeling nervous, and excited at the same time, about travelling alone, I decided the only way to do it was to simply book the flight, then I would have to save the money, and go! I did exactly this! Flight booked, I took to trusty Tripadvisor, and Booking.Com, to suss somewhere to stay! This is my favourite part of holiday research, I adore just scrolling through the Booking.Com website, and then checking the accomodation reviews on Tripadvisor! I wanted affordable, safe, central accomodation! Knowing the area of Kings Cross, from a previous trip with my Mother, I decided this was a good option for its central location! I found a huge hostel by the name of ‘Clink 78’, which seemed perfect, as I wuld surely meet people here during my trip, and it was very reasonably priced! The hostel was a mere ten minute walk from Kings Cross St Pancras Station, which served all central lines, it had it’s own bar, libarary, and internet room. Another cool feature which greatly swayed my decision, was that the hostel building had a rather amazing history! The building itself once host to the famous Clerkenwell Magistrates Court, a place where Charles Dickens wrote Oliver Twist, and where in later year punk band The Clash found themselves standing traial, having shot a prize pigeon! Today’s hostel dormitories are situated in the old prison cell’s, and are designed to resemble cells of the time!My decision was made! How cool!
So, the morning finally arrived! Excited doesn’t even fully do justice to how I was feeling, at the prospect of discovering London on my own for a whole week! Arriving at my terminal at Dublin Airport, I was also slightly apprehensive, having never travelled alone before! I also felt very independant, and satisified that I was doing this trip for myself only, and the week was mine to embrace, and do as I wish! I flew to Stansted Airport, as I know this airport best, and the Stansted Express service from the airport is just magic! It is a train that departs from directly below the main terminal at Stansted, and takes you to the heart of London, at London Liverpool Street station. The cost was roughly £28 for a return ticket! The train journey into London is just fabulous, as you pass fields of green meadows, barges, and canals of the English countryside, followed closely by the centre of London, with the Gherkin standing boldly among it’s towering counterparts! I really reccomend utilising this service, as it is so quick, affordable, and easy! That moment of exiting the train at London Liverpool Street, and walking into it’s bustling station, is just the best! The city smell hits you, the deafening noise, the hustle, and bustle! I adore this!!
After an inital confusion with underground lines (it always takes me a few minutes to get my head around the various lines ), I topped up my Oystar card, and took the Central line towards Kings Cross Station! I should amit, at this point, that I tend to opt for the Kings Cross area, as the minute you step out of Kings Cross St Pancras station, you are hit with the breathtaking building that is St Pancras Station, where Harry Potter and the Weasley brothers famously landed in a bewitched Ford Anglia making their way to Platform 9 3/4! Having read the books countless times, this moment is magical ! You can’t help but stare at the magnifence of the building! It is a place I kept re-visiting throughout the week, just for the view!
I made my way inside the overground station to visit Platform 9 3/4. They have really used the Harry Potter reference to their advantage, as the platform is simply black with people of all ages, desperately seeking a photo opportunity with the luggage trolley half nestled in the wall ! Next to this attraction, is the Harry Potter platform shop! Ridiculously overpriced, but visually stimulating for the J.K Rowling fan, you can purchase anything from the Nimbus 3000 broom, to Hogwarts robes! A feast for the eyes.. and the pocket!
Having dropped my suitcases off at Clink 78, my accomodation for the week, I took to exploring London! A beautiful feeling of glorious independance, and freedom washed over me. I had this entire city at my feet, to explore for a whole week! Kings Cross, is such a cool area. Every nationality crowds it’s streets, to make it a really bustling hive of activity! I really wanted to take in a few shows during the week, as I am a musical theatre performer, and adore the West End. TKTS booth in Leicester Square is the best option for purchasing tickets, and getting good value for your money! The staff there are so helpful, and even let you know if you’re too short to sit in a certain seat (I was told this a couple of times!!), so that you get the best view possible of the stage! Miss Saigon was in London at the time, so delighted with this choice, I grabbed a quick cup of coffee, and a snack, and headed off towards Trafalgar Sqaure!
The beauty of London, is that you can never really get lost, as everywhere is so well sign-posted, and you will quickly discover that walking shoes are the most important thing to pack! On foot, you can discover so much more than clambering around overcowded , hot underground stations! All of the tube stops, are merely minutes apart anyway!
On my walk, I took in most of the South Bank, after an accidental wrong turn! It turned out to be a beautiful accident, as I turned onto Westminster! Westminster, is just stunning! Big Ben, is almost breathtaking, as it towers gloriously over The House of Commons, and Westminster Abbey! Apparently, if you are an English citizen, you can get a tour of the clock tower, by simply writing to your local politician. it is by request only, and something most people do not take advantage of! If you are English, and reading this! Do it! I would give anything to explore the clock tower!
Making my way back to Trafalgar Square after seeing Big Ben, and Westminster, I took in Number 10 Downing Street, which is easily visible from the road, and really heavily gaurded by both Military Police, and regular policeman! A nice attraction, as we tend to see so much of that famous door on television, it is lovely to see it in person! You get a great sense of the power attached to these locations also, as you visit them, particularly The House of Commons, and Number 10 Downing Street, as they are so busy, and security laden! I admit to being a history buff, and I find it really thrilling to see these places in person, where Churchill, Thatcher, Kings, and Queens, alike have come into power over the years! Amazing!
At this point, my stomach was almost speaking to me, I was so hungry! Having walked a couple of miles exploring Westminster Borough, so food was on the cards! Bella Italia was reccomended to me by a friend from home, so I headed for the Leicester Sqaure restaurant. It was packed, but I luckily managed to get a table quite quickly (the perks of being a big loner in London). The food was amazing, and reasonably priced, making for a gorgeous pre- theatre dinner! I highly reccomend this restuarant, which has franchises all over London, as it is top notch Italian food, in a lovely setting!
