Very long question on things to see/do in the British winter
September 17, 2012 1:01 AM   Subscribe

Spending a month in the UK during winter, our first time there. Need your ideas and recommendations on interesting things to see/do!

My significant other and I are going to be spending nearly a month in the UK, come December. I know its not the best time to visit but we wanted to see the country during a time when it would mostly be just locals. We are very advanced planners (as you can guess from the timing of this question) and want to start building up a store of ideas and itineraries for the trip. We would like to avoid tourist traps as far as possible. Our interests are:

  • Walking - we'd love to do a couple of day-walks in the Lake/Peak districts. Is it crazy to think about doing this in winter? Any recommendations of specific walks/routes?
  • Tourist walks - we'd love to a do a couple of off-beat ones in London. I've heard about a Jack the Ripper walk. Any other interesting ones that people can recommend? Again, will it be crazy to do this in winter?
  • Cycling - we'd love to do a couple of easygoing day-long cycle tours in the Lake/Peak districts. Any recommendations on specific routes/trips?
  • Cycling in London - will it be crazy to use the Bike Share system to commute during sightseeing in London? Is it going to be a wet experience throughout?
  • Museums - V&A is definitely on the must-do list as is the National Museum and the Natural History Museum. Any other recommendations that you think will be good
  • Theatre - we're planning to catch a show or two on the Westend. Any recommendations for must-watch musicals/plays while we are there? Any one source where we can get all the show listings/dates/times?
  • Music - we love British bands such as Muse, Bloc Party etc. Is the gig scene active in winter? Any one source where we can get all the gig listings/dates/times?
  • Crafts - we'd love to visit and sample some authentic British craftsmen. We're getting some ideas from the BBC show Mastercrafts. Are there some quintessential traditional crafts and craft centers that we should look at visiting
  • Food - we're both ardent foodies and would love to sample some of the Michelin-starred restaurants in London as well as sample New British Cooking. Any recommendations based on personal experience here would be great! No Indian/Asian please
  • posted by epiphinite to Travel & Transportation around Manchester, England (33 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
    If you're going to see one show, make it Les Misérables. It's the longest running show in the West End (I've seen it 6 times!), it has everything (comedy, pathos, action, love) and both the lyrics and the score are in a different league to anything else I've seen. Otherwise, The Phantom of the Opera would be my second choice; other popular ones would be Wicked or the Lion King (for me those were more 'entertainment' rather than something that resonated with my heartstrings, but then I'm a bit of a theatre snob!). I use theatremonkey a lot for up-to-date theatre info. If you're ok with forking out £50-£60 I think you're far in advance enough to get the best price tickets (stalls F-G area, or first few rows of dress circle); for a special occasion like this I do think it would be worth it. However, if you're going for half-price discount tickets on the day make sure you go to tkts in the southern corner of Leicester Square rather than all the other retailers in the area - queue before it opens in 10am if you want the best deal of the day.

    For museums, stating the obvious but the British Museum? And the National Gallery. I'm quite fond of the Wellcome Collection as well if you're interested in medicine at all.
    posted by pikeandshield at 1:20 AM on September 17, 2012

    Walking: Definitely not crazy (I'm just planning a trip for next February in the considerably harsher environment of north-west Scotland), but be prepared for poor weather and check the Met Office Mountain Weather forecast before you go. It could be that you end up walking all day in crisp, beautiful sunshine; it could be thick fog, in which case probably stay down low (for example, walk the path around Buttermere).

    If you wanted to combine walking, cycling, and food, you could visit Ludlow, near the Welsh border in Shropshire. Famous for food (see 'gastronomy' on the wiki page), but also in lovely countryside with some excellent walking and cycling nearby. For example, you could hop the train up to Church Stretton (20 mins) and go up the Carding Mill Valley onto the Long Mynd. The hills around here are quite high and rugged, and beautiful for walking, but a good deal lower and less exposed than the peaks in the Lake District, say. Or, if you really want mountain walking, combine a visit to Ludlow with a trip into Snowdonia.

