There are some cities that genuinely deserve a place on every bucket list. New York. Paris. Rome. San Francisco. And, of course, London. Yet, while this iconic city has more than its fair share of “must see” attractions, outstanding restaurants, uber-cool cafes and quirky bars, it is also a city that seems precision-engineered to stress you out. Especially if you’re visiting for the first time. Newcomers to the city, especially those from smalltown UK, will likely notice the inimitable bustle from the moment they step off the train at Euston or Waterloo. And while there are some who thrive in these busy, bustling high-pressure environments, there are many who may find the breakneck pace of England’s capital a little much. And just because you’re on your travels doesn’t mean that you don’t have to look after yourself.
As such, here are some tips to help make your city break in London less stressful…
Find somewhere to store your luggage
Just like any other major city (or any other place in the world) London is much more enjoyable if you aren’t lugging a suitcase around with you. The big smoke’s bustling streets can be a real challenge when you’re carrying your luggage on coasters behind you trying not to run over anyone’s dog (or hit yourself in the shins and knees). But if you step off the train early in the morning but don’t get to check into your hotel until mid-afternoon, you could be forgiven for thinking that you have no options.
Fortunately, when it comes to where to store luggage in London, there are more options than you’d think. Find somewhere secure, affordable and easy to find to keep your luggage and you can roam the city’s boroughs unencumbered.
Know what not to see
Like Paris, New York, Barcelona and any other major city, London has more than its fair share of “must see” tourist traps. And while some of them are genuinely worth seeing, a great many are also over-crowded and sadly underwhelming. A big part of navigating Central London is knowing what not to see. For every underwhelming tourist trap there’s a less busy and more enjoyable (though slightly lesser known) alternative.
Leicester Square, for example, is a gaudy theme park designed to deprive tourists of their money. And it features the exact same chain restaurants and cinemas you can find anywhere else at double the price. And avoid the universally underwhelming Madamme Tussaud’s like the plague. A walk along London Bridge followed by a stroll around the Tate Modern is a much more leisurely (though just as London-y) way to spend your day. Or, if you arrive nice and early, treat yourself to a coffee and some people watching in Covent Gerden (before it gets really chock-a-block with tourists). There was a time when Camden was mildly interesting, but in the past 20 years it has become a themepark designed to separate tourists and hipsters from their hard-earned money.
Know where the best quiet spots are
Even when you choose to eschew the major tourist traps, London’s relentless bustle can get tiresome. Fortunately, there are numerous quiet and serene spaces dotted throughout the capital’s centre.
Forget Hyde Park which will be thronged with tourists in all but the most torrential rainfall. Instead, wander over to the City of London near the Tower Bridge and seek out the more unassuming but beautifully tranquil St Dunstan’s in the East. This former Christopher Wren church was bombed out during WWII, but has been a much-beloved public garden since 1970. Largely unknown by tourists, it is a favourite picnic spot for locals, and a blissfully quiet oasis of calm in the heart of the city.
Alternatively, if you have a head for heights, check out the Sky Garden up in the 37th floor of the Walkie Talkie building.
Know where to look for a better shopping experience
Finally, any major city break will require you to set the time (and the budget) aside for a spot of shopping. But Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road are apt to give even the most temperate of us Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. What’s more, they have nothing to offer that you can’t find on literally any other highstreet in the country. Sure, Harrods is worth seeing once, but you won’t want to actually buy anything.
If you want a more sedate shopping experience (and one with a little more identity) head to somewhere like Seven Dials. Here you’ll find lots of beautiful boutique stores with more unique stock that you won’t find anywhere else. Alternatively, the new(ish) Coal Drops Yard in King’s Cross has lots of intriguing work by smaller designers as well as some super-chic restaurants and bars. There’s even a designer charity shop by Shelter, allowing you to do some good forn charity and grab yourself a high-end bargain.