Things to Do in London
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.
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.
Set between the grounds of St James’s Palace and the iconic abode to the Queen of England, Buckingham Palace; few picnic spots are as breathtakingly regal as St James’s Park, a 58-acre (23-hectare) stretch, located a short stroll from many of central London’s key tourist attractions.
As well as offering a pocket of greenery amidst the urban sprawl of Central London, the Park’s proximity to Buckingham Palace makes it a popular spot to watch the daily Changing of the Guard ceremony, where the uniformed palace guards change over in an elaborate march and band performance. In addition, the park’s Horse Guards Parade hosts the annual Trooping the Colour military parade to mark the Queen's official birthday, along with the Beating Retreat, a floodlit spectacular featuring marching bands from the Cavalry and Foot Guard regiments, held each June.
The National Gallery started out quite small. In 1824, the British government purchased a collection of 38 pictures from a wealthy banker and put them on display in his townhouse, but it didn’t take long for private donations to come trickling in. The early directors dreamed of something bigger, and a larger site was soon needed to house everything the gallery would contain.
Today, the collection is kept in an impressive pantheon-style building raised on a terrace atop Trafalgar Square, with its round fountains and double-decker buses flowing by below. More than 2,300 masterworks have found their home behind the columns of the National Gallery, dating from the Middle Ages through the 20th century and including pieces from big names such as Monet, van Gogh, da Vinci, Holbein, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Ruben and van Eyck.
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.
Affectionately nicknamed ‘The Gherkin’ for its unusual shape, the dazzling glass-fronted skyscraper, 30 St Mary Axe, is among London’s most distinctive landmarks, looming 180 meters over the City of London financial district. Largely regarded as a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, the award-wining design was the work of Norman Foster and the Arup Group, and includes energy-conserving features like spiraling light wells and ventilation shafts.
The now-iconic office building opened its doors on 28 April 2004 and today is home to companies like Swiss Re and Sky News, as well as hosting London’s highest private members’ club on its top floor, and occasionally pop-up restaurants and bars, taking advantage of the magnificent 360-degree views.
London Bridge is the oldest bridge over the River Thames. While the current incarnation of the bridge dates from the 1970s, there has been a bridge in this place since around 50 AD, when the Romans drove some wooden piles into the river's mud. Since then there has always been a bridge here, and for a long time it was the only one. (Nowadays there are many bridges crisscrossing the Thames.)
Sadly, London Bridge is not one of the prettiest of the Thames bridges, although its name might be the most famous. Expecting the name to conjure up something special, people often mistakenly call Tower Bridge London Bridge. This leads to the story that an American bought London Bridge in 1968, thinking he'd bought Tower Bridge: what he did buy now spans a lake in Arizona.
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 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.
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!
More Things to Do in London
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.
The Monument to the Great Fire of London, often simply known as ‘The Monument,’ is a Doric Greek column built to commemorate the Great Fire of London. The monument, designed by Sir Christopher Wren and built between 1671 and 1677, is located near the northern end of London Bridge and has been welcoming visitors for more than 300 years. There are now many cafes and restaurants that have popped up around this historic landmark. Visitors may climb the 311 steps leading to the top of the monument, and get rewarded with spectacular views of the city of London (and a certificate of athletic prowess!). The monument was built to commemorate the Great Fire of London and to celebrate the rebuilding of the city after the destruction caused by the fire, which began in a baker’s house on Pudding Lane and raged for three days – destroying much of the city. The only buildings that survived the fire were the ones built of stone (like St. Paul’s Cathedral).
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.
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.
The political, historical and cultural heart of London, the central district of Westminster is one of the capital’s busiest areas and home to so many of the city’s top attractions that many tourists never venture far outside its boundaries. Most visitors start their tour along the Thames River waterfront, where highlights include the Houses of Parliament, the Gothic Westminster Abbey and Westminster Palace, home to the iconic Big Ben clock tower, while the famous London Eye looms on the opposite riverbank. Close by is the grand central boulevard of Whitehall, which leads to Parliament Square and the Prime Minister's official residence at 10 Downing Street; Trafalgar Square, home to Nelson’s Column and the National Gallery; the Tate Britain and, to the north, the vibrant West End Theater district. Another star attraction of Westminster is Buckingham Palace, the official home of Her Majesty the Queen, linked to the city by St James Park, The Mall and the Horse Guards Parade.
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.
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.
Piccadilly Circus is the meeting place of many of London's most famous roads. Here beautiful Regent Street (shopping heaven), famous Piccadilly (Fortnum and Mason's, The Ritz, the Royal Academy of Art), and cultural Shaftsbury Avenue intersect. In the middle of it all is the famous 1893 statue of Eros, the winged messenger of love, which commemorates Lord Shaftesbury.
The circus was originally created as part of a plan to connect Carlton House, the home of the Prince Regent who became King George IV in 1820, to Regent's Park. When Shaftesbury Avenue was created in 1885, the area became busy with traffic and advertisers saw the potential for advertising; in 1895 London's first illuminated billboards were put up in Piccadilly Circus. For the next century it was London's version of Times Square but now only one building carries billboards. For history buffs, the name Piccadilly dates from the 17th century and comes from piccadill, a type of collar or ruff.
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.
Stretching 190 meters across the famous dome of London’s O2 Arena in Greenwich, the O2 Skywalk, or ‘Up at The O2’ as it was more recently renamed, offers visitors a way to get their kicks without even setting foot inside. The landmark stadium has transformed its yellow-flagged rooftop with a vertigo-inducing fabric walkway suspended some 53-meters off the ground and offering an incredible panoramic view from its central observation platform. This is no mere rooftop stroll though – participants are decked out with climbing suits, special shoes and safety harnesses as they make the ascent in groups of 15 attached to a central safety wire, and with the climb being compared to a scaling a long open-air trampoline, it won’t just be the vistas that get your adrenaline flowing.
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.
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.
From legendary royals to pop culture icons and famous public figures; strolling the halls of the National Portrait Gallery is like taking a walk through British history. There are works dating from as early as the 13th century; Tudor portraits including Sir Thomas Cromwell, Richard III and Henry VIII, along with his six wives; and Victorian-era portraits of Queen Victoria, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde and the Brontë sisters. The modern era is well represented too, including royals like Diana Princess of Wales and the Duchess of Cambridge, actors like Alan Rickman and Helen Mirren, and instantly recognizable faces like The Beatles, Richard Branson and J.K.Rowling.
Opening its doors in 1856, the National Portrait Gallery was the first of its kind in the world and it’s now home to the world’s biggest portrait collection, featuring over 11,000 works.
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