Renowned throughout Victorian times as the home of the working class, the birthplace of Cockney Rhyming Slang and the stomping ground of the notorious Jack the Ripper, London’s East End has long been associated with the grittier side of the capital. But despite its rough-around-the-edges image, the East End remains one of Londoners’ favorite haunts and its high population of young and immigrant residents has made it one of the city’s most cosmopolitan and ever-evolving districts, teeming with fashion-forward nightclubs, vintage emporiums and modern art galleries.
Since the Olympic Games took over the city in 2012, East London has undergone a 21st-century makeover, with the vast Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park now sprawling over Stratford and a cluster of glitzy shopping malls and chic eateries springing up around it.
The world's largest maritime museum, this site offers an impressive gallery displaying 500 years of Britain's history with the sea. In total the collection has nearly 2.5 million items, some of which are on loan to other museums across Britain. Visitors can spend hours viewing the maritime art, cartography, ship models and plans, manuscripts and navigational instruments on display, not to mention the ship simulator and interactive exhibits located on the second floor.
One of the most unique offerings of the museum is the Sammy Ofer wing, which houses special exhibitions, a permanent gallery, an extensive library and a cafe with views of Greenwich Park. All together, the National Maritime Museum, the Queen’s House and the Royal Observatory form the Maritime Greenwich UNESCO World Heritage site. Along with the Cutty Sark, a British clipper ship on display in the area, this collection of historical sites is now known as Royal Museums Greenwich.
Commissioned by King James I in 1616, the magnificent Queen’s House was originally a gift for his Queen, Anne of Denmark, but remained unfinished at the time of her death, completed instead by King Charles I in 1638. Designed in an innovative Palladian style by architect Inigo Jones, the grand garden villa remains one of the principal landmarks of Greenwich, now standing proud at the entrance to the vast Greenwich Park.
The Queen’s House is now owned by the National Maritime Museum and houses part of the museum’s art collection as well as an impressive array of Royal portraits. The lavish interiors are also open to the public, including highlights like the ‘Tulip Staircase’, the Great Hall, with its striking black and white marble floor, and a range of 17th-century furnishings.
It might be the grand centerpiece of the Southbank Centre, Central London’s renowned cultural hub, and among the capital’s most famous classical music venues, but the Royal Festival Hall is also an impressive landmark in its own right. Located in a Grade-I listing building on the banks of the River Thames, the concert hall first opened its doors in 1951 during the Festival of Britain and now boasts a newly restored 2,500-seat auditorium and the lavish Clore Ballroom.
The Royal Festival Hall is best known as the home of the prestigious London Philharmonic orchestra, and the venue is used throughout the year for a host of classical music recitals, pop concerts, operas and ballets, including a number of annual music and cultural festivals.
The grounds that once hosted athletes from all over the world has since then been turned into the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Though obviously constructed for the games, the site has expanded beyond the stadium and now serves as a major component of East London; the area is now open to the public and includes new shops, restaurants, trails, galleries and venues. The Olympic Park has been designed to host Londoners and visitors long after the completion of the games in summer 2012.
Sports reign supreme here, as they should in an area where world records were once broken. The state of the art Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre comes equipped with 10 court and two hockey pitches available for public use year-round. There’s also the one-of-a-kind VeloPark open for all sorts of two-wheeled fun, from track cycling and road racing to BMX and mountain biking.
The most exclusive shopping street in London, Bond Street is where you’ll find flagship stores for brands like Burberry and Bvlgari, Dior and Louis Vuitton. Officially split up into two streets that run between Oxford Street and Piccadilly in London’s West End, the southern section, known as Old Bond Street, was built in the 1680s under the command of Sir Thomas Bond, while the longer northern section, New Bond Street, was built 40 years later.
Since its inception, Bond Street has been the playground of London society’s most stylish and influential people, and former residents include Admiral Horatio Nelson and Lady Emma Hamilton. Today, Bond Street continues to be one of the most expensive strips of real estate in the world, and the Georgian and Victorian townhouses are famously home to Aspreys of London — jewelers to the royal family — and the capital’s most upscale art galleries and high-end antique stores.