    For cycling you could check out the Sustrans pages where many free maps can be downloaded, and not-free ones can be bought. Look for the area you're interested in and see what routes are available that don't cross too many contour lines. (Or, once you've decided where you'd like to go, come back to AskMe with a specific question about that.)
    posted by lapsangsouchong at 1:29 AM on September 17, 2012

    Museums: yes to the ones youve already listed, and add the British Museum for sure. Skip the Natural History Museum if you get pressed for time.
    posted by Specklet at 2:06 AM on September 17, 2012

    Some notes from me on a few things I can comment on:

    I know its not the best time to visit but we wanted to see the country during a time when it would mostly be just locals.

    You may be disappointed. London, in particular, is very crowded during December. This is because it does Christmas really well. The city is full of lights and festivals and Christmas markets and skating rinks and shoppers.

    Walking - we'd love to do a couple of day-walks in the Lake/Peak districts. Is it crazy to think about doing this in winter?

    Not crazy at all. Quite reasonable, in fact. My wife and I went walking up in Snowdonia last February. As long as you bundle up, you'll be fine. I've lived in NYC and Boston and the English winter is much milder than the US East coast. It may snow for a few days but you don't get that protracted cold that the US has.

    Tourist walks - we'd love to a do a couple of off-beat ones in London. I've heard about a Jack the Ripper walk. Any other interesting ones that people can recommend? Again, will it be crazy to do this in winter?

    Again, this is the opposite of crazy. December in London is packed with activity.

    Museums - V&A is definitely on the must-do list as is the National Museum and the Natural History Museum. Any other recommendations that you think will be good

    The British museum. They also have a significant crafts and design collection.

    Food - we're both ardent foodies and would love to sample some of the Michelin-starred restaurants in London as well as sample New British Cooking. Any recommendations based on personal experience here would be great!

    For New British: St. Johns, Bull & Last, Harwood Arms
    Sample everything at Brixton market
    The Michelin Guide is not that reliable in the UK for good food. It seems to mostly reward poshness, atmosphere and celebrity status far too much. A much better guide is the Good Food Guide.
    posted by vacapinta at 2:09 AM on September 17, 2012

    Any one source where we can get all the show listings/dates/times?

    Time Out London is usually where I start. There'll be no shortage of good plays/musicals to see. The best musical I've ever seen in the West End, while not exactly a British experience, was the Jersey Boys - absolutely stunning.

    Museums - Any other recommendations that you think will be good
    Maybe not one that immediately springs to mind, but the London Transport Museum is really, really interesting.

    Cycling in London - will it be crazy to use the Bike Share system to commute during sightseeing in London? Is it going to be a wet experience throughout?

    I'd say it's not for the faint-hearted during rush hour. Depends if you're used to cycling in big cities. It's quite nice cycling round London in the evenings though.

    Is the gig scene active in winter? Any one source where we can get all the gig listings/dates/times?

    Absolutely. As well as the big venues, it's worth a night out in Camden Town. Lots of venues there, lots of up-and-coming-bands.

    I would also urge you to pay Edinburgh a visit. It's the most beautiful city in the UK and its second most popular tourist destination after London. If you book now, you can probably get a flight (an hour from London) for a decent price, or a train (4.5 hours).
    posted by TheAlarminglySwollenFinger at 2:39 AM on September 17, 2012

    Many years ago I took my then 8 year old niece to see a production of The Nutcracker at the Royal Opera House and they're staging it again this year. Absolutely magical.
    posted by humph at 2:52 AM on September 17, 2012

    It's not on your list but can i reommend some accommodation? The landmark trust is a charity which takes over histroic buildings, renovates and then rents them out. They are all over the UK and while they are expensive in summer they can be had very cheaply in the winter, only a few are built specifically for two but worth a look at them, you may find something comparable to a hotel on price, but with bags more character. They are all self catering.
    posted by biffa at 3:24 AM on September 17, 2012

    a) Cycling on the Barclays Bikes in December. - Yes definitely worth it. I cycle London all year round and its not that wet. - And the rain is never that heavy and usually waiting 30 mins till it stops it an option. December is a bit cold but if you have gloves its fine once you get moving. During the day it will be above zero so its not that shocking.

