Get above the Big Smoke in the Shard or the Eye, or visit the fabled Tower
Get into London of old, with these historical activities
The play’s the thing
From the West End to the banks of the Thames, here are your theatrical highlights
All about London
Greenwich Mean Time (GMT)
London is a complicated web of tubes, trains and buses. It's all quite well connected, but getting from one side of town to the other can take a long time (and potentially involve a few transfers of transport lines. The key to success is to group your activities together geographically, so that you don’t have to double back into an area you’ve already visited. It’s also a good idea to invest in an Oyster Card or a daypass. Buying tickets every time you get on a bus or tube will drain the pounds out of your pockets at a depressing rate.
Few cities have more literary cred than London; William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Beatrix Potter, Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf… the list of historical literary luminaries who called London home make this a rewarding pilgrimage destination for any keen reader. And not just the city itself; there are many areas and sites that will delight those who love the printed word. For example, The George Inn, near London Bridge, counted both Shakespeare and Dickens as patrons - it even gets a namecheck in Dickens’ Little Dorrit.
London is famed for its pea soup fog - even inspiring the name of the London Fog coat company. But in March to October the weather can actually be pretty warm. That’s when Londoners pile onto terraces and into parks. Winter time can get cold and - especially - wet. In addition to warm jacket, scarf, gloves and hat, bring waterproof shoes. Or better yet, boots. Of course, at just about any time of the year the weather can change quickly, so even if it’s a warm spring day, it’s a good idea to bring a sweater or light coat along.
On Dec 1, 2001 the British Government scrapped entry charges to many of Britain’s best museums and galleries. Any visitor to London should take advantage of the opportunity to see as many as possible. The British Museum is full of fantastic art and artifacts - including the original Rosetta Stone that allowed researchers to crack the code of Egyptian hieroglyphics. The Natural History Museum contains some 70 million plant, animal, fossil, rock and mineral specimens. As well, the Tate Gallery and Tate Modern always delight.
This gigantic revolving wheel was known as the Millennium Wheel when it was erected in 1999. Originally set to last only a month, its instant popularity set in motion plans to make it a permanent fixture and it's now hard to imagine the London skyline without it. Traveling in a climate-controlled capsule at a casual 26 cm per second, this 30-minute ride above offers a constantly shifting perspective of London. At the start of your trip it's a great way to orient yourself. At the end of your trip it's a great way to see all the places you've covered.
New York has Broadway, London has the West End, and… well, there is no third place; London is one of the two best places in the world to see theater (or as Londoners say: “thee-ah-tre”). Highlights include the evergreen Lion King (20+ years and counting), award-magnet Matilda, and the raunchy (yet heartwarming) Book of Mormon. Most of the restaurants in the Theatre District have a 'pre-show menu', designed to get you well-fed and out the door in time for the curtain to drop.
Tower of London
The Tower of London has served at the center of royal power struggles for almost a thousand years. The power it holds is so great that there are six ravens that guard the tower at all times. Legend has it that if they fail to keep dutiful watch, the kingdom (as in United Kingdom) will fall. And that's just one of the fascinating doom-mongering legends attached to this place. What else would you expect from a place that's haunted by (among others) Henry VI, Anne Boleyn and a polar bear?