“The man who tires of London tires of life.
For there is in London all that life can afford.”
— Samuel Johnson
A city of contrasts, London is simultaneously the cradle of pomp, pageantry, and history and the birthplace of all things groundbreaking and cutting edge. Once the immutable capital of fish-and-chips, it’s now a cheerful chameleon, brilliantly reinventing itself when no one is looking, then preening nonchalantly when the global spotlight turns its way.
British Museum—Unless you have a week to visit the 2.5 miles of galleries, head for Elgin marbles (which once decorated the Parthenon in Athens), the Rosetta Stone, the Magna Carta, and the Egyptian mummies.
Buckingham Palace—Official residence of the queen. When she’s away in August and September, parts of the 600-room landmark (the state apartments, the throne room, and the Picture Gallery) are open to the public. The Changing of the Guard is done on alternate days at 11:30 A.M.
Hampton Court—Five hundred landscaped acres of gardens and a famous maze of tall hedges (the key is to turn left upon entering). For 200 years a royal palace: Henry VIII and five of his six wives lived here. Owes much of its present look to Sir Christopher Wren.
Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens—Hyde Park is London’s largest park, and was once the favorite deer-hunting ground of Henry VIII. Well-manicured Kensington Gardens blends with Hyde, bordering Kensington Palace.
National Gallery—One of the world’s best art collections, with works by every major European school from the 13th to the early 20th century.
St. Paul’s Cathedral—The 17th-century masterpiece of Sir Christopher Wren (who is buried in the crypt) is located in the Wall Street-like area called The City. Encircling the great dome (which offers a wonderful 360-degree view of London) is the Whispering Gallery—be careful what you say.
Tate Gallery—The largest repository of British art, divided into two separate museums. The Tate Britain houses the classics, while the Tate Modem (connected by a footbridge across the Thames) houses art from 1900 to the present.
Tower of London—Built in the 11th century by William the Conqueror, the Tower contains the Crown Jewels (including the 530-carat Star of Africa diamond and Queen Victoria’s crown, studded with some 3,000 jewels, mostly diamonds), the macabre Execution Row (where Anne Boleyn, among others, met her fate), and many other exhibitions.
Victoria and Albert Museum—The largest decorative arts museum in the world, with works from all periods and all corners of the world. Includes the largest collection of Italian sculpture outside Italy, and the best museum gift shop.
Westminster Abbey—This English Gothic cathedral has been the site of almost every7 British coronation since 1066. The Henry VII Chapel, built in 1503, is one of the most beautiful in Europe. The Poets Comer has monuments to and tombs of Chaucer, Thomas Hardy, Tennyson, Browning, and others.
Other Must Do’s
A night at the theater In the West End (Trafalgar Square; listings at www.londontheatre.co.uk), fifty-plus theaters promise some of the best and most varied theatergoing in the world.
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (Southwark; www. shakespeares-globe.org), open since 1997, is a faithful re-creation of the original 1599 Elizabethan theater, complete with thatched roof and productions staged as they were during the Bard’s lifetime (but not all in period costume).
Royal Shakespeare Company, Britain’s national theater company, performs throughout the year at various theaters in London.
Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships is the tennis world’s most prestigious tournament. Most tickets disappear by December for the mid-to late-June event.
Kew Gardens—London’s vast 300-acre indoor/outdoor Royal Botanical Gardens boast 50,000 species of plants, including the world’s largest orchid collection.
National Portrait Gallery—An offshoot of the National Gallery next door, the Portrait Gallery is dedicated to collecting “the likenesses of famous British men and women,” from Hans Holbein the Younger’s Henry VIII portraits to Andy Warhol’s silkscreen of Mick Jagger.
Regent’s Park—The most classically beautiful of London’s parks, with hundreds of deck chairs that invite sunbathing.