Things to Do in London - page 2
Overlooking the Thames in central London, Somerset House was originally built at the behest of Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and lord protector of England. In its original incarnation it was a grand Tudor palace, and one of the first examples of Renaissance architecture in England. Over the years Somerset house served as residence to Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Anne of Denmark, and General Fairfax. It was even used to display Oliver Cromwell’s body after his death in 1658.
Over time the original Tudor Palace fell into disrepair, and by the mid-19th-century Somerset house had been demolished and rebuilt as a grand and imposing neo-classical “national building,” housing various public offices. Today Somerset House functions primarily as a public space and cultural hub. Inside you can find the acclaimed collection of the Courtauld Gallery, cafes and restaurants, and visitors can enjoy free historical guided tours.
London is full of dark, terrifying history. At the London Dungeon you can experience the terror of fleeing the Great Fire of London, of being sentenced and sent to Traitor's Gate, or - worst of all - be beheaded or burned at the stake!
Walk in the footsteps of serial killer Jack the Ripper, or sit in the barber seat of notorious murderer Sweeney Todd. Whichever way you like to be terrified, the London Dungeon will send shivers down your spine.
Soho is one of London's most famous areas. Bounded by Charing Cross Road, Oxford Street, Regent Street and Shaftesbury Avenue, it's a close-knit tangle of busy streets with some of London's best cafes (Bar Italia), music venues (Ronnie Scott's), pubs (the French House), shops, nightclubs and history. Once famed as a seedy red-light area, now it's a cultural hub, full of actors, artists, musicians, and the center of London's gay scene.
In summer, people flock to lovely Soho Square to loll on the lawn. In winter, stroll Carnaby Street and famous Liberty department store for fashion, or eat decadent cakes at Princi in Wardour Street. Sit outside Bar Italia and celebrity spot, especially before and after theater shows on the nearby Shaftesbury Avenue.
London is full of huge parks which the locals refer to as the lungs of the city. Hyde Park is one of the biggest and best known. Another of Henry VIII's hunting grounds, it is now a place of concerts, art and horse-riding. The famous Peter Pan sculpture is in the park, as is the Princess Diana memorial fountain.
You can row boats on the Serpentine lake, sit on The Lido in the summer or even swim if you are brave enough. Head to Speakers Corner, the home of free speech. In winter, the park has an ice rink for skating. But most people just bring a picnic and a football or a book, and while away the day in fresh air surrounded by rolling lawns and majestic trees.
The busiest shopping street in Europe, London’s Oxford Street is home to over 300 stores—from the capital’s flagship Primark to the country’s second-biggest department store—art deco showstopper Selfridges.
Following the old Roman road to Oxford for a mile and a half, Oxford Street runs from Marble Arch in the west end to Tottenham Court Road in the east end, and some of the other flagship stores you’ll find include Debenhams, House of Fraser, John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, and the world’s biggest Topshop — it covers five floors, 90,000 square feet of retail space, and sees a whopping 28,000 visitors a day. It hasn’t always been glitz and glamour for Oxford Street, though. The road was once notorious as the route prisoners would have to take from Newgate Prison to reach the gallows near Marble Arch. You wouldn’t know that today, especially in winter when the whole street sparkles as it gets decked in Christmas lights.
Owing legendary status to its monopoly board incarnation – the most expensive property on the board, no less – Mayfair maintains its reputation as one of Central London’s most affluent districts – it was even the birthplace of Her Majesty the Queen. Stretching between Oxford Street, Piccadilly and Regent Street, and bounded by Hyde Park to the West, the area was named after the May Fair held there during the 17th and 18th centuries.
The district’s principal shopping streets include the world famous Bond Street, home to Balenciaga, Christian Louboutin, Jenny Packham and Marc Jacobs, among others and Saville Row, legendary for its exquisite men’s tailoring.
It’s not just shopping that draws visitors to the streets of Mayfair – there are around 20 art galleries in the area, as well as the Handel House Museum, set inside the former home of the renowned composer, and the Royal Academy of Arts lies on the cusp of Picadilly.
At the heart of London’s Westminster district, the aptly named Parliament Square is a pocket of greenery at the epicenter of some of the capital’s most significant buildings and makes a popular photo opportunity for tourists, as well as being the site of many public protests and demonstrations. Notable buildings include the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben to the east, Westminster Abbey to the south, the Supreme Court to the west and Her Majesty's Treasury and the Churchill War Rooms to the north.
Parliament Square is also home to a prominent collection of statues of legendary statesmen, both from the UK and overseas, and including Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Oliver Cromwell and Richard I, 'The Lionheart, as well as the most recent addition, Gandhi.
Lined with grand Victorian buildings and big-name shopping boutiques, Regent Street was London's first dedicated shopping block, dating back to the early 19th century. Running for just over a mile (2 km) between Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Circus, the historic boulevard is now both a major traffic thoroughfare and one of London's busiest streets, welcoming more than 7.5 million annual visitors.
