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Clerkenwell, EC1, Tube: Farringdon
Tel: 44 871 075 1737
Still one of the biggest, and definitely one of the best, club venues in London, you'll find established resident DJs (Craig Richards, Terry Francis) and world-class guests, including Sasha, John Digweed, and the Chemical Brothers. But there's enough fresh talent to keep this venue at the cutting edge of new sounds. Built on the site of a Victorian meat cellar, and opened in 1999, it retains an underground feel with exposed brickwork and arched ceilings. Three rooms of varying sizes—24,000 square feet in all—offer different vibes; the Bodysonic dance floor in one is directly connected to the bass frequencies, so you feel the reverb through your feet. Small bars are dotted throughout, and there are plenty of nooks and crannies to rest up, including the all-too-comfy bed seats. On Fridays, there's a selection of drum 'n' bass, hip-hop, and breakbeat, while Saturdays concentrate on house. Fabric also hosts the polysexual DTPM every Sunday.
Friday 9:30 p.m. to 5 a.m., Saturday 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., Sundays 11 p.m. until the party dies down; closed Monday through Thursday.
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Natural History Museum, England
London SW7 5BD, England
Tel: 44 207 942 5000
This is just one of the three huge galleries (all free) off Exhibition Road in South Kensington, the others being the Science Museum and the V&A. With its Victorian architecture and huge 85-foot-long dinosaur skeleton in the central hall—known affectionately as Dippy the Diplodocus—this is exactly what you'd expect a natural history museum to look like. Be careful not to trip over the tiny children who stare up wide-eyed and open-mouthed at Dippy as they enter. You'll find spouting volcanoes, quaking fault lines, and a massive model of the world in the Earth Galleries; or, take a closer look inside your own brain and step back into the womb with a giant baby model in the Life Galleries. It's debatable whether 2005 addition Archie, a 28-foot giant squid discovered near the Falkland Islands and now preserved in a huge tank, will ever become as famous as Dippy, but he's worth a look, too. The Darwin Centre, a new $117-million, eight-story wing, opened in 2009. This giant cocoon structure, encased in a glass box, includes 17 million creepy-crawly specimens.—Updated by Giovanna Dunmall
Open daily 10 am to 5:50 pm.
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Westminster Abbey, England
London SW1P 3PA, England
Tel: 44 207 222 5152
Westminster Abbey, the huge Gothic church beside the Houses of Parliament, has been the setting for every coronation since 1066, as well as a burial site for monarchs, aristocrats, writers (Charles Dickens), musicians (Henry Purcell), generals, politicians, scientists (Charles Darwin), and pretty much anyone who it was felt deserved the honor. The lines are extremely long in summer for a shuffle past Poets' Corner, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the Coronation Throne—although the mystical Stone of Scone (renamed the Stone of Destiny) that underpinned it for nine centuries is now back in Edinburgh where it belongs. The lines have probably been swollen by Da Vinci Code fanatics, in which the abbey has a cameo—though a starring role in the film was turned down when the powers that be decided that it was "wayward and inappropriate."
Open daily Mon, Tues, Thurs, Fri 9:30–3:45; Wed 9:30–7; Sat 9:30–1:45; Sun worship only; times are subject to change, see website.
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Tower of London, England
London EC3N 4AB , England
Tel: 44 870 756 6060
How can you not see the Bloody Tower? Founded by William the Conqueror in 1066, this huge fortified palace-jail-treasury-arsenal is the source of some of the most-famous tourist photo ops in all of England. View the Crown Jewels—so costly they're officially beyond price and therefore uninsured—the Tudor prisoners' graffiti in the Beauchamp Tower, and the site of royal beheadings. Gawk at the fashion-forward Yeoman Warders, or Beefeaters, in their black-and-scarlet 14th-century livery, and at the ravens, without whose continuous presence, so Charles II was told, the Tower and the Kingdom would crumble.
Mar–Oct: Tues–Sat 9–6:, Sun–Mon 10–6; Nov–Feb: Tues–Sat 9–5, Sun–Mon 10–5.
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St. Paul's Cathedral, England
London EC4M 8AD , England
Tel: 44 207 236 4128
Sir Christopher Wren's No. 1 work is this, the cathedral church of the Diocese of London. With its green dome, St. Paul's is one of the city's most recognizable landmarks. It's actually this site's fourth cathedral, built between 1675 and 1710, after its predecessor was destroyed in the 1666 Great Fire of London. Nowadays a visit to the church, taking in the Crypt, Ambulatory, and everyone's favorite, the Whispering Gallery, is easily combined with a trip to one of London's newer essential sights, the Tate Modern—the way isn't well signed, but it's very near nevertheless. Exit St. Paul's Tube station, cross the redeveloped Paternoster Square next door, drop in on the cathedral (St. Dunstan's Chapel on the north side is always open for praying, and free of charge), then head across the Millennium Bridge to the south bank.
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Its fortunes as London's nightlife neighborhood have waxed and waned repeatedly over recent years, but you always seem to end up in Soho for one reason or another, mainly due to the great and plentiful restaurants, bars, clubs, and shops (Carnaby Street remains popular, despite the tourist hordes). Bordered by Oxford Street, Shaftesbury Avenue, Regent Street, and Charing Cross Road, Soho is home to London's Chinatown, a much-reduced red-light district (it peaked during the 1970s), and thriving gay bars and businesses centered around Old Compton Street. It's also home to the British film industry—production facilities are concentrated here—and the twin anchors of literary-media–luvvies life: the Groucho Club (45 Dean St., W1; 44-207-439-4685 ; www.thegrouchoclub.com) and Soho House (45 Greek St, W1; 44-207-734-5188; www.sohohouse.com). Both are strictly members-only—but wangle an invite if you can.
