Fodor's London (2015)
Main Table of Contents
Westminster, St. James’s, and Royal London
Mayfair and Marylebone
Soho and Covent Garden
Bloomsbury and Holborn
South of the Thames
Kensington, Chelsea, Knightsbridge, and Belgravia
Notting Hill and Bayswater
Regent’s Park and Hampstead
The Thames Upstream
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Getting Oriented | Westminster | St. James’s
Updated by James O’Neill
This is postcard London at its best. Crammed with historic churches, grand state buildings, and some of the world’s best art collections, Royal London and Westminster unite politics and high culture. (Oh, and the Queen lives here, too.) The places you’ll want to explore are grouped into four distinct areas—Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, St. James’s, and Buckingham Palace—each nudging a corner of triangular St. James’s Park. There is as much history in these few acres as in many whole cities, so pace yourself—this is concentrated sightseeing.
TOP REASONS TO GO
Glorious Westminster Abbey: This Gothic church was not only the site of William and Kate’s marriage but has also seen 38 coronations, starting with William the Conqueror in 1066.
Calling on Buckingham Palace: Even if you miss the palace’s summer opening, keep pace with the marching soldiers as they enact the time-honored “Changing the Guard.”
Masterpieces Theater: Leonardo, Raphael, Van Eyck, Rembrandt, and many other artistic greats are shown off in the gorgeously renovated rooms at the National Gallery.
Discover the unspoiled Churchill War Rooms: Listen to Churchill’s radio addresses to the British people as you explore this cavernous underground wartime hideout.
Hear Big Ben’s chimes: As the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, so is Big Ben to London—just follow your ears from Trafalgar Square to catch sight of the 320-foot-high Clock Tower.
Gordon’s Wine Bar.
Gordon’s is the oldest dedicated wine bar in the city (1890). The Thames used to lap almost at its doors and Rudyard Kipling was a tenant in the rooms upstairs. Faded art still fills every inch of wall and there’s World War II blackout paint on one of the windows by the door. Head to the back room: windowless and lighted entirely by candles, it’s been a wine cellar for 800 years. The excellence of the wine list only makes it easier for time to disappear here. | 47 Villiers St., Trafalgar Sq. | 020/7930-1408 | www.gordonswinebar.com | Station: Embankment, Charing Cross.
Inn the Park.
With great food, drink, and location, Inn the Park is the perfect place to while away an hour or three, especially on the terrace in the summer. | St. James’s Park, St. James’s | 020/7451-9999 | www.innthepark.com | Station: St. James’s Park.
Trafalgar Square is smack-dab in the center of the action. Take the Tube to Embankment (Northern, Bakerloo, District, and Circle lines) and walk north until you cross the Strand, or alight at the Charing Cross (Bakerloo and Northern lines) Northumberland Avenue exit. Buses are another great option, as almost all roads lead to Trafalgar Square.
Two Tube stations are right in the heart of St. James’s: Piccadilly Circus (Piccadilly or Bakerloo lines), and Green Park (Piccadilly, Victoria, or Jubilee lines).
MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR TIME
For royal pageantry begin with Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, and the Guards Museum, followed by the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. For art, the National Gallery, Tate Britain, and the Queen’s Gallery head anyone’s list.
NEAREST PUBLIC RESTROOMS
Paid loos (£1.50) are across the street from Westminster Abbey at the bottom of Victoria Street. Banqueting House and the Queen’s Gallery have elegant restrooms.
A Brief History Of Westminster
The Romans may have shaped The City, but England’s royals created Westminster. Indeed, technically it’s still a separate city—notice it says “City of Westminster” on the street signs, not “City of London”—although any formal divide between the two vanished centuries ago, along with the open countryside that once lay between them. Edward the Confessor started the first Palace of Westminster in the 11th century; he also founded Westminster Abbey in 1050, where every British monarch since then has been crowned. The district became the focus of political power in England after the construction of Whitehall Palace in the 16th century; a vast and opulent building, it was the official residence of the monarch until it burned down in 1698. It survives both as the name of Westminster’s most important road, and a term still used in Britain to refer to the seat of government in general. The first Parliament building was part of the same complex; it, too, was nearly destroyed by the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 (still commemorated annually on November 5) and eventually succumbed to fire in 1834. The Westminster we see today took shape during the Georgian and Victorian periods, as Britain reached the zenith of its imperial power. Grand architecture sprang up, and Buckingham Palace became the principal royal residence in 1837, when Victoria acceded to the throne. Trafalgar Square and Nelson’s Column were built in 1843, to commemorate Britain’s most famous naval victory, and the Houses of Parliament were rebuilt in 1858 in the trendy neo-Gothic style of the time. The illustrious Clarence House, built in 1825 for the Duke of Clarence (later William IV), is now the home of Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.
Home to London’s most photogenic pigeons (albeit in lesser numbers these days), Trafalgar Square is not only the official center of the district known as Westminster, it is the official center of London. What will bring you here are the two magnificent museums on the northern edge of the square, the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery. From the square, two boulevards lead to the seats of different eras of governance. The avenue called Whitehall drops south to the neo-Gothic Houses of Parliament, where members of both Houses (Commons and Lords) hold debates and vote on pending legislation. Just opposite, Westminster Abbey is a monument to the nation’s history and for centuries the scene of daily worship, coronations, and royal weddings. Poets, political leaders, and 17 monarchs are buried in this world-famous, 13th-century Gothic building. Sandwiched between the two is the Jewel Tower, the only surviving part of the medieval Palace of Westminster (a name still given to Parliament and its environs). Halfway down Whitehall, No. 10 Downing Street is both the residence and the office of the prime minister. One of the most celebrated occupants, Winston Churchill, is commemorated in the Churchill War Rooms, his underground wartime headquarters off Whitehall. Just down the road is the Cenotaph, which acts as a focal point for the annual remembrance of those lost in war.
The Mall, a wide, elegant avenue beyond the stone curtain of Admiralty Arch, heads southwest from Trafalgar Square toward the Queen Victoria Memorial and Buckingham Palace, the sovereign’s official residence. The building is open to the public only in summer, but you can see much of the royal art collection in the Queen’s Gallery and spectacular ceremonial coaches in the Royal Mews, both open all year. Farther south toward Pimlico, Tate Britain focuses on prominent British artists from 1500 to today.
This area can be considered “Royal London” partly because it is neatly bounded by the triangle of streets that make up the route that Queen Elizabeth II usually takes when processing from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey or to the Houses of Parliament on state occasions, and also because it contains so much of British history going back a thousand years. Naturally, in an area that regularly sees the pomp and pageantry of royal occasions, the streets are wide and the vistas long. There is a feeling here of timeless dignity—long avenues of ancient trees framing classically proportioned buildings, constant glimpses of pinnacles and towers over the treetops, the distant throb of military bands on the march, the statues of resolute kings, queens, and statesmen standing guard at every corner, while the deep tones of Big Ben count off the hours. The main drawback to sightseeing here is that half the world is doing it at the same time as you. So, remember that for a large part of the year a lot of Royal London is floodlit at night (when there’s more elbow-room), adding to the theatricality of the experience.
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FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | Churchill War Rooms.
It was from this small warren of underground rooms—beneath the vast government buildings of the Treasury—that Winston Churchill and his team directed troops in World War II. Designed to be bombproof, the whole complex has been preserved almost exactly as it was when the last light was turned off at the end of the war. Every clock shows almost 5 pm, and the furniture, fittings, and paraphernalia of a busy, round-the-clock war office are in situ, down to the colored map pins.
During air raids, the leading government ministers met here, and the Cabinet Room is still arranged as if a meeting were about to convene. In the Map Room, the Allied campaign is charted on wall-to-wall maps with a rash of pinholes showing the movements of convoys. In the hub of the room, a bank of different-color phones known as the “Beauty Chorus” linked the War Rooms to control rooms around the nation. The Prime Minister’s Room holds the desk from which Churchill made his morale-boosting broadcasts; the Telephone Room (a converted broom cupboard) has his hotline to FDR. You can also see the restored rooms that the PM used for dining and sleeping. Telephonists and clerks who worked 16-hour shifts slept in lesser quarters in unenviable conditions.
A great addition to the War Rooms is the Churchill Museum, a tribute to the great wartime leader himself. Different zones explore his life and achievements—and failures, too—through objects and documents, many of which, such as his personal papers, have never previously been made public. TIP Although the War Rooms are underground, access is available for wheelchairs. | Clive Steps, King Charles St., Westminster | 020/7930-6961 | www.iwm.org.uk | £17.50 | Daily 9:30-6; last admission 5 | Station: Westminster.
Looking like an unassuming alley but for the iron gates (and armed guards) that block the entrance, this is the location of the famous No. 10, London’s modest equivalent of the White House. The Georgian entrance to the mid-17th-century mansion is deceptive; it’s actually a huge complex of discreetly linked buildings. Since 1732 it has been the official home and office of the Prime Minister—the last private resident was the magnificently named Mr. Chicken—although the current Prime Minister actually lives in the private apartments above No. 11, as those in No. 10 are too small to house a family. (No. 11 is traditionally the residence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the head of the treasury). There are no public tours but the famous black front door to No. 10 is clearly visible from Whitehall. Just south of Downing Street, in the middle of Whitehall, is the Cenotaph, a stark white monolith built to commemorate the 1918 armistice. On Remembrance Day (the Sunday nearest November 11) it’s strewn with red poppy wreaths to honor the dead of both world wars and all British and Commonwealth soldiers killed in action since; the first wreath is traditionally laid by the Queen. | Whitehall | Station: Westminster.
QUICK BITES: Notes Music and Coffee.
Next door to the London Coliseum (home of the English National Opera), this hip café serves some of the best sandwiches, salads, and coffee in the neighborhood. Keep an eye out for their popular jazz nights. | 31 St. Martin’s La., Westminster | 020/7240-0424 | notes-uk.co.uk | Station: Charing Cross.
FAMILY | Horse Guards Parade.
Once the tiltyard for jousting tournaments, Horse Guards Parade is best known for the annual Trooping the Colour ceremony, in which the Queen takes the salute on her official birthday tribute, on the second Saturday in June. (Though it’s called a birthday it’s actually the anniversary of her coronation—the Queen’s real birthday is on April 21.) It’s a must-see if you’re around, with marching bands and throngs of onlookers. Throughout the rest of the year the changing of two mounted sentries known as the Queen’s Life Guard at the Whitehall facade of Horse Guards provides what may be London’s most popular photo opportunity. The ceremony last about half an hour. | Whitehall | 020/7930-4832 | Changing of the Queen’s Life Guard at 11 am Mon.-Sat. and 10 am Sun.; inspection of the Queen’s Life Guard daily at 4 pm | Station: Westminster.
Houses of Parliament.
The Palace of Westminster, as the complex is called, was first established by Edward the Confessor in the 11th century. William II started building a new palace in 1087, and this became the seat of English power. Fire destroyed most of the palace in 1834, and the current complex dates largely from the mid-19th century.
Houses of Parliament Highlights
The Visitors’ Galleries of the House of Commons afford a view of democracy in action when the benches are filled by opposing MPs (members of Parliament). Debates are formal but raucous—especially during Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs), when any MP can put a question to the nation’s leader. Tickets to PMQs are free but highly sought after, so the only way for non-U.K. citizens to gain access is by queuing on the day and hoping for no-shows. The action starts at 1 pm Wednesday when Parliament is sitting and broadcast live on television. There are also Visitors Galleries for The House of Lords.
Westminster Hall was the work of William the Conqueror’s son William Rufus. It’s one of the largest remaining Norman halls in Europe and the scene of the trial of Charles I.
After the 1834 fire, the Clock Tower—renamed Elizabeth Tower in 2012, in honor of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee—was completed in 1858, and contains the 13-ton bell known as Big Ben. At the southwest end of the main Parliament building is the 323-foot-high Victoria Tower.
Houses of Parliament Tips
Public tours of Parliament cost £16.50 and must be booked in advance through www.ticketmaster.co.uk.
Nonresidents can watch debates when Parliament is in session by waiting in line for tickets. Embassies and High Commissions often have a quota of debate tickets available to their citizens, which helps in avoiding long lines.
The easiest time to get into the Commons is during an evening session—Parliament is still sitting if the top of the Clock Tower is illuminated.
The best view of the Houses is from the opposite (south) bank, across Lambeth Bridge. It is especially dramatic at night when floodlighted green and gold.
St. Stephen’s Entrance, St. Margaret St., Westminster | 020/7219-4272 information, 0844/847-1672 public tours, 0161/425-8677 public tours (from overseas) | www.parliament.uk/visiting | Free; tours £16.50 (booking essential) | Tour times and hrs for Visitor’s Gallery vary week to week; call or check website | Station: Westminster.
The Jewel Tower.
Overshadowed by the far more famous attractions of Parliament to one side and Westminster Abbey to the other, this is the only portion of the Palace of Westminster complex to have survived intact from medieval times. Built in the 1360s to contain treasures belonging to Edward III, it once formed part of the palace’s defensive walls—hence the fortress-like appearance. Check out the original ribbed stone ceiling on the ground floor; look up to see the carved stone images of men and beasts. The Jewel Tower was later used as a records office for the House of Lords, but hasn’t served in any official function since the rest of the old palace was destroyed by fire in 1834; the ancient documents were moved to the greater safety of the Tower of London. Today it contains an exhibition on the history of Parliament. | Abingdon St., Westminster | 020/7222-2219 | www.english-heritage.org.uk | Mar.-Oct, daily 10-5; Nov.-Feb., daily 10-4; last admission 30 mins before closing | Station: Westminster.
FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | National Gallery.
Standing proudly on the north side of Trafalgar Square, this is truly one of the world’s supreme art collections, with more than 2,300 masterpieces on show. Michelangelo, Leonardo, Turner, Monet, van Gogh, Picasso, and more—all for free. Watch out for special temporary exhibitions, too.
National Gallery Highlights
This brief selection is your jumping-off point, but there are hundreds of other paintings to see, enough to fill a full day. In chronological order: (1) Van Eyck (c. 1395-1441), The Arnolfini Portrait—a solemn couple holds hands, the fish-eye mirror behind them mysteriously illuminating what can’t be seen from the front view. (2) Holbein (1497-1543), The Ambassadors—two wealthy visitors from France stand surrounded by what were considered luxury goods at the time. Note the elongated skull at the bottom of the painting, which takes shape only when viewed from an angle. (3) Da Vinci (1452-1519), The Virgin and Child—this exquisite black-chalk “Burlington Cartoon” depicts the master’s most haunting Mary. (4) Velázquez (1599-1660), Christ in the House of Martha and Mary—in this enigmatic masterpiece the Spaniard plays with perspective and the role of the viewer. (5) Turner (1775-1851), Rain, Steam and Speed: The Great Western Railway, the whirl of rain, mist, steam, and locomotion is nothing short of astonishing (spot the hare). (6) Caravaggio (1573-1610), The Supper at Emmaus—a freshly resurrected Christ blesses bread in an astonishingly domestic vision from the master of chiaroscuro. (7) Van Gogh (1853-1890), Sunflowers—painted during his sojourn with Gauguin in Arles, this is quintessential Van Gogh. (8) Seurat (1859-91), Bathers at Asnières—this summer day’s idyll is one of the pointillist extraordinaire’s best-known works.
National Gallery Tips
Color coding throughout the galleries helps you keep track of the period in which you’re immersed.
Begin at an “Art Start” terminal in the Sainsbury Wing or East Wing Espresso Bar. The interactive screens give you access to information on all of the museum’s holdings; you can choose your favorites, and print out a free personal tour map.
Want some stimulation? Try a free weekday lunchtime lecture, or Ten Minute Talk, which illuminates the story behind a key work of art. One-hour free, guided tours start at the Sainsbury Wing every weekday at 11:30 and 2:30 (also Friday at 7 pm), and on weekends at 4.
If you are eager for even more insight into the art, pick up a themed audio guide, which takes in about 20 paintings.
If you visit with children, don’t miss special programs for young visitors, including free Family Sundays (every Sunday) with special talks for children and their parents. Check the website for other one-off events.
Trafalgar Sq., Westminster | 020/7747-2885 | www.nationalgallery.org.uk | Free; charge for special exhibitions; audio guide £3.50 | Sun.-Thurs. 10-6, Fri. 10-9 | Station: Charing Cross, Embankment, Leicester Sq.
FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | National Portrait Gallery.
Tucked around the corner from the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery was founded in 1856 with a single aim: to gather together portraits of famous (and infamous) British men and women. More than 150 years and 160,000 portraits later, it is an essential stop for all history and literature buffs. The spacious galleries make it a pleasant place to visit, and you can choose to take in a little or a lot. Need to rest those legs? Then use the Portrait Explorer in the Digital Space on the ground-floor mezzanine for interactive, computer-aided exploration of the gallery’s extensive collection. If you visit with little ones, ask at the desk about the excellent Family Trails, which make exploring the galleries with children much more fun. TIP On the top floor, the Portrait Restaurant has one of the best views in London—a panoramic vista of Nelson’s Column and the backdrop along Whitehall to the Houses of Parliament.
Galleries are arranged clearly and chronologically, from Tudor times to contemporary Britain. A Holbein miniature of Henry VIII is perhaps the most famous image in the Tudor Gallery, although the enormous portrait of Elizabeth I—bejeweled and literally astride the world in a powerful display of imperial intent—is by far the most impressive. The huge permanent collections include portraits of Shakespeare, the Brontë sisters, and Jane Austen. Look for the four Andy Warhol Queen Elizabeth II silk screens from 1985 and Maggi Hambling’s surreal self-portrait. Contemporary portraits range from the iconic (Julian with T-shirt—an LCD screen on a continuous loop—by Julian Opie) to the creepy (Marc Quinn’s Self, a realization of the artist’s head in frozen blood) and the eccentric (Tim Noble’s ghoulish Head of Isabella Blow). Temporary exhibitions can be explored in the ground-floor Wolfson and Porter galleries. | St. Martin’s Pl., Westminster | 020/7312-2463, 020/730-0555 recorded switchboard information | www.npg.org.uk | Free; charge for special exhibitions; audiovisual guide £3 | Mon.-Wed. and weekends 10-6, Thurs. and Fri. 10-9; last admission 1 hr before closing | Station: Charing Cross, Leicester Sq.
FAMILY | St. Martin-in-the-Fields.
One of London’s best-loved and most welcoming of churches is more than just a place of worship. Named after the saint who helped beggars, St Martin’s has long been a welcome sight for the homeless, who have been given soup and shelter at the church since 1914. The church is also a haven for music lovers; the internationally known Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields was founded here, and a popular program of concerts continues today. (Although the interior is a wonderful setting for a recital, beware the hard wooden benches!) The crypt is a hive of activity, with a popular café and shop, plus the London Brass-Rubbing Centre, where you can make your own life-size souvenir knight, lady, or monarch from replica tomb brasses, with metallic waxes, paper, and instructions from about £5. | Trafalgar Sq., Westminster | 020/7766-1100 | www.smitf.org | Free; concerts £7-£30 | Open all day for worship; sightseeing: Mon., Tues., and Fri. 8:30-1 and 2-6; Wed. 8:30-1:15 and 2-5; Thurs. 8:30-1:15 and 2-6; Sat. 9:30-6; Sun. 3:30-5 | Station: Charing Cross, Leicester Sq.
QUICK BITES: The atmospheric St. Martin’s Café in the Crypt, with its magnificent high-arched brick vault and gravestone floor, serves full English and continental breakfasts, sandwiches, salads, snacks, afternoon tea, and wine. Lunch and dinner options include vegetarian meals and the setting, at the heart of London, is superb.
FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | Tate Britain.
The stately neoclassical institution may not be as ambitious as its sibling Tate Modern on the South Bank, but Tate Britain’s bright galleries lure only a fraction of the Modern’s overwhelming crowds and are a great place to explore British art from 1500 to the present. First opened in 1897, funded by the sugar magnate Sir Henry Tate, the museum includes the Linbury Galleries on the lower floors, which stage temporary exhibitions, and a permanent collection on the upper floors. And what a collection it is—classic works by John Constable, Thomas Gainsborough, David Wilkie, Francis Bacon, Duncan Grant, Barbara Hepworth, and Ben Nicholson, and an outstanding display from J.M.W. Turner in the Clore Gallery, including many later vaporous and light-infused works such as Sunrise with Sea Monsters. Sumptuous Pre-Raphaelite pieces are a major draw, while the Contemporary British Art galleries bring you face to face with Damien Hirst’s Away from the Flock and other recent conceptions. The Tate Britain also hosts the annual Turner Prize exhibition, with its accompanying furor over the state of contemporary art, from about October to January each year. Details of activities for families are on the website. There’s a good little café, and the excellent Rex Whistler Restaurant has been something of an institution since it first opened in 1927. It’s open daily for lunch, but evening hours are mercurial to say the least—you can dine here only on the first Friday of December, February, April, June, August, and October.
TIP Craving more art? Head down the river on the Tate to Tate boat (£6.50 one way) to Tate Modern, running between the two museums every 40 minutes. A River Roamer ticket (£15) permits a day’s travel, with stops including the London Eye and the Tower of London. You get a discount of roughly a third if you have a Travelcard. | Millbank, Westminster | 020/7887-8888 | www.tate.org.uk/britain | Free, special exhibitions £9-£15 | Sat.-Thurs. 10-6 (last entry at 5:15), Fri. 10-10 (last entry at 9:15) | Station: Pimlico.
Fodor’s Choice | Trafalgar Square.
This is literally the center of London: a plaque on the corner of the Strand and Charing Cross Road marks the spot from which distances on U.K. signposts are measured. Medieval kings once kept their aviaries of hawks and falcons here; today the humbler gray pigeons flock en masse to the open spaces around the ornate fountains (although feeding them is banned). The square was designed in 1830 by John Nash, who envisaged a new public space with striking views of the Thames, the Houses of Parliament, and Buckingham Palace. Of those, only Parliament is still clearly visible from the square, but it remains a magnet for open-air concerts, political demonstrations, and national celebrations, such as Victory in Europe Day and New Year’s Eve. Dominating the square is the 170-foot Nelson’s Column, erected as a monument to the great admiral in 1848. Note that the lampposts on the south side, heading down Whitehall, are topped with ships—they all face in the precise direction of Portsmouth, home of the British navy. The column is flanked on either side by enormous bronze lions. TIP Climbing them is a very popular photo op—but be extremely careful, as there are no guardrails and it’s a long fall onto concrete if you slip. Four plinths border the square; three contain militaristic statues, but one was left empty—it’s now used for contemporary art installations, often with a wry and controversial edge. Surprisingly enough, given that this was a square built to honor British military victories, the lawn at the north side, by the National Gallery, contains a statue of George Washington—a gift from the state of Virginia in 1921. At the southern point of the square is the equestrian statue of Charles I. After the Civil War and the king’s execution, Oliver Cromwell, the anti-Royalist leader, commissioned a brazier, John Rivett, to melt the statue. The story goes that Rivett buried it in his garden and made a fortune peddling knickknacks wrought, he claimed, from its metal, only to produce the statue miraculously unscathed after the restoration of the monarchy—and make a fortune reselling it in the process. In 1667 Charles II had it placed where it stands today, near the spot where his father was executed in 1649. Each year, on January 30, the day of the king’s death, the Royal Stuart Society lays a wreath at the foot of the statue. | Westminster | Station: Charing Cross.
Fodor’s Choice | Westminster Abbey.
Steeped in millennia of rich and often bloody history, Westminster Abbey is one of England’s most iconic buildings. An abbey has stood here since the 7th century, although the current building dates mostly from the 1240s. About 3,300 people, from kings and queens to artists and writers, are buried or memorialized here. It has hosted 38 coronations—beginning in 1066 with William the Conqueror—and no fewer than 16 royal weddings, the latest being that of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011.
But be warned: there’s only one way around the abbey, and as a million visitors flock through its doors each year, you’ll need to be alert to catch the highlights. Enter by the north door then turn around and look up to see the painted-glass rose window, the largest of its kind. Step into the small Chapel of St. Michael, where a tomb effigy of Joseph Gascoigne Nightingale fights off a sheet-draped figure of death. Next enter the adjacent Tomb of St. John the Baptist past a lovely statue of the Virgin Mary and child.
As you walk east toward the apse you’ll see the Coronation Chair at the foot of the Henry VII Chapel, which has been briefly graced by nearly every regal posterior since Edward I had it made in 1301. Farther along, the exquisite confection of the Henry VII’s Lady Chapel is topped by a magnificent fan-vaulted ceiling. The wooden seats (or “stalls”) carry the heraldic banners of knights. The tomb of Henry VII lies behind the altar; his queen, Elizabeth of York, is also here, as are, it is believed, the bodies of the so-called Princes in the Tower, the 13-year-old King Edward V and nine-year-old Richard, Duke of York (murdered, it is commonly supposed, by the man who would become Richard III). Elizabeth I is buried above her sister “Bloody” Mary I in the tomb just to the north, while her arch enemy, Mary Queen of Scots, rests in the tomb to the south. In front of the High Altar, which was used for the funerals of Princess Diana and the Queen Mother, is a black-and-white marble pavement laid in 1268. The intricate Italian Cosmati work contains three Latin inscriptions, one of which states that the world will last for 19,683 years.
Continue through the South Ambulatory to the Chapel of St. Edward the Confessor, which contains the shrine to the pre-Norman king. Because of its great age, you must join the vergers’ tours to be admitted to the chapel (£3; book at the admission desk), or attend Holy Communion within the shrine on Tuesdays at 8 am. To the left, you’ll find Poets’ Corner. Geoffrey Chaucer was the first poet to be buried here in 1400, and other statues and memorials include those to William Shakespeare, D.H. Lawrence, T.S. Eliot, and Oscar Wilde as well as non-poets, Laurence Olivier and George Frederick Handel among them; look out for the 700-year-old frescoes. A door from the south transept and south choir aisle leads to the calm of the Great Cloisters, filled in part with the headstones of 26 monks who died during the Black Death. A café is nicely tucked into the cloisters.
The medieval Chapter House is adorned with 14th-century frescoes and a magnificent 13th-century tiled floor, one of the finest in the country. The King’s Council met here between 1257 and 1547. Near the entrance is Britain’s oldest door, dating from the 1050s. Take a left out of the Chapter House to visit the Abbey Museum, which houses a collection of deliciously macabre effigies made from the death masks and actual clothing of Charles II and Admiral Lord Nelson (complete with eye patch). Past the museum, the Little Cloister is a quiet haven, and just beyond, the College Garden is a pleasant diversion. Filled with medicinal herbs, it has been tended by monks for more than 900 years. On the west side of the abbey, the Dean’s Yard is the best spot for a fine view of the massive flying buttresses above.
Continue back to the nave of the abbey. In the choir screen, north of the entrance to the choir, is a marble monument to Sir Isaac Newton. If you walk toward the West Entrance, you’ll see a plaque to Franklin D. Roosevelt—one of the Abbey’s very few tributes to a foreigner. The poppy-wreathed Grave of the Unknown Warrior commemorates soldiers who lost their lives in both world wars.
Arrive early if possible, but be prepared to wait in line to tour the abbey. | Broad Sanctuary, Westminster | 020/7222-5152 | www.westminster-abbey.org | Abbey and museum £18; audio tour free | Abbey, Mon., Tues., Thurs., and Fri. 9:30-4:30; Wed. 9:30-7; Sat. 9:30-2:30; last admission 1 hr before closing time; Sun. open for worship only. Museum, Mon.-Sat. 10:30-4. Cloisters daily 8-6. College Garden, Apr.-Sept., Tues.-Thurs. 10-6; Oct.-Mar., Tues.-Thurs. 10-4. Chapter House, daily 10:30-4. Verger tours: Apr.-Sept., Mon.-Fri. 10, 10:30, 11, 2, and 2:30; Sat. 10, 10:30, and 11. Oct.-Mar., Mon.-Fri. 10:30, 11, 2, and 2:30; Sat. 10:30 and 11. Services may cause changes to hrs, so always call ahead. | Station: Westminster, St James’s Park.
This stately gateway is an impressive counterpoint to Buckingham Palace, at the opposite end of the Mall (rhymes with “shall”). On the southwest corner of Trafalgar Square, the arch, named after the adjacent Royal Navy headquarters, was designed by Sir Aston Webb and completed in 1912 as a memorial to Queen Victoria. Actually comprised of five arches—two for pedestrians, two for traffic, and the central arch which is only opened for state occasions—it was a government building until 2012, and even served as an alternative residence for the Prime Minister when Downing Street was under renovation. It is now expected to be turned into a luxury hotel. | The Mall, Cockspur St., and Trafalgar Sq., Westminster | Station: Charing Cross.
James I commissioned Inigo Jones, one of England’s great architects, to undertake a grand building on the site of the original Tudor Palace of Whitehall, which was (according to one foreign visitor) “ill-built, and nothing but a heap of houses.” Jones’s Banqueting House, finished in 1622 and the first building in England to be completed in the neoclassical style, bears all the hallmarks of the Palladian sophistication and purity which so influenced Jones during his time in Italy. James’s son, Charles I, enhanced the interior by employing the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens to glorify his father and himself (naturally) in a series of vibrant painted ceiling panels called “The Apotheosis of James I.” As it turned out, these allegorical paintings, depicting a wise monarch being received into heaven, were the last thing Charles saw before stepped through the open first-floor window onto the scaffold which had been erected directly outside for his execution by Cromwell’s Parliamentarians in 1649. Yet 20 years later his son, Charles II, would celebrate the restoration of the monarchy in the exact same place. | Whitehall, Westminster | 084/4482-7777 | www.hrp.org.uk | £5.50 | Daily 10-5; last admission 4:15. Can close at short notice for events; call ahead | Station: Charing Cross, Embankment, Westminster.
Carlton House Terrace.
Architect John Nash designed Carlton House, a glorious example of the Regency style, under the patronage of George IV (the Prince Regent, who ruled in place of George III while the “mad king” was considered too unstable to rule). Carlton House was considered a most extravagant building for its time and it was demolished after the prince’s accession to the throne in 1820. In its place Nash built Carlton House Terrace—no less imposing, with white-stucco facades and massive Corinthian columns. Carlton Terrace was a smart address, home to several of the 19th-century’s greatest luminaries—including two prime ministers, William Gladstone (1856) and Lord Palmerston (1857-75). Today Carlton House Terrace houses the Royal Society (No. 6-9), Britain’s most prestigious society of scientific minds; still active today, its previous members have included Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. | The Mall, St. James’s | Station: Charing Cross.
FAMILY | Household Cavalry Museum.
Hang around Horse Guards for even a short time and you’ll see a member of the Household Cavalry on guard, or trotting past on horseback, resplendent in a bright crimson uniform with polished brass armor. Made up of soldiers from the British Army’s most senior regiments, the Life Guards and the Blues and Royals, membership is considered a great honor; they act as the Queen’s official bodyguards and play a key role in state occasions. (It is they who perform the Changing the Guard ceremony every day at 11 am.) Located in the cavalry’s original 17th-century stables, the museum has displays of uniforms and weapons going back to 1661 as well as interactive exhibits on the regiments’ current operational roles. In the tack room you can handle saddles and bridles, and try on a trooper’s uniform, including a distinctive brass helmet with horsehair plume. You can also observe the working horses being tended to in their stable block behind a glass wall. | Horse Guards,Whitehall | 020/7930-3070 | www.householdcavalrymuseum.co.uk | £6 | Mar.-Sept., daily 10-6; Oct.-Feb., daily 10-5 | Station: Charing Cross, Westminster.
St. Margaret’s Church.
Dwarfed by its neighbor, Westminster Abbey, St. Margaret’s was founded in the 11th century and rebuilt between 1488 and 1523. It’s the unofficial parish church of the House of Commons—Winston Churchill tied the knot here in 1908. Samuel Pepys, Geoffrey Chaucer, and John Milton worshipped here, and, since 1681, a pew off the south aisle has been set aside for the Speaker of the House (look for the carved portcullis). The stained glass in the north windows is classically Victorian, facing abstract glass from John Piper in the south, replacing the originals, which were ruined in World War II. | St. Margaret’s St., Parliament Sq., Westminster | 020/7654-4840 | www.westminster-abbey.org/st-margarets | Weekdays 9:30-3:30, Sat. 9-1:30, Sun. 2-4:30 (entry via east door). Church may close on short notice for services, so call ahead | Station: Westminster.
The Supreme Court.
The highest court of appeal in the United Kingdom is housed in the carefully restored Middlesex Guildhall. Visitors are welcome to pop in (for free) and look at the three courtrooms, including the impressive Court Room 1 on the second floor, with its magnificent carved wood ceiling. The Court’s art collection, on permanent display, includes portraits by Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds. There is a café downstairs. | Parliament Sq., Westminster | 020/7960-1500 | supremecourt.uk | Free | Weekdays 11-4, Sat. 10:30-4:30 | Station: Westminster (take Exit 6 for Whitehall west).
FAMILY | Wellington Barracks.
These are the headquarters of the Guards Division, the Queen’s five regiments of elite foot guards (Grenadier, Coldstream, Scots, Irish, and Welsh) who protect the sovereign and, dressed in tunics of gold-purled scarlet and tall bearskin caps, patrol her palaces. Guardsmen alternate these ceremonial postings with serving in current conflicts, for which they wear more practical uniforms. If you want to learn more about the guards, visit the Guards Museum, which has displays on all aspects of a guardsman’s life in conflicts dating back to 1642; the entrance is next to the Guards Chapel. Next door is the Guards Toy Soldier Centre, a great place for a souvenir. | Birdcage Walk, Westminster | 020/7414-3428 | www.theguardsmuseum.com | £5 | Daily 10-4; last admission 3:30 | Station: St. James’s Park, Green Park.
Tucked away on traffic-clogged Victoria Street lies this remarkable neo-Byzantine gem, seat of the Archbishop of Westminster, head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales. Faced with having Westminster Abbey as a neighbor, architect John Francis Bentley looked to the east for inspiration, to the basilicas of St. Mark’s in Venice and the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul. The asymmetrical redbrick edifice, dating from 1903, is banded with stripes of Portland stone and abutted by a 273-foot-high bell tower (the bell is nicknamed “Big Edward”) at the northwest corner, ascendable by elevator for sterling views. The interior remains incomplete but the unfinished overhead brickwork of the ceiling lends the church a dark, brooding intensity. Several side chapels, such as the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament and the Holy Souls Chapel, are beautifully finished in glittering mosaics. The Lady Chapel—dedicated to the Virgin Mary—is also sumptuously decorated. Look out for the Stations of the Cross, a meditative representation of the Via Dolorosa found in all Catholic churches (by Eric Gill), and the striking baldachin—the enormous stone canopy standing over the altar with a giant cross suspended in front of it. The nave, the widest in the country, is constructed in green marble, which also has a Byzantine connection—it was cut from the same place as the marble used in the Hagia Sofia, and was almost confiscated by warring Turks as it traveled west. All told, more than 200 different types of marble can be found within the cathedral’s interior. Just inside the main entrance is the tomb of Cardinal Basil Hume, head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales for more than 25 years. There’s a café in the crypt. | Ashley Pl., Westminster | 020/7798-9055 | www.westminstercathedral.org.uk | Bell Tower and viewing gallery £5; Treasures of the Cathedral exhibition £5; joint ticket for Bell Tower and exhibition £8 | Cathedral weekdays 7-6, weekends 8-7; Bell Tower and Treasures of the Cathedral exhibition weekdays 9:30-5, weekends 9:30-6 | Station: Victoria.
You’ve seen Big Ben, the Tower, and Westminster Abbey. But somehow you feel something is missing: a close encounter with Britain’s most famous attraction—Her actual Maj, Elizabeth II. The Queen and the Royal Family attend hundreds of functions a year, and if you want to know what they are doing on any given date, turn to the Court Circular, printed in the major London dailies, or check out the Royal Family website, www.royal.gov.uk, for the latest events on the Royal Diary. Trooping the Colour is usually held on the second Saturday in June, to celebrate the Queen’s official birthday. This spectacular parade begins when she leaves Buckingham Palace in her carriage and rides down the Mall to arrive at Horse Guards Parade at 11 exactly. To watch, just line up along the Mall with your binoculars.
Another time you can catch the Queen in all her regalia is when she and the Duke of Edinburgh ride in state to open the Houses of Parliament. The famous black and gilt-trimmed Irish State Coach travels from Buckingham Palace—on a clear day, it’s to be hoped, for this ceremony takes place in late October or early November. The Gold State Coach, an icon of fairy-tale glamour, is used for coronations and jubilees only.
But perhaps the most relaxed, least formal time to see the Queen is during Royal Ascot, held at the racetrack near Windsor Castle—a short train ride out of London—usually during the third week of June (Tuesday-Friday). The Queen and members of the Royal Family are driven down the track to the Royal Box in an open carriage, giving spectators a chance to see them. After several races, the famously horse-loving Queen invariably walks down to the paddock, greeting race goers as she proceeds. If you meet her, you’re supposed to address her as “Your Majesty.”
As a fitting coda to all of Westminster’s pomp and circumstance, St. James’s—packed with old-money galleries, restaurants, and gentlemen’s clubs that embody the history and privilege of traditional London—is found to the south of Piccadilly and north of the Mall.
When Whitehall Palace burned down in 1698, all of London turned its attention to St. James’s Palace, the new royal residence. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the area around the palace became the place to live, and many of the estates surrounding the palace disappeared in a building frenzy, as mansions were built and streets laid out. Most of the homes here are privately owned and so closed to visitors, but there are some treasure houses that you can explore (such as Spencer House), as well as a bevy of fancy shops that have catered to the great and good for centuries.
Today, St. James’s remains a rather masculine enclave, containing most of the capital’s celebrated gentlemen’s clubs (especially the classic Atheneum), long-established men’s outfitters and clothiers, and some interesting art galleries and antiques shops. In one corner is St. James’s Park, framed on its western side by the biggest monument in the area: Buckingham Palace, official residence of the Queen. The smaller St. James’s Palace is where much of the office work for the House of Windsor gets done; nearby is Clarence House, London home of Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla.
This stately, 115-foot-wide processional route sweeping from Admiralty Arch to the Queen Victoria Memorial at Buckingham Palace is an updated 1904 version of a promenade laid out around 1660 for the game of paille-maille (a type of croquet crossed with golf), which also gave the parallel road Pall Mall its name. The tarmac is colored red, to represent a ceremonial red carpet. The Duke of York Memorial up the steps toward Carlton House Terrace is a towering column dedicated to George III’s second son, further immortalized in the English nursery rhyme “The Grand old Duke of York.” Sadly, the internal spiral steps are inaccessible. TIP Be sure to stroll along The Mall on Sunday when the road is closed to traffic, or catch the bands and troops of the Household Division on their way from St. James’s Palace to Buckingham Palace for the Changing the Guard. | St. James’s | Station: Charing Cross, Green Park.
