First time in London, help!
November 19, 2008 8:21 AM   Subscribe

First time in London, help me plan my perfect trip! Lots, lots more inside.

So, in 2 weeks (Dec 1-5) I'll be in London for the first time. I'm going under the auspices of speaking at the Information Online conference being held at the Olympia Grande the 2-4th, so I'll have that area as my "home base". I'm staying at the Hilton London Kensington, which appears to be reasonably close to at least a couple of tube stops.

I'll have 2-3 days to actively explore, and my list of "must see" touristy sorts of things are scattered. I have to visit the British Museum, and Westminster (want to see Poets Corner and Darwin's grave). I have been told not to miss the Tower of London, and would love to see the Tate Modern. But aside from that, I'm interested in just exploring London.

My interests: I'm a huge foodie, and would love any suggestions on amazing food experiences, especially those in proximity to my hotel. I'm also a huge geek, so anything in the geek pantheon (tech, games, comics) would be interesting.

What shouldn't I miss, Mefi? Anything happening that week that I should know about? What's that area of London like?
posted by griffey to Travel & Transportation around London, England (22 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Previously. And again.
posted by Happy Dave at 8:28 AM on November 19, 2008

I loved the London Eye, but the lines can get crazy. I bought my ticket a day ahead of time, or you can buy them in line. I also liked the little church right before Westminster, called St. Margaret's, and that's where Sir Walter Raleigh is buried.
posted by soelo at 8:30 AM on November 19, 2008

I'm also a huge geek, so anything in the geek pantheon (tech, games, comics) would be interesting.

If you're going to the British museum, thats a good area for techie (on Tottenham Court Rd) to geeky (Gosh! comics on Great Russell St, Playin' Games on Museum St, etc.) so be sure to wander around that area.
posted by vacapinta at 8:48 AM on November 19, 2008

What's that area of London like?


I'm staying at the Hilton London Kensington, which appears to be reasonably close to at least a couple of tube stops.

Snark aside, in the area of transit advice, that hotel is deceptively not-so-close to a tube stop. At least, not a useful one. The closest tube stop to you is ostensibly Olympia (called Kensington Olympia on the tube map.) However, it's actually just a spur/shuttle line that runs every 20 mins or so from Earl's Court. (Bus route C1 from down the street is handier to get you to Earl's Court, and the number 9 will take you into central London and all the touristy-stuff via Piccadilly, from pretty much outside your hotel.)

Your nearest useful tube station is High Street Kensington, which is about 3/4 of a mile from your hotel. It's pretty handy to Westminster station, just a few stops East on the Circle line.

You're very close to Holland Park, which can be bite-the-back-of-your-hand pretty, and not more than a couple of miles down the road from Kensington Palace. Both are pretty places to explore.

It's not close to your hotel, but if you're a fooding and your in London, you must must must go to the Borough Market.
posted by generichuman at 9:01 AM on November 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm assuming that everything about the tube is deceptive, at least from my "how in the hell do you read this map" perspective. The transit advice is much appreciated...especially the tips about the buses that might be more convenient than the tube. It goes without saying that mass transit in the US is....different...than such in the UK, and I'm expecting a learning curve there.

Also, thanks for the Borough Market suggestion. Looks perfect, and is now a definite for a visit.
posted by griffey at 9:20 AM on November 19, 2008

If you can get there, the Borough Market is best early in the morning - like pre-8am.

If you're interested, there's actually an OK pub called the Crown and Sceptre (I think. It's got a big kind of pink sign, anyways.) right on the corner of Holland Rd and Napier, about 50 yards from your hotel. It's a nice break from the Kensington-craziness, and does unusually good Mexican food as a specialty. They also have great rotating cast of beers and your usual set of authentic ye-olde-pub-food.

Also, please forgive my shoddy you're/your use above.
posted by generichuman at 9:41 AM on November 19, 2008

In terms of events while you are there, Dec 4 is the lighting of the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree.
posted by vacapinta at 9:42 AM on November 19, 2008

Here, here and here. I love the museum scene in london!
posted by TomSophieIvy at 9:45 AM on November 19, 2008

Response by poster: generichuman: the hours on the Borough homepages say:

Thursdays: 11am - 5pm
Fridays: 12pm - 6pm
Saturdays: 9am - 4pm

What's up with that? I'll def. get there early if that's the best time, but the hours listed don't jibe with that.
posted by griffey at 10:17 AM on November 19, 2008

My bad, I might be mis-remembering the opening hours. Anyways, early is good since it can get pretty (read, very) busy.
posted by generichuman at 10:26 AM on November 19, 2008

Kensington Wholefoods Market isn't too far and is very nice (although I understand it's a US brand so it may be same as the one in your home town for all I know....)

Also not too far is Patisserie Valerie. More authentically French than English but very yummy nonetheless.
posted by dogsbody at 10:35 AM on November 19, 2008


Here is my suggestion. For the Geek in you, you should really see The Temple Church. This is a church that was built by the Knights Templar and has been fully restored. It's very cool.
posted by skewedoracle at 10:46 AM on November 19, 2008

Wear comfortable shoes as you will walk a long way to and from tube stations and between the different lines (in most stations) and indeed at your various destinations...
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:01 AM on November 19, 2008

The tube really isn't confusing. I found it pretty simple to get around.. When I went to London last summer, I stayed at the Milestone Hotel in Kensington. It was about 5-10 minutes walk away from the High Street Kensington station. It was pretty easy to get places from that station, as it was on I believe two useful lines.
posted by majikstreet at 11:50 AM on November 19, 2008

Seconding temple church and the Inns of Court. You can get the tube direct to temple from HSKensington. I work on Chancery Lane between Temple and Lincolns Inn and never realised how beautiful and properly ancient that whole area is - temple dates back to the 1300s. Check it out on a weekday though as many of the alleys and temple gardens are closed at weekends. This walk seems to have much of it covered.

