London: beguiling, alluring and welcoming

London is like an alluring seductress. It can leave people beguiled, and pining for more once they have left.

“I need to get to know the place again. Breath it in, feel every quiver of its beating heart,” said Benedict Cumberbatch in his role as Sherlock Holmes in the British TV series Sherlock, after his time away from London.

Almost everyone can find something in the metropolis’s bustling streets to enjoy. A night owl will lap up nightlife, art boffins will devour the arts, culture, theatre, and museums, while foodies will salivate at the variety of cuisine. And if you simply enjoy leisurely strolls through a park, you’ll have more than your share to choose from.

The capital city is home to ancient history and the best of modernity, side-by-side.

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace with the Queen Victoria Memorial in the foreground. (Image: Shining Darkness, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr)

Buckingham Palace with the Queen Victoria Memorial in the foreground. (Image: Shining Darkness, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr)

Get a taste of royalty when visiting famous Buckingham Palace. It is open to the public via ticket sales in summer from August to September.

Buckingham House, home to the Duke of Buckingham till 1762, was the original structure on the premises. It was sold to George III but it was his successor, George IV who expanded and revamped the building. When a 19-year-old Victoria acceded to the throne in 1837, it became the official royal palace.

The Tower of London

The sprawling castle that is Tower of London, with the pinnacle of the Shard of Glass, a modern 95-storey skyscraper in Southwark, rising up behind it. (Image: Neil Howard, CC BY-NC, via Flickr)

The sprawling castle that is Tower of London, with the pinnacle of the Shard of Glass, a modern 95-storey skyscraper in Southwark, rising up behind it. (Image: Neil Howard, CC BY-NC, via Flickr)

Any visitor brave enough for the queue to visit the Tower of London will be well rewarded. For the past 900 years, it has been a prison, a royal palace, a zoo, a place of execution and an armoury. Today, it is also a repository for the Crown Jewels.

“Join an iconic Beefeater on a tour and hear their bloody tales, stand where famous heads have rolled,” reads the Visit London website. “Learn the legend of the Tower’s ravens, storm the battlements and get to grips with swords and armour and much more!”

Houses of Parliament

London's Houses of Parliament are spectacular at night, and best viewed from Westminster Bridge.

London’s Houses of Parliament are spectacular at night, and best viewed from Westminster Bridge. (Image: Melfoody, CC BY-NC-ND, via Flickr)

On the north banks of the Thames lies one of London’s iconic landmarks, the Houses of Parliament. It’s been the site of parliamentary meetings since 1265. The Victorian structure can best be seen from Westminster Bridge. It has one of the world’ most famous clock tower bells, Big Ben, which weighs a full 13 760 kilograms. The tower itself is spectacular at night, when all four clock faces are illuminated.

London for lovers of art

The National Gallery

Fountains in Trafalgar Square, with the National Gallery and St Martins Church in the background. (Image: Neil Howard, CC BY-NC, via Flickr)

Fountains in Trafalgar Square, with the National Gallery and St Martins Church in the background. (Image: Neil Howard, CC BY-NC, via Flickr)

The National Gallery, on the north size of Trafalgar Square, is home to over 2 000 paintings. Its collection includes such masterpieces as The Virgin of the Rocks by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael’s The Madonna of the Pinks and Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers.

According to the gallery’s website, the first batch of paintings came from collector and banker, John Julius Angerstein. “They consisted of Italian works, including a large altarpiece by Sebastiano del Piombo, The Raising of Lazarus, and fine examples of the Dutch, Flemish and English Schools.”

Entrance is free but donations are welcome.

Tate Modern

A view from Cheapside of the Tate Modern building at night, with the Millennium Bridge in the foreground. (Image: Nana B Agyei, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr)

A view from Cheapside of the Tate Modern building at night, with the Millennium Bridge in the foreground. (Image: Nana B Agyei, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr)

If you favour a current perspective on art, the Tate Modern is the place for you. Plans for the gallery started in December 1992 when the Tate Trustees announced a desire to create a separate gallery for international modern and contemporary art in London.

