London Touring

river at night

Over the past few weekends, I’ve been taking great pleasure in rediscovering London and its myriad of charms. The problem with growing up somewhere is that it becomes too familiar; everyday, humdrum. I’ve never marvelled at the sights I see tourists gaping at, cameras clicking and fingers pointing. I’m too busy trying to push through the crowds to get to where I’m going. I have my favourite museums, shops, restaurants and so on, and I rarely venture far outside of what I know; I use London as a meeting point rather than as a destination to be properly explored.

regents park

Well, all that is going to change. My eyes have been opened. I took a walk around Regent’s Park, finding beautiful gardens and vistas I had never come across before. Who knew there was a gorgeous riverside oasis? Who knew there were amazing iron flowerpots that date back to the 1700s? Who knew there were so many multicoloured tulips and lavish fountains and lovely historic buildings?  I certainly didn’t. It was like stepping outside of London altogether and resurfacing in a countryside idyll filled with the scent of wildflowers and the sound of birdsong. On a sunny afternoon, its charms can’t be beat. How could I have never explored its depths before?

regents park fountains

I then walked from Regent’s Park to Marylebone, discovering the marvellous 221b Baker Street on my way, whose shop is a veritable treasure trove of Sherlock Holmes related items you never knew you wanted. Wandering down the stately Portland Place, I spotted a blue plaque memorialising the former London home of Frances Hodgson Burnett and found out that the impressive art deco RIBA headquarters has free public exhibitions, which is something I am definitely going to take advantage of on a regular basis. I then met the lovely Miranda at this excellent pub that serves delicious wine and tapas just off of Marylebone High Street, and was reminded that there are plenty of wonderful, low-key restaurants in interesting locations that are definitely worth leaving my usual stomping ground to visit. On our walk back to the tube, Miranda showed me Marylebone High Street in the twilight; I have never been before, despite it being where my granddad and his family used to live before they were bombed out in the war. It was hard to imagine my working class urchin of a grandfather strolling down such a grand parade of shops; the beautiful Daunt Books is the crown amongst many upmarket jewels, along with some very tempting restaurants, such as Orrery, above the Conran Shop, which has a beautiful rooftop view and will definitely be frequented by Miranda and I at some point.

daunt books

The following weekend, I took a dear friend who is shortly returning to her native New Zealand for a final tour around London. She wanted to see the City, so we walked from Charing Cross through Victoria Embankment Gardens – which has a ridiculous amount of very interesting statues – past Two Temple Place and up to the Twinings Tea Shop, which is just on the corner of the Strand and Fleet Street. Twinings Tea has been in the same spot forever, and it’s a tiny, narrow little galley of a building where you can not only buy tea, but also learn about the history of tea. After a browse, we walked up to St Paul’s, passing a series of beautiful and impressive historic buildings on the way. I was disappointed to find Temple Church, home of the Knights Templar, closed, but I will go back to see it again. We stopped to take in the pretty garden inside the atmospheric ruins of the bombed out Christ Church Greyfriars before popping to see the poignant plaques dedicated to those who died saving the lives of others at Postman’s Park. We then hopped on the tube to Baker Street and headed back to Marylebone High Street, as my friend wanted to visit Daunt Books, and I had never been either (I know! Can you believe it?!). I gasped out loud when we walked inside; never have I seen such a gorgeous space for selling books. The huge galleried back room with its floor to ceiling stained glass window is like a church, and a more fitting place for the worship of the written word could not possibly exist elsewhere.

postman's park

We wandered, ate, then headed back to the West End to catch a musical, followed by dinner at the always atmospheric Polpo and a romantic, twilight walk from Southbank to London Bridge, marvelling at the beautiful views along the river and enjoying the buzz of the crowds taking advantage of the mild evening. As we passed the Globe and saw the hundreds of audience members enjoying their interval drinks, talking and laughing about the performance they were in the midst of watching, saw  boats making their stately journeys up and down the river, and the softly glowing dome of St Paul’s in the distance, we were struck by how timeless the scene was, and how many people for centuries must have seen and experienced what we were experiencing just at that moment. There really is nothing like London. As the saying goes; tired of London, tired of life!

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31 comments

  1. I was so excited to read this entry, because a friend and I are traveling to London this August!! You’ve given me lots of ideas about what to see and do while we are there. We are also going to Ireland. Could you possibly nip over and scout out Dublin for us??😉

    1. Oh wonderful! I hope you will have a brilliant time – how could you not?! I’m glad I could give you some good ideas. Oh I would love to – I’m actually planning a trip to Dublin this summer – if I go before you I can give you some tips!

  2. I enjoyed reading this and your other travel writings in and around London. So much history and so ready to be discovered by the willing and the patient. I also liked your concept of taking the time to discover your own city…. Many thanks

  3. “The worship of the written word” – what a wonderful expression! Your article saw me taking many notes in my diary on a special “what to do in London” page, saved for a later visit…
    Your enthusiasm about interesting and beautiful places right in front of our door inspires me to take a different look at Munich next time – or devote a whole day to visit places I never saw before. As always, it’s quite inspriring to read here – thank you!

    1. What a compliment! I’m glad you liked the suggestions and that I have inspired you – I hope you will have some wonderful Munich adventures. That’s a city I’d like to visit!

  4. So glad you finally made it to Daunt Books!! It’s so gorgeous. Yes, I definitely want to return to Orrery – that rooftop bar is lovely. I’m sure you’d adore it too. Don’t forget we have another Quo Vadis meal to book in as well😉 London is the best! x

    1. So much fun to have! I can’t wait for Orrery. You put me to shame – I’ve lived here all my life yet most of the places I love now are places you’ve shown me!🙂

  5. Oh heaven, you’re making me so much miss London. I still have never been to Postman’s Park, and I’d never even heard of Daunt Books. I wish I could come to London TOMORROW. I miss it dreadfully.

  6. One of the most pleasant walks I have ever taken was that suggested by you after we had met for tea at The Wallace Collection. Do you remember? I never imagined London could be so quiet.

    1. I do! I’m so glad you had the time to walk and enjoy those lovely streets. Think of how many more wonderful walks you could have if you revisited this summer!

  7. We often don’t appreciate what is under our noses. The thing I love above London is that you just walk and see so many interesting and historic sights

  8. I’m just back from a few days in London, only my 2nd trip. London is just so dense and deep. At nearly every turn there is something that has some resonance for me, just as a long-time reader. I guess it’s time to start planning the next trip!

    1. Oh yes – there’s so much history and significance wherever you go. I am constantly making new discoveries after all these years! I hope you can come back soon!

  9. If I ever make it to London, I would love to have a tour guide like you. You find the most intriguing places. I think it is always fun to return to the familiar spots with a first timer. How rewarding to watch another person’s enjoyment of things familiar. It is fun to see things through “new” eyes.

  10. Those are wonderful pictures of bits of London that I did not know about. Makes me want to go back. Though I have to admit there are probably many bits of my home town (Sydney) that I have also completely overlooked.

  11. Lovely pics to cheer me up. Thank you! I had never been to London, I first wanted to visit Dublin so badly, but it seems like the perfect city for me. I’m glad you had fun🙂

  12. Daunt Books…my favorite place on earth! I am very fortunate to live right around the corner. They have wonderful book talks – was there last night for Diana Darke discussing her book ‘My House in Damascus: An Inside View of the Syrian Revolution’. I highly recommend the talks (check out their website for authors and dates), and the book!

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