London, the Modern Babylon

One of the world’s most visited cities, London has something for everyone, from history to culture to fine food and an assortment of good times. Like most tourists, it is easy to revel in the familiarity of the Big Ben, Tower Bridge, the murky water of the Thames and the London eye. The choice of restaurants, bars and clubs is one of a kind and the vast area of the city is covered by lush parkland, more than any world capital. The government has made some of the greatest museums and art galleries in the world free to all, and what’s not to love a city like that!

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In addition to the picture postcard attractions of London, the hotspots if you will, there are also the odd spots, by day and night, from high art to wildlife, and they must be on your list of things to do around London. Anish Kapoor’s curiously curvaceous Arcelor Mittal Orbit is an unexpected sight at the Olympic park, and a good hurtle down the slide that now winds around the tower all the way to the ground is a thrilling experience and will set all roller coasters you have been to until now in the background. Take on the crystal maze, as in the old TV show that used to be presented by Richard O’Brien. The puzzle-oriented games create a new kind of experience for people who love quizzing.

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London is the tale of two cities, the much open vistas and leafy landscapes in the gardens, and the high density, sight packed urban explorations. Central London is where majority of the museums, galleries and iconic sights congregate, but a visit to Hampstead Heath or the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park will tell you where to go if you wish to flee the crowds and the hustle and bustle of the metropolis. Venture a little further to the Kew Gardens, the Richmond palace and get beautiful vistas of the riverside London and then later, grab a pint of warn ale at a local waterside pub. London is the city of possibilities and things to do as long as you have the imagination and moolah to go with it.

The city is deeply multicultural, and there are over 300 nationalities represented amongst the Londoners. What unites this diversity is the Queen’s tongue, for this is where English was born, and thrives at its epicenter. The variety of cultures also flavors the culinary view of London and the city is a delight for anyone even mildly gastronomically inclined. The diversity of residents also penetrates, what are known as intrinsically British institutions, such as the British museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum, who have collections as varied, as they are magnificent.

Art and Culture:

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London is a city of ideas and imagination. The Londoners are fiercely independent thinkers and this reflects in nearly everything around the city. A tireless innovator of art and culture, London is a haven for upcoming artists, sculptors and anyone who has a new seed that hasn’t yet become a fully fledged, all consuming passionate idea. As time grows, Londoners become less suspicious of anything they considered avant-garde, and now the city’s creative milieu is streaked with left-field attitude in theatre, contemporary and modern art, groundbreaking music, poetry, writing, architecture and design, and not to forget, food. But this is not to say that they don’t preserve their art and culture of the bygone era. The world’s first underwater crossing, the Brunel museum at the southern entrance of the Thames tunnel is the hottest tourist attraction for the groundbreaking feat of civil engineering, and it still is a working railway tunnel. The museum hosts subterranean dining and clubbing events, and also campfire cocktails. Or if you would like the live the lives painted by the old masters. Walk into the Dennis Severs house in Spitalfield, and that is exactly what you will feel.

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London is a city of ideas and imagination. The Londoners are fiercely independent thinkers and this reflects in nearly everything around the city. A tireless innovator of art and culture, London is a haven for upcoming artists, sculptors and anyone who has a new seed that hasn’t yet become a fully fledged, all consuming passionate idea. As time grows, Londoners become less suspicious of anything they considered avant-garde, and now the city’s creative milieu is streaked with left-field attitude in theatre, contemporary and modern art, groundbreaking music, poetry, writing, architecture and design, and not to forget, food. But this is not to say that they don’t preserve their art and culture of the bygone era. The world’s first underwater crossing, the Brunel museum at the southern entrance of the Thames tunnel is the hottest tourist attraction for the groundbreaking feat of civil engineering, and it still is a working railway tunnel. The museum hosts subterranean dining and clubbing events, and also campfire cocktails. Or if you would like the live the lives painted by the old masters. Walk into the Dennis Severs house in Spitalfield, and that is exactly what you will feel. This home, restored in the style of east London’s Huguenot period is open for tours throughout the year. The visitors pass through its ‘still life drama’ and see the evidence of an 18th century silk weaver’s family life. Islington’s little angel theatre presents its own shows where all sorts of puppets come to life and the place also runs education programs where children and adults can enter the world of fairy tales and learn how to make their own puppets at the workshop next door. Forage for antiques on Bermondsey Square, a few blocks south of the tower bridge. It has developed as a classy enclave for bars and artsy hangouts. Furniture, jewelry, home ware, the hardcore buyers show up and bargain hard and get the best deals. Go beyond the west end and find a pub that is maintaining the freedom of the fringe arts, and you’ll find the award winning Finborough theatre company, still managing to compete with the bigger players for quality. Climb aboard a book barge, and find yourself calmly flicking through a volume at the Word on The Water, a 1920s Dutch barge that serves as a floating bookshop.