The origins of the name “Piccadilly” relate to a humble 17th-century tailor from the Strand named Robert Baker who sold picadils—a stiff ruffled collar all the rage in courtly circles—and built a house with the proceeds. Snobs dubbed his new-money mansion Piccadilly Hall, and the name stuck.
Pride of place in the circus—a circular junction until the construction of Shaftesbury Avenue in 1886— belongs to the statue of Eros (although even most Londoners don’t know that the 1893 work is a representation of Eros’s brother Anteros, the Greek God of requited love). The creation of young sculptor Alfred Gilbert is a memorial to the selflessness of the philanthropic Earl of Shaftesbury (the god’s bow and arrow are an allusion to the earl’s name). Gilbert cast the statue in the then-novel medium of aluminum. TIP The other instantly recognizable feature of Piccadilly Circus is the enormous bank of illuminated advertising hoardings on the north side; if you’re passing at night, frame them behind the Tube entrance sign on the corner of Regent Street for an unforgettable photo. | St. James’s | Station: Piccadilly Circus.
The Queen’s Gallery.
Technically speaking, the sovereign doesn’t “own” the rare and exquisite works of art in the Royal Collection, she merely holds them in trust for the nation—and what a collection it is! Only a selection is on view at any one time, presented in themed exhibitions. Let the excellent (free) audio guide take you through the elegant galleries filled with some of the world’s greatest art works.
A rough timeline of the major royal collectors starts with Charles I (who also commissioned Rubens to paint the Banqueting House ceiling). An avid art enthusiast, Charles established the basis of the Royal Collection, purchasing works by Raphael, Titian, Caravaggio, and Dürer. During the Civil War and in the aftermath of Charles’s execution, many masterpieces were sold abroad and subsequently repatriated by Charles II. George III, who bought Buckingham House, scooped up a notable collection of Venetian (including Canaletto), Renaissance (Bellini and Raphael), and Dutch (Vermeer) art, and a large number of baroque drawings, in addition to patronizing English contemporary artists such as Gainsborough and Beechey. He also took a liking to American artist Benjamin West. The Prince Regent, later George IV, had a particularly good eye for Rembrandt, equestrian works by Stubbs, and lavish portraits by Lawrence. Queen Victoria had a penchant for Landseer animals and landscapes, and Frith’s contemporary scenes. Later, Edward VII indulged Queen Alexandra’s love of Fabergé, and many royal tours around the empire produced gifts of gorgeous caliber, such as the Cullinan diamond from South Africa and an emerald-studded belt from India.
More than 3,000 other objects from the Royal Collection reside in museums and galleries in the United Kingdom and abroad: check out the National Gallery, the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Museum of London, and the British Museum. TIP The E-gallery provides an interactive electronic version of the collection, allowing the user to open lockets, remove a sword from its scabbard, or take apart the tulip vases. It’s probably the closest you could get to eyeing practically every diamond in the whole glittering diadem. | Buckingham Palace, Buckingham Palace Rd., St. James’s | 020/7766-7301 | www.royalcollection.org.uk | £9.50; joint ticket with Royal Mews £16.75; joint ticket with Mews and Buckingham Palace £34.50 | Daily 10-5:30; last admission 4:30 | Station: Victoria, St. James’s Park, Green Park.
FAMILY | Royal Mews.
Fairy-tale gold-and-glass coaches and sleek Rolls-Royce state cars emanate from the Royal Mews, next door to the Queen’s Gallery. The John Nash-designed Mews serves as the headquarters for Her Majesty’s travel department (so beware of closures for state visits), complete with the Queen’s own special breed of horses, ridden by wigged postilions decked in red-and-gold regalia. Between the stables and riding school arena are exhibits of polished saddlery and riding tack. The highlight of the Mews is the splendid Gold State Coach, like a piece of art on wheels, with its sculpted tritons and sea gods. Mews were originally falcons’ quarters (the name comes from their “mewing,” or feather shedding), but nowadays the horses rule the roost. There are activities for children, and guided tours are available March to October; call for details. | Buckingham Palace Rd., St. James’s | 020/7766-7302 | www.royalcollection.org.uk | £8.25; joint ticket with Queen’s Gallery £16.75; joint ticket with Queen’s Gallery and Buckingham Palace £34.50 | Apr.-Oct., daily 10-5; Nov.-Mar., Mon.-Sat. 10-4; last admission 45 mins before closing | Station: Victoria, St. James’s Park.
Fodor’s Choice | Buckingham Palace.
The doors of the monarch’s official residence are only open to the public in August and September, when the Queen heads to Scotland on holiday (you can tell because the famous red, white, and blue Union Flag will be flying above the palace instead of the Royal Standard). The standard tour covers the palace’s 19 State Rooms with their gilt moldings and walls adorned with old masters.
Buckingham Palace Highlights
The Grand Hall, followed by the Grand Staircase and Guard Room, are visions in gold leaf. Don’t miss the theatrical Throne Room, with the original 1953 coronation throne, or the sword in the Ballroom, used by the Queen to bestow knighthoods. Royal portraits line the State Dining Room, and the Blue Drawing Room is dazzling in its splendor. The bow-shape Music Room features lapis columns between floor-to-ceiling windows, and the alabaster-and-gold plasterwork of the White Drawing Room is a dramatic statement.
The Changing the Guard, also known as Guard Mounting, culminates in front of the palace. Marching to military bands, the old guard proceeds up the Mall from St. James’s Palace to Buckingham Palace. Shortly afterward, the new guard approaches from Wellington Barracks. The captains of the old and new guards then symbolically transfer the keys to the palace.
Buckingham Palace Tips
If bought directly from the palace ticket office, tickets are valid for a repeat visit over the course of 12 months from the first visit.
Admission is by timed ticket with entry every 15 minutes throughout the day. Allow up to two hours.
A Royal Day Out ticket, available only in August and September, gives you the regal triple whammy of the Royal Mews, the Queen’s Gallery, and the State Rooms, and is valid throughout the day. Tickets cost £33.25. Allow four hours.
Get there by 10:30 to grab a spot in the best viewing section for the Changing the Guard ( | www.changing-the-guard.com), daily at 11:30 from May until the end of July (varies according to troop deployment requirements) and on alternate days for the rest of the year, weather permitting.
Buckingham Palace Rd., St. James’s | 020/7766-7334 | www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit | £19.75; joint ticket with Queen’s Gallery and Royal Mews £34.50 | Aug., daily 9:30-7 (last admission 4:45); Sept., daily 9:30-6:30 (last admission 3:45). Times subject to change; check website | Station: Victoria, St. James’s Park, Green Park.
St. James’s Palace.
Commissioned by Henry VIII, this Tudor brick palace was the residence of kings and queens for more than 300 years; indeed, while all monarchs have actually lived at Buckingham Palace since Queen Victoria’s day, it is still the official residence of the Sovereign. (Foreign ambassadors, for instance, are received by the “Court of St. James.”) Today it contains various royal apartments and offices, including the working office of Prince Charles. It’s not open to the public but the surprisingly low-key Tudor exterior is well worth the short detour from the Mall to see. Friary Court out front is a splendid setting for Trooping the Colour, part of the Queen’s official birthday celebrations. Everyone loves to take a snapshot of the scarlet-coated guardsman standing sentry outside the imposing Tudor gateway. Note that the Changing the Guard ceremony at St. James’s Palace occurs only on days when the guard at Buckingham Palace is changed. If you’re approaching from St. James Street, take a quick peek at the wonderfully old-looking Berry Bros. & Rudd wine store at No. 3, near the back entrance to the palace; it’s been trading here continuously since 1698. | Friary Ct., St. James’s | www.royal.gov.uk | Station: Green Park.
FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | St. James’s Park.
In a city of royal parks, this one—bordered by three palaces (the Palace of Westminster, St. James’s Palace, and Buckingham Palace)—is the most regal of them all. It’s not only London’s oldest park, but also its smallest and most ornate. Once marshy meadows, the land was acquired by Henry VIII in 1532 as royal deer-hunting grounds (with dueling and sword fights strictly forbidden). Later, James I drained the land and installed an aviary and zoo (complete with crocodiles, camels, and an elephant). When Charles II returned from exile in France, where he had been hugely impressed by the splendor of the gardens at the Palace of Versailles, he transformed the park into formal gardens, with avenues, fruit orchards, and a canal. Lawns were grazed by goats, sheep, and deer, and in the 18th century the park became a different kind of hunting ground, for wealthy lotharios looking to pick up nighttime escorts. A century later, John Nash redesigned the landscape in a more naturalistic, romantic style, and if you gaze down the lake toward Buckingham Palace, you could easily believe yourself to be on a country estate.
A large population of waterfowl—including pelicans, geese, ducks, and swans (which belong to the Queen)—breed on and around Duck Island at the east end of the lake. From April to September, the deck chairs (charge levied) come out, crammed with office workers at midday, eating lunch while being serenaded by music from the bandstands. One of the best times to stroll the leafy walkways is after dark, with Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament rising above the floodlit lake. The popular Inn the Park restaurant is a wood-and-glass pavilion with a turf roof that blends in beautifully with the surrounding landscape; it’s an excellent stopping place for a meal or a snack on a nice day. | The Mall or Horse Guards approach or Birdcage Walk, St. James’s | www.royalparks.org.uk | Daily 5 am-midnight | Station: St. James’s Park, Westminster.
The London home of the Queen Mother for nearly 50 years until her death in 2002, Clarence House is now the residence of Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales; his wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall; and Prince Harry. The Regency mansion was built by John Nash for the Duke of Clarence (later to become William IV) who considered next-door St. James’s Palace to be too cramped for his liking, although postwar renovation work means that little remains of Nash’s original. Since then it has remained a royal home for princesses, dukes, and duchesses, including the present monarch, Queen Elizabeth, as a newlywed before her coronation. The rooms have been sensitively preserved to reflect the Queen Mother’s taste, with the addition of many works of art from the Royal Collection, including works by Winterhalter, Augustus John, and Sickert. You’ll find it less palace and more home, with informal family pictures and comfortable sofas. The tour (by timed ticket entry only) is of the ground-floor rooms and includes the Lancaster Room, so called because of the marble chimneypiece presented by Lancaster County to the newly married Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh. Clarence House is usually open only for the month of August and tickets must be booked in advance. | St. James’s Palace, The Mall, St. James’s | 020/7766-7303 | www.royalcollection.org.uk | £9.50; exclusive guided tour £35 | Aug. 1-Sept. 1, weekdays 10-4, weekends 10-5:30; last admission 2 hrs before closing | Station: Green Park.
Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA).
You would never suspect that behind the stately white-stucco facade in the heart of Establishment London is to be found that champion of the avant-garde, the ICA. Since 1947, the ICA has been pushing boundaries in visual arts, performance, theater, dance, and music. There are two movie theaters, a performance theater, three galleries, a highbrow bookstore, a reading room, a café, and a bar. | The Mall, St. James’s | 020/7930-3647 | www.ica.org.uk | Free; films £6-10; performances and exhibitions vary (most are free) | Galleries Tues.-Sun. 11-11; exhibitions Tues., Wed., and Fri.-Sun. 11-6; Thurs. 11-9 | Station: Charing Cross, Piccadilly Circus.
QUICK BITES: ICA Café Bar.
Overlooking The Mall, this café and bar offers a tasty, reasonably priced lunch and dinner menu, with coffees and snacks available throughout the day. It’s open Tuesday-Sunday 11-11. | The Mall,St. James’s | 020/7930-8619 | www.ica.org.uk.
Ancestral abode of the Spencers—Princess Diana’s family—this is perhaps the finest example of an elegant 18th-century town house extant in London. Reflecting his passion for the Grand Tour and classical antiquities, the first Earl Spencer commissioned architect John Vardy to adapt designs from ancient Rome for a magnificent private palace. Vardy was responsible for the exteriors, including the gorgeous west-facing Palladian facade, its pediment adorned with classical statues, and the ground-floor interiors, notably the lavish Palm Room, with its spectacular screen of columns covered in gilded carvings that resemble gold palm trees. The lavish style was meant not only to attest to Spencer’s power and wealth but also to celebrate his marriage, a love match then rare in aristocratic circles (the palms are a symbol of marital fertility). Midway through construction—the house was built between 1756 and 1766—Spencer changed architects and hired James “Athenian” Stuart, whose designs were based on a classical Greek aesthetic, to decorate the gilded State Rooms on the first floor. These include the Painted Room, the first completely neoclassical room in Europe. Since the 1940s the house has been leased by the Spencers to a succession of wealthy residents. In 2010 the Spencer family scandalously decided to sell off all the house’s best furnishings, so today’s viewers see a decidedly denuded interior. The garden, which is open on certain Sundays in summer only, has been replanted in the 18th- and 19th-century fashion. Check the website for details. | 27 St. James’s Pl., St. James’s | 020/7499-8620 recorded information, 020/7514-1958 tour reservations | www.spencerhouse.co.uk | £12 | Sept.-Dec. and Feb.-July, Sun. 10:30-5:45; last tour 1 hr before closing | Station: Green Park.
St. James’s Church.
Bombed by the German Luftwaffe in 1940 and not restored until 1954, this was one of the last of Sir Christopher Wren’s London churches—and his favorite. Completed in 1684, it envelops one of Grinling Gibbon’s finest works, an ornate lime-wood reredos (the screen behind the altar). The organ was brought here in 1691 from Whitehall Palace. The church is a lively place, with all manner of lectures and concerts (some are free). A café occupies a fine location right alongside the church, while a small, sedate garden is tucked away at the rear. The market out front is full of surprises; come on Tuesday for antiques, Wednesday to Saturday for arts and crafts. | 197 Piccadilly, St. James’s | 020/7734-4511, 020/7381-0441 concert program and tickets | www.sjp.org.uk | Station:Piccadilly Circus, Green Park.
St. James’s Square.
One of London’s oldest squares, St. James’s was first laid out in 1670. It soon became the capital’s most fashionable address; by 1720 it was home to 14 dukes and earls. These days you’re more likely to find it populated with office workers eating their lunches under the shade of its leafy old trees on a warm summer’s day, but it still has some prestigious residents. Most famous among them is the London Library at No. 14—one of the several 18th-century residences spared by World War II bombs. Founded by Thomas Carlyle, it contains a million or so volumes, making it the world’s largest independent lending library and is also considered the best private humanities library in the land. The workplace of literary luminaries from T.S. Eliot to Bruce Chatwin, Kingsley Amis, Winston Churchill, John Betjeman, and Charles Dickens, the library invites you to read famous authors’ complaints in the comments book. You must be a U.K. resident to peruse the collection; apply in advance for a day (£15) or week (£50) membership. | St. James’s | Station: Piccadilly Circus.
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Getting Oriented | Mayfair | Marylebone
Updated by James O’Neill
Mayfair forms the core of London’s West End, the city’s smartest central area. This neighborhood epitomizes the stately flavor that is peculiarly London’s—the sense of being in a great, rich, powerful city is almost palpable as you wander along the posh and polished streets. Scoot across the district’s one exception to all this elegance—Oxford Street—and you’ll discover the pleasant streets of Marylebone, the most central of London’s many “villages.”
TOP REASONS TO GO
At home with the Duke of Wellington: His Apsley House—known as No. 1, London—is filled with splendid salons lined with grand old-master paintings.
Get a passion for fashion: The shopping on Bond and Mount streets will keep your credit card occupied at McQueen and McCartney, but don’t forget stylish, gigantic Selfridges.
London’s most charming shopping arcade: Built for Lord Cavendish in 1819, the beautiful Burlington Arcade is right out of a Victorian daguerreotype.
The Wallace Collection: Savor room after room of magnificent furniture, porcelain, silver, and top old-master paintings, in the former residence of the marquesses of Hertford.
Dress to impress at Claridge’s: Afternoon tea at this sumptuous art deco gem is the perfect end to a shopping spree in Mayfair.
This successful chain serves up delicious juices and smoothies, as well as sandwiches, soups, and wraps. Decamp to nearby Green Park, where—if you’re lucky—you can grab one of the deck chairs. It’s not open on weekends. | 1 Curzon St., Mayfair | 020/7629-2554 | www.crussh.com | Station: Green Park.
Since 1909, Richoux has been an affordable refuge from busy Piccadilly. Simple but well-executed French bistro food is served all day, as well as scrumptious afternoon tea. | 172 Piccadilly, Mayfair | 020/7493-2204 | www.richoux.co.uk | Station: Green Park, Piccadilly Circus.
Just up from Grosvenor Square, rustic French café Truc Vert has a daily changing menu and is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. | 42 N. Audley St., Mayfair | 020/7491-9988 | www.trucvert.co.uk | Station: Bond St.
Three Tube stations on the Central line will leave you smack in the center of these neighborhoods: Marble Arch, Bond Street (also on the Jubilee line), and Oxford Circus (also on the Victoria and Bakerloo lines).
You can also take the Piccadilly or Bakerloo line to the Piccadilly Circus Tube station, the Piccadilly line to the Hyde Park Corner station, or the Piccadilly, Victoria, or Jubilee line to the Green Park station.
The best buses are the 8, which takes in Green Park, Berkeley Square, and New Bond Street, and the 9—one of the few routes that still uses the traditional double-decker Routemaster model—which runs along Piccadilly.
MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR TIME
Reserve at least a day to experience Mayfair and Marylebone. Leave enough time for shopping and also to wander casually through the streets and squares.
The only areas to avoid are the Tube stations at rush hour, and Oxford Street if you don’t like crowds. At all costs, stay away from Oxford Circus around 5 pm, when the commuter rush can, at times, resemble an East African wildebeest migration—but without the charm.
The area becomes as quiet at night—so plan to party elsewhere.
Ultra-ritzy Mayfair, lined with beautiful 18th-century mansions (along with Edwardian apartment buildings faced with deep-red brick), is the address of choice for many of London’s wealthiest residents. Once you note the sheer number of Rolls-Royces, Bentleys, and Jaguars, you may become acutely aware of how poor you are. Even the delivery vans hereabouts all seem to bear some royal coat of arms, proclaiming them to be purveyors of fine goodies for as long as anyone can remember.
The district can’t claim to be stuffed with must-sees—but that is part of its appeal. There is no shortage of history and gorgeous architecture; the streets here are custom-built for window-shopping, expansive strolling, and getting a peek into the lifestyles of London’s rich and famous, past and present. Mayfair is primarily residential, so its homes are off-limits except for one satisfyingly grand house: Apsley House, the Duke of Wellington’s home, built by Robert Adam in 1771, and once known as No. 1, London.
Despite being bounded by four of the busiest streets in London—bustling budget-shopping mecca Oxford Street to the north, traffic artery Park Lane with Hyde Park beyond to the west, and elegant boulevards Regent Street and Piccadilly to the east and south, respectively—Mayfair itself is remarkably traffic-free and a delight to explore. Starting at Selfridges on Oxford Street, a southward stroll will take you through quiet residential streets lined with Georgian town houses (the area was largely developed in the 17th and 18th centuries) and, with a bit of artful navigating, to four lovely greenswards: Grosvenor Square, Berkeley Square, Hanover Square, with its splendid St. George’s Church where Handel worshipped, and the quiet St. George’s Gardens, bounded by a maze of atmospheric streets and mews. Mayfair is also London’s most exclusive shopping destination, with such enclaves as Mount Street, Bruton Street, Savile Row, and the Burlington Arcade. At the western end of Mayfair at Hyde Park corner are two memorials to England’s great hero, the Duke of Wellington: Wellington Arch and the duke’s restored London residence, Apsley House.
The Royal Academy of Arts is at the southern fringe of Mayfair on Piccadilly, and just across the road begins more sedate St. James’s, with its old-money galleries, restaurants, and gentlemen’s clubs that embody the history and privilege of traditional London. You’ll get the best sense of the neighborhood just to the south on St. James’s Square and Pall Mall, with its private clubs tucked away in 18th- and 19th-century patrician buildings.
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Fodor’s Choice | Apsley House (Wellington Museum).
Reopened in early 2014 after a major refurbishment, the mansion built by Robert Adam and presented to the Duke of Wellington in thanks for his victory over Napoléon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 was long celebrated as the best address in town. Once popularly known as No. 1, London, because it was the first and grandest house at the old tollgate from Knightsbridge village, the mansion was the residence of the Duke of Wellington from 1817 until his death in 1852. The years of war against the French made the “Iron Duke”—born in Ireland as Arthur Wellesley—the greatest soldier and statesman in the land (and on the walls of the nearby subway, beneath the turmoil of traffic, his heroic exploits are extolled in a series of murals). Opposite the house is the 1828 Wellington Arch, designed by Decimus Burton, with the four-horse chariot of peace at its pinnacle (open to the public as an exhibition area and viewing platform); the Achilles statue (legendarily naked and cast from captured French guns) points the way with thrusting shield to the ducal mansion from the edge of Hyde Park, entered through an elaborate gateway designed and built by Burton at the same time as the arch.
The duke’s former residence shows off his uniforms, weapons, a fine collection of paintings (partially looted from his war campaigns), and his porcelain and plate collections acquired as a result of his military success, such as a Sèvres dessert service commissioned by Napoléon for his empress, Josephine. Wellington’s extensive art collection includes works by Brueghel, Van Dyck, and Rubens, as well as the famous Velázquez portrait of Pope Innocent X and a portrait of the duke on horseback by Goya. A gigantic Canova statue of a nude (fig-leafed) Napoléon presides over the grand staircase that leads to the many elegant reception rooms.
The free audio guide highlights the most significant works and the superb interior, most notably the stunning Waterloo Gallery, where an annual banquet for officers who fought beside Wellington was held beneath the gilded ceiling. Special events take place on the annual Waterloo weekend and occasionally on Waterloo Day (June 18) itself. Check the website for details. Limited disabled access. | 149 Piccadilly, Hyde Park Corner, Mayfair | 020/7499-5676 | www.english-heritage.org.uk | £6.70 (includes audio tour); joint ticket with Wellington Arch £8.20 | Mar.-Oct., Wed.-Sun. and bank holiday Mon. 11-5; Nov.-Feb., weekends 10-4. Subject to change, so check website | Station: Hyde Park Corner.
This world-class shopping haunt is divided into northern “New” (1710) and southern “Old” (1690) halves. You can spot the juncture by a bronzed bench on which Franklin D. Roosevelt sits companionably next to Winston Churchill. On New Bond Street you’ll find Sotheby’s, the world-famous auction house, at No. 35, as well as upscale retailers like Asprey’s, Burberry, Louis Vuitton, Georg Jensen, and Church’s. You’ll find even more opportunities to flirt with financial ruin on Old Bond Street: flagship boutiques of top-end designers like Chanel, Gucci, and Yves St. Laurent; an array of fine jewelers including Tiffany; and art dealers Colnaghi, Spink Leger, and Agnew’s. Cork Street, which parallels the top half of Old Bond Street, is where London’s foremost dealers in contemporary art have their galleries. | Mayfair | Station: Bond St., Green Park.
Fodor’s Choice | Burlington Arcade.
With ceilings and lights now restored to how they would have looked when it was built in 1819, Burlington Arcade is the finest of Mayfair’s enchanting covered shopping alleys. Originally built for Lord Cavendish, it was meant to stop the hoi polloi from flinging rubbish into his garden at next-door Burlington House. Top-hatted watchmen called Beadles—the world’s smallest private police force—still patrol, preserving decorum by preventing you from singing, running, or carrying an open umbrella. | Piccadilly, Mayfair | 020/7493-1764 | www.burlingtonarcade.com | Mon. -Sat. 9-8, Sun. 11-8; opening times of shops within the arcade vary | Station: Green Park, Piccadilly Circus.
QUICK BITES: Several of London’s most storied and stylish hotels are in Mayfair. Even if you’re not staying at one, sample the high life by popping into their glamorous bars for a cocktail or some afternoon tea. Claridge’s Bar takes its cue from art deco, as do the Ritz’s intimate Rivoli Bar and The Connaught’s eponymous drinking hole; the bar at Brown’s Hotel is modernist.
John Nash’s 1827 arch, moved here from Buckingham Palace in 1851, stands amid the traffic whirlpool where Bayswater Road segues into Oxford Street, at the top of Park Lane. The arch actually contains three small chambers, which served as a police station until the mid-20th century. Search the sidewalk on the traffic island opposite the movie theater for the stone plaque recalling the Tyburn Tree, an elaborately designed gallows that stood here for 400 years, until 1783. The condemned would be conveyed here in their finest clothes from Newgate Prison in The City, and were expected to affect a casual indifference or face a merciless heckling from the crowds. Towering across the grass from the arch toward Tyburn Way is a vast patina-green statue of a horse’s head called Horse at Water by sculptor Nic Fiddian. Cross over (or under) to the northeastern corner of Hyde Park for Speakers’ Corner, a parcel of land long-dedicated to the principle of free speech, and where every Sunday people of all views—or none at all—come to pontificate, listen, and debate about anything and everything under the sun. | Park La., Mayfair | Station: Marble Arch.
Fodor’s Choice | Royal Academy of Arts.
Burlington House was built in 1664, with later Palladian additions for the 3rd Earl of Burlington in 1720. The piazza in front is a later conception from 1873, when the Renaissance-style buildings around the courtyard were designed by Banks and Barry to house a gaggle of noble scientific societies, including the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Royal Astronomical Society.
The house itself is home to the draw-card tenant, the Royal Academy of Arts. In a city with heavyweight galleries such as Tate Modern, Tate Britain, and the National Gallery, the Royal Academy more than holds its own. The statue of the academy’s first president, Sir Joshua Reynolds, palette in hand, is prominent in the piazza of light stone with fountains by Sir Phillip King. Within the house and up the stairs are statues of creative giants J.W.M. Turner and Thomas Gainsborough. Free tours show off part of the collection and the excellent temporary exhibitions. Every June for the past 240 years, the RA has put on its Summer Exhibition, a huge and always surprising collection. | Burlington House, Piccadilly, Mayfair | 020/7300-8000, 0207/300-5839 lectures, 0207/300-5995 family programs | www.royalacademy.org.uk | Prices vary with exhibition £8-£16 | Sat.-Thurs. 10-6, Fri. 10-10; tours Tues. 1, Wed.-Fri. 1 and 3, Sat. 11:30 | Station:Piccadilly Circus, Green Park.
QUICK BITES: Restaurant at the Royal Academy of Arts.
With its walls covered in Gilbert Spencer murals, the restaurant at the Royal Academy is almost as beautiful as the art hanging in the galleries. The accent is on flexibility: you can linger over a three-course meal, order a selection of tapas, or just pop in for a quick, delicious bite. It’s open daily 10-5:30, except Friday when it closes at 9:30 pm. | Burlington House, Piccadilly, Mayfair | 020/7300-5608 | www.royalacademy.org.uk | Station: Piccadilly Circus, Green Park.
Opposite the Duke of Wellington’s mansion, Apsley House, this majestic stone arch surveys the traffic rushing around Hyde Park Corner. Designed by Decimus Burton and built in 1828, it was created as a grand entrance to the west side of London and echoes the design of that other landmark gate, Marble Arch. Both were triumphal arches commemorating Britain’s victory against France in the Napoleonic Wars. The exterior of the arch was intended to be much more ornate but King George IV was going vastly over budget with his refurbishment of Buckingham Palace and cutbacks had to be made elsewhere. Atop the building, the Angel of Peace descends on the quadriga, or four-horse chariot of war. This replaced the Duke of Wellington on his horse, which was considered too large and moved to an army barracks in Aldershot. Inside the arch, three floors of permanent and temporary exhibits reveal the monument’s history and explores the world’s other great arches. Don’t miss the platform at the top of the arch, where you can enjoy a panoramic view over Hyde Park and peer into the private gardens of Buckingham Palace. | Hyde Park Corner,Mayfair | 020/7930-2726 | www.english-heritage.org.uk | £4; joint ticket with Apsley House £8.20 | Sun.-Wed. 10-4, but platform sometimes closed for exhibition installations; check website | Station: Hyde Park Corner.
As anyone who’s heard the old song knows, the name rhymes with “starkly.” Not many of its original mid-18th-century houses are left, but look at Nos. 42-46 (especially No. 44, now an exclusive casino, which the architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner thought London’s finest terraced house) and Nos. 49-52 to get some idea of why this was once London’s top address. Incidentally, No. 50 (now Magg’s Bros. antiquarian booksellers) is known as London’s most haunted house, with claims of ghostly goings-on stretching back to the early 19th century. | Mayfair | Station: Bond St.
Pronounced Grove-na, this leafy square was laid out in 1725-31 and is as desirable an address today as it was then. Americans have certainly always thought so—from John Adams, the second president, who as ambassador lived at No. 38, to Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose wartime headquarters was at No. 20. Now the massive 1960s block of the U.S. Embassy occupies the entire west side (although a new one is being built south of the river), and a British memorial to Franklin D. Roosevelt stands in the center. There is also a classically styled memorial to those who died in New York on September 11, 2001. Grosvenor Chapel, completed in 1730 and used by Eisenhower’s men during World War II, stands a couple of blocks south of the square on South Audley Street, with the entrance to pretty St. George’s Gardens to its left. | Mayfair | Station: Bond St.
Handel House Museum.
The former home of the composer, where he lived for more than 30 years until his death in 1759, is a celebration of his genius. It’s the first museum in London solely dedicated to one composer. In rooms decorated in fine Georgian style you can linger over original manuscripts and gaze at portraits—accompanied by live music if the adjoining music rooms are being used by musicians in rehearsal. Some of the composer’s most famous pieces were created here, including Messiah and Music for the Royal Fireworks. To hear a live concert here is to imagine the atmosphere of rehearsals and “salon” music in its day (check the website for details of recitals and events). | 25 Brook St., entrance in Lancashire Court, Mayfair | 020/7495-1685 | www.handelhouse.org | £6.50 | Tues., Wed., Fri., and Sat. 10-6, Thurs. 10-8, Sun. noon-6 (last admission ½ hr before closing) | Station: Bond St.
A favorite of newspaper style sections everywhere, Marylebone High Street forms the heart of Marylebone (pronounced “Marr-le-bone”) Village, a vibrant, upscale neighborhood that encompasses the squares and streets around High Street and nearby Marylebone Lane. The district took its name from a church dedicated to St. Mary and the bourne (another word for “stream”) that ran through the original village. Its development, by various members of the aristocracy, began in the early 18th century. Today, it’s hard to believe that you’re just a few blocks north of gaudy Oxford Street as you wander in and out of Marylebone’s small shops and boutiques, the best of which include La Fromagerie (2-6 Moxon Street), an excellent cheese shop; Daunt Books (Nos. 83-84), a travel bookshop; “Cabbages and Frocks” market on the grounds of the St. Marylebone Parish Church, held Saturday 11-5, which purveys specialty foods and vintage clothing; and on Sunday 10-2, a large farmers’ and artisanal-food market in a parking lot on Cramer Street, just behind High Street. But some memorable sights await, too, including that best remnant of ancient régime France in London, the fabled Wallace Collection. The best metro stop for the area is Bond Street.
Sherlock Holmes Museum.
Outside Baker Street station, by the Marylebone Road exit, is a 9-foot-high bronze statue of the celebrated detective. Nearby is number 221B Baker Street—the address of Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional detective. Inside, Mrs. Hudson, “Holmes’s housekeeper,” conducts you into a series of Victorian rooms full of Sherlock-abilia. There are more than enough photo ops, and it’s all carried off with such genuine enthusiasm that you almost believe that the fictional detective really lived here. | 221B Baker St., Marylebone | 020/7224-3688 | www.sherlock-holmes.co.uk | £6 | Daily 9:30-6 | Station: Baker St.
FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | Wallace Collection.
Undergoing refurbishment of its Great Gallery and due to reopen in autumn 2014, this exquisite labyrinth of an art gallery is housed in Hertford House, an 18th-century mansion that was bequeathed to the nation, along with its contents, by the widow of Sir Richard Wallace (1818-90). Wallace was the last in a line of wealthy aristocrats who voraciously scoured Europe in search of beautiful art. His father, the 4th Marquess of Hertford, was a particularly shrewd dealer. After the French Revolution he took a house in Paris and set about snapping up paintings by what were then dangerously unpopular artists, for a song. Frans Hals’s Laughing Cavalier is probably the most famous painting here, or perhaps Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s The Swing, which perfectly encapsulates the frilly rococo decadence of pre-revolutionary French art. The full list of painters in the collection reads like a roll call of classical European masters, from Rubens, Rembrandt, and Van Dyck to Canaletto, Titian, and Velázquez. English works include paintings by Gainsborough and Turner, plus a dozen by Joshua Reynolds. Stay for lunch at the restaurant, which is elegantly sited in a glass-roofed courtyard. | Hertford House, Manchester Sq., Marylebone | 020/7563-9500 | www.wallacecollection.org | Free | Daily 10-5 | Station: Bond St.
QUICK BITES: Wallace Restaurant.
Bringing the outside in, this restaurant enjoys the elegant setting of the glass-roofed courtyard of the Wallace Collection. It’s open daily for breakfast, lunch, and afternoon tea (10-4:30), and for dinner on Friday and Saturday evenings (last seating is at 9:30 pm). The brasserie menu highlights French food from pâtés and cheeses to scallops, lobster, and succulent steaks. If you don’t want to strain your budget too much, you can just linger over coffee in the gorgeous surroundings. | Wallace Collection, Hertford House, Manchester Sq., Marylebone | 020/7563-9505 | Station: Bond St.
FAMILY | Madame Tussauds.
One of London’s busiest tourist attractions, this is nothing less—but also nothing more—than the world’s most famous exhibition of lifelike waxwork models of celebrities. Madame T. learned her craft while making death masks of French Revolution victims, and in 1835 she set up her first show of the famous ones near this spot. Top billing still goes to the murderers in the Chamber of Horrors, who stare glassy-eyed at visitors—one from an electric chair, one sitting next to the tin bath where he dissolved several wives in quicklime. What, aside from ghoulish prurience, makes people stand in line to invest in one of London’s most expensive museum tickets? It must be the thrill of all those photo opportunities with royalty, Hollywood stars, and world leaders—all in a single day. TIP Beat the crowds by booking timed entry tickets in advance. You can also buy non-dated, “priority access” tickets via the website (at a premium). | Marylebone Rd., Marylebone | 0870/400-3000 for timed entry tickets | www.madame-tussauds.com | £15-£35 according to time; call or check website. Combination ticket with London Eye, London Dungeons, and London Aquarium £35-£57 | Early Apr. and mid-July-Aug., daily 9-7; Sept.-Mar. and mid-Apr.-mid-July, weekdays 9-5:30 (last admission), weekends 9:30-6 (last admission) | Station: Baker St.
FAMILY | Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!.
Six floors of the weird, the wacky and the downright bizarre (life-size knitted Ferrari, anyone?) to astonish and delight even the most tired and jaded among us. Inspired by the legendary American traveler/cartoonist/curator Robert Ripley, nothing is considered too unusual or outlandish to take its place among the 700-plus authentic artifacts. From dinosaur eggs to an albino alligator, from a maze of mirrors to a sculpture of the Beatles made entirely from chewing gum (yes, chewing gum!), from Ecuadorean shrunken heads to pieces of the Berlin Wall, there is so much to see, with interactive exhibits a-plenty. | The London Pavilion,1 Piccadilly Circus, Mayfair | 020/3238-0022 | www.ripleyslondon.com | £26.95 | Daily 10 am-midnight (last admission 10:30 pm) | Station: Piccadilly Circus (use exit 4 to Coventry St.).
England & Co.
This small gallery specialises in new and up-and-coming contemporary artists, presenting their work alongside that of more established names in the modern art world, from Britain and overseas. Exhibitions change regularly, but there’s always a good selection of new and interesting work on display, from artists such as Grayson Perry, Peter Blake, and Gillian Ayres. The gallery is also a major dealer in contemporary art, so you might even go home with one of the exhibits—if you’re feeling flush. | 90-92 Great Portland St., Marylebone | 020/4736-1873 | www.englandgallery.com | Station: Marylebone.
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Getting Oriented | Soho | Covent Garden
Updated by Jo Caird
Once a red-light district, today’s Soho is more stylish than seedy and offers some of London’s best nightclubs, live music venues, restaurants, and theaters. By day, this hotbed of media production reverts to the business side of its late-night scene. If Soho is all about showbiz, neighboring Covent is devoted to culture. Both districts offer an abundance of narrow streets packed with one-of-a-kind shops and lots of antique character.
Almost all Tube lines cross the Covent Garden and Soho areas, so it’s easy to hop off for a dinner or show in the hippest area of London. For Soho, take any train to Piccadilly Circus, or Leicester Square, Oxford Circus, or Tottenham Court Road. For Covent Garden, get off at the Covent Garden station on the Piccadilly line. It might be easier to exit the Tube at Leicester Square or Holborn and walk. Thirty buses connect to the Covent Garden area from all over London; check out the area’s website, www.coventgarden.uk.com.
TOP REASONS TO GO
Find tomorrow’s look in the Newburgh Quarter: Head to this adorable warren of cobblestone streets for an ultrahip array of specialist boutiques, edgy stores, and young indie upstarts.
Indulge yourself in Gourmet Country: London has fallen in love with its chefs, and Soho is home to many of the most talked-about restaurants in town.
Covent Garden Piazza: Eliza Doolittle’s former backyard has been taken over by fun boutiques and street performers (who play to the crowds at night).
Royal Opera House: Even if you’re not going to the opera or ballet, take in the beautiful architecture and sense of history.
See a West End hit in Theatreland: Shaftesbury Avenue is the heart of London’s theater district, where more than 40 West End theaters pull in the crowds with a mix of extravagant musicals and Shakespeare.
The coffee shops on Covent Garden Piazza can be overpriced and mediocre. Head north for Neal Street or west for Soho when the munchies strike.
Food for Thought.
Customers line up here for a tasty range of vegetarian dishes. | 31 Neal St., Covent Garden | 020/7836-0239 | foodforthought-london.co.uk | Station: Covent Garden, Leicester Sq.
Come here for fresh, good-value sushi. Dishes trundle around on a conveyor belt—ideal if you’re pressed for time. | 76 Brewer St., Covent Garden | 020/7734-7316 | www.kulukulu.co.uk.
This place has been around since the end of the 19th century. Not the finest coffee around but fab French cakes, tarts, and savory quiches more than make up for that. Nobody’s mother ever baked this well. | 28 Greek St., Soho | 020/7437-6007 | www.maisonbertaux.com | Station: Leicester Sq.
