Destination guide: London, England

London is a city where you’ll find a whole world of history and culture in each of its colorful streets. As in other cities in Europe, London has an incredible ethnic mix, which gives a certain edge to this area of the United Kingdom.

On travelling through this fascinating city, you’ll find a large number of tourist attractions, among which are Westminster Abbey (a church where the remains of the Royal Family are buried and where important marriages are usually held), the Tower of London, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, Kew Royal Botanical Gardens, the Greenwich National Maritime Museum and the British Museum, as well as the numerous parks scattered throughout London.

  • London - Things to do

    Sights

    British Museum

    One of London’s most visited attractions, this museum draws an average of five million punters each year through its marvellous porticoed main gate on Great Russell St (a few go through the quieter Montague Pl entrance). One of the world’s oldest and finest museums, the British Museum started in 1749 in the form of royal physician Hans Sloane’s ‘cabinet of curiosities’ – which he later bequeathed to the country – and carried on expanding its collection (which now numbers some seven million items) through judicious acquisition and the controversial plundering of empire.

    It’s an exhaustive and exhilarating stampede through world cultures, with galleries devoted to Egypt, Western Asia, Greece, the Orient, Africa, Italy, the Etruscans, the Romans, prehistoric and Roman Britain and medieval antiquities. The museum is huge, so make a few focused visits if you have time, and consider the choice of tours. There are nine free 50-minute eyeOpener tours of individual galleries throughout the day, and 20-minute eyeOpener spotlight talks at 1.15pm focusing on different themes from the collection. Ninety-minute highlights tours leave at 10.30am, 1pm and 3pm. If you want to go it alone, audioguide tours are available at the information desk, including a family-oriented one narrated by comedian, writer and TV presenter Stephen Fry.

    One specific to the Parthenon Sculptures (aka the Parthenon Marbles or Elgin Marbles) is available in that gallery. You could also check out Compass, a multimedia public access system with 50 computer terminals that lets you take a virtual tour of the museum, plan your own circuit or get information on specific exhibits. The British Museum is planning to build a major new extension in its north-western corner, to be completed in 2012. The new building will have, among other things, a gallery dedicated to special exhibitions and a conservation and science centre.

    Latitude: 51.5193243592000 / Longitude: -0.1272372878170
    Sub-Type: Museum
    Telephone Number: +44 7323 8000
    Opening Hours: galleries 10am-5.30pm Sat-Wed, to 8.30pm Thu & Fri, Great Court 9am-6pm Sun-Wed, to 11pm Thu-Sat
    Pricing
    : admission free, £3 donation suggested
    Address: Great Russell St
    Transportation Type: underground rail
    Details: Tottenham Court Rd or Russell Sq
    Website: www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk

    Leadenhall Market

    Like stepping into a small slice of Victorian London, a visit to this dimly lit, covered mall off Gracechurch St is a minor time-travelling experience. There’s been a market on this site since the Roman era, but the architecture that survives is all cobble-stones and late-19th-century ironwork; even modern restaurants and chain stores decorate their facades in period style here. The market also appears as Diagon Alley in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

    Latitude: 51.5127705285878 / Longitude: -0.0834757089615
    Sub-Type: Market
    Opening Hours: public areas 24hr, shop opening times vary
    Address: Whittington Ave
    Transportation Type: underground rail
    Details: Bank

    London Eye

    It’s difficult to remember what London looked like before the landmark London Eye began twirling at the southwestern end of Jubilee Gardens in 2000. Not only has it fundamentally altered the skyline of the South Bank but, standing 135m tall in a fairly flat city, it is visible from many surprising parts of the city (eg Kennington and Mayfair). A ride – or ‘flight’, as it is called here – in one of the wheel’s 32 glass-enclosed gondolas holding up to 28 people is something you really can’t miss if you want to say you’ve ‘done’ London; 3.5 million people a year give it a go.

    It takes a gracefully slow 30 minutes and, weather permitting, you can see 25 miles in every direction from the top of what is the world’s tallest Ferris wheel. Save money and avoid the queues by buying online.

