Back before William met Kate, before a boy wizard named Harry Potter saved the world, before German bombs ripped through the city and Jack ripped through his victims, before Shakespeare’s verses and Sherlock’s cases and Henry’s marriages, before the whole bloody thing burned down and was built up again, before anyone could have guessed what it would become, the Romans founded a small town on the River Thames and called it Londinium. Zoom forward about 2000 years to you, intrepid traveler, fresh off the Underground, sipping a pint in a pub and anxiously staring at a map of the massive city. The question is obvious: where to begin?
The official crown jewels are housed in the Tower of London, but cheaper treasures are nearly everywhere you look. There’s the touristy but worthwhile spires of Buckingham Palace and St. Paul’s Cathedral, theater in the West End and Southbank, vast and beautiful parks, and more art, literature, and greasy food than you can shake a crisp at. It seems as though every pub holds a wide-ranging history, and every museum a work of great cultural significance.
Connected by a network of convenient underground stations, containing individuals (and food!) of every race, creed, and religion, and bolstered by an eager-to-help tourism industry, London is a visitor’s paradise. Go to museums all day or bars all night, stick to the well-trodden paths of Central London or venture into quirkier regions, stay for a weekend or stay for a year—the only mistake would be to stay home.
British food doesn’t have a great reputation. Yes, it is bad for you and no, it doesn’t have complex flavors, but it is so intrinsically a part of British life that to forgo it would be a grave error for any visitor. Fish and chips, bangers and mash, tikka masala (a British invention), and warm ale are all different names for the same thing: comfort food. Neighborhoods like Brixton and Shoreditch serve up a span of ethnic cuisine, from Caribbean to Indian, while gourmet restaurants whip up inventive dishes.
“Pub grub” still rules over everything. In case you hadn’t noticed, Brits like to operate in certain set ways. There’s a reason that old war propaganda line, “Keep Calm and Carry On,” is plastered all over the place; there’s a reason the Queen still rolls down the Mall every June; there’s a reason the Brits always think England will win the Cup; there’s a reason fair Albion still uses the pound; and for that same reason, you’ll always be able to get a pie and a pint on any corner in London.