On Golden Square, this is an immaculate Scandinavian café that serves dark breads and the city’s best cinnamon rolls. | 14A Golden Sq., Soho | 020/3230-1077 | www.nordicbakery.com | Station:Piccadilly Circus.
This chic Italian café fills up at lunchtime with regulars who come for colorful salads, fresh lasagna, and warm-from-the-oven cakes and pastries. | 135 Wardour St., Soho | 020/7478-8888 | princi.com | Station: Tottenham Court Rd., Piccadilly Circus.
MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR TIME
You can comfortably tour all the sights around Soho and Covent Garden in a day. Visit the small but perfect Courtauld Gallery on Monday, when entry costs just £3. That leaves plenty of time to watch street entertainment or shop at the stalls around Covent Garden Piazza or in the fashion boutiques of Soho. Save some energy for a night on the town in Soho.
Old Compton Street in Soho is the epicenter of London’s affluent, stylish gay scene. There are some smart nightclubs in the area, with crowds forming in Soho Square, south of Oxford Street.
This club has been drawing the crowds for nearly 50 years. Its Kitsch Cabaret, performed every Saturday evening, is so popular (with straights as well as gays) that it’s usually booked weeks in advance. | 8-10 Brewer St., Soho | 020/7734-3040 | www.madamejojos.com | Station: Piccadilly Circus.
Soho, which, along with Covent Garden, is loosely known as “the West End,” has long been known as the entertainment and arts quarter of London’s center. Bordered to the north by Oxford Street, Regent Street to the west, and Chinatown and Leicester Square to the south, the narrow, winding streets of Soho are unabashedly devoted to pleasure. Wardour Street bisects the neighborhood, with lots of interesting boutiques and some of London’s best-value restaurants to the west (especially around Foubert’s Place and on Brewer and Lexington streets). Nightlife central lies to the east—including London’s gay mecca, Old Compton Street—and beyond that is the city’s densest collection of theaters, on Shaftesbury Avenue. London’s compact Chinatown is wedged between Soho and Leicester Square. A bit of erudition surfaces to the east of the square on Charing Cross Road, famous for its secondhand bookshops, and on tiny Cecil Court, a pedestrianized passage lined with small antiquarian booksellers.
Fodor’s Choice | Newburgh Quarter.
Want to see the hip style of today’s London? Find it just one block east of Carnaby Street—where the look of the ’60s “Swinging London” was born—in an adorable warren of cobblestone streets now lined with specialty boutiques, edgy stores, and young indie upstarts. Here, not far from roaring Regent Street, the future of England’s fashion is being incubated in stores like Lucy in Disguise and Flying Horse Jeans. A check of the ingredients reveals one part ’60s London, one part Futuristic Fetishism, one part Dickensian charm, and one part British street swagger. The Nouveau Boho look best flourishes in shops like Peckham Rye, a tiny boutique crowded with rockers and fashion plates who adore its grunge-meets-Brideshead Revisted vibe. Quality independent coffee shops abound—take a break at Speakeasy Espresso & Brew Bar, where you can also browse for home coffee-making equipment. | Newburgh St., Foubert’s Pl., Ganton St., and Carnaby St., Soho | carnaby.co.uk | Station: Oxford Circus.
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To the east of Charing Cross Road lies Covent Garden, the famous marketplace turned shopping mall. Although boutiques and haute fashion shops line the surrounding streets, many Londoners come to Covent Garden for its two outposts of culture: the Royal Opera House and the Donmar Warehouse, one of London’s best and most innovative theaters. The area becomes more sedate just to the north, at the end of Wellington Street, where semicircular Aldwych is lined with grand buildings, and from there the Strand leads to the huge, stately piazza of Somerset House, a vibrant center of contemporary arts and home to the many masterpieces on view at the Courtauld Gallery. You’ll get a sense of old-fashioned London just behind the Strand, where small lanes are little changed since the 18th century. On the way to the verdant Embankment Gardens bordering the Thames, you may pass the Adam Houses, the remnants of a grand 18th-century riverside housing development, and the Benjamin Franklin House, where the noted statesman lived in the years leading up to the American Revolution.
Covent Garden joins Soho as an arts-and-entertainment center in the city, popularly referred to as “the West End.” The neighborhood centers on the Piazza, site of the original Covent Garden market. High Holborn to the north, Kingsway to the east, and the Strand to the south form its other boundaries.
The Courtauld Gallery.
One of London’s most beloved art collections, the Courtauld is to your right as you pass through the archway into the grounds of the beautifully restored, grand 18th-century neoclassical Somerset House. Founded in 1931 by the textile magnate Samuel Courtauld to house his remarkable private collection, this is one of the world’s finest Impressionist and post-Impressionist galleries, with artists ranging from Bonnard to van Gogh. A déjà-vu moment with Cézanne, Degas, Seurat, or Monet awaits on every wall (Manet’s Bar at the Folies-Bergère and Le Déjeuner sur L’Herbe are two of the stars). Botticelli, Bruegel, Tiepolo, and Rubens are also represented, thanks to the exquisite bequest of Count Antoine Seilern’s Princes Gate collection. German Renaissance paintings, bequeathed in 1947, include the colorful and delightfully wicked Adam and Eve by Lucas Cranach the Elder. The second floor has a more provocative, experimental feel, with masterpieces such as Modigliani’s iconic Female Nude. Don’t miss the little café downstairs—a perfect place for a spot of tea. | Somerset House, Strand, Covent Garden | 020/7848-2526 | www.courtauld.ac.uk | £6; £3 Mon. | Daily 10-6; last admission 5:30 | Station: Temple, Covent Garden.
Covent Garden Piazza.
Once home to London’s main flower market, where My Fair Lady’s Eliza Doolittle peddled her blooms, the square around which Covent Garden pivots is known as the Piazza. In the center, the fine old market building now houses stalls and shops selling higher-class clothing, plus several restaurants and cafés and knickknack stores that are good for gifts. One particular gem is Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop at No. 44 in the market. Established in the 1880s, it sells delightful toy theaters. The superior Apple Market has good crafts stalls on most days, too. On the south side of the Piazza, the indoor Jubilee Market, with its stalls of clothing, army-surplus gear, and more crafts and knickknacks, has a distinct flea-market feel. In summer it may seem that everyone in the huge crowds around you in the Piazza is a fellow tourist, but there’s still plenty of office life in the area. Londoners who shop here tend to head for Neal Street and the area to the north of Covent Garden Tube station rather than the market itself. In the Piazza, street performers—from global musicians to jugglers and mimes—play to the crowds, as they have done since the first English Punch and Judy Show, staged here in the 17th century. | Covent Garden | www.coventgardenlondonuk.com | Station: Covent Garden.
FAMILY | London Transport Museum.
Housed in the old flower market at the southeast corner of Covent Garden, this stimulating museum is filled with impressive vehicle, poster, and photograph collections. As you watch the crowds drive a Tube-train simulation and gawk at the horse-drawn trams (and the piles of detritus that remained behind) and steam locomotives, it’s unclear who’s enjoying it more, children or adults. Best of all, the kid-friendly museum (under 16 admitted free) has a multilevel approach to education, including information for the youngest visitor to the most advanced transit aficionado. Food and drink are available at the Upper Deck café and the shop has lots of good options for gift-buying. TIP Tickets are valid for unlimited entry for 12 months. | Covent Garden Piazza, Covent Garden | 020/7379-6344 | www.ltmuseum.co.uk | £15 | Sat.-Thurs. 10-6 (last admission 5:15), Fri. 11-6 (last admission 5:15) | Station: Covent Garden, Leicester Sq.
FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | Somerset House.
In recent years this huge complex—the work of Sir William Chambers (1723-96), and built during the reign of George III to house offices of the Navy—has completed its transformation from dusty government offices to one of the capital’s most buzzing centers of culture and the arts, hosting several interesting exhibitions at any one time. The cobblestone Italianate courtyard, where Admiral Nelson used to walk, makes a great setting for 55 playful fountains and is transformed into a romantic ice rink in winter; the grand space is the venue for music and outdoor movie screenings in summer. The Courtauld Gallery occupies most of the north building, facing the busy Strand. Across the courtyard are the Embankment Galleries, with a vibrant calendar of design, fashion, architecture, and photography exhibitions. Creative activities for children are a regular feature (the website has details). The East Wing has another fine exhibition space and events are sometimes also held in the atmospherically gloomy cellars below the Fountain Court. Tom’s Kitchen offers fine dining and the Deli has mouthwatering cakes and pastries. In summer, eating and drinking spills out onto the large terrace next to the Thames. | Strand, Covent Garden | 020/7845-4600 | www.somersethouse.org.uk | Embankment Galleries price varies, Courtauld Gallery £6 (£3 Mon.), other areas free | Daily 10-6; last admission times vary | Station: Charing Cross, Waterloo, Blackfriars.
A Brief History
Almost as soon as a 17th-century housing development covered what had been a royal park and hunting ground, Soho earned a reputation for entertainment, bohemianism, and cosmopolitan tolerance. When the authorities introduced zero tolerance of soliciting in 1991 (the most recent of several attempts to end Soho’s sex trade), they cracked down on an old neighborhood tradition that still resurfaces from time to time.
Successive waves of refugees—French Huguenots in the 1680s, followed by Germans, Russians, Poles, Greeks, Italians, and Chinese—settled and brought their ethnic cuisines with them. So when dining out became fashionable after World War I, Soho was the natural place for restaurants to flourish (as they continue to do today).
In the 1950s and ’60s, Soho was London’s artists’ quarter and the place to find the top jazz clubs and art galleries. Among the luminaries who have made their home here are landscape painter John Constable; Casanova, the famous lothario; Canaletto, the great painter of Venice; poet William Blake; and the revolutionary Karl Marx.
Present-day Covent Garden took shape in the 1630s, when Inigo Jones turned what had been agricultural land into Britain’s first planned public square. After the Great Fire of 1666, it became the site of England’s largest fruit-and-vegetable market (the flower market arrived in the 19th century). This, along with the district’s many theaters and taverns, gave the area a somewhat dubious reputation, and after the produce market relocated in 1973, the surviving buildings were scheduled for demolition. A local campaign saved them, and the restored market opened in 1980.
The Adam Houses.
Only a few structures remain of what was once a regal riverfront row of houses on a 3-acre site, but such is their quality that they are worth a detour off the Strand. The work of 18th-century Scottish architects and interior designers (John, Robert, James, and William Adam, known collectively as the Adam brothers), the original development was damaged in the 19th century during the building of the embankment, and mostly demolished in 1936 to be replaced by an art deco tower. The original houses still standing are protected, and give a glimpse of their former grandeur. Nos. 1-4 Robert Street and Nos. 7 and 10 Adam Street are the best. | Robert St. and Adam St., off The Strand, Covent Garden | Station: Charing Cross, Embankment.
Royal Society of Arts.
At the Royal Society of Arts, you can sometimes see a suite of Adam rooms; ring ahead to check. | 8 John Adam St. | 020/7930-5115 | www.thersa.org | Free | Station: Charing Cross, Embankment.
Benjamin Franklin House.
This architecturally significant 1730 house is the only surviving residence of American statesman, scientist, writer, and inventor Benjamin Franklin, who lived and worked here for 16 years preceding the American Revolution. The restored Georgian town house has been left unfurnished, the better to show off the original features—18th-century paneling, stoves, beams, bricks, and windows. Visitors are led around the house by the costumed character of Polly Hewson, the daughter of Franklin’s landlady, who interacts with engaging video projections and recorded voices. On Monday you can take a guided tour focusing on the architectural details of the building. | 36 Craven St., Covent Garden | 020/7839-2006, 020/7925-1405 booking line | www.benjaminfranklinhouse.org | Historical Experience £7; architectural tour £3.50 | Historical Experience Wed.-Sun. noon, 1, 2, 3:15, and 4:15; architectural tour Mon. noon, 1, 2, 3:15, and 4:15 | Station: Charing Cross.
Looking at the neon of the major movie houses, the fast-food outlets, and the disco entrances, you’d never guess that this square (pronounced Lester) was a model of formality and refinement when it was first laid out around 1630. By the 19th century the square was already bustling and disreputable, and although it’s not a threatening place, you should still be on your guard, especially at night—any space so full of people is bound to attract pickpockets, and Leicester Square certainly does. Although there’s a bit of residual glamour (red-carpet film premieres) Londoners generally tend to avoid the place, though it’s worth a visit for its hustle and bustle, its mime artists, and a pleasant green area in its center. In the middle is a statue of a sulking Shakespeare, perhaps remembering the days when the movie houses were live theaters—burlesque houses, but live all the same. On the northeast corner, in Leicester Place, stands the church of Notre Dame de France, with a wonderful mural by Jean Cocteau in one of its side chapels. For more in the way of atmosphere, head north and west from here, through Chinatown and the narrow streets of Soho. | Covent Garden | Station: Leicester Sq.
St. Paul’s Church.
If you want to commune with the spirits of Vivien Leigh, Noël Coward, Edith Evans, or Charlie Chaplin, this might be just the place. Memorials to them and many other theater greats are found in this 1633 work of the renowned Inigo Jones, who, as the King’s Surveyor of Works, designed the whole of Covent Garden Piazza. St. Paul’s Church has been known as “the actors’ church” since the Restoration, thanks to the neighboring theater district and St. Paul’s prominent parishioners. (Well-known actors often read the lessons at services, and the church still hosts concerts and small-scale productions.) Fittingly, the opening scene of Shaw’s Pygmalion takes place under its Tuscan portico (you might know it better from the musical My Fair Lady, starring Audrey Hepburn). The western end of the Piazza is a prime pitch for street entertainers, but if they’re not to your liking, you can repair to the serenity of the garden entered from King or Bedford streets. | Bedford St.,Covent Garden | 020/7836-5221 | www.actorschurch.org | Station: Covent Garden.
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.
This is London’s best-known auditorium and almost its largest. Since World War II, Drury Lane’s forte has been musicals (from My Fair Lady and South Pacific to Miss Saigon and Shrek)—though David Garrick, who managed the theater from 1747 to 1776, made its name by reviving the works of the by-then-obscure William Shakespeare. Drury Lane enjoys all the romantic accessories of a London theater—a history of fires (it burned down three times), riots (in 1737, when a posse of footmen demanded free admission), attempted regicides (George II in 1716 and his grandson George III in 1800), and even sightings of the most famous phantom of Theatreland, the Man in Grey (in the Circle during matinees). Seventy-five-minute dramatized tours, led by actors, are available. | Catherine St., Covent Garden | 0844/412-4660, 0871/297-0777 tour bookings | www.reallyuseful.com | Tours £10.50 | Tours Mon., Tues., and Thurs. 2:15 and 4:15; Wed. and Sat. 10:30 and 11:45 | Station: Covent Garden.
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Getting Oriented | Bloomsbury | Holborn | Islington | Fitzrovia
Updated by James O’Neill
Guarded by the British Library to the north, the British Museum at its heart, and the Inns of Court of the Holborn district (right by the Thames), Bloomsbury might appear all bookish and cerebral—but fear not, it’s much more than that. There’s a youthfulness about its buzzing thoroughfares—not surprising, given all the nearby universities and colleges, let alone students heading to the British Library. To the southeast, Holborn was once Dickens territory and now is home to legal London.
TOP REASONS TO GO
Take a tour of “Mankind’s Attic”: From the Rosetta Stone to the Elgin Marbles, the British Museum is the golden hoard of booty amassed over centuries by the British Empire.
Stroll through the Inns of Court: The quiet courts, leafy gardens, and magnificent halls that comprise the heart of Holborn are the closest thing to the spirit of Oxford in London.
Time travel at Sir John Soane’s Museum: Quirky and fascinating, the former home of the celebrated 19th-century architect is a treasure trove of antiquities and oddities.
View rare treasures at the British Library: In keeping with Bloomsbury’s literary traditions, this great repository shows off the Magna Carta, a Gutenberg Bible, Shakespeare’s First Folio, and other masterpieces of the written word.
Pay your respects to Charles Dickens: The former residence of the Oliver Twist author is now a fascinating museum.
The Betjeman Arms.
Inside St. Pancras International’s wonderfully renovated Victorian station, this pub is the perfect place to stop for a pint and some traditional pub fare. Perched above the tracks of the Eurostar Terminal, the view of the trains and travelers will keep you occupied while you put your feet up. | Unit 53, St. Pancras International Station, Pancras Rd., King’s Cross | 020/7923-5440 | Station:King’s Cross St. Pancras.
The Hare and Tortoise Dumpling & Noodle Bar.
This bright café, serving scrumptious Asian fast food from noon to 11 pm, is a favorite with students, and it’s easy to see why: ingredients are all natural, the portions are huge, and the price is always reasonable. | 15-17 Brunswick Shopping Centre, Brunswick Sq., opposite the Renoir Cinema, Bloomsbury | 020/7278-9799 | www.hareandtortoise.co.uk/bloomsbury | Station: Russell Sq.
The Russell Square Tube stop on the Piccadilly line leaves you right at the corner of Russell Square.
The best Tube stops for the Inns of Court are Holborn on the Central and Piccadilly lines or Chancery Lane on the Central line.
Tottenham Court Road on the Northern and Central lines is best for the British Museum.
Once you’re in Bloomsbury, you can easily get around on foot.
MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR TIME
If you plan to visit the Inns of Court as well as the British Museum, and you’d like to get a feel for the neighborhood, then devote an entire day to this literary and legal enclave.
An alternative scenario is to set aside a separate day for a visit to the British Museum, which can easily consume as many hours as you have to spare.
It’s a pleasure to wander through the leafy squares at your leisure, examining historic Blue Plaques or relaxing at a street-side café. The students in the neighborhood add a bit of street life.
Fundamental to the region’s spirit of open expression and scholarly debate is the legacy of the Bloomsbury Group, an elite corps of artists and writers who lived in this neighborhood during the first part of the 20th century. Gordon Square was at one point home to Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes (both at No. 46), and Lytton Strachey (at No. 51). But perhaps the best-known square in Bloomsbury is the large, centrally located Russell Square, with its handsome gardens. Scattered around the University of London campus are Woburn Square, Torrington Square, and Tavistock Square. The British Library, with its vast treasures, is a few blocks north, across busy Euston Road.
Bloomsbury is bordered by Tottenham Court Road on the west, Euston Road on the north, Woburn Place (which becomes Southampton Row) on the east, and New Oxford Street on the south.
The area from Somerset House on the Strand, all the way up Kingsway to the Euston Road, is known as London’s Museum Mile for the myriad historic houses and museums that dot the area. Charles Dickens Museum, where the author wrote Oliver Twist, pays homage to the master, and artists’ studios and design shops share space near the majestic British Museum. And guaranteed to raise a smile from the most blasé and footsore tourist is Sir John Soane’s Museum, where the colorful collection reflects the eclectic interests of the namesake founder. Bloomsbury’s liveliness extends north to the exciting redevelopment of King’s Cross—once the ugly sister of all ugly sisters—and farther north to quaint, bustling Islington.
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FAMILY | British Library.
Once a part of the British Museum, the 18 million-volume collection of the British Library has had its own state-of-the-art home since 1997. The library’s greatest treasures are on view to the general public: the Magna Carta, a Gutenberg Bible, Jane Austen’s writings, and Shakespeare’s First Folio. Musical manuscripts by G.F. Handel as well as Sir Paul McCartney are on display in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery. Also in the gallery are headphones with which you can listen to pieces in the National Sound Archive (the world’s largest collection), such as the voice of Florence Nightingale or George V or an extract from the Beatles’ last tour interview. Marvel at the six-story glass tower that holds the 65,000-volume collection of George III. On weekends and during school vacations there are hands-on demonstrations of how a book comes together, and the library frequently mounts special exhibitions. If all this wordiness gets too much, you can relax in the library’s piazza or take in one of the occasional free concerts in the amphitheater outside. | 96 Euston Rd., Bloomsbury | 0843/208-1144 | www.bl.uk | Free, donations appreciated; charge for special exhibitions | Mon. and Wed.-Fri. 9:30-6, Tues. 9:30-8, Sat. 9:30-5, Sun. and public holidays 11-5 | Station: Euston, Euston Sq., King’s Cross St. Pancras.
Fodor’s Choice | British Museum.
With a facade like a great temple, this celebrated treasure house, filled with plunder of incalculable value and beauty from around the globe, occupies an immense, imposing neoclassical building in the heart of Bloomsbury. Inside are some of the greatest relics of humankind: the Parthenon Sculptures (Elgin Marbles), the Rosetta Stone, the Sutton Hoo Treasure—almost everything, it seems, but the original Ten Commandments. The three rooms that comprise the Sainsbury African Galleries are a must-see in the Lower Gallery—together they present 200,000 objects, highlighting such ancient kingdoms as the Benin and Asante. The museum’s focal point is the Great Court, a brilliant modern design with a vast glass roof that reveals the museum’s covered courtyard. The revered Reading Room has a blue-and-gold dome and hosts temporary exhibitions. If you want to navigate the highlights of the almost 100 galleries, join a free eyeOpener 30- or 40-minute tour by a museum guide (details at the information desk). Alternatively, hire a multimedia guide for £5 (available from the Multimedia Guide desk in the Great Court).
The collection began when Sir Hans Sloane, physician to Queen Anne and George II, bequeathed his personal collection of antiquities to the nation. It grew quickly, thanks to enthusiastic kleptomaniacs after the Napoleonic Wars—most notoriously the seventh Earl of Elgin, who acquired the marbles from the Parthenon and Erechtheion in Athens during his term as British ambassador in Constantinople. Here follows a highly edited résumé (in order of encounter) of the British Museum’s greatest hits: close to the entrance hall, in Room 4, is the Rosetta Stone, found by French soldiers in 1799, and carved in 196 BC by decree of Ptolemy V in Egyptian hieroglyphics, demotic (a cursive script developed in Egypt), and Greek. This inscription provided the French Egyptologist Jean-François Champollion with the key to deciphering hieroglyphics. Also in Room 4 is the Colossal statue of Ramesses II, a 7-ton likeness of this member of the 19th dynasty’s (ca. 1270 BC) upper half. Maybe the Parthenon Sculptures should be back in Greece, but while the debate rages on, you can steal your own moment with the Elgin Marbles in Room 18. Carved in about 400 BC, these graceful decorations are displayed along with a high-tech exhibit of the Acropolis. Be sure to stop in the Enlightenment Gallery in Room 1 to explore the great age of discovery through the thousands of objects on display. Also in the West Wing is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World—in fragment form—in Room 21: the Mausoleum of Halikarnassos. The JP Morgan Chase North American Gallery (Room 26) has one of the largest collections of native culture outside North America, going back to the earliest hunters 10,000 years ago. Next door, the Mexican Gallery holds such alluring pieces as the 15th-century turquoise mask of Xiuhtecuhtli, the Mexican Fire God and Turquoise Lord. The Living and Dying displays in Room 24 include Cradle to the Grave, an installation by a collective of artists and a doctor displaying more than 14,000 drugs (the number estimated to be prescribed to every person in the U.K. in his lifetime) in a colorful tapestry of pills and tablets.
Upstairs are some of the most popular galleries, especially beloved by children. Rooms 62-63 are where the Egyptian mummies live. Nearby are the glittering 4th-century Mildenhall Treasure and the equally splendid 8th-century Anglo-Saxon Sutton Hoo Treasure (with magnificent helmets and jewelry). A more prosaic exhibit is that of Pete Marsh, sentimentally named by the archaeologists who unearthed the Lindow Man from a Cheshire peat marsh; poor Pete was ritually slain in the 1st century, and lay perfectly pickled in his bog until 1984. The Korean Foundation Gallery (Room 67) delves into the art and archaeology of the country, including a reconstruction of a sarangbang, a traditional scholar’s study. | Great Russell St., Bloomsbury | 020/7323-8299 | www.britishmuseum.org | Free; donations encouraged | Galleries Sat.-Thurs. 10-5:30, Fri. 10-8:30. Great Court Sat.-Thurs. 9-6, Fri. 9-8:30 | Station: Russell Sq., Holborn, Tottenham Court Rd.
The Brunswick Centre.
Once regarded by many as a concrete eyesore, this 1960s-era shopping and residential complex just minutes from leafy Russell Square, has undergone a major re-vamp in recent years and in doing so, has managed to win over legions of new admirers. The Brunswick Centre is indeed a striking structure—tiers of housing units perched above an open-air plaza. A variety of quality cafés, shops, and restaurants line the plaza, which is also home to an excellent arts cinema. | The Brunswick Centre, Bloomsbury | Station: Russell Square.
Charles Dickens Museum.
This is one of the few London houses Charles Dickens (1812-70) inhabited that is still standing, and it’s the place where the master wrote Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby and finished Pickwick Papers. The house looks exactly as it would have in Dickens’s day, complete with first editions, letters, and a tall clerk’s desk (Dickens wrote standing up, often while chatting with visiting friends and relatives). Down in the basement is a replica of the Dingley Dell kitchen from Pickwick Papers. A varied program of special exhibitions explores both Dickens’s works and his family life—check out the “costumed tours” (details at the website) where you’re guided through the Dickens residence by his housemaid. The museum also houses a shop and café. | 48 Doughty St., Bloomsbury | 020/7405-2127 | www.dickensmuseum.com | £9 | Daily 10-5 (last admission 4) | Station: Chancery La., Russell Sq.
Lamb’s Conduit Street.
If you think Bloomsbury is about all things cerebral, then think again. Lamb’s Conduit Street, a partly pedestrianized street of gorgeous Georgian town houses nestled to the east of Russell Square, is slowly but surely building a reputation as one of the capital’s most charming—and fashionable—shopping thoroughfares. Avail yourself of what the many boutique shops have to offer, from fashion to ceramics, fine art to flowers; there’s even an excellent run-by-locals food cooperative called The People’s Supermarket. Alternatively, you could just window-shop your way down this pretty little street, or re-fuel at The Lamb—an atmospheric Victorian-era pub whose previous patrons have included Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, and a certain Mr. Dickens. | Lamb’s Conduit St.,Bloomsbury | Station: Russell Sq.
The Lamb. Originally established in 1729 but largely rebuilt during the early 1900s, this is a beautifully preserved Victorian pub with an impressive roll call of past clients, including Charles Dickens who lived nearby. Note the frosted “snob screens” above the bar; these hinged panes of glass enabled the publican to serve up drinks without disturbing his customers’ privacy. The kitchen serves tasty food. | 94 Lamb’s Conduit Street, Bloomsbury | 020/7405-0713 | www.youngs.co.uk/pubs/lamb | Station: Russell Square.
Fodor’s Choice | Sir John Soane’s Museum.
Sir John (1753-1837), architect of the Bank of England, bequeathed his wonderful, eccentric house to the nation on one condition: nothing be changed. It’s truly a house full of surprises. In the Picture Room, for instance, two of Hogarth’s Rake’s Progress series are among the paintings on panels that swing away to reveal secret gallery pockets with even more paintings. Everywhere, mirrors and colors play tricks with light and space, and split-level floors worthy of a fairground funhouse disorient you. In a basement chamber sits the vast 1300 BC sarcophagus of Seti I, lighted by a domed skylight two stories above. (When Sir John acquired this priceless object for £2,000, after it was rejected by the British Museum, he celebrated with a three-day party.) The tranquil courtyard gardens are also open to the public, and a below-street-level passage joins two of the courtyards to the museum. Because of the small size of the museum, limited numbers are allowed entry at any one time, so you may have a short wait outside—but it’s worth it. Hour-long tours are offered (check the website for details), and on the first Tuesday of the month there’s a very popular candlelight evening opening, from 6 to 9 pm (best to arrive at 5:30). | 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Bloomsbury | 020/7405-2107 | www.soane.org | Free; tours £10 | Tues.-Sat. 10-5; also 6-9 on 1st Tues. of month | Station: Holborn.
There’s plenty to see at one of the oldest, best preserved, and most attractive of the Inns of Court—from the Chancery Lane Tudor brick gatehouse to the wide-open, tree-lined, atmospheric Lincoln’s Inn Fields and the 15th-century chapel remodeled by Inigo Jones in 1620. The chapel and the gardens are open to the public, but to see more you must book a place on one of the official tours in advance. But be warned: they tend to prefer group bookings of 15 or more, so it’s best to check the website or call for details and note that there are no tours at weekends or in August. | Chancery La., Bloomsbury | 020/7405-1393 | www.lincolnsinn.org.uk | Free | Gardens weekdays 7-7; chapel weekdays 9-5 | Station: Chancery La.
Royal Courts of Justice.
Here is the vast Victorian Gothic pile of 35 million bricks containing the nation’s principal law courts, with 1,000-odd rooms running off 3½ miles of corridors. This is where the most important civil law cases—that’s everything from divorce to fraud, with libel in between—are heard. You can sit in the viewing gallery to watch any trial you like, for a live version of Court TV. The more dramatic criminal cases are heard at the Old Bailey. Other sights are the 238-foot-long main hall and the compact exhibition of judges’ robes. Guided tours must be booked in advance. | The Strand,Bloomsbury | 020/7947-6000, 020/7947-7684 tour reservations | www.hmcourts-service.gov.uk (search for “Royal Courts of Justice” in A-Z option) | Free; tours £12 | Weekdays 9-4:30 | Station: Temple, Holborn, Chancery La.
As featured in The Da Vinci Code, this church was built by the Knights Templar in the late 12th century. The Red Knights held their secret initiation rites in the crypt here. Having started poor, holy, and dedicated to the protection of pilgrims, they grew rich from showers of royal gifts until, in the 14th century, they were stripped of their wealth, charged with blasphemy and sodomy, and thrown into the Tower. So it goes. Featuring a rare, circular nave, it’s not quite as atmospheric as you’d expect—thanks largely to Victorian and postwar restorers. That said, it remains a fine Gothic-Romanesque church and occasionally holds concerts (check website for details). | King’s Bench Walk, The Temple, Bloomsbury | 020/7353-3470 | www.templechurch.com | £4 | Mon., Tues., and Thurs-Sat. 11-4; Wed. 2-4; check website for closures | Station: Temple.
University College London.
Founded in 1826, the college is set in a classical edifice designed by the architect of the National Gallery, William Wilkins. Committed to providing higher education without religious exclusion, in 1878 it also became the first British University to accept women on an equal footing with men. The college has within its portals the Slade School of Fine Art, which did for many of Britain’s artists what the nearby Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (on Gower Street) did for actors. The South Cloisters contain one of London’s weirder treasures: the skeleton of one of the university’s founders, Jeremy Bentham, who bequeathed himself to the college. Legend has it that students from a rival college, King’s College London, once stole Bentham’s head and played football with it. Whether or not the story is true, Bentham’s clothed skeleton, stuffed with straw and topped with a wax head, now sits (literally) in the UCL collection. Be sure to detour past the stunning Gotham-esque Senate House on Malet Street. | Malet Pl., Bloomsbury.
If you didn’t get your fill of Egyptian artifacts at the British Museum, you can see more in the neighboring Petrie Museum, located on the first floor of the DMS Watson library. The museum houses an outstanding collection of Egyptian archaeological objects—jewelry, toys, papyri, and some of the world’s oldest garments. | Malet Pl. | 020/7679-2884 | www.ucl.ac.uk/museums/petrie | Free, donations appreciated | Tues.-Sat. 1-5; closed over Christmas and Easter holidays | Station: Euston Sq., Goodge St.
OFF THE BEATEN PATH: London Canal Museum.
This quirky little museum, dedicated to the rise and fall of London’s once-extensive canal network, is based in the former warehouse of ice-cream maker, Carlo Gatti (hence it also partly features the ice-cream trade as well as London’s canals). Children enjoy the activity zone and learning about Henrietta, the museum’s horse. Outside, on the Battlebridge Basin, float the painted narrow boats of modern canal dwellers—a stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of St. Pancras International train station. You can walk to the museum along the towpath from Camden Lock—download a free audio tour from the museum’s website to accompany the route. | 12-13 New Wharf Rd., King’s Cross | 020/7713-0836 | www.canalmuseum.org.uk | £4 | Tues.-Sun. and holiday Mon. 10-4:30; last admission 30 mins before closing. First Thurs. in month open until 7:30 | Closed Dec. 23-Jan. 1 | Station: King’s Cross.
Southeast of Bloomsbury and west of The City, Holborn may appear to be little more than a buffer zone between the two—but while it may lack the panache and of its neighbors, don’t underestimate this varied slice of the capital. Home to legal London and the impressive Inns of Court, this is also Charles Dickens territory, with the Old Curiosity Shop snug within its borders and the Dickens museum close by. Add to that its fair share of churches and quirky places of interest, and you’ll soon discover that Holborn can be a rewarding place to while away an hour or three. Holborn’s massive Gothic-style Royal Courts of Justice ramble all the way to the Strand, and the Inns of Court—Gray’s Inn, Lincoln’s Inn, Middle Temple, and Inner Temple—are where most British trial lawyers have offices to this day. Geographically, Holborn is probably best defined as: west, Kingsway; north, Theobald’s Road; east, Gray’s Inn Road; south, where the Strand becomes Fleet Street.
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Although the least architecturally interesting of the four Inns of Court and the one most damaged by German bombs in the 1940s, Gray’s still has romantic associations. In 1594 Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors was performed for the first time in the hall—which was restored after World War II. You must make advance arrangements to view the hall, but the secluded and spacious gardens, first planted by Francis Bacon in 1597, are open to the public. | Gray’s Inn Rd., Holborn | 020/7458-7800 | www.graysinn.org.uk | Free | Weekdays noon-2:30 | Station: Holborn, Chancery La.
Islington is the most central of London’s residential village-like neighborhoods. Upper Street, with its high-street stores, independent boutiques, and myriad restaurants and bars, is where most of the action takes place. You’ll also find a handful of topflight Off West End theaters and music venues in the area, including the Almeida, Sadler’s Wells, and the hugely atmospheric Union Chapel. Wander into the residential streets off the main drag for charming local pubs, many of which serve fantastic food.
To the north of Soho, on the other side of Oxford Street, is Fitzrovia, famed for its dining and drinking. It is known affectionately by some as “Noho.” Like its brasher southern sibling, it has some excellent bars and restaurants (especially on Charlotte Street) but more breathing space and fewer crowds. Some people think it found its name because Fitzroy Square is near its heart. Originally designed by the Adam brothers, the square and its environs quickly became fashionable for haute bohemia: George Bernard Shaw and James McNeil Whistler lived here. To the west, Great Portland Street separates it from Marylebone, while Gower Street marks its eastern border, beyond which is Bloomsbury. Busy Euston Road (and the Circle Line beneath it) is its northern extent.
Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).
Dating back to 1934, this art deco gem, the home of British architecture, lies behind an elegant Portland Stone structure. Walk through the large bronze doors into a spacious lobby, off of which you’ll find a new museum-quality gallery showcasing architecture-related exhibitions. The Library is a research resource for all aspects of the profession while up the wide marble staircase is a gorgeous art deco restaurant. Guided tours of the building take place on the last Tuesday of every month. Places are free, but offered on a first-come-first-served basis (groups of five or more have to book). | 66 Portland Pl., Fitzrovia | 0207/580-5533 | www.architecture.com | Free | Mon.-Sat., 10-5 | Station: Regent’s Park, Great Portland St.
RIBA Café & Restaurant.
Dine in art deco splendor at the RIBA Restaurant on the first floor of the Royal Institute of British Architects, which serves modern British food. On nice days, take advantage of the half-covered terrace. RIBA also has a modernist-style café on the ground floor, which offers coffees and pastries. | Average main: £9 | 66 Portland Pl., Fitzrovia | 020/7307-3747 | www.architecture.com | Mon., Wed., and Thurs. 8-7, Tues. 8-9, Fri. 8-6 | Station: Regent’s Park, Great Portland St.
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Getting Oriented | Top Attractions | Worth Noting
Updated by Jack Jewers
The City is the capital’s fast-beating financial heart, with a powerful architectural triumvirate at its epicenter: the Bank of England, the Royal Exchange, and Mansion House. The “Square Mile” also has currency as the place where London began, its historic heart. St. Paul’s Cathedral has been looking after Londoners’ souls for hundreds of years, and the Tower of London—that moat-surrounded royal fortress, prison, and jewel house—has occasionally taken care of their heads.
The City is a dizzying juxtaposition of the old and the new. You’ll find yourself immersed in historic London if you begin your explorations on Fleet Street, the site of England’s first printing press and the undisputed seat of British journalism until the 1980s. Nestled behind Fleet Street is Dr. Johnson’s House, former home of the author of Dictionary of the English Language, who claimed that “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” The nearby church of St. Bride’s, recognizable by its tiered wedding-cake steeple, is a Sir Christopher Wren gem and still the church for journalists, while eastward rises the iconic St. Paul’s Cathedral, also designed by Wren and largely considered the architect’s masterpiece. You’ll encounter more of traditional London at the Central Criminal Court (nicknamed The Old Bailey, and home to London’s most sensational criminal trials) and the 800-year-old Smithfield Market, whose Victorian halls are the site of a daily early-morning meat market. Nearby are the ancient church of St. Bartholomew the Great and St. Bartholomew Hospital, both begun in 1123; the Guildhall, the site of the only Roman amphitheater in London; the church of St. Mary-le-Bow; and the maze of charmingly old-fashioned, narrow streets around Bow Lane.
You can put all this history into context at the Museum of London, where archaeological displays include a portion of the original Roman Wall that ringed The City.
Just beyond rises the modern Barbican Centre, a concrete complex of arts venues and apartments that was controversial at the time it was built, but now has become an indispensible part of the London landscape. The sight of some other new structures rising above The City—especially the Lloyd’s of London Building and the Swiss Re Tower, popularly known as “the Gherkin”—may or may not be more reassuring.
The Monument, near the banks of the Thames, was built to commemorate the Great Fire of London of 1666. From here, the river leads to one of London’s most absorbing and bloody attractions, the Tower of London. Tower Bridge is a suitably giddying finale to an exploration of this fascinating part of London.
There is another reason that makes The City such an intriguing place to visit at the moment: with the constant building of new skyscrapers in the financial district, the ancient skyline is changing at a rapid pace. Cross the Thames anywhere from Waterloo to Tower Bridge and half the people you’ll see taking in the view are probably Londoners, paused to wonder in astonishment as yet another glass-and-steel monolith seems to have popped up since last week. You could leave years between your visits, or merely months; either way The City will literally never be the same as when you saw it last.
