London See And Do
England NW3 1TH
Tel: 44 207 435 6166
Tube: Hampstead Heath
Opened by the National Trust, the body charged with preserving British buildings, this is one for you Modernists. It's the 1930s residence of Ernö Goldfinger, containing a great collection of contemporary furniture, paintings, and sculpture, including works by Henry Moore, Bridget Riley, Max Ernst, and Marcel Duchamp.
Closed Dec–Feb. Open 12 p.m.–5 p.m. Thurs–Sat, Mar–early Oct; Saturdays only Mar and Nov.
Great Russell Street
England WC1B 3DG
Tel: 44 207 323 8299
Tube: Holborn, Tottenham Court Road, Russell Square, or Goodge Street
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.
England SW1A 1AA
Tel: 44 207 766 7300
Tube: Victoria, Green Park, or Hyde Park Corner
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.
Head straight for Camden Town if you're in your early twenties and on the lookout for leather—take that how you will, it's all here. The weekend markets by the tube station and further up the high street in Camden Lock are seething with humanity and lined with bars and music venues. To the east, in high contrast, is largely Georgian Islington, with its neighborhood restaurants and independent boutiques for the well-to-do. And its Saturday market, Camden Passage, to the east of Islington Green, is all about antiques. The Almeida Theater here is consistently great (Almeida Street, Islington, N1; 44-207-359-4404; www.almeida.co.uk).
The medieval Knights of St. John gave way—over a few centuries—to the new denizens of the hot restaurants and bars of St. John Street: designers and architects, stylists and photographers, and so forth, as far as the eye can see. Apart from Wapping and some other dockside areas, this is the only part of the city where factory and warehouse loft conversions abound, giving it all a distinct modern vibe. Groovy shops merge into Smithfield, the meat market, and hence to what used to be called, not un-snobbishly, the East End. The latter is now better known as the hipster hangouts of Hoxton and Shoreditch, Spitalfields, Whitechapel, and Bethnal Green.
The area where a fruit-and-vegetable wholesale market once stood—and where Eliza Doolittle met Henry Higgins—is now one of the most touristy parts of London. Even so, the Piazza and adjacent Jubilee Market are not unpleasant at all with their array of upper-end high-street stores and market stalls that now sell crafts and clothes instead of cabbages and roses. South of the Piazza is where you find most of the West End theaters; while the Royal Opera House, which was expanded in 1999, is to the north (Bow Street, Covent Garden, WC2, 44-207-304-4000, www.royaloperahouse.org.uk). Plus, the little area around Endell and Monmouth streets and "Seven Dials" (look for the sundial monument just south of Shaftesbury Avenue) is great for hip clothes shops.
The only truly new neighborhood in London is Canary Wharf, a complex of offices and shopping malls centered around the city's tallest building, César Pelli's One Canada Square. There are few clues that this used to be a blighted area, part of the Isle of Dogs (a peninsula and former dockyards)—Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket was filmed here after the demolition, before the building began. Take the Jubilee Line to Canary Wharf station (a modern cathedral-like structure designed by Sir Norman Foster), and wander down to the river. Get a good view of this futuristic neighborhood as you leave aboard the elevated monorail, the Docklands Light Rail, which winds its way between the buildings back to central London (www.tfl.gov.uk/dlr).
136 Kingsland Road
England E2 8EA
Tel: 44 207 739 9893
Tube: Old Street or Liverpool Street
A row of 18th-century almshouses in Shoreditch contain this excellent (free) museum of everyday life. In a series of English domestic interiors from 1600 to the present—a trendy loft apartment!—the museum showcases ordinary middle-class life, albeit in slightly Martha-ized versions. The rooms extend into a contemporary wing and then continue outside in a sequence of period gardens. It is, in short, the perfect day out for real-estate addicts and shelter-mag subscribers, especially since the place is located in the midst of East End hipness (plus, the Columbia Road Flower Market is nearby on Sundays).
Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 10 am to 5 pm, Sundays noon to 5 pm.
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.
20 Dean's Yard
England SW1A 0AA
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.
The neighborhood of Hoxton, in the city's northeast, has had more influence on cutting-edge art, music, and fashion than its small size and homely appearance might suggest. In the early 1990s, it was home to the likes of fashion designer Alexander McQueen and pop musician Jarvis Cocker, and generally a stronghold of the YBAs (Young British Artists), who lived in the warehouses. The pub-and-club scene along Curtain Road was the haunt of everyone who was anyone. News spread, property prices soared, and the artists moved. While no longer part of the vanguard, it's still a good place to hang. Try Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen, a concrete and glass place typical of the area's urban style with a clientele of grown-up hipsters (2-4 Hoxton Square, Shoreditch, N1, 44-207-613-0709). There's a small terrace from which you can watch the goings-on in Hoxton Square, once the epicenter of the scene and still a bustling area with a patch of much-needed greenery in the middle. It's where you'll find Jay Jopling's contemporary gallery White Cube, which represents Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin, among others (48 Hoxton Square, Shoreditch, N1, 44-207-930-5373, www.whitecube.com). These days, locals tend to lump Hoxton under the general heading of Shoreditch, a larger neighborhood that's retained its edge…for now.
