on 21 Dec 2016
Mind the Gap, Piccadilly, Buckingham Palace, Harrods, Eton Mess, Soho, bubble & squeak, the Tube, Pall Mall, the bells of St Clements, Charing Cross, Black cabs, The Ritz. This is London. And this is England, too. 'When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life'. So said Dr. Samuel Johnson. It's almost impossible to get tired of one of the planet's most engaging and energetic cities. In addition to a millennia and more of history, the pomp and pageantry of royalty and a Head of State - Defender of the Faith who resides in a giant great pile called Buckingham Palace, London is the centre of fashion, music, gastronomy, architecture and more. Whether you want to try one of Britain's best pork pies, visit some of the finest galleries, walk through some of the world's most famous green spaces, sample a wedge of Stinking Bishop from Paxton and Whitfield on Jermyn Street, have a suit made bespoke to your requirements or graze over afternoon tea at Brown's Hotel or the Ritz, London is calling.
London - Vast, vibrant and truly multicultural, London is one of the world's great cities. The twin axis on which London rests is the Houses of Parliament to the west and the City of London to the east. The seat of government (not far from the home of the royal family) is connected to the City (the financial engine room of London and the whole of the UK) by the River Thames. In between lie most of the tourist attractions and the busiest, liveliest different entertainment areas, such as Knightsbridge and Soho.
Walking the streets of London, or strolling through its parks, one realises that, in a city hailed for its ability to embrace modernity and change, the past is, however, never far away: there are four UNESCO World Heritage sites in London (the Palace of Westminster, the Tower of London, Maritime Greenwich and Kew Gardens) and some 40,000 listed buildings and structures.
The tourist heart of London lies mainly on the north bank of the River Thames, with the chunk of flat land between South Kensington in the west to Tower Bridge in the east stuffed to the gunnels with things to see and do. Starting in the west, there are the three major South Kensington museums - the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum. These are all gratis to enter. Moving eastwards, the next key attraction is Buckingham Palace. A short walk away, through St James’s Park, is Westminster, with the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben (Elizabeth Tower) and Westminster Abbey just a stone’s throw away.
From here, it is another short walk up Whitehall to Trafalgar Square, with the National Portrait Gallery and other attractions. This is where the West End starts, heading slightly north to Leicester Square connecting up with the madness of neon-lit Piccadilly Circus to the west and Covent Garden to the east, with the awesome British Museum (Elgin’s Marbles, the Rosetta Stone, and other amazing treasures) a little further away to the northeast. In the middle of the West End, Theatreland and Chinatown merge into some would say – seedy Soho, with its risque nightlife.
Along the river itself, on the north bank is the Tate Britain gallery in the west, followed by Westminster and then the Embankment. Crossing over the River Thames from the Embankment can be done on the pedestrian Golden Jubilee Bridges.
The south bank of the river now has its own throngs of tourists, at the London Eye. Further east, sits the new Tate Modern with its edgy Mark Rothko extravaganzas on priceless canvas and Shakespeare’s (rebuilt) Globe Theatre.
Another pedestrian bridge, Lord Foster's Millennium Bridge (what a drama it was getting this built to take foot traffic. Ask any Londoner what it’s called and they’ll tell you it’s called the ‘wobbly bridge’) , connects the Tate Modern with St Paul’s Cathedral, back on the north bank. This is course where the young Diana Spencer married the Prince of Wales in 1981. From St Paul's, it is possible to walk through the City of London, reaching the Tower of London further east. Just beyond here is St Katherine’s Dock. Head along the periphery of the Tower of London and under Tower Bridge to St Katherine’s Dock. Here, you’ll find the Dickens Inn and various cafes, restaurants and shops, plus a beautiful boating marina. It’s a little tranquil area of London. Tower Bridge connects this ancient seat of power to City Hall.
Must-see – Head to the Tower of London to ogle the Crown Jewels. They really are something else. Do try and pre-purchase your tickets for express entry, and avoid the queues. Tube: Tower Hill
The WOW factor – The window displays of Fortnum and Masons on Piccadilly. The food halls of Harrods in Knightsbridge. The diamonds at Garrard & Co – the official Crown Jewellers (24 Albemarle St, Mayfair). Tube: Green Park
Must try – Head to Brick Lane in the East End for a Ruby Murray. Tube: Aldgate East. There are plenty of good curry houses here.
Something different – If a member of the fairer sex, get a brassiere professionally fitted at Rigby & Peller (by Royal Warrant to QEII) at 2, Hans Road, Knightsbridge. Tube: Knightsbridge. And, if sporting a five o’clock shadow, pop to Geo F Trumper for a close, wet shave. 9 Curzon Street, Mayfair. Tube: Green Park
Best time to visit - The English spring and summer. The sun starts to shine in London from around end April through mid-October. Optimum time is between June and September.
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