London is a place where the historic past and the vibrant present come alive. A blend of history, ground-breaking architecture and culture has created an amazing and constantly evolving city.
London is one of the world’s most remarkable and exciting cities and has something to offer every type of traveller. Split into five distinctive areas, London’s east, west, north, south and central areas all offer a very different perspective on this vibrant metropolis that embraces the diverse cultures of its population, reflected through cuisine, shops, music and colourful festivals.
West London attracts millions of visitors each year with its live music venues, parks and riverside villages. It’s renowned for its plush and expensive areas such as Kensington and Belgravia and is the home of many major attractions, from the Royal Albert Hall to Kew gardens, and has excellent shopping grounds and beautiful architecture. Some of the country’s top chefs have opened fine restaurants and bars in Hammersmith, Chiswick and Ealing, and whether your preference is Caribbean, Indian or Oriental – try Edgware Road’s Oriental City foodhall – you’ll find something to tease your taste buds. Famous for Chelsea and Fulham football clubs and the new National Stadium, built to replace Wembley Stadium, West London is also home to Wembley Arena, the Hammersmith Apollo and the BBC’s headquarters in White City. London’s reputation as a destination for fine food continues to grow and has been rated as “the world’s best place to eat”, underlining the fact that it has become one of the gourmet capitals of the world.
At the heart of Central London, you will find everything usually associated with a trip to London from the lively streets of the West End and Theatreland, to the historic sites of the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace. Most places within this area are in walking distance of each other so with a basic city map, you’ll be able find your way around easily and take in some sights on the way. A more recent landmark is the world’s largest observation wheel, the BA London Eye, standing 135m high beside the River Thames and the country’s most popular paid-for attraction, welcoming 3.7 million visitors annually. Also home to the National Gallery, the delightful South Bank, Chinatown and the unique atmosphere of Soho. The River Thames divides the city into northern and southern halves, with Central London loosely described as being within the loop of the Underground’s Circle Line to the north bank of the river. Haute cuisine now comes from India and the Orient (try Yauatcha, the capital’s first dim sum restaurant) as well as from Europe and Britain (head to Lindsay House for modern British, or Rules for traditional English). There’s everything from top-end, five star restaurants to café-style options and plenty in between. What could be more English than afternoon tea? The Art Deco Palm Court at London’s Park Lane Hotel has become a member of Britain’s Tea Guild, which promotes high standards in the art of afternoon tea. Renowned for its elegant teas since the 1930s, it is the perfect escape from the bustle of the capital’s streets. The hotel has also featured in well-known movies, from James Bond’s Golden Eye to The Poseidon Adventure. Like all great cities, London never stands still. Approaching the magnificent National Gallery, you no longer dodge London’s traffic, for the north side of Trafalgar Square is pedestrianised – and site of an open-air café and regular entertainment. (And there is less traffic in the city altogether, since a charge, now £8, has been levied to drive in the centre).
Shoppers can find all the best high-street names in North London with a visit to Brent Cross, plus boutiques and restaurants in the villages of Islington, Crouch End, Walthamstow, Hampstead and Muswell Hill. Those in search of international flavours should head to the Turkish enclave of Green Lanes – if you time it right you might catch a music festival in Finsbury Park. And further to the north is the 19th century Alexandra Palace, set in 196 acres of parkland and offering ice-skating in the winter and open-air events in the summer. Not far away is Epping Forest, a 10,000-year-old woodland that was once a hunting ground of Henry VIII, the RAF Museum in Hendon, which boasts more than 100 planes, and a museum dedicated to William Morris, founder of the British Arts and Crafts movement. From Richmond upon Thames in the west to Bromley in the east, South London is packed full of history, culture and charming neighbourhoods. Picturesque riverside settings provide the perfect opportunity to roll out the picnic blanket. Outdoor attractions include the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, the London Wetland Centre – 100 acres of wetlands in Barnes – and Richmond Park, London’s largest open space, where deer roam free. Historical buildings such as Down House – where Charles Darwin wrote The Origin of Species and Hampton Court Palace are brimming with colourful tales. Shoppers will marvel at the choice of shopping in places like Clapham, Barnes, Kingston upon Thames and Croydon. Children find the capital especially exciting and there’s so much for families to do, from a ride on one of the River Thames cruise boats, to a visit to a museum or a trip to a theme park.
Nowhere does the old sit more comfortably beside the new than in East London, where diverse cultures and maritime heritage make for great exploring. This is London’s fastest growing area as it prepares for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Head to the Bangladeshi and Indian restaurants on Brick Lane for a delicious and authentic taste of the Asian sub-continent or visit the once rundown areas of Hoxton and Hackney, now transformed into buzzing scenes boasting great nightlife and eclectic markets like Spitalfields and Columbia Road. London has a new Sunday market in the heart of the trendy and ethnic Brick Lane area of the East End. The Sunday (Up) Market is within the 11-acre site of the Old Truman Brewery, within walking distance of Liverpool Street station. Products on sale, from a wide range of traders, include vintage clothes and shoes, hand-made handbags, jewellery, art, lighting, home-wares, accessories, food and drink. The market aims to be a platform for designer-makers and is set to join the capital’s other markets, including Old Spitalfields, E1; Camden Lock, NW1; Greenwich, SE10 and Portobello Road, W10, as ‘must see’ attractions for shoppers.
Despite a population of over seven million, more than 30% of London is made up of parks and green space, greater than any other city of its size in the world. This space provides the perfect opportunity for walks, relaxation or sporting activities. London also offers some of the best shopping opportunities in the world. From major department stores to designer boutiques and street markets – the choice is immense. As if that wasn’t enough, London is hard to beat when it comes to nightlife. There are huge numbers of restaurants, pubs, cinemas, theatres and nightclubs plus live music and comedy venues. So, at any time of day, whatever the weather, you’ll always find something extra special in London. For those on a budget, in the last few years several economy hotel chains have moved into the city. There’s plenty of choice from names such as Travelodge and Holiday Inn Express. Attractive weekend rates are available at some of London’s best hotels, to attract leisure business once the corporate clients have gone home. London is a very accessible city; it has five international airports, an efficient road network and extensive Underground, train, bus, and taxi services. The city is famous for a wealth of history and culture. Home to Britain’s national art collections, the Royal family and a host of major attractions, London’s rich history, striking architecture and over 200 museums offer a unique cultural experience.
Not surprisingly the capital has become a mecca for visitors and a great place to live. There is something to appeal to everyone and whatever your interests may be, the city has it covered.