A Brief History
Although there is evidence of Celtic habitation on the north bank of the Thames, in many ways London begins with the Romans, who established the settlement of Londinium in AD 47 as an outpost of the Empire (before those pesky Celts, led by Queen Boudicca, returned and burnt it to the ground 17 years later). The Saxons came and stayed for a while, as did the Vikings, and by the time the Normans turned up in the 11th century, London was already established as the most important city in England. William the Conqueror began building the palace that was to become the Tower of London, which by Tudor times was known as the world’s most forbidding prison, and where two of Henry VIII’s six wives were executed. During the Middle Ages, powerful guilds that nurtured commerce took root in the capital, followed by the foundation of great trading companies, such as the Honourable East India Company, which started up in 1600.
London’s history has often been one of disaster and renewal. The Great Fire of 1666 spared only a few of the cramped, labyrinthine streets upon which the Great Plague had delivered such devastation the previous year. Yet the gutted wastelands ushered in an era of architectural renaissance, led by Sir Christopher Wren. Further punishment would come during the Blitz of World War II, when German bombers destroyed many buildings—but yet again London rebounded. As always.
The City area is well served by a concentrated selection of Tube stations—St. Paul’s and Bank are on the Central line, and Mansion House, Cannon Street, and Monument are on the District and Circle lines. Liverpool Street and Aldgate border The City’s eastern edge, while Chancery Lane and Farringdon lie to the west. Barbican and Moorgate provide easy access to the theaters and galleries of the Barbican, and Blackfriars, to the south, leads to Ludgate Circus and Fleet Street.
TOP REASONS TO GO
St. Paul’s Cathedral, the “Symbolic Heart of London”: Now increasingly crowded by skyscrapers, St. Paul’s still manages to dominate the skyline. Once inside, you’ll see the beauty of this 17th-century masterpiece by Sir Christopher Wren’s.
Linger on the Millennium Bridge: Hurtle across centuries with this promenade between Tate Modern and St. Paul’s—and get a great river view, too.
Treachery and treasures at the Tower: This minicity of melodramatic towers is stuffed to bursting with heraldry, pageantry, and the stunning Crown Jewels (bring sunglasses).
Channel history at the Museum of London: From a Roman leather bikini to Queen Victoria’s crinoline gowns; from Selfridges’ art deco elevators to a diorama of the Great Fire (sound effects! flickering flames!), this gem of a museum’s got it all.
Riverside Café Bar.
This friendly eatery is good for a warming cup of hot chocolate or a quick snack, with waterside views of the luxurious yachts and gin palaces moored at the docks. It’s closed in the evenings. | St. Katherine’s Dock, St. Katherine’s Way, The City | 020/7481-1464 | Station: Tower Hill.
The Old Bank of England.
It’s fun to give directions to this grand old pub next to the Royal Courts of Justice on Fleet Street; just look for the flaming torches next to the statue of a dragon. As the name suggests this was the Bank of England in Victorian times, and the interior still looks suitably opulent, complete with elaborate painted ceilings and an island bar that was cleverly converted from the old cashier’s desk. They serve good, hearty pub food—try one of the tasty pies (and don’t be put off by the fact that, according to legend, this was the site of Sweeny Todd’s barber shop, where the customers were murdered and put into pies). | 194 Fleet St., The City | 020/7430-2255 | www.oldbankofengland.co.uk | Station: Temple.
Here since 1889, Sweetings is not cheap, takes no reservations, is only open weekdays, and it closes at 3 pm—but it serves one of the best fish lunches in London. Refuel here on Dover sole or Cornish Brill, and observe the pinstripes at play in their natural habitat. | 39 Queen Victoria St., The City | 020/7248-3062 | www.sweetingsrestaurant.com | Station: Mansion House.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese.
This wonderfully higgledy-piggledy, multilevel inn on Fleet Street was built in 1667, but the basement bar is centuries older, making this possibly London’s oldest pub. The list of past customers is like a literary Who’s Who: Tennyson, Mark Twain, W. B. Yeats, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, as well as the most famous regular, Dr. Johnson. It’s closed on Sunday. | 145 Fleet St., The City | 020/7353-6170 | Station: St. Paul’s.
MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR TIME
The “Square Mile” is as compact as the nickname suggests, with little distance between points of interest, making an afternoon stroll a rewarding experience. For full immersion in the Tower of London, however, set aside half a day, especially if seeing the Crown Jewels is a priority. Allow an hour minimum each for the Museum of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Tower Bridge. On weekends, without the scurrying suits, The City is nearly deserted, making it hard to find lunch—and yet this is when the major attractions are at their busiest.
A GOOD WALK
Crossing the Millennium Bridge from Tate Modern to St. Paul’s is one of the finest walks in London—with the river to either side and Christopher Wren’s iconic dome towering at one end. Dubbed the “blade of light,” the shiny aluminum-and-steel span was the result of a collaboration between architect Norman Foster and sculptor Anthony Caro.
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FAMILY | Monument.
Commemorating the “dreadful visitation” of the Great Fire of London, in 1666, this huge stone column stands both 202 feet tall and exactly 202 feet from Farrier’s baking house in Pudding Lane, where the fire started. (Note the gilded urn of fire at the column’s pinnacle.) It was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and Dr. Robert Hooke, who were asked to erect it “on or as neere unto the place where the said Fire soe unhappily began as conveniently may be.” The view of The City from the top is spectacular, but if climbing the 311 steps seems too arduous, you can watch a live view relayed on a screen at the entrance. | Monument St., The City | 020/7626-2717 | www.themonument.info | £3; combined ticket with Tower Bridge exhibition £9 | Daily 9:30-5:30; last admission 5 | Station: Monument.
FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | Museum of London.
If there’s one place to absorb the history of London, from 450,000 BC to the present day, it’s here. There are 7,000 objects to wonder at in all, from Oliver Cromwell’s death mask to Queen Victoria’s crinoline gowns; Selfridges’ art deco elevators to an original Newgate Prison Door. The collection devoted to Roman London contains some extraordinary gems, including an astonishingly well-preserved floor mosaic uncovered just a few streets away. (Appropriately enough, the museum itself shelters a section of the 2nd- to 4th-century London wall, which you can view through a window.) Permanent displays highlight prehistoric, Medieval, and Tudor London. The Galleries of Modern London are equally enthralling: experience the “Expanding City,” “People’s City,” and “World City,” each gallery dealing with a section of London’s history from 1666 until the 21st century. Innovative interactive displays abound, and you can even wander around a 19th-century London street with impressively detailed shop fronts and interiors, including a pawnbroker, a pub, a barber, and a bank manager’s office. There’s also a fine schedule of temporary exhibitions. | London Wall, The City | 020/7001-9844 | www.museumoflondon.org.uk | Free | Daily 10-6; last admission 5:30; galleries start to close 5:40 | Station: Barbican, St. Paul’s.
Fodor’s Choice | St. Paul’s Cathedral.
St. Paul’s is simply breathtaking, especially since the scaffolding was removed, after an enormous, 15-year restoration, completed in 2011. The structure is Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece, completed in 1710 after 35 years of building, and, much later, miraculously spared (mostly) by World War II bombs. Wren’s first plan, known as the New Model, did not make it past the drawing board. The second, known as the Great Model, got as far as a 20-foot oak rendering—now displayed in the Trophy Room—before it also was rejected.
The third plan was accepted, with the fortunate proviso that the architect be allowed to make changes as he saw fit. Without that, there would be no dome, because the approved design had a steeple—and St. Paul’s simply would not be St. Paul’s as we know it without the dome (the third largest in the world). Even so, from inside the vast cathedral the dome may seem smaller than you’d expect—the inner dome is 60 feet lower than the lead-covered outer dome. Beneath the lantern is Wren’s famous and succinct epitaph, which his son composed and had set into the pavement: “Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice” (“Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you”). The epitaph also appears on Wren’s memorial in the Crypt.
Up 163 spiral steps is the Whispering Gallery, with its incredible acoustic phenomenon; you whisper something to the wall on one side, and a second later it transmits clearly to the other side, 107 feet away. Ascend to the Stone Gallery, which encircles the base of the dome. Farther up (280 feet from ground level) is the small Golden Gallery, the dome’s highest point. From both these galleries (if you have a head for heights) you can walk outside for a spectacular panorama of London.
The remains of the poet John Donne, who was Dean of St. Paul’s for his final 10 years (he died in 1631), are in the south choir aisle. The vivacious choir-stall carvings nearby are the work of Grinling Gibbons, as are those on the great organ, which Wren designed. Behind the high altar is the American Memorial Chapel, dedicated to the 28,000 GIs stationed in the United Kingdom who lost their lives in World War II. Among the famous figures whose remains lie in the Crypt are the Duke of Wellington and Admiral Lord Nelson. Free, 90-minute guided tours take place daily at 10, 11, 1, and 2; book a place at the welcome desk (on the day only). A tour of the Triforium (upper galleries) can be booked by groups of 5 for £8 per person; see the website for details. | St. Paul’s Churchyard, The City | 020/7246-8350 | www.stpauls.co.uk | £17 (includes multimedia guides and guided tours) | Mon.-Sat. 8:30-4:30 (last ticket sold at 4); open Sun. for services only | Station: St. Paul’s.
FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | Tower Bridge.
Despite its medieval, fairy-tale appearance, Britain’s most iconic bridge was actually built at the tail end of the Victorian age, first opening to traffic in 1894. Constructed of steel, then clothed in Portland stone, the Horace Jones masterpiece was built in the Gothic style that was highly popular at the time (and nicely complements the Tower of London, next door). The bridge is famous for its enormous bascules—the 1,200-ton “arms” that open to allow large ships to glide beneath. This still happens a few times per month (the website lists upcoming times), but when river traffic was dense, the bascules were raised about five times a day.
The Tower Bridge Exhibition is a family-friendly tour where you can discover how the bridge actually works before heading out onto the walkways for wonderful city views. First, take in the romance of the panoramas from the east and west walkways between those grand turrets. On the east are the modern superstructures of the Docklands, and on the west is the Tower of London, St. Paul’s, the Monument, and the misshapen steel-and-glass egg that is Greater London Assembly’s City Hall (famously described as “a glass testicle” by former mayor Ken Livingstone). Then it’s back down to explore the Victorian engine rooms and discover the inner workings, which you learn about through hands-on displays and films. | Tower Bridge Rd., The City | 020/7403-3761 | www.towerbridge.org.uk | £8; combined ticket with Monument exhibition £9 | Apr.-Sept., daily 10-6; Oct.-Mar., daily 9:30-5:30; last admission 30 mins before closing | Station: Tower Hill.
FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | Tower of London.
Nowhere else does London’s history come to life so vividly as it does in this minicity of 20 towers filled with heraldry and treasure, the intimate details of lords and dukes and princes and sovereigns etched in the walls (literally, in some places), and quite a few buckets of royal blood spilled on the stones. This is one of Britain’s most popular sights—the Crown Jewels are kept here—and you can avoid lines by buying a ticket in advance online, by phone, or from the automatic kiosks on Tower Hill. The visitor center provides an introduction to the Tower. Allow at least three hours for exploring, and take time to stroll along the battlements for a wonderful overview. The Crown Jewels are worth the inevitable wait, the White Tower is essential, and the Medieval Palace and Bloody Tower should at least be breezed through.
Today’s Tower has seen everything, as a palace, barracks, a mint for producing coins, an archive, an armory, and the Royal Menagerie (which formed the basis of the London Zoo). Most of all, though, the Tower is known for death: it’s been a place of imprisonment, torture, and execution for the realm’s most notorious traitors, and a few innocents as well.
A person was mighty privileged to be beheaded in the peace and seclusion of Tower Green instead of before the mob at Tower Hill. In fact, only seven people were ever so honored—among them Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, wives two and five of Henry VIII’s six; Elizabeth I’s friend Robert Devereux, earl of Essex; and the nine-day queen, Lady Jane Grey, age 16. Free tours depart every half hour or so (until mid-afternoon) from the main entrance. They are conducted by the Yeoman Warders, better known as Beefeaters, dressed in resplendent navy-and-red (scarlet-and-gold on special occasions) Tudor outfits. Beefeaters have been guarding the Tower since Henry VII appointed them in 1485. One of them, the Yeoman Warder Raven Master, is responsible for making life comfortable for the ravens (six birds plus reserves) that live in Lanthorn Tower. It’s an important duty, because if the ravens were to desert the Tower, goes the legend, the kingdom would fall. Today, the Tower takes no chances: the ravens’ wings are clipped.
In prime position stands the oldest part of the Tower and the most conspicuous of its buildings, the White Tower. William the Conqueror began the central keep in 1078 and Henry III (1207-72) had it whitewashed (hence the name). Inside you’ll find the Armouries, a splendid collection of arms and armor. Across the moat, Traitors’ Gate lies to the right. Opposite Traitors’ Gate is the former Garden Tower, better known since about 1570 as the Bloody Tower. Its name comes from one of the most famous unsolved murders in history, the saga of the “little princes in the Tower.” In 1483, the uncrowned boy king, Edward V, and his brother Richard were left here by their uncle, Richard of Gloucester, after the death of their father, Edward IV. They were never seen again. Gloucester went on to be crowned Richard III, and in 1674 two little skeletons were found under the stairs to the White Tower and thought to be those of the two boys.
The most famous exhibits are, of course, the Crown Jewels in the Waterloo Barracks. This is the Tower’s biggest draw, perfect for playing pick-your-favorite-crown from the wrong side of bulletproof glass. Not only are these crowns, staffs, and orbs encrusted with heavy-duty gems, they are invested with the authority of monarchical power in England, dating back to the 1300s. Included is the famous Koh-i-noor, or “Mountain of Light.” The legendary diamond, which was supposed to bring luck to women, came from India, and was given to Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. You can see it, in cut-down shape, in the late Queen Mother’s crown. The Crown Jewels used to be housed in Martin Tower, which now hosts an exhibit that explains the art of fashioning royal headwear and includes 12,314 cut and uncut diamonds.
The little Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula is the second church on the site, and it’s the final resting place of six beheaded Tudor bodies. Visitors are welcome for services and can also enter after 4:30 daily.
Evocative Beauchamp Tower served as a jail for upper-class miscreants. Latin graffiti about Lady Jane Grey, who was also a prisoner here, can be glimpsed on the walls.
For free tickets to the 700-year-old Ceremony of the Keys (locking of main gates, nightly between 9:30 and 10), write several months in advance; check the tower website for details. Also, check for winter twilight tours of the Tower on selected evenings. | Tower Hill, The City | 0844/482-7777 | www.hrp.org.uk | £22 | Mar.-Oct., Tues.-Sat. 9-5:30, Sun. and Mon. 10-5:30; Nov.-Feb., Tues.-Sat. 9-4:30, Sun. and Mon. 10-4:30. Last admission 30 min before closing. Last tour 3:30 winter, 2:30 summer. | Station: Tower Hill.
Bank of England.
The United Kingdom’s main bank has been central to the British economy since 1694. Known for the past couple of centuries as “the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street,” after the name appeared in a caption to a political cartoon (which can be seen in the museum), the bank manages the national debt and the foreign exchange reserves, issues banknotes, sets interest rates, looks after England’s gold, and regulates the country’s banking system. Sir John Soane designed the neoclassical hulk in 1788, wrapping it in windowless walls, which are all that survives of his original building. The bank’s history is traced in the Bank of England Museum (the entrance is around the corner on Bartholomew Lane), where interactive exhibits chart the bank’s more recent history and offer the chance to try your hand at controlling inflation. But most visitors still make a beeline for the solid-gold bar that can be stroked and held in the central trading hall—before you get any ideas, there’s security everywhere. | Threadneedle St., The City | 020/7601-5545 | www.bankofengland.co.uk | Free | Weekdays and Lord Mayor’s Show day (2nd Sat. in Nov.) 10-5; last admission 4:45 | Station: Bank, Monument.
The Barbican is an enormous 1980s concrete maze that Londoners either love or hate—but the importance of the complex to the cultural life of the capital is beyond dispute. It houses two theaters; the London Symphony Orchestra and its auditorium; the Guildhall School of Music and Drama; a major art gallery for changing exhibitions; two movie theaters; a convention center; an upscale restaurant, cafés, terraces with fountains, and bookshops; and living space in some of the most desirable apartments in The City. Navigation around the complex is via the yellow lines running, Wizard-of-Oz-like, along the floors, with signs on the walls, although it’s still easy to get lost. Actors and audiences alike rate the theater for its excellent acoustics and sightlines. The lively and varied program encompasses all kinds of performance, including music, dance, theater, and film. | Silk St., The City | 020/7638-8891 box office | www.barbican.org.uk | Barbican Centre free; prices for individual performances and exhibitions vary | Barbican Centre Mon.-Sat. 9 am-11 pm, Sun. and holidays noon-11; gallery Sat.-Wed. 10-6, Thurs. and Fri. 10-9 | Station: Barbican, Moorgate.
Dr. Johnson’s House.
Built in 1700, this elegant Georgian residence, with its paneled rooms and period furniture, is where Samuel Johnson lived between 1748 and 1759. The Great Bear (as he was affectionately known) compiled his Dictionary of the English Language in the attic as his health deteriorated. Two early editions are on view, among other mementos of Johnson and his friend, diarist, and later, his biographer, James Boswell. After soaking up the atmosphere, repair around the corner in Wine Office Court to the famed Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub, once Johnson and Boswell’s favorite watering hole. | 17 Gough Sq., The City | 020/7353-3745 | www.drjohnsonshouse.org | £4.50 | May-Sept., Mon.-Sat. 11-5:30; Oct.-Apr., Mon.-Sat. 11-5 | Station: Holborn, Chancery La., Temple.
The Corporation of London, which oversees The City, has ceremonially elected and installed its Lord Mayor here for the last 800 years. The Guildhall was built in 1411, and though it failed to avoid the conflagrations of either 1666 or 1940, its core survived. The Great Hall is a psychedelic patchwork of coats of arms and banners of the City Livery Companies, which inherited the mantle of the medieval trade guilds. Tradesmen couldn’t even run a shop without kowtowing to these prototypical unions, and their grand banqueting halls, the plushest private dining venues in The City, are testimony to the wealth they amassed. Inside the hall, Gog and Magog, the pair of mythical giants who founded ancient Albion and the city of New Troy, upon which London was said to be built, glower down from their west-gallery grandstand in 9-foot-high painted lime wood. The hall was also the site of famous trials, including that of Lady Jane Grey in 1553, before her execution at the Tower of London. To the right of Guildhall Yard is the Guildhall Art Gallery, which includes portraits of the great and the good, cityscapes, famous battles, and a slightly cloying pre-Raphaelite section. The construction of the gallery in the 1980s led to the exciting discovery of London’s only Roman amphitheater, which had lain underneath Guildhall Yard undisturbed for more than 1,800 years. It was excavated and now visitors can walk among the remains, although most of the relics can be seen at the Museum of London. | Aldermanbury, The City | 020/7606-3030, 020/7332-3700 gallery | www.cityoflondon.gov.uk | Free (fee for some gallery exhibitions) | Hall Mon.-Sat. 9:30-5; gallery Mon.-Sat. 10-5, Sun. noon-4. Last admission ½ hr before closing. Sometimes closed for events; call to check | Station: St. Paul’s, Moorgate, Bank, Mansion House.
The Old Bailey.
England and Wales don’t allow cameras in courtrooms, so the only way to see a trial in action is to show up. The most high-profile ones usually happen here, at any of the 16 public courtrooms of the Central Criminal Court (universally known as “The Old Bailey”—a reference to the fact that it sits atop a section of the old London wall, or “bailey” in Medieval English). Oscar Wilde stood trial here for “gross indecency” (homosexuality) in 1895, but far darker souls than his have passed through these doors, including the nation’s most notorious murderers, fraudsters, gangsters, and traitors. The day’s proceedings are posted outside; there are security restrictions and children under 14 are not allowed. The Old Bailey was originally part of Newgate Prison, England’s most feared gaol (jail) after the Tower, in use from the 12th century all the way to 1902. The present building dates from 1907. Note the 12-foot gilded statue of Justice perched on top; she’s not, as is commonly thought, wearing a blindfold—her female form was thought by the Edwardians to imply virtue enough. | Newgate St., The City | 020/7248-3277 information | www.cityoflondon.gov.uk | Free | Public galleries weekdays 10-1 and 2-5 (approximately). Line forms at Newgate St. entrance or in Warwick St. Passage; closed Mon. holidays and day after | Station: St. Paul’s.
St. Bartholomew the Great.
This is one of London’s oldest churches. Construction on the church and the hospital nearby was begun in 1123 by Henry I’s favorite courtier, Rahere, who, surviving malaria, dedicated his life to serving the saint who had visited him in his fevered dreams. With the dissolution of the monasteries, Henry VIII had most of the place torn down; the Romanesque choir loft is all that survives from the 12th century. In recent times, this ancient church has become a bit of a movie star, having appeared in The Other Boleyn Girl, Four Weddings and a Funeral, and Shakespeare in Love, to name but a few. | Cloth Fair, West Smithfield, The City | 020/7606-5171 | www.greatstbarts.com | Church £4 (free for prayer); photography £1 | Church weekdays 8:30-5, Sat. 10:30-4, Sun. 8:30-8. Museum Tues.-Fri. 10-4 | Station: Barbican, Farringdon.
According to legend, the distinctively tiered steeple of this Christopher Wren-designed church gave rise to the shape of the traditional wedding cake. One early couple inspired to marry here were the parents of Virginia Dare, the first European child born in colonial America in 1587. As St. Paul’s (in Covent Garden) is the actors’ church, so St. Bride’s belongs to journalists, many of whom have been buried or memorialized here. By 1664 the crypts were so crowded that diarist Samuel Pepys, who was baptized here, had to bribe the gravedigger to “justle together” some bodies to make room for his deceased brother. Now the crypts house a museum of the church’s rich history, and a bit of Roman sidewalk. Ninety-minute guided tours are held on some Tuesday afternoons (check website for dates). | Fleet St., The City | 020/7427-0133 | www.stbrides.com | Free; guided tours £6 | Weekdays 9-6, Sat. hrs vary (call to confirm), Sun. 10-6:30; tours Tues. at 3 | Station: St. Paul’s, Blackfriars.
Various versions of this church have stood on the site since the 11th century. In 1284 a local goldsmith took refuge here after committing a murder, only to be killed inside by enraged relatives of his victim. The church was abandoned for a time afterward, but was rebuilt as its current form by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire. This 1673 incarnation has a tall steeple (in The City, only St. Bride’s is taller) and one of the most famous sets of bells in England—technically, a Londoner must be born within the sound of the “Bow Bells” to be a true Cockney. The origin of that idea may have been the curfew rung on the bells during the 14th century. The Bow takes its name from the bow-shaped arches in the Norman crypt. The church was rebuilt again after severe bomb damage in World War II. The garden contains a statue of local boy Captain John Smith, who founded Virginia in 1606 and was later captured by Native Americans. | Cheapside, The City | 020/7248-5139 | www.stmarylebow.co.uk | Mon.-Wed. 7:30-6, Thurs. 7:30-6:30, Fri. 7:30-4 | Station: Mansion House, St. Paul’s.
QUICK BITES: Café Below.
In St. Mary-le-Bow’s Norman crypt, this café is packed with City workers weekdays from 7:30 am until 2:30 pm for a menu covering breakfasts, scrumptious light lunches, and delicious cakes. | Cheapside, The City | 020/7329-0789 | www.cafebelow.co.uk | Station: Mansion House, St Paul’s.
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Getting Oriented | Top Attractions | Worth Noting
Updated by Ellin Stein
Made famous by Dickens and infamous by Jack the Ripper, East London is one of London’s most enduringly evocative neighborhoods, rich in popular history, architectural gems, and artists’ studios. Since the early 1990s, hip gallerists, designers, and new-media entrepreneurs have colonized its handsome Georgian buildings and converted industrial lofts. Today, the collection of neighborhoods that makes up East London lays claim to being the city’s most trendsetting neighborhoods.
The British equivalent of Brooklyn, East London is a patchwork of districts encompassing struggling artists, ethnic enclaves, upscale professionals, and the digerati, occasionally teetering, like its New York equivalent, on the edge of self-parody. The vast area ranges from gentrified districts like Spitalfields—where bankers and successful artists live in desirable renovated Georgian town houses—to parts of Hackney where seemingly derelict, graffiti-covered industrial buildings are hives of exciting creative activity. As with all neighborhoods in transition, it can be a little rough around the edges, so stick to busier streets at night.
At the start of the new millennium, Hoxton, an enclave of Shoreditch, became the glossy hub of London’s buzzing contemporary art scene, which accelerated the gentrification process. Some artists, such as Tracey Emin and Gilbert & George, long-term residents of Spitalfields’ handsome Georgian terraces (and successful enough to still afford the area), have remained.
East End Street Smarts
Brick Lane and the narrow streets running off it offer a paradigm of East London’s development. Its population has moved in waves: communities seeking refuge, others moving out in an upwardly mobile direction.
Brick Lane has seen the manufacture of bricks (during the 16th century), beer, and bagels, but nowadays it’s primarily known as the heart of Banglatown—Bangladeshis make up one-third of the population in this London borough, and you’ll see that the names of the surrounding streets are written in Bengali—where you find many kebab and curry houses along with shops selling videos, colorful saris, and stacks of sticky sweets. On Sunday morning the entire street becomes pedestrianized. Shops and cafés are open, and several stalls are set up, creating a companion market to the one on nearby Petticoat Lane.
Fournier Street contains fine examples of the neighborhood’s characteristic Georgian terraced houses, many of them built by the richest of the early-18th-century Huguenot silk weavers (note the enlarged windows on the upper floors). Most of those along the north side of Fournier Street have been restored, but some still contain textile sweatshops—only now the workers are Bengali.
Wilkes Street, with more 1720s Huguenot houses, is north of the Christ Church, Spitalfields, and neighboring Princelet Street was once important to East London’s Jewish community. Where No. 6 stands now, the first of several thriving Yiddish theaters opened in 1886. Elder Street, just off Folgate, is another gem of original 18th-century houses. On the south and east side of Spitalfields Market are yet more time-warp streets that are worth a wander, such as Gun Street, where artist Mark Gertler (1891-1939) lived at No. 32.
One such residence, Dennis Severs’s House, was transformed two decades ago by American artist Severs into a unique “living house museum” that evokes how past generations of a fictional Huguenot family might have lived there. Not far away, Spitalfields Market offers an ever-changing selection of crafts and funky clothes stalls located under a glass roof in what was once a Victorian produce market. Across from the market, Christ Church, Spitalfields, Nicholas Hawkmoor’s masterpiece, soars above Fournier Street.
In the last decade, the streets around the Old Street roundabout (as well as converted warehouses in Hackney and Dalston) have flourished with start-ups, with attendant stylish boutiques (especially on Redchurch Street), destination restaurants, and hipster bars as part of a government initiative to attract IT oriented businesses to the neighborhood. Old and new Shoreditch meet on Brick Lane, the heart of the Bangladeshi community, lined with innumerable curry houses and glittering sari shops, plus vintage clothing emporia. Here you’ll also find the Old Truman Brewery, an East London landmark converted into a warren of street fashion and pop-up galleries. On Sunday, the Columbia Road Flower Market to the north of Brick Lane becomes a colorful, fragrant oasis of greenery.
As property prices have climbed, up-and-coming artists have sought more affordable studio spaces in former industrial buildings eastward toward Whitechapel and Bethnal Green, where there are also some notable galleries. Here you’ll find the V&A Museum of Childhood, a delight for children of all ages, and, a design connoisseur’s favorite, the Geffrye Museum, a collection of domestic interiors that occupies a row of early-18th-century almshouses.
Probably the best start to an East London tour is via the London Overground, getting off at the Shoreditch High Street station. Immediately northwest of the station, on the west side of Shoreditch High Street, is the heart of the neighborhood that aspires to be the U.K. equivalent to Silicon Valley. To the northeast is Shoreditch’s boutique, gallery, and restaurant zone. The sub-neighborhood of Hoxton is located just above Shoreditch, north of the Old Street roundabout. To the southeast of the station are the handsome Georgian streets of Spitalfields. Bethnal Green is due east, past lively Brick Lane. Whitechapel, formerly Jack the Ripper’s patch, is to the south of Spitalfields. All of these neighborhoods are within what is traditionally referred to as the “East End,” although East London extends farther to the North and East.
TOP REASONS TO GO
Dennis Severs’s House by candlelight: The atmospheric set-pieces in this Georgian town house use visuals, sounds, and aromas to evoke the lives of its fictional previous inhabitants.
Eat artisanal at Broadway Market: Check out the more than 100 artisanal food stalls purveying everything from cheeses to oysters at Broadway Market on Saturday.
Check out London’s hottest art scene: Edgy galleries mix with large collections.
Trace the footsteps of Jack the Ripper: Track Britain’s most infamous serial killer through the former Victorian slum streets of East London.
Peek into the lives of Londoners at the Geffrye Museum of the Home: This former almshouse showcases middle-class domestic interiors over the centuries.
Inside Spitalfields Market is a branch of the small London chain Leon, which offers nutritious, sustainable, seasonable, and yummy fast food including sandwiches, wraps, curries, and salads. | 0207/247-4369.
Once a food truck, Lucky Chip is now in the Seabright Arms pub between Columbia Road and the Broadway Market. Satisfying food is served on paper plates. | Seabright Arms,31-35 Coate St.,Hackney | www.lucky-chip.co.uk | Reservations not accepted | Station: Bethnal Green.
Poppies of Spitalfields.
With retro-diner decor and efficient service, this joint serves fish-and-chips (fresh from Billingsgate Market), and free-range grilled chicken. | 6-8 Hanbury St., Spitalfields | 0207/247-0892 | www.poppiesfishandchips.co.uk.
Around Shoreditch, Spitalfields, and Brick Lane, streets are largely safe during daylight hours. Be cautious on the less gentrified streets of Whitechapel, Bethnal Green, and Hackney at night.
The London Overground, with stops at Shoreditch High Street, Hoxton, Whitechapel, Dalston Kingsland, and Hackney Central, is the easiest way to reach East London. Alternatively, the best Tube stations to use are Old Street on the Northern line, Bethnal Green on the Central line, and Liverpool Street on the Metropolitan and Circle lines.
MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR TIME
To experience East London at its most lively, visit on the weekend. Spitalfields Market bustles all weekend, while Brick Lane and Columbia Road are best on a Sunday morning and Broadway Market on Saturday. If you’re planning to explore East London’s art galleries, pick up a free map at the Whitechapel Art Gallery. As for the area’s booming nightlife scene, there’s no time limit.
The 2½-hour Jack the Ripper Secret London Tour (londonpremierwalkingtours.co.uk), departs from Aldwych Tube station on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:30, Saturday at 6, and Sunday at 1:30. Street Art London (streetartlondon.co.uk) offers two- and four-hour walking tours of East London’s street art on Tuesday at 10 am and weekends at 11 am.
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Bevis Marks Synagogue.
This is Britain’s oldest synagogue still in use and certainly its most splendid. It was built in 1701, after the Jews, having been expelled from England in 1290, were allowed to return under Cromwell in 1656. Inspired by the Spanish and Portuguese Great Synogogue of Amsterdam, the interior is embellished with rich woodwork, seven hanging brass candelabra (representing the seven days of the week), and 12 trompe l’oeil wood columns painted to look like marble. The magnificent Ark, which contains the sacred scrolls of the five books of Moses, is modeled on contemporaneous Wren neoclassical altar pieces, with oak doors and Corinthian columns. In 1992 and 1993 the synagogue was seriously damaged by IRA bombs, but was subsequently completely restored. | Bevis Marks,Whitechapel | 020/7626-1274 | www.bevismarks.org.uk | £5 | Mon., Wed. and Thurs. 10:30-2, Tues. and Fri. 10:30-1, Sun. 10:30-12:30 | Closed for Jewish festivals | Station: Aldgate, Liverpool St.
This parade of shops in hipster-centric Hackney (located north of Regent’s Canal) is worth visiting for the specialist bookshops, independent boutiques, organic cafés, neighborhood restaurants, and even a traditional (but now rare) pie-and-mash shop. But wait for Saturday, between 9 and 5, when it really comes into its own with a farmers’ market and more than 100 food stalls rivaling those of south London’s famed Borough Market. Artisanal breads, cheeses, chocolates, organic meats, produce, oysters, smoked salmon, and ethnic offerings: this is foodie heaven. There are also stalls selling vintage clothes, handmade instruments, and more. | Broadway Market, Hackney | 0787/246-3409 | www.broadwaymarket.co.uk | Station: Bethnal Green.
Fodor’s Choice | Columbia Road Flower Market.
On Sunday mornings this largely built-up area is transformed into a riot of color and scent as the Columbia Road Flower Market sells everything from bedding plants to banana trees, including herbs, cut flowers, and bouquets at very reasonable prices. The vendors’ patter is part of the fun. Columbia Road itself is lined with some 60 independent shops, so you can pick up some art, antiques, handcrafted jewelry, or, of course, garden accessories to go with your greenery. | Columbia Rd., Hackney | 020/7613-0876 | www.columbiaroad.info | Sun. 8-3 | Station: Old St., Northern Line.
Fodor’s Choice | Dennis Severs’ House.
The remarkable interiors of this extraordinary time machine of a house are the creation of Dennis Severs (1948-99), a performer-designer-scholar from Escondido, California, who dedicated his life to restoring this Georgian terraced house. More than that, he created “still-life dramas” using sight, sound, and smell to evoke the world of a fictitious family of Huguenot silk weavers, the Jervises, who might have inhabited the house between 1728 and 1914. Each of the 10 rooms has a distinctive, compelling atmosphere that encourages visitors to become lost in another time, deploying evocative design details like rose-laden Victorian wallpaper, Jacobean paneling, Georgian wing chairs, Baroque carved ornaments, rich “Catholic” wall colors downstairs, and more sedate “Protestant” shades upstairs. TIP The “Silent Night” candlelight tour offered each Monday and Wednesday evening, a silent stroll concluding with champagne by the fire, is the most theatrical and memorable way to experience the house. Private individual Silent Night tours are available one night per month, and private group visits can also be arranged. | 18 Folgate St., Spitalfields | 020/7247-4013 | www.dennissevershouse.co.uk | £10 Sun., £7 Mon., £14 Mon. and Wed. evenings | Sun. noon-4 (last admission 3:15); 1st and 3rd Mon. noon-2 (last admission 1:15); Mon. and Wed. 6-9 (last admission 8; reservations essential) | Station: Overground: Shoreditch High St.
Fodor’s Choice | Geffrye Museum of the Home.
In contrast to the West End’s grand aristocratic town houses, this charming museum is devoted to the life of the city’s middle class over the years. Originally a row of almshouses built in 1714 by Sir Robert Geffrye, a former Lord Mayor of London, it contains a series of 11 period rooms that re-create everyday domestic interiors from the Elizabethan period through the 1950s to the present day. One of the almshouses has been restored to its original condition to offer a glimpse into how the poor and the dependent elderly lived in previous centuries (to visit the almshouse you must go as part of a tour, which is offered at 11, noon, 2, and 3 on specific days each month; check website). Outside, a series of period gardens charts the evolution of the town garden over the past 400 years, and next to them is a walled herb garden. The museum’s extension wing houses the 20th-century galleries, a lovely café overlooking the gardens, and a shop. | 136 Kingsland Rd., Hoxton | 020/7739-9893 | www.geffrye-museum.org.uk | Free (charge for special exhibitions); almshouse £2.50 | Tues.-Sun. 10-5; gardens: Apr. 1-Oct. 31 | Closed Mon. (except holidays) | Station:Old St., then Bus 243; Liverpool St., then Bus 149 or 242. Overground: Hoxton.
Old Spitalfields Market.
An impressive piece of architecture in itself, this large restored Victorian market hall (covered by a glass canopy) is one-part bazaar and one-part food court. The main market days are Thursday through Sunday, with a notable antiques markets on Thursday and a fashion and art market on Friday (plus, on every first and third Friday and second Saturday, a record fair; and a vintage fair every first Saturday of the month), as well as markets on other days selling goods ranging from handmade clothes to toys, hats, and jewelry. While some of the quality is pedestrian, you can also find interesting clothes, accessories, and leather goods by new designers. The adjoining brick market building houses upscale shops. TIP The nearer the weekend, the busier it all gets. | 16 Horner Sq., Spitalfields | 020/7375-2963 | www.oldspitalfieldsmarket.com | Free | Shops daily 10-7; market stalls Mon.-Wed. 10-5, Thurs. and Sun. 9-5, Fri. 10-4, Sat. 11-4 | Station:Liverpool St.
FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | V&A Museum of Childhood.
A treat for children of all ages, this East London outpost of the Victoria & Albert Museum—in an iron, glass, and brown-brick building transported here from South Kensington in 1868—houses one of the world’s biggest toy collections. One highlight is the Dolls’ Houses collection with interiors from 1673 up to the present. The collection is organized into galleries: Moving Toys, which includes everything from rocking horses to Xboxes; Creativity, which encompasses dolls, puppets, chemistry sets, play kitchens, construction toys, and musical instruments; and Childhood, with areas devoted to babies, an exhibit of children’s clothes from the mid-1600s to the present, and toys inspired by adult pursuits, such as toy soldiers, toy guns, and toy hospitals. Don’t miss the18th-century commedia dell’arte puppet theater, thought to have been made in Venice. There are activities for the under-fives and the shop sells replica toys. | Cambridge Heath Rd., Bethnal Green | 020/8983-5200 | www.museumofchildhood.org.uk | Free | Daily 10-5:45 | Station: Bethnal Green.
Fodor’s Choice | Whitechapel Art Gallery.
Founded in 1901, this internationally renowned gallery mounts shows that rediscover overlooked masters and exhibits tomorrow’s legends today. Painter and leading exponent of abstract expressionism, Jackson Pollock was exhibited here in the 1950s as was pop notable Robert Rauschenberg in the 1960s; the 1970s saw a young David Hockney’s first solo show. The exhibitions continue to be on the cutting edge of contemporary art. The gallery also hosts talks, film screenings, workshops, and other events. Pick up a free East London art map to help you plan your visit to the area. | 77-82 Whitechapel High St., Whitechapel | 020/7522-7888 | www.whitechapelgallery.org | Free, charge for some special exhibits | Tues., Wed., and Fri.-Sun. 11-6; Thurs. 11-9 | Station: Aldgate East.
Banksy and The East End Art Scene
Banksy, the Bristol-based artist and provocateur who has maintained his anonymity despite now commanding six-figure prices, is widely credited with making Londoners see street art as more than vandalism. His work can be seen in various locations around the city, from Ladbroke Grove to Fitzrovia to Bemondsey, but he is primarily associated with the East End, where he first came to public attention in the late ʼ80s, and which continues to be an important open-air exhibition space for new talent from around the world. Unfortunately, much of Banksy’s early work has been lost, either from being covered over by local councils and building owners, defaced by other graffiti artists, or removed by profiteers. As of this writing, murals remain at Polland Street near Bethnal Green, Rivington Street near Old Street, and Stoke Newington Church Street. Shoreditch Street Art Tours (www.shoreditchstreetarttours.co.uk/) offers a knowledgeable view, guiding you not only to the remaining Banksy works but also highlighting the best of his successors.
