Living in the UK, I have been to London many times for both work and pleasure. I’ve visited most the popular attractions over the years. This weekend I returned to London again with the intention of seeing The Lion King on the West End. Whilst we were there we also had time to explore some other attractions.
Horniman Museum and Gardens.
I had never heard of the Horniman Museum and Gardens. We discovered it on a “quirky things to do in London” list, while looking for something different to do in the capital. Accommodating an overstuffed walrus it sounded intriguing and we jumped on the Overground and headed to Forest Hill. The museum housed all sorts of interesting artifacts including a whole host of stuffed animals, sarcophaguses and African tribal masks.
The museum isn’t huge, especially when compared to the colossal size of the Natural History Museum for example, but I think this made it more appealing. The size wasn’t intimidating and it felt manageable. You felt as though you could see everything without missing out and without having to dedicate days to exploring. It was well laid out and wasn’t over crowded, even on a sunny Saturday.
The museum itself is free but the Aquarium and special exhibitions are ticketed. We decided to buy tickets for the Aquarium and also the Dinosaurs: Monster Families exhibition (due to my love of all things dinosaur!). The aquarium was quite small and only offered a small selection of species but the jelly fish, tropical frogs and seahorses were charming to see. The Dinosaurs: Monster Families exhibition was interesting but more so for families with younger children. There were plenty of interactive elements, as well as a sand pit were kids were able to dig up dinosaur bones. The exhibition does not offer anything new or ground breaking for adults but is definitely a pleasant creative environment for children.
Outside, the 16 acres of gardens are beautifully kept. As an added bonus every Saturday morning there is a locally sourced farmers market. There are numerous sections to the Gardens including Meadow Field, the Sunken Gardens and my personal favourite: the Sound Garden. The Sound Garden is inspired by one of the collections inside the museum and gives you the opportunity to get hands-on with world instruments on a massive scale. Supposedly, it is built to encourage children but as a ‘big kid’ I found it most therapeutic. There’s plenty to see in the Gardens from Totem Poles to Sundials and breathtaking views of the city. If the weather suits it would be easy to waste away some quality time here.
Jumping on the DLR we headed to Greenwich, which is a part of town I had never ventured to before. Our destination was the Royal Observatory. The observatory is found on the top of the hill in Royal Greenwich Park and from here you can see stunning views of the London Skyline and the River Thames.
The Astronomy centre is an interesting journey into space with many interactive displays to encourage you to delve into the universe beyond earth. The interactive Galleries are free but there is a cost (£7.50) for the Planetarium and I would highly recommend it.
The Peter Harrison Planetarium is the only Planetarium in London and is currently showing Asteroid: Mission Extreme. As you enter the circular building and recline into a comfy chair you are taken on a epic journey through space and time. The narrative is given by Sigourney Weaver and tells of how asteroids present a danger to life on Earth. It was a fascinating experience; even the large group of Brownies fell to silence as they found themselves engrossed in the story presented on the ceiling above them.
The West End
I had been promised a trip to see The Lion King for Christmas so we had headed to Leicester Square to see if a bargain could be found. There were plenty of kiosks advertising ‘half price’ or ‘discounted’ tickets but of course they were often for mid-week matinees. We did however, get some tickets for the same evening and also picked up two tickets for Book of Mormon.
I love the theatre, whether here in the UK or abroad. There’s something almost magical about it that can capture my imagination and keep me entertained for hours. I have been lucky enough to see many plays and musicals all over the world including on Broadway but for some reason I had never seen anything on the West End.
I’d chosen to see Lion King as it was a childhood favourite film and I had only heard rave reviews of the production. I was not disappointed. The production was spectacular. The puppetry was second to none and the music was fantastic. A vast array of animals came to life in front of my eyes and there were a whole host of genius production techniques to keep you wondering where to focus your attention. The music brought back fond memories of the Disney film I have seen so many times but there was nothing repetitive about this production; it was thoroughly engaging until the last second.
The Book of Mormon was an entirely different creation, equally enjoyable but for completely different reasons. Written by the creators of South Park it is a modern musical and a religious satire. The plot follows Mormon missionaries as they attempt to share their beliefs with a remote Ugandan village. The show is hilarious and faultlessly presented. It is perhaps controversial in parts and is not without some offensive and vulgar language. More than that though, it is incredibly clever. The lyrics are equally intelligent and comedic. I have no doubt that some people may write this production off as offensive however, I Personally feel, that isn’t the case. Of course, if you are looking to be offended, mentions of genital mutilation and rape in a comedy setting, can give you plenty of cause but within the context of the script there is no intention to merely be offensive. The satire, though sometimes savage, is sophisticated in its humour. It is a show that is certainly not to everyone’s taste but it is an all-singing, all-dancing, fun filled evening of entertainment.
While in London we took a trip to somewhere I have been to numerous times and never tire of: Borough Market. It is one of London’s most renowned food markets and offers quality British and international produce. Aside from the products, the atmosphere of the market makes it one of the places you can return to again and again. The traders all seem to share the same passion for food and drink and want to share their enthusiasm with you. For something great to eat, fresh ingredients or a delicious snack this is somewhere not to be missed on a trip to London.
Travel and Accommodation
London is huge, we all know that but it is so easy to get around. The underground, national rail, DLR and the like, make getting from one place to the other simple. If you can avoid the horrendous rush hour crush the underground is the perfect way to travel from place to place with ease and relative comfort.
Hotels in London can be extortionate. There are plenty of hostels but we usually opt for an Airbnb. You can find a room for much less than a hotel and it often offers great transport links into and around the city. If you’re like us, we spend most the day exploring so only need somewhere to sleep. We never see the point in spending a lot of money of fancy accommodation so Airbnb is our first stop.
London hosts so many attractions and opportunities. I have been many times and still haven’t experienced them all. My best advice is to do your research; find out what it is that interests you most and seek it out.