If you're in the area I'd also recommend the John Soames Museum at Lincoln's Inn fields, it's mad and gorgeous and a bit like wandering through someone's head.

Oh - and if you do go to Tate Modern, go up to the top floor restaurant for some of the best views from the South Bank for the price of a coffee. And then you could hop over the millenium bridge to St Paul's Cathedral, it's a bit pricey to go inside but worth it. Climb the scary iron staircase right to the golden gallery for a jaw-dropping panaoramic vista.

Take a map and don't be scared to walk between tubes, they're pretty close together in the centre. For transport info the tfl route planner is really useful.

Oh, I love this city!
posted by freya_lamb at 1:10 PM on November 19, 2008

Sorry, I just realised you don't have that much time for exploring. In that case I'd just do all of the things you have planned on separate days. With regards to your area: head towards Exhibition Road in Kensington and you can do three of the big museums plus many other marvels in one go. Enjoy!
posted by freya_lamb at 1:23 PM on November 19, 2008

FYI the Tate Modern & Borough Market (and the London Eye) are easy to combine via a walk along the South Bank. Get off at Embankment Tube and cross the river by the footbridge. The London Eye is just to your right. Following the river to your left (away from the Eye) will take you past the South Bank (book stalls + big venues, National Theatre, British Film Institute & the Hayward Gallery etc) onto to the Tate Modern and eventually London Bridge/Borough Market. Or get off at London Bridge, visit the market first and do it the other way if you are hitting the market early. Plenty of distractions along the way too.
posted by tallus at 2:42 PM on November 19, 2008

I too was told to see the Tower of London and the Crown Jewels, and frankly I wish I'd spent the time on something else. All you'll learn is how to say "Those can't be real" in several languages.
posted by zadcat at 5:02 PM on November 19, 2008

Hey! Happy Dave referenced one of my posts about the same thing! Hooray!

The London Eye was boring. Really. Yes, it had lovely views, but it was a waste of about $50 US in my opinion.

We went to the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden simply to purchase some neato vintage posters. (They're upstairs in the gift shop if you're so inclined. And, speaking of Covent Garden, yes, it's touristy, and yes it's a little corny, but I enjoyed it the first time I went there and enjoyed it just as much when I went last month. There's a really great restaurant downstairs whose name escapes me. I do remember that last month, they had a deal for a 3 course meal for 17GBP which is terribly reasonable considering how expensive food was in many other places. Also, it's a smallish franchise shop, but the Candy Cakes cupcake shop had some visually arresting foods, and in the lower level of the market there's an overpriced but delicious creperie.

We also really enjoyed the random antiques on the Portobello Road Market on Saturdays. I think the best money I spent while I was in the UK was the $15 card of some green buttons from 1934. If I'd had more money, I'd have purchased many more buttons.

The Tower of London was boring and over priced as well.

Also... La Clique!!!!
posted by santojulieta at 5:33 PM on November 19, 2008

amazing food, close(ish) to your hotel - marcus wareing at the berkeley. book now, you might get in for lunch if you're lucky. very much not cheap, but considered amongst the best in london.

amazing food, but not really near your hotel - tayyabs near whitechapel. the most fantastic pakistani punjabi food i've ever eaten. and incredibly cheap. the queue can be monstrous though, so book ahead and arrive on time. you won't regret it.
posted by soi-disant at 9:20 AM on November 20, 2008

Sorry, this whole 'no tube nearby' stuff is complete bollocks.

Your hotel is at the bottom of Holland Park Avenue. Holland Park (Central Line) is about 400 yards up the street. Shepherds Bush (Central Line) is about 200 yards away on the other side of the big ugly roundabout next to your hotel (you can walk under it -- but I'd have second thoughts about doing so in the dark to be honest).

Another 450 yards past Holland Park tube is Notting Hill Gate tube. If you go up there on the left hand side of the road you will, of a Sunday, be quite close to the southern edge of the Portobello market weekend sprawl.

That said, if you're up on a Sunday morning I'd head off to Petticoat Lane or (especially) Columbia Road markets instead. Both are fairly close to Liverpool Street, which is also on the Central Line.
posted by genghis at 5:38 PM on November 20, 2008

I did a Jack the Ripper walk, which was fantastic. It meets outside Tower Hill station at 7pm if I remember rightly - it is taken (or was in June) by an old detective that worked on the cases & has written a number of books about them.

I also would pass on the whole London eye thing, going again. Not so much a waste of money as much as you could spend the time actually going to see something else close up. London isn't known as well as, say NY, for its skyline.

The changing of the guard was cool
As was walking past the gate to Buckingham Palace & being stopped by the guard while a car came out. I remember thinking that it would be funny if Queenie happened to be in the car, and funnily enough...
she was!

posted by MatJ at 5:22 PM on November 24, 2008

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