Experience London - Fodor's London (2015)

Fodor's London (2015)

Experience London

Main Table of Contents

London Today

What’s Where

London Planner

Top Attractions

London’s Royal Legacy

Give the Sports Scene a Go

Free (and Almost Free) Things to Do

A London Historic Pub Crawl

In Pursuit of the East End Art Scene

Afternoon Tea

London With Kids

London Today

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Welcome to London! Variously described by poets and statesmen as “modern Babylon,” “Unreal City,” “enormous Babel,” and “…the City of the free.” Indeed majestic London’s always been a city in flux and these days it’s hard to turn a corner without stumbling into some work-in-progress crater so vast you can only imagine what was there before. This latest wave of development was turbo-charged as the city became a safe haven during the global economic crisis. New neighborhoods continually rise up and burst to the fore—a visit to the eastern edge of the City should provide you with your quotient of London hipness. The creative fervor that swirls through London like fog shows up in DIY galleries, mini boutiques, and ace hotels.

While many images are seared on your consciousness before you arrive—the guards at Buckingham Palace, the red double-decker buses, and the River Thames—time does not stand still in this ancient and yet gloriously modern city. Instead, “London, the buskin’d stage…The heart, the centre of the living world!” is in revolution, and evolves, organically, historically through time. Ask any time-pressed but savvy local and they’ll tell you that…


… is heading skyward.

London’s loosened its collar and showcases some spectacular new architecture, with the pyramid-shaped Shard providing an iconic beacon for the city. With the exceptions of Canary Wharf, the Swiss Re HQ (“the Gherkin”), the Lloyd’s of London building, and the London Eye, London’s skyline has traditionally been low-key, with little of the swagger of, say, Shanghai or Manhattan. But a spectacular crop of soaring new office towers with wonderful monikers—the Quill, the Shard, the Pinnacle, the Cheese Grater, and the Walkie Talkie—is revitalizing the city skyline. Not everyone loves Renzo Piano’s pointy Shard and its 87-floor cloud-piercing “vertical city” at London Bridge, which has a stunning viewing gallery on the 72nd floor. However, once you visit it, your understanding of the true greatness of the city will explode.

… is more global.

The nationalities keep coming, and London now swipes the crown as one of the most cosmopolitan cities on Earth. White Britons are in the minority for the first time (according to the latest census), representing 45% of London’s population of 8.2 million, while Asians make up 18%, black Londoners 13%, European “White Others” 13%, and mixed-race residents at 5%. But London’s always been a city of immigrants—from the 10th century, the city had Cymric Brythons, Belgae and Gauls, East Saxons, and Mercians, Danes, Swedes, and Norwegians, plus Jutes, Franks, and Angles. Today, Londoners simply shrug and are “Begone with their business.”

… is more happening.

Have you picked up one of those free daily London Evening Standard newspapers lately? They’re stuffed with a smorgasbord of world-class shows, plays, performances, readings, concerts, fashion follies, cabaret, talks, auctions and blockbuster art exhibitions. Whether it’s contemporary art and old masters paintings at the Frieze London art fair or a one-off guest chef’s eight-course surprise meal, London is one of the most happening places on the planet.

… is better connected.

Finally, you’ll notice that the public transport’s gotten more frequent and more reliable. While London’s traffic often seems more chaotic than New York City’s, the Congestion Charge, the £10-per-day fee imposed on vehicles entering central London, has reduced both traffic and pollution. While the Underground now runs 24 hours a day on weekends, massive tunneling continues apace on London’s flagship, high-speed, Cross Rail underground railway line, which includes new interchanges at Paddington, Tottenham Court Road, and Farringdon stations, slated to open in 2018. Meanwhile, don’t miss London’s distinctive sky-blue hire bikes, Barclay’s Cycle Hire, known locally as “Boris Bikes,” after London Mayor Boris Johnson. With 8,733 bikes available at 612 docking stations, you’ll find (after laying down £7 for a weekly pass) that the first half hour’s free, an hour’s a quid, and two hours is only £6.


We really shouldn’t begrudge it, but some of London’s top cultural attractions seem to be in a Cold War upgrade arms race and are investing heavily in new galleries, exhibits, refurbs, expansions, and assorted shiny new bells and whistles. Look, then, for the new £45-million rehang at Tate Britain that allows you to walk through 500 years of British art organized in strict chronological order, including new galleries on visionary painter William Blake and sculptor Henry Moore. Similarly, Shakespeare’s Globe has recreated an atmospheric oak-paneled entirely candlelit 350-seat Jacobean indoor theater—the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse— where you’ll catch intimate bawdy Jacobean plays, historical music and vocalists, and groundbreaking collaborations with groups like the Royal Opera House. And watch out for a radical £120-million renovation at the Southbank Centre, where the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room, and Hayward Gallery will soon encompass a slick “floating” glass pavilion linking up the venues and a new national literature center and poetry library.

