The London 2012 Summer Olympic Games begins July 27th and the city is already buzzing with excitement. The Olympics notwithstanding, there is an endless array of attractions and activities in the UK capital: music, theatre, sport, shopping, culture – you name it.
Being selective is the secret to reducing stress when visiting a city like London. Rather than trying to do it all, pick and choose a few diverse things. Build in some free time to just wander around, as this is an excellent way to stumble across little known gems or even some of London’s best known attractions. And, make plans to come back.
If you’re heading to London this summer, we’ve got a few suggestions for you. Some are quite well known, others a little less so. But they’re all worth a visit.
Brick Lane is a popular destination with the artistic crowd. Located in East London, it’s the hub of London’s Bangladeshi community. The area is famous for its bewildering array of curry restaurants.
You’ll find art galleries, markets and hot out-of-the-oven bagels and amazing bhindi masala. It’s a great experience for all your senses.
This is one place where you’ll find some of the best food London has to offer. Located in the London Borough of Southwark, Borough Market operates as a wholesale market on weekdays and turns into a retail market with local and international vendors Thursday through Saturday. You’ll find an incredible range of food including fine cheeses, fresh fish and stalls and stalls of some of the tastiest desserts in the world. Make sure you stop at Hobbs Meat Roast for a hot meat baguette (our favourite is the turkey breast with stuffing and cranberry sauce).
This is London’s world famous gallery that houses the UK’s collection of modern and contemporary art. Located in Bankside, Central London at the end of the Millennium Bridge, the Tate is easy to get to. The massive gallery is housed in the old Bankside Power Station. Admission is free, except for special exhibitions. This summer you can catch shows featuring the work of Edvard Munch and Damien Hirst.
Ronnie Scott’s opened in 1959, making it one of the oldest jazz clubs in the world. The revered club is one of the best places in the city to see live music. Located in Soho, London’s West End entertainment district, Ronnie Scott’s schedule is crammed with jazz, blues and much more – performed by some of the biggest names in music. Upstairs in Ronnie’s Bar there’s more music, ranging from Cuban to funk. Plenty of food and drink are on hand and the joint stays open until 3 am.
One of London’s top attractions — and a great place to chill out after a night in Ronnie Scott’s — is Kew Gardens. Founded in 1759, this UNESCO World Heritage Site features the easily recognizable rounded exterior of the Victorian-style Palm House, where inside you’ll find a lush, steamy tropical setting.
Kew Gardens has an enormous collection of living and preserved plants. The grounds seem to stretch to the horizon and it’s easy to forget where you are. Kew Gardens is west of Central London and best accessed via public transport.
Just northwest of Central London is another tranquil and beautiful spot to explore: Hampstead Heath. It’s one of the highest points in London and a favourite spot for locals. There are three swimming ponds, a zoo and lots of activities for the kids. It’s a great place for walking, running or doing a little early morning yoga.
Every Sunday, Columbia Road in East London transforms into a huge flower market. The street is packed with an incredible selection of imported and locally grown plants and flowers. It’s an explosion of colour in the middle of an urban setting and the mix of floral scents will transport you to another place. Closer to earth, you’ll find second-hand stores, bakeries, delis and more.
Portobello Road slices through the heart of Notting Hill. It, and many neighbouring streets, are lined with antique stores and a variety of other shops. But on Saturday, Portobello Road itself becomes the world’s largest antiques market. And that’s not all. You’ll find vintage clothing, arts and crafts and even fresh fruits and vegetables. You can easily spend the day here just wandering around looking for treasures. There are plenty of places in the area to grab a bite and a pint.
The London Eye is one of the city’s biggest attractions. Centrally located on the River Thames, across from the Houses of Parliament, the Eye is essentially a giant Ferris wheel with all-weather pods to sit in. The ride lasts about 30 minutes and takes visitors to a height of 135 metres. From there you get a unique 360 degree view of London. This summer (July 27-Aug 12) the London Eye is operating until midnight for spectacular nighttime views.
There’s a lot to see and do around Camden Town – including visiting the most popular market area in London. There are six different markets to check out, each packed with vendors selling arts and crafts, alternative fashion, vintage clothing, books, jewellery and more. The market is now open year round. On Sunday there’s an indoor fashion market at the Electric Ballroom. If you get peckish, there are plenty of food stalls, pubs and restaurants nearby. Camden Town is just a few minutes by Tube from Central London.
London is a fascinating, fast-paced place. Don’t worry if you find some of the most popular attractions filled with throngs of visitors – head off to the lesser known neighbourhoods. You’ll find something of interest around every corner – and have a great time doing so.
Greater London Authority: www.london.gov.uk
London Tourism: www.visitlondon.com
London 2012 Games: www.london2012.com