Things to do in London

Get Your Bearings in London

By Emma Wallis
London Expert

See & Do
Stay
Eat
Party
Shop

Things to See

London is one of the most visited cities in the world, and so attractions and monuments are not at all hard to find. Most visitors to London want to take in Buckingham Palace (in the hope of seeing a resident Royal lurking around), The Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey or St Paul's cathedral. For museums, you can take your pick depending on your taste. High fashion and design? Head for the V and A; for mummies, artifacts and an interesting take on Britain's past, try the British museum. For cutting edge technology, the Science museum is your best bet.

Caution:

Museums are generally free, but you now have to pay at St Paul's Cathedral, so be prepared.

Hot Tips:

If you have kids, head for the Science Museum, the interactive exhibitions are the best.

Where to Stay

London's hotels cover everything, from dripping-in-luxury, designer havens to relatively budget places; but even the budget places don't come cheap. The latest trend is for boutique hotels, and designer bed and breakfasts, or renting a flat for a few weeks. That way, you can feel like a real resident, choose your favorite part of town and explore some of London's quieter sides, markets and parks. But big hotels can be a good deal in London too, and keep you in the centre, close to all the buzz.

Caution:

It's always best to see what other travelers thought of a hotel, particularly the ones at the cheaper end, before booking.

Avoid:

Being too near a train station if they are at the cheaper end of the market.

What to Eat

You can literally eat the world in London, and everything in between. The British capital is one of the most multicultural places on earth, so it's easy to find food that represents every community that has ever set foot in the metropolis. But, it's not just great international food that you can find, Britain now has a great reputation for rediscovering its traditional cuisine and you can buy, sample and eat fine cheeses from the Isles, wine from Cornwall and brilliant pies, breads, cakes and stews in tucked away corners all around the city.

Avoid:

Restaurants with pictures for menus.

Hot Tips:

Pop-up restaurants, vans and market stalls have started many top chefs and great places to eat on their cooking road to fame.

Places to Party

London is not exactly the city that never sleeps, but there is plenty of nightlife variety, and constant new trends in music, fashion and entertainment. Working men's clubs (now open to everyone) have become trendy in the last few years, as have burlesque nights, comedy and theatre. For clubbing, it's best to look at weekly listings to find out what's coming up, but the high-end clubs tend to be around Bond Street and in Kensington and the quirkier end in the East, and don't miss out on a few pints in a traditional pub either.

Caution:

The further west you go, the smarter the dress code, but even in the East, you need to be the 'right' kind of hipster to get in to some places.

Hot Tips:

Make sure you visit a few pubs in London, from normal drinking holes to theatre pubs, music pubs and pubs that become clubs, there is something to suit everyone's tastes in London.

Where to Shop

London is a mecca for shopping, and every neighborhood has its own attractions.  The biggest old-style shopping streets are found around Oxford Street, Regent Street and Bond Street in the centre of town where big department stores display their wares in sparkling windows, and all the well-known chain stores can be found. Kensington High Street is a slightly smaller and less crowded version of Oxford Street. If you want high-end, quieter shops, try Hampstead or Richmond; if quirky is your thing, then Spitalfields market, Brick Lane and the East End will not disappoint.

Avoid:

Saturdays if you can, particularly in the West End.

Take It or Leave It:

Quirky young designers and vintage clothes are best found in and around markets, Spitalfields or Portabello.

Hot Tips:

If you like shopping in malls, London has two of the biggest, Westfield at either end of the Central Line.

Things to do in London


London is known for...

Five of London's most unique features and characteristics.

1. The Queen & Royal Family:

Apart from being England’s capital city and the Queen’s back garden, London is home to the world’s now favourite power couple, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (Wills and Kate). Summer 2012 promises to delight royal fans as London leads UK celebrations for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and 60 years as ruling monarch from 2-5 June. Young Royal spotters may head to Boujis – a club in sloaney South Kensington for a chance to spot Harry enjoying a right royal knees up. The changing of the guards is another royal must-see but you’re unlikely to ever witness one of the Queen’s Grenadier Guards crack a smile.

2. Houses of Paliament and Bonfire Night Conspiracy:

Remember, Remember the 5th of November, gunpowder, treason and plot…  In 1605, a now infamous plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament was thwarted, resulting in a much celebrated UK tradition where bonfires are lit and fireworks blast into wintery skies all across the Capital. One conspirator in particular, Guy Fawkes (the original Fall Guy) took most of the rap. Despite Guy and his friend’s best efforts the Houses of Parliament still stand proud on Embankment as Britain’s steadfast political seat while Big Ben continues to chime on the quarter hour.

3. Black Cabs:

All hail the London cabbie! Those who do won’t have to travel too far before they share a story or two. With only a ‘couple of quid’ on the meter you discover two things. Firstly they are not keen to drive ‘South of the river’ and secondly that unlike cabbies in most parts of the world, the iconic "black cab" driver knows the intricacies of the city’s A to Z of streets having studied the official ‘knowledge’ for four years.

4. Cockney Culture:

Born under the sounds of the Bow bells, East Londoners may now live in one of the cooler parts of town for the chic Hackney bars and street market culture. Mile End, Stratford, Plaistow and Bethnal Green are the tube stops to find the real East end famous for gangsters, jellied eels and pearly kings and queens. Even more famous is the local dialect cockney rhyming slang: apples and pears (stairs), cup of rosy lee (tea) and whistle and flute (suit).

5. 2012 Olympics:


The capital’s all abuzz over London 2012. Backed by the likes of David Beckham, Prince William and London’s eccentric yet affable Mayor, Boris Johnson, the main focal point of the event is a new Olympic Park in the East End. The site spans 357 football pitches, has an 80,000 seat capacity and a Stadium standing 53m tall: three metres taller than Nelson’s Column. Soon, it will play host to athletes, media and spectators from around the world, all hoping their team brings home precious metal. British hopes rest with two-time Olympic Gold-winning swimmer, Rebecca Adlington and the blur that is the most successful Olympic male cyclist of all time, Sir Chris Hoy. www.london2012.com