In the land of Shakespeare, Arts and Culture, there’s just so much to discover. London has been a dream city since my childhood and I have waited over 10 years to come here; flew over 22 hours from Sydney, 9 hours transit, with 3 luggage, and just ONE ‘big fat’ dream—to see this beautiful city. I’ve had the absolute privilege to travel to London 5 times during my exchange (I’m possibly crazy haha), but if that makes you feel better, I am going to produce a local’s scoop of the must-do things in London, well, according to me!
I made it a challenge not to blog about too overrated stuff unless it’s really good, so let’s skip the Big Ben and London Eye in this list, shall we? Because that’s idiot proof!
1. Be dazzled by this Insta-worthy neon lights heaven
You have to be prepared to travel out of the way for this Instagram-worthy heaven, God’s Own Junkyard (technically it is owned by God). It is nowhere near central London at all. We took about an hour and a half to get here. It is a 15-20 minutes walk and about an hour on the tube, but the result? Totally worth it. Just note that pictures cannot be taken using a DSLR, as they cannot be used for commercial purposes.
One funny story—both of our phones died the moment we reached there. Since there’s neon lights all around us, power and electricity must be in abundance. We simply plugged our phones in one of the sockets hahaha.
God’s Own Junkyard
Unit 12, Ravenswood Industrial Estate
Shernhall St, Walthamstow
London E17 9HQ, UK
Fri & Sat 11am – 9pm
Sun 11am – 6pm
For the: Picture crazy traveller
2. Go Museum Hopping and leave feeling inspired
I wrote a post specifically about museums in London that you absolutely must visit here, and the museums in London really have vast collections so rich in culture, history and value. Besides museums, cultural centres are totally worth visiting as well. My friend recommended me to go to Somerset House, which is an art and cultural centre with ongoing galleries and festivals. It is the breeding ground, the new experimental workspace for artists, makers, thinkers and hipsters alike.
Somerset House is one of the best atmospheric outdoor venues in the UK. Its galleries are divided into East Wing, South Wing, New Wing and North Wing; each of them houses various exhibitions. They also have performances like this in the main Fountain Court. Circus Sampler was performing on the day we were there, where you can catch hula hoop acrobats and the Guinness World Record Holder in action!
My absolutely favourite discovery lies in the South Wing. Print! Tearing it Up is an absolute treasure that I have stumbled upon and my biggest takeaway from Somerset House. It’s a showcase on independent British magazines changing the world, and all the magazines there were amazing. Print! Tearing it up reveals that print is not dead in today’s digital era; and seeks to continue its demand by revealing the power of print to provide a platform for key social and cultural issues.
Furthermore, the content is good—they have a wide selection of topics like art, design, photography, poetry & prose, cooking books, and more. The exhibition showcases a diverse range of contemporary publications dedicated to urgent issues of the day, arguing the case for considered journalism to politics, fake news to the power of the algorithm. I bought a magazine called Backstage Talks on compiled interviews with 10 designers at the Design Conference last year (the yellow one on the table). This series ended on 22 Aug but don’t worry, there’s always new and interesting things coming, they have cool events like summer film screenings etc! Just keep a lookout for What’s On.
Strand, London WC2R 1LA, UK
Everyday 8am – 11pm
For the: Culture seeker
3. Spoil yourself with luxury and beauty stores in Covent Garden
From Somerset House, you could take an 8 mins walk to Covent Garden, where the best shops and best buys are at! There is Jubilee Market, which is famous for antiques and collectables; luxury shops like Daniel Wellington, and also the quirky Moomin shop. We went to Covent Garden on a rainy day and was in the mood for some souvenir shopping, and headed towards macaroons shop Ladurée and tea shop Whittard. You absolutely must visit Whittard to try their hot chocolates and their fine selection of teas! They have a lot of their flavours for testing. I tasted the white hot chocolate on a cold rainy day, and the rest was history. I have never tasted white hot chocolate in my life before. So so good! Of course, I bought it hehe.
Besides shopping, Covent Garden is also renowned for award-winning restaurants and theatres, so you might wanna check it out.
For the: Culture seeker, the shopaholic
3. Unleash your inner foodie at the local markets
This was my lunch for £8!! It’s rice with seafood (prawns, oysters etc). You absolutely must visit the markets in London. They are great for affordable food & shopping in contrast to places like Covent Garden. Borough Market is one of the largest and oldest food markets in London. The padella pasta is good, and they also have a wide selection of wine and cheese, honey…the list goes on. Borough Market’s food is fresh and amazing, especially seafood. You can even drop by London Bridge while you’re at it cos it’s just next to the market!
