Whether you arrive in London via the underground or inside one of the city's ubiquitous black taxicabs, you will immediately be greeted by a deep sense of history and met with the unique vibrancy of this incredible destination.
In its dark and troubled past, the city of London has survived Roman occupancy, sackings from the Celts, Romans, Vikings and Saxons, a Norman invasion, two great fires, the bubonic plague and Nazi bombings. This resilient and proud city promises something for everyone and is one of the most iconic tourist destinations.
The London Eye lifts visitors high above the river into stretching urban vistas. Further down on the South Bank, the Tate Modern contains one of the world's most incredible collections of Modern Art, while the city's 30,000 stores and boutiques will exhaust even the most avid shopper, and its 6,000 restaurants are only too eager to demonstrate why Britons revere their chefs as celebrities.
For those interested in exploring the country's heritage, the Tower of London is an excellent starting-point. First constructed in the 11th century, the Tower has been rebuilt several times as later monarchs have left their mark. Still one of London's biggest attractions, and a great celebration of pomp that is free to all visitors, is the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, which happens daily.
As the great dome of St Paul's reflects the colours of the setting sun, London comes alive with an unrivalled nightlife. For those up for something more energetic than dinner and the West End musicals and theatre, London has a vast number of bars and nightclubs catering to all tastes.
Madame Tussauds is the most famous wax museum gallery in the world, with more than 400 life-sized models of stars, famous politicians, royals, comic book characters and sportsmen, as well as exhibits presenting the most infamous criminals the world has known. Inside the museum, the 'Spirit of London' ride will take you through the city's history, introducing you to those figures that have shaped the London of today, while the 'A-list Party' section will introduce you to the museum's collection of celebrities, and the 'Scream' exhibition will terrify and delight visitors in equal measure. A must-see tourist sight in London, visitors are advised to book their tickets online in advance, as the queues for tickets outside Madame Tussauds can be very long.
The Tower of London is perhaps as famous for its traditions as its imposing structure, located on the Thames River. It is guarded by a special band of Yeoman Warders, known as Beefeaters, and dotted with several large, black birds - the ravens. Legend has it that if the ravens ever leave the Tower, a great tragedy will befall England, and to this day the birds are protected by royal decree. The Tower's history dates back to the 11th century, and each new monarch has played a role in its growth and development. It also houses Britain's famous crown jewels, a spectacular display of some of the world's finest gems and workmanship. The Tower is next to Tower Bridge, another famous London landmark.
The Beatles' 1969 album Abbey Road was recorded at this unassuming studio in St John's Wood, London. While many other famous bands, including Pink Floyd, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, U2, Kate Bush, Radiohead, Oasis and Sting, all recorded tracks here, it is almost always the Beatles fans who make the pilgrimage to take their pictures walking across the famous zebra crossing on Abbey Road, which featured on the album cover. The studio building itself is a Grade II listed building, and is not open to the public. There is some fan graffiti and some Beatles-themed coffee shops and the like near the studio, but tourists shouldn't go expecting much to see and do; it is simply a famous London landmark for lovers of rock music.
Located right in the middle of London, Hyde Park is a huge patch of green and blue tranquillity in the midst of the bustling city. Covering 350 acres, it features restaurants, fountains, monuments and flower gardens, and offers a range of activities including ice skating, swimming, boating, tennis, cycling and horse riding. There are also playgrounds for children and spaces for team sports.
One of Hyde Park's most famous attractions is Speaker's Corner, where people of all opinions come to share them freely. While Speaker's Corner attracts its fair share of unconventional characters, there are usually lively debates, and famous personalities like Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and George Orwell were participants in their day.
Housed in the former Bankside Power Station, which has been transformed by Swiss Architects Herzog & de Meuron into a spectacular new modern building, the Tate Modern is Britain's greatest museum of modern art. It showcases an exhaustive collection, featuring works from 1900 to the present day, including works by Dalí, Picasso, Matisse, Rothko and Warhol, as well as temporary exhibitions by contemporary artists. There is also an exceptional roof café, which affords spectacular views over London, and an impressive gift shop. A must-see attraction for visitors to London, you will be sorely remiss to pass up a visit to the Tate Modern.
The National Gallery has an imposing and regal façade stretching across the northern side of Trafalgar Square, and houses over 2,300 paintings from every major European school of painting from the 13th to the 19th centuries. It was opened in 1938 at its present location, which was chosen for its situation between London's wealthier West End and poorer East End, as a 'gallery for all'. These days, admission to the National Gallery is still free, and its cultural programme has swelled to include weekly classical music concerts, an on-site cinema, and a variety of excellent themed gallery tours. There are also restaurants and coffee bars to choose from in the National Gallery, in case you need to refuel while perusing the magnificent art on display.