    b) Live Music Gigs. - There is no central listing for gigs that I've found - Time Out magazine is quite extensive but seems to focus on the larger gigs / more mainstream stuff. I often just check whats on at venues themselves. The Lexington, Cargo, 93 Feet East, The Old Blue Last, The Roundhouse, Cafe 1001, or Tourfilter london can be useful

    c) Museums: The London Museum is supposed to be rather good. But I've never been. The Tate Modern is a must. There is a lot of Art in London - small galleries and larger more touristy ones. depending on your taste.

    d) Restaurants. - For British Food: St John (Restaurant or Bread and Wine), or Medcalf (Exmouth Market) is ok. And these days there is a real renaissance of british cooking happening in Gastro Pubs and little restaurants around. Other places I'd recommend: Brawn, (Columbia Road), Anchor & Hope (Waterloo) very good british-style gastro pub. ..

    Other Activities.: Brick Lane Markets on a Sunday, Thames Barrier is rather dull. Richmond Park is great - but might be a bit cold.
    Best free view of London is probably Primrose Hill or Hampstead Heath.
    Regents Canal: There are a lot of Canal Walks around London - where you can walk on the Tow Path along the various canals. Islington to Primrose Hill along Regents Canal.

    Or there is the New River Path that follows the "New River" (1613) from North London out to the North. Parts of this are walkable. (parts are underground)
    posted by mary8nne at 4:08 AM on September 17, 2012

    Sticky toffee pudding and Winter Pimms! Do a taste test between pubs.

    (I will try to add additional museum recommendations later, but Christmas is an extremely charming time of year and sticky toffee pudding is a great accompaniment. If you like classical music, look for college or church concert posters plastered around.)
    posted by jetlagaddict at 4:45 AM on September 17, 2012

    Nothing crazy about walking the Lakes or the Peak in winter, I used to do it all the time when I lived up north & if you're lucky you'll get a clear day after snow, which is one of the best sights on earth. Make sure you're suitably equipped for the weather though.
    posted by pharm at 4:51 AM on September 17, 2012

    Wow, I don't know where to start. You're going to have a blast.

    Firstly, you don't say where you are from so I can't tell just how cold you should expect it to be. I'd compare it to the Pacific Northwest if you are from the United States. It will be rainy, it will be cold.

    With regards to music, it never stops in the UK. You can use, Songkick, any of those websites to find listings. You might have some luck with Drowned In Sound.

    Tourist Walks, if that's your kind of thing that's fine but I'd be happier just walking everywhere and soaking it in. I commute to London to work and try to walk everywhere, I hate taking the tube when most things are reachable overground.

    I'd maybe not cycle in London. I'm a confident cyclist and I love cycling, but even London I find hard work sometimes. If you're not local you might find it difficult, although not impossible. However, there are very cycle friendly cities, Cambridge is a great example and only 45 minutes from London by train.

    With regards to museums, most are free in London which is great for visitors. A personal favourite of mine is the Imperial War Museum.

    Try and get to some other cities if possible, as I mentioned before, Cambridge is beautiful, as is Oxford. Brighton is likewise and by the sea, all easily reachable from London on the train.
    posted by stackhaus23 at 4:54 AM on September 17, 2012

    Seconding TheAlarminglySwollenFinger WRT Edinburgh. The centre of town is magical in December - there's ice skating, a German market (with mulled wine and good sausages) and a fun fair, as well as all the usual Edinburgh food and drink goodies in a gorgeous setting, as well as the National Gallery, the RSA, good theatres and cinemas and the recently revamped Museum of Scotland.
    posted by Chairboy at 5:03 AM on September 17, 2012

    Best free view of London is probably Primrose Hill or Hampstead Heath.

    If you want to pay for your view, go to St Paul's Cathedral. It's cheaper than the London Eye, you don't have to queue (not when I've been there) and the view is SENSATIONAL.

    Also, for your bucks you get to look round St Paul's and it's crypts. It's totally awesome and, having been to both, I'd choose St Paul's every time. Only thing you need is solid knees - the steps up to the toppermost viewpoint go on and on! it's so ridiculously worth it when you get there.
    posted by greenish at 5:15 AM on September 17, 2012

    As far as museums go: The Museum of London, no question. There's also a nice, pithy, well-written (though maybe slightly dated now) handbook to London museums you can pick up cheaply second-hand: Andrew Wyllie's London Museums: A Handbook.