8 Southwark St
London SE1 1TL, UK
Mon – Thurs 10am – 5pm
Fri 10am – 6pm
Sat 8am – 5pm
For the: Passionate Foodie
Next, Camden Markets! This one is huge. Camden Town is something like the Bugis street of Singapore I would say! There are more stores selling fashion and accessories here, adjoining large retail markets. Borough Market just sells mainly food; however Camden has more Asian food as compared to Borough.
Camden Lock Pl, Camden Town, London NW1 8AF, UK
Everyday 10am – 6pm
4. Feel (un)cultured trying to understand Shakespeare
This is crazy. I got tickets to watch Shakespeare’s Hamlet for £5! Yes, tickets can get as low as this…provided you get the yard tickets (standing). But we didn’t mind at all because of the play was so exciting, the actors so talented and engaging, that by the time we had noticed our legs were aching, the play’s already over.
I watched it at Shakespeare Globe. The architecture here is amazing and (I think) it’s probably one of the only places to watch Shakespeare. Anyways I never felt so uncultured my whole life because I didn’t understand a word of the actors’ dialogue haha. However, it wasn’t boring at all for me, and you have my assurance that it probably won’t be for you as well. The actors are so talented, they would keep you engaged with their body language. I wished I could have watched one of Shakespeare’s plays when he was still alive in the 1600s, that would be interesting.
Plays usually have an intermission in between, and we aren’t allowed to take photos while the actors are on stage. Buy your tickets online in advance, because for this one, the tickets sell out very fast. I repeat, very fast. Like literally I checked in the morning it was available, and by the afternoon came it was all gone. I had never felt so anxious about buying a ticket in my life before.
21 New Globe Walk
London SE1 9DT, UK
For the: Culture seeker
5. Catch dirt cheap musicals in West End
Ahh, West End. I’ve heard so much about this before I came here. It’s so integrated into London’s culture, and it has never let anyone down, so if you only have one thing you can do in London, I’d say do this. Everyone I’ve met who have been to London (Jan, Florence, WenXin…) have told me not to miss out on the musicals.
I was deciding between Phantom of the Opera or Les Miserables, and in the end, we went for Les Miserables—the world’s longest-running musical. I have watched the movie before so I was really curious to see how the actual live musical looked like. The experience was…exhilarating. I cried. I don’t think I can ever emphasize how much the both of us freaked out right on the first act, the music and the singing really freaked us right out into tears. My friend beside me burst into tears immediately. I was stunned, sitting frozen in a daze. It was so loud, so impactful, so real…the familiar lyrics I’ve always used to hear over my computer screen just thundered right before my ears. By the time I Dreamed a Dream came on, uncontrollable tears just flowed freely from my eyes as I sat high up in the upper circle, my gaze fixing on the actors below. It was performed differently from the movie—it was raw, unstable, emotional. The plot slowly unfolded right before our very eyes, the acting the music and props & everything…was so nicely done. My favourite song was Do you hear the people sing? it was just so liberating, so enchanting, so otherworldly. From the first song to the last, we sat frozen in a gaze, our hearts secretly impressed.
We caught it at Queen’s Theatre, and we weren’t allowed to take pictures while the actors are on stage so these images I got from Google hahaha. We got pretty good seats for ourselves for about £29. What a steal! Considering musicals like these would easily cost over a hundred plus in Singapore, I’m very satisfied with the price. I heard that if you queue up outside the box office very early in the morning, you can get tickets as low as £5-10. I don’t know, I never tried. If you plan to get tickets online, book it in advance too because this one is also as crazy as Shakespeare Globe!! The good seats run out very fast.
Due to time constraint, this was the only musical I’ve watched during my time in London. So it works like this: usually, one theatre is dedicated to ONE production. Below are the respective theatres and their productions. They should have one intermission. And oh! Don’t just leave after the musical. You can head outside the backstage door to meet the actors and take pictures!
