Things to Do in London
From legendary royals to pop culture icons and famous public figures; strolling the halls of the National Portrait Gallery is like taking a walk through British history. There are works dating from as early as the 13th century; Tudor portraits including Sir Thomas Cromwell, Richard III and Henry VIII, along with his six wives; and Victorian-era portraits of Queen Victoria, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde and the Brontë sisters. The modern era is well represented too, including royals like Diana Princess of Wales and the Duchess of Cambridge, actors like Alan Rickman and Helen Mirren, and instantly recognizable faces like The Beatles, Richard Branson and J.K.Rowling.
Opening its doors in 1856, the National Portrait Gallery was the first of its kind in the world and it’s now home to the world’s biggest portrait collection, featuring over 11,000 works.
One of London’s most atmospheric Victorian shopping arcades, Leadenhall Market has a history dating back to the 14th century, making it one of the capital’s oldest covered markets. Restored in the early 90s, the majority of Leadenhall’s current design dates back to 1881 and is the work of architect Sir Horace Hones - a striking mix of Portland stone pillars, gabled red brick entryways and exquisite paintwork, capped with dramatic glass and iron vaulted ceilings.
Today, Leadenhall hosts a small meat and fresh produce market during the week, but is best known for the many shops, cafes and restaurants that line its cobbled lanes, as well as making a popular stop for fans of the Harry Potter films – the distinctive arcade was famously immortalized on screen as Diagon Alley in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
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.
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.
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.
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.
More Things to Do in London
This indoor market on the outskirts of the City of London has historic roots that date back to the 17th century. Today there are a variety of stalls and surrounding shops selling food, clothing and designs with different themed stalls on various days as well. With many eclectic items on display—from jewelry to retro designs and vintage clothing— the market is a trendy place for Londoners to explore.
The General Market stalls are open Monday to Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., while the Antiques and Vintage Market stalls are there on Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Fashion and Art Market is open Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday is a themed market day, open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. There are even pubs and restaurants in the surrounding area and a record fair that takes place on the first and third Friday of each month.
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.
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.
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.
Few British royals were as universally adored as Princess Diana, the affectionately nicknamed ‘People’s Princess’, and the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain is just one of the many tributes and memorials erected in her name after her untimely death back in 1997.
Opened by Her Majesty The Queen in 2004, the unique water feature is the design of Kathryn Gustafson and represents Diana’s life, quality and openness, a continuous circle of flowing water, crafted from Cornish granite and crossed by three bridges. The memorial fountain lies on the route of the Princess Diana Memorial Walk, an 11km circular trail running through five of London’s royal parks and linking sights like Kensington Palace, Buckingham Palace and the Princess Diana Memorial Playground.
The London Film Museum, tucked away in a quiet part of Covent Garden, was founded and created by Jonathan Sands in 2008 following the success of Star Wars, the Exhibition. It is entirely dedicated to the British film industry and hosts regular, big-ticket film-themed exhibitions featuring original props, costumes and sets of all kinds. Past exhibitions include Bond in Motion, Charlie Chaplin - The Great Londoner and Ray Harryhausen, Myths & Legends.
The museum was once voted the best family attraction in Britain by the Telegraph. It also features a permanent exhibition (50 percent of which is from Sands’ personal collection) which contains cinema artefacts, photography, films and multimedia tools, taking visitors on a journey through the history of the seventh art, the democratization of its techniques and the story behind today’s blockbusters.
Known to many as the home of the most famous tennis tournament in the world, the Wimbledon grounds also house the world’s largest tennis museum. Numerous onsite galleries and exhibitions allow visitors to experience the evolution of the famous sport.
The collection of tennis memorabilia contains artifacts dating back to 1555, as well as interactive multimedia such as touch screens, a 3D cinema and a holographic John McEnroe. Items on display include championship trophies, film and video footage, championship player mementos and the Wimbledon library. An interactive gallery called CentreCourt360 presents visitors with a viewing experience of Centre Court.
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