Things to Do in London
Portobello market is world renowned for its antiques market with over 2,000 specialist dealers and vast crowds of bargain hunters, but the two-mile long sprawl includes a plethora of other goods. Vintage clothing, local designers and handcrafted accessories make up the fashion section of the market, with an array of unique and trend-setting pieces on offer, and plenty of incognito celebrities scouring the clothing racks. Hoards of eccentric retro memorabilia, one-of-a-kind furniture and second-hand household items, a wide range of bootlegged music and vinyl and a sprawling fruit and vegetable market, make up the rest of the stalls.
The street market is open six days a week but the Saturday market (which includes the main antiques market) is the most popular and crammed with vendors. There’s plenty to keep you occupied when you’ve finished shopping too – a number of independent art galleries, vintage clothing boutiques, bars and chic cafés.
Marylebone Village is an affluent area within central London and has been a fashionable neighborhood since the 17th century. Many famous people have lived in this area, and today it is a popular shopping district. Several hotels are located here so visitors interested in shopping in this area can stay nearby. Dozens of trendy retail shops can be found in Marylebone Village including both big brands and independent stores. Come here to shop for clothing, shoes, accessories, and more. Home stores located here are a great place to find items to decorate and furnish your home.
Many beauty and cosmetics shops are also located here, as well as spas and wellness centers for a little extra pampering and relaxation. For entertainment, there are movie theaters, a few museums, art and music galleries, and book stores. Two cooking schools are also located here. When you get hungry, you can find plenty of options for restaurants, cafes, and pubs.
Opened in 1930, the Cambridge Theatre is one of the younger theaters in London’s West End. Standing on a narrow corner and made of steel and concrete, it provides an early example of a London theater adopting the modern, expressionist style that was popular in Germany in the 1920s. Inside, however, theater-goers will see bronze friezes depicting nude figures in a variety of poses, marble columns and concealed lighting. Red décor replaced the original gold and silver color scheme in the 1950s, while chandeliers and candelabras were added then as well. The theater seats more than 1200 on three levels and has hosted both plays and musicals over the years, though it functions best as a musical venue due to its size. Matilda the Musical has been playing since 2011.
So infamous is the East London Street of Brick Lane that there was even an award winning novel and movie penned with the same name. The street, running from Bethnal Green to Whitechapel via the equally famous Spitalfields, has a rich multicultural history, first as home to a sizable Jewish population and more recently, as a settlement for many of London’s Bangladeshi immigrants. These days, Brick Lane and its surroundings are renowned for showcasing the eclectic and retro arts and fashions of the East End, as well as the being the destination of choice for curry lovers.
Brick Lane has earned itself a reputation as the go-to destination for sourcing vintage threads, with its annual Alternative Fashion Week cementing its status as an innovative and fashion-forward region of up and coming designers. Vintage stores and retro boutiques are dotted along the street, alongside a growing population of young, local designers, but the real draw cards are the weekly markets.
Few historic ships can boast of voyages as great as the Golden Hinde, whose round-the-globe expedition between 1577 and 1580, captained by Sir Francis Drake, was one of the great journeys of the Elizabethan era.
Today, a full sized reconstruction of the iconic ship, originally called the ‘Pelican’ and renamed the Golden Hinde mid-voyage, stands at Bankside along the River Thames, offering visitors the chance to step onboard and learn about the galleon’s great adventures. As well as peeking into the cabins and engine room, costumed actors and interactive tours allow visitors to discover the life of a Tudor sailor, and it’s even possible to help raise the anchor and fire the guns.
Home to the largest collection of British Art in the World, the Tate Britain has a legacy dating back to 1897 and is part of a series of four Tate Museums around England, sharing between them a collection of almost 70,000 works.
Devoted solely to British artists, the permanent exhibitions feature works from the turn of the 16th century until the 20th century, with works by artists like Hogarth, Gainsborough, Whistler and Barbara Hepworth. Most notable are the sizable galleries dedicated to romanticists Constable and William Blake, and the biggest collection of paintings by J.M.Turner in the world. With the Tate playing host to the notoriously controversial annual Turner Prize, contemporary artists also feature considerably and the acclaimed 20th-century galleries present works by Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon and Tracey Emin. The Tate Britain is the oldest of the four Tate Museums founded by Sir Henry Tate and is housed in a Grade II listed building on Millbank.
As the official London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury for almost 800 years, Lambeth Palace has a long and significant history, but for most visitors, it’s the building itself that garners the most attention. The palace’s 15th-century monumental gateway, known as Morton's Tower, is an imposing sight, but the oldest parts of the building, including Langton's Chapel and the Crypt date back to the early 13th-century.
Today, Lambeth Palace is open to the public by guided tour only, which grant visitors’ access to the Archbishop of Canterbury's lavishly decorated State Rooms, the Chapel, Atrium and Crypt, the 10-acre gardens and the magnificent, recently renovated Great Hall.
