With the Royal Wedding just 2 weeks away, we thought it would be fitting to share this Travel Thursday piece on London, England.
A year ago, I decided to buy tickets to see the Harry Potter play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. This was both because of my being a major Harry Potter fan and also because right before that I had just had my first trip abroad. After realizing just how accessible the rest of the world really was, I was ready to explore it again.
And finally, earlier this month, the time to see the United Kingdom had come.
First off, the boroughs of London, like any other city, are very different in feel to one another. These are the understandings I got from each section.
- Waterloo is understood as a section with not much to offer due to it being by a major public transportation area, but it surprisingly has several restaurants and stores to choose from.
- Kensington had a very polished look to it due to being the home of several museums and universities. In fact, at one point I got lost while looking for a place to eat and I walked by several expensive looking apartment buildings and windows revealing lectures in session.
- Southwark is home to several restaurants and stores. This is due to it being very packed with foot traffic thanks to sights like the London Bridge, the Shakespeare Globe Theatre, and the Borough Markets.
- Soho is the kind of East Village and Broadway mix of London. In it, you can find stores, restaurants, West End play productions, and many gay bars/clubs.
Once again, there are many MANY museums in London (most of which are free), but I’ll give you a run down of the ones I visited.
The Victoria & Albert Museum displays millions of decorative arts and designs for everyone to come see for free. This includes French clothing from Napoleon’s era to Roman sculptures, metalworking structures, and even David Bowey albums.
And, this museum is huge! I planned to spend 2.5 hours exploring it all but spent that much time just exploring the first floor.
- The Natural Science Museum
While the V&A is full of beautiful and compelling works of design, the Natural History Museum is full of fun and scientific objects. This museum has a lot of fun interactive galleries about varying topics like the science of earthquakes, planetary science, dinosaurs, gems and stones, and much more.
Possibly my favorite section of the museums was the Japanese store model that you got to stand in as it went through an earthquake.
The British Museum is a classic history museum with galleries covering many cultures and time spans like Ancient Egypt and Nubia, ancient and modern Japan, Greek pottery and sculptures, and more. You get the idea.
Careful though, while a lot of this museum is free, some of its sections are pay for only.
While the British Museum is an enlarged version of the classic history museum, the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery are large versions of the classic art museums.
Not only are the rooms large and spacious but many of the artwork displayed in said rooms are several feet tall!
- The Photographers’ Gallery
While the National Gallery and British Museum are large and spacious, the photographers’ gallery is small and intimate.
That said, the two showing exhibitions were both interesting to me. When I was there, the exhibitions focused on photos from the first performance of 4 Saints in 3 Acts (a Gertrude Stein opera that was not only the first opera on Broadway but was also performed by an entirely black cast), and an exhibition of director Wim Weners’ personal polariods.
The gallery is free for all until noon and those two exhibitions will be running until February 2018, so check it out.
Then, we have Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre which, while also being a fully functioning theatre, also works as a gallery and tour spot.
I spent a good 3 hours there looking through the gallery that talked not only about the rebuilt theatre but about England and the Bankside/Southwark area during Shakespeare’s time.
In addition, I was blessed by an informed and passionate tour guide who led us all over the wet (it was raining) Globe theatre and filled us in on its history.
- Warner Bros./Harry Potter Studio Tour
Lastly, this tour wasn’t quite a museum in name but it works just like one. If you are a Harry Potter fan and in the London area, you should check out the Warner Bros. Studio Tour.
It was just another brilliant money move from JK Rowling and Warner Bros. to make the old filming studio where the movies were made into a tour spot. The location now acts like a museum where several people pay a good amount (about 40-something pounds or approximately 50-something dollars) to stand where they (the cast and crew) once stood.
The tour is decked out with character costumes, information videos from cast and crew, and the original sets like the Gryffindor dorm room (sadly not the Slytherin dorm [Slytherin for life]), the Great Hall, and even the Forbidden Forest. Plus, plenty of moving machines like the spiders, the Weasley’s car, Buckbeak, and even broomsticks, keep the magic alive.
