Things to Do in London - page 3
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.
Running from Regent’s Park at the north end all the way to Oxford Street at the south end, Baker Street is one of Marylebone’s main thoroughfares, but for fans of Sherlock Holmes, it’s much more than just a shopping destination! Immortalized by author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as the home of fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, Baker Street has now become one of the most famous addresses in London literature.
Fans should make a beeline for 221b Baker Street, the detective’s fictional home – a grand Georgian townhouse, which now houses the Sherlock Holmes Museum. Next door, you can shop for souvenirs in the official Sherlock Holmes gift shop, then pose for photos with the nearby Sherlock Holmes Statue.
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.
One of London’s most fascinating yet often-overlooked museums, Sir John Soane’s Museum is dedicated to its namesake, the much-celebrated neo-classical architect who designed a number of acclaimed Regency-era buildings including, most famously, the Bank of England. The museum, housed across three purpose-built houses in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Central London, was the personal project and one-time home of Soane, designed to inspire and showcase his works to budding architects and students. Opening to the public after his death in 1837, the museum, although recently restored, remains true to Soane’s original design and displays over 20,000 architectural drawings and models.
The building itself is also part of Soane’s work, with highlights including a unique geometric staircase and an exquisite mirrored dome ceiling in the Breakfast Room.
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.
London is full of huge parks which the locals refer to as the lungs of the city. Hyde Park is one of the biggest and best known. Another of Henry VIII's hunting grounds, it is now a place of concerts, art and horse-riding. The famous Peter Pan sculpture is in the park, as is the Princess Diana memorial fountain.
You can row boats on the Serpentine lake, sit on The Lido in the summer or even swim if you are brave enough. Head to Speakers Corner, the home of free speech. In winter, the park has an ice rink for skating. But most people just bring a picnic and a football or a book, and while away the day in fresh air surrounded by rolling lawns and majestic trees.
The Royal Albert Hall in London was opened in March 1871 by Queen Victoria and was named for Prince Albert. Its original purpose was to serve multiple functions as a central hall to promote the understanding and appreciation of the arts and sciences. The building hosts concerts, exhibitions, public meetings, scientific conversations, and award ceremonies. It is also registered as a charity held in trust for the nation, but it receives no funding from the government and is financially self-sufficient.
More than 350 events are held in the Hall's main auditorium each year including classical music, jazz, folk and world music, rock and pop concerts, circus, opera, dance, comedy, tennis, awards ceremonies, and film premieres. Many of the world's greatest artists have performed here, from Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, and the Beatles, to more modern acts. The Hall also hosts events of national significance such as the Royal British Legion's annual Festival of Remembrance.
The one-time monumental gateway to Buckingham Palace might have been moved to Hyde Park in the 1960s, but Marble Arch hasn’t lost its regal poise and it remains one of central London’s most eye-catching landmarks. Designed by architect John Nash and unveiled in 1827, the triumphal arch is a masterpiece of gleaming Carrara marble, inspired by Rome’s Arch of Constantine and featuring fluted Corinthian columns and three archways, cordoned off by bronze gates.
As well as being one of central London’s most recognizable landmarks, Marble Arch has unofficially given its name to the small area surrounding it, including an underground tube station on the central line.
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.
Today one of the largest wholesale meat markets in all of Europe, Smithfield Market has been buying and selling meat and poultry for over 800 years. Also known as London Central Markets, this is the largest historic market still standing in the City of London.
Early risers can still witness some of Britain’s finest meats being hand-picked by London restaurateurs, or purchase their own meats, poultry, olive oils and cheese. The structure itself is known for its bright colors and Victorian architecture, and many visitors combine their visit to the market with a stop at one of the trendy Farringdon-area restaurants.
More Things to Do in London
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.
Forever synonymous with the lovable Paddington Bear, star of Michael Bond’s iconic children’s books, Paddington Station ranks as one of London’s most famous train stations. Located in west London, the busy station serves both national railway and London underground trains, making it an important transport hub, as well as offering a high-speed train link to Heathrow airport.
