The perfect destination for a city break is without a doubt the British capital. Iconic London attractions such as Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace and the London Eye make London an easy choice for those looking for an exciting getaway.
Tea time meets clubbing, royal meets punk, corporate meets nightlife: What would be incompatible in other cities, finds harmony in London. Whether cutting-edge fashion, new musical styles, rare art treasures or fusion cooking, this city is a miracle where everyone can find something perfectly suited to their individual tastes! There is only one thing that remains truly eternal in London: its uniqueness. Global trends start here.
Major attractions at glance:
City of London: A Historic Heart, High Finance & Bankers
Between Long Lane, Smithfield Market and the River Thames lays the City of London. Here is where the historical heart of the city beats. Highlights such as the Tower of London, where the Crown Jewels are housed, St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Bank of England are all deservedly popular attractions. Beyond the glass façades of the finance and insurance sectors, “business as usual" can be observed, especially when the wealthiest Londoners break for lunch.
Sightseeing classics: The “Square Mile” as so many Londoners fondly call the heart of the city, is in fact not larger than a square mile, meaning many of the city’s major attractions, including the well-preserved Tower of London which was a Royal residence until the 17th century, or St. Paul’s Cathedral with its crypt housing some of England’s most notable residents, are all within walking distance. Around Bank tube station is the finance and stock exchange where, on workdays, a hectic hustle and bustle can be observed. The Lloyd’s Building, home of the well-known insurance company, is an architectural masterpiece. The Royal Courts of Justice at Fleet Street form the transition into the adjoining governmental district known simply as Westminster.
Museums & galleries: The Museum of London reveals a breath-taking look at the city’s history. Another must-see are the Crown Jewels, which are exhibited in the Jewel House of the Tower of London. On a stroll through Westminster it is worth paying a visit to Somerset House where the prestigious Courtauld Gallery is housed, or to the curious Sir John Soane’s Museum, located near Holborn tube station, home of the renowned architect who died in the 19th century.
Dine with the bankers: Many of the restaurants around the banking district are closed on the weekends; it is during the working week that the latest stock prices are digested here. Cuisine is international, ranging from Thai and Indian, to French, Italian and vegetarian delights. Of course, there are plenty of pubs too. Enjoy a pint at Shaw’s Booksellers, where insurance brokers can be seen wheeling and dealing with British cuisine on the menu.
Delicatessens & markets: The Victorian arcades of the Leadenhall Market is where you can observe Londoners biting into jerk chicken wraps or purchasing rich blue stilton at well-stocked cheese delicatessens. Wearing pin-striped suits and professionally-polished leather shoes, businessman in elegant attire can be seen out for lunch at the Brokers Wine Bar & Restaurant.
Westminster: The Palace, Sightseeing & Tourism
The political center of London, Westminster, connects with the southwest of the city and is a perennial fixture with tourist crowds. Well-known sites such as Buckingham Palace (the residence of the Royal family), 10 Downing Street (the Prime Minister’s office), Westminster Abbey and Big Ben, an iconic London landmark, all belong on any sightseeing tour. Also famous are the musicals and theater of the West End, and its associated club scene. If you fancy having the theater scene right on your doorstep, check-in to the Radisson Blu Edwardian Hotel, Mercer Street, located in Covent Garden.
Sightseeing: A highlight of Westminster is of course Buckingham Palace, with the golden statue of the Victoria Memorial. Those who arrive at the palace for 11:30 am will witness the Changing the Guard. Visitors who failed to book in advance will have to compete for a spot on guided tours of the palace during the summer months, when certain rooms and the Royal Mews are open to the public. Big Ben cannot be accessed without invitation, but it is worth hearing to the ringing of the 13.5 ton bell on the hour. Those who listen to the bell’s ring are reminded of German-English composer George Frideric Handel. Here’s our tip for the perfect souvenir photo! Be sure to get Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament in your snap from the vantage point of Westminster Bridge.
Sightseeing from above: On the southern bank of the Thames is an attraction that was only intended to exist as part of the Millennium celebrations, however due to the popularity of the London Eye, it still stands today. At a height of 135 meters, it is the largest Ferris wheel in Europe. The 25-person glass gondolas offer fabulous panoramic views of London, delighting many fascinated viewers who can be seen pressing their noses up to the glass.
Tea time in the park: In the cloister of Westminster Abbey lies a small café. Sit for a moment on the velvet cushions under gothic arches, and soak up the flair of the Royal Coronation church. For those who prefer al fresco dining, the Inn The Park is a perfect spot if you don’t mind splashing some cash; this truly idyllic restaurant situated in the middle of St. James Park has a hefty price tag.
