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Things to Do in London

Cultured, cosmopolitan, and effortlessly cool, London is a city that needs no introduction. The British capital is not only one of the world’s most visited cities, but it’s also one of the most diverse, and there’s something to suit all tastes. Those looking to discover England’s traditional charms can stroll through Westminster Abbey, watch the Changing the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace, or take a red double-decker bus tour around the city. Art and history lovers can check off famous institutions such as the British Museum and the National Gallery, while foodies can tuck into artisan delicacies at Borough Market, indulge in afternoon tea at the Ritz, and grab dinner on Brick Lane’s Curry Mile. Those with kids in tow can ride the London Eye, pose with celebs at Madame Tussauds, and discover the magic of Harry Potter at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London. Central London boasts a roll call of iconic sights—Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, St. Paul’s Cathedral, London Bridge, the Tower of London, Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden—all within walking distance of the Thames River. Alternatively, a ride on the London Underground will take you to East London’s hip neighborhoods, the pretty waterfront district of Greenwich, or the colorful markets, music venues, and bars of Camden Town. There are also endless options for day trips, including the magnificent Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, the historic cities of Oxford, Cambridge, and Bath, Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, and even Paris.
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Fleet Street
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Making a name for itself in the 16th-century as the center of London’s printing and publishing industry, it seemed fitting that Fleet Street would be the birthplace of London’s first daily newspaper, the Daily Courant in 1702, and the street quickly became the de facto home of the British Press. Dozens of the country’s major newspaper offices and publishing headquarters once resided on Fleet Street, including Reuters, The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Express and the Metro, and although few remain, ‘Fleet Street’ is still used by Londoners to reference the city’s press.

Fleet Street’s most notorious former resident, however, is the fictional Sweeney Todd, the ‘Demon Barber of Fleet Street’ and the villainous star of several musical productions and films, including Tim Burton’s 2007 hit. If you believe the tales, the murderous Todd owned a barber’s shop at no. 186, where his victims were killed, then baked into pies by his neighbor Mrs. Lovett.

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East End
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Renowned throughout Victorian times as the home of the working class, the birthplace of Cockney Rhyming Slang and the stomping ground of the notorious Jack the Ripper, London’s East End has long been associated with the grittier side of the capital. But despite its rough-around-the-edges image, the East End remains one of Londoners’ favorite haunts and its high population of young and immigrant residents has made it one of the city’s most cosmopolitan and ever-evolving districts, teeming with fashion-forward nightclubs, vintage emporiums and modern art galleries.

Since the Olympic Games took over the city in 2012, East London has undergone a 21st-century makeover, with the vast Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park now sprawling over Stratford and a cluster of glitzy shopping malls and chic eateries springing up around it.

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Harrods
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If you only visit one store in London, make it Harrods. Established in 1834, it's now world-famous with good reason. It's a place to explore and be amazed by, more than just a department store. With seven floors of retail, the garish Egyptian escalator, sometimes a live opera singer performing in the stairway, memorials to Princess Diana and the renowned Food Hall, you'll be lost in Harrods for hours.

In fact it's such an iconic part of London, it even has its own range of souvenirs! Harrods also has a wonderful specialized range of tea, designer fashions, luxury accessories, cosmetics, furniture, books, and a number of tea rooms and restaurants in which to regain your strength.

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Beefeater Gin Distillery
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Discover the history of London’s famous gin at the city’s first gin distillery visitor center. The iconic Beefeater Gin Distillery opened its doors to visitors in 2014, with the aim to tell the story of London’s legendary gin production. Visitors are whisked on a journey back to London’s 18th-century gin heyday, walking down a recreation of William Hogarth's famous Gin Lane, through a Victorian-era Covent Garden where the herbs, fruits and flowers to flavor the gin were sourced, and peeking into 'Burrough's American Bar', where the secrets of gin cocktails are unveiled.

The experience is split into two areas, starting with the interactive exhibition space, accompanied by personal iPad guides, and followed by a guided tour of the distillery, where you’ll see the original copper stills, learn more about the art of gin making and enjoy a complimentary gin and tonic at the distillery bar.

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King's Cross
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Kings Cross was named after a monument for King George IV but the area was settled much, much earlier. St Pancras old church originated in 4BC. These days it's most famous for its train station: Kings Cross/St Pancras. From here trains go all over England, including to Hogwarts if you can find Harry Potter's Platform 9 3/4. It's also home to Eurostar, which whisks you to Paris and Brussels.