The British Museum is widely regarded as the world's greatest museum of human history and culture. Containing more than 13 million artefacts from all corners of the globe, the British Museum boasts an overwhelming collection of fascinating objects. Most prized among its collection are its famous antiquities, which include the Parthenon Frieze (or Elgin Marbles), the Rosetta Stone and the Roman Portland Vase, which dates from the 1st century AD. The iconic Great Court with its incredible glass roof covering two acres greets visitors as they enter, and stairwells lead down to the Reading Room, which has been completely restored. Visitors to London should not miss out on the British Museum, which is one of the world's great cultural troves. Budget at least half a day to get a sense of the wealth of history housed within the museum, and don't be surprised if you actually need about three full days to take it all in.
At 443ft (135m) tall, and weighing more than 250 double-decker buses, the London Eye is a truly spectacular feature of London's skyline. Offering incredible views of most of London's major attractions, and an opportunity to put the city's geography into perspective, it is a must-see attraction for first-time visitors to England's capital city. Originally designed by architects David Marks and Julia Barfield as an entry for a Millennium Landmark competition, the project took six years and the expertise of hundreds of people from five European countries to turn it into a reality. Often featured in big-budget movies, and regularly touted as one of the best things to see and experience in London, make sure you include a ride on the London Eye in your UK holiday itinerary. Wheelchair-bound visitors will be delighted to know that both the London Eye and all its on-site facilities are fully accessible.
Situated on the bank of the Thames, just 656ft (200m) from the site of Shakespeare's original Globe Theatre, this fantastic recreation will transport visitors back to the time of the very first productions of Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night. The reconstruction took a total of 10 years to complete at a cost of over £40 million, and now houses a professional theatre company responsible for regular productions of the Bard's famous plays. Adjacent to the theatre is the Globe Exhibition, presenting graphic information about the reconstruction of the theatre, and bringing to the fore the life and works of Shakespeare with interactive displays and live demonstrations. Visits to the exhibition include a tour of the theatre. Tours depart roughly every 30 minutes.
No visit to London would be complete without experiencing the pomp and ceremony of the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, but now visitors can actually get a peek inside during the annual summer opening of the State Rooms, and see some of the Queen's private art collection at the Queen's Gallery (which also hosts various art exhibitions). Originally the town house of the Dukes of Buckingham, Buckingham Palace has served as the official London home of Britain's monarchs since 1837. Look to see whether the Royal Standard (not the Union Flag) is flying, which indicates that the Queen is in residence.
Harrods, which former proprietor Mohamed Al Fayed called his 'Palace in Knightsbridge', promises one of the most extravagant and luxurious shopping experiences in the world. With 22 restaurants, and a wide range of departments and services across its seven floors, it is easy to see why this is the shopping choice of London's social elite. With its prominent position on Brompton Road, Harrods is hard to miss - especially at night, when the entire façade is illuminated by a grand total of 11,500 light bulbs. The UK's biggest store by a long way, Harrods certainly makes good on its motto Omnia Omnibus Ubique - All Things for All People, Everywhere.
Camden Market is one of the most exciting shopping experiences London has to offer. Even if you're just browsing, Camden Market is still definitely worth a visit for its huge variety of food, antiques, bric-a-brac and clothing stalls, bars, nightspots and crowds of people ranging from the beautiful to the bizarre. Although the punk scene in London has gone underground, it still seems to flourish here, and you're sure to bump into some interesting characters. Just be sure to ask permission before photographing anyone. Boat rides are also available on the canal which passes through Camden Lock - a fun way to spend some time between browsing the stalls. Although Camden attracts mostly the young and trendy, the market has become more commercial and mainstream than it once was and some real bargains can be found.
Greenwich is the home of the Greenwich (or Prime) Meridian, which splits the globe into East and West, and is responsible for setting the world clock on zero degrees longitude. Apart from this curious distinction (which has earned Greenwich UNESCO World Heritage Site status), Greenwich has a host of other attractions, including the Greenwich Market with its variety of arts, crafts, food and bric-a-brac, Sir Christopher Wren's Royal Observatory, and the National Maritime Museum. Greenwich Park is beautifully landscaped and is an ideal location for a picnic lunch. The famous tea-clipper ship, the Cutty Sark, was damaged by a fire in 2007 but has been extensively restored and is once again open to the public.
Take a trip through London's dark and gruesome history, meet Jack the Ripper and see what became of his victims, or see the chaos and destruction caused by the great fire of London. The London Dungeon brings history's most notorious killers and evildoers back to life in an experience definitely not for the faint-hearted. Beware: some of the exhibitions have a nasty way of coming alive and jumping out at the unsuspecting visitor! The tours last about 90 minutes and are very funny as well as scary. The experience can be enjoyed by both Adults and kids.
The great dome of St Paul's Cathedral has been a distinctive landmark on the London skyline for centuries. Built in 1673 by Sir Christopher Wren, after the previous St Paul's was burnt to the ground during the Great Fire of London, it is the greatest of several cathedrals dedicated to St Paul that have occupied the site for more than 1,400 years. The crypt at St Paul's is one of the largest in Europe, and it houses more than 200 tombs, including those of Admiral Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and Wren himself. The Cathedral has hosted many significant ceremonies in London's history, including the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill and the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana.
