Post Date:20th January 2015
Ever thought you would like to avoid the queues and dig a little deeper into what is on offer in London? Is it your second visit here and you have already seen all the main attractions on the check list? Or do you simply want to find places which are reasonably cheap and slightly off the main tourist radar? Then this is the list for you!
London dungeon v Highgate Cemetery
The London Dungeon has been one of the most popular tourist attractions in London for a while now, and you can see why. It draws on the mystique of London and its seedier side more effectively than anywhere else and has an instant allure for kids. Nevertheless I didn’t find it frightening in the slightest, and only mildly entertaining, bah humbug. But if your children are pulling on your sleeves insisting you go, then maybe the £94 for a family of four is worth it?
But if that proves out of reach of your holiday budget, and you want to go somewhere genuinely creepy, historical, and full of real dead people rather than underachieving actors then why not head to Highgate cemetery? Although one half of the cemetery – the east – is free, to get the full experience either book yourself onto one of the daily guided tours during the week, or go along at the weekend and join one of the half hourly walks. You can’t help but be amazed at the extraordinary Victorian morbid grandeur while walking through the Terrace Catacombs and Egyptian Avenue. Its like being transported into a Hammer Horror movie without the fake blood and dodgy acting. And a family of four get in for £36.
Houses of Parliament (aka Palace of Westminster) v Guildhall
Ok, definitely go in both if you have a chance. I find the history, architectural beauty and sheer importance of Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin’s Victorian gothic masterpiece a real delight. Walking through the Central Lobby, iconic Lords and Commons Chambers or gaping at the over 900 year old Westminster Hall where the likes of William Wallace, King Charles I and Thomas More have been held on trial is a truly mindboggling experience. Arguably the best thing you could do on a trip to London. But it is £25, so…
Why not head to the Guildhall in the City of London? The medieval hall is over 400 years older than the Palace of Westminster, is arguably more impressive than Westminster Hall, survived the Great Fire and the Blitz, has held major events like Chopin’s final concert, the trial of Lady Jane Grey (our nine day Queen), huge banquets, and is where the City of London’s government assemble in the Court of Common Council. This government although not as democratic as it’s Westminster counterpart has a longer history, huge power, great costumes amongst its hierarchy and even two mascots – the giants Gog and Magog who look down on proceedings! And if that isn’t enough, there’s a library housing treasures like Shakespeare’s first folio and a wonderful art gallery, underneath which you’ll find the remains of London’s roman amphitheatre. Phew! And incredibly, it’s all FREE!!!
Shard vs The Monument
For me this is an easy one. The Shard is a flat track bully. Like an enormous middle finger raised to everything and everyone else around, it is a monument to greed, a gigantic phallus which feels as welcoming as the eye of Sauron which it coincidentally closely resembles. Sure, you get great views from the top, sure, the toilets are like something out of the Starship Enterprise, but let’s not forget that this architectural blot only just scrapes in as an insignificant 87th tallest building in the world, and will probably be forgotten about 100 years from now. And all for an eye watering £25.
While the Shard is a grotesquely blatant physical reminder of the staggering financial inequality in London, the Monument is a similarly strident memorial to a defining moment in this city’s history. It stands defiantly by Pudding Lane, where the Great Fire of 1666 began, and soars into the sky like a solitary candle in an everlasting vigil to that cataclysmic event. Plenty of plus points – it was designed by the greatest of all London architects, Sir Christopher Wren, alongside the wonderful Dr Robert Hooke, has seen three London bridges in its lifetime, and rewards the energetic climber of the 311 steps with great views and even a certificate once you return to ground level. And its only £4!!!
Ripleys Believe It Or Not v Liar Liar Walking Tour
Ripley’s in London is either a lot of fun or instantly forgettable depending on your view on these things. It is the biggest Ripley’s in the world, houses over 700 items of varying degrees of bizarreness, from a knitted life-size Ferrari to an animated T-Rex. But if it’s London you’ve come to see then you’re not really seeing much by wandering around an over-large collection of bric a brac. So rather than spend £80 on a family ticket, why not check out…
The Liar Liar Tour – I may be a bit biased here as I designed it, but if you want to discover London in an entertaining, engaging and challenging way then you’ll love this unusual format for a walking tour. We wander the old and new streets of the Square Mile, plotting a course through Dickensian alleyways, old courtyards, strangely named streets, taking in the brilliantly named Cheesegrater and Gherkin, and past incredible old churches and institutions but keeping an eye out for the smaller detail. Along the way I’ll give you three facts about each place, one of which is a lie, and you’ll compete to guess which is the lie! Sooo much fun. And only £12 per person.
Buckingham Palace v Banqueting House
The Queen’s London residence has been pulverised in years gone by as one of this city’s most unattractive structures, the ugliest royal residence in Europe, and once even topped the list as the most environmentally damaging building in the city. Its walls and rooms are adorned with an overwhelming jamboree of paintings and furnishings you wouldn’t like in your own room (unless you knew their price), and even the woman who lives there prefers to spend her time elsewhere. But still, it is Buckingham Palace, so if you’re in London and want to do what tourists do then of course spend your £20 and envy the booty.
Alternatively you could head somewhere far more architecturally pleasing, and arguably more important in the grand scheme of things for the royal family. Well, certainly more memorable. Banqueting House was designed by the great Inigo Jones nearly 400 years ago, and being the first neo-classical building of its type in London with its perfectly proportioned dimensions it transformed the city’s architecture. It was once part of the huge Whitehall Palace, the monarchy’s residence for about as long as Buck House has been now. The splendid Rubens which adorns the ceiling is really something to behold, as is the cold feeling once you know that King Charles I was executed on a scaffolding just outside. Pretty good for £6.60!
Note – you can see many of these locations on our acclaimed walking tours!