London is a city with a population of around 8.7 million with strong Roman Britain roots – and despite Brexit, remains the economic powerhouse of Europe. Samuel Johnson famously said that when you’re tired of London, you’re tired of life. But until you’re familiar with its excellent public transport system, it can feel a little overwhelming, with its throngs of commuters and vast sprawling metropolis yet there are easy ways to get you to London from Gatwick with ease.
London from Gatwick. Things to Do
The secret is to select a few activities at a time, in and around the mighty city, rather than trying to do everything at once. Also, unless you’re determined to see every example of Mesopotamian pottery on display, we suggest that you mix and match your activities.
Choose your transport
London has excellent transport access. For example, you can fly in to Gatwick London Airport on an overnight flight from Cape Town in time for a full day of touring. It has three weekly flights directly from Cape Town and its newly renovated South Terminal offers quick access through Immigration for arriving passengers. Gatwick flies to more destinations than any other airport and in 2016 hosted 43.1m passengers, with more than 275 000 aircraft arriving and departing. From Gatwick you can take a train to London Bridge, reaching it in around 35 minutes. That puts you in heart of London and its myriad attractions around mid-morning.
Find coffee and a couch
There’s no shortage of coffee-shops – independent or franchises – and many have a comfy couch. But for something with a relaxed ambience, some good reading material and fine java, try the Holborn Grind at the Hoxton Holborn, a funky little boutique hotel in what the locals call Midtown. It’s near Covent Garden, Oxford Street and Bloomsbury and on the well-served 55 bus-route and the Piccadilly tube-line. If you prefer your coffee as a takeaway while you stroll, there are plenty of shops offering retail therapy nearby, and green spaces in which to enjoy it. Stroll further afield and you’ll reach the embankments on the Thames, with superb views of the city and its skylines.
Muse on a museum
London has a wealth of museums, many of which you can visit free, like the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth Road, London SE1 is one of the organisation’s five museums across Britain. Apart from the quality and quantity of the exhibits, part of the museum’s strength is in how it tells stories through objects and multimedia material. There’s also the Victoria and Albert Museum, regarded as the world’s leading museum of art and design. For example, its upcoming exhibition, “Ocean Liners: Speed & Style”, which opens on February 3, looks at the heyday of ocean liners – in their day, the epitome of luxury travel – through the prism of design: fashion, furniture and the engineering of the ships themselves. The exhibition examines the cultural impact of the sudden emergence of fast, safe trans-ocean crossing. www.vam.ac.uk
Afternoon tea up high
Standing nearly 310 metres tall, the Shard is one of tallest the recognisable buildings in London. Tea at TĪNG restaurant in the Shangri-La Hotel on the 35th level of the building offers jaw-dropping views around 65km across the city, with the Thames River and St Paul’s Cathedral immediately below. You have a choice of English or Asian fare, and a choice of more than 30 teas. Sue’s insider’s tip: make sure you visit the toilets while you’re there. Apart from say, the Darth Vader’s private suite in the Death Star, it’s hard to imagine any loo with views this spectacular.
Take in a show
If you’re even remotely a fan of live music, do your utmost to get seats at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in Soho, at the epicentre of jazz and blues since 1959 and an essential pilgrimage for music aficionados. The intimate supper club is lined with pictures of the luminaries who’ve performed there, including Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, Elkie Brooks, Tom Waits, Wynton Marsalis, Chick Corea and hundreds of others, and the proprietors are absolutely meticulous about their devotion to good live music. If you prefer musicals to jazz, the West End will spoil you for choice, with evergreens like Les Misérables, Mamma Mia!, Phantom of the Opera, The Lion King and Annie, and newcomers like The Book of Mormon, Wicked and Kinky Boots. Another favourite of mine is the Shakespeare’s Globe, which will transport you into a whole new theatrical dimension.