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What’s Where

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Westminster, St. James’s, and Royal London. This is the place to embrace the “Gran turismo” label. Snap pictures of the mounted Horse Guards, watch kids clambering onto the lions in Trafalgar Square, and visit stacks of art in the fantastic national galleries. Do brave the crowds to peruse historic Westminster Abbey and its ancient narrative in stone.

Mayfair and Marylebone. You might not have the wallet for London’s most prestigious shops, but remember window-shopping in Mayfair is free. Meanwhile, boutique shops in Marylebone are a refreshing change from gaudy Oxford Street a few blocks south.

Soho and Covent Garden. More sophisticated than seedy these days, the heart of London puts Theatreland, strip joints, Chinatown, burger boîtes, and the trendiest of film studios side by side. Nearby Charing Cross Road is an old bibliophile’s bookfest. And hold tight among the hectic hordes in Leicester Square, London’s crowd-packed answer to Times Square. Covent Garden’s historic piazza is one of the busiest, most raffishly enjoyable parts of the city.

Bloomsbury, Holborn, and Islington. Once the bluestocking and intellectual center of London, elegant Bloomsbury is now also a mixed business district—albeit with the mother lode of museums at its heart. The British Museum has enough amazing artifacts to keep you busy for a month of Sundays; otherwise, offerings are limited, though the Law Courts, University of London, and quaint Lamb’s Conduit Street are worth a gander.

The City. London’s Wall Street might be the oldest part of the capital, but thanks to futuristic skyscrapers and a sleek blade-of-light Millennium Bridge, it looks like the newest. History fans won’t be short-changed, however: head for the baroque dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral; the Victorian iconography of Tower Bridge; and the grisly medieval terrors of the Tower of London.

East London. Once famed for the noxious 19th-century slums immortalized by Charles Dickens and Jack the Ripper, today the area’s become a fulcrum of London’s contemporary art scene and a trendy youth-quake party zone. For spit-and-sawdust sensations of market London on the weekend, dive headfirst into the eclectic wares at Spitalfields, Brick Lane (popular for curry houses and 24-hour bagel bakeries), and Columbia Road’s much-loved flower market.

South of the Thames. Die-hard culture vultures could spend a lifetime here. The Southbank Centre—including the National Theatre and Royal Festival Hall, the Haywood Gallery, Shakespeare’s Globe, and Tate Modern—showcases the capital’s crowning artistic glories. Or put it all in aerial perspective from the 72nd floor of the mesmerizing pyramid-shaped Shard.

Kensington, Chelsea, Knightsbridge, and Belgravia. Although the many boutiques of King’s Road have lost much of their heady ’60s swagger, the free museums are as awe-inspiring as ever. Kensington High Street (or “Ken High Street” to locals) is slightly more affordable than King’s Road; otherwise, flash your cash at London’s snazziest department stores, Harrods and Harvey Nichols.

Notting Hill and Bayswater. For that effortlessly hip west London demeanor, hang out in its coolest residential postal code: Notting Hill, north of Kensington. Around Portobello Road, Notting Hill Gate is a trendsetting square mile of multiethnic finds, galleries, bijou shops, and see-and-be-seen-in restaurants. Nearby, Bayswater mixes eclectic ethnic fashions, fresh-food shops, and Chinese restaurants.

Regent’s Park and Hampstead. Surrounded by the supremely elegant “terraces”—in truth, mansions as big as palaces—designed by 19th-century architect John Nash, Regent’s Park is a Regency extravaganza. The nearby hilltop villages of Hampstead and Primrose Hill attract residents like Kate Moss, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Jude Law.

Greenwich. The Royal Observatory, Sir Christopher Wren architecture, the Old Royal Naval College, Cutty Sark, and Greenwich Meridian Line all add up to one of the best Thames-side excursions beyond the cut-and-thrust of central London.

The Thames Upstream. As an idyllic retreat from the city, stroll around London’s historic gardens and enjoy the stately homes of Kew, Richmond, and Putney. Better yet, take a river cruise and end up at the famous Maze of Hampton Court Palace.

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London Planner

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When to Go | When Not to Go | Addresses | Getting Around | London Hours | Deal or No Deal? | How’s the Weather?


The heaviest tourist season runs mid-April through mid-September, with another peak around Christmas—though the tide never really ebbs. Late spring is the time to see the surrounding countryside and the Royal parks and gardens at their freshest; fall brings autumnal beauty and fewer people. Summer gives the best chance of good weather, although the crowds are most intense. Winter can be dismal—the sun sets at 4 and it’s dark by 5—but all the theaters, concerts, and exhibitions go full-speed ahead, and Christmas lights bring a touch of festive magic to the busy streets. For a schedule of festivals, check www.visitlondon.com.


The October “half-term,” when schools in the capital take a break for a week, results in most attractions being overrun by children. The start of August can be a very busy time, and hot weather makes Tube travel a sweaty nightmare. Air-conditioning is far from the norm in London, even in hotels; so although it rarely tops 90°F, it can feel much hotter. And shopping in central London just before Christmas borders on the insane.


