Write: Zeynep Erekli Photos: Tuğba Tırpan
In London, the solemn, cosmopolitan and innovative capital of the United Kingdom, the slow pace of history combines with the dynamism of contemporary living in a city that presents unforgettable pleasures to its visitors.
Today, London, the capital of the United Kingdom, which was once described as “the empire on which the sun never sets,” presents the relics of the kingdom and its splendid history alongside contemporary, exciting innovations. With its unique architecture and lively, orderly, and head-spinning pace, this definitely is a great metropolis.
Founded by the Romans on the shores of the River Thames around two thousand years ago, today, the city opens for you the doors of a cosmopolitan world with every step you take amid its characteristic architecture, museums, and royal ceremonies.
London, which has been the royal capital since the reign William I, the Duke of Normandy, who invaded England and was crowned as King in 1066, is among the first places that people who wish to travel in Europe want to visit.
There are many options for accommodation in London. Those who wish to stay near the city center in a reasonably priced, simple, but comfortable hotel generally prefer one of the two-star hotels near Victoria Station. The region is located at the intersection of train, underground, and bus lines, giving it a significant advantage.
The fastest and most practical form of transport in the city is the underground. The lines usually operate between 5:30 a.m. and 12:30 a.m. on weekdays; on Sundays, they start running two hours later. We should remind you of the fact that the London Underground, which started operating in 1863, is known to be the oldest subway network in the world. Another alternative is the bus network, which you can use to travel to any part of the city easily. Obtaining an electronic Oyster Card, which you can use both on both buses and on the underground, will make it much cheaper for you to get around. Oyster Cards can be purchased in underground stations and newsagents’ shops and are used by loading them with credits. Choose the rate best suited to the length of your stay. Additionally, the Oyster Card provides discounts for entering certain museums and events.
Official ceremonies and the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, where the Queen lives, present colorful sights. Besides the changing of the guard every morning outside the palace, red-coated English soldiers march in official parades, and in some of these ceremonies, the Queen salutes the people and visitors from her horse carriage. Meanwhile, Trafalgar Square, which salutes visitors with the giant statue of Admiral Nelson before it, is among the most famous squares in the world.
On the Banks of the Thames
The region by the River Thames, known as the South Bank, is home to several important buildings, each within walking distance to one another. By taking a half-day tour by the river, you can have a feel of both London’s current spirit and its past. Start your tour from Westminster, where you can see the magnificent House of Parliament built in the 19th century, the home of the British Parliament; Westminster Palace; and the clock tower Big Ben, which is impossible to miss. This ninety-six-meter-tall clock tower built in the Victorian Gothic style is the most important symbol of the United Kingdom. Just a few minutes away, you will come across Southbank Centre, which is the most important arts center of the area. Further ahead, you will notice the modernist blocks of the National Theatre, the city’s biggest theater.
Between Waterloo and Blackfriars Bridge stands the art deco-styled Oxo Tower Wharf. After passing the elegant Millennium Bridge, you will find yourself at the bottom of a staircase leading up to St. Paul’s Cathedral. The cathedral, known for hosting the wedding ceremony of Prince Charles and Lady Diana, welcomes thousands of visitors every year with its greenish, magnificent dome and fantastic c interior architecture.
If exploring a city means exploring its cultural and artistic locations, a challenging task awaits you in London, the center of art, theaters, museums, and dance. The British Museum, one of the most respected museums in the world, is located here too. You really must set aside a whole day for this museum, which exhibits the most important pieces of human history from prehistoric times up to the present day. The Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, famous for its mummies and the subject of many films, is among the most interesting parts of the museum. The British Museum is open every day and the entrance is free for all. That entry to the kingdom’s largest museum is free of charge also shows how much the United Kingdom values culture.
The Tate Modern, the city’s museum for modern arts, always exhibits stimulating contemporary arts. The museum’s permanent collection draws in contemporary art enthusiasts with the works of such artists as Matisse, Rothko, and Pollock, while Tate Britain, exhibiting five hundred years of British art starting from the 16th century and featuring works by such famous artists as Hogarth, Constable, Bacon, Moore, and Turner, is ideal for art lovers more interested in classic art.
The western part of the London, known as the West End, is its theater and musical nexus. More than twenty musicals are staged simultaneously in various theaters in the West End. Over ten million people watch the musicals—some of which last for years— annually. For example, the musical of Victor Hugo’s famous work “Les Miserables” celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary last year.
Everything is at your disposal in London, from multicultural street markets to shopping malls and from independent boutiques to traditional tailors, also including stylish delicatessens. Shopping-wise, Oxford Street is the beating heart of the city, featuring the chain boutiques of big brands and malls ranging from the cheapest to the most expensive. In Covent Garden and Soho, you can buy sneakers, t-shirts, London souvenirs, and novelty household items. Soho, meanwhile, stands out with its independent record stores and bookstores.
Notting Hill is famed for the Portobello Road Market, which is set up on Saturdays and Sundays. Renowned for its antique furniture and collectors’ items, the marketplace is spread over a fairly large area. The antiques start from the end of Notting Hill; there are also food and drinks stands in the upper sections. Available at these stands, where all the food is prepared on location, are sandwiches, pasta dishes, and Far Eastern delicacies—in short, anything you might be looking for. At the end of the market, near Westway and Ladbroke Grove, there are stands selling clothes by newly famous designers and second hand items. Those who are keen on fashion and style can find original and stylish outfits here at very reasonable prices.
Without a doubt, London’s most elegant shopping center is the Fortnum & Mason in Piccadilly. This four-story store is a three-hundred-year-old London classic, boasting a magnificent staircase rising from the center of the store, a glass dome, and its iconic colors of light blue, gold, and pink. Meanwhile, the yellow shopping bags that you can see on almost everyone’s hand on the streets are from Selfridges, which has come to symbolize London. In this giant Oxford Street store, there are products covering a wide spectrum from clothing to food and drink and from sports equipment to household goods. It should come as no surprise that everyone—men, women, and children—can find what they’re looking for here.
When the word “food” is mentioned in the same sentence as “London,” the first phrase that comes to mind is usually “fish and chips.” One can find a fish and chips shop to suit every taste and budget all around London. These friendly places, where you can enjoy a piece of deep fried fish with some French fries, are icons of the city.
Eating out in London is not, however, limited to fish and chips. People from different parts of the world and different cultures living in London and their different tastes add variety to the city’s gastronomic landscape. Chinese, Indian, Japanese, South American, Turkish, African, and many other kinds of restaurants present examples from a diverse set of cuisines all around the city. The Chinatown area is ideal for sampling Chinese and Far Eastern food; one can try many different Far Eastern delicacies for relatively reasonable prices. The Bricklane region in the eastern part of the city is where the Indian and Central Asian restaurants are concentrated.
London’s preparations for the 2012 Olympic Games it will host continue at full speed. Because the city will be crowded by millions, renovations are being applied to the underground network, and construction of the new Olympic Stadium capable of seating eighty thousand people, expected to cost around 530 million pounds, is ongoing too. Tickets for the Olympics Games will be put on sale starting next March.
The City of Parks
You can see people enjoying a picnic at any time of the day in Hyde Park, the city’s biggest park. The Serpentine, a recreational lake in the center of the park, is a favorite spot for ice skaters in the winter. Other noteworthy parks include Regent’s Park, St. James’s Park, and Richmond Park.