    Latitude: 51.5032932307610 / Longitude: -0.1198196411133
    Sub-Type: Tower
    Telephone Number: +44 870 500 0600
    Opening Hours: 10am-8pm Oct-Apr, to 9pm May, Jun & Sep, to 9.30pm Jul & Aug, closed 1 week in Jan
    Pricing: adult/4-15yr/senior £17/8.50/14
    Address: Jubilee Gardens, South Bank, S80 4PW
    Transportation Type: underground rail
    Details
    : Waterloo
    Website: www.londoneye.com

    Tower of London

    The absolute kernel of London with a history as bleak and bloody as it is fascinating, the Tower of London should be first on anyone’s list of London’s sights. Despite ever-growing ticket prices and the hordes of tourists that descend here in the summer months, this is one of those rare pleasures: somewhere worth the hype. Throughout the ages, murder and political skulduggery have reigned as much as kings and queens, so tales of imprisonment and executions will pepper your trail.

    Latitude: 51.5080604553223 / Longitude: -0.0758653655648
    Sub-Type: Castle
    Telephone Number: +44 844 482 7777
    Opening Hours: 9am-5.30pm Tue-Sat, 10am-5.30pm Sun & Mon Mar-Oct, closes 4.30pm daily Nov-Feb, last admission 30min before closing time
    Pricing: adult/5-15yr/senior & student/family £17/9.50/14.50/47
    Address: Tower Hill
    Transportation Type: underground rail
    Details
    : Tower Hill
    Website: www.hrp.org.uk

    Trafalgar Square

    In many ways this is the centre of London, where rallies and marches take place, tens of thousands of revellers usher in the New Year and locals congregate for anything from communal open-air cinema to various political protests. The great square was neglected over many years, ringed with gnarling traffic and given over to flocks of pigeons that would dive-bomb anyone with a morsel of food on their person. But things changed in 2000 when Ken Livingstone became London Mayor and embarked on a bold and imaginative scheme to transform it into the kind of space John Nash had intended when he designed it in the early 19th century.

    Traffic was banished from the northern flank in front of the National Gallery, and a new pedestrian plaza built. The front of the National Gallery itself was dolled up with a new facade and entrance hall, and feeding pigeons was banned. Countless cultural events are held here, showcasing the city’s multiculturalism, with celebrations for Russian, Jewish and Chinese New Year, plus African music concerts, film screenings and so on. In recent years, Trafalgar Sq has become a top protest venue too, with demonstrations against the conflicts in Gaza, Sri Lanka and other international hot potatoes taking place here.

    The website www.london.gov.uk/trafalgarsquare allows you to see what events are taking place on the square. The pedestrianisation has made it easier to appreciate not only the square but also the splendid buildings around it: the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery and the newly renovated church of St Martin-in-the-Fields. The ceremonial Pall Mall runs southwest from the top of the square. To the southwest stands Admiralty Arch, with The Mall leading to Buckingham Palace beyond it. To the west is Canada House (1827), designed by Robert Smirke. Standing in the centre of the square since 1843, the 52m-high Nelson’s Column (upon which the admiral surveys his fleet of ships to the southwest) commemorates Nelson’s victory over Napoleon off Cape Trafalgar in Spain in 1805.

    Latitude: 51.5080052500000 / Longitude: -0.1280369920000
    Sub-Type: Square, Plaza
    Address: Cockspur St Transportation Type: underground rail
    Details: Charing Cross

    Eat

    Butlers Wharf Chop House

    A poster child for early Modern British cuisine, the Chop House continues to create upmarket variants on bangers and mash, bubble and squeak and fish pie, as well as ‘new-old’ arrivals like Old Spot pork from Gloucestershire and spatchcock chicken. A great view of Tower Bridge (which could be your main reason for visiting) is part of the deal but best enjoyed from an outdoor table.

    Sub-Type: Modern British
    Telephone Number: +44 7403 3403
    Pricing: mains £15.50-22.50, 2-/3 course set lunch £19.50/24.50, dinner £22/26
    Price Range: Moderate
    Address: 36e Shad Thames
    Extras: Butlers Wharf Bldg
    ]Transportation Type: underground rail
    Details
    : Tower Hill
    Website: www.chophouse.co.uk

    Chakalaka

    This South African restaurant, done up in brash tiger patterns and colours, serves springbok and kudu (both types of antelope), ostrich, zebra and other creatures that are usually seen grazing – not being grazed on – and is probably best visited on a dare. It also has bobotie (£11), a very South African dish of spiced minced meat baked with a breadfruit-custard topping, on the menu. Good selection of South African wines.