Central London and its surrounding districts are divided into 32 boroughs—33, counting The City of London. More useful for navigating, however, are the subdivisions of London into postal districts. Throughout the guide we’ve given the abbreviated postal code for most listings. The first one or two letters give the location: N means north, NW means northwest, and so on. Don’t expect the numbering to be logical, however. (You won’t, for example, find W2 next to W3.) The general rule is that the lower numbers, such as W1 or SW1, are closest to the city center.


London is, above all, a walker’s city, and will repay every moment you spend exploring on foot. But if you’re in a rush, there are other options. By far the easiest and most practical way to get around is on the Underground, or “Tube.” Trains run daily from early morning to beyond midnight during the week and 24 hours on weekends on five key lines. Frequent buses crisscross London and often have their own lanes, which only buses and black taxis can use. They are a great way to see London, but routes are more complicated than the Tube’s; scan the route posted at the bus stop and check the number and destination on the front of the bus. Ask the bus conductor if in doubt.

Put a deposit on an Oyster card for £5, which will allow you to use London’s transport—including bus, Tube, tram, DLR, London Overground, and most National Rail services in London—at a lower cost than using paper tickets. The plastic card can be topped up as often as you want, and your £5 deposit will be reimbursed when you hand the card back.

Alternatively, buy a Travelcard pass (from £8.80 per day in the central Zones 1 and 2), which offers unlimited use of the Tube, buses, and the commuter rail. Check www.tfl.gov.uk for details on ongoing Tube renovations.


The usual shop hours are Monday-Saturday 9-6 and Sunday 11-5. Around Oxford Street, High Street Kensington, and Knightsbridge, hours are 9:30-6, with late-night hours (until 7:30 or 8) on Wednesday or Thursday.

Many businesses are closed on Sunday and national (“bank”) holidays, except in the center, where most open 10-4. Banks are open weekdays 9:30-4:30; offices are generally open 9-6.

The major national museums and galleries are open daily, mainly 10-6, and often they’re open late one night a week.


There’s no getting around it: London can be as expensive as—or even more expensive than—New York, Paris, or any other large global city. So it’s much better to accept this fact in advance and factor it into your vacation planning, tailoring outings and trips that will reflect your interests—and your budget.

Often, booking in advance, harnessing cut-price and low-season deals, and taking advantage of Internet specials for flights and hotel rooms can cut down on costs. London is also great at offering things for free (particularly the museums), and the quality of the culture, entertainment, parks, relaxation, and general fun to be had in the city means that if you target your spending wisely, you’ll go home penny-pinched but deeply satisfied.


It’s a long-standing joke that Londoners—and the English in general—chat obsessively about the weather. The London drizzle generates a fatalism that kicks off any conversation with a long-suffering nod to the heavens. Winter is usually dreary, cold, and wet (with occasional snow), spring is colorful and fair, June to August can be anything from a total washout to a long, hot summer and anything in between, while autumn can be “Indian-summer” warm, cool, or mild—or all three. Come prepared for anything—layers and a brolly are your best friends. One thing is sure: it’s virtually impossible to forecast London weather, but you can be fairly certain that it will not be what you expect.

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Top Attractions

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The pillars of this early-English Gothic edifice stand around the stone tombs of the great men and women who built Britain. The Abbey also continues to play a preeminent role in the spiritual life of the nation, from the coronation of 38 sovereigns to royal weddings and state funerals.


Not the largest or prettiest royal residence, the palace at the heart of London is nonetheless a must-see for the glimpse it affords into the life of the Royal Family. The opulence of the 19 State Rooms open to the public are jaw-dropping, and don’t forget the collection of old masters and gilded state carriages at the Queen’s Gallery and Royal Mews stables next door.


The Tower is London at its historic, gory best. Every brick tells a grisly story, and the ax-blows and fortunes that have risen and fallen within this 20-towered mini-city provide an inexhaustible supply of intrigue.


Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece never fails to take the breath away. Climb the enormous dome, one of the world’s largest, to experience the acoustics of the Whispering Gallery, and higher still to the Golden Gallery for far-reaching views across London.


“Mankind’s Attic” has been wowing visitors to London since 1753. Its unrivalled 8-million-strong collection spans all recorded history, including the Elgin Marbles, the Rosetta Stone, Egyptian mummies, and the warrior treasures of Sutton Hoo.


You can catch a Shakespeare play almost every evening in London. But standing in the open-air “pit” or yard with the “groundlings” on a floor of sawdust in a scrupulously re-created oak version of the original thatched Tudor theater for which Shakespeare wrote is a genuine thrill.


The world’s most visited modern art gallery, Tate Modern is a hip and hugely successful feature of London’s artistic landscape. Passing judgment on the latest controversial exhibit inside the giant sloping Turbine Hall has become almost a civic duty among art-loving Londoners.


A whopping 25% of London is parkland, so it is mighty hard to choose between St. James’s Park (those fairy tale views), Kensington Gardens (the beloved Peter Pan statue), Hyde Park (pedelos on the Serpentine Lido), and Regent’s Park’s rose gardens.


