London needs no introduction perhaps; many people are familiar with the city, if not through direct experience then via literature, photography and cinema. It is a city phenomenally rich in culture and history. A visitor’s interests will naturally orientate them within the bewildering selection of things to do and our introduction can only begin to scratch the surface of what is available. With this in mind we offer a view of the city through a very personal lens, which we hope may serve as an inspiration. We have included a small selection of cultural classics and hidden gems that even locals or frequent visitors to the city can easily overlook.
For a first time visitor most of the sights will keep the attention focussed on the central parts of the city, but for the returning visitor the appeal of wandering into the distinctly different parts of the city to seek out the ultimate meal, the latest young designer, a pop-up bar or newest contemporary art gallery or installation will be rewarding.
There are many places to start to explore London; personally I never tire of taking a walk along the river. One of my favourite stretches, from Lambeth Bridge to Tower Bridge, also includes many of the architectural landmarks that are associated with the city. This stretch takes you past the Archbishop’s Palace, the London Eye, the Southbank centre, the Tate Modern, Globe Theatre and Borough Market on the South side of the river. And the Houses of Parliament, Somerset House, St Paul’s and the Tower of London on the North.
London offers an inexhaustible selection of ever changing things to do. The must do tourist attractions (you can’t beat a trip on the London Eye or a boat ride on the river – however touristy it may be!); the historic buildings and architecture (from the Houses of Parliament, to the Natural History Museum and the über modern Shard); the world class museums; the timeless classics (who can resist afternoon tea at Claridges); the royal parks, the beautiful English gardens and quirky canals. Either walk the enchanting tow paths that wind through the city or take the charming little canal boat that runs from Little Venice to Camden Lock (www.londonwaterbus.com); and of course the hidden gems (such as Smiths Square in Westminster or the statue of Samuel Johnson at Temple. Johnson was a remarkable English 18th century writer who famously said “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”);
And then there is the ever changing selection of exhibitions, plays, concerts and “up-and-coming” “hip” areas to explore. As in most other major cities these “hip” areas come and go, the rising star of today inevitably loses its allure to the next undiscovered or rediscovered gem. Pop-ups often lead the way to the latest darling that has been crowned “hip” and “up-and-coming”, and London Pop-ups (www.londonpopups.com) is an excellent site to get the latest news and details of different pop-up events around the capital.
For theatre the Donmar, Royal Court, Almeida and Hampstead theatre all offer a refreshing alternative to the traditional West End theatres and the Barbican, St Martins in the Field and Wigmore Hall have outstanding programmes of music throughout the year.
If art is your thing, then you are in for a treat. Over the last few years London has become the hub for all things to do with modern and contemporary art. People flock here from all over the world to study it, make it, buy it and see it. Sotherby’s offer an interesting selection of courses that cover everything you might want to know about art and the art market (www.sothebysinstitute.com). Freize, now an international phenomenon, started in London (www.frieze.com) and the annual exhibitions shouldn’t be missed. The Serpentine Gallery (www.serpentinegalleries.org) in Kensington Gardens is also excellent. With all the attention on contemporary art these days it’s easy to forget the more traditional and well established galleries who continue to serve up a fantastic selection of permanent and carefully curated temporary exhibitions. The Tate Modern, Tate Britain, Royal Academy, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery and the V&A are just a few who deliver outstandingly good exhibitions year after year.
One thing is certain, you won’t be short of things to do and see, as Johnson so rightly said “when one is tired of London, one is tired of life”.