Since the doors opened in May 2000, more than 40-million people have visited the gallery. Works are arranged by subject and there are four themed galleries for everyone to explore art through the 20th century.

Theatre

The interior of the Globe Theatre, a reconstruction of the original building where William Shakespeare staged his immortal plays. (Image: Alistair Young, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr)

The interior of the Globe Theatre, a reconstruction of the original building where William Shakespeare staged his immortal plays. (Image: Alistair Young, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr)

London takes great pride in its theatre. No wonder: the father of English theatre, William Shakespeare, created his masterpieces there.

The West End is dominated by current, popular musicals. For instance, The Phantom of the Opera has been playing at Her Majesty’s Theatre since 9 October 1986. In 2016, it’ll be its 30th year at the same venue.

And speaking of Shakespeare, the Globe Theatre is the reconstruction of the original building, where in the early 1600s his works such as King Lear, Macbeth, Othello, and Hamlet were first staged.

Foodie central

Succulent fresh fruit for sale at Portobello Market in Notting Hill, London. (Image: JMG, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, via Flickr)

Succulent fresh fruit for sale at Portobello Market in Notting Hill, London. (Image: JMG, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, via Flickr)

From Michelin-starred restaurants to vibrant food markets, your palette will be experience a flavour festival in London.

The city is home to a full 65 eateries awarded Michelin stars, including Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. London, it seems, is definitely the place to sample award-winning cuisine.

Food markets are increasingly popular around the world, and London is no exception. If you’re on the lookout for a quick bite, artisan food, organic produce, deli products, you’ll find more than your share at places such as Borough Market, Camden Market, and Notting Hill Gate Farmers’ Market.

Afternoon tea is the epitome of a British experience. And you’ll be left feeling really proper when having tea accompanied by scones dolloped with cream and jam, dainty sandwiches, and cakes.

The great outdoors

A view of London landmarks (the London Eye ferris wheel is at right) from the Serpentine lake in Hyde Park. (Image: Dabrat718, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr)

A view of London landmarks (the London Eye ferris wheel is at right) from the Serpentine lake in Hyde Park. (Image: Dabrat718, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr)

London’s an easy city to navigate on foot, and that’s one of the best ways to explore. You may be surprised to find more green patches of calm than you would have imagined.

Hyde Park can boast about being the largest park, in the heart of the city. The 250-hectare green lung is filled with people making the most of the open space: walkers, joggers, runners, dog walkers, skateboarders, and even horse riders.

At the centre of the park lies an artificial lake called Serpentine, popular for rowing. There’s also Speaker’s Corner, a rallying point for people to air their views since the 1850s. So don’t be alarmed when you hear people loudly sharing their opinions.

Other parks worth mentioning are Regent’s Park, Richmond Park, and Greenwich Park.

Getting around

Pedestrians, cars and a red London bus approach Tower Bridge across the Thames River. (Image: Back to Action, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, via Flickr)

Pedestrians, cars and a red London bus approach Tower Bridge across the Thames River. (Image: Back to Action, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, via Flickr)

London’s transport network is varied, interconnected and reliable. The underground metro, and over-ground trains, buses, taxis, boats are widely available and easily accessible.

The underground tube remains the quickest, affordable and fastest way to travel the city. Remember to “mind the gap”.

“By seeing London, I have seen as much of life as the world can show,” writer Samuel Johnson was quoted in 1773, in The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell. And his words ring true today.

Once London has seduced you, you’ll leave piece of your soul there for good.

TOP IMAGE: The ancient and the modern sit spectacularly side by side in the great city of London. (Image: Barnyz, CC BY-NC-ND, via Flickr)

  • Words: Priya Pitamber
  • Editing, photo research and captions: Mary Alexander