Things to Do in London - page 3
The Banqueting House is nothing short of one of London’s finest establishments; it is, in fact, the only remaining component of the Palace of Whitehall –the main residence of London-based English monarchs between 1530 and 1698, including prominent members of the Tudor and the Stuart families like Bloody Mary and Henry VIII. At 1500 rooms and 23 acres in surface, it had grown to be the largest royal palace in Europe before it was destroyed by fire.
The Banqueting House actually played a significant role in English history: it is where King Charles I’s was executed and where the Declaration of Rights was read to new King and Queen William and Mary, before it was granted to the Royal United Service Institute for use as a museum by the philanthropic Queen Victoria in the late 1800s.
Today one of the largest wholesale meat markets in all of Europe, Smithfield Market has been buying and selling meat and poultry for over 800 years. Also known as London Central Markets, this is the largest historic market still standing in the City of London.
Early risers can still witness some of Britain’s finest meats being hand-picked by London restaurateurs, or purchase their own meats, poultry, olive oils and cheese. The structure itself is known for its bright colors and Victorian architecture, and many visitors combine their visit to the market with a stop at one of the trendy Farringdon-area restaurants.
London’s most famous fictional detective is the focus of the eponymous Sherlock Holmes Museum, located at 221b Baker Street, the legendary address from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories. According to the stories, this was where Sherlock Holmes and his famous sidekick Doctor Watson lived between 1881 and 1904, and the character’s legacy has become so important to London tourism that the house is now under government protection.
The privately run museum is devoted to the life and times of Sherlock Holmes, with the house interiors faithfully recreated according to the texts. Holmes’ characteristic Victorian-style study is located on the first floor overlooking Baker Street; Doctor Watson’s bedroom is above on the second floor; the lumbar room is full of lodgers’ suitcases; and Holmes’ attic bedroom is found in typical disarray.
Renowned throughout Victorian times as the home of the working class, the birthplace of Cockney Rhyming Slang and the stomping ground of the notorious Jack the Ripper, London’s East End has long been associated with the grittier side of the capital. But despite its rough-around-the-edges image, the East End remains one of Londoners’ favorite haunts and its high population of young and immigrant residents has made it one of the city’s most cosmopolitan and ever-evolving districts, teeming with fashion-forward nightclubs, vintage emporiums and modern art galleries.
Since the Olympic Games took over the city in 2012, East London has undergone a 21st-century makeover, with the vast Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park now sprawling over Stratford and a cluster of glitzy shopping malls and chic eateries springing up around it.
The grounds that once hosted athletes from all over the world has since then been turned into the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Though obviously constructed for the games, the site has expanded beyond the stadium and now serves as a major component of East London; the area is now open to the public and includes new shops, restaurants, trails, galleries and venues. The Olympic Park has been designed to host Londoners and visitors long after the completion of the games in summer 2012.
Sports reign supreme here, as they should in an area where world records were once broken. The state of the art Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre comes equipped with 10 court and two hockey pitches available for public use year-round. There’s also the one-of-a-kind VeloPark open for all sorts of two-wheeled fun, from track cycling and road racing to BMX and mountain biking.
A spiraling red steel tower looming 114 meters over the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, the ArcelorMittal Orbit’s bold design has polarized opinions since its conception. There’s no denying, however, that it’s an impressive feat of structural engineering and well on its way to becoming one of London’s most iconic landmarks. Erected in honor of the 2012 Olympic Games, the unique creation was a collaborative effort between artist Anish Kapoor, designer Cecil Balmond and steel-and-mining company ArcelorMittal, built using about 2,000 tons of steel, more than half of which was recycled.
Fans of Harry Potter will be familiar with the importance of Platform 9 ¾. The fictional platform is located at the very real King's Cross train station in London between platforms 9 and 10. In the Harry Potter books and films, Platform 9 ¾ is where the Hogwarts Express can be boarded on September 1 at 11am. There is a wrought iron archway in between platforms 9 and 10, and the students must walk or run directly at what appears to be a solid wall barrier.
Due to the logistics of platforms 9 and 10, filming of Platform 9 ¾ actually took place between platforms 4 and 5. But so many people came to see Platform 9 ¾ that eventually half of a luggage cart was permanently installed to look like it is going through the archway. Harry Potter fans from around the world come here to have their picture taken with the luggage cart. There is also a Harry Potter themed shop located nearby where you can purchase a wide variety of souvenirs and prop replicas.