Today, East London is a global hotbed of contemporary art, however, its avant-garde roots go way back. Shoreditch’s cheap industrial units and Georgian-Victorian terraced streets have attracted artists since the 1960s, when op-art pioneer Bridget Riley established a service to find affordable studio space for her contemporaries. In the early ’90s it gained new notoriety when Young British Artists Sarah Lucas and Tracey Emin began selling their own and their friends’ work in The Shop, joining Maureen Paley’s influential Bethnal Green gallery, and the long-established Whitechapel Art Gallery, where many leading abstract expressionists and Pop artists had their first U.K. shows. Hoxton truly became a destination for well-heeled collectors when Jay Jopling, the most important modern-art dealer in town, set up his White Cube gallery in 2000 (it’s now relocated to Bermondsey), followed by Kate MacGarry’s gallery in 2002.
Priced out by the area’s fashionability, the emerging artists themselves have relocated farther off the beaten track to edgier neighborhoods such as Hackney and Dalston, with several trendsetting galleries found clustered around Cambridge Heath Road and Vyner Street.
Fodor’s Choice | Christ Church, Spitalfields.
This is the 1729 masterpiece of Sir Christopher Wren’s associate Nicholas Hawksmoor, one of his six London churches and an example of English baroque at its finest. It was commissioned as part of Parliament’s 1711 “Fifty New Churches” Act, passed in response to the influx of immigrants with the idea of providing for the religious needs of the “godless thousands”—actually, to ensure they joined the Church of England as opposed to such nonconformist denominations as the Protestant Huguenots. (It must have worked; you can still see gravestones with epitaphs in French in the crypt.) As the local silk industry declined, the church fell into disrepair, and by 1958 the structure was crumbling, with the looming prospect of demolition. But after 25 years—longer than it took to build the church—and a huge local fund-raising effort, the structure was meticulously restored and is a joy to behold, from the colonnaded Doric portico and tall spire to its soaring, heavily ornamented plaster ceiling. Its excellent acoustics make is a superb concert venue. Tours that take you “backstage” to the many hidden rooms and passages, from the tower to the vaults, are offered by appointment. TIP Don’t miss the chance to attend one of the classical concerts held year-round in this atmospheric ecclesiastical venue. | Commercial St., Spitalfields | 020/7377-6793 | www.ccspitalfields.org | Free, tours £6 | Weekdays 10-4 (may be closed for event; call for info), Sun. 1-4 | Station: Overground: Shoreditch High St.
Kate MacGarry Gallery.
Located on what was once one of the worst slum streets in London, this achingly contemporary gallery space (MacGarry’s third in the East End—she’s been here since 2002) has an excellent reputation for its shows of cutting-edge international artists like Chicks on Speed, Luke Rudolf, and Iain Forsythe & Jane Pollard, with a particular emphasis on conceptual works and video. | 27 Old Nichol St., Shoreditch | 020/7613-0515 | www.katemacgarry.com | Free | Wed.-Sat. 10-6 | Station: Overground: Shoreditch High Street.
OFF THE BEATEN PATH: Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art.
West of Hoxton, toward the eastern end of Islington, is this small, restored Georgian mansion with an extraordinary collection of early-20th-century Italian art. The works were acquired by Eric Estorick, an American collector and sociologist, who was particularly keen on Italian Futurists; there are works by Balla, Boccioni, and Severini, among others. The downstairs Estorick Caffè is a good place to grab a bite, especially in summer when you can sit outdoors. | 39A Canonbury Sq., off Canonbury Rd., Islington | 020/7704-9522 | www.estorickcollection.com | £5 | Wed.-Sat. 11-6, Thurs. 11-8, Sun. noon-5 | Station: Highbury & Islington.
Maureen Paley Gallery.
Inspired by the DIY punk aesthetic and the funky galleries of New York’s Lower East Side, Maureen Paley started putting on exhibitions in her East End home back in 1984, when it was virtually the only gallery in the area. Since then this American artist and gallerist has shown such respected contemporary artists as Gillian Wearing, Helen Chadwick, Jenny Holzer, Peter Fischli, and Wolfgang Tillmans and, today, is considered the doyenne of East End gallerists. The gallery has been in its current home, a converted warehouse in Bethnal Green, since 1999. | 21 Herald St., Bethnal Green | 020/7729-4112 | www.maureenpaley.com | Wed.-Sun. 11-6 | Station: Bethnal Green.
Blimey, Gov’nor, It’s Jack the Ripper!
The spirit of Jack the Ripper, one of the world’s most infamous serial killers, haunts the “Jack the Ripper Walk” that takes you to the deserted squares and warehouse alleys where he claimed his unfortunate victims.
No. 90 Whitechapel High Street was once the site of the George Yard Buildings, where the body of the Ripper’s first victim was discovered in August 1888. His third mutilated victim, Annie Chapman, was left on Hanbury Street, behind what was then a seedy lodging house at No. 29. A double homicide followed, and then, after a month’s lull, came the death on the same street of the Ripper’s last victim. He had been able to work indoors this time—in a ground-floor apartment today occupied by an Indian restaurant—and left the remains of Mary Kelly, a young widow, strewn around the room. Jack the Ripper’s identity has never been proven, although theoretical candidates abound, including, among others, a prominent member of the British aristocracy, the artist Walter Sickert, and Francis Tumblety, an American quack doctor.
Today, many entrepreneurs offer walking tours of the Victorian slums that Jack once stalked. One of the most popular is run by Original London Walks (www.walks.com); it leaves every night from Tower Hill at 7:30 pm. If you want a walk led by author and Ripper expert Donald Rumbelow, turn up on Sunday nights or alternate Friday nights
Old Truman Brewery.
The last East End brewery still standing—a handsome example of Georgian and 19th-century industrial architecture, and in late Victorian times the largest brewery in the world—has been transformed into a hipster mall housing galleries, record shops, boutiques, clubs, and restaurants, along with an array of street-food vendors. The retailers are at street level with offices on the upper floors. Events include fashion shows, sample sales, art installations, and, on weekends, a food hall and a vintage clothes fair. The Vibe Bar is a hot spot to chill out behind a traditional Georgian facade—it also has a great outdoor space. | 91 Brick La., Spitalfields | 0207/770-6000 | www.trumanbrewery.com | Station: Overground: Shoreditch High St.
Royal London Hospital Museum.
Located in the crypt of a Victorian church, the Royal London Hospital Museum uses exhibits of historic medical equipment, surgical instruments, and archives to document the history of this East London institution from its foundation in 1740 to the present. Highlights include a forensic medicine section with original materials and documentation from the Jack the Ripper murders and the RLH surgeon who investigated them. There are also artifacts and documents relating to Joseph Merrick—better known as “The Elephant Man”—who spent his final years in the hospital. Opening hours are subject to change on short notice, so call before you go. | St. Augustine with St. Philip’s Church, Newark St., Whitechapel | 020/7377-7608 | www.bartshealth.nhs.uk | Free | Tues.-Fri. 10-4:30 | Station: Whitechapel.
FAMILY | Spitalfields City Farm.
An oasis of rural calm in an urban landscape, this little community farm raises a variety of animals, including some rare breeds, to help educate city kids about life in the country. A tiny farm shop sells freshly laid eggs, along with organic seasonal produce. | Buxton St., Spitalfields | 020/7247-8762 | www.spitalfieldscityfarm.org | Free | Tues.-Sun. 10-4 | Station: Overground: Shoreditch High St.
The Ten Bells.
Although the number of bells in its name has varied between 8 and 12 (depending on how many bells were used by neighboring Christ Church Spitalfields), this pub retains its authentic mid-Victorian interior and original tiles, with a tiled frieze depicting the area’s weaving tradition on the north wall and particularly fine floral tiling on two others. Legend has it the Ripper’s third victim, Annie Chapman, had a drink here before meeting her gory end and the pub is depicted in Alan Moore’s acclaimed graphic novel From Hell. More recently, the Ten Bells has gained a more positive kind of fame for its outstanding upstairs restaurant. | 84 Commercial St., Spitalfields | 020/736-61721 | tenbells.com | Station: Overground: Shoreditch High St.
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Getting Oriented | Top Attractions | Worth Noting
Updated by Ellin Stein
For decades, south London had a reputation for being down-at-heel, with a considerable criminal element. Tourists rarely ventured across the river to south London except to go to Waterloo station or the Old Vic. But now the area is one of London’s leading destinations, with attractions including the IWM London, the Southbank Centre (Europe’s largest arts center), and foodie heaven Borough Market. Most are clustered around the Southbank and in Bankside and Southwark, but the surrounding neighborhoods of Bermondsey and Lambeth are rising rapidly, with galleries, shops, and restaurants proliferating.
A borough of the City of London since 1327, Southwark first became well known for its inns (the pilgrims in Chaucer’s A Canterbury Tale set off from one), theaters, prisons, tanneries, and brothels, as well as entertainments such as cock-fighting. For four centuries, this was a sort of border town outside the city walls (and jurisdiction) where Londoners went to let their hair down and behave badly. Originally, you were just as likely to see a few bouts of bearbaiting at the Globe as you were Shakespeare’s most recent work.
In fact, now that south London encompasses high-caliber art, music, film, and theater venues as well as an aquarium, a historic warship, two popular food markets, and greatly improved transportation links, this region has become one of the leading destinations in England.
Today, the Thames Path along the river embankment in South Bank and Bankside is alive with skateboarders, secondhand-book stalls, and street entertainers. At one end the London Eye, a 21st-century landmark that became an instant favorite with both Londoners and out-of-towners, rises next to the London Aquarium and the Southbank Centre, home to the recently renovated Royal Festival Hall, the Hayward Gallery, the BFI Southbank, and the National Theatre. Farther east you’ll come to a reconstruction of Sir Francis Drake’s ship the Golden Hinde; Butler’s Wharf, where some notable restaurants occupy what were once shadowy Dickensian docklands; The Shard, at over 1,000 feet the tallest building in the EU, which offers spectacular views over the city; and, next to Tower Bridge, the massive headlight-shaped City Hall. Nearby Bermondsey Street (the name derives from “Beormund’s Eye,” as it was known in Saxon times) is home to the bright yellow Fashion Museum, the White Cube Gallery, and lots of trendy shops, restaurants, and cafés. Meanwhile, younger visitors will enjoy the London Dungeon and HMS Belfast, a decommissioned Royal Navy cruiser, while food lovers will head for London’s oldest food market, Borough Market, now reinvented as a gourmet mecca where independent stallholders provide farm-fresh produce, artisanal bread and cheese, and specialty fish and meat.
Even from the Shard’s lofty viewing platform 1,016 feet up, the area south of the Thames still isn’t one of London’s most beautiful, but you’ll be able to see how this patchwork of neighborhoods fits together. The heart is the South Bank, which extends east from the London Eye to Blackfriars Bridge, with the river to the north and Waterloo station to the south. From Blackfriars Bridge east to London Bridge is Bankside, where you’ll find the Globe and Tate Modern. Moving east from London Bridge is Borough, with its cobbled streets and former factories now turned into expensive lofts. Next, southeast of Borough, is buzzy, urban Bermondsey, while leafy Dulwich, with its renowned gallery and charming period streets, is quite a distance to the south. Returning up the river to the west of the South Bank is Lambeth and then Vauxhall, with the imposing IWM London (formerly the Imperial War Museum), a thriving gay scene, and scary through-traffic routes. It’s a rapidly changing district, thanks to a regeneration spearheaded by the construction of the new U.S. Embassy in adjacent Nine Elms and a slew of upscale riverside residential developments. South of here is Brixton, long the heartland of London’s vibrant Afro-Caribbean community—with a lively club scene—and now attracting young families priced out of nearby Clapham.
For the South Bank, use Embankment on the District, Circle, Northern, and Bakerloo lines and walk across the Golden Jubilee Bridges; or Waterloo on the Northern, Jubilee, and Bakerloo lines, from where it’s a 10-minute walk.
London Bridge on the Northern and Jubilee lines is five minutes from Borough Market and Southwark Cathedral. The station also serves Bermondsey Street, though, confusingly, the next stop on the Jubilee line is called Bermondsey. Brixton has its own stop on the Victoria Line.
TOP REASONS TO GO
Join the “groundlings” at Shakespeare’s Globe: See one of Shakespeare’s plays in this historically accurate replica of the Elizabethan theater where they were first performed.
View a new master at Tate Modern: One of the world’s great collections of post-1900 modern art, the centerpiece of this Tate branch is the huge renovated electric turbine hall.
Get bloodthirsty at the London Dungeon: Did you ever wonder what a disembowelment looks like? That’s just one of the gory tableaux on view in this lively, somewhat jokey history-themed Grand Guignol. You’ll be amazed how many children adore this place.
Take in a sunset on Waterloo Bridge: This is one of London’s most romantic views, with St. Paul’s to the east and the Houses of Parliament to the west.
Konditor & Cook.
Known for its handmade cakes and cookies, this chain of bijou patisseries also offers daily specials such as chicken paella or vegetarian moussaka. | 10 Stoney St. Borough | SE1 9AD | 020/0844-854-9363 | www.konditorandcook.com | Closed Sun. | Station: London Bridge.
East of the Southbank Centre in the shopping enclave of Gabriel’s Wharf, you’ll find Pieminister, which began as a Borough Market stall. Have a locally sourced meat pie. Take away or eat at the outside tables. | 56 Upper Ground South Bank | SE1 9PP | 020/7928-5755 | www.pieminister.co.uk | Station: Waterloo.
At night, stick to the Butler’s Wharf and Bermondsey Street restaurants, the Southbank Centre, and the Cut near the Old Vic.
MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR TIME
Don’t attempt to visit the area south of the Thames all in one go. Not only will you exhaust yourself, but you will miss out on the varied delights that it has to offer. Tate Modern alone deserves a whole morning or afternoon, especially if you want to do justice to both the temporary exhibitions and the permanent collection. The Globe requires about two hours for the exhibition theater tour and two to three hours for a performance. Finish with drinks at the Oxo Tower or one of the Shard’s restaurants, with their spectacular views, or dinner at one of the many restaurants in the Southbank Centre. You can return across the river to central London via Southwark on the Jubilee line from Tate Modern, although it’s a good 15-minute walk to the station. Crossing the elegant Millennium Bridge for St. Paul’s on the Central line or the Golden Jubilee Bridge to Embankment station offer longer but more scenic alternatives.
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FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | Dulwich Picture Gallery.
Famed for its regal old-master painting collection, the Dulwich (pronounced “Dull-ich”) Picture Gallery was Britain’s first purpose-built art museum when it opened in 1811. The permanent collection includes landmark works by Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Rubens, Poussin, and Gainsborough, and it also hosts three major international exhibitions each year. The gallery has a lovely café serving meals and drinks, and there’s a schedule of family activities (see website for details). Development in Dulwich Village is tightly controlled. Consequently, it feels a bit like a time capsule, with old-fashioned street signs and handsome 18th-century houses lining its main street. Take a short wander and you’ll find a handful of cute clothing and crafts stores and the well-manicured Dulwich Park, which has lakeside walks and a fine display of rhododendrons in late May. | Gallery Rd. Dulwich | SE21 7AD | 020/8693-5254 | www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk | £5-£11; free guided tours weekends at 3 | Tues.-Sun. and bank holiday Mon. 10-5 | Closed Mon. | Station: National Rail: West Dulwich from Victoria or North Dulwich from London Bridge.
Fashion and Textile Museum.
The bright yellow and pink museum (it’s hard to miss) designed by Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta features changing exhibitions devoted to developments in fashion design, textiles, and jewelry from the end of World War II to the present. Founded by designer Zandra Rhodes, and now owned by Newham College, the FTM is a favorite with fashionistas and offers weekday lectures on aspects of fashion history and fashion-based workshops. The excellent gift shop sells books on fashion and one-of-a-kind pieces by local designers. After your visit, check out the many trendy restaurants, cafés, and boutiques that have bloomed on Bermondsey Street. | 83 Bermondsey St. Bermondsey | SE1 3XF | 020/7407-8664 | www.ftmlondon.org | £7 | Tues.-Sat. 11-6; last admission 5:15 | Station: London Bridge.
FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.
This spectacular theater is a replica of Shakespeare’s open-roof, wood-and-thatch Globe Playhouse (built in 1599 and burned down in 1613), where most of the Bard’s greatest works premiered. American actor and director Sam Wanamaker worked ceaselessly for several decades to raise funds for the theater’s reconstruction 200 yards from its original site, using authentic materials and techniques, a dream that ws realized in 1997. “Groundlings”—patrons with £5 standing-only tickets—are not allowed to sit during the performance. Fortunately, you can reserve an actual seat on any one of the theater’s three levels, but you will want to rent a cushion for £1 (or bring your own) to soften the backless wooden benches. The show must go on, rain or shine, warm or chilly, so come prepared for anything. Umbrellas are banned, but you can bring a raincoat or buy a cheap Globe rain poncho, which doubles as a great souvenir. In the winter months, the new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, a 350-seat recreation of an indoor Jacobean theater predominately lit by candles, offers plays and concerts in a less exposed though still atmospheric setting.
Shakespeare’s Globe Exhibition, a museum under the theater (the entry is adjacent), provides background material on the Elizabethan theater and the construction of the modern-day Globe. Admission to the museum also includes a tour of the theater. On matinee days, the tour visits the archaeological site of the nearby (and older) Rose Theatre. | 21 New Globe Walk Bankside | SE1 9DT | 020/7902-1400 box office, 020/7401-9919 Exhibition | www.shakespearesglobe.com | Exhibition and Globe Theatre tour £13.50 (£2 reduction with valid performance ticket); ticket prices for plays vary; Globe £5-£39, Wanamaker £10-£60 | Exhibition: May-mid-Oct., daily 10-5; mid-Oct.-Apr., daily 9-12:30 and 1-5; Globe: Apr. 23-Oct.; Wanamaker: Nov.-Apr. 23. Call or check website for performance schedules. | Station: London Bridge; Mansion House, then cross Southwark Bridge.
QUICK BITES: Gabriel’s Wharf.
This is a cluster of small shops specializing in jewelry, art, clothing, and ceramics by designer-manufacturers interspersed with informal restaurants. A project of the Coin Street Community Builders, a social enterprise group, it bustles with activity. The same group converted the nearby Oxo Tower Wharf, an art deco warehouse with three levels of designer studios that also serve as retail outlets. The Oxo Tower Restaurant, Bar and Brasserie, a pricey restaurant operated by the swish department store Harvey Nichols, occupies the top floor, and you can see the same spectacular views from an adjacent free public viewing area (open daily). | 56 Upper Ground South Bank | SE1 9NH | 020/7021-1686 | www.coinstreet.org | Free | Shops and studios Tues.-Sun. 11-6 | Station: Blackfriars, Waterloo.
FAMILY | Golden Hinde.
Famed Elizabethan explorer Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the globe in a little galleon just like this one. Launched in 1973, this exact replica made one full and one partial round-the-world voyage, calling in at ports—many along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of the United States—to do duty as a maritime museum. Now berthed at the St. Mary Overie Dock, the ship continues its educational purpose, complete with a “crew” in period costumes and three decks of artifacts. Call for information on guided tours. | Cathedral St. Bankside | SE1 9DE | 020/7403-0123 | www.goldenhinde.com | £6 | Daily 10-5:30 | Station: London Bridge.
FAMILY | London Dungeon.
Saved by a keen sense of its own borderline ridiculousness, this Grand Guignol gory attraction is more funny than frightening, with tableaux depicting the bloody demise of famous figures alongside the torture, murder, and ritual slaughter of lesser-known victims, all to a sound track of screaming, wailing, and agonized moaning. There are displays on the Great Plague, Henry VIII, and Jack the Ripper, and, to add to the fear and fun, costumed characters leap out of the gloom to bring the exhibits to life. Perhaps most shocking are the crowds of children baying to get in—kids absolutely adore this place, although those with more a sensitive disposition may find it too frightening (that goes for adults as well). If you’ve ever wondered what a disembowelment looks like, this is your chance to find out. Be sure to get the souvenir booklet to impress all your friends back home. TIP Expect long lines on weekends and during school holidays. Savings are available for online booking. | Westminster Bridge Rd. South Bank | SE1 7PB | 0870/423-2240 | www.thedungeons.com | From £17.95 | Mid-July-Aug., Fri.-Wed. 10-7, Thurs. 11-7; Sept.-mid-July, Mon.-Wed. and Fri. 10-5, Thurs. 11-5, weekends 10-6. Phone or check website to confirm times | Station: Waterloo.
FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | London Eye.
To mark the start of the new millennium, architects David Marks and Julia Barfield devised an instant icon that allows Londoners and visitors alike to see the city from a completely new perspective. This giant Ferris wheel is the largest cantilevered observation wheel ever built and among the city’s tallest structures. The 25-minute slow-motion ride inside one of the enclosed passenger capsules is so smooth you’d hardly know you were suspended over the Thames. On a clear day you can see for up to 25 miles, with a bird’s-eye view of London’s most famous landmarks as you circle 360 degrees. If you’re looking for a special place to celebrate, champagne and canapés can be arranged ahead of time. TIP Buy your ticket online to avoid the long lines and get a 10% discount. For an extra £10, you can save even more time with a Fast Track flight for which you check in 15 minutes before your “departure.” You can buy a combination ticket for the Eye and other London attractions—check online for details—and board the London Eye River Cruise here for a 40-minute sightseeing voyage on the Thames. In December, there’s a scenic ice rink just below the wheel. | Westminster Bridge Rd. South Bank | SE1 7PB | 0871/781-3000 | www.londoneye.com | £19.20; cruise £13 | Visit website for opening times | Closed Jan. 7-14 | Station: Waterloo.
Fodor’s Choice | Southbank Centre.
The public has never really warmed to the Southbank Centre’s hulking concrete buildings, products of the Brutalist style popular when the Centre was built in the 1950s and ’60s, but they flock to its concerts, recitals, festivals, and exhibitions. The Royal Festival Hall is truly a People’s Palace, with seats for 2,900 and a schedule that ranges from major symphony orchestras to pop stars (catch the annual summer Meltdown Festival, where “curators” like David Bowie, Patti Smith, or Jarvis Cocker put together a personal selection of concerts by favorite performers). The smaller Queen Elizabeth Hall is more strictly classically oriented. It contains the smaller Purcell Room, which hosts lectures and chamber performances. For art, head to the Hayward Gallery, which hosts shows on top contemporary artists such as Anthony Gormley and Cy Twombly. (The terrace here is home to some exciting restaurants.) Not officially part of the Southbank Centre but moments away on the east side of Waterloo Bridge, the National Theatre is home to some of the best productions in London (several, such as War Horse and The History Boys, have become movies) at prices well below those in the West End. Meanwhile, film buffs will appreciate the BFI Southbank (formerly the National Film Theatre), which has a schedule that true connoisseurs of the cinema will relish. The Centre’s riverside street level has been overhauled and now offers a terrific assortment of restaurants and bars. The BFI’s Benugo bar and the Wahaca restaurant at Queen Elizabeth Hall are particularly attractive. Alterations involving a large boxy glass pavilion over the Hayward Gallery, Purcell Room, and Queen Elizabeth Hall are being mooted for 2015. If they go ahead, the venues will be closed for three years. TIP Hear leading actors, directors, and writers discuss their work at the National Theatre’s Platforms, a series of inexpensive early evening and afternoon talks. | Belvedere Rd. South Bank | SE1 8XX | 020/7960-4200 | www.southbankcentre.co.uk | Varies; check website | Varies according to venue; check website | Station: Waterloo, Embankment.
FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | Tate Modern.
This spectacular renovation of a mid-20th-century power station is one of the most-visited museums of modern art in the world. Its great permanent collection, which starts in 1900 and ranges from modern masters like Matisse to the most cutting-edge contemporary artists, is arranged thematically—Landscape, Still Life, and the Nude. Its blockbuster temporary exhibitions showcase the work of individual artists like Gaugin, Roy Lichtenstein, and Gerhard Richter.
Tate Modern Highlights
The vast Turbine Hall is a dramatic entrance point used to showcase big, audacious installations that tend to generate a lot of publicity. Past highlights include Olafur Eliasson’s massive glowing sun and Carsten Holler’s huge metal slides.
The Material Gestures galleries on Level 3 feature an impressive offering of post-World War II painting and sculpture. Room 7 contains a breathtaking collection of Rothkos and Monets; there are also paintings by Matisse, Pollock, and Picasso, and newer works from the likes of the sculptor Anish Kapoor.
Head to the Restaurant on Level 7 or the Espresso Bar on Level 3 for stunning vistas of the Thames. The view of St. Paul’s from the Espresso Bar’s balcony is one of the best in London.
An extension to the front of the building is not only ambitious but also controversial—you won’t be alone if you don’t care for it.
Tate Modern Tips
Join a free, 45-minute guided tour: Poetry and Dream at 11, Transformed Visions at noon, Structure and Clarity at 2, and Energy and Process at 3. Just show up.
Levels 2 and 3 include temporary exhibitions, which cost about £15. Bypass these if you’re here to see the main collection, which is free.
Make it a two-for-one day by taking the Tate to Tate Boat, which takes visitors back and forth between Tate Britain and Tate Modern every 40 minutes.
Private “Tate Tours for Two” can be booked online from £100 to £120, with afternoon tea for an added £25 or a champagne dinner or lunch for £100.
Bankside | SE1 9TG | 020/7887-8888 | www.tate.org.uk/modern | Free, charge for special exhibitions | Sun.-Thurs. 10-6, Fri. and Sat. 10-10 (last admission to exhibitions 45 mins before close) | Station: Southwark, Mansion House, St. Paul’s.
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Two artistic societies—the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers and the Royal Watercolour Society—have their headquarters in this gallery next to Tate Modern. Together they mount exhibitions of current members’ work, which is usually for sale, along with art books, making this a great place for finding that exclusive, not too expensive gift. There are also regular themed exhibitions. | 48 Hopton St. Southwark | SE1 9JH | 020/7928-7521 | www.banksidegallery.com | Free | Daily 11-6, but may vary as gallery closes for short periods between exhibitions, call ahead | Station:Blackfriars, Southwark, St. Paul’s.
The Clink Prison Museum.
This medieval prison, the reason why the term clink became slang for jail, has been built on the site of the original, which was owned by the Bishops of Winchester from 1144 to 1780. The oldest of Southwark’s five prisons, it was the first to detain women, many of whom were prostitutes. Because of the bishops’ relaxed attitude toward the endemic trade—they decided to license prostitution rather than ban it—the area within their jurisdiction was known as “the Liberty of the Clink.” You’ll discover how grisly a Tudor prison could be, operating on a code of cruelty, deprivation, and corruption.
The prison was only a small part of Winchester Palace, a huge complex that was the bishops’ London residence. You can still see the remains of the early 13th-century Great Hall, with its famous rose window, next to Southwark Cathedral. | 1 Clink St. Borough | SE1 9DG | 020/7403-0900 | www.clink.co.uk | £7.50 | July-Sept., daily 10-9; Oct.-June, weekdays 10-6, weekends 10-7:30; last admission 30 mins before closing | Station: London Bridge.
This was the first museum in the U.K. to place everyday contemporary objects in a social and cultural context and consider their role in the history of design. Furniture, digital technology, and domestic products from the museum’s permanent collection are on display (some visitors feel the ordinariness of the objects does not justify the high admission price), while temporary exhibitions focus on leading individual designers ranging from Charles Eames and Isamu Noguchi to Terence Conran and Christian Louboutin, or on themes such as Sport and Design. The first half of 2015, for example, sees an exhibition on power dressing co-curated by noted fashion historian Colin McDowell. Workshops, courses, and family days enliven the museum for children. If you’re in need of refeuling, the Blueprint Café (designed by Conran) offers a river terrace with superb views. For quicker snacks at a lower price, the museum has its own café on the ground floor. Entry to both cafés and the museum store is free. | 28 Shad Thames Bermondsey | SE1 2HY | 020/7403-6933 | designmuseum.org | £10 | Daily 10-5:45, last admission 5:15 | Station: London Bridge, Tower Hill, DLR: Tower Gateway.
Florence Nightingale Museum.
This museum on the grounds of St. Thomas’s hospital is dedicated to Florence Nightingale, who founded the first school of nursing and played a major role in establishing modern standards of health care. Exhibits are divided into three areas: one is devoted to Nightingale’s Victorian childhood, the others to her work tending soldiers during the Crimean War (1854-56) and her subsequent health-care reforms. The museum incorporates Nightingale’s books and lamp as well as interactive displays of instruments and herbs. | 2 Lambeth Palace Rd. Lambeth | SE1 7EW | 020/7620-0374 | www.florence-nightingale.co.uk | £5.80 | Daily 10-5; last admission 4:30 | Station: Waterloo.
The Garden Museum.
This unassuming museum was created in the mid-1970s after two gardening enthusiasts came upon a medieval church which, they were horrified to discover, was about to be bulldozed. The churchyard contained the tombs of two adventurous 17th-century plant collectors, a father and son both called John Tradescant, who introduced many new species to England. The gardeners rescued the church and opened this museum, which has acquired one of the largest collections of historic garden tools and artifacts in Britain with walled gardens that are maintained year-round by volunteers. The church itself contains the tombs of William Bligh, captain of the Bounty, members of the Boleyn family, and a few Archbishops of Canterbury. There’s a gift shop and Garden Café, serving vegetarian lunches and home-baked cakes. | 5 Lambeth Palace Rd. Lambeth | SE1 7LB | 020/7401-8865 | www.gardenmuseum.org.uk | £6 (includes garden and all exhibitions) | Sun.-Fri. 10:30-5, Sat. 10:30-4; closed 1st Mon. of month | Station: Lambeth North, Vauxhall.
FAMILY | HMS Belfast.
At 613½ feet, this is one of the last remaining big-gun armored warships from World War II, in which it played an important role in protecting the Arctic convoys and supporting the D-Day landings in Normandy; the ship later saw action during the Korean War. The Belfast has been moored in the Thames as a maritime branch of the IWM London since 1971. A tour of all nine decks—which include the Admiral’s quarters, mess decks, bakery, punishment cells, operations room, engine room, and more—gives a vivid picture of life on board the ship, while the riveting interactive gun turret experience puts you in the middle of a World War II naval battle. | The Queen’s Walk Borough | SE1 2JH | 020/7940-6300 | www.iwm.org.uk | £15.50 | Mar.-Oct., daily 10-6; Nov.-Feb., daily 10-5; last admission 1 hr before closing | Station: London Bridge.
FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | IWM London.
Despite its name, the cultural venue formerly known as the Imperial War Museum (one of five IWM branches around the country) does not glorify either Empire or bloodshed but emphasizes understanding through conveying the impact of 20th-and 21st-century warfare. After a major renovation, a dramatic new six-story atrium at the main entrance encloses an impressive amount of hardware—including a Battle of Britain Spitfire, a German V2 rocket, tanks, guns, and submarines—along with interactive material and a new café. The “Trench Experiences” in the new World War I Galleries uses sights, sounds, and smells to re-create the grimness of life in No Man’s Land, while an equally effective “Blitz Experience” in the revamped World War II galleries provides a 10-minute glimpse of an air raid. Also in the World War II galleries is an extensive and haunting Holocaust Exhibition, while “Conflict Since 1945” documents the fact that there has been fighting somewhere in the world almost continuously since the end of World War II. Other galleries exhibit war art as well as poetry, photography, and documentary film footage relating to conflicts from World War I to the present day. James Bond fans won’t want to miss the Secret War Gallery, which charts the work of secret agents. | Lambeth Rd. South Bank | SE1 6HZ | 020/7416-5000 | www.iwm.org.uk | Free (charge for special exhibitions) | Daily 10-6 | Station: Lambeth North.
Old Operating Theatre Museum.
This rare example of a 19th-century operating theater, the oldest in Europe, dates back to 1822, when part of the large attic of the 17th-century St. Thomas’s church was converted for surgical use. The church was part of St. Thomas’s Hospital, which was founded in the 12th century as a monastery that looked after the sick. In 1862, the hospital moved to its present Lambeth location and the operating theater was closed. It remained abandoned until 1956, when it was restored and turned into a medical museum. Today you can see the artifacts of early-19th-century medical practice: the wooden operating table under a skylight; the box of sawdust underneath used for absorbing blood; and the surrounding banks of seats where students crowded in to observe operations. Every Saturday at 2 there are demonstrations of surgical practices incorporating the knives, pliers, and handsaws that were the surgeons’ tools back in the day. Next door is a recreation of the Herb Garret, with displays of the medicinal herbs St. Thomas’s apothecary would have used, and there are Sunday afternoon talks on herbal medicine at 3. | 9A St. Thomas St. Lambeth | SE1 9RY | 020/7188-2679 | www.thegarret.org.uk | £6.20 | Daily 10:30-5. Closed Dec. 15-Jan. 5 | Station: London Bridge.
FAMILY | Sea Life London Aquarium.
The curved, colonnaded, neoclassical former County Hall that once housed London’s local government administration is now home to a superb three-level aquarium full of sharks and stingrays, along with many other aquatic species. There are feeding and hands-on displays, including a tank full of shellfish that you can touch. The educational exhibits are particularly well arranged, with areas for different oceans, water environments, and climate zones ranging from a coral reef to a rain forest. Regular feeding times and free talks are offered throughout the day and behind-the-scenes tours are available. | Westminster Bridge Rd. South Bank | SE1 7PB | 0871/663-1678 | www.visitsealife.com | £20.70 (10% discount for online booking) | Daily 10-7; last admission 1 hr before closing | Station: Westminster, Waterloo.
Pronounced “Suth-uck,” this is the oldest Gothic church in London, with parts dating back to the 12th century. It remains off the beaten track, despite being the site of some remarkable memorials and a concert program that offers regular organ recitals at lunchtime on Monday (except in August and December) and classical music at 3:15 on Tuesday (except in December). Originally the priory church of St. Mary Overie (as in “over the water”—on the South Bank), it became a palace church under Henry VIII and was only promoted to cathedral status in 1905. Look for the gaudily renovated 1408 tomb of the poet John Gower, England’s first poet and a friend of Chaucer’s, and for the Harvard Chapel, where the founder of the eponymous university, a local butcher’s son, was baptized. Another notable buried here is Edmund Shakespeare, brother of William. TIP The Refectory serves full English breakfasts, light lunches, and tea 9-6 weekdays, 10-6 weekends. | London Bridge Bankside | SE1 9DA | 020/7367-6700 | cathedral.southwark.anglican.org | Free, suggested donation £4 | Daily 10-5 | Station: London Bridge.
The View from the Shard.
At 1,016 feet, this 2013 addition to the London skyline is currently the tallest building in Western Europe. Designed by the noted architect Renzo Piano, it has attracted both admiration and opprobrium. While the building itself is generally highly regarded—many feel it would be better sited in Canary Wharf (or, indeed, Dubai) as it spoils views of St. Paul’s Cathedral from traditional vantage points such as Hampstead’s Parliament Hill. No matter how you feel about the building, there’s no denying that it offers spectacular 360-degree views over London (extending to 40 miles on a clear day) from viewing platforms on floors 68, 69, and 72—almost twice as high as any other vantage point in the city. Digital telescopes provide information about 200 points of interest. TIPIf you find the price as eye-wateringly high as the viewing platforms, there’s a less dramatic but still very impressive—and free—view from the Aquashard restaurant on floor 31, the Oblix restaurant on floor 32, and the Hutong restaurant on floor 33. | Joiner St. Borough | SE1 | 0844/499-7111 | www.theviewfromtheshard.com | From £24.95 | Sun.-Wed. 10-5:30, Thurs.-Sat. 10-8:30; admission by timed ticket only | Station: London Bridge.
Spread over 2.5 acres next to Borough Market, Vinopolis allows you to sample wines from around the world. Wine-tasting packages start at £27 (which includes seven drink tokens), some with an option to taste various spirits in addition to the wines. There are also five restaurants and themed events like comedy nights (check online for details). If anything strikes your fancy, two independent retailers have outlets (one specializing in whisky, the other in wine) on the premises. You should allow at least two hours for a tour. | 1 Bank End Borough | SE1 9BU | 020/7940-8300 | vinopolis.co.uk | From £27 | Wed. 6-9:30 (last admission 7:30); Thurs. and Fri. 2-9 (last admission 7:30), Sat. noon-9:30 (last admission 7:30), Sun. 1-6 (last entry at 2) | Station: London Bridge.
White Cube Gallery.
When the United Kingdom’s highest-profile commercial gallery moved to this huge converted ’70s-era warehouse on Bermondsey Street, it sealed the area’s reputation as a rising art-scene hot spot. This is the home gallery of some of today’s top contemporary artists, including Jake and Dinos Chapman, Gilbert and George, Gary Hume, Anthony Gormley, Sam Taylor-Wood, Chuck Close, Anselm Kiefer, and several other artists with international reputations. An antiseptic central cuboid gallery, the “white cube”—also called “9 x 9 x 9” (meters, that is)—rests between two other spaces that host smaller exhibitions. There is also a bookshop and auditorium. | 144-152 Bermondsey St. Bermondsey | SE1 3TQ | 0207/930-5373 | whitecube.com | Tues.-Sat. 10-6, Sun. noon-6 | Station: London Bridge.
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Getting Oriented | Kensington | Chelsea | Knightsbridge | Belgravia
Updated by Ellin Stein
The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea (or “K&C” as the locals call it) is where you’ll find London at its richest, and not just in the moneyed sense. South Kensington offers a concentration of great museums near Cromwell Road, with historic Kensington Palace located nearby in Kensington Gardens. Once-raffish Chelsea, where the Pre-Raphaelites painted and Mick Jagger partied, is now a thoroughly respectable home for the discreetly wealthy while flashier Knightsbridge has become a bolt-hole for international plutocrats, with shopping to match their tastes.
Several Tube stations are nearby: Sloane Square and High Street Kensington on the District and Circle lines; Knightsbridge and Hyde Park Corner on the Piccadilly line; Earl’s Court, South Kensington, and Gloucester Road on the District, Circle, and Piccadilly lines; Holland Park on the Central line; Ladbroke Grove on the Hammersmith and City line; and Victoria on the District, Circle, and Victoria lines.
This is one of London’s safest districts, but beware of pickpockets in shopping areas.
TOP REASONS TO GO
Treasure hunt at the V&A Museum: The Victoria & Albert is the world’s best decorative arts museum. Artists have been sketching in the Sculpture Court since Victorian times.
