9 Photographic Alternatives to Big Ben
Originally published on PassionPassport.com
Unfortunately, beloved Big Ben is covered in scaffolding for the next three and a half years. The landmark of the London skyline is a sight for sore eyes, much to the dismay of both local residents and city visitors.
So, on a recent trip to the British capital, my sister and I were forced to get creative to find photographic alternatives to the famous clock tower. These are a few of the places around foggy Londontown that made us smile.
THE BRITISH LIBRARY
A bit more of a secret than its well-known museum counterpart (which is also on this list), the British Library is a calming haven in the midst of chaos. The multi-story building is perfect for a quick bite to eat, cup of coffee, or midday writing session. Its sharp angles and corners, in-motion patrons, and massive book collection in the center of the building create a space that is studious yet fascinating. If that’s not enough, the library features both permanent and temporary exhibits — including Treasures of the British Library, which boasts the Magna Carta, original Jane Austen manuscripts, and Johann Gutenberg’s Bible. Bookworms and history buffs, eat your hearts out!
KINGS CROSS & ST. PANCRAS
On September 1st, members of the wizarding world pass through a brick wall in between platforms nine and 10 in order to catch the 11 a.m. Hogwarts Express. But every other day of the year (well, on September 1st, too), Muggles from both London and afar converge at Kings Cross Station to board their transportation in an out of the city. A recent renovation to the station, best known because of its association with the “Harry Potter” series, has made it especially photogenic.
This bustling hub is right next door to the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, and while it’s unlikely that you’re staying at this opulent five-star establishment, the staff doesn’t mind one bit if you peek inside to take some photos. The Gothic Revival hotel features a lovely symmetrical exterior, posh entryway, and magnificent grand staircase. You’ll have to tear yourself away so you don’t end up spending hundreds of dollars just for your very own room.
This area may be a bit more touristy than others, but it’s chock full of opportunities for capturing street scenes. While you wander, experiment with long exposures, try to photograph the bright lights of West End theaters, aim your camera at storefronts and pubs, and don’t shy away from including people in your shots. Head to Covent Garden Piazza and get creative among the crowds — and don’t forget to check out the tiled signs in the Covent Garden Tube Station. You can’t go wrong in this part of town.
THE NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM
An interest in natural history isn’t necessary to warrant a visit to the Natural History Museum in Kensington. This iconic building has a particular Harry Potter-esque atmosphere that fans of the series will appreciate, as well as architectural details even novices will notice. While some may spend hours looking at the various collections and displays, those who are more photographically inclined can spend that time wandering around the multiple levels of the Atrium. It’s almost a challenge to see which staircase, platform, or pillar will provide the best angle for an amazing photo.
Though it may be best-known for its eponymous Saturday market, Portobello Road is picturesque every day of week. Cute storefronts abound on this thoroughfare, which stretches through Notting Hill in West London. If you do happen to visit on Saturday, be sure to get there early to experience the market before the crowds descend around midday. Either way, take it slow while heading up and down the street — your camera, and your feet, will thank you.
This adorable area is located in the heart of central London, within walking distance of Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, and Buckingham Palace — that is, unless your feet ached as much as mine (in which case, you’ll be taking the Tube!). Marylebone High Street runs right through the center of the neighborhood and features plenty of boutique storefronts and facades. Dip into Daunt Books for one of the prettiest bookstore experiences in London, and don’t be afraid to jump off the main thoroughfare to explore some of the more residential side streets.
Big Ben may be the most recognized facet of the London skyline, but if you’re hoping for a view of that cityscape itself (and a free one, no less!), head to Sky Garden. This indoor green space seems unreal. Situated on the top floor of a skyscraper — with thriving trees and plants everywhere, an outdoor viewing platform, and no fewer than five places to grab a drink — this location has it all. Although you’ll have to book your free ticket in advance, it’s well-worth it. The opportunities for unique photos of the space, and the city, are endless.
THE BRITISH MUSEUM
A must for history buffs, the British Museum is also a favorite among photographers. The massive building houses artifacts from across centuries, but the structure itself is worth just as much attention as the Rosetta Stone (which you can see on the Ground Level). For the best view, head up to the second floor and find the open window overlooking the Great Court. With some careful maneuvering and steady hands, you’ll be able to snag shots of the museum in motion.
COLUMBIA ROAD FLOWER MARKET
Every Sunday, Columbia Road blooms with color and the shouts of vendors calling out their flowering wares. Fresh tulips! Three bunches for a ten-er! Even in typical London weather (dreary, but in a charming kind of way), Columbia Road Flower Market is a sunny treat. The cute shops, vibrant flower displays, and warm greetings make a trip out to East London worthwhile, even in the snow or rain (the market is open during both, and yes, it was snowing when I last visited). It’s hard to resist bringing home some budget blooms to liven up your living space, and for three bunches for a ten-er, who could resist?