The masterpieces: Gaping mouths can be seen in the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace: cultural vultures and gob-smacked visitors will be amazed by the works of great masters such as Rembrandt and Michelangelo. Within the changing exhibitions, pieces from the Royal painting collection are also on display. Two tube stations along at Southwark, works from the last five centuries can be viewed at the Tate Gallery of British Art.
Stylish accommodation: The City of Westminster offers exclusive accommodation alongside its plentiful sightseeing attractions. Near Hyde Park and the luxury department store Harrods, there is also the exclusive designer hotel Belgraves, a Thompson Hotel. The tranquil and nostalgic Victorian-Romantic style San Domenico House Hotel is situated directly between Buckingham Palace and the hip Chelsea area. Also located nearby is the bespoke Boutique Hotel Eccleston Square.
Kensington: Gourmet Paradise, Luxury & Green Lungs
Residents of this neighborhood reside behind beautiful Victorian façades. Kensington is home to the high-rollers, the wealthy, the beautiful and prominent, and this is reflected by the borough’s exclusive destinations such as the high-end department store Harrods and the array of upscale gastronomy found in the area, attracting a well-heeled crowd. The adjacent Hyde Park is London’s largest green space, also regarded as its ‘Green Lung’, where people relax enjoy picnics, and even rock and pop concerts during the summer.
Sport & leisure outdoors: Health-conscious Londoners who can afford to live in Kensington are often seen out jogging in Hyde Park, one of the largest metropolitan parks in the world, covering an area of 2.5 square kilometers. Kensington Gardens is situated in the west of the park, and in its center lays The Serpentine; a recreational lake on which rowing boats float and swimmers enjoy splashing about in the water. There is an outdoor swimming pool with a cafe (lido), a horse-riding track, deckchairs and many trees, under which residents spread their blankets and rest in balmy days.
Princess Diana Memorial: Kensington Palace, the final residence of the late Princess, is still a site for visitors to pay their respects with flowers and photos. Additionally the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain is located in the south-west corner of Hyde Park.
Museums: Culture lovers and knowledge-thirsty individuals will get their money’s worth in Kensington. Whether being enraptured by the world’s largest art museum (Victoria and Albert Museum), the earth’s history at the Natural History Museum or the history of technology at the Science Museum, there is hardly an intellect that would go unfulfilled in this part of London.
Luxury shopping: Here, with opening hours of her very own, is where the Queen does her shopping. The famous department store Harrods should not be missed by any London tourist; the dazzling array of goods on offer and impressive presentation makes for simply everything the heart could desire. Someone turning up wearing flip flops with three backpacks may find themselves out of luck however, as security personnel keep their eyes peeled for inappropriate attire.
Gourmet hopping: Around Kensington Square and Brompton Park many top restaurants can be found, such as Bibendum Oyster Bar in the Michelin building – an architectural highlight of Brompton Road – which serves some seriously upscale cuisine. Nearby at Thurloe Place is Kulu Kulu, an original sushi bar, where Sashimi and Nigiri are rolled out just like they are in Japan. Other notable international restaurants include Zaika, an Indian restaurant on Kensington Road.
Chelsea: Young Trendsetters, Designers & Galleries
Once an 18th century fishing village dominated by poets and intellectuals, then by punk, new wave and the avant-garde in the 1980s, Chelsea’s King’s Road has remained a legendary shopping mile that is today rather more elegant. In Chelsea, galleries and designer shops, as well as cafés, restaurants and pubs (Chelsea Potter, Babushka) dominate street life here.
Young & in-the-scene: Simply relax in a cozy pub and get a taste of London life: Chelsea is a neighborhood where you can enjoy just hanging out. Price-wise the area is starting to lean towards the expensive South Kensington neighborhood, but it still remains somewhat more affordable. Chelsea’s youth dress in sporty West End-style attire, and some even style their hair to reflect decades that they themselves are too young to have lived in; rock ’n roll, new wave, punk and the avant-garde. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards also lived on Cheyne Walk, which runs along the River Thames. Chelsea F.C, the cult football club, is also a dominant force in the borough.
Vogue shopping: Trendsetters lead the way on King’s Road, even though the era of more provocative fashion statements is proving to be over. This is where top designer Vivienne Westwood opened one of her first stores with punk legend Malcolm McLaren, manager of the Sex Pistols.
Contemporary art: On King’s Road, near the Sloane Square tube station, one passionate collector made his treasures accessible to the public. The Saatchi Gallery sees around 600,000 visitors and 1,000 school classes annually with its installations, sculptures and paintings in changing exhibitions.
Clerkenwell: The In-District, Clubs & Loft Lifestyles
Media-makers, advertisers and designers have all discovered Clerkenwell, a working class area on the outskirts of the City of London. Clerkenwell is now considered one of the top addresses of the city. In the open-air Smithfield Market, Londoners enjoy a variety of international cuisine. Culture lovers should not miss the Charles Dickens Museum (48 Doughty Street).
