London is one of the world’s most vibrant cities. It is a tourist destination for many groups, but it also appeals to those who travel alone for business and for pleasure. Many of London’s great attractions lend themselves more to groups: seeing Shakespeare at the Globe, climbing on the lions in Trafalgar Square or pointing out Henry VIII’s codpiece at the Tower of London. However, there are some activities that are better for individuals who are seeking solitude and something a little bit out of the way.
The National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery is not an especially hip London museum. The Tate Modern is cooler and the British Museum boasts the Parthenon and the Rosetta Stone. However, for a quiet afternoon of contemplation at an often overlooked landmark, the National Portrait Gallery is the place to be. The gallery is located around the corner from the larger National Gallery, on Trafalgar Square. You can find portraits of famous Britons from Henry VIII and his many wives to Keira Knightley and the members of Blur. There are often traveling exhibits of photographs from prominent London artists as well. Be sure to see the only portrait of Shakespeare believed to be painted from life. Once you’re done with the gallery, head across Trafalgar Square to St. Martin-in-the-Fields for lunch. This church boasts an impressive history, dating from the 1700s. However, the real reason to go is the Café in the Crypt, where you can get a cafeteria-style lunch among the tombs of those buried within.
Those familiar with the Angela Lansbury movie “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” will recognize the name of this famous street, known for its antiques. If you have a Saturday afternoon to spend on your own, this is a perfect place to be. Portobello Road is located in the Notting Hill area of London, and you can easily get lost in the stalls. Whether you find a first edition of an Enid Blyton classic or a pair of platform boots straight out of the 1970s glam rock London scene, there is plenty to see, and it’s best seen on your own. If you are using public transportation, however, be aware that the Tube stop at one end of the road is in Zone 1, while the nearest Tube stop at the far end of the road is in Zone 2. The zone differences mean extra fare, depending on where you’re staying, so be mindful of this when you travel.
Catch the Hogwarts Express
Harry Potter is impossible to escape in popular culture, whether you’ve avoided the books or not. If, however, you are a fan and you have a spare moment, you should take the time to try to find Platform Nine and Three Quarters. Unless you’re a parent, you may feel a bit silly dragging friends or family with you to gawk at the barrier between platforms nine and ten in Kings Cross Station, but if you go alone you can take the time to enjoy it. The platform is clearly marked, and the station has erected a permanent addition of a luggage cart stuck halfway into the wall. There are usually kids jumping all over the cart, and if you’re brave you can always ask a stranger to snap a picture of you "pushing" the cart into the wall. Kings Cross is a bustling, vibrant, working station, so this is a great thing to do in between other activities.