Regent Street is well-established as a shopping Mecca, with over 75 flagship stores including Liberty department store, Hamley’s Toy Store and one of the world’s largest Apple stores, plus designers like Burberry, J.Crew, Anthropologie and COS. Above the dazzling shopfronts, the street is also home to an impressive array of Grade II listed buildings, including the All Souls Church, built by acclaimed architect John Nash, and an eye-catching collection of contemporary street art.
There has been a theater on the site of Her Majesty's since 1705, but this incarnation opened in 1897 as a fine example of Victorian civic architecture. Today, the theater is part of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Group of entertainment venues, including six theaters throughout London's razzle-dazzle West End.
With a capacity of 1,100 in the main auditorium, Her Majesty's Theatre has been showing the fabulous Phantom of the Opera musical—known for its spectacular stage sets and Lloyd Webber's opera-lite score—since its world premiere in 1986, notching up a record-breaking run of more than 12,000 performances. The show plays to packed audiences nightly.
The theater was given a thorough overhaul in 2014, with many of its paintings cleaned and the stalls re-gilded. The 2.5-hour Phantom of the Opera performance runs Monday through Saturday at 7:30pm, with matinees on Thursday and Saturday at 2:30pm. A variety of afternoon tea and dinner packages are available.
More Things to Do in London
Equally as renowned as New York’s Broadway Theater District, London’s West End is widely acclaimed for its award-winning theater productions and vast variety of shows and musicals. Seeing a ‘West End Show’ is a popular pastime for tourists and locals alike, with regular performances of a number of world renowned titles like Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats, The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, Blood Brothers and many award-winning film actors from both England and the United States choosing to take to the West End stages. Recent hits like The Lion King, Mamma Mia! and We Will Rock You, have helped increase West End visitors to over 13 million annual show-watchers.
On any trip to London, it's important to celebrity spot. Especially if Robert Pattinson or The Queen are in town. But if they prove to be camera-shy you'll find them more co-operative at Madame Tussauds, in fact, I bet they'll hang out with you for hours. But don't expect deep conversation. Because, of course, Madame Tussauds is a long-established and now worldwide waxworks collection.
Madame Tussaud was a Frenchwoman who made wax death masks during the French Revolution. She brought this travelling exhibition to London and it proved so popular - these heroes and villains were the celebrities of their time -that it's been a permanent fixture at the Baker Street site since 1884. These days you can wander freely among many contemporary heroes of stage, screen, music, sports, politics etc. Their clothing is often bought at celebrity auctions increasing the realism, their hair and makeup is restyled regularly, and each figures costs $125,000 to make!
You think you know what food markets are all about? Borough Market will change your mind, as this is a place of food dreams. On Thursday, Friday and especially Saturday, you’ll find both the locals doing their weekly shopping and people who have caught the train in from all over London just to buy the specialties on offer here.
Borough Market has things you won’t find anywhere else. Prepared food, meats, fish, chocolates, fruits, vegetables – all sold by people who love food and can tell you exactly what you’re buying, how it was grown or made. Foodie paradise.
There has been a market in this London Bridge area since the 11th century; it’s been on this site since the 13th century and in St Mary’s Churchyard triangle since the 18th. In the last decade, Borough Market has really won its reputation as London’s best local produce market as some of England’s most innovative and quality growers and food-makers have set up stalls.
The aptly named Green Park is one of London’s eight royal parks. The smallest and most modest of the collection, the park is peaceful Green Park is peaceful with many trees and trails but no buildings. There are only a handful of monuments, including the Canada Memorial, which honors Canadians who lost their lives during both world wars. There is a walkway that represents Britain and Canada’s joint participation in the wars.
The 47-acre area is located in Westminster, situated between the nearby Hyde and St James parks, and it is not uncommon to see picnickers, joggers and dogs enjoying the park as they please, especially during the summer months.
Discover the history of London’s famous gin at the city’s first gin distillery visitor center. The iconic Beefeater Gin Distillery opened its doors to visitors in 2014, with the aim to tell the story of London’s legendary gin production. Visitors are whisked on a journey back to London’s 18th-century gin heyday, walking down a recreation of William Hogarth's famous Gin Lane, through a Victorian-era Covent Garden where the herbs, fruits and flowers to flavor the gin were sourced, and peeking into 'Burrough's American Bar', where the secrets of gin cocktails are unveiled.
The experience is split into two areas, starting with the interactive exhibition space, accompanied by personal iPad guides, and followed by a guided tour of the distillery, where you’ll see the original copper stills, learn more about the art of gin making and enjoy a complimentary gin and tonic at the distillery bar.
The grand focal point of the Maritime Greenwich UNESCO World Heritage site, the Old Royal Naval College (ORNC) is an impressive architectural feat, stretching along the banks of the River Thames. Originally designed as a Royal Naval Hospital, the ORNC was the work of legendary architect Sir Christopher Wren (whose other masterpieces include St Paul’s Cathedral) and was built on the site of the Greenwich Palace, the birthplace of Henry VIII.
The magnificent classical buildings, with their twin domes, striking colonnaded façade and vast lawns now serve as the dramatic centerpiece of Greenwich and offer a fascinating introduction to the neighborhood for visitors. Highlights of a visit include the Discover Greenwich Visitor Centre, where exhibitions are devoted to the ORNC and Greenwich’s maritime heritage; Sir James Thornhill’s spectacular Painted Hall; and the neo-classical style Chapel of St Peter and St Paul.
