London is immersed in history. Not so much that it’s intimidating, but there’s sufficient antiquity and historic splendour (Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Hampton Court) to blow you away. London’s buildings are eye-catching milestones in the city’s unique and compelling biography. There’s more than enough funky innovation (the Shard, the Aquatics Centre, the Gherkin) to put a crackle in the air, but it never drowns out London’s well-preserved, centuries-old narrative. Architectural grandeur rises up all around you in the West End, ancient remains dot the City and charming pubs punctuate the Thames riverside. Take your pick.
A tireless innovator of art and culture, London is a city of ideas and the imagination. British people are fiercely independent thinkers (and critics), so London’s creative milieu is naturally streaked with leftfield attitude, from theatrical innovation to contemporary art, pioneering music, writing and design. And that’s even truer in these testing recessionary times. The 2012 Olympic Games, and their attendant opening and closing ceremonies, have also inspired new artistic vigour and confidence.
English may be the national tongue, but over 300 languages shape London’s linguistic soundscape. These languages also represent cultures that season the culinary aromas on London’s streets, the clothing you glimpse and the music you hear. It can seem like the whole world has come to town. Museums, such as the British Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum, have collections as diverse as they are magnificent, while flavours at markets such as Notting Hill and Maltby Street range across the gourmet spectrum. London’s diverse cultural dynamism makes it quite possibly the world’s most international city, while still being somehow intrinsically British.
London is as much about high-density, sight-packed exploration (the West End, South Bank, the City) and urban dynamism as it is about wide-open spaces and leafy escapes. Central London is where you will find all the major museums, galleries and most iconic sights, but escape to Hampstead Heath or Greenwich Park to flee the crowds and put the city’s greener hues into gorgeous perspective. Or venture even further out to Kew Gardens, Richmond or Hampton Court Palace for effortlessly good-looking panoramas of riverside London.
•Why take a London city break? London has everything, from deluxe designer shopping and grandiose museums in the heart of the city to bustling markets and lazy park strolls in West London. History is laid bare, so visit the Tower of London and the Crown Jewels, or walk along The Mall to Buckingham Palace.
•Must do on an London city break?In London’s West End there’s an insatiable appetite for Broadway transfers like ‘The Book of Mormon’ and 'Kinky Boots', but there’s homegrown success, too: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s epic ‘The Phantom of the Opera’, Cameron Mackintosh’s ‘Les Miserables’ and the RSC’s ‘Matilda the Musical’ are among the hits. Last-minute tickets from the Leicester Square ticket booth are usually your best bet for a bargain.