Things to Do in London
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Soho is one of London's most famous areas. Bounded by Charing Cross Road, Oxford Street, Regent Street and Shaftesbury Avenue, it's a close-knit tangle of busy streets with some of London's best cafes (Bar Italia), music venues (Ronnie Scott's), pubs (the French House), shops, nightclubs and history. Once famed as a seedy red-light area, now it's a cultural hub, full of actors, artists, musicians, and the center of London's gay scene.
In summer, people flock to lovely Soho Square to loll on the lawn. In winter, stroll Carnaby Street and famous Liberty department store for fashion, or eat decadent cakes at Princi in Wardour Street. Sit outside Bar Italia and celebrity spot, especially before and after theater shows on the nearby Shaftesbury Avenue.
Part of London’s famous series of Imperial War Museums, the original Churchill War Rooms, set in the Prime Minister’s secret underground headquarters. The maze of rooms in the basement of a Whitehall building, initially set-up to protect key government figures from the Blitz bombings, were known as the ‘Cabinet War Rooms’ and became a vital center of operations from 1940 to 1945.
After the end of the war, the rooms remained secret until they were opened to the public in 1984 after restoration efforts by the Imperial War Museum. Today, the museum explores the life and legacy of Winston Churchill and includes stories, speeches, photos, video interviews and documents. Here, you can explore the main Cabinet War Room, the ‘Courtyard Rooms’, the ‘Bunker’ and the ‘Map Room’
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
Located in the heart of St. James in the City of Westminster in London, Jermyn Street is one of London’s most historic and fashionable districts. Dating back to 1664, it was dominated by the Church of St. James and lined with houses, hotels, schools and taverns. Today, it has developed a reputation for high quality British artistry and craftsmanship and is home to the finest tailors, shirt makers, leather suppliers, food and wine merchants and art galleries in the city. It is also where you will find the 70 seat Jermyn Theatre, the smallest in the West End.
Named after Henry Jermyn, who is widely regarded as the founder of London’s West End, Jermyn Street has been home to notable Brits such as Sir William Stanley, Sir John Churchill, Sir Isaac Newton, William Pitt, Sir Walter Scott and William Gladstone.
The world's largest maritime museum, this site offers an impressive gallery displaying 500 years of Britain's history with the sea. In total the collection has nearly 2.5 million items, some of which are on loan to other museums across Britain. Visitors can spend hours viewing the maritime art, cartography, ship models and plans, manuscripts and navigational instruments on display, not to mention the ship simulator and interactive exhibits located on the second floor.
One of the most unique offerings of the museum is the Sammy Ofer wing, which houses special exhibitions, a permanent gallery, an extensive library and a cafe with views of Greenwich Park. All together, the National Maritime Museum, the Queen’s House and the Royal Observatory form the Maritime Greenwich UNESCO World Heritage site. Along with the Cutty Sark, a British clipper ship on display in the area, this collection of historical sites is now known as Royal Museums Greenwich.
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.
The aptly named Green Park is one of London’s eight royal parks. The smallest and most modest of the collection, the park is peaceful Green Park is peaceful with many trees and trails but no buildings. There are only a handful of monuments, including the Canada Memorial, which honors Canadians who lost their lives during both world wars. There is a walkway that represents Britain and Canada’s joint participation in the wars.
The 47-acre area is located in Westminster, situated between the nearby Hyde and St James parks, and it is not uncommon to see picnickers, joggers and dogs enjoying the park as they please, especially during the summer months.
The Monument to the Great Fire of London, often simply known as ‘The Monument,’ is a Doric Greek column built to commemorate the Great Fire of London. The monument, designed by Sir Christopher Wren and built between 1671 and 1677, is located near the northern end of London Bridge and has been welcoming visitors for more than 300 years. There are now many cafes and restaurants that have popped up around this historic landmark. Visitors may climb the 311 steps leading to the top of the monument, and get rewarded with spectacular views of the city of London (and a certificate of athletic prowess!). The monument was built to commemorate the Great Fire of London and to celebrate the rebuilding of the city after the destruction caused by the fire, which began in a baker’s house on Pudding Lane and raged for three days – destroying much of the city. The only buildings that survived the fire were the ones built of stone (like St. Paul’s Cathedral).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Portobello market is world renowned for its antiques market with over 2,000 specialist dealers and vast crowds of bargain hunters, but the two-mile long sprawl includes a plethora of other goods. Vintage clothing, local designers and handcrafted accessories make up the fashion section of the market, with an array of unique and trend-setting pieces on offer, and plenty of incognito celebrities scouring the clothing racks. Hoards of eccentric retro memorabilia, one-of-a-kind furniture and second-hand household items, a wide range of bootlegged music and vinyl and a sprawling fruit and vegetable market, make up the rest of the stalls.
The street market is open six days a week but the Saturday market (which includes the main antiques market) is the most popular and crammed with vendors. There’s plenty to keep you occupied when you’ve finished shopping too – a number of independent art galleries, vintage clothing boutiques, bars and chic cafés.
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.
At the heart of London’s Westminster district, the aptly named Parliament Square is a pocket of greenery at the epicenter of some of the capital’s most significant buildings and makes a popular photo opportunity for tourists, as well as being the site of many public protests and demonstrations. Notable buildings include the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben to the east, Westminster Abbey to the south, the Supreme Court to the west and Her Majesty's Treasury and the Churchill War Rooms to the north.
Parliament Square is also home to a prominent collection of statues of legendary statesmen, both from the UK and overseas, and including Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Oliver Cromwell and Richard I, 'The Lionheart, as well as the most recent addition, Gandhi.
The Banqueting House is nothing short of one of London’s finest establishments; it is, in fact, the only remaining component of the Palace of Whitehall –the main residence of London-based English monarchs between 1530 and 1698, including prominent members of the Tudor and the Stuart families like Bloody Mary and Henry VIII. At 1500 rooms and 23 acres in surface, it had grown to be the largest royal palace in Europe before it was destroyed by fire.
The Banqueting House actually played a significant role in English history: it is where King Charles I’s was executed and where the Declaration of Rights was read to new King and Queen William and Mary, before it was granted to the Royal United Service Institute for use as a museum by the philanthropic Queen Victoria in the late 1800s.
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