Surrounded by neon advertising and fast-food restaurants, Piccadilly Circus is London's answer to New York's Times Square and, at the junction of Piccadilly, Regent Street and Shaftesbury Avenue, it is the gateway to the West End. With its highly accessible tube station, Piccadilly Circus is a good starting point for those wanting to enjoy London's finest shopping district, being near to Jermyn Street, Saville Row, Regent Street and Bond Street. London's Theatreland is centred on nearby Shaftsbury Avenue, and Soho and China Town are also within easy walking distance. Piccadilly Circus is one of London's meeting points, an atmospheric hub conveniently providing access to a number of famous attractions and streets.
There are always plenty of child-friendly musicals and shows playing on London's West End, perfect for family holidaymakers looking to soak up some of the great atmosphere of London's Theatre District. Some West End favourites include The Lion King, Roald Dahl's and the relatively new School of Rock Taking in a theatrical performance on London's West End is one of the iconic tourist experiences that the city has to offer, for children and adults alike, and will be a spectacular amusement for the whole family.
Children will love visiting this world-renowned toy store, located in the heart of London on famous, bustling Regent Street. Hamleys is one of the world's largest toy stores, with six floors of magical, cutting-edge toys and games. The store draws over five million visitors each year and is worth a look even if you're just browsing. The Lego collection at Hamleys (located in the basement area) must be seen to be believed. There are helpful and entertaining service staff all over Hamleys eager to show off new toys and play with the kids - the only difficulty for parents is getting out without buying numerous presents.
Boasting a plethora of exciting, cute and fuzzy animals from over 750 species, the London Zoo is a must for all children and animal lovers. Kids will love the Animal Adventure area, where they can climb, touch, tunnel and splash their way through the zoo discovering animals along the way. Other great habitat areas at London Zoo include Gorilla Kingdom, Penguin Beach, Britain's only (man-made) rainforest area, and a komodo dragon enclosure. The recipient of a Gold Award from the Visit London tourism initiative, the London Zoo is a fail-safe choice for a day of family fun and excitement. Be sure to check the website before you go, as the zoo regularly plays host to a variety of interesting exhibitions, festivals and events.
Perfect for inquisitive children, the Science Museum will captivate, educate and thrill kids of all ages. Featuring dozens of state-of-the-art exhibits, the Science Museum also features a 3D IMAX Theatre. The Museum's rotating exhibitions are topical and intriguing ensuring that kids can visit many times and always learn something new and relevant to their world. Other popular attractions include the space descent VR experience with astronaut Tim Peake as your guide, the Tomorrow's World object gallery, and the interactive Wonderlab gallery.
Located in southwest London, Chessington World of Adventures is a theme park and zoo catering to children of all ages. Featuring rides, roller coasters and water slides, this theme park is best visited during the summer months. The zoo, however, is open all year round. An 'African Adventure' themed area is already proving wildly popular among kids, who'll be able to observe magnificent creatures such as lions, zebras and oryxes, as well as enjoy some traditional African mask displays and listen to some African drumming performances. Other highlights are the exciting events and shows; accommodation is also available, in the form of glamping and elaborately themed hotel rooms.
This church in the heart of the city is one of London's top tourist attractions, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and rivals Notre Dame for the accolade of most famous church in the world. Westminster Abbey draws millions of tourists each year, in addition to the locals who worship there every week. The abbey is the site of royal coronations and weddings (including Prince William's wedding to Kate Middleton in April 2011). Visitors can marvel at the Gothic architecture, enormous stained-glass windows and paintings that go back 1,000 years, and guided tours are available in several languages. A fantastic sight, Westminster Abbey is a must for visitors looking to experience the heart and soul of England's rich cultural history. Anybody is free to attend the regular religious services held in Westminster Abbey and tourists are also welcome between certain hours.
Originally built for Edward the Confessor more than 1,000 years ago, the Houses of Parliament, or Palace of Westminster, remained the principal residence of Britain's monarchs for the next 400 years. Thereafter, it became the administrative centre of the country. In 1834 the Great Fire burnt everything except Westminster Hall, and the present Gothic building was completed in the 1840s. It is perhaps most famous for the clock tower, commonly called Big Ben. Located at the north end of the Palace of Westminster in London, the gigantic clock tower has many distinctions: it is the largest four-faced clock, and third-largest freestanding clock in the world. Built in 1859, each minute hand is 14 feet (4.3m) long, and the largest bell inside weighs more than 13 tons. Although Parliament is closed to visitors during session, it is still a popular attraction for tourists because of its picturesque exterior. While Big Ben itself is not open to overseas visitors, UK residents may arrange tours with a local Member of Parliament. Be warned, though, inside the clock tower there are 334 stairs and no lift. Check the website to see what tours of parliament are available and when.