51 Shaftesbury Ave, Soho
London W1D 6BA, UK
Production: Les Miserables
Her Majesty’s Theatre
Haymarket, St. James’s
London SW1Y 4QL, UK
Production: The Phantom of the Opera
21 Wellington St
London WC2E 7RQ, UK
Production: The Lion King
Prince Edward Theatre
Old Compton St, Soho
London W1D 4HS, UK
Apollo Victoria Theatre
17 Wilton Rd, Pimlico
London SW1V 1LG, UK
London WC2H 9HU, UK
Production: Matilda the Musical
6. Shop till you drop at Oxford and Regent Street
Oxford Street is London’s busiest shopping street, with big and luxurious brands of our favourite international brands. Don’t let that scare you, I think the prices are pretty reasonable at Oxford Street! If you’re truly broke, head to Primark. In Oxford Street alone there are already 2 huge Primark stores, where you can find cheap and trendy fashion as low as £6, Harry Potter pyjamas as low as £10 (yas!!), Disney and Friends pyjamas, beauty buys, make-up, handbags, shoes…I bought so much this trip that I had to buy another luggage to fit all my stuff in! Primark is known for its affordability. I got Pusheen socks, earrings, necklaces, bathrobes…just remember, Primark. When there is Primark there is no self-control. 😂
If you have a bigger budget or is just feeling splurgy, check out Selfridges, which is also at Oxford St. It is a large departmental store, with fashion, stationery, kids stuff and more. I found Victoria Beckham’s fashion collection there! Lots of VIPs visit the store, and despite the chauffeur driven cars waiting outside, people in Selfridges are not snobby at all. Lots of people compare Harrods to Selfridges, Harrods being another departmental store selling luxury gifts, fashion accessories and designer clothing. I picked up a Prada bag in Harrods for £5,000—not available anywhere else in the world but can only be found in Harrods. The price shocked the hell out of me (obviously) but I still stayed and chatted a while with the saleslady. The people were not snobbish at all. Harrods is not near Oxford St, but it would be worth checking it out after visiting Selfridges.
After Oxford Street, you can also head down to Regent St, which is in Soho. This is where you can shop at another departmental store Liberty, famous toy shop Hamleys, or explore Carnaby Street which has lots of cool fashion shops with a funky and edgy street style. Or, you can even do a pub crawl which I never got to do because of time constraint haha.
And Chinatown Gate is just around the corner too. Here in Chinatown, you can find Hong Kong pastries and Chinese food, give it a try!
For the: Shopaholic
7. Sit under a tree and chill with a book at the amazing parks
When we moved to London, our accommodation was near Kensington Gardens so we decided to take a look. It was so breezy that day, a blessing considering that the past few weekends had been really hot. I could easily have my ideal morning there: feeding the ducks, reading a book under the shade of a tree and watching the world go by. Imagine living near a park in London! You could just go there whenever you are stressed and walk around, take in the fresh air or feed the ducks, which I must say, is a very therapeutic activity.
Holding hands and dating must be so nice amidst this lush greenery and amazing weather too!
From Kensington Gardens, all you have to do is cross a bridge from the correct side of the gardens and you’ll reach Hyde Park! Hyde Park was huge. There were a lot of people walking their dogs, and doing some rowing near the lake.
For the: Nature Lover
8. Tell people your Hogwarts acceptance letter came…finally.
The UK is THE paradise for every Harry Potter fan. This is the Harry Potter Warner Bros Studio Tour, which is a freaking long tour (about 4 hours) but was super worth it. You can go on board the Hogwarts Express, see the train cabins where they filmed Harry Potter, and also try out wand choreography (which I felt like an idiot doing it but they teach you how to wave a wand properly!!)
Besides visiting the sets, you’ll be let into the costumes collection, prop collection and most of the stuff used for the filming of Harry Potter. We got to see concept art and initial sketches of the movie, as well as paper models of Hogwarts and other sets, and the design and thought process that goes behind the production of the 8 films. It just awes me, that people put so much effort and dedication into perfecting every detail, into making the costumes, building the sets…
Oh! they also served us butterbeer, which is non-alcoholic by the way. Its actually made out of cream soda and butterscotch foam, and tasted really pleasant and sweet. Overall, this place just brings the magic of Harry Potter to life.
Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter
Studio Tour Drive, Leavesden WD25 7LR, UK
Mon-Fri 9.30am – 10pm
Sat-Sun 8.30am – 10pm
For the: TV and movie buffs
9. Connect with London’s famous detective, Sherlock
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Sherlock told me to drop by Baker St if convenient, and if inconvenient, I should go anyway. So I went. John wasn't in. Sherlock and I had chips at Speedy's. He deduced that I came a long way, 14 hours flight, only child, doesn't study in Singapore- instead could have been anywhere in Australia, but going by the state of my sunglasses, Sydney's most likely. He also knows I've spent almost a month in Norwich, probably 3 luggages, going by the pattern of the scratches on my ankles and black boots. Impressive, but a bit creepy. High functioning sociopath indeed.
