Things to Do in London
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.
Fans of Harry Potter will be familiar with the importance of Platform 9 ¾. The fictional platform is located at the very real King's Cross train station in London between platforms 9 and 10. In the Harry Potter books and films, Platform 9 ¾ is where the Hogwarts Express can be boarded on September 1 at 11am. There is a wrought iron archway in between platforms 9 and 10, and the students must walk or run directly at what appears to be a solid wall barrier.
Due to the logistics of platforms 9 and 10, filming of Platform 9 ¾ actually took place between platforms 4 and 5. But so many people came to see Platform 9 ¾ that eventually half of a luggage cart was permanently installed to look like it is going through the archway. Harry Potter fans from around the world come here to have their picture taken with the luggage cart. There is also a Harry Potter themed shop located nearby where you can purchase a wide variety of souvenirs and prop replicas.
Equally as renowned as New York’s Broadway Theater District, London’s West End is widely acclaimed for its award-winning theater productions and vast variety of shows and musicals. Seeing a ‘West End Show’ is a popular pastime for tourists and locals alike, with regular performances of a number of world renowned titles like Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats, The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, Blood Brothers and many award-winning film actors from both England and the United States choosing to take to the West End stages. Recent hits like The Lion King, Mamma Mia! and We Will Rock You, have helped increase West End visitors to over 13 million annual show-watchers.
London’s most famous fictional detective is the focus of the eponymous Sherlock Holmes Museum, located at 221b Baker Street, the legendary address from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories. According to the stories, this was where Sherlock Holmes and his famous sidekick Doctor Watson lived between 1881 and 1904, and the character’s legacy has become so important to London tourism that the house is now under government protection.
The privately run museum is devoted to the life and times of Sherlock Holmes, with the house interiors faithfully recreated according to the texts. Holmes’ characteristic Victorian-style study is located on the first floor overlooking Baker Street; Doctor Watson’s bedroom is above on the second floor; the lumbar room is full of lodgers’ suitcases; and Holmes’ attic bedroom is found in typical disarray.
Few historic ships can boast of voyages as great as the Golden Hinde, whose round-the-globe expedition between 1577 and 1580, captained by Sir Francis Drake, was one of the great journeys of the Elizabethan era.
Today, a full sized reconstruction of the iconic ship, originally called the ‘Pelican’ and renamed the Golden Hinde mid-voyage, stands at Bankside along the River Thames, offering visitors the chance to step onboard and learn about the galleon’s great adventures. As well as peeking into the cabins and engine room, costumed actors and interactive tours allow visitors to discover the life of a Tudor sailor, and it’s even possible to help raise the anchor and fire the guns.
Located in the district of East London, this historic neighborhood was named after a tiny chapel that crumbled during World War II. And while its unassuming name may not entice the typical traveler, this London destination is filled with history and sites that make it worth a visit.
From old-school breweries like the White Heart Brew Pub, to abandoned slaughterhouses and famous foundries (including the one that cast Big Ben!), Whitechapel is as unique as UK neighborhoods come. And while these oddities make it worth a wander, it’s former residents like the notorious murder, Jack the Ripper, and the much-stories Elephant man who put this community on the map.
It might be the grand centerpiece of the Southbank Centre, Central London’s renowned cultural hub, and among the capital’s most famous classical music venues, but the Royal Festival Hall is also an impressive landmark in its own right. Located in a Grade-I listing building on the banks of the River Thames, the concert hall first opened its doors in 1951 during the Festival of Britain and now boasts a newly restored 2,500-seat auditorium and the lavish Clore Ballroom.
The Royal Festival Hall is best known as the home of the prestigious London Philharmonic orchestra, and the venue is used throughout the year for a host of classical music recitals, pop concerts, operas and ballets, including a number of annual music and cultural festivals.
Commissioned by King James I in 1616, the magnificent Queen’s House was originally a gift for his Queen, Anne of Denmark, but remained unfinished at the time of her death, completed instead by King Charles I in 1638. Designed in an innovative Palladian style by architect Inigo Jones, the grand garden villa remains one of the principal landmarks of Greenwich, now standing proud at the entrance to the vast Greenwich Park.
The Queen’s House is now owned by the National Maritime Museum and houses part of the museum’s art collection as well as an impressive array of Royal portraits. The lavish interiors are also open to the public, including highlights like the ‘Tulip Staircase’, the Great Hall, with its striking black and white marble floor, and a range of 17th-century furnishings.
More Things to Do in London
As the official London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury for almost 800 years, Lambeth Palace has a long and significant history, but for most visitors, it’s the building itself that garners the most attention. The palace’s 15th-century monumental gateway, known as Morton's Tower, is an imposing sight, but the oldest parts of the building, including Langton's Chapel and the Crypt date back to the early 13th-century.
Today, Lambeth Palace is open to the public by guided tour only, which grant visitors’ access to the Archbishop of Canterbury's lavishly decorated State Rooms, the Chapel, Atrium and Crypt, the 10-acre gardens and the magnificent, recently renovated Great Hall.
The grounds that once hosted athletes from all over the world has since then been turned into the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Though obviously constructed for the games, the site has expanded beyond the stadium and now serves as a major component of East London; the area is now open to the public and includes new shops, restaurants, trails, galleries and venues. The Olympic Park has been designed to host Londoners and visitors long after the completion of the games in summer 2012.