The twin spires of the iconic drawbridge known as Tower Bridge stand 213 feet (65m) above the Thames River, and form one of the most popular tourist attractions in London. Often mistakenly referred to as London Bridge (which is a bit further upstream), Tower Bridge functions as both a roadway and a major tourist sight, and provides a magnificent view of downtown London from its upper walkway. Inside is the Tower Bridge Exhibition, which showcases the Victorian engine that powers the drawbridge, as well as a series of informative displays detailing the history of Tower Bridge, which stretches back to 1886.
Originally known as the Museum of Manufacture, the Victoria and Albert Museum (or V&A Museum, as it is popularly known) in London is a veritable treasure-trove of artefacts from cultures around the world. Devoted to art and design, it houses about 2.3 million works, including paintings, photographs, sculptures, textiles, furniture, metalwork, ceramics and fashion going back 5,000 years. The V&A Museum also hosts regular family activities and workshops, and has an on-site sculpture garden. A must-see tourist attraction in London, the Victoria and Albert Museum is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon, poring over fascinating items and learning more about the world's cultural bounty.
The Natural History Museum is one of England's very best tourist attractions. Located on Exhibition Road in South Kensington, the Natural History Museum truly will appeal to everyone, from excitable kids to discerning adults. Housed in a gorgeous Romanesque building, the Natural History Museum has often been described as a 'cathedral of nature', boasting fascinating collections magnificently displayed beneath vaulted ceilings. As soon as you step foot inside the museum, you are greeted by the skeleton of a blue whale looming over you. The Natural History Museum has one of the world's greatest collections of prehistoric fossils and remains, and is home to a series of animatronic dinosaurs that will spellbind kids.
The Museum is divided into four 'zones' for ease of navigation. The Blue Zone deals mainly with animals, and (along with the dinosaurs) is famous for its life-size model of a blue whale that hangs from the ceiling, and its sabre-tooth tiger skeleton. The Green Zone presents exhibitions that focus on plants, insects and ecology, including a termite mound and a cross-section of the world's largest tree, the California redwood. The Red Zone takes a look at the earth's subterranean processes: visitors can try out the earthquake simulator, be moved by the Pompeii exhibition, and ogle at an enormous collection of gemstones, minerals and rocks. Finally, the Orange Zone - built in 2008 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Darwin's Origin of the Species - is primarily a research centre, but also features several cutting-edge exhibitions that will thrill visitors, including the Attenborough Studio, where audio-visual shows are staged.
A sure-fire winner of a tourist attraction, the Natural History Museum should feature on any holidaymaker's list of things to do in London. Budget at least three or four hours to do the museum's collection justice.
The Borough Market, located on Southwark Street at the southern end of London Bridge, is one of the United Kingdom's premier food markets, and a simply wonderful place to ramble around and find some delicious treats to fuel the day's sightseeing. What distinguishes the Borough Market is its community-centred atmosphere, with most of the stallholders either being producers themselves, or possessing intimate knowledge of the goods they are selling. Visitors are encouraged to chat to the stallholders about their produce, and to find out more about the fresh fruit and vegetables, cheeses, jams, meats and artisanal breads and pastries that are so lovingly and elegantly displayed. Perfectly situated, the Borough Market makes a great pit-stop on any walking tour of south-central London's tourist attractions. The Borough Market is also a great place to shop for special souvenirs for loved ones back home.
An absolute must for history buffs, London's Imperial War Museum endeavours to give visitors an understanding of modern warfare, and an appreciation of its effects on both individuals and societies at large. The Imperial War Museum is, in fact, a 'family' of five museums, three of which are located in London. The flagship museum is found in Lambeth Road in south London, and features a unique collection of art, films, photographs, sound recordings, writings and objects that preserve the reactions and memories of Britons who have lived through wartime conditions.
The Churchill War Rooms, located in King Charles Street, form another fascinating branch of the Imperial War Museum. These bunkers housed the British heads of state during the Blitz, and today offer visitors a truly incredible trip back in time, where they can navigate the underground mazes and view charts and maps that haven't been touched since 1945.
The last of the Imperial War Museum branches in London is the HMS Belfast, a warship that is moored in the Thames. Tours of the HMS Belfast take in the gun turrets, the mess decks and the clamorous bowels of the ship, and provide an exciting and educational experience that will be appreciated by visitors of all ages. A highly recommended sight, all three London branches of the Imperial War Museum can be visited in a day.
London is a great city to explore with children. On a clear day, take the kids for a ride on one of the hop-on hop-off red buses; the constantly changing scenery is exciting and it'll save a lot of energy trying to walk the streets with small children in tow. The bus tickets also allow a Thames River boat ride past sights such as Westminster, Big Ben, the London Eye and Tower Bridge. Kids will be delighted at the amount there is to spot along the way.
While obvious holiday attractions for kids in London include the London Eye, Big Ben and the delightfully tacky and gruesome London Dungeon, there are also an assortment of parks, museums and shows to keep children happy. Whether children are interested in nature and science or arts and crafts, London is a child's paradise. Children will love discovering the famous wax sculptures in Madame Tussaud's. Don't miss taking the kids to the world-renowned Hamley's Toy Shop for a shopping experience to remember.