Food:

Slurp on some scientific ice-cream at the Camden market. The stalls and stores around Camden high street and the lock might not be quite so weirdly varied as they once were but there is still plenty of out there things to be done and curios to be held. From ice-cream to ChinChin labs to food frozen in liquid nitrogen, appease your gastronomic curiosity and come back satiated. Or you can tuck into London’s best fish and chips head for hook in Camden. Sustainable fish cooked to perfection and offered in classic and modern forms, sea bass in a lime, mint and wasabi! batter or Cajun spiced hake will satisfy you. And never miss out on the culinary delights of the Brick Lane. Suspiciously cheap Indian food and the salt beef beigel are served at the charmingly scruffy bakery since 1977. This has been the place for the party people to show up to, after having a drink on the tube at the Cahoots, a theme bar, but an impossibly cool one, housed in a former air-raid shelter in Soho. If you are an early riser, get a bag of doughnuts from St. John’s baker at Maltby street market. Actually, you don’t need to be an early riser. You could be on your way home from an all night’s clubbing, or your baby could have waked you at 5 am, and this glorious, golden hued, deep fried pastry, or a little Proustian, fresh and fragrant Madeleines are your reward.

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Outdoorsy activities:

Well, London has got you covered. Dine out at the Kerb, where the street food stallholders keep up excellent quality and flair, and bring gourmet to the streets. Get a taste of China at the heart of the west end. Bilingual street signs, pagodas, lion statues and grand red and gold gates will welcome you, between Leicester square and Shaftsbury Avenue. See a movie under the starts at the rooftop film club or the Luna cinemas. See the pelicans at the St James park, the Greenwich Park and Richmond park have deer, Clissold park has goats and the Holland park has peacocks. At the Holland Park, discover the tranquil Kyoto Garden, designed in the traditional Japanese style. The Notting hill carnival is a celebration of the west Indian culture and is Europe’s biggest street party, which takes place on August bank holiday. Hire yourself a pedalo in Crystal Palace Park and you’ll be able to admire the Victorian, though anatomically incorrect concrete dinosaurs.

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Well, London has got you covered. Dine out at the Kerb, where the street food stallholders keep up excellent quality and flair, and bring gourmet to the streets. Get a taste of China at the heart of the west end. Bilingual street signs, pagodas, lion statues and grand red and gold gates will welcome you, between Leicester square and Shaftsbury Avenue. See a movie under the starts at the rooftop film club or the Luna cinemas. See the pelicans at the St James park, the Greenwich Park and Richmond park have deer, Clissold park has goats and the Holland park has peacocks. At the Holland Park, discover the tranquil Kyoto Garden, designed in the traditional Japanese style. The Notting hill carnival is a celebration of the west Indian culture and is Europe’s biggest street party, which takes place on August bank holiday. Hire yourself a pedalo in Crystal Palace Park and you’ll be able to admire the Victorian, though anatomically incorrect concrete dinosaurs. Take a selfie with one of these marvels and you might win instagram hearts. Dive off the Royal Victoria dock and enjoy the frigid Thames waters even in the summer. Play in the fountains at the Granary square, where you will be looked down upon by the sophisticated, high brow students of the University of the Arts and seriously posh restaurants, but you will be the one without a care in the world. Visit Karl Marx’s final resting place, and while it sounds like a macabre way to spend an afternoon, the chaotically grown Highgate Cemetery really is something special. You will also find Douglas Adams, Patrick Caulfield (who’s headstone spells DEAD in big, bold letters) and Karl Marx resting here. Go birding at the London Wetland center, there’s a whole lot more to birdlife in England than the pigeons at the Trafalgar square. Experience the late night animal magic at the London zoo or play footie, or footgolf at Chiswick. The possibilities really are endless. The city is yours to discover and from lunch hour wonders to day outs, you’ll always have London, the modern Babylon.

- Picture Courtesy Veer Daga

Express info:

Getting there:

By Air:

Most commercial airlines that operate out of almost all major cities out of India fly to London with fares starting at Rs. 35,000.

Boarding: Hotels, hostels, AirBnB and couch surfing are all good options when looking at staying in London. The prices start from as low as Rs. 1000 per night for AirBnB and can go all the way where imagination will take you, if you are looking at luxury.

Getting around:

For unlimited travel in Central London, get a day London Pass and an Oyster travelcard for the cheapest travel around the city. The Oyster travel card journeys on London’s public transport network including the underground or the tube, buses, over ground trains and the DLR, any time of the day and all seven days of the week.

London buses are the iconic double-decker buses, which are quick, convenient and a cheap way to travel around, and they provide plenty of sightseeing opportunities along the way. A single bus fare costs 1.50 pounds, but you can’t pay using cash. The Oyster card will come in handy here.

The waterways:

The Thames flows through central London and provides a stunning backdrop to many of the city’s top attractions. The river bus services are popular with the visitors and commuters and are a great way of beating the traffic and enjoying fantastic views. The Oyster card can get discounts and alternative routes.

Currency: 1 UK Pound = 85.16INR

Visa: As per the regulations.

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