    Latitude: 51.4599567022243 / Longitude: -0.2123987674713
    Sub-Type: South African
    Telephone Number: +44 8789 5696
    Opening Hours: lunch Sat & Sun, dinner daily
    Pricing: mains £10-25
    Price Range: Moderate
    Address
    : 136 Upper Richmond Rd
    Transportation Type: underground rail
    Details: East Putney
    Website: www.chakalakarestaurant.co.uk

    Chinese Experience

    One of the new wave of Chinatown restaurants, this simple yet smart place presents a full range of Chinese cooking, from Cantonese to Peking to Sichuan. The staff are impeccably polite, and the prices are good value for the high standards. Definitely one of Chinatown's best.

    Latitude: 51.5123882695445 / Longitude: -0.1306664943695
    Sub-Type
    : Chinese
    Telephone Number: +44 20 7437 0377
    Price Range: Low Address: 118 Shaftesbury Ave, Covent Garden, W1
    Transportation Type: underground rail
    Details: Leicester Sq
    Website: www.chineseexperience.com

    Entertaiment

    Passing Clouds

    One of those little flickers of nightlife brilliance, Passing Clouds is a ‘members club’ that actually hosts massive parties open to everyone (admission around £8) and go on until the early hours of the morning. The music is predominantly world oriented, with a lot of African influence and regular Afrobeat bands; the parties are a healthy mix of DJs and live music with a multicultural crowd that really makes you feel you’re in London. The decor is makeshift bar, colourful lanterns and tropical titbits, and the atmosphere is just exhilarating. Well worth checking out.

    Latitude: 51.5425206800000 / Longitude: -0.0750056780000
    Type: Night
    Sub-Type: Club
    Telephone Number: +44 7168 7146
    Opening Hours: 10pm-4am Fri & Sat, hr vary Mon-Fri
    Address: Richmond Rd
    Transportation Type: underground rail / Details: Old St or
    Transportation Type: underground rail Details: Dalston Kingsland
    Transportation Type: bus Details: 243, 55 or 76

    White Swan

    This traditional pub in Twickenham overlooks a quiet stretch of the Thames from what must be one of the most English-looking streets in London. It boasts a fantastic riverside location, a great selection of beer and a loyal crowd of locals. Even if you are not in Twickenham, the White Swan is worth a detour.

    Latitude: 51.5126887354378 / Longitude: -0.0411236286163
    Type:
    Night
    Sub-Type: Pub
    Telephone Number: +44 20 7780 9870
    Opening Hours: 21:00-02:00 Tue-Thu, 21:00-04:00 Fri & Sat, 18:00-00:00 Sun
    Address: 556 Commercial Rd, Twickenham, E14
    Transportation Type: train
    Details: Twickenham
    Website: www.bjswhiteswan.com

    Wigmore Hall

    This is one of the best concert venues in town, not only because of its fantastic acoustics, beautiful art nouveau hall and great variety of concerts and recitals, but also because of the sheer standard of the performances. Built in 1901 as the recital hall for Bechstein Pianos, it has remained one of the top places in the world for chamber music. The Sunday-morning coffee concerts (adult/concession £12/10) and the lunchtime concerts at 1pm on Monday (adult/senior £12/10) are both excellent value.

    Latitude: 51.5165596000000 / Longitude: -0.1483111830000
    Type: Night
    Sub-Type: Live Performance
    Telephone Number: +44 7935 2141
    Pricing: admission £6-50
    Address: 36 Wigmore St, Mayfair, W1
    Transportation Type: underground rail
    Details: Bond St

    Events Overview

    London is a vibrant city year-round, with no end of annual events, both traditional and modern. From New Year’s Day to New Year’s Eve there will be festivities and activities aplenty in the British capital.

    January

    On 31 December there’s the famous countdown to midnight on Trafalgar Sq – London’s biggest bash, but one worth avoiding unless you love crowds.

    London Art Fair

    Business Design Centre, Islington

    Over 100 major galleries participate in this contemporary art fair, now one of the largest in Europe, with thematic exhibitions, special events and the best emerging artists.

    www.londonartfair.co.uk

    Chinese New Year

    Chinatown, Soho

    In late January/early February, Chinatown fizzes, crackles and pops in this colourful street festival, which includes a Golden Dragon parade, and eating and partying aplenty.

    February

    Pancake Races

    Spitalfields Market, Covent Garden & Lincoln's Inn Fields

    On Shrove Tuesday, in late February/early March, you can catch pancake races and associated silliness at various venues around town.

    March

    Head of the River Race

    Thames, from Mortlake to Putney

    Some 400 crews participate in this colourful annual boat race, held over a 7km course.