From the moment I watched BBC Sherlock played by Benedict Cumberbatch, I was Sherlocked. Captured in every way possible: by the witty storylines, the friendship between Sherlock and John Watson, the detective novels. I’m absolute trash for this fandom you probably have no idea. So I made it a mission to go to the most famous address, 221B Baker Street, to pay my detective a visit.
The museum was awesome. Inside we walk through the apartment of Sherlock Holmes, Watson’s study, and I was impressed that everything, even the furniture, looked exactly the same as the TV series! To see it in real life triggered scenes of the show in my head. “Oh, this was where he took drugs…this was where he and John sat to solve crimes.”
If you’re aren’t a BBC fan like me, that’s okay too. Lots of people have just heard a lot about Sherlock, and are curious about him. You’ll definitely learn more about this famous character here. Alternatively, you can visit the Victorian gift shop in the museum for free, which is just below Sherlock’s apartment, and they have lots of antiques, souvenirs & collectables, and BBC Sherlock merchandise for a trash like me.
Fun fact: I spent more at the Sherlock Holmes museum than in Primark, even after taking several items out of my shopping cart.
The Sherlock Holmes Museum
221b Baker St, Marylebone
London NW1 6XE, UK
Open everyday 9.30am – 6pm
Purchase at the museum shop
Caution Tip: Please go way earlier than the time it opens to avoid long queues. The queue is crazy.
We also made it a point to visit the actual film locations of BBC Sherlock. The actual apartment where BBC Sherlock was filmed at was at North Gower St, a quieter street not far from the actual 221b Baker St. We took a bus down after visiting the museum and…I almost broke down at the sight of this door, memories came flooding into my head, memories which were not mine. I was rather emotionally involved with the series hahaha. And tada! Beside the door is the famous Speedy’s Cafe.
We just casually had lunch here until we realised this cafe is bursting with business—most of their customers are Sherlock fans. There was a bunch of girls sitting beside us, one of whom was wearing a “I am Sherlocked” necklace hahaha. The food was okay, not particularly great, but because Sherlock used to always have chips here, I asked the waiter, “Does my burger come with chips?” In the end, we ordered so much and ate till we were so full. 😂
Speedy’s Sandwich Bar
187 N Gower St, Kings Cross
London NW1 2NJ, UK
Mon-Fri 6.30am – 3.30pm
Sat 7.30am – 1.30pm
Closed on Sundays
As if that wasn’t enough, we went to St Barts Hospital, the place where Sherlock committed suicide. There were SO MANY fan scribbles on the wall, it reminded me of how this series used to take London by storm when it first came out. I never dreamed of coming here, of seeing it in real life. If you’re a Sherlock fan, you shouldn’t miss this. Bring a pen with you if you wish to share some love! One of my regrets at that time: I didn’t have a pen with me.
St Barts Hospital
London EC1A 7BE, UK
For the: TV and movie buffs
10. Explore the state rooms of Buckingham Palace
I went to Buckingham Palace on three separate occasions. Mainly because it’s always this crowded, and THIS hot in the summer, and I refuse to give up until I get a clear view and good photos haha. I do recommend going at least 45 minutes earlier to camp at a good spot, where you can see the changing of the guards. It usually starts at 11am.
I also had the absolute privilege of entering the palace to visit the state rooms. It is indeed a rare opportunity which we can do this, as the palace is only open for a limited period only. Plus, again, tickets are in demand, so it is advised to book in advance. I paid £22 (student price) for a one year pass; the palace is open to the public on 21st July and will last till 30th September. It’s ending soon, so if you’re in London during this period, go on and be a royal for a day. Sadly, no pictures are allowed inside, and we had to go through a tight security check. I took as many mental images as I walked through the drawing room, throne room, ballroom, grand staircase…because how often do you get to see the inside of the palace? I even saw the throne chairs used for the Queen’s coronation and I was enthralled!
If you have time, do explore the palace gardens and surroundings as well! I saw some swans and it is indeed a tranquil place to take a walk.
