Christmas Carols & Middle Eastern Music on Oxford Street

The melting pot doesn’t end in London, though.

“Immigrants have been coming here for over a thousand years,” said our guide, Debbie. The self-professed “London girl” also warned us that we’d all be foreigners in Kent, England, our destination 44 miles southeast of London.

We started in the historic Leeds Castle, owned by monarchs and lords from the 13th through the 19th centuries and purchased and restored by American heiress Lady Olive Baillie in the 1920s.

Leeds Castle, Kent, England

After she died in 1974, Lady Baillie left the property to a foundation created to preserve it for posterity. The building, grounds and personal effects are evidence of a time when American industrialists and cash-strapped European nobility were a match made in heaven. 

Lady Baillie’s Apartments

Up next, Debbie and our lovely coach’s driver, Joan, took us to the historic White Cliffs of Dover. The white chalk natural monuments are as much a homecoming sight for those sailing back to England today as once they were for “Dunkirk” survivors amid WWII.

White Cliffs of Dover

For the third and final leg of our day trip, we made it to the UNESCO World Heritage city of Canterbury. Syrian, Thai and Mexican food trucks—and even a Bolivian guy selling Andes-themed Christmas sweaters—lined the street market leading up to the medieval Canterbury Cathedral Gate.

Canterbury Cathedral Gate

The breathtaking Canterbury Cathedral, also known as “England in Stone,” has witnessed the country’s history for centuries. Magna Carta negotiations, royal weddings and funerals, WWII bombings and the martyrdom of Thomas Becket are some of the momentous events that happened within its walls. 

Canterbury Cathedral

Back in London, holiday angels flew over locals and visitors from all walks of life at the tune of Christmas carols and Middle Eastern music played by stores and the ubiquitous pedicabs from Oxford Street to Spitalfields Market.

Spitalfields Market.

The deliciously-looking Brazilian Bolinhos de Bacalhau, Napolitan pizzettas and other international delicatessen tempted me as I walked through the market and towards Brick Lane, the district famous for its Indian and Bangladeshi curry houses. 

Brick Lane, East London

London will treat you to the world’s flavors on one corner and its grand heritage on the next. Holborn Bars, a Victorian red terracotta building in Camden, stands on the site of a former Inn where Charles Dickens lived and worked.

Holborn Bars

Built by the Knights Templar, Temple Church is another national treasure. The official house worship of the Inner and Middle Temples, two of London’s four ancient legal colleges, holds the tombs of prominent jurists, knights and priceless works of art like the Blitz-surviving 12th-century Victorian tiles. 

Temple Church

The railings of another historic church, Holy Sepulchre London, preserve London’s First Drinking Fountain. The Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association built it in 1859 to end the cholera outbreaks that had plagued the city until then.

London’s First Drinking Fountain

Sir John Soane’s Museum is one of those underrated London treasures. The former Lincoln Inn Fields, home of the famous Neo-classical architect, remains untouched since the Victorian days, and it’s renowned for its sepulchral chamber with the Egyptian sarcophagus. 

Sir John Soane’s Museum

While Central London’s Christmas decorations are a must, it’s worth taking the trek to Christmas at Kew, where talented artists combined the botanical beauty with neon lights and holiday music to achieve spectacular, immersive experiences like The Palm House and The Cathedral.

Christmas at Kew

Last but not least, visiting Warner Bros. Studio Tour London — The Making of Harry Potter was genuinely magical, as was witnessing how the phenomenon based on J. K. Rowling’s famous books keeps bringing together people of all nationalities, races and generations.

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London — The Making of Harry Potter

Happy Christmas, England!

The British Museum Is Not My Favorite

Here are other London museums to visit instead.

The British Museum (photo featured) is not very popular.

It’s not only because they hold the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Parthenon Marbles, both of which have had official repatriation claims from Egypt and Greece, respectively (to be fair, other American and European museums rightfully face similar requests).

Parthenon Marbles

Despite boasting an imposing building and a carefully curated collection, it feels sterile, almost corporate, as though not honoring the global cultures but Britain’s bygone imperialism.

