It is hard not to adore London --- I know I do. It's historic, royal, posh and busy but also satisfying, fun and sexy. Every fortress that stands witness to London's rich history is a masterpiece and every busy corner is a showcase of the Londoners' fascinating way of life. Walking the streets of London feels so much like being in a scene on Downton Abbey. There seems to be a touch of class everywhere.
Even with the hustle and bustle, it's hard to ignore the lovely structures, the fine restaurants and the interesting mix of people. There is nothing like sipping tea while wittering on for hours with an old pal under the cool shade of a fine al fresco restaurant on a lazy afternoon. Let me tell you, it's priceless.
Al Fresco Dining
When the weather is pleasant, especially in the summer, dining outdoors is one of the Londoners' greatest pleasures. It is simply delightful. Al fresco dining is so commonplace in London that wherever you are, you can't be a few minutes away from a fine al fresco restaurant. It could be in any open-air setting --- verandas, rooftop, garden, or even riverside.
Some of the most famous restaurants in London are the ones that let you take it outside. The stretch of Heddon Street in London's West End is home to several al fresco restaurants. You can also spend a laidback afternoon on top of the Kensington roof gardens and dine at Babylon. Do you fancy a stunning view of the Tower Bridge? You can nibble on your British favourites at the several riverside dining places on Shad Thames.
There is nothing more relaxing than sipping English tea or simply dossing off under a cool shade or an awning. Londoners' like the feel of the sun on their skin but like everyone else, they need protection. Al fresco dining beneath an awning or even just a huge umbrella is legendary in London. You can spot it everywhere. Awnings provide shade and cover from the direct sunlight and occasional rain showers. It has also become an important part of business. It makes room for expansion and additional seating capacity for a lot of London restaurant owners. It also enhances the brand and paves the way for improved revenue.
Downton Abbey Glam
While dining outdoors, it's hard not to notice how stylish Londoners are. They don't just go for comfort. Everyone looks fine and in so many ways, regal and even royal. Watching the period drama Downton Abbey makes you realize that post-Edwardian glam is still so much today's fashion statement. Women still fancy lace and empire waistlines. Even elbow-length gloves never really went out of style. They just evolved through time to fit the Londoners' busy and modern lifestyle.
The Grantham House
The Highclere estate, or more popularly known now as the Downton Abbey House or the iconic home of the Grantham clan is just 50 minutes away from the Heathrow airport, about 70 miles east of London. Just a bit of trivia, it is home to 8th Earl and the Countess of Carnarvon and has been with the family since 1679. It is considered as one of England's most spectacular Victorian castles that if it were for sale, it would cost around 150-billion pounds.
When the cast is not filming, the estate - bigger than New York's central park, is open to the public. Check out some travel agencies for packaged tours at the 1000-acres estate. You can also hold castle-themed weddings there for a very handsome price, of course.
But you don't have to go to Highclere castle to see majestic houses. A glimpse of the castle would give you a peek into modern British home designs too. In London, even a regular flat has stately features.
Houses are usually built in bricks, have a spacious front garden or a small courtyard, a patio or terrace, and adorned with classic British interiors. It seems viewers of the melodrama cannot help but pick up some ideas for British interiors from the Grantham clan.
Although much smaller, even verandas come in Downton Abbey style. There is a generous space for friends to catch up over a cup of English tea. They look cool and relaxed, almost lazy. There are usually greens or a garden in view.
Hello, Red Telephone
When in London, you must not leave without having that almost obligatory photo while pretending to call someone inside the iconic red telephone box. The red kiosks, alongside the Black taxi and Routemaster bus, are not only part of London's heritage but also standing witnesses to the capital's fine taste.
In the 1980s, more than 70,000 kiosks were scattered all over London. Now there are only about 11,000 so make sure you take home a memento.
Another famous stopover for some photo opp is the historic Parliament Square. It is where you can find the House of Parliament and the Westminster Abbey, both listed among UNESCO's world heritage sites not only because of their symbolic significance but also because of their importance in modern architecture.
The square's garden is a usual venue for ceremonies and has become the heart of contemporary British politics. Okay, just to add more tourism value to the square, Westminster Abbey has witnessed at least 38 coronations. It is also where some British monarchs, including Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin, are buried. And yes, it was where funeral services for the beloved Princess Diana were held. And most recently, all eyes were on the Abbey as Prince William married Kate Middleton in 2011.
Tower of London
Walking through the Tower of London is like being at the centre of London's 1,000 years of royal history. The tower was used as a palace, a prison, and place of execution (some of them beheaded at Tower Green) of some of the most revered people in history. But the Tower is not so gloomy. While there are torture instruments on one side, there's also a dazzling array of royal jewels, crowns and diamonds at the Martin Towers.
Houses of Monarchy
Do you want to feel like a princess for a day? Even as I stroll with my sporty trainers on, it's hard not to feel like a monarch when surrounded by the many palaces in England's royal capital. The Palaces are so valuable in England's heritage that they have become an inspiration to modern British home designs. It's not hard to spot some Victorian or Edwardian architecture along the way. Still British interior designs are so intricate and sometimes lavish that they take you back to a place in royal history.
Visitors are warmly welcome to experience Victorian glory in Kensington Palace, birthplace of Queen Victoria and home to Princess Diana. Family portraits, art collections and royal dresses (from Queen Victoria's christening gown to dresses worn by Diana) are on permanent display.
The Hampton Court Palace is the oldest surviving Tudor palace in England. It was witness to 500 years of rich royal history. It is especially stunning with the mix of Baroque and Tudor architecture. In the 1500s, King Henry VIII made lavish re-decorations to make Hampton a palace more than fit for a king. Complete your tour of the Hampton with a visit to the world's oldest and largest vines, a stroll along the riverside gardens, and the famous trapezoidal maze. For tourists to enjoy the maze even more, they installed revolutionary audio equipment that brings to life the age of secrecy and seduction.
Every summer, the Buckingham Palace --- England's most famous royal place and official residence of Queen Elizabeth II, opens the doors of its state rooms to the public. The state rooms are still used by the royal family to receive guests and hold ceremonial occasions. The rooms are adorned with the most exquisite paintings and sculptures. Also open to the public are the Ball Supper Room where some of the most sparkling events in history have been held, annual exhibitions and the 29-acre garden. Even the most unusual gifts, including a grove of maple trees, to the Queen are on display.