Working-class district for high-earners: Having a loft in Clerkenwell is very trendy for young Londoners. For creatives, the industrial look of the neighborhood’s former factory buildings is the perfect element to complete the creative aesthetic, but the whole neighborhood is revamping its look. Take a stroll and there is much for you to discover; striking façades, in-the-know cafés and contemporary design contrasted against derelict walls.
Scene bars & party times: Connoisseurs hunt for the best fish and chips in Clerkenwell (Golden Fish Bar, Fish Central). The mixture of backgrounds in the borough has produced a distinct gastronomy, with a price level reflective of its new population. Nightlife also has something special to offer: Club Aquarium has a pool (luckily including lifeguards) for its party guests. Fabric, as you can guess, is a dance hall housed in a factory hall.
Charles Dickens: You can trace the author’s footsteps right here in Clerkenwell. In Dickens House, the famous author worked on sections of his novels, such as the seminal ‘Oliver Twist’. Manuscripts and other personal items can also be viewed here.
Bloomsbury: Universities, Culture & Tourism
Already home to the British Museum, Bloomsbury is one of the most important spots in Great Britain, home to cultural treasures from all over the world. The district is mainly the seat of University College London (UCL), but it also offers special sites like the British Library. You may even discover platform 9 ¾ from the Harry Potter novels, which really exists at King’s Cross station.
The national museum: With almost five million visitors a year, the British Museum is one of the most important sights in London and one of the largest national museums in the world. Even the building itself, with its mixture of historic architecture and futuristic glass windows is seriously impressive. Cultural treasures from across all continents and eras of history, such as Egyptian mummies, await in the exhibition rooms. Admission is free with the exception of special exhibitions and events.
Historical train stations: The adjacent St Pancras and King’s Cross stations are monuments of great interest with their impressive façades and churches. It is at King’s Cross station that Harry Potter’s magical gateway platform 9 ¾ was imagined by author J. K. Rowling.
Student lifestyle & wax museum: Bloomsbury itself is a rather inconspicuous district dominated by intellectuals, largely due to UCL. However, the colorful tendencies of the students tend to be found in other residential areas such as Camden. For a leisurely stroll, Regent’s Park is located to the north, and to the east, the Marylebone district is a popular destination for visitors: Madame Tussauds wax museum provides many fun photos alongside the waxy figures of Bob Geldof, Charlie Chaplin and many more. The Sherlock Holmes Museum is also not far away.
Mayfair / St. James’s: High End Shopping, Auctions & Luxury Hotels
South of Oxford Street and around Piccadilly Circus luxury rules. Among the swanky shops are gourmet food stores (Fortnum & Mason) and high-end boutiques (Stella McCartney), or perhaps you might be tempted to make a bid for one of the many valuables up for auction at Sotheby’s. The hotels in these two areas are very exclusive, which isn’t a surprise considering it’s in the same ‘neighborhood’ as Buckingham Palace. In St. James’s lies Trafalgar Square, which is considered to be the center of London.
High-end shopping & sightseeing: Trafalgar Square (Charing Cross tube) is the ideal starting point for a stroll through the ‘true center’ of London, and offers a cultural highlight in the National Gallery. Pall Mall leads into St. James’s. Now you can turn left into the green St. James’s Park or carry on to Mayfair – to get a real feel for the nobility of these two quarters. Iconic fashion houses such as Yves Saint-Laurent, Burberry, Prada and Louis Vuitton, along with jewelers such as Tiffany and Cartier, are lined up on Old and New Bond Street. The famous auction house Sotheby’s also lies in the luxury strip.
Art & classical sounds: Classical music lovers should not pass-by the Handel House Museum. The former home of the famous German/British composer was recently reconstructed and can now be visited. On certain evenings a delighted audience can enjoy the live sounds of soloists and quartets. Contemporary art is to be found in the Royal Academy of Arts, and appreciators of technology can enjoy the Faraday Museum, named after the scientist who discovered of the Faraday cage.
Soho / Covent Garden: Nightlife, Street Culture & The Gay Scene
For night owls, Soho should be one of the first ports-of-call. Countless clubs, cinemas, theaters and bars all have their place here. People are also lured to Soho by special shopping destinations such as Carnaby Street and Chinatown. East of this district is Covent Garden, a tourist magnet and historic trading center which provides plenty of colorful activity.
Clubbing 24/7: Many who come to Soho want to hit the dance floor or simply enjoy the bar all night long. The choice of location is enormous, so the best option is to wander about and pick one of the numerous clubs which appeal to you. Some bars and cafés are open 24 hours, such as Bar Italia and Carluccio’s, while others are preferred by the LGBT scene such as Freedom.