Standing proud on Greenwich dock, the Cutty Sark is one of London’s principal maritime attractions, the world’s only surviving tea clipper and an iconic landmark of Greenwich pier. One of only three surviving period ships built in its style, the Cutty Sark, designed by Hercules Linton, was constructed in 1869 for the Jock Willis Shipping Line and was one of the fastest tea clippers built on the cusp of the steamship revolution. The 963-ton vessel is now a popular tourist attraction, listed on the National Historic Ship Register and housing a museum that not only tells the story of the ship but allows visitors to explore the ship’s interiors, restored to their former glory. Visitors can explore the cargo holds and living quarters of the merchant seaman; walk the decks and look out to sea from the helm; and delve into the fascinating stories of the ship’s epic voyages.
The 330-meter-long steel Millennium Bridge stands over the River Thames, connecting the St. Paul’s Cathedral to the north with Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and the Tate Modern at the southern end of the structure.
Due to a noticeable swaying motion, which had some people clinging to the rails feeling seasick and others enjoying the exhilarating ride, the structure had to be closed down only two days after opening in June, 2000. Although it took almost another two years to complete the necessary repairs, install dampeners and make the bridge more stable, it had already become widely famous in the two days it was accessible and earned itself the nickname “Wobbly Bridge.” The suspension bridge is no longer wobbly, but it is still an interesting way to cross the Thames. And due to its low-hanging support beams and rods, the bridge offers nice views of both the City of London and the South Bank.
Making a name for itself in the 16th-century as the center of London’s printing and publishing industry, it seemed fitting that Fleet Street would be the birthplace of London’s first daily newspaper, the Daily Courant in 1702, and the street quickly became the de facto home of the British Press. Dozens of the country’s major newspaper offices and publishing headquarters once resided on Fleet Street, including Reuters, The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Express and the Metro, and although few remain, ‘Fleet Street’ is still used by Londoners to reference the city’s press.
Fleet Street’s most notorious former resident, however, is the fictional Sweeney Todd, the ‘Demon Barber of Fleet Street’ and the villainous star of several musical productions and films, including Tim Burton’s 2007 hit. If you believe the tales, the murderous Todd owned a barber’s shop at no. 186, where his victims were killed, then baked into pies by his neighbor Mrs. Lovett.
One of London’s most atmospheric Victorian shopping arcades, Leadenhall Market has a history dating back to the 14th century, making it one of the capital’s oldest covered markets. Restored in the early 90s, the majority of Leadenhall’s current design dates back to 1881 and is the work of architect Sir Horace Hones - a striking mix of Portland stone pillars, gabled red brick entryways and exquisite paintwork, capped with dramatic glass and iron vaulted ceilings.
Today, Leadenhall hosts a small meat and fresh produce market during the week, but is best known for the many shops, cafes and restaurants that line its cobbled lanes, as well as making a popular stop for fans of the Harry Potter films – the distinctive arcade was famously immortalized on screen as Diagon Alley in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
Earning renown as an alternative fashion Mecca during the 1960s, Carnaby Street was once the hippest place to shop, home to iconic boutiques like Mary Quant, Lord John, Marion Foale and Sally Tuffin, and frequented by music icons like The Who and the Rolling Stones. In fact, the famous shopping street has become so synonymous with Swinging London that it’s been name-checked in pop hits like The Kinks’ ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’ and TV shows like The Simpsons, and even inspired a musical of the same name.
Today, Carnaby Street is decidedly more demure, but the pedestrianized shopping district still retains its left-of-centre attitude, as well as its distinctive yellow arches and two plaques commemorating mod fashion pioneer John Stephen and The Small Faces (outside no.1 and no.52 respectively). Of course, the main reason to visit Carnaby Street is the shops and there are plenty to choose from, including many independent fashion.
Greenwich is a quaint village area of London just downriver from central London. It is most famous for its maritime history and as home to the Royal Observatory. Located at zero degrees of longitude, all the world's time zones begin here with Greenwich Mean Time. Greenwich was also once a fashionable 17th century retreat from London and there is much grand architecture to be seen including the magnificent Observatory, the Queen's House and the National Maritime Museum.
A 15th-century royal palace, at one time home to Henry VIII and birthplace of Elizabeth I, it was rebuilt in the 18th century and is now the Old Royal Naval College. Don't miss the Painted Hall which took 19 years to complete.
Kings Cross was named after a monument for King George IV but the area was settled much, much earlier. St Pancras old church originated in 4BC. These days it's most famous for its train station: Kings Cross/St Pancras. From here trains go all over England, including to Hogwarts if you can find Harry Potter's Platform 9 3/4. It's also home to Eurostar, which whisks you to Paris and Brussels.
The surrounding area is slowly edging its way out of being one of the seediest parts of London. The magnificent St Pancras building is coming back to life as a posh hotel, the British Library is just down the road, and of course, the station redevelopment is full of shops and restaurants.
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