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By Libby Zay
There’s no shortage of tourist staples in London, and while any visitor can revel in staring up at Big Ben or walking through Westminster Abbey, there are a few exploits Americans in particular will find novel when visiting London (and I don’t just mean watching cars drive by on the opposite side of the road). Here are a few British experiences that simply can’t be had in the United States.
Indulge in Afternoon Tea — Especially Clotted Cream
Nothing is more quintessentially British than afternoon tea. Many Americans, however, don’t realize that along with a hot pot of tea (no Lipton here, folks!) comes an assortment of delightful snacks, including scones smothered with rich, sweet clotted cream. Why, oh why, does this stuff not exist in the U.S.? It seems the thick cream, which would actually be classified as butter back home, isn’t exported because of its short shelf life. But it’s oh-so-delicious, and although clotted cream has an almost shamefully high fat content, it’s okay to indulge every once in awhile (especially while we’re on vacation, right?).
Walk in Jack the Ripper’s Footsteps
Although Jack the Ripper’s legacy has influenced countless American horror films, comics, and other pieces of popular culture, it’s only possible to chart his path in London’s East End. Professional guides give graphic murder-by-murder tours of Whitechapel, the neighborhood where the world’s first — and perhaps most famous — serial killer brutally murdered several prostitutes. Follow along and see if you can put together your own theory on who the real killer was; London Walks hosts eerie tours every night (except Dec. 24 & 25) starting at 7.30 p.m. from the Tower Hill Tube station.
Get Your Picture Inside a Red Phone Booth
When was the last time you saw a payphone in the U.S.? As cellular technology becomes more and more accessible, public telephones are becoming relics of the past. The same is true in London, and unfortunately, it means those iconic red telephone boxes are now not only novel because of their colour. Although they can still be found throughout the city — especially in places tourists frequent — you’d be wise to stop by one and snap a photo when you’re across the pond. And while you’re scoping out London icons, try to snag a front seat in the top of a double-decker bus.
Wander In and Out of Free Museums
Unless you’re in Washington, D.C., you’ll be hard pressed to find world-class museums sans admission prices in the U.S. In London, however, some of the best things in life are free — including internationally-recognized museums like the British Museum, Tate Modern, and the National Gallery, to name a few. As you zigzag up and down the Thames and throughout the rest of central London, be thankful that you can pop in and out of most museums at no charge.
Take Time for a Pint in an Authentic Pub
There’s plenty of British pub copycats in the U.S., and for good reason: there’s something special about grabbing a pint at these age-old drinking holes. For an authentic experience, stop in for a Sunday roast, a British comfort food meal of juicy meat served with accompaniments such as Yorkshire pudding, mashed potatoes, or stuffing. Or better yet, time your pub crawl around an English football match — hopefully you’ll find yourself raising a pint to celebrate a scored goal.
Like many other Americans, Libby Zay made her first trip overseas to London. She’s since explored many cities across the globe as a writer for various travel guides and publications, but something about London keeps reeling her back in. Learn more about Libby at www.libbyzay.com, or follow her on Twitter @libbyzay.