London may be synonymous with cold, rainy weather but is still a year-round holiday destination. For families with kids in tow the city is best enjoyed during spring (April to June), when the days are warm, the flowers are blooming, and the many parks and gardens can be explored.
London has a temperate climate without the extremes found in continental Europe. There are four distinct seasons, although the weather can be unpredictable, with out-of-season storms, icy spells, and even heatwaves. Summer temperatures range from 57°F (14°C) to 75°F (24°C), while average winter temperatures range from 37°F (3°C) to 46°F (8°C). July is the hottest summer month, averaging 66°F (19°C), and January is the coldest winter month, averaging 39°F (4°C). London is a great city to visit whatever the weather, but most visitors prefer to visit between April and October, when the temperature is usually warm and the days are long and frequently sunny.
A melting pot of cultures, eating out in London is an international affair. Renowned for its curries, there are hundreds of Indian restaurants to choose from, from upmarket Mayfair to the trendy Brick Lane. Head to Chinatown in Soho for Chinese, or Brixton for African or Caribbean.
A city synonymous with celebrity big name chefs like Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay and Yotam Ottolenghi, visitors to London can also sample some of the country's finest cuisine, but at a price. For a special gourmet evening out head to one of the famous restaurants in Mayfair, Covent Garden, Soho or Chelsea, but expect to pay for the privilege.
For the ultimate English experience, traditional fish and chips are the order of the day. Get it wrapped up for take away and head to the nearest park for a greasy snack. If the weather is doing its usual thing then head to a cosy gastro pub instead and sample some heart-warming English fare. Although London is home to some hugely impressive restaurants and chefs the city is probably still most famous for its simple pub grub.
Eating out in London is expensive but a lunchtime sandwich and soft drink shouldn't cost more than £8 and an evening meal at a standard restaurant, excluding drinks, can be had for £15.
The Avenue Restaurant and Bar is a favourite with the inhabitants of St James, and produces good modern British and Mediterranean food. This minimalist restaurant is good value and is always packed, despite a sometimes patchy service. The best tables are towards the back, on the mezzanine level. Set menus are usually excellent, and competitively priced. Quality wines are available by the glass. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
Situated in the domed interior of an old banking hall, opposite the Bank of England, 1 Lombard Street has become a city institution. The brasserie is always bustling with investment bankers and offers a full á la carte menu for both lunch and dinner, featuring seasonal specialities and an extensive wine list. The restaurant situated behind the brasserie, is a better bet for discreet conversation and for enthusiasts of haute cuisine. The menu at 1776 includes favourites like Black Angus beef with a breadcrumb crust, garlic snails, and pan-fried black cod with pak choi and ponzu sauce. The formal dining environment provides a tranquil setting for appreciating Juri Ravagli's sophisticated cuisine. Open weekdays only, for breakfast, lunch and dinner and the dress code is smart casual. They run a tapas menu from 5pm at the bar.
On a quiet side street just off Knightsbridge and a minutes walk from Harrods, Montpeliano is a wonderfully old-fashioned Italian restaurant, where the food is authentic and the service excellent. The owner is always available, the staff are friendly and welcoming, and the atmosphere has a feel of casual elegance. On warm evenings it is possible to dine al fresco on the outside patio.
The bar at this small but atmospheric pub is always buzzing with locals, while the restaurant often draws visitors from farther afield. Set on a side street a few blocks from High Street Kensington the eating area is awkwardly narrow but makes a good spot for a private and romantic evening á deux, or with a small group of friends. The cheddar and spinach soufflé with wild mushroom sauce, the rib eye on the bone, and the sticky toffee pudding are delicious. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
One of London's finest eateries, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay opened in 1998 as the chef's first independently owned venture. Today it has three Michelin stars - an honour held by only four other British restaurant. With 14 tables seating 44 guests, this exclusive venue has become a must for connoisseurs of fine contemporary cuisine from around the world. Feast on pan-fried scallops from the Isle of Skye, suckling pig and Manjari chocolate delice. A vegetarian menu is also available. Open for lunch and dinner Monday to Friday, book well in advance.
A cosy atmosphere with contemporary trimmings and the smell of fresh oven-baked pizza in the air, the trendy Fire and Stone pizza joint in Covent Garden is ideal for a family outing, a casual meal with friends or a romantic dinner. This franchise pizzeria produces a large variety of pizzas, themed on the different flavours of the continents and made with only the freshest ingredients. Complement your meal with some of their quality red wines. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
A highly creative contemporary Indian restaurant, Zaika offers sensational Indian cuisine in a cool and vibrant setting. Situated in trendy Kensington, Zaika has won Best Indian Restaurant in the London Restaurant Awards and holds three AA rosettes. Try the tasting menu to get a fuller understanding of the extensive Indian flavours. The Malabar prawns and the Nihari Gosht are also favourites. With great service, plush interiors and excellent cuisine, Zaika is a fail-proof night out. Open for lunch from Tuesday to Sunday, and every evening for dinner.