Camden Market is actually a group of markets including Camden Lock Market, Camden Stables Market, and Camden Canal Market. It's the largest street market in the UK and has been going since the 1970s. Here you can find everything and anything from books, to clothing, to designer jewellery, CDs, food, and alternate fashions. You might even see a few famous musicians, and you'll definitely see some unique fashion statements!
Camden is a lively area full of cafes, pubs, and live music venues. Camden Market is a place to wander and follow your eyes, your ears, and your nose.
If you only visit one store in London, make it Harrods. Established in 1834, it's now world-famous with good reason. It's a place to explore and be amazed by, more than just a department store. With seven floors of retail, the garish Egyptian escalator, sometimes a live opera singer performing in the stairway, memorials to Princess Diana and the renowned Food Hall, you'll be lost in Harrods for hours.
In fact it's such an iconic part of London, it even has its own range of souvenirs! Harrods also has a wonderful specialized range of tea, designer fashions, luxury accessories, cosmetics, furniture, books, and a number of tea rooms and restaurants in which to regain your strength.
More Things to Do in London
From the awe-inspiring dinosaur skeletons to the fascinating creepy-crawlies gallery, London’s Natural History Museum is a trove of curiosities sure to impress all ages. The gigantic museum dates back to 1881 and houses some 70 million specimens, organized into four color-coded discovery zones and hundreds of interactive exhibitions.
As well as learning about human biology and evolution; marveling over fossils and rocks; and seeing a life-size model of a blue whale, visitors can experience an earthquake simulator, challenge themselves with interactive quizzes and get up close to birds, flowers and insects in the wildlife garden. Notable highlights include a huge Diplodocus skeleton and an animatronic T-Rex in the Dinosaurs Gallery; the mind-boggling taxonomy collection in the Darwin Centre; and the Human Evolution Gallery, home to the first adult Neanderthal skull ever discovered.
The Royal Albert Hall in London was opened in March 1871 by Queen Victoria and was named for Prince Albert. Its original purpose was to serve multiple functions as a central hall to promote the understanding and appreciation of the arts and sciences. The building hosts concerts, exhibitions, public meetings, scientific conversations, and award ceremonies. It is also registered as a charity held in trust for the nation, but it receives no funding from the government and is financially self-sufficient.
More than 350 events are held in the Hall's main auditorium each year including classical music, jazz, folk and world music, rock and pop concerts, circus, opera, dance, comedy, tennis, awards ceremonies, and film premieres. Many of the world's greatest artists have performed here, from Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, and the Beatles, to more modern acts. The Hall also hosts events of national significance such as the Royal British Legion's annual Festival of Remembrance.
Covent Garden is an area of London centered on a popular covered market in the heart of London. Once a monks' convent garden in the 13th century, it quickly developed into a fruit and vegetable market for the city, was redeveloped in 1630 by the Earl of Bedford to be ringed by fashionable residences modeled on Italian piazzas, then became a center for theater and opera. Today the covered market building is a home to shops selling gourmet and specialist foods and souvenirs. The Royal Opera House remains located in Covent Garden, and the piazza area is long famous for its street performers.
Within the wider area known as Covent Garden are many more theaters and a wonderful tangle of narrow streets full of some of London's best shops. Floral Street, Long Acre, Shorts Gardens, Neal Street and Mercer Street have some of London's best and most diverse shopping, leading towards the area Seven Dials, where seven streets converge.
Just west of London’s famous Hyde Park, the exquisite Kensington Gardens are one of London’s most historic Royal Parks, once forming the private grounds of Kensington Palace. Stretching over 275 acres, the garden’s principal features include the snaking Serpentine lake, an ornamental round pond and an idyllic Dutch garden, dating back to early 18th-century designs by Henry Wise and Charles Bridgeman.
A number of attractions are interwoven by a series of formal avenues, lined with trees and ornamental flowerbeds. A beautiful statue in tribute of Prince Albert (husband of Queen Victoria) takes center stage at the Albert Memorial, a six-meter tall Roman sculpture known as ‘The Arch’ stands proud on the north bank of the pond and the 150-year-old Italian Gardens feature a striking white marble Tazza Fountain.
