London offers so much to see and do and offers it to everyone. Centuries of history, immigration and political turbulence have shaped the city into arguably the most cosmopolitan urban destination on the planet; one visit could never do it justice. Nevertheless, here is a very brief guide to what can be seen around London and where.
The Major Attractions
The major draws for tourists concentrate on two major areas in London – Westminster and Tower Hill – although these are by no means the only places visitors are advised to take a look at. Westminster (in the West End of the city) is home to Buckingham Palace, the official London residence of the British monarch, Trafalgar Square (home of the famous Nelson’s Column and the National Gallery) and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey.
Tower Hill is located to the east of what is referred to as Central London, near the City – the famous and ancient financial district. The area is known for yet another World Heritage Site- the Tower of London. The tower is one of the oldest structures in the city and was constructed by the Norman conquerors in the Eleventh Century A.D.. What was seen as a despicable symbol of cruelty and oppression is now one of the city’s most beloved and frequented attractions. Across the road is Tower Bridge, the Victorian bascule bridge (commonly mistaken for the neighbouring London Bridge).
Connecting these two famous locales is a fantastic walking route which runs along the southern side of the River Thames through the South Bank, Bankside and London Bridge districts. This two-and-a-half mile thoroughfare passes a wide variety of popular attractions such as the London Eye, the BFI Imax (the largest movie screen in London) and the cultural sights of South Bank and the Tate Modern. The route carries on eastwards towards the redeveloped and re-energised London Bridge Quarter. LBQ is home to not only a major rail terminus, but countless bars, restaurants and of course the Shard; the tallest building in London and Europe.
The Thames walk is an unmissable thing to do in London; it offers fantastic views of the city (sadly, high rise panoramas are hard to come by). Walking across the Millennium Bridge next to the Tate Modern will see visitors come face-to-face with one of the most famous buildings in the whole city; St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Eating And Drinking
Thankfully for those who are slightly pickier when it comes to recharging after a day’s sightseeing, London is rapidly shaking off its image as a metropolis infamous for a poor choice of terrible food. All tastes and budgets are now catered for; Mayfair and Knightsbridge have a high concentration of Michelin-starred restaurants whereas most districts have their own rich mix of local hideaways and tasty retreats – whatever the occasion. Islington is particularly famous for its plethora of eateries, as is Borough Market in London Bridge (get there early to avoid the queues). Tourists are advised to stay off the beaten track and investigate the side streets of Central London to find quirky, wonderful gems (Bocca di Lupo in Covent Garden and MEATLiquor in Marylebone being two recommendations).
London is perhaps most famous for its high-end shopping destinations such as Sloane Street and New Bond Street (home to many famous boutiques and names) and the decadent department stores of Harrods, Selfridges, Fortnum and Mason, Liberty and Harvey Nichols. There are plenty of other shopping locations to be discovered besides these; especially for those on a slightly more modest budget.
Covent Garden is a major attraction for the young and trendy whereas Shoreditch is home to many independent retailers. There are the Westfield Shopping Centres in White City and Stratford if one requires a baser fix of shopping and choice. Londoners are truly spoilt when it comes to markets; Portobello is home to a famous antique market, Old Spitalfields Market is huge – over 100 stalls – and caters for many different tastes. Camden Lock Market is quirky and popular, catering for general taste.
Outside of the City Center
The Olympics has helped to put East London on the map and opened the world’s eyes as to what is available to see and do. Canary Wharf is a great place to eat, drink and sightsee; it’s modern skyscraper providing a stark contrast to the ancient origns of West London. The general history of the Docklands is still there for all to see. Yet another World Heritage Site lies in Greenwich – now a Royal Borough – consisting of the Royal Observatory (birthplace to the concept of Greenwich Mean Time), the National Maritime Museum, Naval College and a cool little market.
The fourth and final World Heritage Site is located to the extreme West of London. Kew Gardens is home to the world’s largest collection of living plants and is arguably the leading institution in botanical research.
In general, it’s worth trekking away from Central London, just to explore. Hampstead is a tranquil and picturesque oasis away from the hustle and bustle of London life, Clapham is trendy and laid back and Royal Windsor is only a short train ride away.
London is one of the most-visited cities on the planet. It is a city of extremes, where various cultures, ethnic backgrounds and demographics mix and integrate in a relatively small space; residents of London will know that despite being eight million people strong, London feels very intimate. As a result, any tourist to London – either those with wanderlust or those wishing to see the famous things around town – will not be disappointed.