Attract a dinosaur’s attention at the Natural History Museum: Watch children catch on that the museum’s animatronic T. rex has noticed them—and is licking its rather large chops.
Glimpse royal domestic life at Kensington Palace: Visit the public areas and gardens of this royal family commune that has housed Queen Victoria, Princess Diana, and (currently) the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (William and Kate).
Enter an Orientalist fantasy at Leighton House: This small museum and “private palace of art” is right out of the Arabian Nights, with peacock blue tiles and intricate mosaic murals.
The Café at the V&A.
Breakfast, light snacks, tea, and full meals are served throughout the day (10-5:15), all in a grand room at modest prices. You can eat in the courtyard if the weather’s good, or have a buffet supper on Friday late nights (until 9:30 pm). Stop by just to see the original Arts and Crafts part of the café, one of William Morris’s earliest commissions, with stained-glass panels by Edward Burne-Jones. | Cromwell Rd. South Kensington | 020/7942-2000 | Station: South Kensington.
NEAREST PUBLIC RESTROOMS
Most old-style public restrooms have been replaced by futuristic “autoloos”—podlike booths on street corners that usually cost £1 to use. If you’re not brave enough to trust the push-button locks, try the free and clean restrooms at department stores Peter Jones or Harvey Nichols. Or ask for the “loo” in a pub, but be prepared for “sorry” if you’re not a paying customer.
MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR TIME
You could fill three or four days in this borough: A shopping stroll along the length of King’s Road is easily half a day. Give yourself a half day, at least, for the Victoria & Albert Museum and a half day for either the Science or Natural History Museum.
A GRAZER’S PARADISE
Duke of York Square Food Market.
West London’s answer to Borough Market, this Saturday open-air market is in a pedestrianized plaza off Duke of York Square, a chic shopping precinct. It hosts 40 stalls purveying artisanal and locally produced meat, game, fish, breads, cakes, cupcakes, honey, pasta, cheese, and chocolate from more than 150 small specialty food producers. Like Borough Market, this is a grazer’s paradise, offering the chance to sample fresh oysters and cooked sausages as well as yummy hot snacks from around the world. | Duke of York Sq. Chelsea | 020/7823-5577 | www.dukeofyorksquare.com | Sat. 10-4 | Station: Sloane Sq.
Kensington incorporates the area along the southern edge of Hyde Park from Exhibition Road (where the big museum complex is) and the area to the west of the park bordered by leafy Holland Park Avenue on the north and traffic-heavy Cromwell Road on the south. This more westerly zone includes the satellite neighborhood of Holland Park, with its serenely grand villas and charming park, as well as local shopping mecca Kensington High Street and the antiques shops on Kensington Church Street.
Kensington’s first royal connection was created when King William III, fed up with the dampness arising from the Thames, bought a country place there in 1689 and converted it into Kensington Palace. Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert, added the jewel in the borough’s crown when he turned the profits of the Great Exhibition of 1851 into South Kensington’s metropolis of museums: The Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A), the Science Museum, and the Natural History Museum. His namesakes in the area include the Royal Albert Hall, with bas-reliefs that make it resemble a giant, redbrick Wedgwood teapot, and the lavish Albert Memorial.
Turn into Derry Street or Young Street and enter Kensington Square, one of the most complete 17th-century residential squares in London. Holland Park is about ¾ mile farther west; both Leighton House and 18 Stafford Terrace, two of London’s most gorgeously decorated Victorian-era houses (the lavish use of Islamic tiles, inlaid mosaics, gilded ceilings, and marble columns make the former into an Arabian Nights fantasy), are nearby as well.
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This gleaming, neo-Gothic shrine to Prince Albert created by Sir Gilbert Scott epitomizes the Victorian era. After Albert’s early death from typhoid in 1861, his grieving widow, Queen Victoria, had this elaborate confection erected to the west of where the Great Exhibition had been held a decade before. A 14-foot bronze gilt statue of the prince rests on a 15-foot-high pedestal, along with other statues representing his passions and interests. | Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park Kensington | Station: South Kensington, High Street Kensington.
18 Stafford Terrace.
The home of Punch cartoonist Edward Linley Sambourne in the 1870s is filled with delightful Victorian and Edwardian antiques, fabrics, and paintings (as well as several samples of Linley Sambourne’s work for Punch) and is one of the most charming 19th-century London houses extant. The Italianate house was the scene for society parties when Anne Messel was in residence in the 1940s. This being Kensington, there’s inevitably a royal connection: Messel’s son, Antony Armstrong-Jones, was married to the late Princess Margaret, and their son has preserved the connection by taking the title Viscount Linley. Admission is by guided tour only, and the afternoon tours on weekends are given by costumed actors. | 18 Stafford Terr. Kensington | 0207/602-3316 | www.rbkc.gov.uk (under Leisure and Libraries) | £8 | Guided tours Wed. 11:15 and 2:15; weekends 11:15, 1, 2:15, and 3:30. Closed mid-June-mid-Sept. | Station: High Street Kensington.
Neither as imposing as Buckingham Palace nor as charming as Hampton Court, Kensington Palace is something of a Royal Family commune, with various close relatives of the Queen occupying large apartments in the private part of the palace. Bought in 1689 by Queen Mary and King William III, it was converted into a palace by Sir Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor, and Royals have been in residence ever since. Its most famous resident, Princess Diana, lived here with her sons after her divorce, and this is where Prince William now lives with his wife, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and their young son, George.
The State Apartments, however, are open to the public. One permanent exhibition, called “Victoria Revealed,” is devoted to the private life of Queen Victoria (who was born and grew up at KP) based on her diaries, while the Queen’s State Apartments are given over to William and Mary and the Glorious Revolution. The lavish King’s State Apartments, originally built for George I, has a semipermanent exhibit that explores the world of the Georgian Court through the story of George II and his politically active queen, Caroline. There is also a changing temporary exhibition. Through summer 2015, this will be “Fashion Rules,” a collection of gowns worn by Princess Margaret, Princess Diana, and Queen Elizabeth.
Kensington Palace Highlights
Look for the King’s Staircase, with its panoramic trompe l’oeil painting, and the King’s Gallery, with royal artworks in a jewel-box setting of rich red damask walls, intricate gilding, and a beautiful painted ceiling. Outside, the grounds are almost as lovely as the palace itself.
Kensington Palace Tips
The palace now has a wheelchair-accessible elevator, and Kensington Gardens has electric buggies for mobility-impaired visitors.
If you also plan to visit the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Banqueting House, or Kew Palace, become a member of Historic Royal Palaces. It costs £45 per person, or £86 for a family, and gives you free entry to all five sites for a year.
Picnicking is allowed on the benches in the palace grounds. (You can also picnic anywhere in the adjoining Kensington Gardens.)
There’s a delightful café in the Orangery, near the Sunken Garden. Built for Queen Anne, it’s a great place for formal afternoon tea, although it gets busy during peak hours.
The Broad Walk Kensington | 0844/482-7799 advance booking, 0844/482-7777 information, 0203/166-6000 from outside U.K. | www.hrp.org.uk | £16.50 | Mar.-Sept., daily 10-6; Oct.-Feb., daily 10-5; last admission 1 hr before closing | Station: Queensway, High Street Kensington.
Fodor’s Choice | Leighton House Museum.
Leading Victorian artist Frederic (Lord) Leighton lived and worked in this building on the edge of Holland Park, spending 30 years (and quite a bit of money) transforming it into an opulent “private palace of art” infused with an orientalist aesthetic sensibility. The interior is a sumptuous Arabian Nights fantasy, with walls lined in peacock blue tiles designed by Leighton’s friend, the ceramic artist William de Morgan, and beautiful mosaic wall panels and floors, marble pillars, and gilded ceilings. The centerpiece is the Arab Hall, its marble walls adorned with even more intricate murals made from 16th- and 17th-century ceramic tiles imported from Syria, Turkey, and Iran, surmounted by a domed ceiling covered in gold leaf with a gold mosaic frieze running underneath. You can also visit Leighton’s studio, with its huge north window and dome, and the house is filled with several of his paintings along with works by other Pre-Raphaelites. There are free tours of the house on Wednesday and Sunday at 3. | 12 Holland Park Rd. Holland Park | 020/7332-3316 | www.rbkc.gov.uk (under Leisure and Libraries) | £5 (includes free return visit within 12 months) | Wed.-Mon. 10-5:30 | Station: Holland Park, South Kensington.
FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | Natural History Museum.
The ornate terra-cotta facade of this enormous Victorian museum is strewn with relief panels depicting living creatures to the left of the entrance and extinct ones to the right (although some species have subsequently changed categories). Most are represented inside the museum, which contains more than 70 million different specimens. Only a small percentage is on public display, but you could still spend a day here and not come close to seeing everything. The museum is full of exhibits with plenty of interactivity and other cutting-edge technology to appeal to younger visitors.
Natural History Museum Highlights
A giant diplodocus skeleton dominates the vaulted, cathedral-like entrance hall, affording the most irresistible photo opportunity in the building. It’s just a cast, but the Dinosaur Gallery (Gallery 21) contains plenty of real-life dino bones, fossils, and some extremely long teeth.
You’ll also come face to face with a giant animatronic Tyrannosaurus rex—who is programmed to sense when human prey is near and “respond” in character. When he does, you can hear the shrieks of fear and delight all the way across the room.
An escalator takes you into a giant globe in the Earth Galleries, where there’s a choice of levels to explore. Don’t miss the earthquake simulation in the Volcanoes and Earthquake Gallery.
The Darwin Centre houses items the museum itself doesn’t have room to display, including “Archie,” a 28.3-foot giant squid. The Centre’s new Cocoon Experience is a 45-minute tour guided by virtual wall-projected scientists where you can see specimens such as huge tarantulas and historic items dating back 400 years.
Natural History Museum Tips
“Nature Live” is a program of free, informal talks given by scientists, covering a wildly eclectic range of subjects, usually at 2:30 (and on some days at 12:30) in the David Attenborough Studio in the Darwin Centre.
The museum has an outdoor ice-skating rink from November to January, and a popular Christmas fair.
Free, daily behind-the-scenes Spirit collection tours of the museum (recommended for children over eight years old) can be booked on the day, but space is limited so come early.
Got kids under seven with you? Check out the museum’s free “Explorer Backpacks.” They contain a range of activity materials to keep the little ones amused, including a pair of binoculars and an explorer’s hat.
Cromwell Rd. South Kensington | 0207/942-5000 | www.nhm.ac.uk | Free (some fees for special exhibitions) | Daily 10-5:50; last admission at 5:30 | Station: South Kensington.
FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | Victoria & Albert Museum.
Known to all as the V&A, this huge museum is devoted to the applied arts of all disciplines, all periods, and all nationalities. Full of innovation, it’s a wonderful, generous place in which to get lost. First opened as the South Kensington Museum in 1857, it was renamed in 1899 in honor of Queen Victoria’s late husband and has since grown to become one of the country’s best-loved cultural institutions.
Many collections at the V&A are presented not by period but by category—textiles, sculpture, jewelry, and so on. Nowhere is the benefit of this more apparent than in the Fashion Gallery (Room 40), where formal 18th-century court dresses are displayed alongside the haute couture styles of contemporary designers, creating an arresting sense of visual continuity.
The British Galleries (rooms 52-58 and 118-125), devoted to British art and design from 1500 to 1900, are full of beautiful diversions—among them the Great Bed of Ware (immortalized in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night). Here, a series of actual rooms have been painstakingly reconstructed piece by piece after being rescued from historic buildings. These include an ornate music room and the Henrietta St. Room, a breathtakingly serene parlor dating from 1722.
The Asian Galleries (rooms 44-47) are full of treasures, but among the most striking items on display is a remarkable collection of ornate samurai armor in the Japanese Gallery (Room 44). There are also galleries devoted to China, Korea, and the Islamic Middle East. More recently installed areas include the Buddhist Sculpture gallery, the Ceramics gallery, and the Medieval and Renaissance galleries, which have the largest collection of works from the period outside of Italy.
Victoria & Albert Museum Tips
The V&A is a tricky building to navigate, so be sure to use the free map.
As a whirlwind introduction, you could take a free one-hour tour (10:30, 11:30, 12:30, 1:30, 2:30, or 3:30). There are also tours devoted just to the British Galleries at 12:30 and 2:30. Occasional public lectures during the week are delivered by visiting bigwigs from the art and fashion worlds (prices vary). There are free lectures throughout the week given by museum staff, who also give an introductory tour of the collection on Friday nights at 7.
Whatever time you visit, the spectacular sculpture hall will be filled with artists, both amateur and professional, sketching the myriad artworks on display there. Don’t be shy; bring a pad and join in.
Although the permanent collection is free—and there’s enough there to keep you busy for a week—the V&A also hosts high-profile special exhibitions that run for several months.
Cromwell Rd. South Kensington | 020/7942-2000 | www.vam.ac.uk | Free; charge for some special exhibitions (from £5) | Sat.-Thurs. 10-5:45, Fri. 10-10 | Station: South Kensington.
FAMILY | Holland Park.
Formerly the grounds of an aristocrat’s house and open to the public only since 1952, Holland Park is an often-overlooked gem and possibly London’s most romantic park. The northern “Wilderness” end offers woodland walks among native and exotic trees first planted in the early 18th century. Foxes, rabbits, and hedgehogs are among the residents The central part of the park is given over to the manicured lawns—still stalked by raucous peacocks—one would expect at a stately home, although Holland House itself, originally built by James I’s chancellor and later the site of a 19th-century salon frequented by Byron, Dickens, and Disraeli, was largely destroyed by incendiary bombs in 1940. The east wing was reconstructed and has been incorporated into a youth hostel, while the remains of the front terrace provide an atmospheric backdrop for the open-air performances of the April-September Holland Park Opera Festival (0300/999-1000 box office | www.operahollandpark.com). The glass-walled Garden Ballroom (every home should have one) is now the Orangery, which hosts art exhibitions and other public events, as does the Ice House, while an adjoining former granary has become the upscale Belvedere restaurant. In spring and summer the air is fragrant with aromas from a rose garden, great banks of rhododendrons, and an azalea walk. Garden enthusiasts will also not want to miss the tranquil, traditional Kyoto Garden, a legacy of London’s 1991 Japan Festival. The southern part of the park is given over to sport and play: cricket and football (soccer) pitches; a golf practice area; tennis courts; a well-supervised children’s Adventure Playground; and a giant outdoor chess set. | Holland Park | www.rbkc.gov.uk (under Leisure and Libraries) | Daily 7:30-30 mins before dusk | Station: Holland Park, High Street Kensington.
Royal Albert Hall.
Its terra-cotta exterior surmounted by a mosaic frieze depicting figures engaged in artistic, scientific, and cultural pursuits, this domed, circular 5,223-seat auditorium was made possible by the Victorian public, who donated the money to build it. After funds were diverted toward the Albert Memorial (opposite), more money was raised by selling 999-year leases for 1,276 “Members’” seats at £100 apiece—today a box with five Members’ Seats goes for half a million pounds. The notoriously poor acoustics were fixed after a 2004 renovation and the sightlines are excellent. The RAH hosts everything from pop and classical headliners to Cirque du Soleil, ballet on ice, awards ceremonies, and Sumo wrestling championships, but is best-known as the venue for the annual July-September BBC Promenade Concerts—the “Proms”—with bargain-price standing (or promenading, or sitting-on-the-floor) tickets sold on the night of the concert. | Kensington Gore Kensington | 0845/401-5045 U.K. only, 0207/589-8212 | www.royalalberthall.com | Prices vary with event | Station: South Kensington, High Street Kensington.
Historic Plaque Hunt
As you wander around London, you’ll see lots of small blue, circular plaques on the sides and facades of buildings, describing which famous, infamous, or obscure but brilliant person once lived there. The first was placed outside Lord Byron’s birthplace (now demolished) by the Royal Society of Arts. There are about 700 blue plaques, erected by different bodies—some green ones originate from Westminster City Council—but English Heritage now maintains the responsibility. If you want to find out the latest, check the website www.english-heritage.org.uk.
James Barrie (100 Bayswater Rd., Bayswater); Frederic Chopin (4 St. James’s Pl., St. James’s); Sir Winston Churchill (28 Hyde Park Gate, Kensington Gore); Captain James Cook (88 Mile End Rd., Tower Hamlets); T.S. Eliot (3 Kensington Court Gardens, Kensington); Benjamin Franklin (36 Craven St., Westminster); Mahatma Gandhi (20 Baron’s Court Rd., West Kensington); George Frederic Handel and Jimi Hendrix (23 Brook St., Mayfair); Alfred Hitchcock (153 Cromwell Rd., Earl’s Court); Karl Marx (28 Dean St., Soho); Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (180 Ebury St., Pimlico); Horatio Nelson (103 New Bond St., Mayfair); Sir Isaac Newton (87 Jermyn St., St. James’s); Florence Nightingale (10 South St., Mayfair); George Bernard Shaw (29 Fitzroy Sq., Fitzrovia); Percy Bysshe Shelley (15 Poland St., Soho); Mark Twain (23 Tedworth Sq., Chelsea); H.G. Wells (13 Hanover Terr., Regent’s Park); Oscar Wilde (34 Tite St., Chelsea); William Butler Yeats (23 Fitzroy Rd., Primrose Hill).
FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | Science Museum.
This, one of the three great South Kensington museums, stands next to the Natural History Museum in a far plainer building. It has lots of hands-on, painlessly educational exhibits, with entire schools of children apparently decanted inside to interact with them, but don’t dismiss the Science Museum as just for kids. Highlights include the Launch Pad gallery, which demonstrates basic laws of physics; Puffing Billy, the oldest steam locomotive in the world; and the actual Apollo 10 capsule. The six floors are devoted to subjects as diverse as the history of flight, space exploration, the Large Hadron Collider, 3D printing, and a sublime exhibition on science in the 18th century. Overshadowed by a three-story blue-glass wall, the Wellcome Wing is an annex to the rear of the museum, devoted to contemporary science and technology. It contains a 450-seat IMAX theater and the Legend of Apollo—an advanced motion simulator that combines seat vibration with other technical gizmos to re-create the experience of a moon landing. TIP If you’re a family of at least five, you might be able to get a place on one of the popular new Science Night sleepovers by booking well in advance. Aimed at kids 8-11 years old, these nighttime science workshops offer the chance to camp out in one of the galleries, and include a free IMAX show the next morning. Check the website for details. | Exhibition Rd. South Kensington | 0870/870-4868 | www.sciencemuseum.org.uk | Free; charge for special exhibitions, IMAX, and simulator rides | Daily 10-6; last admission 5:15 | Station: South Kensington.
Overlooking the large stream that winds its way through Hyde Park and from which the gallery takes its name, this small brick building set in Kensington Gardens is one of London’s foremost showcases for contemporary art, and has featured exhibitions by luminaries such as Louise Bourgeois, John Currin, Gabriel Orozco, and Gerhard Richter. A permanent work on the gallery’s grounds, consisting of eight benches and a carved stone circle, commemorates its former patron, Princess Diana. A new second exhibition space, the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, located nearby in a small Georgian gunpowder storeroom with a dramatic extension designed by Zaha Hadid, also contains a stylish restaurant. If you’re in town between May and September, check out the annual Serpentine pavilion, which each year is commissioned from a leading architect who is given free rein to interpret the brief—leading to imaginative results. Past designers have included Frank Gehry, Daniel Liebeskind, and Jean Nouvel. | Kensington | 0207/402-6075 | www.serpentinegallery.org | Free | Daily 10-6 | Station: Lancaster Gate, Knightsbridge, South Kensington.
Chelsea was settled before the Domesday Book was compiled and already fashionable when two of Henry VIII’s wives lived there. On the banks of the Thames are the vast grounds of the Royal Hospital, designed by Christopher Wren. A walk along the riverside embankment will take you to Cheyne Walk, a lovely street dating back to the 18th century. Several of its more notable residents—who range from J.M.W. Turner and Henry James to Laurence Olivier and Keith Richards—are commemorated by blue plaques on their former houses.
The Albert Bridge, a sherbet-color Victorian confection of a suspension bridge, provides one of London’s great romantic views, especially at night. Leave time to explore the tiny Georgian lanes of pastel-color houses that veer off King’s Road to the north—especially Jubilee Place and Burnsall Street, leading to the hidden “village square” of Chelsea Green. On Saturday there’s an excellent farmers’ market up from the Saatchi Gallery selling artisanal cheese and chocolates, local oysters, and organic meats, plus stalls serving international food.
Residential Chelsea extends along the river from the Chelsea Bridge west to the Battersea Bridge and north as far as the Old Brompton Road.
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Royal Hospital Chelsea.
Charles II founded this hospice for elderly and infirm soldiers in 1682 to reward the troops who had fought for him in the civil wars of 1642-46 and 1648. A creation of three of England’s greatest architects—Wren, Vanbrugh, and Hawksmoor—this small village of brick and Portland stone set in manicured gardens (which you can visit) surrounds the Figure Court (the figure being a 1682 gilded bronze statue of Charles II dressed as a Roman general), the Great Hall (dining room), and a chapel. The chapel and the Great Hall, where you can see Antonio Verrio’s vast oil painting of Charles on horseback, are open to the public at certain times during the day. There is a small museum devoted to the history of the resident “Chelsea Pensioners,” but the real attraction, along with the building, is the pensioners themselves. Recognizable by their traditional scarlet frock coats with gold buttons, medals, and tricorne hats, they are all actual veterans, who wear the uniform, and the history it represents, with a great deal of pride. | Royal Hospital Rd. Chelsea | 020/7881-5298 | www.chelsea-pensioners.co.uk | Free | Grounds, Chapel, Courts, and Great Hall Mon.-Sat. 10-noon and 2-4. Museum weekdays 10-4. | Closed Sun., holidays, and for special events | Station: Sloane Sq.
Chelsea Flower Show.
Also in May (usually the third week), the Chelsea Flower Show, the year’s highlight for thousands of garden-obsessed Brits, is held here. Run by the Royal Horticultural Society, this mammoth event takes up vast acreage, and the surrounding streets throng with visitors. | Chelsea | 0844/338-7506 in U.K., 121/767-4063 from outside U.K. | www.rhs.org.uk | Station: Sloane Sq.
Charles Saatchi, who made his fortune in advertising, is one of Britain’s most highly regarded collectors of contemporary art, credited with popularizing the Young British Artists movement through his championing of early works by the likes of Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin. The museum’s home—its third in ten years—is at the former Duke of York’s HQ, just off King’s Road. Built in 1803, its grand period exterior belies its imaginatively restored modern interior, which was transformed into 14 gallery exhibition spaces of varying size and shape. Unlike Tate Modern, there is no permanent collection beyond an ongoing site-specific installation; instead, at any one time the galleries are given over to between one and three exhibitions that normally run for up to six months. There’s also an excellent café, which is open late. | King’s Rd. Chelsea | 020/7811-3085 | www.saatchigallery.com | Free | Daily 10-6 | Station: Sloane Sq.
There’s no getting away from it. With two world-famous department stores—Harrods and Harvey Nichols, a few hundred yards apart and surrounded by numerous boutiques selling the biggest names in international luxury and expensive jewelry—London’s wealthiest enclave (not many other neighborhoods are plagued with street racers in Maseratis) will appeal most to those who enjoy conspicuous consumption.
Nearby Sloane Street is lined with top-end designer boutiques such as Prada, Dior, and Tods. If it all starts to become a bit generic (although expensive generic), Beauchamp Place (pronounced “Beecham”) is lined with equally luxe boutiques, but they tend to be one-offs and more distinctive and less global.
Posh Knightsbridge is located to the east of Kensington, bordered by Hyde Park on the north and Pont Street just past Harrods on the south.
Steps away from the roaring traffic of Hyde Park Corner is quiet, fashionable Belgravia, one of the most impressive set pieces of 19th-century urban planning, which lies just to the east of Kensington and Chelsea. Street after street is lined with grand cream stucco terraces, once aristocrats’ town houses and most still part of the Grosvenor estate owned by the Dukes of Westminster. Many buildings are leased to embassies or organizations, but a remarkable number around Lowndes Square, Eaton Place, and Eaton Square remain in the hands of private owners, whether old money or the oligarchy who put their security guards in the attached mews houses. Some people consider the area near Elizabeth Street to be southern Belgravia, others call it Pimlico-Victoria. Either way, you’ll find small, unique stores here specializing in baked goods, wine, gifts, and stationery rather than fashion (except for canine fashion).
This is the heart of Belgravia, once the preferred address for the gentry’s London town houses, though now mostly occupied by organizations, embassies, and the international rich. The Square and the streets leading off it share a remarkably consistent elegant architectural style thanks to all being part of a Regency redevelopment scheme commissioned by the Duke of Westminster and designed by Thomas Cubitt with George Basevi. The grand, cream-colored stucco terraced houses were snapped up by aristocrats and politicians due to their proximity to Buckingham Palace just around the corner, and still command record prices on the rare occasion when they come onto the market. The private garden in the center is open to the public once a year (see www.opensquares.org). Walk down Belgrave Place toward Eaton Place and you pass two of Belgravia’s most beautiful mews: Eaton Mews North and Eccleston Mews, both fronted by grand rusticated entrances right out of a 19th-century engraving. TIP Traffic can really whip around Belgrave Square, so be careful. | Belgrave Sq. Belgravia | Station: Hyde Park Corner.
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Getting Oriented | Notting Hill | Bayswater
Updated by Ellin Stein
Notting Hill is a fashionable square mile full of multiethnic finds, music, funky vintage clothing stalls, vibrant street markets, cool bars, and trendy restaurants and shops. It was the heart of London’s West Indian community in the 1960s and ’70s and a favorite with artists, rock stars, and rich hippies; it’s now home to well-off trendy young people who survive without apparent effort (dubbed “trustafarians”) and less stuffy investment banker-types. The area is studded with some of London’s most handsome period crescents and terraces. Every weekend, hordes descend on Portobello Road to go bargain-hunting at one of the world’s great antiques markets. Holland Park to the west has even grander period villas while Bayswater to the east has excellent ethnic restaurants.
For Portobello Market and environs, the best Tube stops are Ladbroke Grove and Westbourne Park (Hammersmith and City lines); ask for directions when you emerge. The Notting Hill Gate stop on the District, Circle, and Central lines enables you to walk the length of Portobello Road on a downhill gradient.
A GOOD WALK
To find Notting Hill’s grandest houses, stroll over to Lansdowne Road, Lansdowne Crescent, and Lansdowne Square—two blocks west of Kensington Park Road.
TOP REASONS TO GO
Unearth a bargain on Portobello Road: The early bird catches the worm; go before 10 am to find a hidden gem at London’s best and most famous antiques market on Saturday, or come during the week for a leisurely browse.
Refresh in Hyde Park: Explore one of London’s largest green spaces by walking, cycling (free “Boris bikes” are available), skating with the Friday Night Skate, or rowing down the Serpentine, the twisty lake that winds through the park.
Enter an Orientalist fantasy at Leighton House: This small museum and “private palace of art” has a sumptuous Arabian Nights-inspired interior with beautiful peacock blue tiles, gilded ceilings, and intricate mosaic murals.
Take in contemporary art at the Serpentine Gallery: Expand your cultural horizons here at one of London’s foremost showcases for modern art, or just have a bite at the café in the new Zaha Hadid-designed extension, a piece of artwork in itself.
The Prince Bonaparte.
This comfortable yet contemporary gastropub has remained enduringly popular thanks to the high standard of its modern British food and selection of artisanal ales and well-sourced wines. The spacious main dining area has wood paneling and floors, while a conservatory area at the back has a softer touch, with printed wallpaper and Victorian-style lampshades. | 80 Chepstow Rd.,Bayswater | 020/7313-9491 | theprincebonapartew2.co.uk | Weekdays noon-3:30 and 6-10, Sat. noon-4 and 6-10:30, Sun. noon-9 | Station: Notting Hill Gate, Royal Oak.
This Victorian Gothic bar and café-cum-community arts center serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily and also hosts intimate music gigs (some by big names like Jamie Cullum), literary events like an evening with Tales of The City’s Armistead Maupin, and 15-minute talks with speakers including Joanna Lumley and Joe Klein. The food is Caribbeaninfluenced and the atmosphere, especially in the large outdoor courtyard, is relaxed (perhaps too relaxed if you’re in a hurry). | 34-35 Powis Sq., Notting Hill | 020/7221-9700 | Closed Sun. | Station: Notting Hill Gate.
MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR TIME
Saturday is the most exciting day for shopping, eating, and drinking here.
The market gets crowded by noon in summer so come early if you are serious about shopping.
Head south from the north end of Portobello Road, using the parks for relaxation.
On Sunday, the Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens railings along Bayswater Road are lined with artists displaying their work, which may slow your progress.
Well-heeled locals are often out on Sunday with friends in the pubs or with kids in the parks.
At night, be wary of straying from the main streets north of Westbourne Park Road towards Ladbroke Grove’s high-rise estates and surrounding areas.
Notting Hill as we know it emerged in the 1840s when the wealthy Ladbroke family developed a small suburb to the west of London. Before then, the area had the far less glamorous name of “the Potteries and the Piggeries,” after the two industries it was best known for: ceramics and pig farming.
During the 1980s, Notting Hill transformed from a lively but down-at-heel and somewhat dangerous West Indian enclave to a super-trendy fashionable neighborhood, though a legacy of its previous incarnation remains in the form of the annual Notting Hill Carnival in late August. By the early 2000s the neighborhood’s fame had spread—helped massively by the hit movie that bore its name, though the movie itself was criticized by locals for downplaying the area’s ethnic diversity. For the Notting Hill of the silver screen, head for fashionable Westbourne Grove and Ledbury Road, lined with eclectic independent boutiques offering highly desirable designer goods, children’s clothing, furniture and home accessories, upscale cookware, shoes, and contemporary art. Prices and taste levels are high.
For less rarified shopping, try Portobello Road, with the beautifully restored early-20th-century Electric Cinema at No. 191. The famous Saturday antiques market and shops are at the southern end. The central part of the road is home to a weekday produce market interspersed with vintage clothing shops and hot food stalls. On weekends, the more northerly part of the road sells discounted household goods, secondhand goods, and bric-a-brac, while the Portobello Green Market under the Westway overpass has clothing stalls selling everything from super-cool baby clothes to jewelry to vintage threads and club wear from youthful new designers. Meanwhile, the boutiques of the Portobello Green Arcade carry clothes from more established designers.
To the west of Labroke Grove, before Shepherd’s Bush Green, lies the handsome Holland Park neighborhood. On the south side of Holland Park Road (the westerly continuation of Notting Hill Gate) you’ll find quiet streets filled with imposing stucco villas, an area even more “stealth wealth” than Notting Hill itself.
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Not everyone thinks graffiti adds to the urban landscape, but those who do should head to this leading gallery of contemporary street art. The big name here is Banksy, but there are works for sale by other artists in the same vein such as Tee.WAT and Trust.iCON who are more concerned with social commentary than tagging. This gallery experience especially appeals to young people, especially if the visit includes a two-hour spray-painting class. | 284 Portobello Rd., Notting Hill | 020/8354-3592 | graffikgallery.com | Daily 11-5 | Station: Notting Hill Gate, Ladbroke Grove.
FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | Kensington Gardens.
Laid out in 1689 by William III, who commissioned Christopher Wren to build, the gardens are a formal counterpart to neighboring Hyde Park. Just to the north of the palace itself is the Dutch-style Sunken Garden. Nearby, the 1912 bronze statue Peter Pan commemorates the boy in J.M. Barrie’s story who lived on an island in the Serpentine and never grew up. The lovely Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Playground has sections also inspired by Barrie’s book. Beside the playground, the Elfin Oak is a 900-year-old tree trunk that was carved with scores of tiny elves, fairies, and other fanciful creations in the 1920s. The Italian Gardens (1860) comprise several ornamental ponds and fountains, while the Round Pond is a magnet for model-boat enthusiasts. | Kensington | 030/0061-2000 | www.royalparks.gov.uk | Daily 6 am-dusk | Station: High Street Kensington, Lancaster Gate, Queensway, South Kensington.
FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | Hyde Park.
Along with the smaller St. James’s and Green parks to the east, the 350-acre Hyde Park started as Henry VIII’s hunting grounds. Along its south side runs Rotten Row, once Henry’s royal path to the hunt—the name is a corruption of Route du Roi (route of the king). It’s still used by the Household Cavalry, who live at the Hyde Park Barracks—a high-rise and a low, ugly, red block, now up for sale—to the left. You can see the Guardsmen in full regalia leaving on horseback for guard duty at Buckingham Palace at about 10:30, or come at noon when they return. Hyde Park is wonderful for strolling, cycling, or just relaxing by the Serpentine, the long body of water near its southern border. On the south side, by the 1930s Serpentine Lido, is the site of the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain, which opened in 2003 and is a good spot to refuel at a café. On Sundays close to Marble Arch you’ll find the uniquely British tribute to free speech, Speakers’ Corner. Though not what it was before people could vent their spleen on the Internet, it still offers a unique assortment of passionate, if occasionally irrational, advocates literally getting up on soapboxes. | Hyde Park, Hyde Park | 030/0061-2000 | www.royalparks.gov.uk | Daily 5 am-midnight | Station: Hyde Park Corner, Knightsbridge, Lancaster Gate, Marble Arch.
Hyde Park Riding Stables.
Horses are available here for hacks on the park’s bridle paths. Group lessons (usually just a few people) are £69 per person per hour. Semi-private lessons are £75, privates £105. | 63 Bathurst Mews, Bayswater | 020/7723-2813 | www.hydeparkstables.com | Station: Lancaster Gate
The Serpentine Boat House.
You can rent paddleboats and rowboats here to explore Hyde Park’s twisty lake. | Boat House, Hyde Park, Bayswater | 020/7262-1330 | www.solarshuttle.co.uk | £12 per adult per hr | Apr.-Oct. daily 10-dusk
Friday Night Skate.
Something of a London institution, this inline-skating excursion is for skaters able to stop, turn, and control their speed. The group meets (weather permitting) at 8 pm at the Wellington Arch, Hyde Park Corner, for an enthusiastic two-hour mass skating session, complete with music, whistles, and a party atmosphere. If you’re a bit unsure on your wheels, arrive at 6:30 pm for the free lesson on how to stop. You need to bring your own skates and protective gear—try Slick Willies (12 Gloucester Rd. SW7 4RB, Kensington | 020/7225-0004 | www.slickwillies.co.uk) for rentals—and the organizers suggest you bring bottled water and money for transportation in case you have to drop out. The Sunday Rollerstroll, a more laid-back version of the same thing, runs on Sunday afternoon from 2 pm on the east side of Serpentine Road. | Wellington Arch, Apsley Way, Hyde Park Corner, Mayfair | www.lfns.co.uk | Free | Station: Hyde Park Corner
Offering open-water swimming within a sinuous small lake, this is an idyllic spot to spend one of London’s rare hot summer afternoons, with changing facilities, a café, and a private sunbathing area with loungers for hire. There’s also a gated family area with a chlorinated paddling pool, sandpit, and swings. Early mornings and winters are reserved for the Serpentine Swimming Club, but in the summer after 10 am all are welcome. | Hyde Park, Bayswater | 020/7706-3422 | www.royalparks.org.uk | £4.50; £4 after 4 pm | May, weekends 10-6; June-Sept., daily 10-6 | Station:Knightsbridge
Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising.
This extraordinary little museum, rather like a curated garage sale, specializes in branded toys, clothes, games, food wrappers, and all the means by which advertising and merchandizing infiltrates our lives. The massive collection with items from around the world, accumulated by consumer historian Robert Opie, offers a fascinating, idiosyncratic archive of how consumerism has burgeoned since the Victorian age. | 2 Colville Mews, Lonsdale Rd., Notting Hill | 020/7908-0880 | www.museumofbrands.com | £6.50 | Tues.-Sat. 10-6, Sun. 11-5; last entry 45 mins before closing | Mon. and during Notting Hill Carnival | Station: Notting Hill.
Looking for a 19th-century snuff spoon? What about a ’60s-era mini-dress? Then head to Portobello Road’s famous Saturday market. Arrive at about 9 am to avoid the crowds. Stretching almost 2 miles from Notting Hill, the Portobello Market is actually made up of four sections, each with a different emphasis: antiques, fresh produce, household goods, and a flea market. The antiques stalls are packed in between Chepstow Villas and Westbourne Grove, where you’ll also find almost 100 antiques shops plus indoor markets. Around Elgin Crescent, a vibrant neighborhood life kicks in, with a variety of small stores and food stalls interspersed with a fruit-and-vegetable market. On Friday and Saturday the section between Talbot Road and the Westway elevated highway becomes one of London’s best flea markets, specializing in discounted household goods, while north of the Westway you’ll find secondhand household goods and bric-a-brac. Scattered throughout are vendors selling designer, vintage, and secondhand clothing, together with jewelry, T-shirts, and assorted junk. There’s a Trinidad-style Carnival along Portobello Road on the August bank-holiday weekend, a tribute to the area’s past as a center of the West Indian community. For more on Portobello Road, see | Portobello Road, Notting Hill | www.portobelloroad.co.uk | Station: Notting Hill Gate, Ladbroke Grove.
East of Notting Hill Gate Tube station, Notting Hill turns into Bayswater, characterized by wide streets lined with imposing white stucco terraced houses. Traditionally given over to cheap B&Bs, many are being converted back to private homes as the area continues on the up-and-up. The eastern end of Westbourne Grove and the streets around it are known for their excellent ethnic restaurants, particularly Chinese, Lebanese, and Greek. On Queensway, Bayswater’s main street, Whiteleys, originally a huge department store built in 1912, has been converted into a shopping center containing a movie theater, restaurants (Le Café Anglais is a good choice for a swanky evening out), a bowling alley, and, of course, shops.
Nearby Paddington station is as well known for its association with the world’s most famous marmalade fan, Paddington Bear, as for being one of London’s most handsome rail terminals.
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Getting Oriented | Regent’s Park | Hampstead
Updated by Ellin Stein
Regent’s Park, Primrose Hill, Belsize Park, and Hampstead are four of London’s prettiest and most civilized neighborhoods. The city becomes noticeably calmer and greener as you head uphill from Marylebone Road through Regent’s Park to the refreshing greenery of Primrose Hill and the handsome Georgian houses and Regency villas of Hampstead. To the west, the less bucolic but equally elegant St. John’s Wood and Little Venice also provide a taste of how moneyed London can be.
Leaving the park at the London Zoo, walk up adjoining Primrose Hill for one of the most picturesque views of London. Long a magnet for the creative (though these days within reach of only the most well-heeled creatives), this is the kind of neighborhood where the local library’s screening of The Madness of King George is introduced by its writer, longtime resident Alan Bennett. Peel off from the Hill to explore Regent’s Park Road and its attractive independent shops and cafés, as well as the surrounding streets with their pastel Victorian villas.
