London: Pop Culture Paradise

You can't get much more iconic than London, England. Everybody can recognize the British accent and if you're a native English speaker, it's most likely because of Great Britain's former imperial reaches. But let's not get into the good, the bad and the ugly of any nation's past or any present political debates. Today, the British capital city is a hot spot for all things pop culture from The Beatles to Sherlock Holmes to the world's obsession with the royal family. Sometimes it feels like all parts of the entertainment industry are 50% British. You'd think that London's "color" would be red because of well-known symbols like the red telephone booths and the double-decker buses. But London is pretty much gold.

London has something for everybody, the geeks and romantics alike. What may come to mind right off the bat is Harry Potter. Though the filming locations are not nearly limited to only London, quite a few scenes from the multi-billion dollar film franchise are in the heart of the city at little to no cost. The most well-known attraction is Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross station. King's Cross is a working metro and train station which features a staged photo-op of Platform 9 3/4. Next to King's Cross is St. Pancras International. St. Pancras is in the background of the scene in which Ron and Harry take the flying car to Hogwarts in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. But before you set off on your journey to Hogwarts, you need to get your school supplies. London is the home of a filming location for Diagon Alley: Leadenhall Market. It was used as an entrance to the Leaky Cauldron in the films. Leadenhall Market is actually a historical Victorian covered market. To get money for your school supplies, head over to the Australia House. The scenes inside of Gringotts Bank from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's (Philosopher's) Stone took place in this building. Fast forward to the turmoil of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince at Millennium Bridge. This was the bridge that the Death Eaters destroyed at the beginning of that film. The ultimate fan experience is with the Warner Bros. Studio Tour. It includes film sets and special effects used in the films. Buy tickets far in advance or check for availability daily as ticket holders may cancel their visits, thus opening up new spots.

Sherlock Holmes is another franchise from Great Britain. Baker Street takes you right to Holmes' address 221b. The Sherlock Holmes Museum is here too. Langham Hotel at Oxford Circus offers both a filming location as well as literary history as it was the meeting place for a famous dinner between Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (the author of Sherlock Holmes) and Oscar Wilde. More locations include the British Museum and the Sherlock Holmes Pub with a replica of his study.

If you're a Beatles fan like me and are looking for an out of body experience while in London, I think you already know where to go. But I'm going to talk about it anyway: Abbey Road Studios of course. All of the band's studio albums were recorded here. Though it is not open to the public, fans from all over the world visit and sometimes try to recreate the famous album cover photo at the very same crosswalk used by the band right outside of the studio. Add to the Beatlemania at the London Palladium and the Prince of Wales Theater for two iconic Beatles performances in 1963. There are countless other locations associated with Beatles history in London, even though the band is famously from Liverpool rather than London.

If you want to go back in time further than the 1960s, London is a pretty great place to do that too. The city goes back to Roman times when it was called Londinium. There is a Roman defense wall near Tower Hill. However, the wall is a bit overshadowed by the Tower of London, a huge medieval fortress, palace, and even a prison. It is filled with dark and mysterious royal stories that include Henry VIII and his wives. Kings and queens lived there in luxury for 500 years. It is only fitting that today the complex houses the royal crown jewels. Two rings of defensive walls dating back to the 1200s are still standing. Try to skip the line and get tickets online.

The Tower of London is only the first of many places to connect with Britain's royal family. One of the current residences of the family known all around the world is Buckingham Palace. Guests receive distinguished awards here, including those given to members of The Beatles. Around Buckingham Palace are the palace gardens and St. James's Park. Next to these parks and gardens is Hyde Park, the largest of the royal parks in London. On its west end is Kensington Palace. Prince William and Princess Kate live there. Memorials for Princess Diana are in Hyde Park and the Kensington Gardens as well.

An eclectic area of the city is South Bank. It encompasses the Tate Modern, The London Eye, countless theaters, and culture. Near the London Eye, you can see great views of the Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament) and Big Ben on the other side of the Thames River. Crossing Westminster Bridge takes you right to both of these. Behind it is Westminster Abbey. Royal coronations have been held here since 1066. To go inside, check the opening hours beforehand. Nearby are Winston Churchill's War Rooms from WWII as well. If you keep walking further away from the Thames, you'll conveniently reach St. James's Park and Buckingham Palace all in a day's work.

North of St. James's Park is Trafalgar Square and Leicester Square just north of there. Trafalgar Square is home to the National Gallery and Nelson's Column. Leicester Square is a major hangout place with movie premiers, restaurants, theaters for both movies and shows (including the Prince of Wales Theater). M&M World and the Lego Store are both there too. While you're letting out your inner kid, head north to let out your inner rebellious hipster at the Camden Market. This is another eclectic area of London with literally layers of unique shops and restaurants. Definitely a hub for youth culture.

London is like Paris in that it has a "je ne sais quoi" that brings people in from all around the world, making it the most visited European city. Whether is the fascination and fantasy of the UK's royal family or the numerous works of literature, music, and theater created by Brits that have worldwide fame, it's hard to say. For some reason, you just feel like you're in with the cool crowd when you're in London, if that makes sense. It's posh, chic, and continues to influence the world. I never really had it at the top of my list before visiting earlier this year. But now it's near the top of my list for places to visit again (as soon as the construction of Big Ben is completed).

Transportation Tips: To use London's Underground subway station (which is in itself iconic, somehow), you need an Oyster Card. Buy them at any Underground station and use it like a gift card. Reload them at the stations as well, then scan it to go through the turnstiles, like Mr. Weasley and Harry did on their way to the Ministry of Magic in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. London transportation isn't as cheap as other major cities, but is incredibly convenient. You can even ship an Oyster Card to yourself with this link: Like most underground subway systems, the lines intersect with each other. A paper map of the subway is nice to have on hand.

Weather tips: Mild(ish) winters, mild summers, but a bit cloudy.

  • The Tate Modern is a free modern art museum with a view of the city from its lookout terrace.
  • The red telephone booths are mainly around the Westminster area but scattered around town as well.
  • There are cheap open-top bus tours. When you see one, check that company's website.
  • There are military memorials throughout the city. Keep your eye out for some. There is also a wide selection of war and military museums, including the Imperial War Museum

Like I said, doesn't get more iconic than London (photo taken at Oxford Circus)

Leadenhall Market

St. James's Park

Millennium Bridge and St. Paul's Cathedral 

Westminster Palace (Houses of Parliament) as seen from Westminster Bridge

Hidden gems everywhere you look (St. Matthew's Church, Bayswater district)

Seeing these around town never gets old

Buckingham Palace

The Tower of London

Camden Market

Westminster Abbey

Old juxtaposed with new (featuring The Shard)


My photos don't match up with the places that I discussed in the article. That's how much of a whirlwind London is.