    Since you mention music and food: have you considered spending a couple of days in Manchester? Could be worth your while.
    posted by Sonny Jim at 5:25 AM on September 17, 2012

    The London Museum is great, I don't know why more people don't go. The British Museum is huge and impressive and has awesome stuff, but it's very Victorian and very broad in its collections. The London Museum is a bit more modern in that it presents you with more of narrative about one particular place and how that place changes over time. (I came out of the British Museum feeling like I'd seen a lot of neat stuff, but I came out of the London Museum feeling like I'd LEARNED a lot of neat stuff.)

    St. Martin in the Fields should be having Christmas concerts around then if you like classical music.

    Churchill's War Rooms is really interesting and a very popular tourist spot. The Imperial War Museum (of which the War Rooms is a part) is actually really good and totally overlooked. I also really liked the London Transport Museum if you like idiosyncratic museums like that (maybe for a second or third trip), there's so many "big" things to see first. I also really enjoyed seeing "house" museums ... like some random Victorian dude who used to go tomb raiding and eventually donated his fortune and his house full of archaeological junk to turn it into a museum. They're very eccentric. Sir John Soane's was my favorite.

    You can definitely walk in December but you will be wet and cold. If you've survived a winter north of the Mason-Dixon line you will be 100% fine, but do bundle up. And yes, London in December is seething with tourists.

    Even though they are tourist things, you must of course do the Tower of London (it's very well-done), and St. Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey.
    posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:48 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

    Response by poster: Wow, thanks a lot for all the detailed responses and ideas.
  • theatremonkey and Tkts sounds exactly like what we need during the trip. We were thinking about Les Miserables and Lion King. Hopefully, we'll be able to get good tickets at Tkts. Thanks @pikeandshield
  • @lapsangsouchong, thanks for the link to Sustrans. We are also taking a look at Crazyguyonabike travelogues for some inspiration
  • Great to hear from multiple people that walking/cycling in winter is not as crazy as it sounds. We're from India so it will be freezing cold by our standards but we will definitely buy some good cold-weather gear!
  • @vacapinta, thanks - we will be getting the Good Food Guide
  • Thanks @TheAlarminglySwollenFinger and @Chairboy for the Edinburgh suggestion. It's added to our ever-expanding list
  • @humph - the Nutcracker during Xmas would be awesome. Looks like its already filling up
  • @biffa - thanks for the tip on the Landmark Trust. Didnt know that they rented out, thought they just maintained the houses and gardens. Will definitely explore a night or two at a Trust house then
  • @mary8nne, thanks a lot for the suggestions. Do you have any more recommendations for local markets that we should go to? We've been recommended Portobello market for antiques for example. We would love to pick up some vintage clothing
  • @stackhaus23, thanks for the soundkick suggestion, didnt realize there was a website just for tracking gigs. This should really help

    And from Sonny Jim's post, realized that I wanted to ask for recommendations on guides as he has mentioned, that are very local and are not at all like LP/Rough Guide etc. Any recommendations here? We will be getting Rick Steve's England guide, purely because we like how he writes and his recommendations have so far worked for us

  • posted by epiphinite at 5:50 AM on September 17, 2012

    Response by poster: In terms of cities/towns that we will definitely be visiting other than London - Nottingham (and we will explore its caves if open then), Edinburgh (thanks to all the emphatic recommendations here), Cambridge, York and Cardiff. So any recommendations around these will also be great.
    posted by epiphinite at 5:56 AM on September 17, 2012

    Response by poster: Oh and I'm so sorry to keep adding on here but I completely forgot our other great obsession, which is great British TV such as Doctor Who, Monty Python, Red Dwarf, State of Play, Edge of Darkness etc. Any recommendations that will let us partake of this while in the UK would be awesome
    posted by epiphinite at 6:03 AM on September 17, 2012

    If you want a good day walk in the Lake District you could try the Fairfield Horseshoe starting and finishing at Ambleside. Great views and it's hard to lose the trail. Usual weather caveats apply of course.
    posted by crocomancer at 6:09 AM on September 17, 2012

    I live in Glasgow and am often in Edinburgh - tourists do seem to like it quite a lot. While Scotland does have a bit of a deep-fried-everything culinary reputation, there are lots of fancier places to eat here now. Lots of interest in Scottish produce, including seafood, venison, and the like.