The Rosetta Stone

But, as Bill Bryson wrote in “Notes from a Small Island,” “Museums, particularly small, unlikely museums, are something the British do remarkably well.”

And there’s no shortage of them in this fascinating city.

London Transport Museum

Like the London Transport Museum, which awakens the inner child, it shows the history of the transport system—from the first boats that crossed the River Thames to tube stations used as bomb shelters during the two World Wars. 

The Cartoon Museum

Or, The Cartoon Museum and its collection of political satire, from the Industrial Revolution to Brexit.

Museum of Brands

Another favorite, The Museum of Brands, will quench your nostalgia thirst with the history of consumer products and their influence on British culture.

Museum of London

History nerds will gag at The Museum of London, documenting the city’s existence from pre-historic times to the present—including a remnant of the Roman wall.

Sherlock Holmes Museum

For private eye fans, the Sherlock Holmes Museum offers quite the immersive experience at 221B Baker Street, “one of the world’s most famous addresses.” 

Churchill War Rooms

The Churchill War Rooms, located in the bunker where the then prime minister directed WW2 during Hitler’s advance on Europe, is the next best thing to a time machine.

Natural History Museum

Also known as “The Cathedral of Nature” because of its larger-than-life skeletons and Charles Darwin-collected specimens, the Natural History Museum will take your breath away.

The Wallace Collection

Richard Seymour-Conway, 4th Marquess of Hertford, left The Wallace Collection to his illegitimate son. The widow of the latter donated it on the condition that the nation would exhibit it free of charge. 

Royal Observatory

The Royal Observatory at Greenwich is worth the hike not only for the dramatic 1893 equatorial telescope but also because the historic Prime Meridian passes through it.

National Gallery

There’s something to be said about walking, free of charge, into one of the world’s most flawless painting collections, with works from the mid-13th through the 19th century, from Giotto to Cézanne. Hat tip to The National Gallery.

V&A Museum

The Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum‘s most impressive part is its fashion collection of over 14 thousand outfits and accessories from the 1600s to the present. The Met Gala could never.

Somerset House

Somerset House, the Neoclassical complex built on the site of a Tudor Palace, refreshingly hosts exhibitions about current topics like climate change and colonization.

Royal Academy

The Royal Academy (RA) of Arts is an independent and privately funded institution led by artists in its iconically gorgeous Burlington House building.

After I did visit the British Museum, I took a cab back home. 

Assuming I didn’t speak English—even though I had indicated my address before boarding, as it’s custom in London—the driver looked through the mirror and slowly (and loudly) modulated, “WH-ERE-AR-E-YO-U-FRO-M?” 

When I replied, “New Yawk City,” he somewhat mortified apologized, “I’m sorry, sir. I thought you were from the Arab states!” 

“Don’t apologize. I take it as a compliment,” I replied, for Arabs are not only beautiful people, but their civilization’s achievements are second to none.

London off My Beaten Path

I hopped on the brand-new Elizabeth line, and it took me to places I’d never been before.

Yes, London’s classic landmarks never get old, and sometimes it is good to experience a place beyond its metropolitan limits. But the point of big apples like London, Paris or New York is that they always have something new to offer.

St Dunstan-in-the-East

Like St Dunstan-in-the-East, the church between London Bridge and the Tower of London was mostly destroyed on WW2 and then turned into a beautiful public garden where open-air services are occasionally performed. Commercials and video clips are routinely shot. 

Elizabeth line

The brand-new Elizabeth line was a delight to ride. Not only because it’s fully air-conditioned, but also because the trains are so quiet that you wouldn’t spill a martini even when they’re breaking.

Elizabeth line station

The frequent, hybrid and rapid rail service between central London (Paddington) and its suburbs (Heathrow to the west and Shenfield to the east) features accessible stations and trains, including cushioned seats and platform edge doors.

Elizabeth line Canary Wharf station

I rode it to Canary Wharf, where I transferred to the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) to reach the historic southeastern town of Greenwich, where many London gems are. 

The Painted Hall

Including The Painted Hall in the Old Royal Naval College. Also known as The British Sixtine Chapel, the grand room’s walls and ceilings covered with dramatic images depict the United Kingdom’s ascension as a dominant maritime global empire.