Home to the largest collection of British Art in the World, the Tate Britain has a legacy dating back to 1897 and is part of a series of four Tate Museums around England, sharing between them a collection of almost 70,000 works.
Devoted solely to British artists, the permanent exhibitions feature works from the turn of the 16th century until the 20th century, with works by artists like Hogarth, Gainsborough, Whistler and Barbara Hepworth. Most notable are the sizable galleries dedicated to romanticists Constable and William Blake, and the biggest collection of paintings by J.M.Turner in the world. With the Tate playing host to the notoriously controversial annual Turner Prize, contemporary artists also feature considerably and the acclaimed 20th-century galleries present works by Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon and Tracey Emin. The Tate Britain is the oldest of the four Tate Museums founded by Sir Henry Tate and is housed in a Grade II listed building on Millbank.
One of London’s most celebrated royal parks, Regent’s Park was first laid out by John Nash in 1811, as a hunting ground for Henry VIII and remained a private royal retreat until 1845. Today the 410-acre public park offers welcome respite for the residents of North West London as well as housing the hugely popular London Zoo, where visitors can get up close and personal to an incredible 760 animal species.
The park’s highlights include a boating lake; the recently opened Hanover Gate treehouse playground; the Queen Mary’s Gardens, an exquisite rose garden containing over 400 varieties; and the formal Victorian William Andrews Nestfield’s Avenue Gardens. Perhaps the most famous spot is the idyllic peak of Primrose Hill, as renowned for its many celebrity residents as it is for its expansive views over London, making it one of the city’s liveliest picnic spots.
Both an iconic landmark and a prestigious performance venue, the National Theatre is one of England’s most renowned performing arts centers and a mainstay of London’s theater scene since it opened back in 1963. Even from the outside, it’s an imposing sight, looming over the waterfront of London’s Southbank, and its unmistakable yet rather unattractive concrete façade has long divided public opinion. The National Theatre boasts four purpose-built auditoriums (the Olivier, Lyttelton, Dorfman and Temporary theatres), as well as an open-air performance space in the forecourt, a bookshop and a collection of bars, restaurants and cafés open to the public. The theatre’s ever-changing roster of shows includes over 20 new productions each year, with past hits including West End favorites like 'War Horse' and 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time'; classic plays like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Tempest; and contemporary musicals like Wonder.land.
As England’s third-largest football stadium after Wembley and Old Trafford, and home to Arsenal Football Club, one of the capital’s most renowned football teams, Emirates Stadium is a top choice for those looking to soak up the atmosphere of a British football match. Opening its doors in 2006, the state-of-the-art stadium was designed by HOK Sport and cost an impressive £390 million to build, with seats for up to 60,365 fans.
Touring the landmark stadium is also a popular choice for fans, offering the chance to explore the changing rooms, complete with luxury hydrotherapy spas, walk through the players’ tunnel onto the pitch and stand in Arsenal Manager Arsène Wenger's spot in the dug-out. The on-site Arsenal Museum is another must-see, crammed with iconic photos and memorabilia from Arsenal’s long history, and fans can also shop for sports gear or print a bespoke Arsenal shirt at The Armoury, the official Arsenal shop.
Today, the Old Truman Brewery is a revolutionary arts and media quarter in East London, but centuries ago it was one of the largest breweries in the world. Founded in 1666 as the Black Eagle Brewery, it grew to be the world’s largest in 1873 before closing altogether a century later. Now, the ten acres of buildings that once formed the brewery are home to more than 200 businesses, including a variety of creative businesses and independent shops, galleries, markets and bars. Shoppers can visit Europe’s largest record store, Rough Trade, and clothing stores such as Absolute Vintage, Number Six, YMC and Traffic People. For eats, stop at the Boiler House Food Hall, featuring 30 stalls of international cuisine.
Definitely worth a visit is the Backyard Market, which was the first market in the area to open on Saturdays. There, you’ll find a mix of kitsch goods, arts and crafts and works by young designers and artists.