Henry VIII’s palace has a Tudor-turreted charm, augmented by Wren’s touch, and a picturesque Thames-side location, all of which make for a great day out. Not even dour Oliver Cromwell, who moved here in 1653, could resist its charms.


There are enough amazing world-class paintings at this collection of 2,300 masterpieces to have the most casual art enthusiast drooling with admiration. Note the raised front entrance and its great photo op: Big Ben and Nelson’s Column framed by a pedestrianized Trafalgar Square.

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London’s Royal Legacy

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Don’t know your House of Tudor from your House of Hanover? Here’s the lowdown on the most famous kings and queens who have influenced London, and where you can still see their mark.


“Bloody Mary” (r. 1553-58, House of Tudor), the Roman Catholic daughter of Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, persecuted Protestants in an attempt to reverse the Reformation and return England to Roman Catholicism. She imprisoned her half sister, Elizabeth—daughter of Anne Boleyn—in the Tower, suspecting her of a plot against her, but there was no evidence and Elizabeth came to the throne after her death.


Edward (r. 1042-66, House of Wessex) came to the throne in 1042 and ordered the construction of the original Westminster Abbey, which was consecrated in 1065, just a week before he died.


The Battle of 1066 was won by William (r. 1066-87, House of Normandy) when he shot the then-king Harold through the eye with an arrow at the battle of Hastings. He is credited with starting the building of the White Tower in the Tower of London, though it wasn’t completed until after his death.


The “Virgin Queen” (r. 1558-1603, House of Tudor) never married—perhaps because she thought that any man might try to wrest control from her (though she did move Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, into rooms close to her own at Hampton Court Palace). She oversaw a golden age of playwriting and poetry and famously inspired her troops as they prepared to battle the Spanish Armada.


A true Renaissance man, Henry (r. 1509-47, House of Tudor) was keen to bring new ideas to the Royal Court. All of Henry’s six wives, who were famously “divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived,” lived at Hampton Court Palace. Henry was desperate for a male heir—the main reason for having two of his wives executed: Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard.


His frequent bouts of irrational behavior led to the nickname “The Mad One” but George (r. 1760-1820, House of Hanover) is now thought to have suffered from an inherited metabolic illness and often secluded himself at Kew Palace. With the Declaration of Independence in 1776, he lost the American colonies. One of the most cultured monarchs, George donated 65,000 of his books to the British Museum.


It’s exciting to catch a glimpse of the Windsors and heir Prince William on a royal walkabout—so go to www.royal.gov.uk and search for “Future engagements” under the Latest News and Diary section to catch the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at a public event.


“The Martyr” (r. 1625-49, House of Stuart) is famous for losing the English Civil War, and was beheaded at Banqueting House—a twist of fate, as Charles had commissioned the palace to be decorated with paintings showing a monarch being received into heaven.


Famous for the longest reign so far in British history, 63 years, Victoria (r. 1837-1901, House of Hanover) was born in, and spent her childhood at, Kensington Palace, where she learned she would become queen at age 18.

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Give the Sports Scene a Go

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Sport in the capital is best watched, rather than participated in. If you’re lucky enough to score a ticket for a Premier League football match, you’ll experience a seething mass of mockery and chanting. Rugby Union, Championship tennis, horse racing, and Test cricket impinge on Londoners’ horizons at crucial times of the year, too, but you’re unlikely to see grown men crying at the outcome of the Wimbledon Men’s Final, or beating each other up about the Ashes.


The Boat Race.
Join over a quarter of a million zealous devotees along the crammed banks of the River Thames for a glimpse of the annual Oxford and Cambridge University “Boat Race,” held on the last Saturday of March or first Saturday of April. Sink a few pints and soak up the Barbour-clad “Oxbridge-y” Thames-side atmosphere as these crack heavyweight eight-man University crews clash oars, occasionally sink, and generally tussle head-to-head for supremacy. First raced in 1829, the 4-mile route is a historic stretch between Putney and Chiswick bridges. | Putney Bridge, Putney | www.theboatrace.org.


At its best, Test cricket can be a slow-build of smoldering tension and unexpected excitement. At its worst, it can be too slow for the casual observer, as five-day games crawl toward a draw, or as rain stops play. But try to visit Lord’s—the home of cricket—for just one day of a Test match to see the English upper classes on full display.

Lord’s—the home of Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC)—has been hallowed cricketing turf since 1814 and MCC rules codified the game. Tickets for major Test matches are hard to come by: obtain an application form and enter the lottery to purchase them. Forms are sent out in early December or apply online. Test Match tickets cost between £28 and £95. Cheaper county matches can be seen by standing in line on match day. | Marylebone Cricket Club, Lord’s Cricket Ground, St. John’s Wood Rd., St. John’s Wood | 020/7432-1000 | www.lords.org | Station: St. John’s Wood.


London’s top teams—Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, and Chelsea—are world-class and often progress in the Champions League. It’s unlikely you’ll get tickets for anything except the least popular Premier League games during the August-May season, despite the high ticket prices—£41 for a walk-up match day seat at Chelsea, and £126 for the most expensive tickets at Arsenal.


