Romance in front of the National Gallery in central London, Trafalgar Square.
London Pictures: Best Things to Do
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.
The British Museum (free)
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.
Victoria and Albert Museum (free)
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.
London Eye (pay)
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.
Natural History Museum (free)
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 (pay)
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 (pay)
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’s Cathedral (pay)
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.
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 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.
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!
London Pictures: More Things to Do and See
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 is the political centre of England, a massive Gothic building that’s beautiful to see, centrally located and possible to visit on a tour.
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.
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?