England W8 4PX
Tel: 44 870 751 5170
Tube: High Street Kensington
Members of the cult of Diana need to come here to view where the People's Princess lived (more or less—her quarters are not open to the public), and to see one of her gowns, along with royal outfits through the ages, in the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection. The palace itself, which predated Buck House as the royal abode, is worth a look as well—the rolling exhibitions are always imaginative (from Mario Testino's portraits of Diana to live actors and musicians recreating the lives of previous royal inhabitants), and it lacks the interminable lines for the brief August opening of the current Queen's house. The King's Apartments, with its Old Masters (including Tintorettos and Van Dycks) and a lot of booty from the Stuart-Hanoverian periods, are highlights. Afterward, take tea in the lovely Orangery, and should you be trailing kids, take them to the adjacent Princess Diana Memorial Playground—a forest of wooden climbing apparatuses.
Open daily Mar–Oct: 10–6; Nov–Feb: 10–5.
55 York Road
England SE1 7NJ
Tel: 44 207 928 3132
You could take a double-decker–bus tour; you could hop on a tourist boat at Charing Cross Pier; or you could combine land and water in an amphibious DUKWS, a 30-seat craft built for the World War II D-Day landings, refitted with an environmentally friendly 10.6-gallon diesel engine, safety equipment, and a screaming duck-yellow paint job. It starts out on wheels, driving from Waterloo by the London Eye around Downing Street, Trafalgar Square, St. James's, and Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, and so on, to Vauxhall. There, the duck bus dives dramatically into the Thames and, now a duck boat, continues the tour by water. The whole affair takes 75 minutes, includes commentary, and ends up at the Florence Nightingale Museum(44-207-620-0374 www.florence-nightingale.co.uk).
Riverside Building, County Hall
Westminster Bridge Road
England SE1 7PB
Tel: 44 870 500 0600
Tube: Waterloo or Westminster
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
The genteel streets of Marylebone lie just to the north of Oxford Street (and south of Regent's Park)—hard to believe, when you're trapped in pedestrian gridlock around Selfridges and Topshop. The area is mainly residential, with narrow, cobbled streets and some of the best examples of Georgian architecture in the city. Marylebone High Street and its surrounding lanes—rechristened Marylebone Village in keeping with the relatively tranquil vibe—are lined with small specialty shops, organic cafés, and boutiques. You'll also find some classic London attractions in the neighborhood, including the Sherlock Holmes Museum on (where else?) Baker Street (44-207-935-8866; www.sherlock-holmes.co.uk), and Madame Tussauds (Marylebone Road, 44-870-400-3000, www.madame-tussauds.co.uk).
150 London Wall
England EC2Y 5HN
Tel: 44 870 444 3851
Tube: Barbican, St Paul's, or Moorgate
If you want to learn about the capital, the Museum of London is the place to go (it's free, too). The museum tells the story of the city over the past two millennia, and after a $33-million revamp completed in 2010, five wonderful new interactive galleries (called the Modern Galleries of London) have brought this institution bang up-to-date. Highlights include a Victorian shopping street replete with original storefronts and a pub, and the Lord Mayor's gaudy gold State Coach. The Great Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of 1666 are also commemorated, with models, videos, objects, and paintings. Sections of London's actual Roman city walls are incorporated into the building. After a visit, take a wander in the neighboring East London neighborhoods of Smithfield, Farringdon, and Clerkenwell, where restaurants and trendy bars abound.—Giovanna Dunmall.
Open Mondays through Saturdays 10 am to 5:30 pm, Sundays noon to 5:30 pm.
England WC2N 5DN
Tel: 44 207 747 2885
Tube: Charing Cross
Up there with your Louvres and Uffizis, this huge gallery takes you through the history of Western European painting from 1250 to 1900. Botticelli, Leonardo, Rembrandt, Gainsborough, Turner, Ingres, Van Gogh…they're all here. An excellent computer system at the museum lets you research and locate points of interest, and even print out a personal tour before a visit. The museum is free, apart from special exhibitions in the Sainsbury Wing. Next door is the National Portrait Gallery, a rewarding, relatively intimate tour through portraiture (iconic, royal, obscure, even criminal) in all media featuring Brits of all ages (St. Martin's Place, 44-207-306-0055, www.npg.org.uk).