Virgin London Marathon.
The Virgin London Marathon starts at 9:30 am on a Sunday in April, with more than 35,000 athletes running from Blackheath or Greenwich to The Mall. | 020/7620-4117 | www.london-marathon.co.uk.


Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships.
The Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships are famous for Centre Court, rain, strawberries and cream, and an insistence on players wearing white. Thankfully, rain’s been banished on Centre Court by the retractable roof but whether you can get tickets for Centre Court all comes down to the luck of the draw—there’s a ballot system for advance purchase. See the website for details. You can also buy entry to roam on the outside courts, where even top-seeded players compete early on. Get to Wimbledon Tube station as early as possible and join the queue; 500 show court tickets are sold daily, too. | The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Church Rd. | 020/8944-1066 | www.wimbledon.com.

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Free (and Almost Free) Things to Do

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Concerts | Film, Theater, and Opera | Offbeat Experiences | Sightseeing on the Cheap | Visit World-Famous Museums

The exchange rate may vary a bit, but there is one conversion that will never change: £0 = $0. Here are our picks for the top free things to do in London.


St. Martin-in-the-Fields, St. Stephen Walbrook, St. Olaves, and St. James’s Church have free lunchtime concerts, as does St. Giles-in-the-Fields on Friday and St. George, Bloomsbury on Sunday. There are also regular organ recitals at Westminster Abbey.

Of the music colleges, the Royal Academy of Music, the Royal College of Music, the Guildhall, Trinity College, and the Royal Opera House have free recitals. For contemporary ears, the area outside the National Theatre at the Southbank Centre has an eclectic range of music weekdays at 5:45 pm, Saturday at 1 pm and 5:45 pm, and Sunday at 1 pm. There’s free jazz and classical Thursday to Saturday (plus two Sundays per month) at the Dysart Arms (0208/940-8005) in Richmond and live jazz at the Lamb & Flag (33 Rose St. | 0207/497-9504) in Covent Garden, from 8 pm one Sunday a month, For free blues before 8:30 pm, head to the Ain’t Nothin But… blues bar in Soho (20 Kingly St. | 020/7287-0514).


If all seats have been sold, the National Theatre sells £5 standing tickets on the day of performances at their Olivier and Lyttleton theaters. Standing-only tickets are between £4 and £15 at the Royal Opera House, and 67 tickets are available from the box office from 10 am on the day of most performances. Under 30? Becoming an “Access all Arias” member of the English National Opera is free, and allows you to buy £10 tickets. Standing-only tickets for £5 are a historically appropriate way to experience Shakespeare’s Globe. At Sloane Square, the Royal Court Theatre has four standing-only tickets for 10 pence each at the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, available an hour before performances; otherwise all tickets are £10 on Monday.


Join a blood-curdling, two-hour Jack the Ripper evening walking tour of Spitalfields to retrace the innocuous spots and alleyways where five young prostitutes were slashed to death and disemboweled by the Ripper over a 12-week period in 1888.


Prop yourself on the top deck of a double-decker bus for a ride through the most scenic parts of the city. Routes 9 and 15 also operate Heritage routes on the traditional Routemaster buses. You can use your Oyster card or buy tickets from machines at the bus stops for the following routes:

Bus 11: King’s Road, Sloane Square, Victoria station, Westminster Abbey, Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, Whitehall, Trafalgar Square, the Strand, the Royal Courts of Justice, Fleet Street, and St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Bus 19: Sloane Square, Knightsbridge, Hyde Park Corner, Green Park, Piccadilly Circus, Shaftsbury Avenue, Oxford Street, Bloomsbury, and Angel Islington.

Bus 88: Oxford Circus, Conduit Street, Piccadilly Circus, Haymarket, Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, Horse Guards Parade, Westminster station, Westminster Abbey, Horseferry Road, and Tate Britain.


London’s museums are one of the capital’s crown jewels, and many have free entry.


Giddy art lovers will target the big four—the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, Tate Britain, and Tate Modern. The National Gallery has 2,300 masterpieces from 1250 to 1900 while the world’s largest collection of portraits is next door at the National Portrait Gallery. Tate Britain takes you on a chronological walk through 500 years of British art and Tate Modern showcases contemporary art and installations.


Must-visits include the 1768 Royal Academy of Arts for its sell-out exhibitions on artists like Monet and the diminutive Courtauld Gallery at Somerset House, which has a classy capsule collection from the early medieval period to the Post Impressionists. The Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace showcases the Royal Collection and hosts blockbusters on greats like Leonardo da Vinci. The Dulwich Picture Gallery exhibits exquisite European old masters from 1600 to the 1700s and the Guildhall Art Gallery has awesome Pre-Raphaelites.


London’s historic house museums are treats within treats: the art and the house itself. One of the finest is the private Wallace Collection at the majestic damask-filled 1788 Hertford House on Manchester Square, which hosts European old masters and French decorative arts from the 15th to 19th century. Other stand-alone historic humdingers with old masters and antiques-strewn interiors include Apsley House, Kenwood House, and Leighton House in Holland Park.