    If you're buying train tickets and can be pretty firm about which trains you can take, you can generally get a much better deal on thetrainline than on the National Rail site. Or, consult the ScotRail site for Bargain Berths to find reasonable prices on the overnight train to and from London.
    posted by magicicada at 6:18 AM on September 17, 2012

    Best answer: For smaller museums in London:

    The Worshipful Company of Clockmakers have an excellent little clock museum. It's a little hard to find, but definitely worth a look if you like old clocks, watches and odd little mechanisms. It's an interesting little window into the Guilds and Companies themselves, which were -- and still are, to an extent -- hugely influential in shaping the City. It's very close to the Barbican Centre, a lovely little concert hall / free art gallery nestled in the centre of one of the country's most spectacularly ugly building complexes. If you happen to be there on a Sunday afternoon, also stick your head into the Barbican's rooftop tropical greenhouse.

    The Wellcome Collection is my second favourite small museum after the clockmakers'. Its core collection is an eccentric mix of medical history artifcats: ceramic dolls for teaching renaissance doctors the anatomy of childbirth, surgical tools, a couple of shrunken heads, Darwin's walking stick, etc. They also have a load of more modern stuff, including a printed and bound copy of the human genome (tiny print, bible paper, takes up most of a wall), some fancy modern lab robots, etc. A really nice balance between "eccentric dude's private collection" (which, if you like, you should also see the John Soans museum) and "thoughtfully curated museum", IMO. Their temporary collections and public lectures tend to be very good. It's just over the road from Euston train/tube station, well worth calling in.

    On the outskirts of London, Kew Bridge Steam Museum is great, with lots of beautiful engines that run throughout most days. Check their site to see whether you can get there on a day when the really big (80"?) engine is running. The guys who run it are lovely, and will talk your ears off about the machines if you give them a chance. While you're there, the Royal Botanic Gardens is just down the road, and very popular. I'm told they have heated/tropical sections, which are worth seeing in the winter.

    While I haven't (yet) been, Bletchley Park, home of the UK's codebreakers during WW2, most notably Alan turing, is supposed to be fantastic. Not in London, but easy to reach.

    Also within a day trip of London, Oxford is beautiful (especially visit Christchurch College, and avoid talking about Harry Potter unless you want locals to roll their eyes at you), and has the Pitt Rivers museum which, for me, epitomises the "eccentric rich dude's private collection" style of museum. Keep a particular eye out for the vastly overstuffed walrus (the taxidermist had never seen a live walrus, so just kept on stuffing until its skin was taut), which is a sight to see.

    In south Wales, consider the St Fagans national history museum/park thingy. Fantastic for Welsh history and culture, and be sure to visit the bakery and sweetshop. However, you'll spend most of the day wandering around outside, so it's heavily weather-dependent. In Cardiff, go to the Bay to see the Opera House and Assembly building, and to Llandaf to see the cathedral. Much of the city centre is pretty bland since being rebuilt a few years back, IMO, but near the castle you can find Castle arcade, which gives a sense of what a chunk of the city used to be like. The castle itself is pricey and "just another castle", but very well preserved and worth a look if you're not used to them!

    In Nottingham, have a drink at Ye Old Trip To Jerusalem, and go to the upstairs/back. May or may not be the oldest inn in the UK, but a pub in a cave is worth a visit. It had some nice local beers last time I was there.
    posted by metaBugs at 6:45 AM on September 17, 2012

    In Cambridge, the obvious places to visit are the colleges: I would recommend the usual Trinity (the largest, richest, most famous), St John's (the second largest etc, and I prefer its architecture) and King's (the famous chapel - beautiful in the inside, impressive from the outside). Those colleges would charge (about £5 I think), and are most typical of what you'd associate 'Cambridge' with. If you want to see some of the less touristy colleges which are usually free, I would personally recommend Pembroke (third oldest, beautiful gardens), Queens' (the old court is very tudor-esque and there's the famous mathematical bridge) or Newnham (girls' college, very Jane Austen/boarding school).