    April

    London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival

    This vibrant event is one of the best of its kind in the world with hundreds of independent gay-themed films from around the world shown over a fun, party-intensive fortnight at the National Film Theatre.

    www.rallyesitges.com

    London Marathon

    Greenwich Park to the Mall

    Some 35,000 runners cross London in the world’s biggest road race.

    www.virginlondonmarathon.com

    Oxford & Cambridge Boat Race

    From Putney to Mortlake

    Big crowds line the banks of the Thames for this annual event, where the country’s two most famous universities go oar-to-oar. Dates vary each due to the universities’ Easter breaks, so check the website.

    www.theboatrace.org

    May

    Chelsea Flower Show

    Royal Hospital Chelsea

    The world’s most renowned horticultural show attracts the cream of West London society and is never far from controversy.

    www.rhs.org.uk

    June

    Royal Academy Summer Exhibition

    Royal Academy of Arts. Burlington House, Piccadilly

    Beginning in June and running through August, this is an annual showcase of works submitted by artists from all over Britain, distilled to a thousand or so pieces.

    www.royalacademy.org.uk

     

    Trooping the colour

    Horse Guards Parade, Whitehall

    The Queen’s official birthday (she was born in April but the weather’s better in June) is celebrated with much flag-waving, parades, pageantry and noisy flyovers.

    www.trooping-the-colour.co.uk

    Wimbledon lawn tennis championships

    For two weeks the quiet south London village of Wimbledon is the centre of the sporting universe as the best players on earth gather to fight for the championship. While it’s as much about strawberries, cream and tradition as smashing balls for those in attendance, the rest of the capital is riveted by the women and men’s finals that take place on the final weekend of the tournament.

    www.wimbledon.com

    July

    Pride London

    The gay community in all its many fabulous guises paints the town pink in this annual extravaganza, featuring a morning parade and a huge afternoon event on Trafalgar Sq (although the location changes frequently).

    www.pridelondon.org

    BBC Promenade Concerts (The Proms)

    Two months of outstanding classical concerts at various prestigious venues, centred on the Royal Albert Hall in Kensington.

    www.bbc.co.uk/proms

     

    August

    Notthing Hill Carnival

    Europe’s biggest – and London’s most vibrant – outdoor carnival is a celebration of Caribbean London, featuring music, dancing and costumes over the summer bank holiday weekend.

    www.thecarnival.tv

    September

    Thames Festival

    Celebrating London’s greatest natural asset, the River Thames, this cosmopolitan festival provides fun for all the family with fairs, street theatre, music, food stalls, fireworks, river races and culminating in the superb Night Procession.

    www.thamesfestival.org

    London Open House

    One of London’s biggest treats, for a weekend in late September, the public is invited in to see over 700 heritage buildings throughout the capital that are normally off-limits. A unique chance that has Londoners and visitors alike heading to their favourite places in droves.

    www.londonopenhouse.org

    October

    Dance Umbrella

    London’s annual festival of contemporary dance features five weeks of performances by British and international dance companies at venues across London.

    www.danceumbrella.co.uk

    London Film Festival

    National Film Theatre & various venues

    The city’s premier film event attracts big overseas names and is an opportunity to see over 100 British and international films before their cinema release. There are masterclasses given by world-famous directors and Q&A sessions with the cream of Hollywood and independent moviemakers too.

    www.lff.org.uk

    November

    Guy Fawkes Night (Bonfire Night)

    One of Britain’s best-loved traditions, Bonfire Night commemorates Guy Fawkes’ foiled attempt to blow up Parliament in 1605. Bonfires and fireworks light up the night on 5 November and effigies of Fawkes are burned, while young kids run around asking for 'a penny for the guy'. Primrose Hill, Highbury Fields, Alexander Palace, Clapham Common and Crystal Palace Park are the places to aim for to see the best firework displays.

    Lord Mayor's Show

    In accordance with the Magna Carta of 1215, the newly elected Lord Mayor of the City of London travels in a state coach from Mansion House to the Royal Courts of Justice to seek their approval. The floats, bands and fireworks that accompany him were added later.

    www.lordmayorsshow.org


    December

    Lightning of the Christmas tree & lights

    A Heat-magazine favoured celebrity is normally carted in to switch on all the festive lights that line Oxford, Regent and Bonds streets, and a huge Norwegian spruce is set up in Trafalgar Sq.