With London now a global art hub, you’ll find excellent contemporary art galleries splattered around. The Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park may be small but packs a mean modern art punch. The Hayward Gallery at the Southbank Centre concentrates on bleeding-edge exhibitions while the Whitechapel Gallery kindles the East London art scene. Private galleries like the Saatchi Gallery and Maureen Paley push up-and-comers and unknowns, while White Cube features bankable Brits and esoteric premiers.


The British Museum was the world’s first national public museum in 1753 and still captivates with its vast collection of artifacts from the Rosetta Stone to Ramesses the Great. A 105-foot Diplodocus greets you at the Natural History Museum with its Victorian treasure trove of 70 million artifacts spanning 4.5 billion years while the Science Museum has a collection of 300,000 items showcased in 12 galleries. The Victoria & Albert Museum is stuffed with amazing jewelry and design exhibits. At St. Pancras, the permanent exhibition at the British Library has manuscripts like Magna Carta, the Gutenberg Bible, and Shakespeare’s First Folio.


The Museum of London explores London since before Roman times while the Museum of London Docklands tells the 2,000-year story of the port of London. The Royal Observatory, Greenwich, tells of Britain’s role in the story of navigation and astronomy, and is the home of the Prime Meridian while the National Maritime Museum charts British naval ascendancy. The National Army Museum, IWM London, and Household Cavalry Museum venerate Britain’s military history, while the RAF Museum houses Spitfires and a Lancaster bomber. You’ll find all the clocks have stopped at just before 5 pm at the Churchill War Rooms, which preserves the World War II Cabinet War Rooms, and you can operate a “dead man’s handle” on a 1930s Underground train at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden. Shakespeare’s Globe theater is an enthralling replica of the original.


London’s a royal wonderland, with royal palaces doubling down as de facto royal museums. You can get into Buckingham Palace from July to October and tour 19 impossibly grand State Rooms, including the Queen’s Throne Room. Kensington Palace is home to Prince William and Kate and you can glide through former King William III and Queen Mary II’s closet. The turrets, tapestries, and kitchens fascinate all-comers at Hampton Court Palace, as do the Crown Jewels at Royal Palace and Fortress at the Tower of London. Kew Palace and Eltham Palace are two other prize royal retreats.


Kids adore the gory Black Death scenes and gruesome Jack the Ripper rides at the London Dungeon and are intrigued by the waxwork models of celebs like J-Lo at Madame Tussauds. The eclectic Horniman Museum has 350,000 quirky objects amassed by a Victorian tea trader and there are scientific, medical, and surgical specimens galore at the Wellcome Collection, Royal Institution, and Hunterian Museum. The London Fire Brigade Museum, tiny Pollock’s Toy Museum, and The Guards Museum Toy Soldier Centre on Birdcage Walk all cater brilliantly to the whims of kids of all ages.


London is fab at preserving the homes of native sons and daughters, with the best including the Charles Dickens Museum, Florence Nightingale Museum, Freud Museum, Handel House Museum, plus artist William Hogarth’s House and essayist Thomas Carlyle’s House on Cheyne Row. Candlelit tours at Dennis Severs’ House in Spitalfields chart the tale of a 17th-century French Huguenot silk merchants’ family, and the Sir John Soane Museum is crammed with antiquities from the namesake neoclassical architect and collector.


Some museums aren’t classifiable. The Geffrye Museum is dedicated to 11 urban middle-class living rooms from 1630 to the present, while the Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garret attached to St Thomas’s Church, Southwark, displays the earliest wooden operating theater from 1822. The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology at University College, London, is worth seeing for its 80,000-strong collection of archaeology from ancient Egypt and Sudan.

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A London Historic Pub Crawl

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Like Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales pilgrims, we start in Southwark near London Bridge. Head down Borough High Street to the George Inn, a long black-and-white affair with wonky galleries, warped beams, open fires, and smoothed oak wooden stairs. First chronicled in 1542, the pub’s mentioned in Charles Dickens’s Little Dorrit. Cross Borough High Street and take the Bedale Street entrance to Borough Market; walk along until it turns into Cathedral Street, with the striking Southwark Cathedral on your right. At the fork head left to Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hind replica galleon and walk past Pickfords Wharf to reach the Anchor Bankside. This old tavern was originally built in 1615 and was frequented by William Shakespeare and other players and actors from the nearby Globe, Swan, and Rose theaters. Head up to the roof terrace for sweeping views of the River Thames and St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Historical Pub Walk

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Cross Southwark Bridge to The City. On the corner of Bow Lane, Ye Olde Watling was originally built before the Great Fire, and promptly torched. Rebuilt around 1668, again in 1901, and again after the Blitz, it’s named after Watling Street, the Roman road on which it sits.

Head west along Watling Street to St. Paul’s Cathedral and take a left down Creed Lane from Ludgate Hill. Wind your way down to Queen Victoria Street and turn right to The Blackfriar at No 174. The Grade II-listed spectacular interior is all marble and brass bas-reliefs of Dominican friars interspersed with aphorisms and quotes. Head north up New Bridge Street and turn left onto Fleet Street to the 1667 Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese at No. 145. Dr. Samuel Johnson, author of the first dictionary, used to drink here, as did Charles Dickens, Voltaire, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, and Teddy Roosevelt.


