If you've never been to London, you've never tasted real fish and chips, seen a real drawbridge or drank a proper pint.
These are just some of the draws, but no doubt, upon your first trip you'll discover many more.
As with all touristy destinations, smart travelers know that rule number one is to get off the beaten path - or ferry, or castle - and into some quirky neighborhoods you can call your own. True, even the funkiest Hackney hang in London has been popularized in travel books by now, but you get the idea. Just jump on the tube with a map and find yourself in Parsons Green or Enfield or end-of-the-line. Then wander into a pub (there will be one wherever you go) and meet the locals.
That said, feel free to start off with some of the cooler touristy spots. Following are a smidge of this Anglophile's best-of-touristy Blighty:
- Tower Bridge. This 801-foot drawbridge opened in 1894 and since, has become one of the most iconic symbols in all of the city.
- London Eye, also called the Millennium Wheel, rises across the river from the Houses of Parliament and is glorious by day or night. Former prime minister Tony Blair formally opened the 443-foot ferris wheel on Dec. 31, 1999 but it needed a few more kinks worked out before it debuted to public in March, 2000. It was worth the wait: visitors who hop aboard the Eye get the proverbial birdseye view of the Thames, the city and surrounding districts from the comfort of carriages big enough to stand in.
- The Tate Modern, a converted power station along the south bank of the Thames, houses contemporary masterpieces including works by Lichtenstein, Picasso and Klee. It also hosts a range of exhibits from visiting artists and photographers, such as the Matisse exhibit through Sept. 7, billed as when he began "cutting into colour".
- Borough Market is where foodies go to die, for what could be better than a whiff of Montgomery cheddar issuing from Bill Oglethorpe's -- aka the Kappacasein cheese man's -- delicious cart? Nothing like a cheese sandwich grilled on site as one strolls about the market on a Sunday morning searching for just the right Chardonnay or mushrooms. Note to virtual travelers: the Market also posts recipes from its talented chefs.
A FEW MORE TIPS:
** Try some of the Borough Market's tantalizing recipes in advance of your trip
** Don't tip in pubs or taxis, or if you do just tip in nominal amounts. Yes, the pubkeeper and barmaids of London will smile and be friendlier than that guy you just stepped ahead of (accidentally of course) while jumping on the tube. However, it's unnecessary. Remember, though, that you will tip at restaurants - 10 to 15 percent, unless the waiter has automatically included a gratuity (12.5% usually) on your check.
And by the way, Buckingham Palace is beautiful, but just wander by it. Don't gawk. You're more apt to see 25 people from Des Moines than Brits here.
For those with the budget to stay a while longer and venture out of town, take the train to Bath or Dorchester or even the Chunnel to Paris. Contact National Rail for the former and click the aforementioned Chunnel link or here for trains to Paree.
Note: Now til Sept. 28 delight in the London Wonderground at Southbank (see photo) and see some genuine fire-eaters.