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London Travel Guide

flights to London

From Big Ben, St. Paul's Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge London is possibly the most photographed and instantly recognisable places in the world. An organic city it bustles like no other, the centre made up of several remarkably diverse areas each with a distinctive character and all imbuing an unquestionably British atmosphere. First time visitors may well be surprised at how unglamorous and down right grubby much of the city actually is but once you’re over this (and just the sight of a couple of the breathtaking landmarks is enough to ensure you do) the seediness actually becomes part and parcel of its appeal. What strikes you is, despite its sprawl and haphazard, often ugly buildings, it still manages to capture the imagination. Everywhere you look there are little (or quite often huge) reminders of the City’s phenomenal history from Dickens to the Swinging Sixties, the Blitz to Punk Rock you’ll find it all!

High on the agenda for any visitors to the British Capital is a look at the Royal Home itself, Buckingham Palace. First opened to the public in 1993 a peep inside one of the world’s most revered of abodes has proven an irrisistable prospect to millions. From the abundance of gold leaf throughout to the awesome Grand Staircase you are left in no doubt as to importance of the building’s residents. For many the highlight is the Throne Room, which simply oozes historic ambience, or the magnificent gallery with its fine collection of masterpieces and royal portraits. Of course, when visiting Buckingham Palace it would be a shame to miss out on London’s most famous spectacle, The Changing of the Guard, an event where the colour of the ceremony is equally matched by the enthusiasm of the huge crowd in attendance.

For the art lover, London is a dream come true. The dozens of galleries include some of the finest art collections in the world. The 11acre Victoria and Albert has the worlds largest collection of decorative arts in 146 galleries, including ceramics, sculptures, furniture, jewellery, metalwork, textiles and dress from around the world. The National Gallery has a collection of 2,300 paintings (including many well known masterpieces) and covers every European school of painting from the mid thirteenth century to 1900. The National Portrait Gallery houses the most comprehensive collection of its kind. Founded in 1856 to collect likenesses of famous men and women it now holds a primary collection of around 10,000 works and in immense archive. Exhibits include oils, watercolours, drawings, caricatures and photographs along with several other mediums.

With over 50 theatres in the West End alone entertainment is never a problem. Pride of place is the National Theatre with its three prestigious auditoria presenting both classics and contemporary and specialising in guests presentations by young international companies. The Barbican is, of course, home to the Royal Shakespeare Company but you’ll be arguably more entertained by a night at the New Globe. A replica of Shakespeare’s open roof Globe Playhouse (destroyed by fire 1613) there is seating for 1,000 on wooden benches and standing room for 500 on a carpet of filbert shells and clinkers. You may even have to watch in the rain but its great fun and as near to an authentic Shakespearian experience as you’re likely to get. Ballet is also well served at the beautifully renovated Sadlers Wells, whilst the Peacock plays host to both the London Contemporary Dance Theatre and London City Ballet. If you like your entertainment big bold and loud you’ll be spoilt for choice around Leicester Square where vast multiplexes screen all the latest Hollywood Blockbusters. For those with more eclectic taste in the silver screen there is always the reliable old Prince Charles which has the broadest programme ranging from classic to cult and still offers the cheapest tickets anywhere in the capital (as low as £1.35)

London is a shopper’s idea of heaven. You can buy virtually anything you desire. You’ll find branches of all the big department and chain stores along Oxford Street whilst the slightly more select choice on Regent St includes many of the City’s most famous stores – Hamley’s toyshop, Austin Reed, Burberry and Liberty. Bond street is where to go if you’re looking for fine antiques or exclusive jewellery and a visit to the capital by a shopping addict just wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Harrods, if only to acquire one of those famous green bags. But for a truly exciting and fascinating shopping experience you simple have to head for Camden Lock, which attracts a staggering 150,000 people every week. It’s not really surprising. With 250 stalls and 100 shops and workshops. With items for sale including arts and crafts, designer and vintage clothing, books, memorabilia, rare records and bizarre collectables it really is flea market overload.

Nightlife in the ‘Smoke’ is legendary and over the last few years has enjoyed a renaissance. Eating out is on a par with anywhere in Europe with top international chefs vying for custom along side the new wave of British culinary celebs. The most popular area for eating out is around the West-end where you can virtually eat your way around the globe. Of course everyone heads for Chinatown where the atmosphere is vibrant the aroma irresistible and windows are filled with displays of tantalising roast ducks. Here you can eat the very best the orient has to offer for a price or fill yourself to bursting for as little as five pounds per head.

Pub life is like nowhere else in the country. There are ale-houses to suit all tastes but the traditional public house is still king. Many of the establishments in the tourist heavy areas may seem a little pricey but you only have to move a short way from the main areas to get good beer at a fair price in convivial surroundings. Nightclubs to are extremely divers ranging from exclusive to trendy, rave scene to punk rock but whatever your choice it will be an experience you’ll never forget.

In truth, it would take several volumes to do London justice. It has so many personalities and so much going on it is impossible to do much more than scratch the surface in such a brief editorial. Needless to say it is a great place to visit be it short stay or a couple of weeks. You can spend a day at the incredible Natural History museum and watch a Big name perform at Wembley in the evening; potter around Covent Garden fruit and vegetable market in the morning, eat lunch at the Savoy and spend the afternoon tour the city on top of a double decker. Buy an all day travel zone pass and London is your oyster. From Hyde Park to the Banks of the Thames it is never anything short of fascinating. A city where rich and poor cohabitate literally side by side it is more than a holiday destination it is a virtual lesson in life itself.

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