London Pictures and Information, England

Tourists kiss in front of National Gallery, LOndon, England

Romance in front of the National Gallery in central London, Trafalgar Square.

The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, Piccadilly, London, England

The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, Piccadilly, London

London top attractions

Central London is packed with things to do but is particularly good for viewing museums, art galleries, theatrical shows and historic attractions, with easy, interesting walks joining the dots. There’s good value, unusual shopping and eating too, along with plenty of kid-friendly exhibits and shriek-fests. On the downside hotels are pricey so research thoroughly and book early!
London’s museums are particularly special, stuffed with artefacts collected over hundreds of years, lovingly catalogued, beautifully displayed and, incredibly, most are free to enter. In addition, much as we love some other European museums none can equal the quality and clarity of information offered beside exhibits. And in English! Many of these collections are also awash with kid-friendly interactive displays, especially the Natural History, Science Museum and Tower of London.

British Museum floor, London, England, UK

The British Museum Central Court.

This is the world’s oldest museum, begun in 1753 and embracing items of interest going back 6, 000 years. Popular attractions include spectacular works from Ancient Egypt, Assyria, Greece, Mexico, Rome, Japan, China, India, Africa. Displays include statues, carvings, indigenous art and artefacts, coins, prints and drawings. Massive, varied, well-presented and free, the British Museum should be on any tourist list of top things to do in London.

the Victoria and Albert Museum, cafe, London, England

The V&A café, a work of decorative art in itself, quite apart from the staggering quantity of extraordinary and historic items on display.

Also known as the V & A, ‘the world’s greatest museum of art and design’ houses a fantastically diverse selection of decorative arts from around the world accumulated over hundreds of years, but with an emphasis on Europe’s Medieval and Renaissance periods.

Some think the best art gallery in London is the National Gallery but we amateur art-loverts beg to differ. Our vote goes to this relaxed, fascinating Tate Britain. Note that this is NOT the same as the upstart sibling Tate Modern that we think is one of the worst galleries.

The River Thames with Tower Bridge, HMS Belfast warship (a tourist attraction) and various ferries including two Thames Clippers

The River Thames with Tower Bridge, HMS Belfast warship (a tourist attraction) and various ferries including two Thames Clippers (low and blue on the right and far left). The right side is the South Bank of the river.

On a fine summer day this is a wonderful, almost traffic free walk beside the Thames River, popularly starting/finishing at Westminster Bridge and the London Eye or perhaps crossing on the Hungerford Bridge from Charing Cross/Trafalgar Square. A South Bank walk will meander past the lively but unattractive National Theatre, Royal Festival Hall, Gabriel’s Wharf bars and restaurants, Hay’s Galleria, the Tate Modern (turn left onto the Millennium Bridge to visit St Paul’s Cathedral) and Shakespeare’s Globe among other things, finishing/starting at Tower Bridge or cross it to see the Tower of London.

Jubilee Gardens beside the London Eye in the summer, London, England, UK

The London Eye, the city’s most popular pay-for attraction.
South Bank, near Westminster Bridge.

Until recently the world’s biggest observation wheel the London Eye (135m high) carries 3. 5 million people a year and is one of London’s top five attractions.
On a fine day passengers can see up to 40kms (25 miles) around, as far as Windsor Castle on the edge of the city. Each rotation takes 30 minutes and travels slow enough that passengers can board without the wheel stopping.

This Victorian edifice offers a superb, family-friendly look at nature over the last few million years, with plenty of hands-on exhibits. Within 100m are the Science Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum.

Westminster Abbey, London, England, UK

Westminster Abbey’s nave.

Founded in the 11th century by Edward the Confessor – who’s also buried there along with 16 other Kings and Queens – the Abbey’s stunning Gothic architecture has played host to great royal moments over the centuries – including the coronation of Elizabeth II, the funeral of Princess Diana and more recently the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
Apart from hosting royal reality shows the Abbey is also home to dazzling stained glass, grand paintings and the rich and famous dead or if they’re not actually buried there then a dramatic marble memorial will do.

Tower of ~London walls, England

The Tower of London, a riveting riverside castle-village founded around 1078 and home to the Crown Jewels and a bloody long history.

The Tower of London complex is a spacious and varied cluster of structures, starting life as a simple fortress with moat in 1078 begun on command of William I, ‘The Conqueror‘. The White Tower is 30m (90ft) high and has walls 5m (15ft) thick and is still the centre of the fort, but over hundreds of years under various kings and queens the complex has been strengthened and expanded to include a city arsenal (weapons storage), the Royal Mint (producing and storing coin of the realm) and the Crown Jewels (the spectacular ceremonial jewellery of the monarchs of England).

St Paul

St Paul’s Cathedral, City of London.

The latest St Paul’s was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and completed in 1710. This is the fifth version built since 604 AD as all the others went up in smoke. It’s 365 ft high (alert mathematicians may see some significance there) and was the tallest building in London until 1962. The interior is lavish and visitors can walk up to the Whispering Gallery and to a series of viewpoints.

Serpentine Gallery temporary pavilion, Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, London, England

This is another wild temporary pavilion – a summer tradition – for the diminuitive Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park’s Kensington Gardens, Central London. The Serpentine Gallery is five minutes walk from a new sibling, the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, to which it is linked by a bridge over the Serpentine Lake. Both galleries show extreme contemporary art and admission is free.

Hyde Park is a vast green space that encompasses a lake, Kensington Gardens, Kensington Palace, the eccentric Serpentine Gallery, Albert Memorial and Lady Diana’s Memorial Playground.

Camden Lock Market, North London (free if you can resist the shopping or exceptional foodstalls)

Camden Lock, The Stables, London, England

Camden Lock Market. A massive north London collection of absurd clothes, bizarre bric-a-brac and amazing ethnic foods.