The Gun is a lovely, British-styled restaurant that has gained popularity for its up-market take on classic dishes. Open for lunch and dinner (reservations essential), be sure to try the 45 day-aged Cumbrian rare breed steaks, served with béarnaise sauce, watercress and hand cut chips. This waterside pub is delightfully British
Stef's describes itself as 'your local Italian restaurant in London', and its laid-back, family-run atmosphere is a real winner for those looking for unpretentious and high-quality Italian food in England's capital. Choose from pizza, pasta or a range of 'Chef's specialities'. Booking recommended.
Commonly known as simply the London Marathon, the Virgin Money London Marathon is a 26.2 mile (42km) race from Greenwich Park to the Mall which passes by many famous London landmarks including the Cutty Sark, Canary Wharf, the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, and Big Ben.
Around 30,000 professional and amateur runners compete every year, many dressed in fancy dress to raise money for charity. The route is lined with spectators and the race has a very festive atmosphere. As it is an extremely popular marathon, it is worth booking as far in advance as possible.
The Chelsea Flower Show is an annual event organised by the Royal Horticultural Society and, since its inception in 1913, has been recognised as the foremost show of its kind in the world. An immensely popular event, the show draws crowds of thousands every year with its colourful and beautifully sculptured displays. Experts from the Royal Horticultural Society are on hand, ready to impart gardening advice to the show's many visitors. Tickets can be bought via the website and visitors are advised to book early to avoid disappointment.
The ceremony of the Trooping the Colour (or Queen's Birthday Parade) takes place each year on the Queen's birthday and dates back to the time of Charles II in the 17th century. Although the Queen was actually born on 21 April, her official birthday is celebrated in the summer, when the weather is better. The parade begins with one of the Foot Guard regiments of the Household Division escorting their regimental colour, before giving the Queen a salute in front of Buckingham Palace, and is followed by a march of the Massed Bands before the Queen is escorted back home by the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment on their magnificent black chargers.
The Wimbledon Championships are the highlight of the year's tennis calendar, bringing together the world's leading tennis professionals in a battle for glory. The first championship event at Wimbledon dates back to 1877, but the first Ladies' Singles championship was only introduced in 1884. Since then the tradition of strawberries and cream on centre court has been enjoyed by thousands of fans from around the world. The Wimbledon Championships are the most famous of the four tournaments known as the 'Grand Slam' and many fans of the sport make the pilgrimage to London to watch their favourite players battle it out on the famous grass courts.
The first Notting Hill Carnival took place in 1964 when London's Caribbean community introduced the carnival to ease racial tensions. Since then it has become a popular and colourful annual event celebrated by more than two million Londoners of all backgrounds. It is said to be the world's second largest street party after the Rio Carnival held in Brazil. The carnival consists of costume parades, a steel band, jazz and reggae performances, and countless street vendors selling exotic Caribbean food, as well as a rollicking street party which attracts people from all walks of life. For more information, check out the official website listed below.
The Lord Mayor's Show is an annual event held in the City of London when the mayor makes their way from Mansion House to the Royal Courts of Justice to swear allegiance to the crown. Earmarked by each Lord Mayor since 1215, the journey has grown into a rich pageant.
Held through war and plague, the parade has proven extremely resilient. It's now one of the world's most beloved processions, attracting about half a million people, and is watched on the BBC by millions the world over.
This is one of the oldest and most familiar of all royal ceremonies. Every other day, a throng of tourists gather outside Buckingham Palace to watch the exchange of duty between the Old Guard and the New Guard.
The Foot Guards wear their traditional uniforms, complete with bearskins, but carry modern weapons as their role is practical as well as ceremonial. A band from one of the five Foot Guard regiments accompanies the handover, playing anything from traditional military marches to pop tunes.
Guard Mounting also takes place daily at the same time at Windsor Castle and the Tower of London. The Changing of the Queen's Life Guards involves the handover of duty between the two mounted regiments, the Blues and Royals, and the Life Guards.
It is more flamboyant when the Queen is in residence (most weekdays), with the Captain of the Guard and trumpeter leading the procession. The Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace takes place daily at 11.30am between April and July, and on alternating days the rest of the year.
It is always best to check the calendar for the exact times of the changing of the guard because adjustments are sometimes made to the schedule.
One of the English summer's great festivals of music, the Reading Festival boasts many of the biggest names in Pop/Rock/Indie/Folk and Comedy. The event is increasing in popularity each year and tens of thousands make their way to the fields to enjoy the finest in popular and world music. The festival normally falls on the bank holiday weekend in August. Over the same weekend, a sibling festival is held in Leeds. Headliners like the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Arcade Fire, Nirvana, Queens of the Stone Age, Blur, the Kaiser Chiefs, Bonnie Tyler, Muse and Eminem have drawn massive crowds.
An annual tradition since 1829, the rowing race between two of Britain's oldest university sides creates a festival atmosphere along the banks of the Thames between Putney and Mortlake. Thousands of people gather at various vantage points along the riverbank, many of them conveniently close to pubs.