London’s most famous fictional detective is the focus of the eponymous Sherlock Holmes Museum, located at 221b Baker Street, the legendary address from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories. According to the stories, this was where Sherlock Holmes and his famous sidekick Doctor Watson lived between 1881 and 1904, and the character’s legacy has become so important to London tourism that the house is now under government protection.
The privately run museum is devoted to the life and times of Sherlock Holmes, with the house interiors faithfully recreated according to the texts. Holmes’ characteristic Victorian-style study is located on the first floor overlooking Baker Street; Doctor Watson’s bedroom is above on the second floor; the lumbar room is full of lodgers’ suitcases; and Holmes’ attic bedroom is found in typical disarray.
Marylebone Village is an affluent area within central London and has been a fashionable neighborhood since the 17th century. Many famous people have lived in this area, and today it is a popular shopping district. Several hotels are located here so visitors interested in shopping in this area can stay nearby. Dozens of trendy retail shops can be found in Marylebone Village including both big brands and independent stores. Come here to shop for clothing, shoes, accessories, and more. Home stores located here are a great place to find items to decorate and furnish your home.
Many beauty and cosmetics shops are also located here, as well as spas and wellness centers for a little extra pampering and relaxation. For entertainment, there are movie theaters, a few museums, art and music galleries, and book stores. Two cooking schools are also located here. When you get hungry, you can find plenty of options for restaurants, cafes, and pubs.
A spiraling red steel tower looming 114 meters over the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, the ArcelorMittal Orbit’s bold design has polarized opinions since its conception. There’s no denying, however, that it’s an impressive feat of structural engineering and well on its way to becoming one of London’s most iconic landmarks. Erected in honor of the 2012 Olympic Games, the unique creation was a collaborative effort between artist Anish Kapoor, designer Cecil Balmond and steel-and-mining company ArcelorMittal, built using about 2,000 tons of steel, more than half of which was recycled.
Stretching 190 meters across the famous dome of London’s O2 Arena in Greenwich, the O2 Skywalk, or ‘Up at The O2’ as it was more recently renamed, offers visitors a way to get their kicks without even setting foot inside. The landmark stadium has transformed its yellow-flagged rooftop with a vertigo-inducing fabric walkway suspended some 53-meters off the ground and offering an incredible panoramic view from its central observation platform. This is no mere rooftop stroll though – participants are decked out with climbing suits, special shoes and safety harnesses as they make the ascent in groups of 15 attached to a central safety wire, and with the climb being compared to a scaling a long open-air trampoline, it won’t just be the vistas that get your adrenaline flowing.
Holland Park is an extensive woodland area in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in central London and is home to many varieties of wildlife including mammals, birds, and insects. The park has a Japanese garden, orange grove, tennis courts, a cricket field, and a children's playground. The park covers an area of 54 acres on what was once the grounds of Cope Castle. This large Jacobian mansion was built in the early 17th century by Sir Walter Cope and later renamed Holland House when the Earl of Holland's wife, Lady Rich, inherited the property.
The Holland House was greatly damaged during World War II, and much of it is still in ruins. The remains of the house serve as a backdrop for the open air Holland Park Theatre, and one section was repaired and turned into a youth hostel. The park is also home to the Holland Park Ecology Centre. The Holland Park district is one of London's most expensive residential areas with large Victorian houses and high end shopping.
One of London’s most fascinating yet often-overlooked museums, Sir John Soane’s Museum is dedicated to its namesake, the much-celebrated neo-classical architect who designed a number of acclaimed Regency-era buildings including, most famously, the Bank of England. The museum, housed across three purpose-built houses in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Central London, was the personal project and one-time home of Soane, designed to inspire and showcase his works to budding architects and students. Opening to the public after his death in 1837, the museum, although recently restored, remains true to Soane’s original design and displays over 20,000 architectural drawings and models.
The building itself is also part of Soane’s work, with highlights including a unique geometric staircase and an exquisite mirrored dome ceiling in the Breakfast Room.