Sports reign supreme here, as they should in an area where world records were once broken. The state of the art Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre comes equipped with 10 court and two hockey pitches available for public use year-round. There’s also the one-of-a-kind VeloPark open for all sorts of two-wheeled fun, from track cycling and road racing to BMX and mountain biking.
Home to the largest collection of British Art in the World, the Tate Britain has a legacy dating back to 1897 and is part of a series of four Tate Museums around England, sharing between them a collection of almost 70,000 works.
Devoted solely to British artists, the permanent exhibitions feature works from the turn of the 16th century until the 20th century, with works by artists like Hogarth, Gainsborough, Whistler and Barbara Hepworth. Most notable are the sizable galleries dedicated to romanticists Constable and William Blake, and the biggest collection of paintings by J.M.Turner in the world. With the Tate playing host to the notoriously controversial annual Turner Prize, contemporary artists also feature considerably and the acclaimed 20th-century galleries present works by Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon and Tracey Emin. The Tate Britain is the oldest of the four Tate Museums founded by Sir Henry Tate and is housed in a Grade II listed building on Millbank.
The most exclusive shopping street in London, Bond Street is where you’ll find flagship stores for brands like Burberry and Bvlgari, Dior and Louis Vuitton. Officially split up into two streets that run between Oxford Street and Piccadilly in London’s West End, the southern section, known as Old Bond Street, was built in the 1680s under the command of Sir Thomas Bond, while the longer northern section, New Bond Street, was built 40 years later.
Since its inception, Bond Street has been the playground of London society’s most stylish and influential people, and former residents include Admiral Horatio Nelson and Lady Emma Hamilton. Today, Bond Street continues to be one of the most expensive strips of real estate in the world, and the Georgian and Victorian townhouses are famously home to Aspreys of London — jewelers to the royal family — and the capital’s most upscale art galleries and high-end antique stores.
Today, the Old Truman Brewery is a revolutionary arts and media quarter in East London, but centuries ago it was one of the largest breweries in the world. Founded in 1666 as the Black Eagle Brewery, it grew to be the world’s largest in 1873 before closing altogether a century later. Now, the ten acres of buildings that once formed the brewery are home to more than 200 businesses, including a variety of creative businesses and independent shops, galleries, markets and bars. Shoppers can visit Europe’s largest record store, Rough Trade, and clothing stores such as Absolute Vintage, Number Six, YMC and Traffic People. For eats, stop at the Boiler House Food Hall, featuring 30 stalls of international cuisine.
Definitely worth a visit is the Backyard Market, which was the first market in the area to open on Saturdays. There, you’ll find a mix of kitsch goods, arts and crafts and works by young designers and artists.
As England’s third-largest football stadium after Wembley and Old Trafford, and home to Arsenal Football Club, one of the capital’s most renowned football teams, Emirates Stadium is a top choice for those looking to soak up the atmosphere of a British football match. Opening its doors in 2006, the state-of-the-art stadium was designed by HOK Sport and cost an impressive £390 million to build, with seats for up to 60,365 fans.
Touring the landmark stadium is also a popular choice for fans, offering the chance to explore the changing rooms, complete with luxury hydrotherapy spas, walk through the players’ tunnel onto the pitch and stand in Arsenal Manager Arsène Wenger's spot in the dug-out. The on-site Arsenal Museum is another must-see, crammed with iconic photos and memorabilia from Arsenal’s long history, and fans can also shop for sports gear or print a bespoke Arsenal shirt at The Armoury, the official Arsenal shop.
Marylebone Village is an affluent area within central London and has been a fashionable neighborhood since the 17th century. Many famous people have lived in this area, and today it is a popular shopping district. Several hotels are located here so visitors interested in shopping in this area can stay nearby. Dozens of trendy retail shops can be found in Marylebone Village including both big brands and independent stores. Come here to shop for clothing, shoes, accessories, and more. Home stores located here are a great place to find items to decorate and furnish your home.
Many beauty and cosmetics shops are also located here, as well as spas and wellness centers for a little extra pampering and relaxation. For entertainment, there are movie theaters, a few museums, art and music galleries, and book stores. Two cooking schools are also located here. When you get hungry, you can find plenty of options for restaurants, cafes, and pubs.
A spiraling red steel tower looming 114 meters over the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, the ArcelorMittal Orbit’s bold design has polarized opinions since its conception. There’s no denying, however, that it’s an impressive feat of structural engineering and well on its way to becoming one of London’s most iconic landmarks. Erected in honor of the 2012 Olympic Games, the unique creation was a collaborative effort between artist Anish Kapoor, designer Cecil Balmond and steel-and-mining company ArcelorMittal, built using about 2,000 tons of steel, more than half of which was recycled.
Having survived two world wars and maintaining its status as a military pioneer, Britain is a country steeped in military history and whether you’re looking to marvel over towering tanks and aircrafts, get a harrowing glimpse of life in wartime Britain or pay your respects to the thousands who’ve lost their lives in combat, London’s Imperial War Museum offers an all-encompassing introduction to the capital’s war history.
Devoted to telling the stories of Britain’s soldiers and citizens, and educating younger generations on the Great Wars, much of the museum’s focus is centered on the two World Wars, as well as a series of acclaimed temporary exhibitions. A vast permanent collection of war memorabilia including tanks, aircrafts and personal items from the war years are on show, housed in an enormous Grade II-listed Georgian building.
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