It's business as usual for the tourism industry in London this week. After the harrowing and devastating events of July 7th, undeterred tourists have defiantly returned to celebrate the spirit and resilience of the city. Rather than a somber atmosphere, London is in full summer mode with events, festivals, parties and parades.
London has a deserved reputation of being one of the most expensive cities in the world. Not only is the pound sterling marked high against every other currency, but it is especially trouncing the American dollar. Those in the know about London will tell you it isn't a problem -- there are plenty of things to do here that will cost you nothing, or at the very least, next to nothing. Summer in particular is a great season to take advantage of free and cheap deals while enjoying the best of London.
For art lovers and culture vultures, you'll be pleased to learn that many of the city's museums now offer free admission -- The British Museum (www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk, Russell Square or Holborn Station) with its magnificently restored 19th century Reading Room serves as an escape from the city's hustle and bustle. Additional museums which now offer free entry are The National Portrait Gallery (www.npg.org.uk) and The National Gallery (Charing Cross or Pimlico Station), The Natural History Museum (www.nhm.ac.uk) and The Victoria & Albert Museum (www.vam.ac.uk, South Kensington Station), The Science Museum (www.sciencemuseum.org.uk) and The Imperial War Museum (www.iwm.org.uk, Lambeth North Station). The Tate Modern (www.tate.org.uk, on the South Bank near Waterloo Station) offers modern art and free exhibitions along with extended operating hours, making it a perfect end of the day outing or a romantic spot for an artistic rendezvous.
A Saturday lunchtime favorite for London natives is a visit to Borough Market located on Borough High Street (London Bridge Station) near the River Thames and Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. Here you can sample all kinds of food from Thai treats to Italian olive oil, organic fruits to French cheeses. You certainly won't leave the market hungry, and it's a hot spot for spotting celebrity chefs. You may not think of a department store as a tourist attraction, but Harrods is definitely one of the main "must see" destinations in London. Obviously entry is free, but a visit to the Harrods Food Hall will be rewarding with free food samples. Although these meals aren't free, Top Table (www.toptable.co.uk) is a fantastic restaurant website, with 50% off meals and two-for-one offers on select restaurants and eateries around town. For a truly British culinary experience at budget prices, eat at a traditional Fish and Chip shop -- visit www.yell.com for listings of 100 of them in the London area.
Music and Dance
The area around the South Bank of the River Thames (Embankment Station) comes alive during summer time with free concerts and entertainment. Live music, dance, performance, art and children's events make up summer's Coin Street Festival (www.coinstreetfestival.org), a culture-based series of events with various international themes, which takes place by the Oxo Tower. Also at South Bank, during July and August, the floors, foyers and terraces transform into stages for performances by the top names in UK music and dance. All events are free and program details can be found on the website (www.southbanklondon.com). There are also several major festivals that take place in the London Metropolitan area over the summer months. The Notting Hill Carnival (www.mynottinghill.co.uk/nottinghilltv/carnival1.htm), a celebration of Caribbean culture and heritage is known as the biggest street party in Europe and this year it takes place on Sunday August 28 and Monday August 29. For listings of other festivals, visit www.whatsonwhen.com.
On old tradition still popular with tourist is the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace (www.royal.gov.uk, Victoria Station). The Royal family remains a tourist attraction in itself as people are fascinated by the scandals, intrigue and oddities. Not that you'll actually see them, but you may be lucky to catch a glimpse of the Queen or her royal motorcade if she makes a public outing.
Parks and Gardens
An old standard, the parks of London are a wonderful place to pass time, people watch and take in some fresh air. Speakers Corner in the northeast corner of Hyde Park (Marble Arch Station) is the traditional site for public speeches and debate. It comes alive every Sunday morning and daily at lunchtime with soap box rhetoric, political pontificating and lots of heckling. St James Park (www.royalparks.gov.uk, St James Park Station) features a stunning lake that is home to flocks of well-fed geese and ducks. Locals and tourists flock here to feed the birds. The park also boasts what is arguably the best view of Buckingham Palace from the bridge over the lake. During the summer, the park hosts free lunchtime and evening concerts. Battersea Park (www.wandsworth.gov.uk/Home/LeisureandTourism/Events/whatson.htm, Sloane Square) is a small park with many great free events. From jazz concerts to free Capoeira Dance Classes, this centrally located green oasis also feature, The Pump House Gallery, a visual arts museum with free exhibitions.
Flea and antique markets like Portobello Road (www.portobelloroad.co.uk, Ladbroke Grove Station), Camden (www.camdenlock.net/markets.html, Camden Town Station) and Spitalfields (www.spitalfields.org.uk, Liverpool Street Station) may offering perusing for free, but it is unlikely that you will leave without picking up at least a trinket, a priceless antique or a memento of your visit.