The surrounding area is slowly edging its way out of being one of the seediest parts of London. The magnificent St Pancras building is coming back to life as a posh hotel, the British Library is just down the road, and of course, the station redevelopment is full of shops and restaurants.

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Millennium Bridge
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The 330-meter-long steel Millennium Bridge stands over the River Thames, connecting the St. Paul’s Cathedral to the north with Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and the Tate Modern at the southern end of the structure.

Due to a noticeable swaying motion, which had some people clinging to the rails feeling seasick and others enjoying the exhilarating ride, the structure had to be closed down only two days after opening in June, 2000. Although it took almost another two years to complete the necessary repairs, install dampeners and make the bridge more stable, it had already become widely famous in the two days it was accessible and earned itself the nickname “Wobbly Bridge.” The suspension bridge is no longer wobbly, but it is still an interesting way to cross the Thames. And due to its low-hanging support beams and rods, the bridge offers nice views of both the City of London and the South Bank.

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Cambridge Theatre
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Opened in 1930, the Cambridge Theatre is one of the younger theaters in London’s West End. Standing on a narrow corner and made of steel and concrete, it provides an early example of a London theater adopting the modern, expressionist style that was popular in Germany in the 1920s. Inside, however, theater-goers will see bronze friezes depicting nude figures in a variety of poses, marble columns and concealed lighting. Red décor replaced the original gold and silver color scheme in the 1950s, while chandeliers and candelabras were added then as well. The theater seats more than 1200 on three levels and has hosted both plays and musicals over the years, though it functions best as a musical venue due to its size. Matilda the Musical has been playing since 2011.

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Brick Lane
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So infamous is the East London Street of Brick Lane that there was even an award winning novel and movie penned with the same name. The street, running from Bethnal Green to Whitechapel via the equally famous Spitalfields, has a rich multicultural history, first as home to a sizable Jewish population and more recently, as a settlement for many of London’s Bangladeshi immigrants. These days, Brick Lane and its surroundings are renowned for showcasing the eclectic and retro arts and fashions of the East End, as well as the being the destination of choice for curry lovers.

Brick Lane has earned itself a reputation as the go-to destination for sourcing vintage threads, with its annual Alternative Fashion Week cementing its status as an innovative and fashion-forward region of up and coming designers. Vintage stores and retro boutiques are dotted along the street, alongside a growing population of young, local designers, but the real draw cards are the weekly markets.

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London City Hall
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Opening its doors back in 2002, the glass-fronted, semi-spherical London City Hall marked a new dawn of London’s governance, providing a sleek, modernist façade for the London Assembly. The building alone is impressive, a geometrical masterpiece designed by architect Sir Norman Foster (who also designed the nearby Gherkin) and featuring eco-friendly natural ventilation, lighting movement sensors and solar panelling, as well as a dramatic transparent spiral stairwell that dominates the interior and climbs all ten stories.

The landmark building now not only serves as the official headquarters of the Mayor of London, but as a public exhibition and meeting space, including an open-air observation deck and free Wi-Fi to all visitors.

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Blackfriars Bridge
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Blackfriars Bridge is the busiest of the four bridges located in central London. It crosses the River Thames bringing both road and foot traffic from one side to the other. The bridge has been updated several times, but the current bridge is 923 feet long, 105 feet wide, and has five wrought iron arches. Stone carvings decorate the piers of the bridge. On the east side the carvings show marine life and seabirds, and on the west side the carvings depict freshwater birds. This reflects the tidal turning point in the river. Most river boat tours along the River Thames will sail underneath the Blackfriars Bridge along with Millennium Bridge, Southwark Bridge, and London Bridge.

In 1982 the bridge gained international notoriety when the body of Roberto Calvi, a former chairman of Italy's largest private bank, was found hanging from one of the arches of the bridge. Five bricks were attached to his body, and around $14,000 in three different currencies was found in his pockets.

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More Things to Do in London

London National Theatre

London National Theatre

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Both an iconic landmark and a prestigious performance venue, the National Theatre is one of England’s most renowned performing arts centers and a mainstay of London’s theater scene since it opened back in 1963. Even from the outside, it’s an imposing sight, looming over the waterfront of London’s Southbank, and its unmistakable yet rather unattractive concrete façade has long divided public opinion. The National Theatre boasts four purpose-built auditoriums (the Olivier, Lyttelton, Dorfman and Temporary theatres), as well as an open-air performance space in the forecourt, a bookshop and a collection of bars, restaurants and cafés open to the public. The theatre’s ever-changing roster of shows includes over 20 new productions each year, with past hits including West End favorites like 'War Horse' and 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time'; classic plays like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Tempest; and contemporary musicals like Wonder.land.

