I think by now I am quite clear to myself that hiring a bicycle is an economical and eco way to explore a European city – you could make multiple stops in a short distance, move freely without concerns about traffic and parking. Like Paris (my mission in Paris with a bicycle), Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and many more European cities, London has an extensive self-service and bike hire network in the city, Santander Cycles that could be useful for visitors, or even the locals.
So, I had a friend visiting Europe but only stopped over in London for just one and a half days – definitely not enough for actually “see” this historical and cultural mega-city in the UK! Anyway, to make sure my dear friend could see as much as possible in such a short amount of time, we spent a day with a bicycle along the River Thames and so we could move around the allies and streets.
Planning a trip for somebody else is not about me, me, me; It’s about what he wants to see and to make sure his trip has a little bit of everything (maybe with an element of surprise). The night before we went to see the Les Misérables at the Queen’s theater, had some local Chinese food at Leicester Square and walked through the Piccadilly Circus. The next morning, we began our day at Paddington, where we were staying, and luckily, it was yet another hot day in summer and the temperature jumped up to 34 degrees! I was inspired by some cycling tours for the route. In fact, I took reference from the map of “Thames Cultural Cycling Tour” and then customized :P. I got the map online from a bicycle rental company and it has 50 ‘points of interest’ on a 5-hour cycling tour starting from Gabriel’s Wharf in the West End to Greenwich.
Hyde Park > V&A
The cultural route covers a lot of famous places like the Tate Modern, Saint Paul’s Cathedral, Tower of London, Tower Bridge, City Hall, HMS Belfast, Global Wharf, Greenwich and Canary Wharf… basically, bikers could complete the route in a few hours if they just briefly stop at each spot but that was not my intention. Seeing some of these places could take a long time and it’s easily become a 4-5 day thing. First, we took our bicycle and then when went through the West Carriage Drive in Hyde Park, and took a stop at our first “checkpoint” of the day, V&A.
As it’s the first time my friend visiting London and I would like to make sure he had (and he wanted to) experience with at least one of London’s art museums. British Museum, National Gallery, and Tate Modern… to name a few! Another amazing thing about London’s museums is that many of them are free. I remembered that I spent a lot of time in the British Museum back in the days and it could be a bit overwhelming and crowded; Same for the National Gallery (and I put it as one of my favorite in the world!). Tate Modern, I love, but I thought it is not as “classic” as other fellow museums for a “first-timer”… anyway, I reckoned that V&A would be a better choice for my friend as he only had like an hour or so for this gallery. Don’t get me wrong, it didn’t get any easier for him because V&A was huge. As much as I want to see Alexander McQueen’s exhibition again (and without surprise, there was a long queue), I went back to the 50 galleries and re-visited some of the most amazing artworks in history.
Victoria and Albert Museum is a prestigious museum of decorative arts and design with a collection of over 4.5 million pieces of art in different genres and times. Visitors may find paintings of Raphael, textiles and jewelry, ceramics, sculptures, and silver from Europe, North America, and Asia. The museum owns the largest collection of Renaissance items in the world outside of Italy as well. I love the Cast Courts – as it’s an educational gallery with replicas of many important artworks in the world including Michelangelo’s David. It was interesting to see so many massive pieces, like a façade, a column, a pulpit or a doorway from different cathedrals all around the world all put together in one place.
South Kensington > Knightsbridge
Next, it was time for some exercise and photo-taking. We went along Brompton Road (passed the Harrod’s) with a lot of double-decker buses and made a turn at Knightsbridge, and then we were at the Wellington Arch at the corner of Hyde Park, and then we are in walking distance from the Buckingham Palace and the West-minster.
Our Luncheon at Sketch
Up next, it’s time for lunch! We headed to Sketch in Mayfair, a Michelin-starred restaurant that not only caters to your tongue with great food and drinks but also feasts your EYEs with art. We had a nice lunch and enjoyed a celebration that my friends prepared for me – yet I felt the main course of my visit was actually the amazing rooms in the restaurant.
The restaurant features five different areas: namely the Gallery, the Parlour, the Glade, the Lecture room & Library, and the East Bar and Pods, and each has its own theme and unique décor, serving meals, drinks and music at different times of the day. The Lecture Room & Library, the place where we had lunch, is a sophisticated, exclusive, and luxurious dining room serving lunch and dinner. The brass mirrors on the wall gave me a retro-vibe and it contrasts very well with the innovative dishes. We headed to the Gallery, which is quite a popular room in Sketch, is a modern, sweet, and all pink European Gastro-Brasserie for afternoon tea. Ladies like to gather in this room and chit-chat, and the wall is filled with witty scribbles and pictures. The Parlour is a classic lounge for breakfast and evening cocktails. Finally, the Glade is my favorite. It is a colorful woodland bar that was fully painted with an enchanted fairy-tale forest, created by artists Carolyn Quartermaine. The dark green looks mysterious and artistic, I love the color tone and the design was simply breathtaking.
Each of these rooms is Instagram-worthy, but don’t forget to take one more before you leave. Visit their bathroom, the futuristic capsules will surely get your follower’s eyeballs.
It was such a hot day and luckily it didn’t feel so bad riding a bicycle. The next thing I know we were at the West Minster Abbey and just in time for its daily service! A trip to London wouldn’t be completed without seeing Big Ben, the Parliament, and the London Eye!
Check out more about my favorite cathedrals at My Top 12 Cathedral in Europe (1)!
City of London > Tower Bridge and City Hall
Before we headed back to Oxford Circus to pick up my mother, we had one more “checkpoint” to go. YES – the Tower Bridge, baby. We continued our journey on the Victoria Embankment along the River Thames and then made our way to Saint Paul’s Cathedral. Sadly by that time, the church was already closed but we could still admire the architecture up close. Then we stopped at the Tower of London in about 20 minutes and we took our friend strolling through the Tower Bridge to the City Hall and that’s pretty much the end of my little “bicycle tour” of the day. The Potters Fields Park near the City Hall is a great place for the locals to chill out and relax, especially during sunset, I just like how the light hit the bridge. So, it was time for us to go back to Oxford street – and we saw HMS Belfast and Hay’s Galleria on the way to the Tube station. (Of course, didn’t expect to ride a bicycle from Tower Bridge to oxford circus and it would probably be very difficult to navigate a bicycle in the crowded Oxford street anyway.)
Because – I had to bring my friend to do some last-minute souvenir shopping and so we pick up mom for a quick dinner of salt beef (but it was famous, though) at the Brass Rail in Selfridges and mission accomplished!