London offers so many vacation activities, choosing what to do on a short visit to the English capital can pose a tantalizing challenge. Here are a few of this year’s highlights under specific categories that might be of some help.
One of the most interesting things to do if blessed with sunny or simply dry London weather and a great way to learn about the city’s past and present is to participate in one of the many two-hour outings organized by ‘London Walks.’ This long-established, award-winning organization offers many diverse themes, ranging from the Beatles and the ‘Blitz’ to ghosts, famous writers and Jack the Ripper, as well as leisurely rambles around intriguing districts such as Mayfair, Piccadilly and Westminster.
The ‘Chelsea: Ancient Riverside Village’ walk for example, is led by Stephanie Tickner, a well-informed guide with 20 years of experience and starts right outside Sloane Square tube station. Sixty years ago, Chelsea was working-class area, now it is one of the most expensive residential areas of London, thus the walk takes in actual and former homes of well-known figures such as American actors Vivian Leigh and Laurence Olivier, writers Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker and rock singer Mick Jagger, as well as quaint pubs, the area’s famous annual flower show and the Saatchi Gallery. You’ll also learn the origin of the word ‘bigwig.’
When finished, head for some well-earned rest at the tranquil Chelsea Physic Garden, established in the 17th century and the second oldest botanical gardens in England. Pick up a nice bottle of wine on the way and relax with a pleasant picnic under the shade of the many sturdy oaks, elms and sycamores, see the largest grapefruit tree in England or visit the herb section for refreshing inhalations.
Football being the most popular sport in England, the capital city hosts several top teams battling each other for trophies in the nation’s premier league. One of the oldest is West Ham United, which has enjoyed a loyal following during an impressive 112-year history. Playing in traditional claret and blue, the ‘Hammers’ as they are known have moved recently to the plush Olympic Stadium, so you’ll have a chance to see this fine modern venue and join with vocal supporters in a lively rendition of the club’s enduring anthem ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles.’ Buy tickets in advance just in case.
There is also fine entertainment value for children and adults a bus/train ride outside London – the Warner Bros. Studio tour of the Harry Potter 8-movie series. Consisting of two soundstages and a back-lot, you’ll learn about a host of visual and special effects techniques, see the ‘Creature Effects Department’ responsible for more than 200 mythical creatures over ten years of filming, including goblins, house-elves and an 18-foot animatronic spider and admire the intricacy of many of the costumes.
London’s West End is bristling with theatrical choice this year, offering musicals, hard-hitting dramas, teasing ‘who-done-it’ murder mysteries and slapstick comedies. Among the latter is ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ at the Duchess Theatre, a fast-moving show by the Mischief Theatre Company focusing on the hilarious mishaps of an amateur theatrical company attempting to stage a 1920s murder mystery. Miscues and falling props, including walls and ceilings, create eye-watering laughter.
‘Kinky Boots’ at the Adelphi Theatre also has attracted strong reviews. Based on the 2005 British-American film of the same name, this true story focuses on a struggling English Midlands shoe company that – with the aid of a drag Queen – turns to cross gender footwear for survival. It features some excellent songs, a strong storyline and impressive acting.
‘People, Places and Things’ at the Wyndham Theatre in Convent Garden is a performance of a very different kind. A hard-hitting drama, it focuses on the experiences of an addicted actress in a drug rehabilitation clinic. Be prepared for ‘out-of-the bed’ visual tricks.
For something completely different head to the London Cabaret Club in Bloomsbury and its dynamic dinner show entitled ‘The Best of British Pop.’ A multi-talented cast – with a surround of vivid wall videos – takes the audience on a trip along musical nostalgia lane, with several fine different singers performing hits from artists such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Queen, The Eurythmics, The Human League, James Blunt, Adele and of course, the late David Bowie. Well-executed choreography ranges from military-style maneuvers to ballet, ballroom dancing and exotic, bare-topped fire-breathers. If you order a VIP table you are seated very close to the performers as they enter and exit the stage. A disco follows the stage show, lasting until the early morning hours.