International adventure: London calling


By B.C. Rausch


Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV) to Heathrow Airport (LHR)
Duration: 10 hours, 11 minutes
Airlines: JetBlue, American, United, Delta

To earn a license to drive a cab in London, cabbies must pass a series of tests called “The Knowledge,” which requires memorizing 320 routes and 25,000 streets and being familiar with 20,000 landmarks and places of public interest.

Obviously, there’s a great deal to do in London. A cab ride certainly will help set your bearings, as will choosing your lodging based on your interests – palaces, museums, gardens, shopping. Then once settled in, start walking: There’s no better way to see London than wandering its streets, mixing the well-known sights with the off-the-beaten-path discoveries that will make your visit special. The city still partly rests on a medieval street plan, so you’ll find dozens of alleys and history-packed passageways ripe for exploration.

Goodwin’s Court (Convent Garden) is a favorite of Harry Potter aficionados, and possibly J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley. London’s narrowest alley is Emerald Court in Bloomsbury. Historic alleys abound off Fleet Street, with the most popular Wine Office Court: look for the remarkable collection of printed tiles celebrating the history of printing on Fleet Street, as well as the Cheshire Cheese pub.

London’s museums are justifiably famous, especially if you are a fan of history or the natural world—and of free admission (there are 215 free museums). The British Museum is amazing but usually very busy, especially around such attractions as the Rosetta Stone and the mummies in the Egyptian galleries.

London’s Natural History Museum exhibits a vast range of specimens and segments of history of life on Earth, from the smallest insects to the largest mammals. It is one of three major museums on Exhibition Road in South Kensington, along with the family friendly Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum, the world’s leading museum of art, design and performance.

You’ll find ample green space in London as the city teems with beautiful parks like Hyde Park, Green Park, Kensington Gardens and Regents Park. On sunny days, do like the locals and have a picnic.

Hyde Park deserves a visit of its own, whether on foot, bicycle, rowboat, or even swimming in the Serpentine. This huge and centrally located park features more than 4,000 trees, a lake, a meadow, rose gardens and the Diana, Princess of Wales, Memorial Fountain. Not far away is St. James Park, surrounded by three royal palaces, including Buckingham Palace. On its east side are Horse Guards Parade and 10 Downing Street (where the Prime Minister lives and works), while Westminster Cathedral is a short walk to the south.

Few cities rival London for shopping. Harrods, one of the largest and most famous department stores in the world (and just south of Hyde Park), occupies a five- acre site with 330 departments in more than one million square feet. Escape the crowds by getting off the ground floor and checking out some of the more unusual sections like “Shoe Heaven” or Children’s wear, Toys & Wizarding World. The food hall is amazing, offering an incredible array from seafood to exotic fruits, freshly baked breads to sumptuous desserts. It’s the perfect place to pick up that picnic or a snack.

Less formal shopping is found at West London’s Portobello Road Market, where 2,000 dealers spread over two miles sell vintage clothes, handcrafted accessories, retro items, furniture and antiques. Even if you don’t want to buy, it’s browsing heaven. It’s in the Notting Hill neighborhood, a pretty area to walk and explore.

Don’t leave London without enjoying a spot of tea. Teatime is observed everywhere, especially in the fanciest hotels, with Claridge’s an iconic favorite. The Ritz and The Dorchester are great alternatives, but book well in advance. The Goring Hotel holds a Royal Warrant and is a favorite spot of the Windsors: It’s where Kate Middleton got ready on the morning of her wedding.

And to do teatime right, order traditional English scones, which are round, not triangular, and served with jam and clotted cream.

London’s multicultural, diverse population guarantees hundreds of culinary options. Farmers markets are located all over the city and include an array of international foods, from Turkish wraps to Thai. Among local favorite restaurants: Normah (Malaysian comfort food), Ikoyi Restaurant St. James (West African inspired), and Koya Soho (an acclaimed Japanese restaurant). Ask locals and at your hotel for recommendations.

Probably the most popular cuisine in London is Indian, with chicken tikka masala considered one of the national dishes. Indian restaurants are everywhere, and it’s hard to go wrong. One local swears by Chutney Mary in St James and Gymkhana, both delicious but on the expensive side.

And if you’re feeling a little thirsty — before or after eating, from all the walking — stop in at one of the 3,615 pubs in London, or head to the Bermondsey Beer Mile near Tower Bridge, where nearly two miles of microbreweries and bars are built into the railway tunnels. The experience is as cool as the brews. And yes, the beer is served cold. LL

Even though we live in paradise, the occasional out-of-town excursion is a treat. From Hilton Head and Savannah we’re fortunate to have flight options that afford exploration of many popular international destinations rich in abundant sights, sounds and flavors. LOCAL Life brings these destinations to you through the eyes and recommendations of local foodies, shopaholics, sports fans and cultural aficionados who will ensure that your next international romp is a true adventure.

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