London. Just the name conjures up images in my head of glittering skylines, ancient-looking brownstone buildings and vast stretches of concrete coupled with snow-draped trees.
It's a metropolitan city unlike any in the world.
The melting pot of England comes to a boil in London, where sections of the city have been carved out by different ethnicities and some neighborhoods are a mishmash of everything under the sun, where everyone lives together under the same dreary sky.
People huff past most of the year, barely recognizable underneath layers of jackets, coats, scarves, hats and gloves. The sheer amount of people can be intimidating, but most Londoners have a wicked and dry sense of humor that makes them adaptable, affable and polite. Nowhere else have I seen the hospitality of a city's residents, better than in London.
It's a city of breathtaking contrasts; it's got something for everyone. It's a city that revels in its glorious past while taking assertive steps forward into the future. It has thousands of family-friendly options for those who have children, and many more options for those going alone or with a significant other. The shopping is at once a bargain and more expensive than almost any other city you will visit. (Where else could I find delicious steaming hot dosas from India for pennies on the dollar and a pen from Harrods's that cost as much a year's college tuition, in the same day?)
There are some downsides to this beautiful city as well. The weather, for one, can be unbelievably unpredictable. In one day, I experienced the brutal London weather changes that are still confounding. It was foggy, rainy, sunny, then snowy all in a matter of only 24 hours. It was odd to keep adding and shedding the multiple layers throughout the day, but what else can you do but laugh?
There are also parts of the city where the traffic, bustle and noise can become almost too much. Coupled with tourists from all over the world, the city streets can become mazes of people and you can become easily lost among the crowd. Thankfully there is the Tube, the underground subway system that will conveniently drop you off at almost any location within the vast city.
There are certain things that are a must-see when visiting London. One of them includes the Eye. Imagine a giant observation wheel with domed glass spheres hanging at each spoke. They give magnificent views of the city, and afford a nice relaxing way to enjoy the city, (as well as a welcome respite from the cold.) You hop on and off, since the wheel never stops. Just make sure not to look down too often, since the Eye reaches up nearly 443 feet high.
A few other cant-miss spots include London Tower, Parliament, (where protestors are always stamping about,) Trafalgar Square, the grand Westminster Abbey, whose beauty will leave you breathless, the luxurious elegance of Harrods, and of course, Big Ben in all its splendor.
While these are the requisite spots each visitor must go, there are some ways to see London and really get to know the city. The best tip? Get lost. Get on the Tube, get off at a random stop, and start exploring the city for yourself. If you must, take a guidebook and a map/ This isn't necessary, though. Venture into those side streets where other tourists don't go, and soak in the true London.
You can enjoy the people-watching, the window shopping, the double-decker buses that zip around the city, and the speed with which everything and everyone moves. This city is full of history at every turn. Ancient buildings collide with modern-day skyscrapers, but it somehow manages to all fit together.