You have a distant uncle in London you’ve never met. ‘But you can stay with him.’ That’s the first bit of advice my mother offers. Two things to be learnt: Indian uncles don’t apparently mind hosting men they’ve never met; and, that staying (and eating, drinking, going around) in the UK capital can be eye-wateringly expensive.
London is massive, so ‘where to stay?’ can be a daunting question. Zone 1 is where you want to be — preferably close to a tube station. Hotels are expensive, but hostels are not (book on hostelworld.com; my four-bed dorm in Astor Quest, Bayswater, cost £19 a night). Sure, you might have to climb a bunk bed and share a room with strangers. But, it is also a chance to meet people from around the world.
The modern-day Sherlock Holmes might hail a cab at the drop of a deerstalker, but taxis in London are bizarrely expensive. Use the tube instead. An Oyster Travelcard gives you unlimited rides on buses and the tube. A seven-day Zone 1 pass costs £ 30.
Tank up in the morning if your hostel has a complimentary breakfast. At night, it’s cool to buy a sandwich and a beer from the supermarket. Of course, you can’t come to London and not try the fish and chips, or the pie. The Borough Market is a food lover’s heaven. The must-have is the pie with gravy and mash at the stall, Pieminister.
Don’t expect much from a touristy London bus tour. The city is best seen on foot. Walk through Piccadilly, Trafalgar Square and Queens Road for some stunning architectural view. Take half a day, to walk along the South Bank of the Thames. Stop at the Tate Modern (free entry) to stare at Picassos.Then walk past Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, and on to the London Bridge.
For art lovers there is also National Gallery (free entry). If the imposing building doesn’t impress, a roomful of Monets, Renoirs, and Piccasos will. The other talked-about art in London is on the streets. Spot Banksy’s graffiti throughout the city, and walk through Brick Lane for some impressive work. Go for a play on Shaftesbury Avenue. I had the cheapest seats in the house (£15; from theboxoffice.com) and that glass of beer, while the play was on, was the icing on the cake.
A pod from the London Eye is seen in front of Big Ben at the Houses of Parliament in London. Reuters/Chris Helgren, Files