With the Independence Day fervor dying down and a slow drawl in coverage on Brexit, some may say that England is losing relevance to us here in the USA. However, having just visited the land of amazing breakfast tea and literature, I can definitely vouch for the cultural, culinary and historical significance of the country, or maybe just the country’s mecca: London.
My family arrived in the early evening, grouchy from the train ride due to our lack of a decent meal all day. After settling in at our hotel, we headed to a local pub to fully immerse ourselves in the English food culture. Little did we know, we were walking into an old favorite bar of Charles Dickens, which was just as active now as it was in the mid-19th century. The Lamb and Flag offered amazing fish and chips, bangers and mash and, of course, some great hard cider.
Even after a full meal of English classics, we couldn’t say that we had experienced the whole gamut of English food without also attending afternoon tea. The next day we had no trouble finding a place to be served, as afternoon and high tea are definitely London staples. Elaborate ceramic tea sets and towers of pastries and finger sandwiches greeted us as we walked in to our nearly two and half hour meal. We tried everything from little cups of mousse to a bite sized portion of coronation chicken, and I can honestly say I have never had better tea. So good in fact, it inspired us to go tea shopping the very next day (Twinings Tea was our favorite).
While visiting teahouses and restaurants was definitely a fun (and filling) experience, seeing musicals and plays in the West End was incomparable. Theaters line the streets, each offering a new world to escape to for a couple of hours. The sheer variety and number of productions being shown is a sight one has to see to believe. From classics like “The Phantom of the Opera” to new award-winners such as “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime,“ the West End offers something for everyone. We were treated to these shows, as well as “Matilda and Kinky Boots,” all which were fun and entertaining. We also learned the hard way that at around 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. the streets are flooded with theater-goers in transit.
As someone who has a love of the theater that verges on obsession, London felt like home, not only with the West End, but also with the streets that had once been walked by the theater greats, namely Shakespeare. Visiting the Globe Theater, modeled after the original that hosted many of Shakespeare’s classics, was one of my favorite things my family did in London. Our enthusiastic tour guide led us through the seats and accompanying museum which hosted an elaborate collection of English theater history. The theater itself was dressed for the set of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” the production that was currently being shown. The Globe was a fun window into the past through a modern lens.
London also has its own culmination of tourist activities that aren’t quite so theater driven. The London Eye, while expensive, hosts amazing views of the entire city. Westminster Abbey, while also expensive, contains beautiful stained glass windows and architectural grandeur. And of course, classic sights like Big Ben, London Bridge, Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace are definitely worth the visit, not only for the cute Instagram photo opportunity, but also for the historical and cultural significance. For an authentic London experience, I would suggest visiting a historical spot (such as Churchill’s war rooms) and then ending your day with a meal at a local flea market. The balance of locals and tourists will be just right, and you’ll be able to enjoy some food at a reasonable price, especially compared with the price of visiting tourist hotspots.
Teeming with literary, theatrical and historical destinations, London offers so much more than just tea and red phone booths. It’s definitely worth a visit even if it isn’t an EU member-state any longer.
Contact Gillian Perry at [email protected].