Tulip Stairs

Nearby, the Tulip Stairs are the crown jewel at the Queen’s House. One of the most Instagrammable places in Britain is also the location of the infamous 1966 “ghost” photograph

The Royal Exchange

Greenwich’s wealth of treasures makes it impossible to cover it all in one day, so more on that later. Meanwhile, back in central London, I headed to the financial district to experience a couple of sights that—while not “hidden”—had been out of my radar up until then.

The Royal Exchange

I had seen TikTok videos of the beautiful Royal Exchange, the 16th-century-designed former stock market now a luxury shopping center and eatery, but seeing it in person was short of breathtaking. 

The Sky Garden

I also stopped at the nearby Sky Garden. The observation deck/food plaza on the 36th floor of 20 Fenchurch Street (“the Walkie-Talkie building”) was perhaps the most touristy of them all, despite the stunning views of the London skyline on such a bright and clear summer day.

Leadenhall Market

My favorite in the neighborhood, Leadenhall Market, was established in 1321. Its elaborate roof structure, painted in pastel colors, makes you feel like you just stepped into a Wes Anderson movie.

The Museum of London

A 10-minute walk away, the Museum of London brings to life the city’s history, from pre-Roman through Edwardian, Victorian to modern times—including vivid representations of the Great Plague, the Great Fire and other calamities suffered by Londoners throughout their long history.

London Wall

The most impressive part is the juxtaposition of the London Wall (erected c. AD 200) and the glass high-rises outside the museum and close to the Barbican Centre.

The Vaults

And speaking of the future, The Vaults, London’s underground home for urban, alternative and immersive art, lives in Waterloo station‘s unused tunnels. Also known as Leake Street graffiti tunnels, the one and only Banksy founded it.

Tomb of Karl Marx

Highgate Cemetery in the borough of Camden opened in 1839 to solve overflowing and unsanitary church graveyards. The Victorian funerary ground is best known for being the final resting place of Karl Marx.

Tomb of Radclyffe Hall

Come for Marx and stay for Queer icon Radclyffe Hall. The author of the controversial Victorian lesbian novel “The Well of Loneliness” is buried in the Batten family’s vault in the Circle of Lebanon on the western side of the cemetery. Singer Mabel Batten was Radclyffe’s first lover. 

Museum of Brands

I live for London’s niche museums, and the Museum of Brands in Notting Hill didn’t disappoint. It documents the history of consumer culture through items from the Robert Opie Collection (The most extensive collection of British nostalgia).

Museum of Brands

Curated and installed as a “Time Tunnel,” the museum takes you on a 200-year journey of the history of labeled packaged goods, from Victorian times to the present, describing how brands, shopping habits and human behavior have evolved and their influence on pop culture and movements like the emancipation of women.

Thames River Sightseeing

For my second visit to Greenwich, I hopped on a Thames River Sightseeing boat, which took my fellow tourists and me through the historic waterway on a bright, beautiful day to admire London’s landmarks—including a brief stop at Tower Bridge/Tower of London.

Prime meridian

After a 40-minute ride, we disembarked at Greenwich Pier, from which I climbed the 15-minute steep Greenwich Park hill to the Royal Observatory to witness the legendary Prime meridian.

The Great Equatorial Telescope

The Royal Observatory is also home to The Great Equatorial Telescope, installed in 1893.

National Maritime Museum

At the bottom of the hill, the National Maritime Museum documents Greenwich’s maritime history from the landing of the Romans through the times of Henry VII, Charles II and beyond.

“Canaletto’s Venice Revisited” at the National Maritime Museum

A temporary exhibition, “Canaletto’s Venice Revisited,” shows paintings from the 1700s by artist Giovani Antonio Canal representing Venetian life and how it inspired British and other global citizens to visit the beautiful Italian city.