Alternatively, continue hugging the Hill heading north along Primrose Hill Road. This will take you to Belsize Park, itself a celebrity hot spot (Helena Bonham Carter, Tim Burton, and Cameron Diaz have houses here) with a mixture of Victorian, Arts and Crafts and art deco buildings. Turn right onto England’s Lane, another street full of independent shops and nice cafés, then left onto Haverstock Hill and head farther uphill. At the corner of Pond Street you will see two enormous Victorian Gothic buildings: one, St. Stephen’s Church, has been recently restored and is now a community arts center. The other, AIR Studios, founded by Beatles’ producer Sir George Martin, is where the scores from movies ranging from Iron Man 3 to Les Misérables and Brave have been recorded.
Turn right onto Pond Street and go downhill past the unlovely Royal Free hospital to South End Green and the entrance to Hampstead Heath. Or go straight to stay on Rosslyn Hill and then Hampstead High Street, the neighborhood’s main drag. Turn left onto Church Row, with its unspoiled early Georgian terraced houses leading to the St. John’s-at-Hampstead, where painter John Constable is buried. To the north of Hampstead Heath is Highgate, another upscale north London “village” with a large concentration of Georgian and early Victorian buildings, particularly around The Grove (home to Kate Moss, George Michael, and Sting).
To reach Little Venice, go to the west entrance of Regent’s Park by the gold-domed London Central Mosque and then north past Lord’s Cricket Ground to the St. John’s Wood Tube stop. Turn left onto Grove End Road, which will bring you to the famous Abbey Road crossroads featured on the Beatles’ album of the same name. Head southwest for Little Venice, known as the Belgravia of north London due to its stucco terraces (found on streets such as Randolph Avenue, Clifton Avenue, and Randolph Road) that are very similar to the other neighborhood’s. The “Venice” comes from its proximity to a picturesque stretch of the Grand Union Canal along Blomfield Road, where highly decorative houseboats are moored. If you can, visit on the second Sunday in May, when houseboats from all over London’s canals gather here in Paddington Basin for the Blessing of the Boats.
TOP REASONS TO GO
Ramble across Hampstead Heath: Londoners adore the Heath for bringing a bit of countryside to the city.
Go Romantic at Keats House: Visit the rooms where one of England’s greatest poets wrote some of his greatest works, inspired by his love for the girl-next-door, Fanny Brawne.
Get sporty in Regent’s Park: Cycle past Nash’s grand neoclassical stucco terraces and the park’s elegant landscaping, or walk up to Primrose Hill for another great view over the city.
Gracious living at Kenwood: See one of Britain’s best art collections at this 18th-century gentleman’s estate largely designed by Robert Adam.
Meet the penguins at the London Zoo: A VIP ticket will let you get up close and personal with the zoo’s personable penguins.
Ginger and White.
Family-friendly and modern, Ginger and White is a fusion of continental-style café and traditional British coffee shop—all bound up with a sophisticated Hampstead vibe. | 4A-5A Perrins Ct.,Hampstead | 020/7431-9098 | www.gingerandwhite.com | Station: Hampstead.
Near the Camden Lock market, this place has some of London’s best ice cream, while the indoor Italian restaurant section lures diners. | 8 Haverstock Hill, Camden Town | 020/7482-9003 | www.marineices.co.uk | Station: Chalk Farm.
It’s best to stay out of Hampstead Heath, Primrose Hill, and Regent’s Park at night unless there’s an event taking place; all are perfectly safe during the day. Also to be avoided after dark: the canal towpath in Primrose Hill and Camden.
To get to Hampstead by Tube, take the Northern line (the Edgware branch) to Hampstead station, or take the London Overground to Hampstead Heath station. The south side of Hampstead Heath can also be reached by the London Overground Gospel Oak station. To get to Regent’s Park, take the Bakerloo line to Regent’s Park Tube station or, for Primrose Hill, the Chalk Farm stop on the Northern line. Little Venice is reachable by the Warwick Avenue stop on the Bakerloo line and St. John’s Wood has its own stop on the Jubilee Line.
A Brief History
Nash’s original plan for Regent’s Park included a summer palace for his patron the Prince Regent as well as villas for 56 friends, so the concept was to recreate the grounds of a great country estate. The palace was never built (and only eight of the villas were) but Nash’s designs for magnificent white-stucco terraces along the park’s Outer Circle were, with Cumberland Terrace on the east particularly notable for its neoclassical Ionic columns surmounted by a Wedgewood-blue pediment and statuary personifying Britannia and her empire, an architecturally interesting example of Palladian villa features being incorporated into a residential city terrace. On the opposite side of the park is Winfield House, a neo-Georgian mansion built in the 1930s by heiress Barbara Hutton and now the American Ambassador’s (heavily guarded) official residence, with the largest private garden in central London except for Buckingham Palace.
In the early 18th century, the commercial development of the mineral springs in Hampstead led to its success as a spa; people traveled from miles around to drink the pure waters from Hampstead Wells, and small cottages were hastily built to accommodate the influx. Though the spa phenomenon was short-lived, the peace and serenity of Hampstead drew many significant artists and writers (from John Keats to George Orwell and Ian Fleming), along with distinguished refugees from Nazi Germany, whose legacy can be found in notable examples of Modernist architecture scattered among the 18th- and 19th-century period houses.
MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR TIME
Regent’s Park, Primrose Hill, and Hampstead can be covered in a day. Spend the morning in Hampstead, with a brief foray onto the Heath, then head south to Regent’s Park in the afternoon so that you’re closer to central London come nightfall, if that is where your hotel is located. (You’ll also be heading downhill instead of up.) You can always return to Hampstead another day for a long walk across the Heath or head west to Little Venice’s canals.
A GOOD WALK
A walk from Hampstead Village down through Belsize Park, Primrose Hill, and Regent’s Park will take you through some of London’s leafiest, prettiest scenery.
Commissioned by his patron the Prince Regent (later George IV) to create a master plan for this part of London, formerly a Royal hunting ground, London’s great urban planner and architect John Nash laid out the plans for the 410-acre Regent’s Park in 1812. Bordered by grand neoclassical terraces, the park is home to many attractions, including the London Zoo and the summer display of more than 400 varieties of roses in Queen Mary’s Gardens.
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FAMILY | Regent’s Park.
The formal, cultivated Regent’s Park, more country house grounds than municipal amenity, began life in 1812, when John Nash was commissioned by the Prince Regent (later George IV) to create a master plan for the former royal hunting ground. Nash’s original plan included a summer palace for the prince and 56 villas for friends, none of which were realized except for 8 villas (only 2 survive). However, the grand neoclassical terraced houses on the south, east, and west edges of the park were built by Nash and reflect the scope of his ambitions. Queen Mary’s Gardens, with some 30,000 roses a favorite spot for weddings, was created in the 1930s. Today the 395-acre park, boasting the largest outdoor sports area in central London, draws the athletically inclined from around the city.
Regent’s Park Highlights
At the center of the park is the Queen Mary’s Gardens, a fragrant 17-acre circle containing more than 400 varieties of roses. Just to the east of the Gardens is the Regent’s Park Open-Air Theatre and the Boating Lake, which you can explore by rental pedalo or rowboat. Heading east from the rose gardens along Chester Road past the Broad Walk will bring you to Nash’s iconic white-stucco Cumberland Terrace, with its central Ionic columns surmounted by a triangular Wedgwood-blue pediment. At the north end of the Broad Walk you’ll find the London Zoo, while to the northwest of the central circle is The Hub (0300/061-2323), a state-of-the-art community sports center that has changing rooms, exercise classes, and a café with 360-degree views of the surrounding sports fields that offer soccer, rugby, cricket, field hockey, and softball contests. There are also tennis courts towards the park’s southeast (Baker Street) entrance, and the park is a favorite north-south route for cyclists.
Regent’s Park Tips
If watching all this activity works up an appetite, in addition to the Hub’s own café there’s the Garden Cafe ( | 020/7935-5729) outside the rose garden that serves breakfast, lunch, and supper on a patio; the Boatyard Cafe by the boating lake; and the Cow and Coffee Bean ( | 020/7224-3872), which serves coffee and organic Cornish ice cream, and the Honest Sausage, both near the Broad Walk.
Regent’s Park also hosts two annual events: the Frieze Art Fair, one of the art world’s most prestigious, and the Taste of London, a foodie-oriented extravaganza.
Chester Rd., Regent’s Park | 0300/061-2300 | www.royalparks.gov.uk | Free | Station: Baker St., Regent’s Park, Great Portland St.
FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | Primrose Hill.
More conventionally park-like than Hampstead Heath, the rolling lawns of Primrose Hill, the northerly extension of Regent’s Park which rises to 256 feet, provide outstanding views over the city to the southeast encompassing Canary Wharf and the London Eye. Filled with families and picnickers in nice weather, it has featured in books (it is here that Pongo engaged in “twilight barking” in The Hundred and One Dalmatians and the Martians set up an encampment in H.G. Wells’ The War of The Worlds), been mentioned in songs by Blur, Madness, and Paul McCartney, among others, and served as a location for films including Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and Paddington Bear. | Regent’s Park Rd., Regent’s Park | 0300/061-2300 | www.royalparks.gov.uk | Free | Station: Chalk Farm.
Regent’s Park Boating Lake.
You can enjoy a pleasant aquatic interlude touring the boating lake in Regent’s Park by rowboat or pedalo. Adult rentals cost £7.50 (£5.50 before noon) per hour per person, or £5.50/£4 per half hour. On weekends and school holidays, children under 12 can take to the waters on a smaller lake, where pedalo rentals are £3 per 20 minutes per child going up to £4.50 for an hour (discounted prices before noon). The lake is open April through September, 10-6 | 020/7724-4069 | Station: Baker St.
FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | ZSL London Zoo.
Operated by the nonprofit Zoological Society of London, this was the new home of the Royal animals collection when it moved here from the Tower of London in 1828. The zoo itself did not open to the public until 1847. A recent modernization program has seen the introduction of several big attractions, with a focus on education, wildlife conservation, and the breeding of endangered species. The huge B.U.G.S. pavilion (Biodiversity Underpinning Global Survival) is a self-sustaining, contained ecosystem for 140 less-cuddly species including invertebrates such as spiders and millipedes, plus some reptiles and fish. At Gorilla Kingdom, a walk-through recreation of the habitat of the Western Lowland Gorilla, you can watch the four residents at close range. Rainforest Life is an indoor tropical rain forest (complete with humidity) inhabited by the likes of armadillos, monkeys, and sloths. A special nighttime section offers glimpses of nocturnal creatures like slow lorises and bats. The new Animal Adventures Children’s Zoo allows kids to get up close to animals including mongooses and llamas, as well as feeding and grooming sheep and goats. Two of the most popular attractions are Penguin Beach, especially at feeding time before noon, and Meerkat Manor, where you can see the sociable animals keeping watch over their own sandy territory. If you’re feeling flush, try to nab one of the six daily “Meet the Penguins” VIP tickets (2 pm) that offer a 20-minute guided close encounter with the locals (£45 weekdays, £60 weekends.) There’s a similar “Meet the Giraffes” VIP encounter as well. Other zoo highlights include Butterfly Paradise; the Blackburn Pavilion, with its hundreds of tropical bird species; the Big Cats enclosure, home to a pride of Asian lions; and Tiger Territory, a new enclosure for a beautiful pair of endangered Sumatran tigers. For a more grown-up experience, check out Zoo Lates, where comedy, cabaret, and a wine bar are offered to over-18s in addition to all the usual zoo attractions on Friday evenings (6-10 pm) in summer. TIP Check the website or the information board out front for free events, including creature close encounters and “ask the keeper” sessions. | Outer Circle, Regent’s Park | 0844/225-1826 | www.zsl.org | £21 | Mid-Nov.-Feb., daily 10-4; Mar.-early Sept., daily 10-6; early-Sept.-Oct., daily 10-5:30; early-mid-Nov., daily 10-4:30; last admission 1 hr before closing | Station: Camden Town, then Bus 274.
What started as a small group of clothing stalls in the 1970s has since grown into one of London’s biggest (and most crowded) tourist attractions. Centered on the Grand Union Canal, this isn’t actually a single market, but a vast honeycomb of them that sell crafts, clothing (vintage, ethnic, Goth, and emerging designer), antiques, and just about everything in between. Here, especially on weekends, the crowds are dense, young, and relentless, with as many as 100,000 visitors on the busiest days. Camden Lock Market specializes in crafts; Camden Stables Market is popular with Goth kids and aspiring rock stars. TIP Print out the (appropriately psychedelic) map of Camden Market from the website before coming; it’s helpful for first-time visitors. | Camden High St., Camden Town | www.camdenmarkets.org | Daily 10-6 (some stalls close 5:30) | Station: Camden Town, Chalk Farm.
A nightclub that doubles as a retro/designer fashion and music market on weekends, the Electric Ballroom has been a scuzzy, dilapidated, wild, and wonderful Camden institution for decades. On a half dozen or so dates per year it also plays host to the busy Camden Film Fair, beloved of collectors and old-school cult movie enthusiasts. | 184 Camden High St., Camden Town | 020/7485-9006 | www.electricballroom.co.uk
Hawley Arms Pub.
Just around the corner, the Hawley Arms Pub gained fame as a hangout for celebrities such as Kate Moss and the late Amy Winehouse. It’s a good spot for an inexpensive pub lunch. | 2 Castlehaven Rd., Camden Town | 020/7428-5979 | www.thehawleyarms.co.uk
Cecil Sharp House.
The home of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, this soaring Grade II-listed 1930 building hosts concerts by artists ranging from Mumford & Sons and Laura Marling to the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, as well as family barn dances and céilidhs (Irish barn dances). Meet the locals at drop-in classes offering all forms of folkloric dance, from Morris Dancing to Baroque Dancing, Riverdance-type Irish Dancing, Zydeco Dancing, and Argentinian Tango. There’re also British folk arts-related exhibitions, a café and bar, and a small museum devoted to composer Vaughn Williams. | 2 Regent’s Park Rd., Primrose Hill | 020/7485-2206 | www.cecilsharphouse.org | Tues.-Fri. 9:30-5:30, 1st and 3rd Sat. of each month (except Aug.) 10-4; call or check website for evening events | Station: Chalk Farm, Camden Town.
QUICK BITES: Regent’s Park Road in Primrose Hill has several excellent cafés, notably the organic-minded and child-friendly Greenberry and local favorite Lemonia, which serves Greek food. On Gloucester Avenue at the top of Regent’s Park Road, you’ll find landmark gastropubs The Lansdowne and The Engineer, plus outstanding artisanal deli Melrose & Morgan.
Jewish Museum. This fascinating museum tells the story of the Jewish people in Britain from 1066 to today (including the period between the 13th and 17th century when Judaism was outlawed in England) through a combination of art, religious artifacts, photographs, manuscripts, and interactive displays. Highlights include a re-creation of a Jewish East End street from the Victorian era and an exhibit about the 10,000 Jewish refugee children who came to Britain just in time, although without their parents, as part of the Kindertransport. There are also temporary themed exhibitions, such as Jews in Football (soccer) or the life of Amy Winehouse. TIP There’s a free overview of the collection on the ground floor, including a medieval mikveh (ritual bath), excavated a few miles from here in 2001. | Raymond Burton House, 129-131 Albert St., Camden Town | 020/7284-7384 | www.jewishmuseum.org.uk | £7.50 | Sun.-Wed. 10-5, Thurs. 10-9, Fri. 10-2; last admission 30 mins before closing. Closed on major Jewish holidays | Station: Camden Town.
Lord’s Cricket Ground & Museum.
The spiritual home of this most English of games and the headquarters of the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club), Lord’s opens its “behind the scenes” areas to visitors. Highlights of the 100-minute tour include the Long Room, a VIP viewing area where portraits of cricketing greats are on display; the players’ dressing rooms; and the world’s oldest sporting museum, where cricket’s 400-year progress from gentlemanly village-green game to worldwide sport is charted via memorabilia, equipment, trophies, and footage of memorable performances. Don’t miss the prize exhibit: the urn known as the Ashes—allegedly the remains of a cricket bail (part of the wicket assembly) presented to the English captain in 1883 by a group of Australian women, a jokey allusion to a newspaper’s satirical obituary for the death of English cricket published after a resounding defeat. It’s been a symbol of the two nations’ long-running rivalry ever since. They still play for possession of the Ashes every two years though it’s only been an official (as opposed to joke) trophy since 1998. A Waterford crystal version changes hands these days, though the winners still hold a replica of the original urn aloft. Tours are not available during major matches (they’re offered during smaller “county” matches), but the museum remains open to match ticket holders. | St. John’s Wood Rd., St. John’s Wood | 020/7616-8595 | www.lords.org | Tour £18. Museum only £7.50 match days | Museum weekdays 10-5 (hrs vary on match days, call to confirm). Tours Apr., daily 10-2; May-Oct., daily 10-3 on the hr, except during major matches; Jan.-Mar., weekdays 11-2 on the hr, weekends 10-2 | Station: St. John’s Wood.
Regent’s Park Open-Air Theatre.
There have been works by Shakespeare performed here every summer since 1932, with casts including luminaries such as Vivien Leigh, Dame Judi Dench, and Damien Lewis. Today it also mounts productions of classic plays, musicals, and shows for family audiences. However, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the one to catch, if it’s on—never has that enchanted Greek wood been better evoked, especially if enhanced by genuine birdsong and a rising moon. There’s a covered restaurant for pretheater dining, as well as a barbeque, a buffet, prebooked picnic boxes, and, of course, a bar. The park can get chilly, so bring a blanket. Performances are rain or shine (umbrellas aren’t allowed) with refunds only in case of very heavy downpours. | Inner Circle, Regent’s Park | 0844/826-4242 tickets, 0844/375-3460 enquiries | www.openairtheatre.org | £25-£55 | May-mid-Sept., evening performances at 8, matinees at 2:30 | Station: Baker St., Regent’s Park.
Even a destitute Romantic poet like John Keats could afford Hampstead in 1818 when he moved to what is now Keats House, a pretty Regency residence where he spent two years and wrote several of his most famous works. However, Hampstead’s bohemian days are long gone, although a few distinguished artists and musicians, plus television stars, still live here. Artisanal food shops and boutiques for the skinny of frame and fat of wallet cluster along Rosslyn Hill, while high-street chains start to proliferate the closer you get to Hampstead Tube station. Be sure to leave the beaten path to explore the numerous narrow charming roads, like Flask Walk, Well Walk, and New End Road. Also hidden among Hampstead’s winding streets are Fenton House, a Georgian town house with a lovely walled garden, and Burgh House, the oldest (1704) house in the village and a repository of local history. On the way to Highgate you’ll find Kenwood House, an 18th-century mansion designed by Robert Adam noted for its remarkable art collection and lovely grounds.
Hampstead’s crowning glory, however, is Hampstead Heath (known locally as “The Heath”), 790 acres of varied habitats including parkland, swimming ponds, and some of Europe’s oldest oaks. It’s also home to one of London’s highest (322 feet) vantage point, Parliament Hill.
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FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | Hampstead Heath.
For generations, Londoners have headed to Hampstead Heath to escape the dirt and noise of the city. A unique expanse of rus-in-urbe, its 790 acres encompass a variety of wildlife as well as habitats ranging from grassy meadows to woodland, scrub, wetlands, and, at 500 years old, some of Europe’s most venerable oak trees. Be aware that, aside from the southern end, it is more like countryside than a park, with signs and facilities in short supply. Pick up a map at, or the Education Centre near the Lido off Gordon House Road, where you can also get details about the history of the Heath and the flora and fauna growing there. An excellent café near the Athletics Field offers Italian food alfresco.
Today the Heath is popular with walkers, dog walkers, and swimmers. It has inspired artists from John Constable, who painted views several times, to modern author Zadie Smith, to C.S. Lewis, whose The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe was supposedly inspired by a walk through the Heath’s winter landscape.
Hampstead Heath Highlights
Coming onto the Heath from the South End Green entrance, walk east past a well-equipped children’s adventure Playground and Paddling Pool, turn left, and head to the top of Parliament Hill. At 321 feet above sea level, it’s one of the highest points in London. You’ll find a stunning panorama over the city. On clear days you can see all the way to the South Downs, the hills beyond southern London.
If you keep heading east from the playground instead, you’ll come to the Lido, an Olympic-size outdoor unheated swimming pool that gets packed on all-too-rare hot summer days.
Hampstead Heath Tips
At 321 feet above sea level, Parliament Hill is one of the highest points in London. On a clear day, you can see the South Downs, the hills beyond southern London.
Perfect for cooling off in summer, the Hampstead “Mens” and “Ladies” ponds are northeast of Parliament Hill with a “Mixed” pond closer to South End Green.
Golders Hill Park has a café, tennis courts, a duck pond, a croquet lawn, and a flower garden, plus a Butterfly House (open May-September) and a small zoo.
Hampstead | 020/7332-3322 Heath Education Centre | www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/hampstead | Free | Station: Overground: Hampstead Heath for south of Heath or Gospel Oak for Lido; Hampstead for east of Heath; Golders Green, then Bus 210, 268 to Whitestone Pond for north and west of Heath.
Highgate is not the oldest cemetery in London, but it is probably the best known. After it was consecrated in 1839, Victorians came from miles around to appreciate the ornate headstones, the impressive tombs, and the view. Such was its popularity that 19 acres on the other side of the road were acquired in 1850, and this additional East Cemetery contains what may be the most visited grave—that of Karl Marx (1818-83), only one of several notables interred here. At the summit is the Circle of Lebanon, a ring of vaults built around an ancient cypress tree—a legacy of the 17th-century gardens that formerly occupied the site. Leading from the circle is the Egyptian Avenue, a subterranean stone tunnel lined with catacombs, itself approached by a dramatic colonnade that screens the main cemetery from the road. Both sides are impressive, with a grand (locked) iron gate leading to a sweeping courtyard built for the approach of horses and carriages. By the 1970s the cemetery had become unkempt and neglected until a group of volunteers, the Friends of Highgate Cemetery, undertook the huge upkeep. Tours are conducted by the Friends, who will show you the most interesting graves among the numerous statues and memorials once hidden by overgrowth. The West side is accessible by tour only, which you must prebook for weekdays but not weekends. Tours of the East side on Saturday are first come, first serve. You’re expected to dress respectfully, so forego the shorts and baseball cap. TIP Children under eight are not admitted; nor are dogs, tripods, or video cameras. | Swains La., Highgate | 020/8340-1834 | highgatecemetery.org | East Cemetery £4, tours £8; West Cemetery tours £12. No credit cards | East: Mar.-Oct., daily 10-5; Nov.-Feb., weekdays 10-4, weekends 11-4. Tours, Sat. at 2. Last admission 30 mins before closing. Hrs may vary according to funeral service schedule—call ahead. West: tours Mar.-Nov., weekdays at 1:45, weekends half-hourly 11-3 | Station: Archway, then Bus 210, 271, or 143 to Highgate Village.
It was while living in this house between 1818 and 1820 that poet John Keats (1795-1821), a leading figure of the Romantic movement, fell in love with girl-next-door Fanny Brawne and wrote some of his best-loved poems before ill health forced him to move to Rome, where he died the following year. After a major refurbishment to make the rooms more consistent with their original Regency decor, the house now displays all sorts of Keats-related material including portraits, letters, many of the poet’s original manuscripts and books, the engagement ring he gave to Fanny, and items of Fanny’s clothing. A pretty garden contains the plum tree under which Keats supposedly composed Ode to a Nightingale. There are frequent guided tours and special events featuring local literary luminaries. The ticket gives you entry for a full year, so you can come back as often as you like. TIP Picnics can be taken into the grounds during the summer. | 10 Keats Grove,Hampstead | 020/7332-3868 | www.keatshouse.cityoflondon.gov.uk | £5 | Mar.-Oct., Tues.-Sun. 1-5; Nov.-Feb., Fri.-Sun. 1-5 (last admission 4:30) | Station: Overground: Hampstead Heath.
Fodor’s Choice | Kenwood House.
This largely Palladian villa was first built in 1616 and later extended, first by Robert Adam starting in 1767 and later by George Saunders in 1795. Adam refaced most of the exterior and added the splendid library, which, with its vaulted ceiling and Corinthian columns, is the highlight of the house for design aficionados. A recent major renovation has restored four rooms to reflect Adam’s intentions as closely as possible, incorporating the furniture he designed for them and his original color schemes. Kenwood is also home to the Iveagh Bequest, a superb collection of 63 paintings that includes masterworks like Rembrandt’s Portrait of the Artist and Vermeer’s The Guitar Player, along with major works by Reynolds, Van Dyck, Hals, Gainsborough, and Turner. The grounds, which are bordered by Hampstead Heath, are equally elegant and serene, with lawns sloping down to a little lake crossed by a trompe-l’oeil bridge. All in all, the perfect home for an 18th-century gentleman. TIP In summer the grounds host a series of popular and classical concerts, culminating in fireworks on the last night. The Brew House café, occupying part of the old coach house, has outdoor tables in the courtyard and a terraced garden. | Hampstead La., Highgate | 020/8348-1286 | www.english-heritage.org.uk | Free | House daily 10-5; gardens daily 8-dusk | Station: Golders Green, then Bus 210.
A Trip to Abbey Road
The black-and-white crossroads (known as a “zebra crossing”) near the Abbey Road Studios at No. 3 is a place of pilgrimage for Beatles’ fans from around the world, many of them teenagers born long after the band split up. They converge here to re-create the cover of the Beatles’ 1969 Abbey Road album, posing on the crossing despite the onrushing traffic. TIP Be very careful if you’re going to attempt this. Abbey Road is a dangerous intersection. The studio is where the Beatles recorded their entire output, from “Love Me Do” onwards. One of the best—and safer—ways to explore landmarks in the Beatles’ story is to take one of the excellent walking tours offered by Original London Walks (020/7624-3978 | www.walks.com). Try The Beatles In-My-Life Walk (11:20 am outside Marylebone Underground on Saturday and Tuesday) or The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour (Wednesday at 2 pm, February to November, and Thursday and Sunday at 11 am, year-round, at Underground Exit 3, Tottenham Court Road.)
Burgh House and Hampstead Museum.
One of Hampstead’s oldest buildings, Burgh House was built in 1704 to take advantage of the natural spa waters of the then-fashionable Hampstead Wells. A private house until World War II, it was saved from near-dereliction in the 1970s by local residents, who have been restoring and maintaining it ever since. The building is a fine example of the gentle elegance common to the Queen Anne period, with its redbrick box frontage, oak paneled rooms, and terraced garden (originally designed by Gertrude Jekyll). Today the house contains a small but diverting museum on the history of the area, and also hosts regular talks, concerts, and recitals. The secluded garden courtyard of the café is a lovely spot for lunch, tea, or glass of wine on a summer’s afternoon. Call ahead if you’re visiting on a weekend, however, as the house is often hired out as a wedding venue on Saturday. | New End Sq., Hampstead | 020/7431-0144 | www.burghhouse.org.uk | Free | Wed.-Sun. noon-5 | Station: Hampstead.
This handsome 16th-century merchant’s home, Hampstead’s oldest surviving house, has fine displays of porcelain, Georgian furniture, and 17th-century needlework. The 2-acre walled garden, with its rose plantings and apple orchard, has been virtually unchanged for 300 years. International musicians give recitals on the important collection of early keyboard instruments throughout the week. Check the website for details. | Hampstead Grove, Hampstead | 020/7435-3471 | www.nationaltrust.org.uk | £6.50, garden only £2 | Mar.-Oct., Wed.-Sun. 11-5; Dec., weekends 11-4 | Station: Hampstead.
Freud Museum London.
The father of psychoanalysis lived here with his family for a year, between his escape from Nazi persecution in his native Vienna in 1938 and his death in 1939. His daughter Anna (herself a pioneer of child psychoanalysis), remained in the house until her own death in 1982, bequeathing it as a museum to honor her father. The centerpiece is Freud’s unchanged study, containing his remarkable collection of antiquities and his library. Also on display is the family’s Biedermeier furniture and, of course, the couch. As well, there are lectures, study groups, and themed exhibitions, in addition to a psychoanalysis-related archive and research library. TIP Looking for a unique souvenir for the person who has everything? The gift shop here sells “Freudian Slippers.” | 20 Maresfield Gardens, Swiss Cottage | 020/7435-2002 | www.freud.org.uk | £6 | Wed.-Sun. noon-5 | Station: Swiss Cottage, Finchley Rd.
There has been a church here since 1312, but the current building was consecrated in 1747 and later extended in 1877. The nave is classic Georgian, lined with Ionic columns and vaulting arches. The church stands at the end of Church Row, a narrow street lined with flat-fronted brick Georgian houses that gives you a sense of what Hampstead was like when it truly was a rural village as opposed to a traffic-clogged north London neighborhood. Many local notables are buried in the churchyard, including painter John Constable (some of whose most famous works depict the Heath), John Harrison (the inventor of the marine chronometer who inspired Longitude), members of the du Maurier family, Jane Austen’s aunt, and comedy god Peter Cook. | Church Row, Hampstead | 020/7794-5808 | www.hampsteadparishchurch.org.uk | Free | Station: Hampstead.
2 Willow Road.
Among the many artists and intellectuals fleeing Nazi persecution who settled in the area was noted architect Erno Goldfinger, who built this outstanding modernist home opposite Hampstead Heath in 1939 as his family residence (his plans drew the ire of several local residents, including novelist Ian Fleming, who supposedly borrowed his neighbor’s name for a Bond villain as a result). As well as design touches and pioneering building techniques that were groundbreaking at the time, the unique house, a place of pilgrimage for 20th-century architecture enthusiasts, contains Goldfinger’s impressive collection of modern art and self-designed innovative furniture. Before 2 pm admission is by first come, first served hourly tour only, but you can visit independently after 3. | 2 Willow Rd., Hampstead | 020/7435-6166 | www.nationaltrust.org.uk/2-willow-road | £6 | Wed.-Sun. 11-2 (guided tour only), 3-5 (last admission 4:30) | Station: Overground: Hampstead Heath.
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Getting Oriented | Top Attractions | Worth Noting
Updated by Jack Jewers
About 8 miles downstream—which means seaward, to the east—from central London, Greenwich is a small borough that looms large across the world. Once the seat of British naval power, it is not only home to the Old Royal Observatory, which measures time for our entire planet, but also the Greenwich Meridian, which divides the world into two—you can stand astride it with one foot in either hemisphere.
Bear in mind that the journey to Greenwich is an event in itself. In a rush, you can take the driverless DLR train—but many opt for arriving by boat along the Thames. This way, you glide past famous sights on the London skyline (there’s a guaranteed spine chill on passing the Tower) and ever-changing docklands, and there’s usually a chirpy Cock-er-ney navigator enlivening the journey with his fun commentary.
A visit to Greenwich feels like a trip to a rather elegant seaside town—albeit one with more than its fair share of historic sites. The grandiose Old Royal Naval Hospital, designed by Christopher Wren, was originally a home for veteran sailors. Today it’s a popular visitor attraction, with a more glamorous second life as one of the most widely used movie locations in Britain.
Greenwich was originally home to one of England’s finest Tudor palaces, and the birthplace of Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and Mary I. Inigo Jones built what is considered the first “classical” building in England in 1616—the Queen’s House, which now houses a collection of fine art. Britain was the world’s preeminent naval power for over 500 years, and the excellent National Maritime Museum details that history in an engaging way. Its prize exhibits include the coat worn by Admiral Lord Nelson (1758-1805) in his final battle—bullet hole and all. The 19th-century tea clipper Cutty Sark was nearly destroyed by fire in 2007, but reopened in 2012 after a painstaking restoration. Now it’s more pristine than ever, complete with an impressive new visitor center.
Greenwich Park, London’s oldest royal park, is still home to fallow red deer, just as it has been since they were first introduced here for hunting by Henry VIII. The Ranger’s House now houses a private art collection, next door to a beautifully manicured rose garden. Above it all is the Royal Observatory, where you can be in two hemispheres at once by standing along the Greenwich Meridian Line, before seeing a high-tech planetarium show.
Toward north Greenwich, the hopelessly ambitious Millennium Dome has been successfully reborn as the O2 and now hosts major concerts and stand-up comedy gigs. More adventurous visitors can also go Up the O2 on a climbing expedition across the massive domed surface. Meanwhile, those who prefer excursions of a gentler kind may prefer to journey a couple of miles south of the borough, farther out into London’s southern suburbs, to the shamefully underappreciated Eltham Palace. Once a favorite of Henry VIII, parts of the mansion were transformed into an art deco masterpiece during the 1930s.
TOP REASONS TO GO
Stand astride the Greenwich Meridian Line: At the Royal Observatory—where the world’s time is set—you can be in the eastern and western hemispheres simultaneously.
Sir Inigo Jones’s Queen’s House: This 17th-century building, part of the Old Royal Naval College, was massively influential in its day as the first in England to embrace the styles of the Italian Renaissance. See what all the fuss was about.
Discover Britain’s seafaring past at the National Maritime Museum: See how Britannia ruled the waves and helped shape the modern world.
Step aboard the Cutty Sark: Take a stroll along the deck of the last surviving 19th-century tea clipper, newly shipshape after years of renovation.
The Honest Sausage.
Inside the park near the Royal Observatory, this delightful little café is a great pit stop for a traditional lunchtime snack. It specializes in straight-down-the-line, traditional sausage or bacon sandwiches, all sourced from an organic, free-range farm in Gloucestershire. And if a porcine snack doesn’t curl your tail, you can opt for cake or coffee instead. | Pavillion Tea House, Blackheath Ave., Greenwich Park, Greenwich | 020/8858-9695 | www.companyofcooks.com.
The Old Brewery.
Right next to Discover Greenwich, the Old Brewery is a relaxed café by day and a sophisticated restaurant at night. The artful, high-ceiling dining room merits a visit but the modern British cuisine is also among the best in this part of London—and reasonably priced, too. The bar serves 200 different types of ale. | Pepys Bldg., Old Royal Naval College, King William Walk, Greenwich | 020/3327-1280 | www.oldbrewerygreenwich.com.
With its excellent vista of the Thames, there is no more handsomely situated pub in Greenwich than the Trafalgar Tavern. Featured in Charles Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend, it’s still as grand a place to have a pint and some (upscale) pub grub as it ever was. | Park Row, Greenwich | 020/8858-2909 | www.trafalgartavern.co.uk.
The Coach & Horses.
An 18th-century boozer with a 21st-century facelift, The Coach is a popular pub in the middle of Greenwich Market. It’s a cozy place to kick back with a pint and ease those shop-weary feet. | 13 Greenwich Market, Greenwich | 020/8293-0880 | www.the-coach-and-horses.co.uk.
Docklands Light Railway (DLR) is a zippy way to get to Cutty Sark station from Canary Wharf and Bank Tube stations in The City. Or take the DLR to Island Gardens and walk the old Victorian Foot Tunnel under the river. (Sitting at the front of a train can be disconcerting, as you watch the controls in the fully automated driver’s cab move about, as if a ghost were at the helm.) The best way to arrive, however—time and weather permitting—is like a sea captain of old: by water (though this way takes an hour from central London.
The Docklands Renaissance
For centuries the Thames was a fevered hub of activity. Great palaces were built along the river, most long gone (such as Whitehall, which dwarfed even Versailles in splendor). Dock warehouses sprang up to the east of London in the 18th century to cater to the burgeoning trade in luxury goods, from tea, coffee, and spices to silks and exotic pets. By the 1950s, however, this trade had all but disappeared—partly due to the devastation of World War II, but also because trading vessels had simply gotten too big to fit along the river. The area all but died away until a massive regeneration scheme known as Docklands was completed in the 1980s. It brought renewal in the form of cutting-edge architecture, galleries, restaurants, and bars. Many of the old warehouses were restored and are now used as museums or shopping malls, such as Hay’s and Butler’s wharves. The best way to explore is on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), an elevated track that appears to skim over the water past the swanky glass buildings. If you explore on foot, the Thames Path has helpful plaques along the way, with nuggets of historical information.
Firepower Royal Artillery Museum.
Adjacent to the old Royal Dockyard at Woolwich is a brilliant exhibition, the Firepower Royal Artillery Museum. The Field of Fire experience is a powerful re-creation of what it was actually like to be in the thick of the London Blitz or the D-Day Landings, complete with giant projections of archive film on all sides, live smoke effects, and a floor that quakes in time to the roar of exploding bombs. The rest of the museum explores the role of the gunner, from the discovery of gunpowder to the present day. Also on show are tanks and guns—some complete with battle scars. Housed in the old Royal Arsenal leading down to the river shore, the museum’s setting provides a powerful sense of the Thames and its lingering effect on the capital’s history. | Royal Arsenal, Woolwich | 020/8855-7755 | www.firepower.org.uk | £5:30 | Tues.-Sat. 10-5; last admission at 4 | Station: DLR: Woolwich Arsenal.
MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR TIME
Set apart from the rest of London, Greenwich is worth a day to itself—those who love maritime history will want to spend two—to make the most of walks in the rolling parklands and to immerse yourself in the richness of Greenwich’s history, science, and architecture. The boat trip takes about an hour from Westminster Pier (next to Big Ben), or 25 minutes from the Tower of London, so factor in enough time for the round-trip.
NEAREST PUBLIC RESTROOMS
Duck into Discover Greenwich, where loos are free.
Greenwich is on the prime meridian at 0° longitude, and the ultimate standard for time around the world has been set here since 1884, when Britain was the world’s maritime superpower.
Royal Observatory Highlights
The observatory is actually split into two sites, a short walk apart—one devoted to astronomy, the other to the study of time. The enchanting Peter Harrison Planetarium is London’s only planetarium, its bronze-clad turret glinting in the sun. Shows on black holes and how to interpret the night sky are enthralling and enlightening. Even better for kids are the high-technology rooms of the Astronomy Centre, where space exploration is brought to life through cutting-edge interactive programs and fascinating exhibits—including the chance to touch a 4.5-billion-year-old meteorite.
Across the way is Flamsteed House, designed by Christopher Wren in 1675 for John Flamsteed, the first Royal Astronomer. A climb to the top of the house reveals a 28-inch telescope, built in 1893 and now housed inside an onion-shaped fiberglass dome. It doesn’t compare with the range of modern optical telescopes, but it’s still the largest in the United Kingdom. Regular viewing evenings reveal startlingly detailed views of the lunar surface. In the Time Galleries, linger over the superb workmanship of John Harrison (1693-1776), whose famous Maritime Clocks won him the Longitude Prize for solving the problem of accurate timekeeping at sea, which greatly improved navigation.