    If the weather is ok I would recommend a walk along the backs (the grassy bit on the other side of the river Cam from the colleges), and would recommend a tour on a punt on the river (this will be quite cold, though). As for other usual touristy things in Cambridge: Fitzwilliam Museum (has quite a decent collection actually); taking a 30-min walk or punt to Granchester for authentic scones & tea at the Orchard; cathedral at Ely (next stop on the train).

    For food & drink, unfortunately Cambridge isn't great for non-chainy stuff. If your budget would stretch there is Midsummer House, which is a 2-Michelin star restaurant and is supposed to be sublime. For more affordable stuff I like the Cambridge Chophouse; for lighter food there is the Eagle pub (supposedly where Watson & Crick had their epiphany), or the Rainbow Cafe, or the Copper Kettle, all around the main street opposite King's college.

    Cambridge is 50 minutes by train from London King's Cross - tickets can be bought on the day with no problems and is about £20-£30 return depending on time of day/railcard possession etc. December is a bit of an atypical atmosphere in Cambridge in that all the current students leave in the first week for winter vacation, while interviews for prospective students take place in the two weeks afterwards - so there'll be a lot of scared-looking 18 year olds & parents in the city and some colleges may have more restricted access, but this isn't that much of a big deal. Oxford is quite similar to Cambridge in terms of the 'type' of town it is, but Cambridge is smaller and cosier, and I definitely prefer it. YMMV.
    posted by pikeandshield at 6:49 AM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

    My favourite things in Britain in the winter are the beaches of North Wales - windswept and deserted and absolutely glorious. Nothing quite like fresh fish and chips in a car in the rain on a hillside carpark overlooking a winter beach (though maybe that's just me.) Maybe something like this would suit. Some good castles in the area, too - Conwy, Caernarvon and so on.
    posted by corvine at 8:16 AM on September 17, 2012

    Music - we love British bands such as Muse, Bloc Party etc. Is the gig scene active in winter? Any one source where we can get all the gig listings/dates/times?

    Those two bands, sadly, are playing here in October, and then next year. Any others that you like? If you're targetting big bands (like those two) I would suggest booking early if you can. There will be many, many, many gigs in London while you are here. As others say, Time Out, Songkick and are good (Songkick also has links to all the ticket agencies for each event). Gig times are pretty standard, doors usually around 7 or 7.30, and the headliner should be finished by around 11 at most gigs (maybe not the smaller pub gigs).
    posted by Infinite Jest at 11:59 AM on September 17, 2012

    I think everything I was going to suggest has already been covered!

    But for walks in London, I've been on a few organised by London Walks - the old pubs walk is really good.

    In terms of weather - it could be wet or it could just as easily not be! It will be cold but probably not freezing, it doesn't tend to get really cold until January/February. But again, it can be pretty unpredictable...
    posted by shiny shoes at 12:13 PM on September 17, 2012

    Just a note on walking in winter, particularly in wild country in the UK. Its a really great thing to do - but please make sure that you are properly prepared with suitable clothing and footwear as well as warm weather and waterproof gear, compass maps etc. Make sure to tell people in advance of your route as well. Too many people get caught out, particularly in Winter, when going up a few hundred metres in height can make a big difference in temperature etc.
    posted by prentiz at 12:46 PM on September 17, 2012

    N-thing the Museum of London, which is really good for getting a sense of the city.

    Take a train journey out of London to get more of a sense of the country, both the countryside, and also the suburban back gardens you'll see along the route.

    Definitely pack for the weather if you are doing city or hill walks. It will indeed by colder than India, but worse than the cold, it will likely be wet. Waterproof things are really important. Edinburgh is usually a few degrees colder than London.

    If you're in York, check out Betty's tea room. Assuming that you like cake.

    Perhaps you'll want to climb Arthur's seat when you're in Edinburgh? I enjoyed the castle, and the kirk, and the shops.

