By Keri Potts, Special to NewOrleansSaints.com
If you’re heading to the Big Smoke from the Big Easy to see the Saints thrash the Minnesota Vikings on British soil on Oct. 2, you’ll need a game plan. London is the largest city in the United Kingdom and home to almost 9 million people representing more than 300 languages. But lucky for you, it’s also home to one of the world’s most comprehensive public transportation networks.
If your flight lands in Heathrow Airport, skip the Heathrow Express or a traditional black cab and head straight to the airport’s Underground station to ride the new Elizabeth line into London. Unveiled in June for Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee, its sleek, new cars displaying the jubilee’s signature purple and silver palette make it the crown jewel of the city’s 159-year old subterranean system.
Keep the Oyster Card you will have purchased to ride the Elizabeth line, and top it up 20 quid (the British version of our ‘bucks’) because you’ve got places to go go and no one is accepting cash in this contactless city.
Well before London was British, the Romans called it Londinium starting in 43 AD. Nods to Roman rule are sprinkled throughout the city with crumbling sections of the original city wall visible in Clerkenwell and Tower Hill. And while new Roman finds are unearthed regularly as London transforms into the next version of itself, an under-the-radar ‘must see’ is the London Mithraeum. Built over London’s lost Walbrook River, the site contains ruins of a temple to the god of Mithras built in the third century, and represents one of the most significant archaeological finds in the city. In addition to the ruins, artifacts on display include the earliest hand-written document in Britain and more than 400 waxed tablets and shards of Roman pottery.
With its fickle autumn weather, consider stopping in any one of London’s 230-plus museums. You’ve likely heard of the British Museum with its Greek Parthenon ruins and Rosetta Stone, but its unsung and equally impressive cousin – the British Library, can certainly hold its own with 14 million books and an exemplary exhibits program. View ancient texts from Aristotle and Homer, papyrus drafts of bible verse, a room dedicated solely to the Magna Carta, and some 7,000 pages of Leonardo da Vinci’s sketches, and ideas, including his notebook known as the Codex Arundel.
And after visiting some of the world’s most influential works, it’s always a good time to spare a prayer for your Saints. The 12th century Temple Church is a hidden gem tucked away off of Holborn’s (pronounced How-bn) Fleet Street, amidst the manicured gardens and squares of the ancient Inns of Court where aspiring barristers are called to train. The circular church was built by the Knights Templar in 1162 to be London’s version of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Magna Carta was negotiated there with King John in 1215 and Shakespeare featured it in his play “Henry VI, part I.” The church is open to visitors throughout the week with services held Sunday morning.
Since your legs are undoubtedly getting a workout, your credit card can too. Skip Oxford Street’s mostly chain stores for the chic boutiques of Marylebone High Street and the luxury finds of Liberty London in West End. Or try antiquing in Notting Hill’s brightly colored Portobello Road Market – the world’s largest antiques market – with stalls and arcades displaying every kind of item and collectible, from silverware to art, clothes, cameras, books and clocks.
Speaking of silverware, the London Silver Vaults nestled beneath Central London’s Chancery Lane boast the widest variety of silver offerings in the world. Among the specialty shops mostly owned by generations-deep silver purveyors, you can find antique crafted and modern silver, and jewelry dating from the 1600s to present day.
Touristing is hard work, so it’s expected you sit for a proper afternoon tea replete with finger sandwiches, mini cakes and pastries. You can’t go wrong with reservations at stalwarts Fortnum and Mason or the Foyer at Claridge’s. But if you want to elevate your tea game, head to the Orchid Lounge in the Pan Pacific London for a Singaporean-inspired ‘kopi tiam’ experience of champagne, bao and dim sum savories, followed by delicate, award-winning pastries.
If tea seems too fancy, trade your earl grey and finger sandwiches for a ‘pie and pint’ at that beloved British institution, the pub. Two gems worth the trek to East London include Ye Old Cheshire Cheese (frequented by the likes of Charles Dickens, W.B. Yeats and Mark Twain) and The Mayflower Pub (circa 1550) in Rotherhite where it overlooks the original 1620 Thames mooring point of the Mayflower before it set sail to America.
In a city not lacking for historic buildings, All Hallows’ by the Tower Church is a worthy visit. Pennsylvania’s founder, William Penn was baptized there, and President John Quincy Adams, married there. But there’s far more ancient history at the oldest church in the City of London which once housed Sir Thomas More’s headless body. Founded in 675 A.D., the church has survived plagues, the Great Fire of 1666, and both World Wars. After perusing the effigies, tombs, and memorial brass lining the nave, head downstairs to the undercroft which contains a small museum of Saxon and Roman artifacts, a chapel, and a crypt.
Upon exiting the church, walk down the hill to one of the most iconic structures in the city – the vaunted Tower of London. William the Conqueror’s enduring legacy has provided the London people with almost a thousand years of royal intrigue, terror, and more recently, celebrations. Almost anyone who was anyone in British history has passed through its gates as a guest or a prisoner. Though no longer a royal residence, royal mint or home to a lion- and tiger-filled menagerie, it remains a royal palace and houses the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom.
To reward yourself for conquering London, grab some British pasties and crisps, and head to Little Venice for a guided, BYOB boat ride. Tours progress lazily from the Little Venice basin to Camden Lock via the narrow waterways of London’s Regency era canal system. Surrounded by stately white stucco townhouses, cafes, and graceful weeping willows, the picturesque district presents a quiet alternative to the bustle of city life.
While there are ample restaurants representing more cuisines than almost anywhere in the world, sometimes, you might want a touch of home, and in preparation for the game, some familiar faces. Bodean’s BBQ – a smoked meat eatery with five locations around London – offers generous portions of Kansas City-style meats and big screen TVs showing ESPN via BT Sport.
For nightlife, the options are endless. From speakeasies such as The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town in Shoreditch and Soho’s 1940s Underground-themed Cahoots, to the musical offerings of the Ministry of Sound or performances at Battersea Barge, make sure to rest up for your very late night out.
As with any city, the best way to explore London is on foot. Almost every narrow side street leads to a charming discovery, and remnants of London’s past are woven throughout its present. So, be sure to look above, below and next to you as you explore this magical metropolis. And Go Saints!
Keri Potts is a former U.S. sports executive-turned-Londoner. When she isn’t exploring her new home on foot, she’s plotting new European cities to visit.
For more things to do while in England check out our London travel guide below:
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