I must admit I have a love-hate relationship with London. I love many aspects of this massive conglomerate, particularly the highlights set out below, but I hate the noise, the traffic fumes, and the general hustle and bustle – all headache-inducing.
My answer is to visit at the weekend. Almost everyone has returned to their leafy suburbs, leaving the centre to move along at a much more leisurely pace. If you are driving, then the roads are much quieter, parking is much easier and the ‘congestion charge’ does not apply.
London was a clear choice to include in my Top Ten Cities of the world and indeed it is arguably the World’s greatest city. According to Wiki, it has more visitors than any other city and even CNN Travel gave a list of 50 reasons why London is the greatest city!
Of course I could give thousands of highlights of London, including all its world famous buildings, museums, art galleries, parks, shops and other tourist attractions.
However, I’ve just picked out ten that appeal to me as a Senior Traveller; heritage sites, short relaxed walks and boats seem to feature prominently.
London is well known for its nightlife with a plethora of top class nightclubs; but as a Senior, I think I’ll stick to just a theatre visit in the evening.
My list of highlights starts with central London, but includes a couple of exceptional places a bit further out: Eltham Palace and Kew Gardens. Both are readily accessible by car or public transport.
My Ten Highlights of London
• The London Eye. This 135 metre high wheel is a good way to get your bearings in central London, with great views of the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. On a clear day, the London skyline is visible for many, many miles to the north. An adult ticket for a 30 minute ride costs about £30, with no Senior discounts, but 10% off for booking online.
• South Bank and Tate Modern. Many times I’ve strolled the two miles along the South Bank of the Thames from the London Eye to the Tate Modern and I’ve always found it an uplifting experience. There are great views across the river and plenty of bars and cafes for refreshment. After looking at the latest, sometimes ridiculous, offerings in the Tate Modern (free entry), I then head over the ‘Wobbly Bridge’, which no longer wobbles, to St Paul’s Cathedral.
• Buckingham Palace Tour. Until 20 years ago this most iconic of palaces was a definite no-go for the general public, but now for a couple of months each summer the State Rooms and Gardens are open. Seniors 60+ get about 10% discount on entry charges.
If seeing the rooms occupied by the reigning monarch (not her private rooms of course) doesn’t appeal to you, then you can always make do with the ‘Changing of the Guard’, which takes place at 11:30am from May-July each year.
• Afternoon Tea. It’s typically London to enjoy a sophisticated afternoon spent sipping tea/champagne and tucking into delicate sandwiches and cakes. Lots of hotels and restaurants have offers, or if you’re feeling lavish the Ritz is a particularly popular place for afternoon tea, but you’ll need to book in advance.
• Tower of London and HMS Belfast. A mile or so east of St Paul’s Cathedral is the Tower of London, well worth a visit to get a feel of the bloody history of England in the 16th and 17th Centuries. For more recent history, the light cruiser HMS Belfast, berthed on the opposite bank of the river, provides a fascinating insight into on-board life during Arctic convoys, D-Day and beyond. Seniors 60+ get a 20% discount on entry charges.
• Thames Clipper. Take a ride on London’s river bus. You can catch it at several piers along the Thames including at the London Eye and the Tower of London. I sometimes get a day ‘River Roamer’ ticket and use it to travel between the various attractions, including to the east, the Greenwich Observatory, the National Maritime Museum and the Cutty Sark, the famous 19th Century sailing ship.
• Regent’s Canal. Take a stroll on the banks of one of London’s best-kept secrets, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. I came across it by chance when visiting Little Venice, near Paddington Railway Station. I was amazed to find I could walk along the canal in peace and tranquillity, via Regent’s Park and Regent’s Zoo, to Camden town and its cosmopolitan market. It’s about three miles in distance. For less nimble Seniors, there is the option of travelling by canal boat.
• West End Shows. No trip to the capital of theatre would be complete without seeing a show at one of the 40 or so West End theatres. If you wish to book accommodation along with a theatre ticket, then TicketTree provides an excellent service with large discounts.
• Eltham Palace. This is one of my favourite English Heritage properties, being an interesting mixture of a medieval hall and a millionaire’s Art Deco house, plus extensive gardens which blend features from both eras.
What appeals to me, and the reason I include it in my highlights, is the way that the rooms and their stylish furnishings give an authentic feel of 1930s London society – one of London’s many golden eras. You may recognise the backdrops to many films and television programmes, including ‘Brideshead Revisited’ and Poirot’s ‘Death on the Nile’.
• Kew Gardens. I’ve visited Kew Gardens many times and at many different times of the year, but there is always something new to see within the extensive grounds and world famous glasshouses. On one occasion some Chihuly glass sculptures were on display blending in with the plants.
Allow yourself plenty of time to explore and relax along the way at one of the four cafes and restaurants within the grounds. Seniors 60+ get a small discount on entry charges.
Do you opt for a central hotel and pay more, sometimes much more, or one a bit further out, but with good transport links? I tend to go for the latter, but the choice is yours.
Obviously all the major hotel chains are well-represented, most very many times over. Don’t forget to claim your Senior discounts, which can be as much as 30%. See: Hotel Deals for Seniors.
If you intend to stay in a smaller hotel or one which doesn’t give Senior discounts, then one of the hotel comparison sites will allow you to check prices and get the best deal. See: trivago. You could save a lot of money, to spend on your tea and champagne at the Ritz!