“Canaletto’s Venice Revisited” at the National Maritime Museum

It also examines how over-tourism and rising sea levels threaten the Venetian way of life, as evidenced by the sale of colorful plastic boots to keep tourists’ feet dry during acqua alta

“Africa Fashion” at the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum

Not an “off-the-beaten-path” destination, the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum stands out for its outstanding permanent collection of the history of fashion, which could give the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute a run for its money.

“Africa Fashion” at the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum

A couple of temporary exhibitions are prime examples. The first, “Africa Fashion,” displays legendary couture, photographs, textiles, music and visuals from the mid-20th century to the present, exploring the artists and movements parallel to decolonization and its impact on a global scale. 

“Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear” at the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum

The second one, the Gucci-sponsored “Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear,” highlights male fashion through the history of men’s clothing and the way designers, tailors, artists and their clients have molded masculine gender identities.

“Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear” at the Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum

The British’s eagerness to question themselves is at the core of these exhibitions. Often dubbed a “dying empire,” the bruised United Kingdom seems determined to keep treasuring its glorious past while looking toward the future. 

Keep calm and carry on, indeed.

America, This Is London Calling

The dismantling of women’s rights feels even more surreal from across the pond.

The BBC anchorperson reported that the United States Supreme Court had ended the constitutional right to abortion, leaving the door open to reverse access to contraception and marriage equality.

Punch to the gut.


I went to Hyde Park to walk it out.

The bright summer day felt bittersweet.

BST Hyde Park

They were setting the stage for British Summer Time Hyde Park (BST Hyde Park) that, between June 24th and July 10th, would feature the likes of The Rolling Stones, Eagle and Adele as headliners.

I felt that, at the time, a more apt corner of the park was the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain, designed by Kathryn Gustafson and Neil Porter and inaugurated in 2004.

The beautiful and sizeable Cornish granite oval stream surrounds a lush grassy field. It is accessible to and popular with children as the designers intended to pay tribute to Lady D.

Water flows from the highest point of the fountain in two directions, cascading, swirling and bubbling before meeting in a calm pool at the bottom, representing two sides of Diana’s life: “happiness and turmoil.”

Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain

London is all about its parks. That’s why defying the public transportation strike, I decided to go beyond the central part of the city and headed out to Parliament Hill Fields.

All it takes it’s a 45-minute double-decker bus ride to feel like one’s in the country side.

The stunning grassy public space, one of the highest points in London, from where the Houses of Parliament are visible on a clear day, embraces ancient woodlands, playgrounds and a training track.

The site is also home to a remnant of Victorian times: the iconic Hampstead Heath Ponds—London’s early water supply, and sex-segregated swimming ponds, which opened in the late 1890s and continue to serve the community today.

Highgate Men’s Bathing Pond

Ever the WW2 nerd, I needed to get my fix by visiting the Churchill War Rooms, the historic underground complex that housed the British government’s command center during the Second World War from August 1939-45.

Highlights: The Map Room, where British Army, Royal Navy and Air Force officers produced daily intelligence for the King, Prime Minister and the military Chiefs of Staff. And The Cabinet Room, from where Churchill famously declared: “This is the room from which I’ll direct the war.”

Churchill War Rooms

Another crucial rooms were the Transatlantic Telephone Room, from where Churchill spoke securely with US President Roosevelt. And Churchill’s office bedroom included portable BBC broadcasting equipment from where the prime minister made four wartime broadcasts.

we would rather see London laid in ruins and ashes than that it should be tamely and abjectly enslaved.

Winston Churchill
Churchill’s Transatlantic Telephone Room

One of my favorite things about London is that it’s the next best thing to a time machine. And so, from the mid-20th century, I transported myself back to the 1000s by visiting Westminster Abbey.

The place of coronation, marriage and burial for monarchs, and where prime ministers, poets, writers and military leaders are buried or memorialized, also houses the historic King Edward’s Coronation Chair, the Chapter House and the stunningly beautiful Medieval Wall Paintings.

Coronation Chair, Westminster Abbey

From a young fisherman having a vision of St. Peter to Benedictines worshipping on the current site to monarchs establishing it as a Royal Church, Westminster Abbey has a rich history.

