Priorities. It’s all about priorities when you visit London. Why? Because there’s just so much going on in this buzzing, whizzing, never-stand-still metropolis that if you blink for more than a second you may be scared you’ve missed out on something. Let’s face it, you’re never going to get close to seeing and doing everything you’ve heard and read about when you get here, so your best bet is to make a short list of definite must-dos. And here are six you might well consider putting on that list straightaway…
Immerse yourself in history at the British Museum
First things first, if you’ve never been to London, thus never been to the British Museum, then there’s a strong argument for heading there first (and why it’s not just on this list but also top of it). It’s the biggest, most comprehensive and best museum in the world. Containing a staggeringly vast collection of artefacts (eight million on display at any one time) from every period of history and every part of the world imaginable, the British Museum isn’t just a place you could spend all day in, but somewhere that could take up an entire three- or four-day short-break. Seriously. In which case, in addition to the big hitters like the controversial Elgin Marbles and the Rosetta Stone, consider the fact this place also boasts a room that’s home to Ancient Egyptian mummies dating back more than 4,500 years. Consider that – and then go and see it!
Get a power-kick in Westminster
Truly, no visit to the UK capital is complete without a walk around the area that can lay claim to being not the just the seat of British democracy, but also arguably the birthplace of modern, successful democracy. Sure, the Ancient Athenians got there first in the 5th Century BC, but it was Britain’s slowly evolving ‘people power’ – and the gradual decline of regal rule – that properly birthed modern Western civilisation as we know it. And Westminster is, of course, where it all happened. It’s been the site from which the nation’s been ruled for at least a thousand years now and today is iconic for the Victorian neo-Gothic magnificence of the Houses of Parliament (and Big Ben) and the relatively quaint daintiness of 10 Downing Street, the terraced town house that’s home to the Prime Minister – and so where today’s real power resides.
Meet a blue whale at the Natural History Museum
A blue whale? Isn’t it a big diplodocus skeleton that famously hangs from the entrance hall’s ceiling? At present, yes; but from next year ‘Dippy’ the Dinosaur (which isn’t actually a real skeleton) will be replaced with a full, complete skeleton of a blue whale – the largest mammal in the world – diving down towards those who enter the building. But, of course, there’s so much more to entice young and old at this rightly ever, enormously popular attraction of South Kensington’s ‘Albertopolis’. In fact, it contains millions upon millions of different natural history specimens, some of them examples of now extinct fauna and flora. Don’t forget too the, frankly, just as terrific Science Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A – which focuses on decorative arts and design) are just down the road – and all three venues can be reached via a pleasant stroll through Hyde Park from a Kensington London hotel, such as the Shaftesbury Hyde Park International.
Sate your taste-buds at Borough Market
A sign of how full to the brim with so many delicious concoctions is Borough Market that you’re best advised to avoid this attraction just south of London Bridge on Saturday lunchtimes – because it simply gets too busy. As far as weekends go, Friday’s your best bet. You’ll have enough space then to make the most of all the stunning aromas, to check out all the tasty morsels on sale and free samples to wolf down and to generally soak in the irresistible atmosphere of this foodie’s heaven. Seafood by the hundred-weight, baskets and baskets of fresh fruit and veg, magnificently smelling organic breads and hot roast, burger, burrito and falafel lunch stalls are what we’re talking here. Is that your stomach rumbling?!
Learn to love modern art at the Tate Modern
No question, London’s fit to bursting with art galleries. And, for sure, there are some real doozies among them. And yet, while the established National Gallery – which *everyone* visits – in Trafalgar Square is fantastic, of course, the real place in the capital these days to see art and be seen seeing art is the Tate Modern on the South Bank; just across the river from St. Paul’s Cathedral. Why? Because in the mere 16 years it’s been open it’s fast established itself not just an essential London attraction, but also one of the world’s premier spaces in which to enjoy modern art. Constantly playing host to excellent exhibitions of established and lesser known artists’ works and attracting praise and consternation in equal measure for its well-publicised interpretative installations, it’s truly that rare thing – somewhere that’s as hip and essential as it is popular and universal.
Refuel in Regent’s Park
Fair dos, you can’t go wrong with a trip to Hyde Park (it’s a magnificent space of tranquil greenery), yet Regent’s Park – just north of Baker Street – is the Royal Park in London that maybe offers the most diverse features and, at the same time, is absolutely perfect for families as a refuge away from all the hustle-bustle of London Town at large. Graced by the beautifully colourful Queen Mary’s Garden, a boating lake, playing fields and tennis courts and even a pub and an open-air theatre (perfect for summer evenings), Regent’s Park really does have everything. Oh, and let’s not forget that the world-renowned ZSL London Zoo also falls within its boundaries. Honestly, what more could you – and your kids – want?