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Gabriel's Wharf

Gabriel's Wharf

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With its picturesque riverside promenade, colorful shopfronts and terrace cafés, Gabriel's Wharf is the ideal spot to soak up the atmosphere of the Thames riverside. Located on London’s lively Southbank, the redeveloped wharf lies just a short walk from the landmark OXO tower and the waterfront Bernie Spain Gardens, and is buzzing with life both day and night.

As well as browsing the many independent designer boutiques, handicraft stores and art galleries, visitors to Gabriel's Wharf can choose from a diverse range of cafés, bars and restaurants. Be sure to snag a table with a waterfront view – the wharf looks out over St Paul’s Cathedral, Waterloo Bridge and Somerset House.

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Westminster

Westminster

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The political, historical and cultural heart of London, the central district of Westminster is one of the capital’s busiest areas and home to so many of the city’s top attractions that many tourists never venture far outside its boundaries. Most visitors start their tour along the Thames River waterfront, where highlights include the Houses of Parliament, the Gothic Westminster Abbey and Westminster Palace, home to the iconic Big Ben clock tower, while the famous London Eye looms on the opposite riverbank. Close by is the grand central boulevard of Whitehall, which leads to Parliament Square and the Prime Minister's official residence at 10 Downing Street; Trafalgar Square, home to Nelson’s Column and the National Gallery; the Tate Britain and, to the north, the vibrant West End Theater district. Another star attraction of Westminster is Buckingham Palace, the official home of Her Majesty the Queen, linked to the city by St James Park, The Mall and the Horse Guards Parade.

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Oxford Street

Oxford Street

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The busiest shopping street in Europe, London’s Oxford Street is home to over 300 stores—from the capital’s flagship Primark to the country’s second-biggest department store—art deco showstopper Selfridges.

Following the old Roman road to Oxford for a mile and a half, Oxford Street runs from Marble Arch in the west end to Tottenham Court Road in the east end, and some of the other flagship stores you’ll find include Debenhams, House of Fraser, John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, and the world’s biggest Topshop — it covers five floors, 90,000 square feet of retail space, and sees a whopping 28,000 visitors a day. It hasn’t always been glitz and glamour for Oxford Street, though. The road was once notorious as the route prisoners would have to take from Newgate Prison to reach the gallows near Marble Arch. You wouldn’t know that today, especially in winter when the whole street sparkles as it gets decked in Christmas lights.

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Kensington Palace

Kensington Palace

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Kensington Palace has been a royal residence since King William III and Mary II renovated the existing house and moved there in 1689. Princesses continue to live there today, the most famous of recent times being Princess Diana. Queen Victoria was born and lived here until she ascended the throne and moved to Buckingham Palace in 1837.

Things to see in palace include Queen Victoria's bedroom, the imposing King's Staircase, the art in the King's Gallery, and the tranquil Sunken Garden. Also interesting is the Royal Dress Collection, including some of Princess Diana's famous frocks.

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London National Gallery

London National Gallery

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The National Gallery started out quite small. In 1824, the British government purchased a collection of 38 pictures from a wealthy banker and put them on display in his townhouse, but it didn’t take long for private donations to come trickling in. The early directors dreamed of something bigger, and a larger site was soon needed to house everything the gallery would contain.

Today, the collection is kept in an impressive pantheon-style building raised on a terrace atop Trafalgar Square, with its round fountains and double-decker buses flowing by below. More than 2,300 masterworks have found their home behind the columns of the National Gallery, dating from the Middle Ages through the 20th century and including pieces from big names such as Monet, van Gogh, da Vinci, Holbein, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Ruben and van Eyck.

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Leicester Square

Leicester Square

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The vibrant heart of central London, Leicester Square is among the capital’s most important navigational landmarks, located at the center of the West End Theater District, on the cusp of Soho and Chinatown. Leicester Square is always buzzing with activity during the evening hours and has long been renowned as the center of the capital’s film industry, home to 5 of the city’s biggest cinemas and regularly rolling out the red carpet for star-studded European Premieres.

Recent renovated, Leicester Square remains one of the top destinations for an evening out in London, with dozens of bars, nightclubs, casinos and restaurants, including favorites like the Häagen-Dazs restaurant, M&M World, Wagamama and Pizza Hut. Also on the square is the Trocadero shopping and entertainment center, a number of ticket booths offering cut-price West End theater tickets and several of the city’s most luxury hotels.