More Things to Do in London
Few addresses hold the majesty of ‘Number One London’, the official address for the central London abode of Apsley House, located at Hyde Park Corner. Once home to the Duke of Wellington, the Georgian manor was built between 1771-1778 and remains remarkably preserved with much of its interior design and furnishings dating back to the start of the Duke’s residency in 1817. The stunning house, a popular attraction in itself, became an English Heritage site in 1947 and is now home to the Wellington Museum where the Duke’s personal collection of art and artifacts – many gifted to him in thanks for his military successes – are on display.
This London church, with its massive decorated dome, is considered a precursor to the city’s famous St. Paul’s Cathedral. It is one of the finest of architect Christopher Wren’s churches with its Corinthian columns and modern white marble altar designed by sculptor Henry Moore. The altar’s design and placement in the middle of the church was at the time controversial.
It was constructed from 1672-1679, after the medieval church on which it stands was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. It is an Anglican Parish church steeped in history and tradition and is often named as a jewel of English architecture. The 65 foot dome masterfully supported by columns and arches is celebrated, as is its illumination and use of natural light through strategically placed windows. Many consider it to be one of the most important buildings in England.
With its abundance of oriental restaurants, striking Paifangs (monumental archways) and colorful lanterns swaying in the wind, it’s easy to know when you’ve stumbled into London’s Chinatown. Located at the heart of Soho and a short stroll from Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus, it serves as a popular route for walking tours, as well as being one of the top destinations for eating out in the city. London’s Chinatown dates back from the 20th century, but was originally based in Limehouse in the East End, only moving to its current location in the 1970s. Today, the main thoroughfare is Gerrard Street, on and around which dozens of Asian restaurants can be found, including Japanese sushi bars, Korean eateries and traditional teahouses, as well as a number of Chinese supermarkets, reflexology and massage parlors, and Chinese medicine practitioners. The lively district is most atmospheric after dark, but the best time to visit is during the annual Chinese New Year celebrations.
The St Katharine Docks are located in the London district of Tower Hamlets. These docks were once the commercial docks serving the north side of the River Thames east of the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge. Today the docks serve as a yachting marina, and the area has been turned into an urban living and leisure area. There are public and private housing options, office buildings, a large hotel, retail shops, restaurants, pubs, and other recreational facilities.
Several commuter river boats, river ferries, and scenic river cruises pass St Katharine Docks and stop at St Katharine Pier. The area also hosts special events throughout the year. There is a food market every Friday from 11am to 3pm featuring local and international food options. Occasionally there is a cinema at sea event. The docks also host clipper races and boating festivals.
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.
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.
The most exclusive shopping street in London, Bond Street is where you’ll find flagship stores for brands like Burberry and Bvlgari, Dior and Louis Vuitton. Officially split up into two streets that run between Oxford Street and Piccadilly in London’s West End, the southern section, known as Old Bond Street, was built in the 1680s under the command of Sir Thomas Bond, while the longer northern section, New Bond Street, was built 40 years later.
Since its inception, Bond Street has been the playground of London society’s most stylish and influential people, and former residents include Admiral Horatio Nelson and Lady Emma Hamilton. Today, Bond Street continues to be one of the most expensive strips of real estate in the world, and the Georgian and Victorian townhouses are famously home to Aspreys of London — jewelers to the royal family — and the capital’s most upscale art galleries and high-end antique stores.
Commissioned by King James I in 1616, the magnificent Queen’s House was originally a gift for his Queen, Anne of Denmark, but remained unfinished at the time of her death, completed instead by King Charles I in 1638. Designed in an innovative Palladian style by architect Inigo Jones, the grand garden villa remains one of the principal landmarks of Greenwich, now standing proud at the entrance to the vast Greenwich Park.
The Queen’s House is now owned by the National Maritime Museum and houses part of the museum’s art collection as well as an impressive array of Royal portraits. The lavish interiors are also open to the public, including highlights like the ‘Tulip Staircase’, the Great Hall, with its striking black and white marble floor, and a range of 17th-century furnishings.
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.
Both an iconic landmark and a prestigious performance venue, the National Theatre is one of England’s most renowned performing arts centers and a mainstay of London’s theater scene since it opened back in 1963. Even from the outside, it’s an imposing sight, looming over the waterfront of London’s Southbank, and its unmistakable yet rather unattractive concrete façade has long divided public opinion. The National Theatre boasts four purpose-built auditoriums (the Olivier, Lyttelton, Dorfman and Temporary theatres), as well as an open-air performance space in the forecourt, a bookshop and a collection of bars, restaurants and cafés open to the public. The theatre’s ever-changing roster of shows includes over 20 new productions each year, with past hits including West End favorites like 'War Horse' and 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time'; classic plays like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Tempest; and contemporary musicals like Wonder.land.
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