Now that I’ve been living in London for a few months, I’ve been able to host a few visitors and seen a few of the more famous sites of London. I’m always asked what the best places to visit are, so thought I’d make my own little guide.
Here are in my opinion (IMHO!!) the top 10 sites you guys shouldn’t miss when you visit London:
But, first some notes…
London is very expensive, so make sure to save your money for your visit and realize that a lot of it is going to go towards transportation fees, like a one day pass on the subway here (underground) costs like £9 which is like $15 and entrance fees to most of the famous tourist sites are going to be like £20 and up which is $35 per person! (Meals will go for about £7 for McDonald’s up to £25 at a nicer place. A Harrods handbag is going to start at £30.) I’d budget like $100 a day just to do stuff, eat and buy stuff (not including hotel). You could go cheaper, and there are free things to visit like all the museums and Mosques are free, but who doesn’t want to buy anything or eat just sandwiches on vacation!
One of the first things that shocked me about London (besides the sticker shock of prices!) is the amount of Muslims you’ll just see… EVERYWHERE. Hijabistas in tight jeans, boots and multi-colored big layered Hijabs, old men in Kurta pajamas, Somalis in long Khimars, Niqabis in full black, men with long beards and Kufis. Some areas in London you’ll only see brown people! With the huge influx of EU visitors and tourists, you’ll also hear every language in the world wherever you go, French, Spanish, Polish, Hindi, etc. Most ppl you think are English are actually tourists or foreigners themselves! It’s incredibly multi-cultural. That said, the English kind of have a love/hate with Muslims/foreigners. Cuz we’re terrorists right … well beyond that Muslims in Britain have a hard time interacting and integrating (and that’s a whole other blogpost). If you are polite and kind or need help most people will be polite and kind back, but don’t expect extreme hospitality or friendliness, from Muslims or non-Muslims.
I have to highly recommend visiting London in the Spring or Fall. In Summer the city is full of tourists (which we are! but makes it hard to do stuff). The city really comes alive in the warmth with all the greenery and parks and walking around. In winter you will just be extremely cold all the time and while you can see everything it’s just not pleasant.
As for praying there are Mosques dotted around London that you can stop at to pray, but many of them are just men-only so try to look up the prayer times to arrange things for yourself.
1. Regent’s Park Mosque – This is a very beautiful historical Mosque built in 1944 right on the edge of Regent’s Park. It’s built on ground granted to Saudi by the Queen. The sisters have a largish balcony area and there’s a bookstore as well as a tiny sisters store downstairs. Also in the basement there’s a canteen/restaurant that serves Desi food like Kormas, Kabobs and Samosas. After Jumah you’ll see many ppl eating down there and many Arab ladies milling around sharing little cakes and chocolates with those around them. The park is quite lovely and there’s a pond, ducks and a playground. It’s also quite close to the Sherlock Holmes Museum and Madame Tussauds if you want to pop in for some fun.
2. London Eye (seeing Big Ben, Westminster area) – No one can come to London and not do the Eye!! It’s just not right. Spend the day around this area, eating ice cream, walking along the Thames, and viewing Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament.
3. East London Mosque – This is one of London’s most active Mosques. The buildings are in the heart of East London and include a big area upstairs for sisters. The Mosque has been associated with many famous names including famous translators of the Quran Abdullah Yusuf Ali and Pickthall. There are numerous classes and programs held here. Around this area are a lot of nice Halal restaurants and a few Islamic stores.
4. River Thames Cruise – While you’re at the area around the Thames make sure you take a cruise! There are many different one’s and you can actually do a duck one or hop on/hop off ones to see different sites or take a long leisurely ones all the way down. It’s fun to see London from the waters and under the bridges.
5. Natural History Museum if you have kids, V&A if you don’t. There are a number of museums very close to each other, so you can see them all on the same day although it’s a bit crazy! The Natural History Museum has great dinosaur exhibits and a giant whale and planet. The Victoria & Albert Museum has a beautiful Islamic art section and occasional interesting traveling photographic exhibits. Extremely useful is the faith/prayer room at the Natural History museum so look for it if you need to pray.
6. Green Street - Green St. is THE desi street in London akin to Jackson Heights or Devon St. It has all the desi shops and restaurants, and even includes an open market called the Queen’s Market with all kinds of stalls of cheap desi jewellery, clothes, Hijabs, toys and even hanging meat or fish! (like the one of 1 pound fish guy fame!). There are a few Mosques in the area, but we ended up praying in a kind Islamic booksellars back room.
7. Muslim restaurants – There’s no way anyone can come to London and not try all the amazing Halal restaurants. Check out the HMC Halal certification website to make sure the restaurant is truly Halal though before you go. Here are some suggestions: 1. Big Moes -American style diner with yummy Halal burgers and shakes. 2. Chaudhrys -An all you can eat buffet with all kinds of dishes to choose from. 3. Tayyabs- Very good Pakistani food. 4. Jungle Braii – South African steaks 5. Maidah – Turkish/Lebanese food 6. Sahara Grill – nice grilled meats 7. Perfect Fried Chicken – spicy fried chicken etc. etc, there’s just so many!
8. Oxford Street and/or Harrods. Oxford St. is the 5th Avenue of London full of stores like H&M, Topshop, Primark, Monsoon, the famous Hamleys Toy Store and department store Selfridges and many others. Also included are little touristy shops full of knickknacks. (There is a Mosque nearby but it takes a bit of walking and is hard to find.) Harrods is the most famous department store in London and includes 7 floors of exclusive designer items. Formerly owned by Dodi (of Diana fame)’s father it’s now owned by the Qataris who have a little section somewhere inside. It’s fun just to gawk at how rich some people are and view the prices of items. Upstairs there’s an affordable Harrod’s “souvenir” shop with things the non-rich and non-famous can afford!
9. Westfield Shopping Centre – This is the biggest mall in Europe with a ton of floors and restaurants, an ice skating rink, a bowling alley and 3-D IMAX. There’s also a prayer room next to the Nandos. It’s full of all the biggest London stores like Topshop, Primark, Boots, Next, etc. Fun to spend the day shopping and eating and viewing all the Hijabi fashionistas walking around!
10. Brick Lane - Made famous by a book and film, this is the area where Bangladeshi Muslims first settled in London. Today it’s full of great Desi restaurants frequented by everyone in London who loves curry. There’s a little historical Mosque here as well.
And that’s it! I’m sure there are many other nice places as well, and after I visit more places I haven’t been to yet (British Museum, British Library, Kew gardens, Portobello market) I’ll update this list inshAllah. Any suggestions from Londoners, please post in the comments!! There’s only about a million more places to visit as you can see in the map below!!
In the meantime, welcome to London