Thurs–Tues 10–6; Wed 10–9; free admission.
England SW7 5BD
Tel: 44 207 942 5000
Tube: South Kensington
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.
Once the byword for bohemian, Notting Hill is simply posh and aspirational now. It encompasses Portobello Road and its famous market—whose northern extremities past the Westway to Golborne Road still retain vestiges of seediness—but Westbourne Park Road and Lonsdale Road are as much the centers of gravity these days, with expensive, desirable designer wares behind every vitrine and superbly dressed moms wheeling infants. Lining the confusingly curvy streetlets are massive stucco wedding cake-style Edwardian and Victorians, many with private communal gardens secreted behind. North of Westbourne Park Road, smaller brick terraced houses predominate. The weekend market is still worth a visit—better for bargains on Friday mornings—and the huge Notting Hill Carnival that takes place on the Bank Holiday at the end of August is a phenomenon where the entire neighborhood momentarily reverts to the Jamaican-bohemian enclave it was 30 years ago.
England SE1 8NB
Tel: 44 870 060 6628
Tube: Southwark, Waterloo, or Lambeth North
The boards of this charming theater, a city landmark, were graced by the likes of Sir John Gielgud and Sir Laurence Olivier. Built in 1818, its exterior is classical Georgian, while the ornamental tiered auditorium is an eclectic mish-mash of styles. The National Theatre (now at the South Bank), considered one of the best schools of acting in the world, was founded here in 1963 by Olivier. Kevin Spacey took over as Artistic Director in 2004 and has appeared in some successful high-profile performances, including Richard II and Eugene O'Neill's A Moon for the Misbegotten. While the British press has not been kind toward his stewardship, Spacey is fighting to develop the Old Vic as a leading popular theater. As well as catching a show there, it's also possible to take a backstage tour, which includes Olivier's dressing room (e-mail email@example.com to score a spot). Who knows, the theater's very own ghost might make an appearance.
Primrose Hill, the peaceful enclave around the eponymous park, has become scarily trendy in an expensive way, thanks to an influx of rock and Hollywood. But it's still nice to window-shop Regent's Park Road's boutiques, have a pint and a meal in a gastropub, and if you can score a kite, fly it in the park. North of there, past mostly-residential Belsize Park, is Hampstead. The sizeable neighborhood arranged around the Heath has always harbored some of London's prime real estate and it's easy to see why—it's all cute cottages, Georgian mansions, leafy Victorian terraces, and picturesque cobblestoned alleys. In good weather, meander—and shop—your way up the high street, down Flask Walk and Well Road, stopping in at one of the historic pubs. Then go for a hike on Hampstead Heath—all in all, a great, and not too touristy, way to spend the day.
Buckingham Palace Road
Tel: 44 207 766 7301
Tube: Victoria, Green Park, or Hyde Park Corner
Who has one of the most important and valuable art collections in the world? Yes, the Queen of England. Only a fraction of her pieces, which include paintings by Dürer, Rubens, and Van Dyck as well as works by Fabergé, can be displayed at any one time, but at least the $40 million expansion of HRH's Gallery in 2002 has managed to get more of the Royal Collection out to the plebs. There are also temporary exhibitions—and a secretly great shop for those ironic royal-themed gifts.
Open daily 10 a.m to 4:30 p.m.
The gallery will be closed through March 2007 as a new exhibit is installed.
Duke of York's HQ
England SW3 4SQ
Tube: Sloane Square, Victoria
The collector who pretty much invented the concept of the YBA (Young British Artist) and launched the careers of so many big names—such as the infamous Damien Hirst—and then married England's domestic goddess, Nigella Lawson, has moved his gallery three times in the past 25 years. In 2008, Charles Saatchi's free gallery settled in the Duke of York's Headquarters on the King's Road in Chelsea; 70,000 square feet, over four floors, were expensively renovated for the occasion. The former barracks turned temple to art opened with a bang and an excellent exhibition dedicated to new Chinese art. Works in the permanent collection include pieces by Hirst, the Chapman brothers, Tracey Emin, Sarah Lucas, Gary Hume, and Chris Ofili. There's also a café/restaurant called Gallery Mess attached to the venue, which Mrs. Saatchi highly recommends (reservations, 44-20-7730-8135).—Updated by Giovanna Dunmall
Open daily 10 am to 6 pm.
England SW7 2DD
Tel: 44 870 870 4868
Tube: South Kensington
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.