My favorite part is the Poets’ Corner, inaugurated in 1400 with the burial of The Father of English Poetry, Geoffrey Chaucer. In 1740, William Shakespeare was commemorated with a memorial that reads “buried at Stratford-on-Avon.”

Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey

Other famous artists buried or memorialized at the Abbey include Lord Byron, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Lewis Caroll, Oscar Wilde and T. S. Eliot.

This town’s breadth and depth of culture encompass not only a multitude of eras but also genres, as demonstrated by The Cartoon Museum—a hidden gem in the Fitzrovia neighborhood of Central London.

The Cartoon Museum, London

With a political satire-oriented permanent collection exhibiting original works from the 1700s on, I was in heaven. Some of the most important historical events, including “recent ones” as WW2, the Watergate scandal and Brexit, have been brilliantly immortalized by the most legendary British cartoonists.

The museum runs events and has books on the history of cartoons, comic strips and graphic novels available for research upon appointment.

The Cartoon Museum, London

It also holds temporary exhibitions, one of which, “Love Stories,” includes previously untold LGBTQ+ narratives commemorating Pride Month. I’m in love. It’s my new favorite London museum.

The Wallace Collection is another hidden gem in the heart of Marylebone. The former townhouse of the Seymour family, Marquesses of Hertford, it’s named after Sir Richard Wallace, who—along with his descendants—built the extensive collection in the 18th and 19th centuries.  

The Wallace Collection, London

The collection features Old Master paintings by Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Velásquez and many more, as well as pictures, miniatures, decorative arts, arms and armor and furniture.

Richard Seymour-Conway, 4th Marquess of Hertford, left it to his illegitimate son Sir Richard Wallace, whose widow bequeathed it to the nation. The collection opened to permanent public view in 1900, and admission remains free. 

“The Laughing Cavalier” by Frans Hals, The Wallace Collection

I contemplate an imminent return to my country and wonder whether, after leaving the United States, I would be coming back to Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale’s” dystopian Republic of Gilead.

And, once again, these somber thoughts contrasted with my bright surroundings: a picture-perfect day at Regents’ Parks’ Queen Mary’s Garden.

Queen Mary’s Garden, London

The gardens, contiguous to the Japanese Garden Island with its waterfall, a couple of bridges and statues, it’s famous for their 12,000 roses and are beautifully arranged circularly.

I saw the BT Tower perfectly framed by the flowers. The icon, which serves as orientation in the city, gave me some perspective about the situation that looms across the pond: my fellow Americans, do not keep calm and carry on!

BT Tower, London


21 London Sites Where History Comes Alive

“Londinium,” as the Romans called it, it’s basically a giant, open-air museum.

From the monumental cathedral destroyed by the Great Fire of 1666 to the street where epidemiologist John Snow fought a vicious cholera outbreak to the square where WW2 American soldiers mingled with “Piccadilly Commandos,” walk through 21 of the most iconic sites of the fascinating open-air museum called London.

1. Buckingham Palace:

Many of us think of the late Queen Elizabeth II’s former residence as the administrative headquarters where she welcomed prime ministers since Churchill. It’s also in our collective memories as the British people’s gathering place during celebration or mourning. It became the official residence of the British monarch in 1837 when Queen Victoria ascended to the throne.

2. Elizabeth Tower:

“Let’s go to London to see the Elizabeth Tower,” said no one ever. However, that’s the official name since 2012, when what was initially known as Clock Tower (Big Ben was always the Great Bell) was renamed to mark the Diamond Jubilee of the late Queen Elizabeth II.

3. St Paul’s Cathedral:

Its dome has dominated the city’s skyline for over three centuries. Its original site was dedicated to Paul the Apostle in AD 604, and it became the Gothic Old Saint Paul’s Cathedral during Medieval London. Destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, the structure was restored, and it has since held the funerals of Prime Ministers Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher, peace services to mark the end of WW1 and WW2, and the wedding of Princess Diana and Prince Charles.

4. The Albert Memorial:

Walk anywhere in London, and you’ll have a good idea of the Victorian influence and the fairytale love story between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, who died in 1861 at just 42. Immortalized by places like the Victoria and Albert Museum, this legacy is more vivid in The Albert Memorial, located north of the Royal Albert Hall in Kensington Gardens—near where another famous royal couple, Prince William and Princess Kate, live.

