London: 'Cool Britannia' Redux

May 24, 2018

Why 2017 is the year to go

With its cool architecture and free museums, London almost always tops the list of favourite world cities. It’s become much more attractive for Canadians since the drop in value of the British pound, as a result of the “Brexit” vote. The drop in airfares will also make 2017 the most affordable time to visit in recent memory.

St Paul's Cathedral

What it's known for

London is known for its rich history and royalty, as well as some of the world's greatest museums such as The British Museum, Tate Modern and The National Gallery. The changing of the guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace remains a hugely popular event, as does afternoon tea at places such as Claridges or Brown's Hotel. The music and theatre scenes are rich and vibrant, as London is home to venues such as the Globe Theatre and Abbey Road Studios, where the Beatles recorded most of their top tunes and where fans still line up to take selfies. At the same time, it's a city that continually reinvents itself. Several neighbourhoods, including Aldgate in east London, are teeming with trendy shops, new hotels and ultra-sophisticated restaurants run by celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsay.

Buckingham Palace

Best time to visit

There’s really no best time to visit London. The weather is warmest during the summer, of course, but there are hordes of tourists. Spring and fall are nice, with warm-ish weather and fewer crowds. In the winter, there are far less people and hotel rates tend to be the lowest. Sure, it might be only a few degrees above freezing (nothing a Canadian isn’t used to), but it also could be much warmer compared to your own backyard.

Try this

2017 marks the 50th anniversary of Summer of Love. London was a hippie epicentre, with big parties celebrating the release of The Beatles’ album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” sit-ins and many other events. Tours of trendy London areas showcase places where The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie and other stars hung out. Many stops on the tour include areas used to film popular movies such as “Notting Hill” starring Hugh Grant.

Insider tip

The south side of London is increasingly trendy, and it’s often a good deal cheaper than spots in Kensington or other more established tourist areas. The Cut is a fantastic street not far from the Thames, with great neighbourhood pubs, restaurants and live theatre at The Old Vic. Take a morning walk on the south side of the Thames for great views of Parliament and Big Ben, the London Eye, St. Paul’s and other landmarks. Stop at the Tate Modern museum along the way. (Don’t forget, most London museums are free. You’ll have to pay for special shows, but the general exhibits are free at most museums.) Finish up with a lunch at bustling Borough Market.

London Eye

Getting there

Air Canada flies directly to London Heathrow. WestJet has flights to London Gatwick. Many other airlines, including Wow Air, offer flights as well. London is an easy train ride from France, and a short plane ride from dozens of European cities. In London, the tube (subway) is much faster for getting around town than a cab, especially during rush hour. Recently elected Mayor Sadiq Khan has introduced the 'Hopper Fare,' allowing passengers to make a second bus or tram journey for free within one hour of touching in on the first bus or tram. The Night Tube boasts 24-hour service Fridays and Saturdays. The London Underground also has a stop in Heathrow. Another option to speed things up (and pay more) is taking the Heathrow Express train to Paddington Station. The ride is usually under 20 minutes.

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