Wander west along Fleet Street, then walk north up Fetter Lane to the hidden-away Ye Olde Mitre at 1 Ely Court, which has served brews since 1546. Look for the old maypole cherry tree trunk (in the front bar) that Elizabeth I supposedly once danced around. For the final stretch, walk north up Gray’s Inn Road, then left onto Theobald’s Road before turning right onto quaint Lamb’s Conduit Street, to find The Lamb, notable for its 1720s wooden horseshoe bar with etched-glass “snob screens” to shield the well-to-do from women of dubious distinction. Head west along Great Ormond Street to the far side of Queen Square to find The Queens Larder, where Queen Charlotte reputedly rented out a cellar to store special food for her sickly husband, George III. Just north is Russell Square Tube station, or you can continue southwest to the British Museum, which faces the Museum Tavern, where Karl Marx would take time off from researching Das Kapital.

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In Pursuit of the East End Art Scene

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To start your tour, Tube it to Aldgate East Station, then walk east along Whitechapel High Street to the Whitechapel Gallery, a center for exciting exhibitions since its founding in 1901. Head back towards the Tube, then turn left into Commercial Street, go north past Spitafields Market, then right, at the Ten Bells pub into Fournier Street, with its handsome, 18th-century, former Huguenot silk weavers’ workshops. Turn left into Brick Lane, then right into Cheshire Street, known for quirky shops like the Duke of Uke (for all your ukulele needs). The shops give way to a railway line as Cheshire Street turns into Dunbridge Street, and then Three Colts Lane, as you walk directly east, until you come to industrial Herald Street, where you’ll turn left. At No. 21 is the Maureen Paley gallery, founded by an American expat who’s now a doyenne of the East End art scene.

East End Art Walk

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Turn right onto Witan Street and then left onto Cambridge Heath Road. The V&A Museum of Childhood is just past Bethnal Green Tube station. Continue heading north (take Bus 106 or 254 if you’re flagging) to just past Hackney Road. A few yards on the right is Vyner Street, not quite as sizzling as it used to be, but still a gallery hot spot. Cross back over Cambridge Heath Road and head west along Andrews Road, paralleling Regent’s Canal with its residential houseboats. Here you can either turn right to visit Broadway Market or left, going straight until you reach Hackney Road. Turn right and then take your first left at the Ion Square Gardens. Bear right onto Columbia Road (helpfully signed for Shoreditch), site of London’s best flower market on Sunday.


A short way past where the shops of Columbia Road end, you’ll see another sign for Shoreditch on the left at Virginia Road. Turn left here, bear right, and then turn left again at Hocker Street. This brings you to Arnold Circus, an early Arts and Crafts housing development. From the southern end of the Circus, take the first right off Club Row into Old Nichol Street. Here you’ll find the Kate MacGarry gallery, known for its cutting-edge conceptual and video art. Turn left into Boundary Street at the end of the road and stop for a restorative coffee or egg and bacon bap at hipster-vogue Albion “caff” at the end of Boundary Street. At this point you can either turn left around the corner to explore more fun boutiques on Redchurch Street, or right, which will bring you almost immediately to Shoreditch High Street and the huge Tea Building to the left. Turn left onto Bethnal Green Road, where you’ll find the Shoreditch High Street Overground station just above the spunky Boxpark shipping container pop-up mall.

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Afternoon Tea

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So, what is Afternoon Tea, exactly? Well, it means real loose-leaf tea—Earl Grey, English Breakfast, Ceylon, Darjeeling, or Assam—brewed in a fine bone china or porcelain pot, and served with fine bone cups and saucers, milk or lemon, and silver spoons, taken between noon and 6 pm.

For the full monty there should be elegant finger foods on a three-tiered silver cake stand: crustless finger cucumber sandwiches on the bottom; plain and fruit scones with Devonshire clotted cream and strawberry jam in the middle; and rich English fruit cake, shortbread, patisseries, macaroons, and dainty fancies on top.

Tea goers dress smartly (though not ostentatiously), and conversation by tradition should avoid politics and religion. Here are some top places in town to head:

Hands down, the super-glam Savoy on the Strand offers one of the most beautiful settings for tea. The Thames Foyer, a symphony of grays and golds centered around a winter garden wrought-iron gazebo, is just the place for the house pianist to accompany you as you enjoy the award-winning house teas along with finger sandwiches, homemade scones, and yumptious pastries.

Setting the standard in its English Tea Room for some of London’s best-known traditional teas, Brown’s Hotel, at 33 Albermarle Street—charmingly set in a classic Mayfair town house—offers Afternoon Tea for £41 or, if you wish to splash out, Champagne Tea for £51.

If you seek timeless chic, the sumptuous 1920s dining room at the Wolseley Viennese grand café on Piccadilly remains a fashionable hang-out for London’s top luvvies. The silver service teas here—light Afternoon Tea is £10.75 and Champagne Tea £33.50—are among the best in town.