Westminster, London SW1A 1AA, UK
Open everyday from 9.30am – 6pm
Last admission 4.15pm
Tickets: £24.00 for a one-year pass
For the: Culture seeker
11. Visit the squares in London
I know, sounds funny right? Squares in London, what’s that? Well, Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square are my favourite squares in London. I was in Leicester Square during the pride weekend, and it was so happening, so crowded and usually there are performances in the square. Leicester Square is an entertainment hotspot, with more cinemas, theatres and restaurants ever. Just nearby you can visit TWG Tea if you’re feeling a bit homesick, or check out the huge multi-storey M&M’s world, an outlet like no other, where you can customise messages and names on your M&Ms.
See Nelson’s Column at Trafalgar Square, and if you find that dull like me, just opposite the column is the National Gallery, where you can see paintings of famous artists like Van Gogh and Monet.
For the: Culture seeker, the shopaholic
12. Scare your pants off at the London Dungeon
I never knew the dark side of London. Here I got up close with London’s frightening past—of convicts, the great fire, and the plague. The London Dungeon is near London’s Southbank, along with the other tourist attractions like the London Eye, Big Ben and River Thames; but you’ll scream in fright here like no other. I was brought from room to room in darkness, with occasional jump scares while learning about London’s dark history at the same time. I was treated like a convict, charged guilty, and there are two rides inside—where they say you will ride to your peril.
Ok, in all honesty, I was seriously so scared but it’s manageable as well. I mean, there were kids there, so it can’t be that bad. My favourite feature was probably coming (almost) face to face with Jack the Ripper. The actors and workers inside were also really into character, they spook me and make me laugh at the same time!
The London Dungeon
Riverside Building, County Hall
Westminster Bridge Rd, Lambeth
London SE1 7PB, UK
Open everyday 10am – 5pm; with the exception of
Sat 10am – 6pm
Thurs 11am – 5pm
Tickets: £21.00 (online price)
13. Don’t be a typical tourist—Climb the Tower Bridge!
We all know the Tower Bridge, but I got to learn a bit more about it when I climbed up there and discovered its hidden history, learning how it was built and constructed. I never knew the tower bridge could be lifted up, splitting into two parts in order to let big ships pass! You can check the bridge lift times here.
Tower Bridge Rd
London SE1 2UP, UK
Tickets: £9.80 (cheaper if you buy online)
14. Get a bird’s eye view of the city at St Paul’s Cathedral
This is not for the faint-hearted! You can get the best view of the city by climbing St Paul’s Cathedral, with its world-famous dome. Speaking of which, there’s probably a lot of spots to get good views of the city from above, like SkyGarden or The Shard, but I’m very satisfied with the view I got from St Paul’s because I worked for it!
There were no elevators at that time the church was built, so the only way up is to go through a very narrow staircase, and it takes about 528 steps to get to the top — a height of nearly 365 feet. When you reach 257 steps and arrive at the top of the dome, there is also a Whispering Gallery where you can stand at one end of the dome and whisper to your partner at the other far end and he/she would be able to hear you!
After that, you can continue climbing to the Stone Gallery, which can already get you a decent bird’s eye view of the city; or go even higher to the Golden Gallery, where you hit 528 steps in total. I climbed all the way. Initially thought since I was young and it would be easy, but my legs were wobbling at the end and you have to be very careful not to slip and fall. There were so many people resting or giving up halfway—making up to the top was no mean feat!
If you don’t wish to climb, just visiting the church alone for a time of reflection and prayer would be awesome. I cried there again after saying a prayer because I was too overwhelmed by the grandeur and angelic song by the choir. I know, what a crybaby haha. The bottom of the cathedral is the Crypt, where they house tombs of the famous dead. You can explore that as well, it was such a holy and mesmerising experience.
St Paul’s Cathedral
St. Paul’s Churchyard
London EC4M 8AD, UK
Opening hours: Mon-Sat, 8.30am – 4pm
So there you go! It is definitely a challenge to keep this list short because I have so many things to share and London never really gets boring! I sneakily added Number 3 twice, did you notice? 😉 I don’t think we would ever finish exploring London, the city is just buzzing with festivals, events and activities all the time; since it was my first time there, every corner I turn was a surprise. My advice would be just to explore each and every corner of London because this city is a place where we don’t have to stick to an itinerary in order to have fun. Just be flexible in your travel plans, and if you see something interesting, don’t forget to snap it and share it with me!
Lots of Love,