Royal Observatory Tips
A brass line laid among the cobblestones marks the meridian. At night, a green laser shoots out, following exactly the path of the meridian line.
The Time Ball on Flamsteed House is one of the world’s earliest time signals. Daily at 12:58 it rises to the top and at 1, it falls.
The hill that is home to the observatory has £1-a-slot telescopes to view the skyline. The Planetarium has three daily shows (purchase tickets online.)
Romney Rd. | Greenwich | 020/8858-4422 | www.rmg.co.uk/royal-observatory | Astronomy Centre free; Flamstead house and Meridian Line courtyard £7; planetarium shows £6.50; combined ticket £11.50 | Daily 10-5 (May-Aug., Meridian courtyard until 6); last entry 30 mins before closing; last planetarium show at 4 | Closed 1st Tues. of every month except Aug. | Station: DLR: Greenwich.
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Fodor’s Choice | Cutty Sark.
This sleek, romantic clipper was built in 1869, one among a vast fleet of tall-masted wooden ships that plied the oceanic highways of the 19th century, trading in exotic commodities—in this case, tea. Cutty Sark (named after an old Scottish term for women’s undergarments) was the fastest, sailing the London-China route in 1871 in only 107 days. The clipper has been preserved in dry dock as a museum ship since the 1950s, but was severely damaged in a devastating fire in 2007. As luck would have it, however, roughly half the ship had been dismantled and taken away for cleaning at the time. The ship reopened in 2012, with hugely improved visitor facilities; not only can you tour the painstakingly restored ship in its entirety, but the glittering new visitor center (which the ship now rests directly above, in an enormous gold mount) allows you to view the hull from below. A veritable museum of seafaring life, this boat was never too comfortable for the 28-strong crew (as you’ll see). And don’t forget to take in the very amusing collection of figureheads. | King William Walk, Greenwich | 020/8858-4422 | www.rmg.co.uk | £12 | Daily 10-5; last admission at 4 | Station: DLR: Cutty Sark.
Intended as a kind of anchor point for Greenwich’s big three attractions—the Old Royal Naval College, Cutty Sark, and National Maritime Museum—this excellent, state-of-the-art visitor center includes interactive exhibitions on the history of Greenwich, plus an assortment of local treasures and artifacts. Most intriguing among them is a 17th-century “witch bottle,” once used to ward off evil spirits. Modern X-rays have revealed it to contain a mixture of human hair, fingernails, and urine. | Pepys Bldg., King William Walk, Greenwich | 020/8269-4799 | www.ornc.org/visit/attractions/discover-greenwich-visitor-centre | Free | Daily 10-5 | Station: DLR: Greenwich.
Fodor’s Choice | Eltham Palace.
Once a favorite getaway for Henry VIII (who liked to spend Christmas here), Eltham Palace has been drastically remodeled twice in its lifetime; once each during the 15th and 16th centuries, and again during the 1930s, when a grand mansion was annexed onto the Tudor great hall by the super-wealthy Coulthard family. Today it’s an extraordinary combination of late medieval grandeur and art deco masterpiece, laced with an eccentric whimsy—the Coulthards even built an entire room for the personal quarters of their beloved pet lemur. The house and its extensive gardens were fully restored when the palace finally entered public ownership in the late 1990s. | Court Rd., Eltham | 020/8294-2548 | www.english-heritage.org.uk | £9.90 | Apr.-Oct. and late Feb., Sun.-Wed. 10-5; Nov.-Mar., Sun. 10-4 | Station: Eltham.
Established as a fruit-and-vegetable market in 1700, the covered market now offers mixed stalls of art and crafts on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday; antiques and collectibles on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. You can get food to go on each market day, although the offerings are usually best on weekends. Shopping for handicrafts is a pleasure here, as in most cases you’re buying directly from the artist. | College Approach, Greenwich | 020/8269-5090 | www.greenwichmarketlondon.com | Tues.-Sun. 9:30-5:30 | Station: DLR: Cutty Sark.
Museum of London Docklands.
This wonderful old warehouse building, on a quaint cobbled quayside beside the tower of Canary Wharf, is alone worth a visit. With uneven wood floors, beams, and pillars, the museum used to be a storehouse for coffee, tea, sugar, and rum from the West Indies—hence the name West India Quay. The fascinating story of the old port and the river is told using films, together with interactive displays and reconstructions; a permanent exhibition, London, Sugar, and Slavery, outlines the capital’s involvement in the slave trade. The museum runs a highlights tour (free) on Wednesday and Sunday at 3 pm. There are also a few special themed tours per season; call or see the website for details. TIP On the second Friday of every month the museum hosts the Docklands Cinema Club, which shows rare and classic films, together with talks, inside the old warehouse. | No. 1 Warehouse, West India Quay, Canary Wharf, Canary Wharf | 020/7001-9844 | www.museumoflondon.org.uk/docklands | Free | Daily 10-6; last admission at 5:40 | Station: Canary Wharf; DLR: West India Quay.
Fodor’s Choice | National Maritime Museum.
From the time of Henry VIII until the 1940s Britain was the world’s preeminent naval power, and the collections here trace half a millennia of that seafaring history. The story is as much about trade as it is warfare; the “Atlantic Worlds” gallery explores how trade in goods—and people—helped shape the New World, while “Voyagers: Britons and the Sea” focuses on stories of the ordinary people who took to the waves over the centuries. One gallery is devoted to Admiral Lord Nelson, Britain’s most famous naval commander, and among the exhibits is the uniform he was wearing, complete with bloodstains, when he died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Temporary exhibitions here are usually fascinating; those in recent years have included the Arctic convoys of World War II and life in the British navy of the 18th century. TIP The museum has a good café with views over Greenwich Park. The adjacent Queen’s House is home to the museum’s art collection, the largest collection of maritime art in the world, including works by William Hogarth, Canaletto, and Joshua Reynolds. Permission for its construction was granted by Queen Anne only on condition that the river vista from the house be preserved, and there are few more majestic views in London than Inigo Jones’s awe-inspiring symmetry. Completed around 1638, the Tulip Stair, named for the fleur-de-lis-style pattern on the balustrade, is especially fine, spiraling up without a central support to the Great Hall. The Great Hall itself is a perfect cube, exactly 40 feet in all three dimensions, decorated with paintings of the Muses and the Virtues. | Romney Rd., Greenwich | 020/8858-4422 | www.rmg.co.uk/national-maritime-museum | Free | Daily 10-5; last admission at 4:30 | Station: DLR: Greenwich.
Fodor’s Choice | Old Royal Naval College.
Begun by Christopher Wren in 1694 as a rest home for ancient mariners, the college became a school in 1873. It’s still used for classes by the University of Greenwich and the Trinity College of Music, although you’re more likely to recognize it as a film location—recent blockbusters to have made use of its elegant interiors include Skyfall, Les Misérables, and The King’s Speech. Architecturally, you’ll notice how the structures part to reveal the Queen’s House across the central lawns. Behind the college are two more buildings you can visit. The Painted Hall, the college’s dining hall, which derives its name from the baroque murals of William and Mary (reigned jointly 1689-95; William alone 1695-1702) and assorted allegorical figures. James Thornhill’s frescoes, depicting scenes of naval grandeur with a suitably pro-British note of propaganda, were painstakingly completed between 1708-12 and 1718-26, and were good enough to earn him a knighthood. In the opposite building stands the College Chapel, which was rebuilt after a fire in 1779 in an altogether more restrained, neo-Grecian style. TIP Check the website for a great program of special events, including talks, tours, and concerts—many of them free. | Old Royal Naval College, King William Walk, Greenwich | 020/8269-4747 | www.ornc.org | Free, guided tours £6 | Painted Hall and chapel daily 10-5 (Sun. chapel from 12:30); grounds 8-6 | Station: DLR: Greenwich.
Clock Tower Antiques Market.
The weekend Clock Tower Antiques Market on Greenwich High Road has more vintage shopping, and browsing among the “small collectibles” makes for a good half-hour diversion. | 166 Greenwich High Rd., Greenwich | 020/7237-2001 | www.clocktowermarket.co.uk | Weekends 10-5 | Station: Greenwich Rail.
This quirky little museum is as fascinating and varied as the uniquely prized object whose artistry it seeks to chronicle. The simple fan is more than a mere fashion accessory; historically, fans can tell as much about craftsmanship and social mores as they can about fashion. There are 2,000 of them here, dating from the 17th century onward, often exquisitely crafted from ivory, mother-of-pearl, and tortoiseshell. It was the personal vision of Helene Alexander that brought this enchanting museum into being, and the workshop and conservation-study center that she has also set up ensure that this art form continues to have a future. If your interest is really piqued, you can attend three-hour fan-making workshops on the first Saturday of every month (£20 for the afternoon, and you have to bring your own paper. Call ahead or visit the website for booking details). TIP Afternoon tea is served in the café on Tuesday and Sunday at 2:45 and 3:45 pm—great value at £6. | 12 Crooms Hill, Greenwich | 020/8305-1441 | www.thefanmuseum.org.uk | £4; £5 with tour. Seniors and disabled visitors free after 2 pm Tues. | Tues.-Sat. 11-5, Sun. noon-5 | Station: DLR: Cutty Sark.
FAMILY | Ragged School Museum.
In its time, the Ragged School Museum was the largest school in London and a place where impoverished children could get free education and a good meal. The museum re-creates a classroom dating from the 1880s. It’s an eye-opener for adults, and fun for kids, who get the chance to work just like Victorian children did in one of the many organized workshops. TIP If you really want to get into the spirit, visitors of all ages can attend a Victorian-style lesson (first Sunday of every month, 2:15 to 3:30), complete with a fully costumed schoolmistress who tests your slate-writing technique—and might give you a dunce hat if you’re naughty. | 46-50 Copperfield Rd., Mile End | 020/8980-6405 | www.raggedschoolmuseum.org.uk | Free; £2 donation requested for Victorian lessons | Wed. and Thurs. 10-5, 1st Sun. of month 2-5 | Station: Mile End; DLR: Limehouse.
Ranger’s House and the Wernher Collection.
This handsome, early-18th-century villa, which was the Greenwich Park ranger’s official residence during the 19th century, is hung with Stuart and Jacobean portraits. But the most interesting diversion is the Wernher Collection, more than 700 works of art amassed by diamond millionaire Julius Wernher (1850-1912) and once housed in his fabulous stately house, Lutton Hoo. The collection ranges from Old and Dutch Master paintings to Renaissance jewelry and assorted pieces of decorative art and curios from the medieval period onward. Wernher’s American wife, Birdie, was a strong influence and personality during the Belle Epoque, which is easy to imagine from her striking portrait by Sargent. The Ranger’s House is just under a mile’s walk from the DLR station at Greenwich, or you can catch a bus there from Greenwich or Deptford DLR. | Blackheath, Chesterfield Walk, Greenwich Park, Greenwich | 020/8853-0035 | www.english-heritage.org.uk | £6.70 | Apr.-Sept., Mon.-Wed. guided tours only, 11:30 and 2:30; Sun. 11-5; call ahead to confirm | Station: DLR: Deptford Bridge then bus 53; or Greenwich then bus 386.
OFF THE BEATEN PATH: Thames Barrier Visitors’ Centre.
Built in the early 1980s, the Thames Barrier is the one of the largest and most high-tech flood defense systems in the world. The barrier, which is raised to protect the city during exceptionally high tides, has a starkly futuristic design—sometimes compared to a row of crashed UFOs, bobbing out of the river. Multimedia presentations, a film about the Thames’s history, working models, and views of the barrier itself put the importance of the relationship between London and its river in perspective. It’s a treat for science and engineering geeks, but perhaps a bit far out of the way if your interest is only casual. | 1 Unity Way, Eastmoor St., Woolwich | 020/8305-4188 | www.environment-agency.gov.uk/homeandleisure/floods/38375.aspx | £3.75 | Thurs.-Sun. 10:30-5; last entry at 4:30 | Station: North Greenwich, then bus 161 or 472; National Rail: Charlton (from London Bridge), then bus 177 or 180.
Up at the O2.
Certainly one of the most unique ways to see London, this thrilling urban expedition takes you on a journey across the giant dome of the O2 arena. After a short briefing, you’re dressed in safety gear and taken in small groups across a steep walkway, running all the way to the summit and down the other side. The high point (literally) is a viewing platform, 161 feet above ground, with magnificent views of the city. It’s quite an experience, but unsurprisingly there are restrictions: you have to be at least 10 years old, more than 4 feet tall, have a waist measurement that’s less than 49 inches, and weigh less than 286 pounds. Wheelchairs can be accommodated on a few tours. TIP Advanced booking is essential. | Peninsula Sq. | 020/463-2000 | www.theo2.co.uk/upattheo2 | From £25 (varies according to time and date) | Tours daily 10-10 summer, 10-6 winter | Station: North Greenwich.
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Getting Oriented | Chiswick | Kew | Richmond
Updated by Jack Jewers
The upper stretch of the Thames links a string of fashionable districts—Chiswick, Kew, Richmond, and Putney—with winding old streets, horticultural delights, cozy riverside pubs, and Henry VIII’s Hampton Court Palace. The neighborhoods along the way are as proud of their villagey feel as of their stately history, witnessed by such handsome estates as Strawberry Hill and Syon House. After the sensory overload of the West End, it’s easy to forget you’re in a capital city at all.
A GOOD WALK
From Chiswick House, follow Burlington Lane and take a left onto Hogarth Lane—which, in reality, is anything but a lane—to reach Hogarth’s House. Chiswick’s Church Street (reached by a rather unappealing underpass from Hogarth’s House) is the nearest thing to a sleepy country village street you’re likely to find in London. Follow it down to the Thames and turn left at the bottom to reach the 18th-century riverfront houses of Chiswick Mall, referred to by locals as “Millionaire’s Row.” There are several pretty riverside pubs near Hammersmith Bridge.
MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR TIME
Hampton Court Palace requires half a day to experience its magic, though you could make do with a few hours for the other attractions. Because of the distance between sights, it’s best to focus on one sight, add in some others within the area, then a riverside walk and pint at a pub.
The Original Maids of Honour.
This most traditional of Old English tearooms is named for a type of jam tart invented here and still baked by hand on the premises. Legend has it that Henry VIII loved them so much he had the recipe kept under armed guard. Full afternoon tea is served daily 2:30-6, and lunch in two sittings at 12:30 and 1:45. Or opt to take out food for a picnic at Kew Gardens or on Kew Green. | 288 Kew Rd., Kew | TW9 3DU | 020/8940-2752 | www.theoriginalmaidsofhonour.co.uk.
TOP REASONS TO GO
Explore Hampton Court Palace: Go ghost hunting or just admire the beautiful Tudor architecture at Henry VIII’s beloved home, then lose yourself in the maze as dusk begins to fall.
Go “Goth” at Strawberry Hill: The 19th-century birthplace of connoisseur Horace Walpole’s “Gothick” style, this mock-castle is a joyous riot of color and invention.
Escape to magical Kew Gardens: See the earth from above by visiting Kew’s treetop walkway at the famous Royal Botanic Gardens.
Pay your respects to Father Thames: Enjoy a pint from the creaking balcony of a centuries-old riverside pub as you watch the boats row by on the loveliest stretch of England’s greatest river.
NEAREST PUBLIC RESTROOMS
Richmond Park, Kew Gardens, and all the stately homes have public restrooms.
The District line is the best of the Tube options, stopping at Turnham Green (in the heart of Chiswick but a walk from the houses), Gunnersbury (for Syon Park), Kew Gardens, and Richmond. For Hampton Court, overland train is quickest: South West trains run from Waterloo twice an hour, with roughly half requiring a change at Surbiton. There are also regular, direct trains from Waterloo to Chiswick station (best for Chiswick House), Kew Bridge, Richmond (for Ham House), and St. Margaret’s (best for Marble Hill House). London overground trains also stop at Gunnersbury, Kew Gardens, and Richmond.
A pleasant way to go is by river. Boats depart from Westminster Pier, by Big Ben, for Kew (1½ hours), Richmond (2 hours), and Hampton Court (3 hours). The trip is worth taking if you make it an integral part of your day, and know that it gets breezy. Round trip costs between £18 and £23. For more details contact Transport For London (0843/222-1234 | www.tfl.gov.uk).
On the banks of the Thames just west of central London, far enough out to escape the crush and crowds you’ve probably just started to get used to, Chiswick is a low-key, upscale district, content with its run of restaurants, stylish shops, and film-star residents. No doubt its most famous son wouldn’t approve of all the conspicuous wealth, though; Chiswick was home to one of Britain’s best-loved painters, William Hogarth, who tore the fabric of the 18th-century nation to shreds with his slew of satirical engravings. Hogarth’s House has been restored to its former glory. Incongruously stranded among Chiswick’s row houses are a number of fine 18th-century buildings, which are now some of the most desirable suburban houses in London. By far the grandest of all is Chiswick House, a unique Palladian-style mansion born from the third Earl of Burlington’s love of classical and Renaissance architecture—a radical style at the time.
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Fodor’s Choice | Chiswick House.
Completed in 1729 by the 3rd earl of Burlington (also known for Burlington House—home of the Royal Academy—and Burlington Arcade on Piccadilly), this extraordinary Palladian mansion was envisaged as a kind of temple to the arts. Burlington was fascinated by the architecture he saw in Italy while on the Grand Tour as a young man. When his country home was destroyed by fire in 1725, he seized the chance to rebuild it in homage to those classical and Renaissance styles. The building is loosely modeled on the Villa Capra near Vicenza, while the colonnaded frontage is a partial replica of the Pantheon in Rome (which also inspired the domed roof).
The sumptuous interiors were the work of William Kent (1685-1748), his most extraordinary achievement being the Blue Velvet Room, with its gilded decoration and intricate painted ceiling. The design of Chiswick House sparked a great deal of interest—such ideas were radical in England at the time—and turned Kent into a hugely influential figure in British architecture. So great was his fame that wealthy patrons clamored to have him design anything, from gardens to party frocks.
The rambling grounds are one of the hidden gems of west London. Italianate in style (of course), they are filled with classical temples, statues, and obelisks. Also on the grounds are a café and a children’s play area. | Burlington La., Chiswick | W4 2RP | 020/8995-0508 | www.chgt.org.uk | £5.90; grounds free | Grounds daily 7 am-dusk; house Apr.-Oct., Sun.-Wed. and holiday Mon. 10-5 | Station: Turnham Green, Chiswick. National Rail: Chiswick.
Besieged by a roaring highway that somewhat spoils the atmosphere, the home of the satirist and painter William Hogarth (1697-1764) is still worth a visit by fans of his amusing, moralistic engravings (such as “The Rake’s Progress” and “Marriage à la Mode”). Sadly, the house has had an unlucky few years; closed by a fire in 2008, restoration work was then halted by a second fire the following year. However, now fully reopened, the house contains exhibition spaces devoted to Hogarth and his work. Look out for the 300-year-old mulberry tree in the garden—the remnant of a failed attempt to get silkworms to breed in England. Hogarth’s tomb can be found in the cemetery of St. Nicholas’s church on nearby Chiswick Mall. | Hogarth La., Great West Rd. (A4), Chiswick | W4 2QN | 020/8994-6757 | www.hounslow.info/arts/hogarthshouse | Free | Tues.-Sun. and holiday Mon. noon-5 | Station: Turnham Green. National Rail: Chiswick.
QUICK BITES: Some of the loveliest pubs in London sit beside the Thames at Chiswick, dotted along the northern bank of the river as far as Hammersmith Mall—the last remaining fragment of what was once a pretty old village, now all but replaced by urban sprawl.
Blue Anchor. This cozy 18th-century watering hole on the Thames overlooks Hammersmith Bridge—a High Victorian, wrought-iron suspension bridge designed by Sir Joseph Bazalgette in 1887. The rowing memorabilia on the walls hints at the Blue Anchor’s importance on the day of the annual Oxford-versus-Cambridge university boat race, when it’s an unofficial meeting point for fans and race officials. The pub serves also serves light meals. | 13 Lower Mall, Hammersmith | W6 9DJ | 020/8748-5774 | www.blueanchorlondon.com.
One of the few pubs in this upscale quarter of Chiswick that retains a proper, old-school feel, the City Barge overlooks a tiny island in the middle of the Thames. Stop for some excellent pub grub at lunchtime (modern British without too much of a gentrified edge), or just enjoy a pint and watch the river flow by. | 27 Strand-on-the-Green, Chiswick | W4 3PH | 020/8994-2148 | Station:Gunnersbury. National Rail: Kew Bridge.
Retaining the charm of its 300-plus-year heritage, the Dove has a little terrace that’s a tranquil place to watch the river flow by. Check out the Lilliputian room immediately on the right as you enter—it’s in the Guinness Book of Records for being the smallest bar in the world. | 19 Upper Mall, Hammersmith | W6 9TA | 020/8748-9474 | www.dovehammersmith.co.uk | Station: Ravenscourt Park, Hammersmith.
A mile or so beyond Chiswick is Kew, a leafy suburb with little to see other than its two big attractions: the lovely Kew Palace and the Royal Botanic Gardens—anchored in the landscape for several miles around by a towering, mock-Chinese pagoda.
FAMILY | Kew Gardens.
Enter the Royal Botanic Gardens, as Kew Gardens are officially known, and you are enveloped by blazes of color, extraordinary blooms, hidden trails, and lovely old follies. Beautiful though it all is, Kew’s charms are secondary to its true purpose as a major center for serious research. Academics are hard at work on more than 300 scientific projects across as many acres, analyzing everything from the cacti of eastern Brazil to the yams of Madagascar. First opened to the public in 1840, Kew has been supported by royalty and nurtured by landscapers, botanists, and architects since the 1720s. Today the gardens, now a Unesco World Heritage site, hold more than 30,000 species of plants, from every corner of the globe.
Although the plant houses make Kew worth visiting even in the depths of winter (there’s also a seasonal garden), the flower beds are, of course, best enjoyed in the fullness of spring and summer.
Kew Gardens Highlights
Two great 19th-century greenhouses—the Palm House and the Temperate House—are filled with exotic blooms, and many of the plants have been there since the final glass panel was fixed into place. The enormous Temperate House contains the largest greenhouse plant in the world, a Chilean wine palm rooted in 1846. (It’s so big that you have to climb the spiral staircase to the roof to get a proper view of it.) Architect Sir William Chambers built a series of temples and follies, of which the crazy 10-story Pagoda, visible for miles around, is the star turn. The Princess of Wales conservatory houses 10 climate zones, and the Rhizotron and Xstrata Treetop Walkway takes you 59 feet up into the air.
Kew Gardens Tips
Free guided tours, run by volunteers, are held daily at 11 am and 1:30 pm.
The Kew Explorer bus runs on a 40-minute, hop-on, hop-off route around the gardens every hour from 11 to 3. Tickets cost £4 in summer, £2 in winter.
Discovery Tours are adapted and fully accessible, aimed at disabled visitors.
Walking tours are £5 per group, bus tours £30 per group. Book in advance.
Enjoy tea at the Victoria Terrace Café or a meal at the Orangery or White Peaks.
Kew Rd. at Lichfield Rd., for Victoria Gate entrance, Kew | TW9 3AB | 020/8332-5655 | www.kew.org | £16.50 | Mid-Feb.-Mar., daily 9:30-5:30; Apr.-late Aug., weekdays 9:30-6:30, weekends and holiday Mon. 9:30-7:30; late Aug.-late Oct., daily 9:30-6; late Oct.-mid-Feb., daily 9:30-4:15. Last admission to park, glasshouses, galleries, and treetop walkway 30 mins before closing | Station: Kew Gardens. National Rail: Kew Gardens, Kew Bridge.
Fodor’s Choice | Kew Palace and Queen Charlotte’s Cottage.
The elegant redbrick exterior of the smallest of Britain’s royal palaces seems almost humble when compared with the grandeur of, say, Buckingham or Kensington palaces. Yet inside is a fascinating glimpse into life at the uppermost end of society from the 17th to 19th century. This is actually the third of several palaces that stood here; once known as Dutch House, it was one of the havens to which George III retired when insanity forced him to withdraw from public life. Queen Charlotte had an orné—a rustic-style cottage retreat—added in the late 18th century. In a marvelously regal flight of fancy, she kept kangaroos in the paddock outside. The main house and gardens are maintained in the 18th-century style. TIP Entry to the palace itself is free, but it lies within the grounds of Kew Gardens, to which you must buy a ticket in order to enter. | Kew Gardens, Kew Rd. at Lichfield Rd., Kew | TW9 3AB | 0844/482-7777 (only in U.K.), 020/3166-6000 | www.hrp.org.uk | Free; separate charge for entering Kew Gardens | Palace late Mar.-Sept., daily 9:30-5:30; Queen Charlotte’s Cottage late Mar.-Sept., weekends 10-4 | Station: Kew Gardens.
Named after the (long-vanished) palace Henry VII started here in 1500, Richmond is still a welcoming suburb with a small-town feel, marred only by choking levels of traffic. Duck away from the main streets to find many handsome Georgian and Victorian houses, antiques shops, a Victorian theater, a grand stately home—and, best of all, the largest of London’s royal parks.
To the west of Richmond Park, overlooking the Thames and nearly opposite the memorably named Eel Pie Island, Ham House was built in 1610 and remodeled 50 years later. It’s one of the most complete examples in Europe of a lavish 17th-century house, together with a restored formal garden that has become an influential source for other European palaces and grand villas. The original decorations in the Great Hall, Round Gallery, and Great Staircase have been replicated, and all the furniture and fittings are on permanent loan from the Victoria & Albert Museum. A tranquil and scenic way to reach the house is on foot, which takes about 30 minutes, along the eastern riverbank south from Richmond Bridge. | Ham St., Richmond | TW10 7RS | 020/8940-1950 | www.nationaltrust.org.uk | House, gardens, and outbuildings £10.90; gardens only £3.65 | House mid-Feb.-Mar., Sat.-Mon. 11:30-3:30; Apr.-Sept., Sat.-Wed. noon-4; Oct.-Nov., Sat.-Tues. 11:30-3. Gardens Nov.-mid-Feb., daily 11-4; mid-Feb.-Oct., daily 11-5 | Station: Richmond, then Bus 65 or 371.
Fodor’s Choice | Hampton Court Palace.
The seat of Henry VIII’s court, sprawled beside the Thames, Hampton Court is steeped in more history than any other royal building in England. The Tudor mansion, begun in 1514 by Cardinal Wolsey to curry favor with young Henry, conceals a larger 17th-century baroque building, partly designed by Christopher Wren. The earliest dwellings belonged to a religious order founded in the 11th century and were expanded by subsequent residents, until George II moved the royal household closer to London in the early 18th century.
Hampton Court Palace Highlights
Wander through the State Apartments and Henry’s Great Hall, before taking in the ceiling of the Chapel Royal. Reconstructions of Tudor life take place all year, from live appearances by “Henry VIII” to cook-historians preparing Tudor feasts in the 15th-century Henry’s Kitchens.
Watch for the ghost of Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Catherine Howard, who literally lost her head yet is said to scream her way along the Haunted Gallery. Joint rulers William and Mary (reigned 1689-1702), were responsible for the King’s and Queen’s Apartments and the elaborate baroque of the Georgian Rooms.
Don’t miss the famous maze (the oldest hedge maze in the world), its half mile of pathways among hedgerows still fiendish to negotiate. There’s a trick, but we won’t give it away here.
The Lower Orangery Exotic Garden displays exotic species that William and Mary collected.
In summer months, arrive in style by riverboat.
Hampton Court Palace Tips
Family tickets offer huge savings, with £46 covering two adults and up to three children.
Choose which parts of the palace to explore based on a number of self-guided audio walking tours. Come Christmas time, there’s ice-skating on a rink before the West Front of the palace.
Evening ghost tours (£28 per person) are held throughout the year. They’re a great way to see the older parts of the palace without the crowds.
Hampton Court Rd. | East Molesley, Surrey | KT8 9AU | 0844/482-7799 tickets, 0844/482-7777 information (24 hrs) | www.hrp.org.uk/hamptoncourtpalace | Palace, maze, and gardens £18.20; maze only £4.40; gardens only £6 | Apr.-late Oct., daily 10-6; late Oct.-Mar., daily 10-4:30; last admission 1 hr before closing; last entry to maze 45 mins before closing. Formal Gardens daily 10-6 summer, 10-5:30 winter. Informal Gardens daily 7-8 summer, 7-6 winter | Station: Richmond, then Bus R68; National Rail: Hampton Court Station, 35 mins from Waterloo (most trains require change at Surbiton).
Marble Hill House.
This handsome Palladian mansion is set in 66 acres of parkland on the northern bank of the Thames, almost opposite Ham House. It was built in the 1720s by George II for his mistress, the “exceedingly respectable and respected” Henrietta Howard. Later the house was occupied by Mrs. Fitzherbert, who was secretly married to the Prince Regent (later George IV) in 1785. The house was restored in 1901 and opened to the public two years later, looking very much like it did in Georgian times, with extravagant gilded rooms in which Ms. Howard entertained the literary superstars of the age, including Pope, Gay, and Swift. A ferry service from Ham House operates during the summer; access on foot is a half-hour walk south along the west bank of the Thames from Richmond Bridge. Note that entry is by guided tour only, run by English Heritage and volunteers from a local history group. | Richmond Rd., Twickenham | TW1 2NL | 020/8892-5115 | www.english-heritage.org.uk | £5.70 (guided tour only) | House and park: Apr.-Oct., Sat. 10-2, Sun. and holiday Mon. 10-5; tours 10:30 and noon on weekends, with additional tours 2:15 and 3:30 on Sun. Park only: Nov.-Mar., daily 7-5 | Station: Richmond. National Rail: St Margarets.
FAMILY | Richmond Park.
This enormous park was enclosed in 1637 for use as a royal hunting ground—like practically all other London parks. Unlike the others, however, Richmond Park still has wild red and fallow deer roaming its 2,360 acres (that’s three times the size of New York’s Central Park) of grassland and heath. Its ancient oaks are among the last remnants of the vast, wild forests that once encroached on London in medieval times. The Isabella Plantation (near the Ham Gate entrance) is an enchanting and colorful woodland garden, first laid out in 1831. TIP There’s a splendid, protected view of St. Paul’s Cathedral from King Henry VIII’s Mound, the highest point in the park. Find it and you have a piece of magic in your sights. The park is also home to White Lodge, a 1727 hunting lodge that now houses the Royal Ballet School. | Richmond | 030/0061-2200 | www.royalparks.org.uk | Free | Apr.-Oct., 7-dusk; Nov.-Mar., 7:30-dusk | Station: Richmond, then Bus 371 or 65.
Royal Ballet School and White Lodge Museum.
Though the school isn’t open to the public, it does contain the small White Lodge Museum dedicated to the history of the school and ballet in general. Entry is available during the school year only (though it sometimes opens on a handful of dates during the summer holidays—call or check the website for details). You can also book a separate tour of the ballet school, including the opportunity to observe the students practicing. Prebooking is essential. | Richmond Park | TW10 5HR | 020/8392-8440 | www.royal-ballet-school.org.uk | Free | School term, Tues.-Thurs. 1:30-3:30; occasional days in school holidays (call to check) | Station: National Rail: Mortlake, then walk to Sheen Gate (15 mins) for park-and-ride bus
QUICK BITES: White Cross.
Overlooking the Thames so closely that the waters almost lap at the door in high tide, the White Cross is a popular spot that serves traditional pub grub. | Water La., Richmond | TW9 1TH | 020/8940-6844 | www.youngs.co.uk.
Fodor’s Choice | Strawberry Hill.
From the outside, this Rococo mishmash of towers, crenellations, and dazzling white stucco is almost fairy-tale-ish in its faux-medieval splendor. Its architect, Sir Horace Walpole (1717-97), knew a thing or two about imaginative flights of fancy—the flamboyant son of the first British prime minister, Robert Walpole, he all but single-handedly invented the Gothic Revival style with his novel The Castle of Otranto (1764). Once inside, the forbidding exterior gives way to a veritable explosion of color and light, for Walpole boldly decided to take elements from the exteriors of Gothic cathedrals and move them inside. The detail is extraordinary, from the cavernous entrance hall with its vast Gothic trompe l’oeil, to the Great Parlour with its Renaissance stained glass, to the Gallery, where extraordinary fan vaulting is a replica of the vaults found in Henry VIII’s chapel at Westminster Abbey. Neglected for years, Strawberry Hill reopened in 2011 after a stunningly successful £9-million restoration. The gardens have also been meticulously returned to their original 18th-century design, right down to a white marble love seat sculpted into the shape of a shell. TIP You can book a tour of the house at twilight for £20, including a glass of Prosecco. | 268 Waldegrave Rd., Twickenham | TW1 4ST | 020/8744-1241 | www.strawberryhillhouse.org.uk | £8.40 | Timed entry, every 20 mins; Mar.-early Nov., Mon.-Wed. 2-6, weekends noon-6; last admission 1 hr 40 mins before closing. 1 wk. in early Dec., Sat.-Wed. noon-5:30; last admission 50 mins before closing. Garden daily 10-6 | Station: Richmond, then Bus 33; National Rail: Strawberry Hill Station.
FAMILY | Fodor’s Choice | Syon House and Park.
The residence of the duke and duchess of Northumberland, this is one of England’s most lavish stately homes. Set in a 55-acre park landscaped by “Capability” Brown, the core of the house is Tudor—Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Catherine Howard, and the extremely short-lived monarch, lady Jane Grey (“Queen for thirteen days”), made pit stops here before they were sent to the Tower. It was remodeled in the Georgian style in 1761 by famed decorator Robert Adam. He had just returned from studying the sights of classical antiquity in Italy and created two rooms sumptuous enough to wow any Grand Tourist: the entryway is an amazing study in black and white, pairing neoclassical marbles with antique bronzes, and the Ante-Room contains 12 enormous verd-antique columns surmounted by statues of gold—and this was just a waiting room for the duke’s servants and retainers. The Red Drawing Room is covered with crimson Spitalfields silk, and the Long Gallery is one of Adam’s noblest creations. TIP On certain Sundays and bank holidays in the summer you can take a miniature steam-train ride in the grounds. | Syon Park, Brentford | TW8 8JF | 020/8560-0882 | www.syonpark.co.uk | £11 for house, gardens, conservatory, and rose garden; £5 for gardens and conservatory | House mid-Mar.-Oct., Wed., Thurs., Sun., and bank holidays 11-5; gardens mid-Mar.-Oct., daily 10:30-5; Nov.-mid-Mar., weekends 10:30-4. Last admission 1 hr before closing | Station: Gunnersbury, then Bus 237 or 267 to Brentlea.
In the grounds of Syon Park, the Tropical Zoo is a rescue sanctuary for abused, abandoned, and illegally kept exotic pets, from snakes and tarantulas to marmosets and crocodiles. Kids get some major perks here on weekends and holidays: Not only can they handle (some of) the creatures at 11, 2, and 4, but they can help feed the tiny squirrel monkeys at 1—or just watch as the other animals get their lunch. | Syon Park | TW8 8JF | 020/8847-4730 | www.tropicalzoo.org | £7.50 | Daily 10-5:30 | Station: Gunnersbury, then Bus 237 or 267 to Brentlea stop.
The twists and turns of the Thames River through the heart of the capital make it London’s best thoroughfare and most compelling viewing point. Once famous for sludge, silt, and sewage, the Thames is now the one of the cleanest city rivers in the world. Every palace, church, theater, wharf, museum, and pub along the bank has a tale to tell, and traveling on or alongside the river is one of the best ways to soak up views of the city.
“On the smallest pretext of holiday or fine weather the mighty population takes to the boats,” wrote Henry James in 1877. You can follow in the footsteps of James, who loved the boat trip from Westminster to Greenwich, or make up your own itinerary.
Frequent daily tourist-boat services are at their height between April and October.
In most cases you can turn up at a pier, and the next departure won’t be far away. However, it never hurts to book ahead if you can.
Westminster and Tower piers are the busiest starting points, usually with boats heading east.
The trip between Westminster Pier and the Tower of London takes about 30 minutes, as does the trip between the Tower and Greenwich.
A full round-trip can take several hours. Ask about flexible fares and hop on/off options at the various piers.
Tate to Tate Boat.
The playfully polka-dotted Tate Boat ferries passengers across the river from the Tate Britain to the Tate Modern. It’s Embankment Pier stop is next to Hungerford Bridge, which takes you directly over to the London Eye on the South Bank. | Departs from the pier at either museum | 020/7887-8888 | www.tate.org.uk/tatetotate | £6.50 one-way; £12 round-trip. | Daily every 40 mins during gallery opening times; approximately 18 mins one-way
What better view to enjoy over a meal than London from the river? Bateaux London offers semi-formal lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner cruises, with surprisingly good food. Variations include jazz lunch cruises on Sundays and London Eye combo packages. Booking is essential. | Departs from Embankment Pier, Charing Cross | WC2N 6NU | 020/7695-1800 | www.bateauxlondon.com | £32-£43 lunch; £29.50-£39.50 afternoon tea; £75-£155 dinner | Sailings most days, times according to season. Afternoon cruises only on certain days in winter. Call or check online for schedule. Departures: noon (lunch), 3:15 (afternoon tea), 7:15 (dinner). Check times on the day. Boarding from 30 mins before departure.
This cruise lives up to its name, with four-course meals, snazzy cabaret acts from West End musicals, and after-dinner dancing. | Departs from Westminster Pier, Westminster | 020/7740-0400 | www.citycruises.com | £80 | May.-Sept., Wed.-Sun. 7:30 pm; Apr. and Oct., Thurs.-Sun. 7:30 pm; Mar., Nov., and Dec., Thurs.-Sat. 7:30 pm; Jan. and Feb., Fri. and Sat. 7:30 pm; boarding starts 15 mins prior to departure
FAMILY | London RIB Voyages.
Chugging down the river at a sedate pace not your cup of tea? Then maybe you’d prefer this: clip along in a Rigid Inflatable Boat (the kind of speedboat coastguards use) at up to 30 knots—that’s 34 mph, much faster than other tour boats on the river. The trip, which takes you from the Millennium Pier to Canary Wharf and back, is part conventional tour, part hang-on-to-your-hats ride. All the relevant safety gear is provided. TIP Child tickets are half the full price. Check online for other discounts and special themed tours. | Boarding Gate One, Millennium Pier(next to the London Eye), South Bank | SE1 7PB | 020/7928-8933, 07795/59-3287 boarding manager (day of sailing only) | www.londonribvoyages.com | £42 | Sailing times vary by season and weather, but generally hourly 10-4 in summer. Call or check website for daily schedule.
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