I think this tour is worth the ticket. Though, buy it ahead of time if you’re in a big group (and maybe a few weeks to a month ahead if you’re traveling alone like me).
As I said, the whole reason that I came to London was because I had Cursed Child tickets, and the show certainly didn’t disappoint.
While the writing won’t emotionally move you deeply, the script did triumph in giving the production ample room to explore and be creative with how to put magic on the stage.
The play was fun and exciting to watch, especially when (slight spoiler) a dementor came flying towards the audience. If you are lucky enough to get a ticket, I highly recommend you go see Cursed Child in London (or maybe in New York City or Sydney when they get their own productions).
The indoor theatre at the Globe is very small and intimate. It’s shaped like a U with the stage being a square starting halfway inside that U and ending against the wall of the two prongs. I, unfortunately, ended up with possibly the worse seat in the house. I was against the wall on the right prong of the U, so half of the night I watched the actor’s sides or backs.
That said, I still absolutely enjoyed the musical Romantics Anonymous, which is about a girl in France who wants to make chocolate but has social anxiety. Through circumstances, she ends up working at a chocolate factory for a man who also has social anxiety. The two then sing and cook their way into each other’s hearts.
As romantic (and some would say disgusting) as that synopsis makes the musical out to be, it’s also a very hilarious story with a talented ensemble where everyone, but the two leads, plays a track of multiple characters. I highly recommend you see this show if you’re in the London area sometime before January.
Of course, there is lots of great food to eat in the city of London. You could either stop at popular markets like the Borough Market or the Camden market, you could research and plan for a place to each, or you can just walk around the city and stop at whatever place gets your interest.
If you want to know what kinds of food London’s serving up, I’ll leave pictures of some of the food I ate as well as the restaurant names and links to their websites.
Viet Pho in Soho
La Roma Bella in Soho
MotherMash in Soho
Balans Soho Society Cafe (you guessed it) in Soho
Applebees Fish in Southwark
Masters Superfish in Waterloo
The Gay Spots
Lastly, we come to the gay spots. To save you time, I’ll briefly describe what the gay places that I visited are here, but if you want to read a more in-depth description of what my time was like at each place you can read that over at my GayPopBuzz article.
It seems that there is a company that owns a group of bars and clubs in London’s Soho borough and they’ve tagged on the “G-A-Y” label on those spots. Each spot has a slightly different feel and serves a different purpose towards the kind of night you‘re looking to have.
G-A-Y Bar is the early night bar that you can hang out at with friends for drinks and dance. But, while G-A-Y Bar closes at midnight, G-A-Y Late stays open until 3 am. This club serves as a nice spot for dancing and enjoying the company of others while still being a relatively intimate setting (until possibly closer to closing time).
Then we have Heaven which is within the G-A-Y label but also appears as an entirely different venue on its own. The space in heaven is pretty big with two large dance areas (one with two floors) and several bar areas.
This is one of those gay clubs that’s so popular that it no longer belongs to just gay men. While straight people are found in all three spots, this one feels the most like a club with a gay twist and not a “gay club.”
That said, this happens to be my favorite spot out of the all the gay spots I visited and I highly recommend you check it out if you visit London. Just expect a long wait if you’re getting in on a Saturday night (I waited an hour).
Now, this last entry is for the mature audience out there. Younger readers be warned. You won’t (or shouldn’t) get in.
Pleasuredrome is a gay bathhouse with a mixed reputation. Some say it used to be great and isn’t any more while others say it’s at a “good enough” phase. I went in and thought it fit that latter description.
There’s nothing amazing about this bathhouse but it seemed relatively clean (despite a slight B.O. smell), the staff were either courteous or just working in the background, and the other men were alright (mostly of 30+ ages but there were a few men in their 20s when I went there).
I had a wonderful time in London. I could write so much more about my eight days in the UK and there's even plenty that I missed out on.
That said, if you’re looking for a fun time, good food, hot guys, and interesting stuff to see, London is a great city to explore.
I’ll have to visit again, even if it’s just to revisit said hot guys.