London is Even Better When You Return Again
By Olga Volobuyeva
Second-timers are smart guys. They have this been-there-done-that attitude and seldom care for repeating their first experience.
Who would be interested in the same old attractions if you have already taken pictures of them during your first visit to a fabulous city like London?
I think it’s this common psychological phenomenon, which largely explains why second-timers tend to extend their experience or pursue new directions and unbeaten paths.
It’s Cool to Have Friends in London
A good friend of mine, who now works and lives in London, was so kind that she invited me to this wonderful city for the second time this April.
Either she forgot how it felt to have guests at home for a week or missed my enthusiasm about exploring London, but there I was, at Heathrow airport, having to buy my Oyster card again. [This is a pass for bus, tube, trams and other forms of transportation in and around London – ed]
Staying with friends when you’re on a trip is a unique travel experience on its own, as you get a chance to see the place from the inside, avoid mistakes many tourists make, see places you’d otherwise have missed out on, and simply have more fun.
If not for my friends, I’d never have experienced many wonderful places in London, including the Wimbledon area, the part of London where they rent their nice apartment.
All of London, and Then Some
I saw most classical attractions on my first trip: admired the Big Ben and Houses of Parliament, crossed the Tower Bridge, and other bridges over the Thames, visited St. Paul’s Cathedral, witnessed soldiers and guards marching near the Buckingham Palace and walked around the Piccadilly Circus, the City, and Soho.
We shopped on Oxford Street, took pictures from the London Eye, visited the British Museum, searched for sense at Tate Modern, marveled at pictures in the National Gallery, ate fish and chips and drank English ale in pubs.
So before my second visit, I was kindly asked what else I wanted to see in London. As a true second-timer, I named Stonehenge and Brighton, both outside London.
The first day after my arrival we headed for Stonehenge, which is located near Salisbury. We took the South West train from London to Salisbury and then got on the tour bus at the Salisbury station.
The bus, Old Sarum and the admission to Stonehenge with audio guide cost 17.50 pounds for adults. There is a special schedule for each season, so I’d recommend visiting thestonehengetour.info before you go.
Many people I know are skeptical about looking at stones as entertainment. Stonehenge is basically a circle of giant stones on Salisbury Plain. But the mysterious part of it is that the stones have been there for over 4000 years and researchers can only guess how they were brought to this isolated place.
Stonehenge is associated with numerous legends and myths, which you will learn about on the audio tour. It may have been the sacred place used for rituals, or an ancient astronomical observatory.
I must admit that Stonehenge is not an ordinary tourist attraction, but a very powerful place in terms of energy, philosophy, and history. I found myself going in circles around the stones, stopping and staring at them at different angles for several minutes.
There are tourists from all over the world in Stonehenge admiring the silent beauty of the stones and the cute sheep grazing nearby. Audio guides were very helpful; as they explained practically every step we took.
At the entrance, we were asked what language we preferred, as they had audio guides in 10 different languages. There’s a nice souvenir shop on the way back where you can buy something that will remind you of this unique site.
I’d recommend a trip to Stonehenge to everyone, irrespective of their age, attitude to mysteries and their skepticism level. Don’t plan any other significant activities when you go to Stonehenge, as it would probably take your whole day.
Notting Hill and Portobello Market
Did I mention how cool it was to have friends in London? My other friend rents a room in a beautiful two-level Victorian house in famous Notting Hill area (Holland Park station).
Of course, we used this dazzling opportunity to walk around Notting Hill with its beautiful and very expensive houses and yards, where many celebrities reside. This trendy area was made famous by the movie starring Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant, but it deserves attention on its own.
It was Saturday, the market day, so we also shopped around Portobello Market, one of the most famous street markets in the world.
A world-famous antique market offers numerous galleries and arcades with collectibles of the 1960s or even Roman times. Even if you have never taken interest in antiques, you’ll find yourself bargaining for a brooch or a silver teapot.
There is a range of shops and specialist suppliers, so you can find there literally everything you can think of: tasty food, books, clothes, shoes, souvenirs, flowers, etc. It is a very popular place for both Londoners and tourists and has a very special authentic atmosphere.
The National Portrait Gallery
On my first visit, I spent many hours in the National Gallery. This time we extended the art experience to the National Portrait Gallery.
As we were heading for the Portrait Gallery, which is located on Trafalgar Square (Leicester Square or Charing Cross stations), we got into a very funny and awkward situation. This prompts me to warn the readers against sitting on the benches under the trees of Trafalgar Square.
This is a very nice place where you can relax and eat a freshly-made sandwich from Prêt-a-Manger, but please, mind the pigeons in the trees above you!
The National Portrait Gallery houses the works of a number of époques and plenty of styles. The collection is arranged in chronological order, from the Middle Ages to the present day: the Tudors, centuries from 17th to 20th, the Victorians, Contemporaries, Special Exhibitions, and Displays.
