A leading capital city, London steads itself as a metropolis full of surprises just waiting to be discovered and is most certainly a place you would find in the bucket list of almost every non-Londoner around the globe.
However, most Malaysians dread the trip to the money changer before travel as this part of the world boasts the mighty British Pound where one of our red notes can barely be exchanged for a couple of quid.
What this writer managed to do when the exchange rates weren't as painful as its prevailing value, was to traverse the amazing city and see most of what he remembers watching in timeless British reels like James Bond and even Mr. Bean as a minor – all on a shoestring budget. All aboard and we'll show you how you can see the best parts of London in a day!
One of the most commendable facilities available in this part of Europe is its transportation system. The London Underground rapid transit system serves a large part of the capital and has the option of coupling its passes with the London bus services as well as a host of others above ground like the London Overground and Tram, which by far are the cheapest and most efficient ways of getting about.
We would suggest getting an all-day pass for you to have no restrictions in the city, this would only cost you £7.30 (RM42.60) and can be used at anytime, anywhere within travel zones – most cost effective considering your day romp of the city.
First Stop, The Royal Palace
Don't forget to mind the gap when dismounting the London Underground at the St. James's Park stop serviced by the District and Circle lines.
This would be followed by a rather ordinary short distance walk along Petty France (name of the street upon exit) before bursting into another street called Buckingham Gate lined by government and similarly ordinary fashioned buildings.
But make no mistake about what you are about to see as soon as you finish tailing flocks of tourists to the grand opening of the world famous Buckingham Palace – the residence and principal workplace of the British monarch.
Be sure to arrive right at the palace gates before 11.30AM to witness quite a glorious and colorful display of British pageantry in the form its royal change of guard, which this writer unfortunately missed by a matter of minutes!
While one door shuts, another opens as you would be in complete amazement of what you are about to see next – the Victoria Memorial. Perched right in the centre of the space leading up from a stretch called The Mall, the memorial drenched at its base for a fountain, stands mighty with a gilded bronze-winged figure adorning its pinnacle.
You had dismounted at his underground stop and now, it only makes sense if you stroll through his park – St. James's Park that is. Blanketing the landscape adjacent to the palace, its surrounding invites you for a walk of absolute wonders through nature's attendants. Enjoy the calm breeze of the park welcome you with a caressing gush as its cordoned off lake overflows with little ducks and geese the size of a German Shepherd!
Plenty of photo opportunity await you as you make your way through nature's wonderland – where you could even choose to have a cup of good ol' English tea at haunts buoyed in the middle of the lake for the price of around £1.00 (RM5.80) or add about £3.50 (RM20.40) for a simple meal.
As you exit the beautiful St. James's Park, you would come to an humongous parade ground called Horse Guards Parade where Trooping the Colour is held to commemorate the monarch's birthday. Hundreds if not thousands of troopers, with and without horses converge for this auspicious occasion.
On a normal day however, the path leading square in direction to the central archway would not throw you off course due to its barrenness, but its the primary Horse Guard structure is somewhat contrasting to its void appearance. Reminiscent of colonial Britain, the horsed troopers on guard simply take you on a time continuum like none other.
Once you've passed through the central archways, the road called Whitehall awaits – flanked by beautifully sculptured architecture of old, the walk en route to your next highlight destination is something your memory will cling on to for as long as it able to remember.
It will be a number of historic monuments which you will have walk by before finally being able to feast your eyes on one of greater aesthetics – Trafalgar Square. Should you have a straying imagination akin to this writer, you would be walking amongst horse carriages, pompous Englishmen in top hats and maidens clad in petticoat hugging evening gowns.
Fast forward a couple of centuries and you will find yourself in the middle of a much celebrated square, most popularly used to host the turn of a new year – London's answer to the ball drop in Times Square if you will.
Expect tourists galore as you stroll through its ambient surrounding and just take in the air for a bit. Don't forget to visit the big blue cockerel (you can't miss it!) to endow your journey so far with a little touch of art!
Old Chap, Big Ben
While you soak in the calm atmosphere at the square, stand anywhere around Nelson's Column – that would be the large totem pole with four bronze lions guarding its feet – and turn around to the road which took you here. There it is, Big Ben, poking right through the English skies and reminding you of the time even from such a distance.
Its going to be a 10 to 15 minute walk from here to get to the immaculate clock tower, but by all means, you are allowed to indulge in a little retail therapy along the way from the rows of various shops on either side of the street – or if you'd prefer a diversion, hop on the Charing Cross Underground right at Trafalgar and head on to Piccadilly Circus or Oxford Circus (both a stop and two away respectively) for your ticket to binge in shopping paradise.
As you inch closer toward the Elizabeth Tower, as it is officially labelled, you will come to realise that the bark of the clock tower is made from intricately detailed architecture and spreads across the parent building that it is attached to. All sense of time is lost at the very moment you find yourself standing before Big Ben and is a feeling worthy of all superlatives in the vocabulary put together.
The iconic structure, an unmistakable landmark to the nation's capital and Britain alike is perched right beside River Thames – which you will be crossing via the Westminster Bridge shortly to be greeted by a bunch of street performers exhibiting their talents through coin tricks and the ever slights of hand to make a quick buck from bold passersby.