Moving west, you can sit looking out onto fab lawns amid mini potted orange trees at The Orangery in Prince William and Kate’s London pad, Kensington Palace, inside resplendent Kensington Gardens. Afternoon Tea is £22.65 and a suitably Royal Afternoon Tea (with a glass of Laurent-Perrier) is £32.50.

Alternatively, add spice to your Afternoon Tea by trying a popular Moroccan-style Afternoon Tea (£22) at the souk-chic tearoom at Momo off Regent Street, where you’ll enjoy sweet mint tea in colorful glass cups plus scones with fig jam, Maghrebian pastries, Moroccan chicken wraps, and honey-and-nut-rich Berber-style crêpes.

Bea’s of Bloomsbury (motto: “Life is short. Eat More Cake”) is one of the best Afternoon Tea and cupcake stops around. With its on-site bakery, Bea’s churns out freshly baked delights like blackberry cupcakes or heavenly chocolate fudge cupcake with fudge icing. Cheery Afternoon Tea services (noon-7 pm daily) with loose-leaf Jing tea, cupcakes, scones with jam and clotted cream, mini meringues, marshmallows, and Valrhona brownies is £16 weekdays, and £19 on weekends.

Finally, for frilly trompe l’oeil grandeur, few can compete with Afternoon Tea at The Ritz on Piccadilly. It’s served in the impressive Palm Court, replete with marble tables, Louis XVI chaises, resplendent bouquets, and musical accompaniment: a true taste of Edwardian London in the 21st century. Afternoon Tea is £47 and Champagne Tea £59. Reserve a few months ahead and remember to wear a jacket and tie.

The Savoy.
Hands down, this super glamorous riverside hotel off the Strand offers the most beautiful setting for Tea: the Thames Foyer, a symphony of gold and grays centered around a wrought-iron ‘winter garden’ gazebo, is just the place for the resident pianist to accompany you as you enjoy the award-winning house teas, along with finger sandwiches, homemade scones, and yummilicious pastries. Don’t forget to swing by the adjacent Chinoiserie Vestibule—an impossibly chic black-and-white chintz covered room—to make some purchases in the Savoy Tea Boutique. | Strand | 020/7836 4343 | www.fairmont.com/savoy-london.

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London With Kids

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Kew Gardens. Kew Gardens is great for kids, with activities, the “climbers and creepers” play zone, treetops sky walk, zip wires, scramble slides, and children’s trails; it’s free for kids.

London Dungeon. Gore galore (did you ever see a medieval disembowelment?) plunges you into the depths of London history, with gruesome Jack the Ripper rides and special effects scary enough to frighten the coolest of kids.

London Zoo. Disappear into the animal kingdom among the enclosures, complete with sessions for kids about all kinds of spiders in this popular animal retreat in Regent’s Park.

Natural History Museum. It doesn’t get more awe-inspiring than bloodsucking bats, a cabinet of hummingbirds, simulated Kobe earthquakes, and a life-size blue whale. Just make sure you know your dodo from your diplodocus.

Science Museum. Special effects, virtual space voyages, 800 interactive exhibits, puzzles, and mysteries from the world of science can keep kids effortlessly amused all day.

Tower of London. Perfect for playing prince and princess in front of the Crown Jewels, but not so perfect for imagining what becomes of the fairy tale—watch your royal necks.


Covent Garden street performers. You can’t beat the gaggle of jugglers, fire-eaters, unicyclists, mime artists, and the human statues tantalizing crowds at Covent Garden piazza.

Regent’s Park Open-Air Theatre. Welcome to the land of fairy dust and magic. Don’t miss an evening performance under the stars of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in summer.


Ride the London Eye. Europe’s biggest observation wheel looks like a giant fairground ride, and you can see across what seems like half of London from the top.

Pose with a Queen’s Horse Guard. There’s always a soldier in uniform standing watch by the entrance to Horse Guards on the Trafalgar Square end of Whitehall. They don’t mind posing for pictures, but they’re not allowed to smile (which some kids see as a challenge.)

Ice-skating at the Natural History Museum. Send your kids whizzing, arms whirling, across ice from mid-November to January at this spotlighted ice rink right outside the museum.

Night at the Natural History Museum. Find out what the dinosaurs really do when the lights go out at the monthly Dino Snores sleepover (minimum of one adult and five kids per group).

Pedelo on the Serpentine. Pack a picnic and take a blue pedelo out into the middle of Hyde Park’s famed Serpentine lake; settle back and tuck in to lunch.

Lose the kids at Hampton Court Maze. The topiary might be more than 300 years old, but the quest to reach the middle of Hampton Court’s world-famous trapezoid-shaped yew hedge maze remains as challenging as ever.

West End musicals. Foot-stompingly good West End musicals and shows like Les Misérables, Billy Elliot, Matilda, Mamma Mia!, War Horse, Oliver!, Grease, and The Phantom of the Opera will mesmerize the over-seven-years-old crowd.

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