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London is not to be missed, and is worth visiting over and over again. It offers royal residences, cavernous cathedrals and marvellous museums, classic British pubs, pints and tea, but also top-notch culinary innovations, cutting-edge art and crafts, fresh and eco-friendly markets, and almost otherworldly new skyscrapers. London makes everything possible – a romantic getaway, a party weekend, a city discovery with the family, or a walk through centuries from prehistory to the modern metropolis.
Founded by the Romans, London has graced the River Thames over two millennia. Its ancient core, known simply as The City or the Square Mile, retains its medieval borders, while ‘London’ tends to refer to the entire sprawling metropolis. Neighbouring The City is Westminster, which also holds ‘city’ status within London and is home to major sights, from Buckingham Palace to the Parliament, Piccadilly to Soho. As one of the most exciting and diverse capitals in the world, London will leave you breathless and eager to return.
Whether you’re a royal watcher or not, Buckingham Palace is a must-see. Don’t expect to see the Queen though – opt for the changing of the guard at the Palace, the official London residence of Britain’s sovereigns since 1837, which takes place daily at 10:45 a.m. (with some exceptions). It’s free, so get there early. Nineteen State Rooms and the Palace Garden can be visited when the Queen’s away, from July through September. From the Palace, walk to the 250-acre Hyde Park to relax on a hillock, go boating or see the Princess Diana Memorial. Or stroll along St James’s Park toward the Gothic masterpiece that is Westminster Abbey, then to Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament on the River Thames. Travelling with kids, choose Shrek’s Adventure or the London Aquarium, just across the river, on the way to the London Eye. Visit the British Museum for a trip through two million years of history. If that sounds a bit much, consider that you’ll see some objects that define human civilisation, such as the Rosetta Stone, the Parthenon sculptures and Egyptian mummies. The museum is worth visiting even just for the Great Court, the largest covered square in Europe. Next up is the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square. It’s on par with the Louvre or the Met in terms of quality and quantity – be sure to see Van Gogh’s famous Sunflowers, and works by Monet and Degas, Velazquez, Rembrandt, and the list goes on… Adults and kids alike enjoy posing with the Queen or the other Queen, Beyonce, at Madame Tussauds, where the newest figures include Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Captain Marvel. To experience the city as Jack the Ripper did, head to the museum named for the famous serial killer, or descend into the London Dungeon. For an evening out, consider the theatres of the West End, known for world-class musicals from The Lion King to Les Mis.
To start with the classics, have a fish and chips at one of the ubiquitous ‘chippies’, which range from the shabby chic Chipping Forecast in Notting Hill to the newspaper-wrapped freshness of Poppies, with decor dripping in British kitsch. Be sure to have a pint at a proper pub as well. In operation since 1847, The Coach & Horses in Soho now serves vegan and vegetarian fare, including Sunday roasts. To go back to the British basics, how about afternoon tea with scones, and jam and Devonshire cream? Curry is a must in London too, of course. Stroll down Brick Lane and choose your level of spice from among the establishments. For a taste of the variety that makes London a foodie paradise, visit Kiln in Soho for Thai barbecue, glitzy tapas bar Barrafina in Covent Garden, Scully St James's for a bold fusion of flavours, BAO Soho for Taiwanese street food, or Smokestak for beef brisket and house-smoked pastrami. Borough Market is a glass-topped haven of fresh food at the end of London Bridge. Traders have plied their wares here since 1014, and today the market is true to its roots in artisanal food products made from fresh ingredients to take home, plus a plethora of hot street food to enjoy on site. Opt for a plate of potatoes in bubbling cheese at Kappacasein, roast pork loin with stuffing and apple sauce at Hobbs, an Argentinian empanada at Porteño, or Indian lentil pancakes filled with spiced potatoes at Horn OK Please.
Brick Lane isn’t only about curry – it now also boasts a spicy nightlife of bars and clubs, plus vintage and craft clothing shops. Try the humbly named Paradise Alley nightclub, or check out the sprawling Old Truman Brewery, home to startups, retro bars and eateries, independent shops and galleries. Clubbing options elsewhere in London run the gamut from the massive Printworks London (capacity 5,000) to dance haven Electric Brixton, from two-room techno club Xoyo to The Underworld, an alternative music mecca. For shopping, you could start with the 300 shops of Oxford Street, joining half a million daily visitors. Harrods and Liberty are pricey classics worth visiting just for the experience. London’s markets may be your best bet to find a stylish and unique treasure – Covent Garden’s market offers different crafts, homewares and jewellery, while Camden Market slips 200 sellers into narrow alleyways, bursting with colourful clubwear, vintage pieces and unusual designs. For antiques, visit Alfies Antique Market, the biggest indoor market of its kind in London, or the outdoor market on Fridays at Bermondsey Square.
Take a stroll through Stonehenge, the mysterious megalithic monument, whose two to five-tonne stones were transported over 250 kilometres to the site at a time before the wheel was invented. Theories abound as to the purpose of the circle of stones – a coronation site, a Druid temple, a laboratory for astronomical observation and prediction? Have a look yourself and make your own best guess. Combine Stonehenge with a visit to the city of Bath to tour the Roman baths and see the spectacular Royal Crescent of Georgian townhouses. Spend a very royal day at Windsor Castle, where the Queen relaxes at weekends. The oldest and largest occupied castle in the world, it’s also home to the grand, Gothic St George’s Chapel, where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were married. Tour the state apartments resplendent in red and gold, and watch the changing of the guard. For grandeur and magical mystery of the imaginary sort, stand on Platform 9 ¾, enter the Great Hall, venture into the Forbidden Forest, and stroll Diagon Alley at The Making of Harry Potter at Warner Bros. Studios.