London is one of the most magical cities in all of Britain, if not on Earth. Locals likely will deny this with a dry sense of humor and an off-the-cuff remark about the tiresome weather. Don’t be fooled. This is an emphatic trick of the Londoner to protect the grandest old city on the Isle.
For those of us who’ve pressed through the tangle of critiques and arrived on the banks, we know the truth: London is an immaculate metropolis whose beating heart is connected with the efficient veins of the local subway, lovingly referred to as “The Tube.” Theatre is abundant in the city of Marlowe and Shakespeare, and there is enough new tech and high fashion to make Henry VIII proud. It’s the land of Harry Potter, royal lines, Bangers and Mash, and the Spice Girls. So whether you’re on a quest for the thrill of Portobello Market, a fine inn at which to stay, or for the sturdy nourishment of a Sunday roast, here’s what you should know about London culture (from an outsider, of course.)
Insider secret No. 1: Everyone dresses sharp. Before Tawny and I went to London, our friends from the UK assured us that it was a droll city, perpetually foggy, and freckled with chavs in jumpers. Luckily, we had no idea what they were talking about. Contrary to their urgings though, when we arrived, we encountered an empire of efficiency and courtesy. True, our contrast was the feral and sleepless city of New York. But in comparison, London is a finishing school, with flawless coffee, and bountiful dishes. As we strolled through Hammersmith and Kensington Gardens we were caught up in a current of fashion. Apparently, if you’re going to dress up in London you’ll need a ladies maid and at least three footmen. If you’re planning on just a casual rendezvous with friends you’ll need only a “smart waistcoat” and “crisp trousers.” That translates into a vest and business casual pants, for those of us who haven’t mastered British colloquialisms yet.
Viewfinder Tip: Make sure you invest in an Oyster Card. This refillable card allows you to ride the Tube and city buses, which you can use to get everywhere you want in London.
Insider secret No. 2: The food is excellent, but not cold. One of the better memories of my life is Sunday Roast. Our local friends took us out to the Admiral Nelson restaurant. These purveyors of fine Sunday Roast taught us how to do it in style. Also, ice isn’t endorsed by Her Imperial Majesty and doesn’t seem to exist in London. Therefore you should expect to enjoy all of your “pints” at room temperature. While this seems like a cardinal sin for those of us from the colonies, trust me, it actually brings out the flavor of the beer. Don’t get caught up on it, order a pint of cider (hard of course) and ask about the Sunday roast for the week. For dessert, we’d highly recommend that you indulge in a Yorkshire pudding. This sweet treat isn’t actually pudding at all; it’s a bread concoction that is both sweet and light. At the conclusion of your pub experience don’t fret about tipping; in London, bartenders don’t expect to get tips.
Insider secret No. 3: Everything is dignified. There’s a certain dignified grace to all things London. The simple act of walking through a park is elevated to the extreme. Suddenly you’re not just walking your dog, you’re taking a stroll with your hound through Kensington Gardens, stopping to observe the Royal Palace. Going out shopping is now popping down to Portobello for bric-a-brac. Even the usually mundane task of getting your morning coffee can now be crossing the channel to have a spot of coffee and English brekkie before the midday tea.
One can expect all things to be elevated in London. Fashion, food, and pubs are all just a little shiner here than they are elsewhere. All of this is best exemplified by a dear friend with whom we met up one day on Fleet street. He mentioned, off the cuff, that he’d like to take us to a quaint little pub downtown he knew about. We envisioned the usual pull tab bar you’d take a friend to in the United States. Instead it was a tiny cavern of a place, lit by the glow of a coal fire. All the beers were called “ales” and came from a tap in the middle of an oak bar. The floor was strewn with saw dust, and the seating was communal benches. We had entered Ye Old Cheshire Cheese, one of the oldest bars in all of London, and this was his “casual weekend dive.” Classic London.
Don’t be fooled by the tactful modesty of London or it’s wry sense of humor. This egalitarian metropolis is one of the sweetest spots on Earth, and has been for centuries. Cheers!
What is your favorite way to spend a day in London?