A buzzing melting pot of iconic landmarks and cosmopolitan culture, London feels like the centre of the world. Ancient streets exude cutting-edge fashion, restaurant kitchens sizzle with international flavours and the city’s historic markets are as vibrant as ever
Whatever genre of nightlife tickles your fancy, London has it in abundance. East London is currently basking in a cultural heyday, with an ever-expanding hub of fashionable bars and clubs. Shoreditch in particular is brimming with stylish drinking spots; Old Street, Shoreditch High Street, Bethnal Green Road and Brick Lane are all buzzing after dark.
Edgy Camden remains a must for live music fans, with its venues and shabby-chic pubs offering a steady array of up-and-coming and established acts. Sleek cocktail bars can be found in large numbers on the Kings Road and Clapham, while super clubs such as Fabric and Ministry of Sound keep ravers going until past sunrise.
London’s West End offers a glittering array of world-class theatre – from spangly musicals featuring famous names to acclaimed plays – and there are many ‘dinner and a show’ deals to be had. On the South Bank, the National Theatre and the South Bank Centre are thriving cultural centres.
London’s dining scene is a glorious convergence of nations, groundbreaking chefs, and longstanding traditional British flavours. A bounty of Michelin stars illuminate the higher-end options, with prestigious three-starred honour found at Alain Ducasse and the Dorchester hotel in Mayfair and Restaurant Gordon Ramsey on Royal Hospital Road in Chelsea.
New restaurants seem to open daily, and one of the latest success stories is meat and game specialist 34 Grosvenor Square in Mayfair. For those keen to splash out on a meat feast, its prime cuts have received rave reviews. For an established and perpetually exciting London eatery championing traditional meaty flavours, few come close to St John in EC1.
While fine dining and molecular gastronomy flourish, London’s more wallet-friendly eateries can be just as tempting. Eat fine fresh food at the bustling Vietnamese cantinas on Kingsland Road in East London, Turkish restaurants in Haringey and an array of oriental eateries in and around Soho.
Top 5 sights for first-timers
Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament
The UK’s magnificent centre of government remains one of London’s most photographed landmarks. The neo-Gothic Palace of Westminster, soaring upwards beside the Thames, has seen the birth of countless laws and heard the rallying address of many great leaders. Hear the hour marked by the deep chimes of Big Ben – the 13-ton bell inside the clock tower.
London’s not short on inspirational gallery spaces, but none are quite as striking as the Tate Modern. Occupying a converted power station and using its vast Turbine Hall as a cavernous centrepiece, the gallery houses a truly world-class collection of modern and contemporary art. There are special exhibitions on a rolling basis.
London’s historic Westminster Abbey is one of the world’s most distinguished sacred spaces. As well as being a truly beautiful and ornate spectacle, the abbey also has strong royal ties, having seen the coronation of kings and queens for centuries, and more recently providing the setting for the marriage of Prince William to Kate Middleton.
20 Deans Yard
Stately Buckingham Palace is the Queen’s official London residence, and from late July to late September visitors can explore the gloriously opulent state rooms at the heart of the building. Outside, the Changing of the Guard draws crowds throughout the year - daily between April and July (except Sundays), and every other day between August and March.
Buckingham Palace Road
Tower of London
A dark history is revealed at this ancient castle beside London’s River Thames. Once a notorious prison and place of execution and torture, today it houses the exquisite Crown Jewels collection. Tours by the Yeoman Warders (aka ‘Beefeaters’) bring the Tower’s history to life with gruesome and fascinating tales.
Tower of London
Top 5 sights for old hands
Founded way back in 1857 and still very much keeping pace with the times, this excellent seven-floor museum traces scientific breakthroughs from the sepia days of the Industrial Revolution through to the whistles and bells of the digital age. It’s interactive, informative and enormous. Serious educational fun for all ages.
St Paul’s Cathedral
The silver dome of St Paul’s Cathedral still maintains a grand presence on London’s eclectic skyline. Climb up into the dome itself to experience the Whispering Gallery, then head down to the ancient crypt, the final resting place for historical figures such as Admiral Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington.
The quality of London’s food scene has never been in better nick, and Borough Market showcases the fact more enjoyably than almost anywhere else in town. Historically (and still) a pre-dawn wholesale market, it really comes alive on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with corridors of artisan stalls serving up everything from gourmet sausages to Punjabi pickles.
This animated East London street is a thriving hub of activity, with a youthful crowd enjoying trendy bars, live music, vintage clothing stores and an array of curry houses. Weekends are particularly lively, when market stalls fill the area and bars spill out onto the streets. Pick up one of Brick Lane’s bagels and explore.
Brick Lane, Tower Hamlets
Tropical flowers and classic English greenery populate this leafy UNESCO World Heritage Site in southwest London, home to the globe’s largest collection of living plants. Visitors can walk ancient treetops on an 18-metre-high walkway, looking out across Kew’s sweeping landscaped grounds – all 121 hectares of them – and enjoying the seasonal blooms of the gardens and glasshouses.
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond
Written by World Travel Guide