The vibrant heart of central London, Leicester Square is among the capital’s most important navigational landmarks, located at the center of the West End Theater District, on the cusp of Soho and Chinatown. Leicester Square is always buzzing with activity during the evening hours and has long been renowned as the center of the capital’s film industry, home to 5 of the city’s biggest cinemas and regularly rolling out the red carpet for star-studded European Premieres.
Recent renovated, Leicester Square remains one of the top destinations for an evening out in London, with dozens of bars, nightclubs, casinos and restaurants, including favorites like the Häagen-Dazs restaurant, M&M World, Wagamama and Pizza Hut. Also on the square is the Trocadero shopping and entertainment center, a number of ticket booths offering cut-price West End theater tickets and several of the city’s most luxury hotels.
A cultural melting pot by day with glittering riverside views at night, London’s South Bank is one of the city’s most vibrant destinations. Best known for its proximity to so many of London’s prime attractions, South Bank is opposite the Houses of Parliament, a mere stroll from Covent Garden and the Tate Modern and home to the London Eye, the Imperial War museum and the renowned Royal Festival Hall. Despite the tourist hoards, this stretch along the Thames waterfront (an area running from Lambeth to Blackfriars bridges) maintains its laid-back London cool and makes for an idyllic stroll through the heart of the city. And with everything from music concerts to art galleries crammed into the area, the only problem is deciding where to go first.
It might be the grand centerpiece of the Southbank Centre, Central London’s renowned cultural hub, and among the capital’s most famous classical music venues, but the Royal Festival Hall is also an impressive landmark in its own right. Located in a Grade-I listing building on the banks of the River Thames, the concert hall first opened its doors in 1951 during the Festival of Britain and now boasts a newly restored 2,500-seat auditorium and the lavish Clore Ballroom.
The Royal Festival Hall is best known as the home of the prestigious London Philharmonic orchestra, and the venue is used throughout the year for a host of classical music recitals, pop concerts, operas and ballets, including a number of annual music and cultural festivals.
Largely recognized as the world’s greatest museum of art and design, the Victoria and Albert Museum, often nicknamed ‘the V&A’, is one of the capital’s premium museums, taking over a 12.5-acre plot in central London’s South Kensington. Opened back in 1852 and designated in honor of the reigning monarch Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, the museum’s vast collection is spread throughout an incredible 145 galleries and spans 5,000 years of creativity.
Containing over six and a half million objects sourced from all around the globe, the free permanent collection is split into four main departments - Asia, Furniture, Textiles and Fashion; Sculpture, Metalwork, Ceramics & Glass and Word & Image. Most notable are the Medieval & Renaissance galleries where a magnificent series of sculptures, carvings and artworks mark the birth of art as we know it; the Jewelry Gallery, with its glittering collection of jaw dropping jewels and the British Galleries.
The world's largest maritime museum, this site offers an impressive gallery displaying 500 years of Britain's history with the sea. In total the collection has nearly 2.5 million items, some of which are on loan to other museums across Britain. Visitors can spend hours viewing the maritime art, cartography, ship models and plans, manuscripts and navigational instruments on display, not to mention the ship simulator and interactive exhibits located on the second floor.
One of the most unique offerings of the museum is the Sammy Ofer wing, which houses special exhibitions, a permanent gallery, an extensive library and a cafe with views of Greenwich Park. All together, the National Maritime Museum, the Queen’s House and the Royal Observatory form the Maritime Greenwich UNESCO World Heritage site. Along with the Cutty Sark, a British clipper ship on display in the area, this collection of historical sites is now known as Royal Museums Greenwich.
Few London addresses are as famous as 10 Downing Street, a Grade I listed Georgian townhouse and the official residence and office of the British Prime Minister since 1735. Centuries of government meetings, important decisions and more than a few scandals have taken place behind the property’s iconic black door (which can be opened only from the inside and even the Prime Minister is not given a key) and former residents have included everyone from Winston Churchill to Margaret Thatcher to Tony Blair.
For security reasons, access to Downing Street is limited to government officials only and visitors can do little more than peek through the police patrolled iron gates, but it’s still a popular inclusion on visitor’s itineraries, and there’s always the chance of spotting the Prime Minister himself. Those wanting to get a closer look can follow the video tour on the Downing Street website or, if you’re lucky, join one of the Open House London tours.
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