Experiencing new destinations, exploring new cultures, enjoying new friends… travel is rich and exciting. While there are always new places to go, there are also some that require more than one visit. London is one of them. I recently went to London for my fourth time (second time as a solo traveler) and there was still more to discover because, you see, there is the London of tourists and the London of Londoners. When I go to this fabulous city, I like to enjoy a bit of both.
I like to see the major historical and cultural sites but I also like to explore the neighbourhoods that Londoners love. I find that this is best achieved by choosing a hotel located centrally but nestled in a community. This time, I stayed at Montague on the Gardens in Bloomsbury; it was perfect for this approach to the city.
Bloomsbury – a London of Londoners
Bloomsbury, as a neighbourhood, is known as a centre of the arts and education. London University is there and, of course, it is home to the famed Bloomsbury Group that included Virginia Woolf and E. M. Forster. It continues to attract artists and is home to students as well as the wealthy.
At one end of the block where the Montague is located is Russell Square, a beautiful garden with a cafe that I can recommend. At the other end is the famed British Museum which is free to the public. Go a little farther afield and you enter more residential streets and more squares including Bloomsbury Square, Gordon Square and Tavistock Square. I loved wandering there, looking at the architecture and watching the people. It is very safe for a solo traveler.
Beyond Bloomsbury – easy walking to London Highlights
While I do use the London Tube if going farther afield, I prefer to enjoy this city (and just about every city I visit) on foot. Wandering south from the Montague I made my way to the Strand and London’s West End theatre district. From major musicals, to serious plays to the Royal Opera House, it’s all there.
Near the Opera House is Covent Garden, a great place for lunch and a little shopping. When I was there it was delightfully decorated for Christmas. After lunch, I ventured a little further south and walked along the Thames.
Returning back to my hotel, I had time to stop into the National Portrait Gallery and just a quick peak into St. Martin’s in the Field to see what this remarkable church is like. It was a full day, to be sure.
North Americans are not accustomed to fine hotels located in a neighbourhood environment, but in London, some of the finest hotels are not on main streets. Hotels like The Montague on the Gardens offer visitors a taste of the London that Londoners love.
Janice Waugh is author of The Solo Traveler’s Handbook, publisher of Solo Traveler, the blog for those who travel alone and moderator of the Solo Travel Society on Facebook, with almost 5000 members. She has been quoted in many media outlets including the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, LA Times and USA Today. Janice also speaks about travel and the business of blogging.