The grand Victorian-era building dates back to the 19th century, but today it’s a modern and bustling station, crammed with shops, cafés and fast food restaurants. Paddington Station is also a key stop on Paddington Bear tours of London and fans can snap a photo with Marcus Cornish’s Paddington Bear statue or shop for official toys and merchandise at the Paddington Bear shop.
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.
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.
A cultural melting pot by day with glittering riverside views at night, London’s South Bank is one of the city’s most vibrant destinations. Best known for its proximity to so many of London’s prime attractions, South Bank is opposite the Houses of Parliament, a mere stroll from Covent Garden and the Tate Modern and home to the London Eye, the Imperial War museum and the renowned Royal Festival Hall. Despite the tourist hoards, this stretch along the Thames waterfront (an area running from Lambeth to Blackfriars bridges) maintains its laid-back London cool and makes for an idyllic stroll through the heart of the city. And with everything from music concerts to art galleries crammed into the area, the only problem is deciding where to go first.
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.
On any trip to London, it's important to celebrity spot. Especially if Robert Pattinson or The Queen are in town. But if they prove to be camera-shy you'll find them more co-operative at Madame Tussauds, in fact, I bet they'll hang out with you for hours. But don't expect deep conversation. Because, of course, Madame Tussauds is a long-established and now worldwide waxworks collection.
Madame Tussaud was a Frenchwoman who made wax death masks during the French Revolution. She brought this travelling exhibition to London and it proved so popular - these heroes and villains were the celebrities of their time -that it's been a permanent fixture at the Baker Street site since 1884. These days you can wander freely among many contemporary heroes of stage, screen, music, sports, politics etc. Their clothing is often bought at celebrity auctions increasing the realism, their hair and makeup is restyled regularly, and each figures costs $125,000 to make!
With its ornate spires, elaborate friezes and 53-meter-high central cross, the Albert Memorial surely ranks among London’s most impressive monuments, and it’s impossible to miss, standing proud over the south entrance to Kensington Gardens, opposite the equally grand Royal Albert Hall.
Inaugurated by Queen Victoria in 1872, the striking memorial is dedicated to her beloved husband, Prince Albert, whose untimely death of typhoid fever in 1861, at just 42 years old, had left her grief-stricken. Devoted not only to Prince Albert, but to all his passions and achievements, the masterful Gothic design is the work of Sir George Gilbert Scott and features a central gilded statue of Albert, holding the catalogue of the 1851 Great Exhibition. Surrounding statues represent the Prince’s main areas of interest - engineering, agriculture, commerce and art, while the intricate frieze at the base of the monument features images of 178 artists, poets and musicians.
Overlooking the Thames in central London, Somerset House was originally built at the behest of Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and lord protector of England. In its original incarnation it was a grand Tudor palace, and one of the first examples of Renaissance architecture in England. Over the years Somerset house served as residence to Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Anne of Denmark, and General Fairfax. It was even used to display Oliver Cromwell’s body after his death in 1658.
Over time the original Tudor Palace fell into disrepair, and by the mid-19th-century Somerset house had been demolished and rebuilt as a grand and imposing neo-classical “national building,” housing various public offices. Today Somerset House functions primarily as a public space and cultural hub. Inside you can find the acclaimed collection of the Courtauld Gallery, cafes and restaurants, and visitors can enjoy free historical guided tours.
Just west of London’s famous Hyde Park, the exquisite Kensington Gardens are one of London’s most historic Royal Parks, once forming the private grounds of Kensington Palace. Stretching over 275 acres, the garden’s principal features include the snaking Serpentine lake, an ornamental round pond and an idyllic Dutch garden, dating back to early 18th-century designs by Henry Wise and Charles Bridgeman.
A number of attractions are interwoven by a series of formal avenues, lined with trees and ornamental flowerbeds. A beautiful statue in tribute of Prince Albert (husband of Queen Victoria) takes center stage at the Albert Memorial, a six-meter tall Roman sculpture known as ‘The Arch’ stands proud on the north bank of the pond and the 150-year-old Italian Gardens feature a striking white marble Tazza Fountain.
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