Trip Coach: October 9, 2007
Sean McLachlan, author of 'Moon Handbooks London,' answered your questions on London.
Sean McLachlan: Hello everyone! I'm Sean McLachlan, author of Moon Handbooks London, which just came out a few months ago from Avalon Travel Publishing. I'm happy to be here and to see all your questions. There are quite a lot of them so I'm glad many of you sent them in early! Some questions are similar, so I might refer you to a previous answer. If you get a chance, drop by seanmclachlan.com to learn more about me. The website is still under construction, so apologies in advance for any broken links. Well, let's get started...
MO-town, Utah: My girlfriend is English, so we make it to the homeland about once a year. We've been to most of the main attractions in London, so what sites/locations/destinations/etc. would you suggest that would impress even an English(wo)man?
Sean McLachlan: Depends on what she likes. If she enjoys Classical music, take her to a concert at the Handel House Museum. If she likes the outdoors, take her for a picnic at one of the larger parks. It's amazing how quickly you leave the city behind. Richmond Park is one of the biggest and even has its own herd of wild deer. The London Wetland Centre is an amazing marsh ecozone made from reclaimed industrial land. Both are a bit far from the center, though. Closer in but just as relaxing is The Regent's Park. A fascinating but often overlooked museum is the Old Operating Theatre, which makes a trip to a modern doctor seem relaxing by comparison. The good old days? Not if you were sick! Another great and often overlooked attraction is the ornate Victorian cemetery at Highgate, where famous people such as Karl Marx are buried. There's a beautiful collection of Chinese ceramics at the Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art.
New York, N.Y.: What's the weather like in late November? Dark and depressing all day as they say? Unbearably cold? Raining all the time? Or is it more like NY—cold, sunlight for at least a few hours, rain now and then? Thanks!
Sean McLachlan: I won't lie to you; November can be pretty dreary in London. It gets cool (but rarely cold, usually in the 40s or 50s Fahrenheit), overcast, and it can rain for days on end. Snow and hail are rare, but would be a relief after the incessant rainfall. On the other hand, sometimes the clouds can break up and you'll be surprised by a mild, sunny day. Don't waste that time—get out and walk! But don't forget to always have an umbrella with you because the weather can change very quickly. You'll be on an island in the North Sea, after all. Luckily, and probably not coincidentally, most of London's best attractions are inside, so don't despair.
Washington, D.C.: I am going to London in mid-November with a history buff for three nights. He loves Roman history and military history. What do you consider "must-see's" for him, and what area of town do you recommend staying in?
Sean McLachlan: The British Museum had an excellent section on Roman Britain, including the amazing Vindolanda Tablets—letters from a Roman fort that include military reports, requests for leave, even a birthday invitation! In the City (a section of central London around St. Paul's and the Tower of London that comprised Roman Londinium) you can see portions of the Roman Wall and the foundations of the Temple of Mithras. The Museum of London, also in the City, has some restored Roman rooms and a good view of a portion of the Roman wall, with a medieval wall built atop it.
For military history buffs, a visit to the Imperial War Museum is an absolute must. There's everything from WWI tanks to modern spy equipment. The Trench Experience is especially harrowing. Another great sight is the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms, the underground bunkers from which Churchill planned the Battle of Britain and the Invasion of Normandy. It's been left just as it was and is very atmospheric. If you have the time, the Army Museum and the Guards Museum are both worth a look.
Since you are pressed for time I would suggest seeing the British Museum, the Cabinet War Rooms, and the Imperial War Museum. It's best to stay in central London. The City will put you in old Londinium (although prices are high) or you can stay in Bloomsbury and be right next to the British Museum. Both neighborhoods will put you an easy walk or Tube ride from all the places I'm mentioning here, although the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth, south of the Thames, and a bit of a Tube ride from everywhere.