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Science Museum, England
London SW7 2DD, England
Tel: 44 870 870 4868
Covering all aspects of science, technology, and medicine, the Science Museum is the star of the trio of museums on Exhibition Road (the others are the V&A and the Natural History Museum). It contains over 300,000 items, including the only Black Arrow rocket in existence, examples of Charles Baggage's attempts at the first computer dating back to the 1830s, the Apollo 10 command module, and an Iron Age skeleton. It's big on interactive exhibits: In the SimEx Simulator, experience an explosion in space or a dinosaur ride. The mulituser game In Future is a window into what the world could become. For the grown-ups, there's the Dana Center, a café bar and venue where you can join a heated debate on the controversial side of science, or see a heart-bypass operation shown live via video link.
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London Eye, England
London SE1 7PB, England
Tel: 44 870 500 0600
The 443-foot-high London Eye, designed by husband-and-wife architects David Marks and Julia Barfield, is the largest observation wheel in the world. Perched on the banks of the Thames, more or less opposite the Houses of Parliament, it has become a capital-L Landmark since it appeared for the millennium festivities. The real point, of course, is the view from inside the 32 glass capsules, which, on a clear day, extends 25 miles and is quite spectacular.
Open daily May, June, and September 10 am to 9 pm, July and August 10 am to 9:30 pm, October through April 10 am to 8 pm
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Houses of Parliament, England
London SW1A 0AA, England
Tel: 44 207 219 4272
The mother of all parliaments, the Palace of Westminster comprises Big Ben (which is the bell, not the tower) as well as the chambers of both Houses, Commons and Lords. The Gothic Revival building you see today, built between 1840 and 1888 on the site of the original 11th-century palace, was designed to blend in with nearby Westminster Abbey. During the early-August to late-September summer recess, you get to roam through it all (and skip the line with an advance tour reservation by calling 44-870-906-3773 or through the website). When parliament is in session, visitors can stand on line outside the St. Stephen's entrance to view debates in either house from the public galleries.
August: Mon, Tues, Fri, Sat 9:15–4:30; Wed–Thurs 1:15–4:30; Sep–Oct: Mon, Fri, Sat 9:15–4:30; Tues–Thurs 1:15–4:30.
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Greenwich is a bustling little market town in its own right, colored by bucketfuls of maritime history. Most importantly, it's where time begins. No, seriously, it does: At the top of a hill in Greenwich Park, a brass line marks longitude 0 degrees, the starting point of every time zone in the world—better known as GMT (Greenwich Mean, or Meridian, Time). The Royal Greenwich Observatory is up there, too, and for the effort of walking up a gentle hill, you'll be rewarded with excellent views. Down below are architectural gems: Georgian houses, the National Maritime Museum—designed by Inigo Jones, it displays Admiral Nelson's coat from Trafalgar, complete with the fatal bullet hole in the left shoulder (44-20-8858-4422; www.nmm.ac.uk)—as well as the stunning University of Greenwich and Trinity College of Music, designed by Sir Christopher Wren. The Cutty Sark, the last clipper ship to be built (dating back to 1869), has rested in a dry dock in Greenwich since 1954 and is currently being restored. Until it's completed in Spring 2010, you can only view the ship from the nearby souvenir shop; see the website for more details (44-20-8858-2698; www.cuttysark.org.uk). Nearby is the glazed cupola entrance to the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, which runs under the Thames. Alternatively, in keeping with Greenwich's nautical roots, catch a boat back up the river to central London.
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Buckingham Palace, England
Tel: 44 207 766 7300
The queen's London pied-à-terre is not the most beautiful of palaces, but it's big. Most of the year, all you can do is peer through the iron railings at the guards in busbies—those silly two-foot-tall black fur hats—and check the flagpole to see whether Brenda, as Private Eye calls her, is at home (the standard only flies when she's in residence). But from late July to September, even commoners can enter those gates. The Throne Room, Picture Gallery, Ballroom, and 16 other state rooms are open, as is (a bit of) the south side of the unbelievably huge palace gardens. The Royal Mews, with working stables and display of fancy state vehicles, is just around the corner and also worthy of a visit, as is the Queen's Gallery.
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British Museum, England
London WC1B 3DG, England
Tel: 44 207 323 8299
One of the single greatest museums in the world, the British Museum houses collections that date from the prehistoric to the modern—in sum, the works of mankind. The Egyptian rooms are famous for their mummies and the eventual key to deciphering hieroglyphics, the Rosetta Stone. Then there are the controversial Elgin Marbles, stolen from the Parthenon, and countless other Greek and Roman antiquities. The leathery, ancient Lindow Man, preserved for centuries in a Cheshire bog after having been ritually slaughtered, and the treasures from the seventh-century Sutton Hoo royal burial grounds are also here. If you only have a few minutes to spare, trot in to see the 2000 addition—Sir Norman Foster's spectacular two-acre interior Great Court with its glass-grid roof. The museum is free, though special exhibitions are not.
Sat–Wed 10–5:30, Thurs–Fri 10–8:30.