Among the world’s 20 most visited cities, as per a report by market researcher Euromonitor that computed total arrivals in 2015, London (18.6 million) ranks third after Hong Kong (26.6 million) and Bangkok (18.7 million).
London has often been likened, and more so recently, to dynamic cities such as New York, Milan and Paris – some of the most vibrant on the globe. Just like them, London is fluent in international gastronomy, art, culture and architecture. In 2015, the BBC stated that 37% of Londoners were born outside the UK. A visitor can very well sample global lifestyles in this city that has zones earmarked by various ethnicities. Walking through them can trick the mind into believing it is in another world altogether – for example, mini-India in Southall in the west, a Bangladeshi society in Brick Lane in the east, and Peckham in south-east London evidently follows Jamaican lifestyle.
Then there is the hipster culture in and around Old Street, punk and rock ’n’ roll in Camden Town, and a more eclectic vibe in the lanes of Soho. There is something to do for all types of audiences in London.
Type #AbbeyRoad (St John’s Wood tube station) on social media and its pedestrian crossing will pop up on your screen – this is where The Beatles shot their famous album cover in 1969. Go to the western departures hall in King’s Cross Railway Station for the ‘Platform 9¾’ signage as shown in the Harry Potter movie. Below it is the luggage trolley halfway through the brick wall. Just outside of the Earl’s Court tube station is Doctor Who’s machine for ‘Time and Relative Dimension in Space’. Sherlock Holmes’ flat at 221B Baker Street (now The Sherlock Holmes Museum) is walking distance from the Baker Street tube station. And finally, the MI6 headquarters at Albert Embankment is nearest to Exit 1 of the Vauxhall tube station.
All these are attractions that draw in international tourists (mostly during summer) year round. This is in addition to the usual list comprising the London Eye, Tower of London, Madame Tussauds, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and Hyde Park, just to name a few.
ARTS AND CULTURE
For something off-beat, the culturally hungry modernists will find an ongoing eccentric collection of events and festivals in Hackney, Peckham and Brixton – all in zone 2. As they still have old industrial buildings, real estate is cheap in these areas, making it easier for students to rent housing. This is also why performing experimental theatre and shows by aspiring artists are a rage in these parts – old warehouses are commonly rented out for events. Check the local media for information on such happenings.
For the more recognised cultural institutions, take the tube to Holborn to visit the British Museum, and to High Street Kensington for the Science Museum. South Kensington has the Natural History Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A). The latter is also where you will find interesting art exhibits from time to time.
Of course, no art walk in London is complete without a stop at the Saatchi Gallery (Sloane Square tube station). In April 2016, The Art Newspaper’s Exhibition and Museum Attendance Survey stated that in the previous five years, 15 of the 20 most visited art exhibits in London were displayed there. Others on the list included the National Gallery (Charing Cross tube station) and the Tate Modern (Southwark tube station).
Shakespeare, too, began his acting and writing career in the British capital. Just off the banks of the River Thames is Shakespeare’s Globe (Mansion House tube station). It is a theatre and exhibition space “dedicated to the exploration of Shakespeare’s work”.
The Royal National Theatre (Waterloo tube station) is another iconic entertainment house in London with four auditoriums – Olivier, Lyttelton, Dorfman and Temporary. It also has eating and drinking facilities that include the popular restaurant, House European Cuisine.
Of course, there are many other theatres in the city – it really depends on what you want to see. Head to the street between Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus tube stations. This is where you will find a number of booths vending tickets for the famous musicals that perform in London year round.
FOOD AND DRINK
The city literally never sleeps. Venture out at 4am and you’re likely to find kebab shops, pizza parlours and Chinese takeaways serving a busy counter. The clientele is either people working until (very) late or those returning from a wild night out. As for the tastes, they’re close to authentic. Earlier still, continuing on the search for “street” foods, one can find English pies, Indian samosas and chicken curry at certain stations such as London Bridge and St Pancras.
For those who believe that food should please the eye first, London has some of the world’s leading speciality restaurants. The more recent ones include the likes of Margot, an Italian venue in Covent Garden; grills and British fare at Temple and Sons; and Nordic eatery, Aquavit, whose sister venue in New York has two Michelin stars. London has its own Michelin star restaurants too — 55 restaurants with one Michelin star, nine with two, and two with three Michelin stars.
As for Indian food, there are options of Michelin star restaurants like Benares and Tamarind, and quirky ones such as Dishoom and Gymkhana that impress with their innovative offerings.
SETTING UP SHOP
Many international companies are buying/renting real estate in the British capital. A prime reason for them to choose London for expansion is its proximity to Europe and European headquarters.
In September 2015, David Slater, the Director of International Trade & Investment at London & Partners, the company that officially promotes the city as an investment destination, said: “From technology to life sciences, London’s high concentration of global decision makers and experts makes it an ideal destination for businesses looking to establish an international headquarters. This fact is supported by IBM’s report which revealed that in 2014 we saw more companies expand and relocate to London than New York, Singapore and Dublin combined.”
Confirming this was a survey conducted by CBRE in 2016 that found London at the top of the list of the “ten most attractive cities for investment in EMEA”. CBRE is the largest commercial real estate services and investment firm in the world.
London & Partners says that in 2014-2015 it helped 270 international companies establish businesses in London. It says: “We are the experts on doing business in the capital, helping overseas businesses to set up and grow.”
Through this company, the tech sector received about 40% of the investment capital, which explains why the Americans, Chinese and Indians accounted for nearly half of this investment.
As for housing, post-Brexit has brought about price cuts in the city’s property market. In 2017, the Financial Times quoted Marcus Dixon, Head of Research at LonRes, a data firm for the residential market. He said: “Sterling has fallen by 16% since the Brexit vote on June 23. Combining these factors could lead to a total discount of 30 to 40% for (real estate) buyers compared with the top of the market.”