The mania of 2012′s Olympic games may have died down, but there are still plenty of reasons to visit London in 2o13. Here’s our top picks of the capital’s attractions.
1. Best Museum
1. Natural History Museum. With its towering dinosaur skeletons, walk-through recreation of the solar system and globally renowned Darwin Centre housing tens of millions of preserved specimens, London’s Natural History Museum ranks among the best in the world. Interactive displays, mind-blowing exhibitions and stunning architecture make it a favorite for both kids and adults.
2. British Museum. One of the world’s largest museums, the British Museum, established in 1750, boasts a collection of artifacts covering millenniums and is now housed in a striking 19th century Greek Revival building.
3. V&A. South Kensington’s Victoria and Albert Museum, often nicknamed ‘the V&A’, contains over six and a half million objects sourced from all around the globe and spread throughout an incredible 145 galleries. The award-winning temporary exhibitions often draw in a younger crowd, paying homage to an array of fashion, art and photography icons.
2. Best Art Gallery
1. National Gallery. One of the greatest collections of Western European paintings in the world, housed in a spectacular domed building presiding over Trafalgar Square; this is London’s premium art gallery.
2. Tate Modern. A vibrant hub of contemporary art, the Tate Modern not only features works by Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol, but is renowned for its often controversial large-scale installations and hosting the annual Turner Prize. Be sure to visit the museum’s coffee shop post-viewing, for some great views over the Thames River.
3. Tate Britain.The oldest of London’s Tate galleries, dating back to 1897, the galleries are most famous for their extensive collection of JMW Turner paintings, displayed alongside British artworks from 1500 to the present day.
3. Best Afternoon Tea
1. The Garden Room at The Athenaeum Hotel in Mayfair. Finger sandwiches, macaroons and views over the lush Green Park are on the menu at The Athenaeum Hotel, which just won the Tea Guild’s Top London Afternoon Tea Award of 2012.
2. The Ritz, in the Palm Court.The glitziest location in town, ‘Tea at the Ritz’ is known as one of the great London traditions, with a decadent array of cakes and tea served up in fine china teacups.
3. The Royal Horseguard’s Hotel. With some wonderful views over the London Eye from its cozy Terrace, it’s no surprise that this luxury venue has scooped up a number of awards for its traditional afternoon tea, and there’s even a ‘mini tea’ service on offer for children.
4. Best View
1. The Shard. Opening to the public in February 2013, the rooftop observation deck at London’s The Shard will be the highest city lookout point, with 360° views taking in Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye, Buckingham Palace and a host of other key sights.
2. London Eye. London’s iconic big wheel, the London Eye, is still the most popular way to get a view of London from above, with views stretching for 25 miles – all the way to Windsor Castle on a clear day.
3. St Paul’s Cathedral. It’s a climb of 530 steps to the top, but worth it for the view. Make sure you stop to check out the legendary acoustics of the famous Whispering Gallery on the way up.
5. Best Day Trip
1. Bath. Step into Georgian England and the world of Jane Austen for a day, or soak in the famous thermal waters as the Celts and Romans did.
2. Oxford and the Cotswolds. You can’t get more quintessentially English than the City of Spires and the nearby Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Check out the architectural marvels of the university town of Oxford, then uncover the idyllic Cotswolds, with its thatched roof cottages and historic pubs.
3. Paris. Yes, it is leaving London and even the UK but when it’s only a couple of hours travel each way and not that expensive on the Eurostar, you’d be mad not to hop over to France for a day. Get an early morning train and spend the day munching croissants, marveling at the Louvre and taking in the views from the Eiffel Tower.
6. Best free things to do
1. Changing of the Guard. With all the pomp and ceremony of a royal occasion, the daily march of the Queen’s suited guards is a spectacle not to be missed. Get to Buckingham Palace early for a good viewpoint and watch as those famous bearskin hats get to work!
2. Museums and Galleries. Almost all of London’s National Galleries and Museums offer free entry (although it’s customary to leave a small donation) to their permanent collections, so you can enjoy some of the world’s best science, history and art collections without spending a penny.
3. Southbank Free Concerts. In the foyer of the National Theatre or the bars of the National Festival Hall there are often free after-work musical performances at around 5:45pm. St Martin in the Field Church on Trafalgar Square also has an extensive musical program with many lunchtime free concerts.
7. Best Market
1. Borough Market. Sprawling between London Bridge and the Tate Modern, this is the city’s most atmospheric food market, with plenty of local specialties, artisan products and free tasters on offer.
2. Portobello Road Market. So much more than just Europe’s biggest antique market, Portobello road comes alive at the weekends, with hundreds of stalls selling clothes, accessories, home-wares and bric-a-brac.
3. Camden Market. The center of London’s alternative fashion scene, Camden caters for everyone from hipsters to punk rockers, with four markets winding along the High Street, the famous Camden Lock and Regent’s Canal. Don’t miss the popular food bazaar at the Stables market, where a vast array of ethnic cuisines are on offer for very reasonable prices.
8. Best way to see the city
1.Riverboat. London has always lived by the Thames – for trade, for water-supply, for transport. River cruises give you a new perspective on this historic city and pass by some fascinating places like Greenwich, Richmond and Hampton Court Palace.
2. Bus. They can get snagged up in traffic but there’s no better way to see London than from the top of a red double-decker bus. Or take a hop-on-hop-off tour to cover all the sights in one ride.
3. Cycling. London’s traffic can be hectic but cycling is still a great way to see the city, especially the riverside and the parks. For a cheap, quick trip use the Barclay Bikes available from stands all over central London.
9. Best park
1.Hyde Park. One of the most popular central London parks, with its beautiful Serpentine lake, Hyde Park is more than just a picnic spot. The park hosts summer music concerts and festivals, a winter wonderland with a Christmas market and ice rink and year round entertainment like cycling and horse riding tours, or boat trips on the lakes.
2. Regent’s Park. Famous for its exquisite rose garden and boating lake, Regent’s park is one of the most quintessentially English of the parks. Don’t miss a visit to the nearby London zoo and Primrose Hill, renowned for its spectacular views.
3. Richmond Park. With a huge network of walking, cycling and horse riding paths, Richmond park’s pockets of wilderness make it a popular choice in West London. Free-roaming deer, ducks and the flowers of Isabella Plantation, add to the appeal.
10. Best romantic thing to do
1. Hire out a private pod on the London Eye with champagne. Book a nighttime flight and you can toast with a backdrop of the glittering River Thames and the moonlit London skyline.
2. Watch a West End show. Whether you’re interested in stage-stomping musicals like We Will Rock You, dreamy theatrics like The Phantom of the Opera or adorably fun modern classics like the Lion King, there are hundreds of all-singing all-dancing West End shows to add a dollop of sparkle to your dinner date.
3. Nighttime cruise on the Thames. Drifting down the Thames is one of the most atmospheric ways to experience the capital, with the glittering views taking in Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, London Bridge and the London Eye. A number of options are available so you can simply gaze out at the twinkling lights, enjoy a candlelit dinner on the water or dance the night away on a cabaret cruise.