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Westminster Bridge

Westminster Bridge

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Carnaby Street

Carnaby Street

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Earning renown as an alternative fashion Mecca during the 1960s, Carnaby Street was once the hippest place to shop, home to iconic boutiques like Mary Quant, Lord John, Marion Foale and Sally Tuffin, and frequented by music icons like The Who and the Rolling Stones. In fact, the famous shopping street has become so synonymous with Swinging London that it’s been name-checked in pop hits like The Kinks’ ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’ and TV shows like The Simpsons, and even inspired a musical of the same name.

Today, Carnaby Street is decidedly more demure, but the pedestrianized shopping district still retains its left-of-centre attitude, as well as its distinctive yellow arches and two plaques commemorating mod fashion pioneer John Stephen and The Small Faces (outside no.1 and no.52 respectively). Of course, the main reason to visit Carnaby Street is the shops and there are plenty to choose from, including many independent fashion.

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Mayfair

Mayfair

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Owing legendary status to its monopoly board incarnation – the most expensive property on the board, no less – Mayfair maintains its reputation as one of Central London’s most affluent districts – it was even the birthplace of Her Majesty the Queen. Stretching between Oxford Street, Piccadilly and Regent Street, and bounded by Hyde Park to the West, the area was named after the May Fair held there during the 17th and 18th centuries.

The district’s principal shopping streets include the world famous Bond Street, home to Balenciaga, Christian Louboutin, Jenny Packham and Marc Jacobs, among others and Saville Row, legendary for its exquisite men’s tailoring.

It’s not just shopping that draws visitors to the streets of Mayfair – there are around 20 art galleries in the area, as well as the Handel House Museum, set inside the former home of the renowned composer, and the Royal Academy of Arts lies on the cusp of Picadilly.

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London Natural History Museum

London Natural History Museum

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From the awe-inspiring dinosaur skeletons to the fascinating creepy-crawlies gallery, London’s Natural History Museum is a trove of curiosities sure to impress all ages. The gigantic museum dates back to 1881 and houses some 70 million specimens, organized into four color-coded discovery zones and hundreds of interactive exhibitions.

As well as learning about human biology and evolution; marveling over fossils and rocks; and seeing a life-size model of a blue whale, visitors can experience an earthquake simulator, challenge themselves with interactive quizzes and get up close to birds, flowers and insects in the wildlife garden. Notable highlights include a huge Diplodocus skeleton and an animatronic T-Rex in the Dinosaurs Gallery; the mind-boggling taxonomy collection in the Darwin Centre; and the Human Evolution Gallery, home to the first adult Neanderthal skull ever discovered.

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Regent Street

Regent Street

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Lined with grand Victorian buildings and big-name shopping boutiques, Regent Street was London's first dedicated shopping block, dating back to the early 19th century. Running for just over a mile (2 km) between Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Circus, the historic boulevard is now both a major traffic thoroughfare and one of London's busiest streets, welcoming more than 7.5 million annual visitors.

Regent Street is well-established as a shopping Mecca, with over 75 flagship stores including Liberty department store, Hamley’s Toy Store and one of the world’s largest Apple stores, plus designers like Burberry, J.Crew, Anthropologie and COS. Above the dazzling shopfronts, the street is also home to an impressive array of Grade II listed buildings, including the All Souls Church, built by acclaimed architect John Nash, and an eye-catching collection of contemporary street art.

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St. Pancras International

St. Pancras International

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Victoria and Albert Museum

Victoria and Albert Museum

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Largely recognized as the world’s greatest museum of art and design, the Victoria and Albert Museum, often nicknamed ‘the V&A’, is one of the capital’s premium museums, taking over a 12.5-acre plot in central London’s South Kensington. Opened back in 1852 and designated in honor of the reigning monarch Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, the museum’s vast collection is spread throughout an incredible 145 galleries and spans 5,000 years of creativity.

Containing over six and a half million objects sourced from all around the globe, the free permanent collection is split into four main departments - Asia, Furniture, Textiles and Fashion; Sculpture, Metalwork, Ceramics & Glass and Word & Image. Most notable are the Medieval & Renaissance galleries where a magnificent series of sculptures, carvings and artworks mark the birth of art as we know it; the Jewelry Gallery, with its glittering collection of jaw dropping jewels and the British Galleries.

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