From here, spectators can watch the famous four-and-a-quarter mile race that marks the beginning of the English social season. This famous sporting event is a huge thrill to witness and also a big party for spectators. Naturally, the students of Oxford and Cambridge come out in force to support their teams and the rivalry is epic, though good-natured.
The Proms claims to be the 'greatest classical musical festival in the world', and every summer it presents a wide range of music, from symphony orchestras to operas and contemporary music. Performances take place in one of the capital's most majestic venues, the Royal Albert Hall, and visitors to London during the summer months would be foolish to miss it. Soloists and ensembles among the greatest in the world are on show during the Proms, and visitors are sure to find the experience enriching. For more information regarding the programme and ticket prices check out the official website listed below.
Famed for its musicals, the West End in the centre of London boasts some of the best theatre in the world, from musicals to comedy to drama, featuring many famous actors. There are always new shows, as well as ongoing productions such as Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables, Lion King, Wicked, and Chicago.
There is plenty on offer for the whole family and catching a show on the West End is an iconic London experience for travellers. For information on what's showing and ticket prices, check out the official website listed below.
The cherished FA Cup (The Football Association Challenge Cup) is football's oldest tournament and has a special place in the hearts of fans in the UK and all around the world. What separates this tournament, first held in 1871, from many of the others is that it champions the underdog, as lower division teams have a chance to play the Premier League teams, and often heroes are created before the tournament has run its course. The supporters of local teams lower down in the official pecking order relish the chance to challenge the top dogs. The dates below are for the final match; for fixtures for the whole tournament and other details check out the official website listed below.
Film-fever spreads all across London for two weeks during the British Film Institute sponsored London Film Festival. It is the most important film festival in the UK and features premieres, short films, experimental pieces, world cinema jewels and a healthy programme of classics. Many famous British actors and filmmakers attend and a fair amount of celebrity-spotting can be indulged in. For details on what's showing check the official website listed below.
The nightlife in London is some of the best in the world, offering pulsating dance floors at famous clubs and more chilled out and intimate music lounges and bars. Hardcore party animals will love the clubbing scene, complete with well-known local and international DJs, while the countless bars and cosy independent theatres feature an impressive mix local and international live music acts. London is arguably the best possible travel destination for lovers of live music, and on any given night there will be an international or local band playing in more than one of the many venues.
The West End in particular is home to many bars, clubs and restaurants, and Soho is one of the trendiest and coolest places to drink. This is also where most of London's gay bars and clubs can be found. The perpetually cool Notting Hill and Portobello Road areas still draw large crowds.
Those in the mood for a quiet drink and some conversation should head down to one of the many traditional English pubs scattered around this cosmopolitan city, where they can enjoy some of the finest ales, stouts, ciders, and malt whiskies on offer in the world. It's also often possible to combine pubbing and clubbing as many of London's bars these days have clubs and dance floors inside them, transforming them into miniature nightclubs and ushering in a new era for those 'heading down to the pub'.
The West End is also known as 'Theatreland' and those in the mood for Broadway-style theatre shows should head down to the Lyceum Theatre or the Queen's Theatre to catch a show or musical. And while in the area, culture lovers can enjoy an evening at Covent Garden watching the Royal Opera or the Royal Ballet, while lovers of classical music can sample the delights of Albert Hall. There is also plenty of fringe theatre outside of the West End with young professionals and amateurs performing anything from classic plays to cabaret. Common fringe venues range from well-respected miniature theatres to cramped rooms above some of the city's local pubs. Other non-commercial theatres include the world-renowned National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Globe Theatre and the Old Vic.
London is not just a European shopping destination, but a global one. The city provides a myriad of shopping experiences, with no shortage of popular chain stores, designer boutiques, artisan shops, eclectic markets and interesting finds. Visit the renowned Oxford and Regent streets for big brands like Gap, Zara, Topshop, H&M and United Colours of Benetton. Don't be put off by their loud exteriors; some shops are actually quite affordable with some offering frequent sales. Bond Street and Mayfair are suited to a more high-end shopping trip, where designer goods and luxury boutiques abound.
London is also renowned for its markets. Camden in North London has become one of the most visited attractions in London and is a haven for alternative sub-cultures, with stalls and shops selling outrageous retro outfits, colourful accessories and eccentric party attire. For an enjoyable weekend outing, Portobello Market is a gem (look out for the Farmers Market in the vicinity). The Notting Hill market, made famous by the romantic Hollywood film, offers many attractive coffee shops, independent retailers and cheap stalls selling clothing, jewellery and music.
Foodies won't be disapointed with London's weekend markets, Borough Market adjacent to London Bridge is dedicated to gastronomy, visitors can sample homemade pâté, buy fresh cherries, olive oil, sweet cakes and the like. Southbank Centre Market offering fantastic street food and multiple ethically-minded eats, and Maltby Street Market, with a broad selection of delectable international food and drink, are open on weekends.