5. Green Park:

Formerly the exclusive playground of the Royal Family, the Royal Parks, which include Hyde, Regent’s, St. James’s, and Green Park, became public with the introduction of the Crown Lands Act of 1851. Green Park stands out for having no lakes or buildings and fewer flowers. Historic gossip claims it’s because Queen Consort Catherine of Braganza caught Charles II picking flowers in the park for someone else.

6. British Museum:

Famous for holding the Elgin Parthenon Marbles and the Rosetta Stone, which have been the subject of repatriation claims, the British Museum was established in 1753 based on the collections of Anglo-Irish physician and scientist Sir Hans Sloane. He transferred his collection to King George II, who 1753 established the museum freely open to the public.

7. Carnaby Street:

Close to Oxford and Regent Streets, Carnaby Street dates from the 1600s. It became famous in the 1850s for being where physician John Snow first applied epidemiological principles after a vicious cholera outbreak. In the 1930s, it became a multicultural jazz hub. In the 1960s, it resurfaced as a hippy music and fashion district. The Marquee Club, where The Who and The Rolling Stones performed, is one of its most iconic establishments.

8. Primrose Hill:

It is located north of Regent’s Park and has one of the best views of the Central London skyline. Its name dates from the 15th century, attributed to Archibald Primrose, who oversaw the expansion of The London Underground. In 1678, it was the scene of the murder of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey which caused an anti-Catholic uproar that led to the hanging of three Catholic laborers at the top of the hill.

9. Soho:

From farmland and aristocratic playground to sex district and gentrified entertainment mecca, this popular area is now the headquarters of leading film companies and London’s LGBTQ+ neighborhood. Unlike New York City—whose SoHo is an acronym for “South of Houston (Street)”—the name “Soho” was first referenced in the 17th century and possibly derived from a hunting or war rallying call.

10. Somerset House:

You may recognize it from “James Bond” and “Sherlock Holmes” films. Somerset House oversees the River Thames from the south side of the Strand thoroughfare. Its site originally belonged to the Duke of Somerset, who was overthrown and executed before he even had the chance to inaugurate the building. The Crown then possessed the structure and used it as a residence for Queen Elizabeth I. In 1604, the site hosted negotiations for the Treaty of London, which concluded the Anglo-Spanish War.

11. Museum of Natural History:

The Museum of Natural History houses life and earth science specimens, including some collected by Charles Darwin. “The Cathedral of Nature” is a spinoff of the British Museum. The building itself is as spectacular as the collections it holds. The permanent exhibition includes dinosaur skeletons, such as the blue whale hanging from the ceiling.

12. St. James’ Park:

In 1532, Henry VIII purchased from Eton College what was then a swamp. In 1603, James I drained and landscaped it. Later, Charles II redesigned it in the classic French style. Subsequent monarchs kept transforming it, including adding Marble Arch and the Mall to its perimeter. It’s a dwelling place for joggers and tourists taking a break before or after visiting the adjacent Buckingham Palace.

13. London Eye:

Also known as Millennium Wheel, The Eye is the UK’s most popular paid tourist attraction, with over 3 million visitors annually and 30 million riders as of 2008. Often compared to Paris’ Eiffel Tower, both were temporary attractions that became permanent and transformed the cities’ landscape by becoming synonymous with it.

14. 10 Downing Street:

It’s the official residence and executive office of the Prime Minister and the First Lord of the Treasury and—along with the adjoining Cabinet Office at 70 Whitehall—the headquarters of the Government of the United Kingdom. Over three centuries old, it contains over 100 rooms, including the prime minister’s private residence on the third floor, a kitchen in the basement, and numerous offices, conference, sitting, and dining rooms. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher dubbed it in 1985 “one of the most precious jewels in the national heritage.”