Miss Saigon was out of this world! They actually landed a helicopter on the stage towards the end! The entire cast were amazing. It is such a sad story, and deals with how the Vietnamese women were treated by the American soldiers durin the war! Unfortunately, it has now left London, but if it returns, be sure to catch it!
I managed to catch two more shows that week! Wicked, being my all time favourite musical, was once again breath taking! It is a must see if you find yourself in London, looking for an evening activity! I have now seen Wicked four times, and plan on seeing it fourty four more times! It’s a magical story of Oz, and the real tale of the two witches, and how the Wicked witch came to be! Stephen Scwartz music will leave you with goosebumps, and a funny lump in your throat!! It runs nightly at The Apollo Victoria, right across the road from the massive Victoria station! Plus, it’s lit in neon green, it’s impossible to miss it!
The highlight of my entire week was seeing Gypsy the Musical! Having heard a bit about the musical, and known some of the songs, I went to TKTS again to look for a seat! They sold me a £25 ticket to the show.. An absolute steal! Imelda Staunton, of Harry Potter and Vera Drake fame, to mention but a few, was starring as Gypsy Rose! I have never witnessed such a spectacle. She is a powerhouse! Her performance left the theatre reeling, she recieved a standing ovation five minutes before her encore ended! Best night of my life! If it comes back to London, don’t think about it, just grab a ticket, and head for the West End!
My next few days in London consisted of tonnes of walking and sightseeing! It’s funny, when you are in a place that holds so much adventure around every corner, you will happily walk for miles, without even noticing! Another massive high point of my week was visiting the Natural History Museum, in Kenisngton area. The queue was ridiculous, as it was midterm for the British Schools at the time, but my god was it worth every second of the wait! In the entrance hall, you are greeted by an outstanding dinosaur skeleton. this really sets you up for what is just the most breath taking museum!
As i explored further, I realised there was a Dinosaur exhibition. Again, the queue was crazy, but it is out of this world! Inside the exhibition, there are dinsosaur artefacts everywhere, and moving exhibits. The main focus in this area, is the huge 3D T – Rex , that moves and has sound effects! The kids were mesmerised, and a little terrified! I was amazed! The exhibition is so informative too, referencing dinsoaurs from today’s films, and more exciting facts! A must see. Bring the kids, and a luch! You could spend a whole day wandering around this place!
One of the days, after a stressful morning shopping in Oxford Street (Who am i kidding?! ), I decided to take a walk through Hyde Park, which is nearby! I passed the famous Speakers Corner, which was empty on that particular day! Further into the park, I stumbled across one of the mosts amazing sights! The Serpentine flows through the Hyde Park, and my god , is it beautiful! Swans, and wildlife swarmed around the riverside, with people eating ice-cream, and sipping coffee nearby! I spent the guts of an hour here, just admiring the beauty of it all! Taking time to just sit down, admire something beautiful, relax, and think is not something I squeeze into my daily life, but this was something special! I ended up spending the entire afternoon, and evening here in the balmy sun, passing through the Princess Diana Memorial fountain, which I found slightly underwhelming, and the Peter Pan statue, a must see! I adore Peter Pan, and this was magical for me. Although, if you are amssive fan, do not delve too far into J.M Barrie’s past, you may find some facts that you might not like! Trust me! The author J.M Barrie lived just a few steps from the Hyde Park, and this is the park where he met Peter and the Llewwlyn Davies boys, who inspired the tale!
A lovely spot I visted frequently throughout the week was Cafe Vivaldi in Leicester Sqaure! They do the most amazing scones, and clotted cream! It’s a beautiful restaurant with a gorgeous, relaxing atmosphere, where you can just chill out, and plan your next move!
St. Paul’s cathedral was top of my list, so I visited towards the end of the week! Even to just stand outside, and admire the dizzying heights of Christopher Wren’s architectural masterpiece is incredible! I dare you to climb to the very top! I did, and realised at the very top, hilst staring down at the dots below, I had a fear of heights!!! 🙂 The view is literally breath-taking, after the dizzying climb to the top! 111 metres above London, is a special place to be! Do it! It’s a must!
Plus, if you’re a big child, like myself, and Mary Poppins was one of your favourite childhood films, you will appreciate how special this place really is!
Further down the road from St. Paul’s is Fleet Street. How many of you know the tale of Sweeney Todd? If you know of the demon barber of Fleet Street, you will want to visit! There is no tourist attraction, simply the building, which was supposedly his barber shop many moons ago, where countless men lost their heads, after merely going for a shave! The building still lies creepily between regular offices, and is a cool sight to witness! I adore this tale! You may have passed it, and not even realised!
So, how was travelling alone you might ask ? I’ll be honest here! I would be lying if i said i didn’t feel twinges of loneliness throughout the week, but London is just so spectacular, that I kept busy, and walked for miles, and miles each day! The hostel was odd, in that everyone kept to themselves, but the bar proved for a fun atmosphere at night! A solo adventure really clears your head, and helps you forgot about life for a while! I loved it, and would do it again! Travelling alone allows you to spend endless time seeing what you want to see, and eating wat you want to eat, and just relaxing!
If you’re considering an adventure, just do it! Book it, save, and go! It opens your mind, and educates you in more ways than you would ever imagine! You will not regret it, just stay safe! Stay in public areas, and keep in touch with relatives! Most of all, just have fun! I wil be visiting London again in August with my boyfriend, and really look forward to seeing other things, and sharing the adventure this time!