General groceries can be bought at the major English supermarket chains such as Tesco, Marks and Spencer, Waitrose and Sainsbury's.
London's legendary Tube network remains the quickest and easiest way to get around the city, though it is best avoided during rush hour. The famous red buses are a more pleasant, if slower, way to get around. The ubiquitous black cabs are excellent but Uber and other taxi apps are also popular.
London's main attractions are fairly close to one another; if the weather is nice, walking or taking a riverboat are good options. Driving is not a good option in central London, as parking is difficult to find and very expensive. A 'congestion charge' is also payable by those driving into central London from Monday to Friday 7am-6pm.
With iconic landmarks such as the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and Tower Bridge, visitors will be kept busy with a multitude of attractions to explore. In fact, the vast majority of the UK's most popular tourist attractions can be found in London. Visit the stoic lions on Trafalgar Square, be bowled over by the grand interior of St Paul's Cathedral, or take a stroll through St James Park and watch the famous changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, all this won't even scratch the surface of London's historic appeal.
Venturing more into the heart of the West End, follow the crowds to the bright montage of lights and billboards at Piccadilly Circus and from there take in Chinatown, Soho and Covent Garden. For those with an appreciation for history and the natural world, the superb British Museum and Natural History Museum in South Kensington are a must on any London vacation. The south bank of the Thames draws visitors with the London Eye, the London Aquarium and the über-cool Tate Modern.
An easy and pleasurable way to see the major sights is on one of London's red buses or, weather permitting, on foot. Many visitors use the underground to travel the short distances from sight to sight, missing the opportunity to gain a better picture of this vibrant city. A boat tour down the river Thames is also a great way to view some major sights and to learn more about the central role this river has played in London life, or just relax while you ponder what next to see and do in London.
The historic cathedral city of Canterbury, with its narrow streets and walkways, is best explored on foot. It is the home of Christianity in England, and has been the ultimate destination for pilgrimages in England for centuries, as described in Chaucer's famous Canterbury Tales. The imposing Canterbury Cathedral is one of the most impressive and evocative in England. It was here that Thomas Becket was martyred in 1170. Visitors can explore the ruins of the original abbey of St Augustine, who brought Christianity to England more than 1,400 years ago, or visit the Canterbury Tales Pageant and meet some of Chaucer's famous characters. For an insight into the cities of medieval England, climb the original West Gate Tower, which is still intact and provides breathtaking views across the city.
Set above a lake in a picturesque valley near the town of Maidstone in Kent, with imposing battlements and a 500-hectare Tudor garden, Leeds Castle proudly describes itself as 'the loveliest castle in the world'. Once a residence of British Queens and a playground for King Henry VIII, it has been open to the public for over 35 years, revealing the majesty of a bygone age. With so much to explore, Leeds Castle requires a full day for visitors to tour the castle, get lost in the garden maze, and dine in one of the excellent restaurants or quaint tea rooms. A highly recommended day-trip for visitors to the UK.
The charming town of Windsor sits on the River Thames, 20 miles (32km) west of London, and is dominated by the magnificent Windsor Castle, the world's largest and oldest occupied castle. The castle was built by William the Conqueror almost a thousand years ago, and has been lived in by English monarchs ever since. Although Buckingham Palace is the Queen's best-known residence, Windsor is her favourite, and is where the royal family spend their weekends.
Highlights in the castle include the wonderful State Apartments and the Waterloo Chamber, built to commemorate the British victory over Napoleon at Waterloo. St George's Chapel is one of the finest examples of Perpendicular Gothic architecture in the world, and contains the tombs of numerous English sovereigns including King Henry VIII, Jane Seymour, Charles I and King George V. Many of the castle's rooms contain priceless works of art, including pieces by Rubens, Holbein, Van Dyke, Rembrandt and Lawrence, as well as fine tapestries and porcelain, sculpture and armour. The 500-acre (200-hectare) Home Park sits at the back of the castle and includes the site of Frogmore, where Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were laid to rest. Beyond is the vast expanse of Windsor Great Park, a popular place for walkers. Over the river from Windsor is Eton College, the world-famous school founded by Henry VI in 1440.
Situated on the banks of the River Thames, 14 miles (23km) southwest of London, Hampton Court is perhaps the most spectacular royal palace in England, and makes a wonderful day-trip destination from the capital. The palace was built by Cardinal Wolsey in the early 1500s, but later it became King Henry VIII's principal residence and remained the centre of royal and political life in England until 1737. Visitors can see King Henry VIII's Great Hall; King William III's State Apartments, designed by Wren and completed in 1700; and the unmissable Tudor Kitchens, which remain largely unchanged since the 16th century and were no doubt once used to cater for raucous banquets. There is also a fun and exciting 'Ghost Family Trail' tour through the palace that will delight younger visitors. However, Hampton Court is still probably most famous for its grounds and their outstanding hedge maze - called 'the most famous Maze in the history of the world, and immeasurably the one most visited' by Ernest Law - which has entertained children since it was planted in 1705.