Snacking & take-away: Late-night party goers can be seen indulging in the offerings from fast food chains with oozing burgers in their hands. There are plenty of alternatives for light meals and snacks in Soho, including pizza in specialty variations or tapas at The Providores. At Hummus Bros (88 Wardour Street) everything revolves around the delectable chickpea paste. If you prefer a proper restaurant atmosphere, this area can get quite expensive, but you can take your pick of Indian (busaba eathai, Punjab), Mexican (Wahaca) or, even Belgian (Belgoo Centraal).
London-style shopping: Near Piccadilly Circus lies Carnaby Street, one of the most popular shopping strips in London. In addition to the expensive designer stores, vintage shops with more affordable wears await you. Savvy scenesters can also be seen swinging into the side streets of Soho, where many little shops and boutiques are tucked away. In Covent Garden, street artists and acrobats attract big crowds.
Chinatown: North of Leicester Square is London’s Chinatown, an Asian world in the midst of the British capital. Often there are more tourists here than Chinese people.
LGBT Soho: At night the area around Old Compton Street is illuminated with bright lights and Drag Queen sparkle, attracting London’s large LGBT scene. However, the whole district is open and welcoming to people of all persuasions, so don’t be shy about popping into a typical Soho bar for a drink or two.
Notting Hill: Trend District, Flea Markets & Multicultural
West of Hyde Park, Notting Hill used to be counted among the poorer boroughs of London. After the movie success of the same name, the area was suddenly famous, which helped gentrify this diverse area. Despite the area’s development, a mixture of different cultures spiced by flea markets and family-run shops still exist here, especially as you head towards Kensington Gardens.
Flea markets & celebrity flair: Notting Hill inspired the movie of the same name, which starred Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant, and went on to fill the cinemas in 1999. The population is still made up of a mixture of locals from all over the world. At the Portobello Market, models and filmmakers are found next to notebook-toting students and housewives who could be mistaken for actresses. The population is occasionally drowned-out by crowds of tourists who are heading towards Portobello Road to visit the huge flea market there.
Cafés & scene-bars: The mix of cafés, pubs and shops in Notting Hill is as colorful as the neighborhood itself. Here you can find a store that sells exclusively cookbooks (Books for Cooks) and many hip spots such as the Notting Hill Arts Club and scene-pubs which cater to the young, stylish art crowd around Talbot Road.
Street festivals & carnival: This is where the legendary Notting Hill Carnival takes place, a three-day street festival which consumes the entire district in the last week of August.
Camden: London-Style, Idyllic & Creative
Camden is the territory of Londoners in-the-know with its colorful façades, cosmopolitan atmosphere and authentic character. However, there are many attractions here which entice tourists, such as Camden Market and Regents Park. Primrose Hill captures the charm of village life in central London. Further oases’ can be found further north and it is also worth your while to make a detour to the green borough of Hampstead.
Artistry: Once a rural area, Camden today is very much a part of the city’s northern region. Camden has been home to a number of artists, poets, and other individualists who found Notting Hill and other parts of London too expensive. The façades here are colorful and the atmosphere is neighborly.
Green parks: For excursions to Primrose Hill, visitors prefer take-away sandwiches and picnics while taking in the stunning view of the city from the hill. There is even more greenery to be found in the north, where the well-to-do borough of Hampstead borders with one of the most beautiful parks in London, Hampstead Heath.
Fashion industry & museums: Camden Market is a tourist attraction and mecca for fashionistas who join in the milieu of shrilling hawkers, curio stands and those on the hunt for something original. Camden also boasts a lot of cultural attractions: the Jewish Museum and the London Canal Museum are highly frequented destinations.
London - Good to Know:
Multi-faceted: Many of London’s boroughs were former independent localities which, together with their respective characters, have grown into the incredible metropolis it is today. The result is a patchwork quilt of elegant, brash, twee, contemporary and kitsch elements which fascinate in their entirety and result in a place where everyone can be themselves. The population of London is as multi-faceted as the city itself.
Cosmopolitan & multicultural: London has seen every fashion trend, every hair color and every style, many of them first originating in the city. This is a place that can no longer be shocked; one may even find themselves feeling nostalgic about the young punks still frequenting Camden Town. Mosques and Hindu temples are part of the cityscape, and many parts of London have been influenced by a variety of multicultural communities.
Tradition-conscious: Life-long Londoners, especially those members of the high society, have their own laws. The influence of Aristocracy is still felt in many places, and rituals such as punctual tea time can still be observed. The gentlemen’s clubs still found around St. James’s know no mercy. Even celebrities have to meet the strict admission criteria for some of these exclusive bars, and only a handful are classified as "clubbable".
Pop culture: The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd, swing, punk, Britpop and techno – hardly any other metropolis has produced so many cutting-edge bands, star DJs and musical genres as London has. This is reflected in a rich club and party scene which always provides new sounds as well as serving up evergreen classics.