15. Covent Garden:

The famous district associated with the former fruit-and-vegetable market and the Covent Garden Opera House has a rich history: fields until the 9th century when the Abbot of Westminster Abbey appropriated it as arable land. By the 1550s, King Edward VI granted it to John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford, who started its urbanization. In the 1650s, a small open-air fruit-and-vegetable market had developed—followed by a period when numerous taverns and brothels proliferated.

16. Kensington Palace:

Aside from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Kensington Palace is also the official residence of the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, the Duke and Duchess of Kent, and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent. Its extensive history goes from joint monarchs William and Mary, who used it for health reasons, to Queen Anne, to The Blitz of 1940—when the palace was severely damaged. The late Price Phillip used it as a residence leading up to his wedding to Queen Elizabeth II.

17. Leicester Square:

Historically known as an entertainment district—theaters sprung in the 19th century, which then became cinemas in the 20th—Leicester (pronounced “Lester”) Square started, like many other iconic sites in London, as fields and then the property of the Abbot and Convent of Westminster Abbey, and subsequently the Crown. In more recent times, it served as a venue for punk rock bands like the Sex Pistols.

18. Regent’s Street:

A major shopping street named after George the Prince Regent (later George IV) runs north to Piccadilly Circus. Then it turns left to head north again to meet Oxford Street at Oxford Circus. It was one of the first planned developments in London after the Great Fire. It is also a location on the British version of Monopoly, as a group of three green squares with Oxford Street and Bond Street.

19. Trafalgar Square:

The public square was established in the 19th century to commemorate Admiral Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar, the British naval victory in the Napoleonic Wars over France and Spain in 1805. The site of political demonstrations, including Bloody Sunday, the square is also a popular place of celebration for the holidays (since 1947, Norway has donated an iconic Christmas tree).

20. Piccadilly Circus:

“London’s Times Square,” because of its neon signs and the fact that it is a central tourist hub and traffic intersection, was established in 1819—almost a century before the Crossroads of the World. During WW2, it became a playground for American soldiers stationed in England and the many sex workers who frequented the area (dubbed “Piccadilly Commandos” by the intelligence agencies).

21. Tower Bridge:

Another relatively newer London icon, Tower Bridge (not to be confused with London Bridge), was built between 1886 and 1894 across the River Thames close to the Tower of London to give better access to the city’s East End. Inaugurated by Edward and Alexandra, Princesses of Wales, it became a strategic target during WW2, eventually hit, damaged, and temporarily put out of commission.

How I Got Out of My London Comfort Zone

I don’t know why it took so long to book one of those London Day Trips, but I’m glad I finally did.

London became my second home in 2016 when my better half had to relocate for work, and I decided to stay back in New York City because of “career-building.”

You know, that thing we used to do before COVID.

As if taking the relationship long-distance wasn’t stressful enough, this was happening during the Brexit years and the advent of Donald Trump in politics.

So my first cultural lesson in “Britishness” was internalizing that ubiquitous WW2 motto: “Keep calm and carry on.”

In one of my first trips to London in the summer of 2016

That period turned out to be a blessing in disguise because the consecutive long-weekend trips across the pond ignited a passion for discovering and eventually travel blogging.

I’d drag my bag to work every Thursday of every long weekend. In the afternoon, I would head to JFK or Newark to fly to the other side of the ocean, only to return home that Monday.

Talk about jet lag on top of an emotional roller coaster.

I’d explored famous sights near the neighborhoods we’d stayed at: Marylebone, Notting Hill, Fitzrovia.

I was so afraid to get lost because of how new and intimidating everything seemed, especially Londoners’ custom of driving and walking on the left side of the road.

Regent Street between Oxford and Piccadilly Circus: one of Central London’s most iconic spots

And, unlike most of Manhattan, which was laid out as a grid, making it easier for first-time visitors to find their way around, London’s urban planning seemed random.

However, the highly efficient public transportation system, the London Underground or “tube,” along with its iconic double-decker fleet of red buses, optimized traveling from one famous sight of the city to another.

And so that’s how I got to know Oxford, Regent & Carnaby streets. Soho, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester (pronounced “Lester”) Square, Trafalgar & Parliament Square (where Elizabeth Tower, a.k.a. Big Ben is). The London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Saint Paul’s Cathedral, Tower and London bridges, etc.