There are over 1,000 portraits featuring men and women who played significant roles in British history, as well as many of those who continue to be popular at present.
You can spend days in this gallery going from one room to another, admiring the portraits and their ability to seize the moment and communicate it to the viewer. Just like the British Museum, National Gallery and Tate Modern, the Portrait Gallery is free of charge.
Tower Bridge Engine Rooms
Tower Bridge (Tower Hill station) is the landmark I couldn’t resist admiring for the second time. But this time we went further, or rather, higher.
For a fee of seven pounds, we went up to the high-level walkways to the Tower Bridge Exhibition and the Victorian Engine Rooms.
Up 140 feet above the Thames there’s a great view of London. We learned about the Tower Bridge creation history, how it worked, as well as learned about other world-famous bridges in different countries around the globe.
There are other things you can never refuse to experience again: eating a grilled lobster at Randall and Aubin is definitely one of them. I fell in love with their lobsters during my first visit, and believe it or not, it was one of the reasons I came back.
If you are also a seafood lover, this oyster bar in Soho, 16 Brewer Street, is the place to go. Fresh seafood, good wine, great service and the unforgettable atmosphere is what it’s all about.
Expect to wait in line for a vacant table if you come on a busy evening. You can admire the size of mouth-watering lobsters and oysters, choose what you’ll order and have a glass of wine meanwhile. Visit their site to see the menu. We paid around 55 pounds for a whole roast lobster with some garnish and house red wine.
If you are into an underground club experience, in every sense of this word, hurry. Shunt, the club under the railway arches of London Bridge station, has announced to close at the end of this year.
Yes, you got it right, it is located in the underground, and looks like a dark and cool cave. I panicked when my friend’s co-worker led us through the black door into the tunnel.
We were asked to give our IDs for scanning, paid 10 pounds in cash and as the door closed behind us I suddenly felt I was getting into something dangerous and a bit surrealistic.
Shunt is all in one: a performing arts club, a bar, a lounge, and a night club with multiple dance floors. It is a unique experience, and what’s more, – a different experience every time you visit.
Each week there are different artists including art, performance arts, installations, dance, live bands, and DJs.
Basically, as you go along the tunnel, you can go into different rooms with different things happening, rooms where bands are playing, where you can do arts and crafts, see various groups performing, etc.
The Shunt is also all kinds of different music, but it is not their strongest point. It is a place for “sensory experiences,” with music being only one of many. When our sensors got experienced enough, we found a chill spot to sit and have a drink.
I remember I was reluctant to go to the club that evening as I didn’t have a cocktail dress on, but when I got there I realized that my old pair of jeans and sneakers looked just right.
People would have thought I was one of the performers if I’d worn a dress and heels. Check out their site: shunt.co.uk/ and make it a special point in your entertainment program to drop there when you are in London.
Jazz Café in Camden
I love jazz. A jazz café or a concert of jazz music was high on my second-time-in-London to-do list. We chose a famous Jazz Café in Camden Town, which is quite a remarkable place on its own.
We arrived early and had to wait for the concert at the cocktail bar for a couple of hours. The ticket price depends on the concert and whether it is standing or table seating. We paid over 30 pounds per person for unreserved standing.
That night I didn’t have a chance to listen to jazz, but there were American guests, R&B singers Chante Moore and Kenny Lattimore, who showed great performance and whose music I loved.
I also liked the place and recommend anyone who loves jazz, soul, reggae, hip hop, live concerts and is looking for a special evening’s entertainment in London to visit jazzcafe.co.uk and choose the night to their musical tastes.
My last but not least discovery on my second visit to the UK was Brighton and the English Sea. This coastal city is one hour away by train from central London.
A seaside resort, Brighton is a popular weekend getaway for those living in London and other big cities of England, as well as for numerous tourists.
We walked along the pebble seashore and strolled about Brighton Pier. If you buy fish and chips and take part in some traditional entertainments, like fairground rides, games, puppet shows which are plenty on the pier, you may say you have had true English seacoast experience.
I’ve never seen more kids in one place than on the Brighton Pier. [See the author’s Brighton Beach Photogallery.]
You won’t miss the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. It is a spectacular building in Indian style, built as a seaside holiday home for William IV. It is open to public, though it was undergoing reconstruction when we were there.
So instead we admired the gardens, which were splendid in spring blossom. Brighton combines historical heritage with modern styles, which makes this city interesting for all.
Samuel Johnson was definitely right, saying “… when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
There are always experiences you’d like to refresh or extend in London, and there’s always something new waiting for you to discover. You are never tired of this city as it has plenty to offer, no matter whether it is your second or third or who-counts-what time in London.
Olga Volobuyeva, a Russian-based translator, editor, and copywriter, keen on traveling, writing and photography. She loves her country and wants to see many others.
View Olga Volobuyeva’s Brighton Beach Photo Gallery