Just to your left however, would be yet another icon to the city which you probably would have had a glimpse of from your very first stop due to its aerial command, but why would this writer ruin all the surprise then. There she stands, so close to the waters of River Thames as if it too had some sort of magical buoyancy – The London Eye.
The Eye in the Sky
From a distance, you would think it was some sort of over elaborate shipping port from all the boats, but a closer look would show they are simply commercial boats to ferry curious travellers along the spectacular river for an experience truly out of this world. At the ticketing counter, you would have the option of combining your aerial and naval tickets for a discounted rate of about £28 (RM163.50).
Due to immense popularity and time block ticket issuance, you would probably have very little time to scour the area for more interesting attractions. Preceding The London Eye is the famous London's Death Trap, a laboratory-themed horror show exhibition, tucked neatly between cafes and restaurants.
At a tourist-centric area, expect to pay anything between £10 to £30 (RM58.40 to RM175.20) for a decent meal – for those on a tummy strapped budget, a good ol' hotdog from vendors parked around for about £3 (RM17.50) sounds like a palpable deal.
As soon as the tummy is satisfied, it should be time for you to board either one of the rides you've signed up for. In tandem with this writer's experience, we will chronicle the view from above first. You might have had a similar experience with the Singapore Flyer, but this capsule takes the cake for this writer.
An exquisite view of the city of London awaits as you gradually rise in rotary motion – its compact city's horizon is outlined by Victorian (Edwardian, Georgian, Norman, Tudor and post-modern) architecture as you approach its highest point, leaving you quite bamboozled at the spread of this magnificent city. If you're lucky, you might get a local sharing the same capsule – dishing out information on the city's icons in the manner of a tour guide, except he or she is just as ecstatic you are.
With such aerial advantage at this point of day, you would be privileged as to bear witness to the sun sinking into the British horizon. If you'd like to take advantage of the boat cruise you have coming up, visually track the River Thames to have an idea of the various bridges you would be arching under en route to yet another iconic structure in our modest list.
As you begin your descent into the docking area, make your way to the designated boat and head up into the open-air deck where nothing should even attempt to come in the way of your experience – in the case of this writer, not even a 10 degrees Celsius temperature. Once of the best ways to enjoy the ride is during sunset, where the lights from that big ball of gas dims away and the glow of the river-flanking buildings throw warm lights onto its surroundings.
Along your River Thames cruise, you would be able to see the world famous London Bridge, but be prepared to recalibrate your idea of the structure – because it looks pretty bland and would be the eighth bridge you encounter before hitting the very last bridge called the Tower Bridge. This last bridge would be the icon that your eyes and memory pockets vouch to being the better looking one – it is in fact the bridge most of us have been misinformed about since young, even this poor writer.
St. Paul's Cathedral
Its amazing how ordinary camera phones are able to capture pretty stunning details and moments – that said, you would be more than glad to find out that your cruise vessel would be making a U-turn immediately after the Tower Bridge where you would be able to take enough shots of the bridge in its glorious stature from every angle.
The sun has completely disappeared from the sky and it seems as thought you've ferried through the twilight zone as you step onto the decks and into an alternate world. Your last stop is only moments away on the opposing side on River Thames and you could choose to cross at any of bridges before the London Bridge (now you know the right one!) during your 20 minute walk to get there.
Feel free to stop at anywhere for a quick fix where fast food joints populate the area like mushrooms on a patch of grass after a rainy day. London is pretty big on pedestrian sign boards as well, making it almost impossible to get lost. So do keep track of your routes at every peep of these tiny boards.
The journey there would be a completely different feel due to the change in light, however you will notice the variety in Victorian (and others mentioned above) architecture from government to even regular establishments. Either ways, they truly are a sight for sore eyes. Also, you would need to cross quite a number of streets to get there. You will come to experience how all road users are generous and concerned about pedestrian priority, it definitely isn't a sense of comfort you find cheaply anywhere.
Built at the highest point in the city of London, this second largest church in all of Britain stands majestically in an open space that's neatly weaved around its perimeter and occupies a significant place in the nation's identity.
This heavenly sanctuary has played host to various historic national events like the Jubilee celebrations of Queen Victoria, the auspicious wedding ceremony of Prince Charles and the late Lady Diana as well as funerals of notable figures in the English time line. As you walk closer to the church gates, you will strain your neck a little by probing its magnificent facade. Enter the gates to its compound of gardens and benches for an experience that is deftly tranquil.
As you exit the church compounds or after you decide to sneak a quick peek at its immaculate and profound dome interior, the St. Paul's Underground awaits you just outside - and from hereon you can dictate whatever else you wish to see in the beautiful city of London.
For this writer, he had a footie game to catch at the Emirates Stadium not too many stops away on the Underground. A dream he's always had as a child was to see his favourite football team, Arsenal throw the ball around the park and he managed to score tickets from scalpers for £50 (RM292.00), a bottom-dollar bargain to culminate a truly fulfilling experience!
To point, you would have only spent around a meager RM350 (without the footie game!) and that, my friends, is not bad at all for a day trot. Should you have spare change or an awesome travel credit card in your pocket and decide to chug a pint in Soho, shop along Oxford Street, or even catch a footie game or your choice (there are about 20 stadiums spread out in London, including Wembley), hop on the Underground using your still-valid day-pass and let the winds of merry old London show you the way.
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Do you have an equally amazing travel experience as the one described above? Share with us your thoughts in the comments section down below!