Covent Garden: a popular market to spend an afternoon shopping, eating and watching street performers

As much as these sights may seem, it’s just scratching the surface. Buckingham Palace, Marble Arch, Hyde and St. James’ parks, Shoreditch, Primrose Hill, I got to also experience these and many more Instagrammable places in subsequent trips.

But I also seemed to stick to the city, afraid to explore the unknown, risking getting lost.

That’s the thing about comfort zones.

It took me seven years, but I finally made it beyond London, and I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner!

Something I highly recommend to even first-time visitors: set an entire day aside and book one of those famous London Day Trips. They’re worth every single penny.

But do it well in advance. Don’t wait until the last minute as they’ll book up: an excuse to keep postponing it and go to another familiar city place instead.

Windsor Castle: just one of the gorgeous experiences that await once one decides to leave one’s London bubble

I used Evan Evans Tours (shoutout to Karina and Simon!), but if you Google “London Day Trips,” you’ll find an abundance of tours by multiple companies with different itineraries and price points to “suit your fancy,” as the British say.

My tour was £27, not including the entrance fees to a couple of the attractions (about £25-30 each), food, souvenirs and tips! It takes the whole day’s price up to around £140.

The itinerary was as follows: meet at Victoria Coach Station at 8:00 AM, first stop at Windsor Castle, then Stonehenge and finally a walking tour of the town of Oxford.

You’ll especially love the last one if you’re a “Harry Potter” or “Lord of the Rings” fan.

They’ll put you back in Central London at around 6:30-7:00 PM, just in time for pub hour!

As our guide said, people leisurely spend the entire day at each of these places, and by booking the tour, we had decided to see three of them in one day, so time and efficiency were of the essence.

No ticket for the walking tour of Oxford. Windsor and Stonehenge were about £27 each

It took about 75 minutes to get from Victoria Coach Station to Windsor Castle, and we had about two hours to roam around the grounds. Capture all your content here as they don’t allow photography inside.

Highlights: the grand Royal Apartments and Queen Mary’s collection of miniatures and dollhouses (complete with working elevators and tiny bottles of Dom Perignon!).

Suppose you’re one of those persons who need to take their time reading every description at museums. In that case, this tour is probably not for you and you’re better off going independently by train.

I’m not kidding. The coach won’t wait even 5 minutes for you. Pretend it’s a cruise ship.

Another helpful tip was to buy a cold sandwich (never hot food or “something smelly like Mc Donald’s”) to eat at the coach during the trip to the next destination instead of wasting precious time sitting at a local cafe or restaurant.

Like The Statue of Liberty and Monalisa, Stonehenge felt smaller in real life

Stop 2, Stonehenge was an hour and a half from Windsor Castle. As our guide, and later my partner, said: It used to be a place along the road where people stopped, checked out the “rocks,” and moved on.

Now, however, was a world-class exhibition, complete with a fancy visitor center designed by Australian architect Denton Corker Marshall, from where shuttle buses take you to a prudent distance from the actual monument.

Another 120 minutes to capture media, rush through the shop and cafeteria, and meet our guides at the coach park to proceed to our final destination: Oxford.

If you feel like you’re in a movie, it’s because this place has been the location for many films and TV programs, including “Harry Potter,” “Sherlock Holmes,” and “The Theory of Everything.”

And aside from being the location of these and many other works of fiction and literature, it’s been the place of education for artists like Dame Maggie Smith (“Downton Abbey”) and “The Lord of the Rings” author J. R. R. Tolkien.

Perhaps this is another place to take time and explore at one’s own pace. It was already around three o clock by the time we arrived, and all stores, libraries, and museums close at 5 PM.

Nonetheless, highlights include the Martyr’s Memorial, University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Christ Church College, Bodleian Library and—the one I would personally like to visit and spend some time in—The History of Science Museum, where they treasure Albert Einstein’s blackboards.

History of Science Museum at Oxford

One last thing: Oxford students and townspeople have hated each other since at least 1167. But there’s only one thing they seem to agree on: their disdain for tourists. So proceed with caution.