    You can apply for free tickets to the filming of BBC shows. I've seen a couple of sitcoms that way - it's good, as long as there aren't too many repeat takes of the same scene.
    posted by plonkee at 1:56 PM on September 17, 2012

    On the subject of London walks, my father and I did twelve miles of the Thames out towards Hampton Court Palace. (Admittedly, that turns out to be substantially fewer miles than the total amount on the South Bank the whole way out...we ended up catching a cab to get there before closing.) The Palace is beautiful and it's a fun couple of hours, especially if the gardens are open and it's nice enough to explore in them. The walk out was spectacular though: regattas, Saturday lunches in pubs, the rise of the city's skyline and then the downshifting to the residential crescents and curves and the posh marinas, the exposed mudflats with artefacts and rusting boats, and so forth. Really a very cool way to see various aspects of London and of the Thames itself. I believe you can also bike most if not all of the path, and there's an easy train back to London that stops at convenient points along the way.

    As an added bonus, the Royal School of Needlework is in Hampton Court.

    Much shorter was the Dickens and Shakespeare walking tour which I think was by this company but I could be mistaken. Very well-done, lots of things thrown in from other time periods, passed by many tempting wine bars. Stumbled across this one in Soho; really liked it: Aurora.
    posted by jetlagaddict at 8:16 PM on September 17, 2012

    A friend of mine just visited the UK and they picked Cambridge over Oxford because they're Douglas Adams fans. Since you're fans of Doctor Who and Monty Python, Adams might also be up your street. I think there might be an online guide to Douglas Adams-related spots in Cambridge, although my quick search didn't find it.

    Have fun!
    posted by kristi at 8:28 PM on September 17, 2012

    Following up on Infinite Jest's suggestion: here's a list of UK indie gigs from 1 December 2012.
    posted by Sonny Jim at 8:32 AM on September 18, 2012

    on London Markets:

    - Portobello Rd is over-rated these days. It is huge - goes on for ever but is mostly full of tourists.

    I"d probably recommend: in order of priority:

    1. Sunday Brick Lane Markets - lots of vintage clothes, some ready to eat food. and usual Market stalls. And there are a lot of Vintage shops and clothing shops here in general even if you can't make it on a Sunday.

    2. Saturday Broadway Market (East London / Hackney) - very very hip these days. Mostly ready to eat snacks. A few Vintage Clothing Stalls and a few Farmers Market Stalls. But for the last 5 years its been hipster central in a way. - but is getting too mainstream

    3. Camden Passage Antiques Market (Islington / Angel) - small market, with a few Vintage Clothes and Oddities. There are some cute shops here too, and some pretty good food in the surrounding restaurants. Note: this is in ISLINGTON not Camden and is distinct from Camden markets.

    4. Thursday Spitalfields Vintage Market. - also good if its raining as its fully covered. Thursdays is all vintage stuff. clothing, some really old stuff, watches, odds and ends. etc.

    The rest:

    - Camden Stables Markets (Camden)... hmm ... really a waste of time. its just for the tourists. And is mostly crap.

    - Borough Markets. - The Traditional Farmers Market - These days mostly ready to eat food and a few Farmers Markets. And jammed with people on the weekends. - open Fri, Sat, Sun I think.

    - There are loads of mid-week lunch markets like, Exmouth Markets, Chapel St, Whitecross, Petticoat Lane, But these are mostly just read to eat food. And on the weekends there are local farmers markets everywhere but again - mostly food. I think the above are the best bet.
    posted by mary8nne at 5:24 AM on September 19, 2012

    London Buses; Double Decker Upstairs Front.

    Also another thing I recommend is to take a few buses around London instead of the Tube. And try and get the double decker upstairs front seats. Its really a great way to see central London and is not as disorienting as the tube.

    Whenever my parents are over we try and take buses so they can have a look around. Its slower but is pretty easy to work out routes using TFL journey planner.
    posted by mary8nne at 5:31 AM on September 19, 2012

    Response by poster: Thanks magicicada, metaBugs, pikeandshield, corvine, Infinite Jest, shiny shoes, prentiz, plonkee, jetlagaddict, kristi, Sonny Jim, mary8nne for all your responses. We are bursting with ideas now and can't wait for our trip. Thanks all!
    posted by epiphinite at 5:03 AM on September 24, 2012

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