by IRIS MAURICIO
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Perhaps it may sound like a cop-out since it is located in London and not somewhere farther, but I really do have a soft spot for the London Sea Life attraction. My fascination with water and the creatures living in it goes back all the way to my childhood, and growing up, documentaries about water were always my favourite ones to watch, especially David Attenborough’s Blue Planet (which BBC announced early this year is finally going to have a sequel!). Since moving here, my reasons behind visiting London Sea Life has become more than just because I like anything water-related. Now, it is mostly because it is turned into a place that helps quell my homesickness when the feeling of missing the Philippine beaches and seas becomes almost overwhelming. I love swimming in our waters back home, and after finally getting certified for diving last December, my connection to them has only grown stronger. It made living so far, particularly difficult, since I only come back to the Philippines once a year during Christmas break, but London Sea Life helps ease that ache the rest of the time, and I am always grateful for that.
At the risk of sounding like a paid tourism advertisement, I am being honest when I say that it is difficult to find yourself bored in this city. After having lived here for about three years, even my natural inclination to stay indoors (being the homebody type of person I am) can not help but step aside every once in awhile in the face of busy, bustling London. There is always something going on somewhere, with seasonal events exploding in number during the summer and deep into the winter. And with such a wide variety of them, it is impossible not to find at least a handful that match your interests.
If you are new to the city, it can be incredibly easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of cool activities you can suddenly access, and that is okay. I am not ashamed to say that I definitely was. But fear not! Because for this blog, I have assembled a small list of things that can get you started on adventuring in London.
One of the best times to visit the UK is during summer, because not only is the weather (usually — there is always the classic grey English weather here and there) much warmer and optimal for sightseeing, but also because so many more things are happening, especially in London. I am currently on summer break now, and so far, Central has been the place to go for a nice day out with friends, because that is where all the action is taking place.
It almost goes without saying that one of London’s best selling points as a city are the amount of theatres residing in it. From small independent theatres hosting new and experimental plays, to the large and famous theatres known for popular and longstanding productions and musicals, London has it all. You will be familiar with world-renowned names like Phantom of the Opera or Les Misérables, which have remained showing in London’s West End for almost 30 years, and also maybe with relatively newer ones, like Aladdin and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. No matter what your taste is, there is bound to be a performance you will find you can enjoy. Personally, I am still working on building my play and musical repertoire, but I have enjoyed the handful I have seen so far, and definitely eager to spend my summer adding more to the list.
CHECK OUT MUSEUM EXHIBITS
One of the best things about London is the fact that the museums have free entry, which encourages tourists and locals alike to come and learn something about art and history. The general halls of the museums in the city are open for public perusal, but it does get exciting when new exhibits are put up, especially over the summer, although those do tend to have an entrance fee (that is usually worth the pay!). A personal favourite exhibit that I was lucky enough to have been able to catch was the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibit in the Victoria and Albert Museum two years ago. It unfortunately did not allow photos to be taken, but was definitely an unforgettable and intense experience.
Being someone who falls easily under the ‘nerd’ category, I could not let this list go by without mentioning the comic cons held in the city. The major ones, like MCM and London Film & Comic Con, are amazingly grandiose events. If you have ever been to a comic con held at the SMX Convention Center near Mall of Asia and thought that place was huge, you should see ExCel London during an MCM weekend.
Many people seem to be under the notion that you have to like superheroes, comic books or anime to be able to appreciate a comic con, but in reality, if you enjoy any type of pop culture (films, books, TV shows, art, etc), then there will definitely be something for you at comic con to appreciate. Aside from this, both MCM and LFCC always have celebrity guests coming to give their fans an opportunity to hear them speak at a panel, get an autograph, or even have their picture taken with them! I am not saying our comic cons back home are boring, but how often do we have the likes of John Cleese, Alyson Hannigan or Peter Mayhew hanging around for photo ops? These events are always the highlight of my summer, and also the bane of my bank account.
PRIDE IN LONDON
Whether you’re a part of the LGBTQ+ community, or perhaps a supportive ally, everyone is welcome to take part in the two week-long festivities celebrating the community, and the beauty and freedom of all love. It culminates with the ultra-colourful London Pride Parade that snakes through the city roads, riding along an atmosphere of acceptance and joy created by the cheering and partying crowd on the sidelines. I will be attending my first London Pride on the 8th of July, and I am incredibly excited!
VISIT THE LOCAL PARKS
This almost goes without saying, but it does deserve special mention as a summer activity because the parks are breathtaking during the summer. Spend a few hours wandering around the sprawling greenery of the city, like Hyde Park or St James’s Park, and make some new animal friends that can be found there.
PUBLIC and OBSCURE SPACES
In London, there is no shortage of places to hangout because they have so many cool spaces, though some are much easier to spot than others. I have yet to learn the city inside and out, but until then, it is always great being able to experience something new when my friends and I are actively looking for fun spots we had not been previously aware of.
VICTORIA EMBANKMENT GARDENS: THE LUNA CINEMA
If you have never been to an outdoor cinema before, the Victoria Embankment Gardens actually offers more than just a pretty bubble of nature within the city. At The Luna Cinema, you can view both timeless film classics like The Princess Bride and newer crowd favourites like Pitch Perfect. So if you find yourself around the area, I highly suggest giving it a try, and let yourself settle in under the London night sky for some movie time.
GOOGLE’S CAMPUS LONDON
I credit this find to my sister, as she had been the saviour of what could have been a completely wifi-less summer last year by discovering this small hideaway in Shoreditch. All you have to do is register at the website, show proof of registry at the front desk so they can give you an access card, then you are free to use the open and cozy work space down in the basement — all free of charge! As someone who spends a lot of time writing, Campus London was a gem in terms of a great place that allowed me not just a disturbance-free atmosphere for my writing, but also supplied free wifi. There is a productive vibe to the place that makes you want to work because everyone there is working as well, and anytime I go in, I always walk out having made a significant dent in my writing to-do list, which tends to be harder to accomplish than I do like.
This quaint little area is a great place to have a break from walking around Central. Sit down, have some coffee or tea and admire the picturesque, quiet nook in the middle of such a busy city.
Another discovery made by my sister. This bar was a place we frequented during many summer evenings, because of the relaxed atmosphere and the great music. Like its name suggests, there is a live pianist playing music through the night who even takes requests on songs to play. It is unfortunately quite a small venue, so once the night is in full swing it can get pretty packed, especially during the weekend, but it is easy enough to get a spot if you come a little earlier. Aside from the tunes, this bar also serves pretty good food, with a special shoutout to their yummy Truffle and Porcini Fries with Truffle Mayonnaise.
For those who love marketplaces and finding unusual trinkets to buy, Camden Market is an awesome place right up your alley. Camden in general is known for its eclectic and eccentric feel, and is a must-see for anyone visiting the city. The town oozes art, music and vibrancy, and if there is a place that will never fail to surprise you every time you come back, it will be Camden.