Camden Lock Market is eclectic, anarchic, artistic, great value and where old hippies go to die. It’s been bugbog’s favourite ‘street’ market for many years. The market has now grown exponentially into a vast but still individualistic enterprise that extends to several city blocks and merges into other, newer markets of differing standards.

The Science Museum showcases scientific and technology development throughout the ages along with a wing of cutting edge technology.

Not Recommended: Madame Tussauds

Poor quality waxworks viewed at considerable price after waiting in line for perhaps hours on one of London’s least attractive streets, Marylebone Road. Get a life people! The awesome museums are real, free, astonishing and you don’t have to waste hours of your precious time in a packed and polluted part of the city!

Best Art Galleries, mostly free

People outside the National Gallery, London, UK

This is the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, dead-centre of London.

London’s variety of art galleries matches their museums

Bugbog’s favourite gallery is Tate Britain. It’s spacious, has a cornucopia of art from famous classics to hilarious, modern WTF! exhibits, and since it’s a little out of the way it’s untroubled by crowds. We also quite like the drama of the Tate Modern, home to the world’s most expensive painting at $108m, but found too many exhibits were just blah, though to be fair they rotate them regularly from their massive stash.
The National Gallery is a bit traditional for our liking but houses some of the world’s most famous art while the National Portrait Gallery – just around the corner – is diminuitive and hardly a must-see, though the BP Awards entries are usually brilliant, fascinating or both.

Another couple of worthwhile art galleries, especially in the summer are Royal Academy of Arts (off Piccadilly) and its superbly diverse and amusing Summer Exhibition, packed with buyable art from both knowns and unknowns.
The other is tiny Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park. It’s only easily reached by bus (9, 10, 52, 94, 148), car (largish parking nearby), taxi or a longish walk but often shows very avante-garde work and in the summer always has a new and peculiar pavilion custom designed by the latest futuristic architect (July to mid-October).

More Attractions

The City of London is the original city more-or-less founded by the Romans and now London’s financial and legal centre in the east that contains fine buildings both new and old, especially Tudor, one totally grotesque cultural centre called the Barbican, as well as St Paul’s Cathedral, The Tower of London and the Museum of London

Buckingham Palace. Changing of the Guard takes place at 11. 15am every day May-July and alternate days August-April. The guards, sometimes with music, march/ride down Pall Mall or Bird Cage Walk from Wellington Barracks to the Palace and the ceremony takes about 45 minutes, but is cancelled if it’s raining hard.
State Apartments Palace tours are impressive, though the gardens are a disappointment. Buckingham Palace tours are only available thru August-September.

The Houses of Parliament/the Palace of Westminster: the political centre of England, a massive Gothic building that’s beautiful to see, centrally located and possible to visit on a tour.

London Parks: Here are some photos of central London parks including maps and some attractions.

London Theatres: A map of central London theatres as well as pictures of the beating dramatic heart of the city. Theatre has been in British blood since medieval times, Shakespeare being just one of many celebrated playwrights to write history. Shows these days range widely from old fashioned to avante-garde, drama and comedy to spectacular musicals and opera, in tiny theatres or grand auditoriums. Best of all, prices are bearable due to the competition while the shows are mostly in English, of course.
The action clusters around London’s ‘West End’ and most theaters are within reasonable walking distance of Charing Cross Rail and Tube station, Waterloo Rail or Tube station, and several smaller tube stations such as Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square and Covent Garden.

Weather

Best: London’s best season is May-September but midsummer gets crowded and humidity levels may be high in late July or August. So the very best months are probably June, early July (before schools are out) and September.

Average temperatures will be around 22C (70F) and extremes up to 30C (90F). The weather can change several times a day so layered clothing, hats and umbrellas are usually advisable!

Avoid: January-March. England in winter is not only often cold (around zero), grey and wet, but daylight is in short supply. On the other hand visitors are also in short supply so accommodation will be better value and if you’re planning to spend most of your time in museums, galleries or shops what does it matter?

Fortnum and Mason shop front, London, England

Fortnum & Mason is Queen Elizabeth’s favourite shop and has royal recognition as you can see from the crown symbols liberally scattered on the shop front. In Piccadilly (a central London street off Piccadilly Circus) since 1707, Fortnum & Mason supplies fine goods and services from food halls to the ‘Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon’. It’s open 7 days a week.

London Transport

• Taxis are expensive (though knowledgeable and trustworthy).

• Minicabs that cruise late at night (not the traditional shape) are unreliable, lack knowledge of the city AND will probably try to charge way too much.

• Buses are good over short distances and better value than the tube, tho’ complex routes and queues can be a pain.

• Tube: The transport of choice for the masses is the ‘Tube’ or Underground (subway/ metro). This is often a bit grubby but usually efficient and safe.
The tube is not cheap, but most sights are in Zone 1, so if you stay in Zone 1 too and get a Zone 1 travelcard then value improves dramatically. Tube Maps are clear and free and all lines are well colour-coded, so once you’ve got that worked out it’s easy to use. Buses are included on the card so you can mix ‘n’ match according to your needs.

How to save money on the tube and buses

if you’re in London for just one or two days, at the start of each day buy a one day Travelcard, it’s WAY cheaper than buying individual tickets (and more convenient for frequent journeys).

If you’re in London for more than a few days buy an Oyster card. It’s inexpensive, stores money in it and can be topped up easily when necessary. Then simply touch it on the yellow pad on entering a bus or going thru a ticket barrier. This will deduct the correct amount for your trip, with a discount. On buses you use it only on entry, on tubes you use it twice, on entry and exit. It’s VERY convenient and reasonably priced.

London Transport: More information on getting around London, the Tube, Oyster Cards, Congestion charges, cycling, overground rail, buses, taxis, ferries and so on.

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