London’s contrasts and cacophonies both infuriate and seduce.
London – the grand resonance of its very name suggests history and might. Its opportunities for entertainment by day and night go on and on and on. It’s a city that exhilarates and intimidates, stimulates and irritates in equal measure, a grubby Monopoly board studded with stellar sights.
It’s a cosmopolitan mix of Third and First Worlds, chauffeurs and beggars, the stubbornly traditional and the proudly avant-garde. But somehow – between ‘er Majesty and Pete Doherty, Bow Bells and Big Ben, the Tate Modern and the 2012 Olympics – it all hangs together.
London is a year-round tourist centre, with few of its attractions closing or significantly reducing their opening hours in winter. Your best chance of good weather is, of course, at the height of summer in July and August, but there’s certainly no guarantee of sun even in those months – plus it’s when you can expect the biggest crowds and highest prices.
Things to Do — The old always sits alongside the new here — nowhere more so than at Wren’s great baroque dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral, framed by 21st-century skyscrapers — and London is rightly famed for its museums and galleries. Prized collections, ancient and contemporary — from Bloomsbury’s British Museum to the South Bank’s Tate Modern — share top billing with small spaces such as the Sir John Soane’s Museum that could only exist in this city. Ride the London Eye observation wheel to get to grips with the city’s layout.
Shopping — The variety of shopping districts can be bewildering, even for a regular visitor. Knightsbridge and Chelsea have the chi-chi boutiques, Mayfair the finest men’s tailors, and the latest in street-style springs up from Shoreditch and the East End. This is a city with something for every taste or budget, and best buys remain collectables, vintage fashions, and accessories. Street markets as diverse as Columbia Road (flowers and niche design) and Portobello (antiques, secondhand goods, and fashions) are experiencing a mini-renaissance.
Eating & Drinking — Whatever your favorite flavor, you’ll find it somewhere in this global culinary city. As London’s center of gravity moves east, so does the dining scene: Nuno Mendes’ Viajante is the most creative eatery to grace an eastside hotel. British classics Rules and J. Sheekey are as good as ever, and 2011 saw superstar chef Heston Blumenthal reinvent Dinner in Knightsbridge. Areas with lower rents continue to attract skillful chefs to gastropubs, cool cafes, and a new breed of tapas bar.
Nightlife & Entertainment — When darkness falls, the historic monuments and grand museums fade into the inky night, and a whole new London comes to life. The West End‘s bright lights draw the crowds with long-running mega-musicals and big-name dramas. Less well known is London’s growing taste for the offbeat, from cabaret and Charleston revival parties to dubstep, burlesque, and even underground bingo. Soho is still buzzing — and the streets of Shoreditch, Hoxton, and Dalston are jumping well into the small hours
- Enjoy London’s Olympic spirit without a ticket (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- 10 Free Things to Do in London (bootsnall.com)
- More visitors flock to free UK attractions (travelnews.britishairways.com)