London calling: Places to visit and points of attraction in London

Save the Queen and save a few pounds on your next visit to London, the city on the Thames.

BY CAROL KELLEY
ASKSTUDENT.COM Guest Writer

Windsor CastleLondon Travel Shortly after arriving at Gatwick Airport at 7 a.m. on a sunny, English morning, I took a train to London’s Victoria Coach Station. During the ride, I met two students from California on a work-abroad program in central London for the summer. They explained how they fell in love with the city after their first visit and decided to spend the next three months working and traveling around England. After hearing about the great time they had, I couldn’t wait to begin exploring the city.

From the coach station, I took a cab (in London, they’re black) to my hotel. Passing through streets dotted with historic, looming cathedrals, resplendant royal palaces and red, double-decker buses was unforgettable. The friendly cab driver narrated this impromptu tour in a heavy Manchester accent, offering the significance of every monument we passed on the way to the hotel. Contrary to their reputation for being very reserved, I found Brits to be very friendly, open and enthusiastic people.

By far, London is the most fascinating and exciting city I’ve ever visited. It’s city of contrasts, a modern yet traditional city that’s steeped in history and invigorated by youthful energy. Although I’ve traveled there three times in the past few years, I’ve only begun to discover all that London has to offer. As a student, there are many ways to make your trip to London fun and affordable.

A must-see stop on any tour of London is Buckingham Palace, the official residence of the Queen. Every morning, crowds gather around the palace to see the Changing of the Guard that takes place at 11 a.m. As busy morning traffic comes to a stop on the street across from Buckingham Palace, a parade of Horse Guards and a marching band cross from Green Park onto the palace grounds to begin the ceremony. Students with an International Student Identity Cards (ISIC) cards get discounts on tours of the Buckingham Palace state rooms and other parts of Palace grounds that are open to the public.

London Tips

Lodging

Fortunately, there are many inexpensive accommodations for students in and around London. One place to consider is the International Student House at Great Portland Street. The central location makes it convenient to walk to nearby attractions and museums. In addition, the hotel has a party and game room where you can meet other student travelers and a computer lab to check your e-mail and keep in touch with friends and family back home.

Youth Hostels also offer discount accommodations for student travelers. Students can stay at one of the many hostels in central London for around $40. per night. A Youth Hostel Card is perfect if you plan to travel to other parts of the UK or Europe.

Getting Around

By far, the fastest and least expensive way to get around in London is the Tube. For just a few dollars a day, you can travel just about anywhere in London without dealing with the traffic and hassles of renting a car. If your London visit is for a few days, buy a 3, 5 or 7 day unlimited-use Tube Pass from the British Tourist Authority. They are discounted from the regular fare and can only be purchased in the US before you leave.

For trips outside of the city, students can use a Discount Coachcard that saves 30 percent on bus fares in England, Wales and Scotland.

Outdoor trips and concerts

Outdoor enthusiasts will definitely enjoy the walking, riding and bike trails that run through London’s beautiful parks. Hyde and St. James parks feature flower gardens, ponds, statues that border the stately, white-stucco homes in London’s Kensington and Chelsea neighborhoods.

One great way to spend an evening is to see a concert, or “gig,” as they are called in Britain. London’s music scene offers styles to fit everyone’s tastes, and as many as 80 concerts are held each night in London. Pick up a copy of TimeOut Magazine, to find lists of current and upcoming concerts. If you have enough time to plan your trip in advance, write to the BBC for free tickets to tapings of some of its most popular shows.

Shopping
Whether you are a window shopper or a compulsive one, London is a consumer’s paradise and a showcase of established and up-and-coming fashion designers.

On weekends, crowds of young people gather in the streets of Camden Market and Portobello Road searching for bargains on everything from unique clothing to traditional gifts for friends and family back home. Saturday is the best day to visit the markets and enjoy the upbeat, casual atmosphere. Along the streets, there are merchant booths, specialty stores and a food pavilion where shoppers sample Thai, Indian and Moroccan cuisine or traditional English fish and chips. On Portobello Road, the weekend crowds browse the 2,000 stalls of antiques and club fashions for rare finds. You can spend a few hours searching for gifts or just enjoy some fascinating people watching.

The famous Harrods Department Store is a must-see stop in a day of sightseeing. Founded in 1849 by Charles Harrod, the store which began as a small grocer’s shop in Knightsbridge specializing in teas has now become a London landmark as well as one of the world’s largest and unique department stores. You can spend hours just wandering through the museum-like floors of clothes, gifts, jewelry and practically anything else you can imagine. The Food Halls alone are worth the visit. They feature gourmet delicacies from around the world, a sushi bar, and — for chocolate lovers — two whole rooms devoted to candies and homemade bakery.

The Arts
London is a playground for art enthusiasts drawn to the unique and eclectic cultural vibrancy. The many museums in the city play home to classic masterpieces as well as new and controversial art. Be sure to bring your ISIC card along when you visit the museums. Most offer reduced or free admission to students, including the British Museum in Russell Square and the Victoria and Albert Museum in Kensington. The British Museum is so large that you could spend an entire day walking through the hundreds of exhibits.

If modern art is more your style, try the Tate Gallery. Founded in 1897 from a collection of paintings and sculptures donated by Sir Henry Tate, the museum now features a complete collection of romantic, contemporary and impressionist art from Cezanne, Degas, Monet, Picasso and Matisse. Because of the extensive amount of exhibits, only one sixth of its collection is shown at a time and changes often.

A Day in Windsor
Fortunately, England is small enough that one can cover vast cultural distances in a short ride. If you have time to venture outside of London, try the town of Windsor. Only a 40 minute bus ride from central London, Windsor is the perfect place for a day trip. Windsor Castle re-opened to visitors earlier this year after a major five-year renovation of the areas of the castle damaged by the 1992 fire. The admission price of about $14 includes a tour of the State Apartments, The Gallery, Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, St. George’s Chapel and Albert Memorial Chapel.

Windsor itself has a charming avenue of small gift shops and stores in a picturesque setting along the Thames. Nearby Guildhall Island is one of Windsor’s oldest and most quaint areas. Walking along the cobblestone streets and seeing immaculately preserved medieval buildings is like a trip back in time. While in Windsor, take a short walk over the Thames into the town of Eton, where you can take a tour of Prince William’s alma matter, Eton College, during the summer. When you are there, if you hear young girls shrieking, make sure to whip out your camera and take pictures, because you can be sure, the Prince is nearby!

Image courtesy: Gregory Ferdinansen