This week I briefly hosted an American friend, stopping in London en route to his semester abroad in Mallorca. Yes, it seems some people have all the luck. He hadn’t visited London for twelve years and so we embarked upon a whirlwind tour of the city, fast-walking so as to avoid frostbite and see as much as possible. As I walked around, I was struck by something so small and yet jaw-dropping that it stopped me in my tracks. London is absolutely beautiful.
How had this eluded me before? How did I ignore this crucial aspect of the city that draws around fourteen million visitors per year? The answer I found is simple; I’m too busy rushing around that I don’t look up. It seems silly and trivial, but today I looked up a lot more and found Soho incredibly aesthetically charming.
Of course much of our aesthetic appeal is down to history, which gives us a significant advantage over younger American cities; Wellington Arch, its appeal somewhat muted by its location on a roundabout, is stunning, with the four horsemen imposing and dominating. Stand under Big Ben and look up – when was the last time you noticed those gold and black adornments around the face of our iconic New Year’s symbol? Need I even mention the neighbouring Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and nearby Buckingham Palace?
…pumped full of curves, arches and dramatic lines…
A seemingly mundane and tourist-filled walk down Knightsbridge became, with a glance skywards, a revelation of the most stunning white and terracotta facades that create the distinctive character of this area. Even humble King’s Cross and Waterloo have stunning interiors and exteriors, pumped full of curves, arches and dramatic lines. How often do we stop and admire the clock hanging over the Waterloo concourse? Not often enough – we’re too busy checking our trains and rushing past the other ants milling around the station.
Such grandeur isn’t found everywhere in the city, but around every corner post boxes, lampposts and house fronts scream to be noticed. Whilst a block of flats or row of terraced houses may not be immediately appealing, their beauty is unique and charming to such an extent that it has become emblematic of the city; so much so that my friend kept commenting, as have others from across the pond, that the city resembles a movie set.
…a look to the skies reveals history and splendour galore…
We often look indoors – to museums, art galleries and concert halls – to find beauty and aesthetic fulfilment. What we should try to do, perhaps, is get our art kicks for free simply by walking around the city. There’s plenty to see and do on the ground, but a look to the skies reveals history and splendour galore. The next time you find yourself in the middle of London, look up.