13 Lincoln's Inn Fields
England WC2A 3BP
Tel: 44 207 405 2107
A wonderful fun house designed and inhabited by Sir John Soane (1753–1837), Royal Academy professor and architect of the Bank of England, among other buildings. He designed it to suit himself and his incredible collections of art and antiquities, which fill every spare inch, and then some. Certain walls open out like Chinese boxes to reveal more pieces secreted beneath. In the basement is a sarcophagus from 1370 BC he was especially proud of—so much so that when he acquired it, he threw it a two-day party. Despite his dry job description, Sir John was a character—and could teach us a bunch about decor, too. The first Tuesday of each month is a great time to go, when parts of the museum are atmospherically lit by candles.
Tues–Sat 10–5, first Tuesday of the month until 9; free admission.
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.
England WC2R 1LA
Tel: 44 207 845 4600
Tube: Temple (not Sun), Charing Cross, Holburn, or Covent Garden
Somerset House isn't principally a skating rink—it's the home of an important art-history faculty, the Courtauld Institute's art gallery, the Gilbert Collection of decorative arts, and the Hermitage Rooms, which contain treasures from St. Petersburg. But the skating rink that appears, scenically, in the Courtyard during December and January has become one of London's favorite fun days out—right by the Thames in the West End. (Open daily late November through January, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.)
The ice-rink craze during the festive period continues to grow. Some other favorites include:
Kew Gardens Ice Rink (www.rbgkew.org.uk/skating/): London's biggest, overlooking the gardens of the Victorian Temperate glasshouse.
Tower of London Ice Rink (www.toweroflondonicerink.com): Situated in the dry moat beneath the castle's outer wall.
Hampstead Heath Ice Rink (www.hampsteadheathicerink.com): Held at Parliament Hill Fields, great for open views.
England SE1 8XX
Tel: 44 871 663 2501
Tube: Waterloo or Embankment
The Southbank Centre is a thriving complex of theaters, galleries, and public arts spaces, including the Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Hayward Gallery, sprawling along the Thames near the London Eye. If, on your visit to London, you're planning to attend a major dramatic production, a comedy festival, or a musical performance of any stripe, from classical to jazz to hip-hop, you're probably coming here. Originally constructed in the 1950s and '60s, Southbank Centre is approaching the final stages of an overhaul begun in 2005, which, among other things, included a new building for the British Film Institute; a swank new eatery, Skylon; and the creation of several public riverside parks. Alas, Southbank itself has long been the subject of a heated ongoing debate about the merits of modern architecture: On one hand, the bulky concrete structures, connected by a maze of split-level walkways, are upheld as among the few remaining examples of the ultramodern Brutalist style. Southbank's detractors argue that the complex is ugly, hard to navigate, and a whole lotta concrete. Given the sheer concentration of artistic merit bottled up in this set of buildings, Southbank may be definitive proof of the old saw that true beauty is on the inside. Check the online calendar for a complete listing of events.—Siobhan Adcock
St. Paul's Churchyard
England EC4M 8AD
Tel: 44 207 236 4128
Tube: St. Paul's
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.
England SW1P 4RG
Tel: 44 20 7887 8888
Tube: Pimlico, Westminster, Vauxhall
Tate Britain might not get the same attention as its glitzy little sister, Tate Modern, but to miss it would be a mistake. Built in 1897, Tate Britain displays British art from 1500 to the current day and also shows the oft-controversial annual Turner Prize. The permanent galleries house the likes of Constable and Gainsborough, Hogarth, Reynolds, and Stubbs. In the adjoining Clore Gallery, visitors can see the largest single display of Turner paintings in the world. This prestigious institution also holds some moderns, such as Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, David Hockney, and Antony Gormley. Temporary shows celebrate major British artists of the past and the present, such as Henry Moore and Chris Ofili. In short, this is where you'll find the world's greatest collection of British art. Visit Tate Modern in the morning and then ride the Tate boat here in the afternoon. (It also stops at the London Eye and provides a spectacular view of the Houses of Parliament from the river.)—Giovanna Dunmall
Open daily 10 am to 5:50 pm (until 10 pm the first Friday of each month).
England SE1 9TG
Tel: 44 207 887 8888
Tube: Blackfriars or Southwark
Sometimes it seems this former power station fashioned into a showy landmark by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron is the center of the city. There is something very glamorous about the vast space, let alone the amazing holdings, which range from Matisse to Matthew Barney. Entering is a thrill—a slope almost as wide as the building descends into aircraft-hangar–sized Turbine Hall. It's become known for site-specific installations on a barely conceivable scale. Anish Kapoor's 2002 "Marsyas," a slightly menacing, sinuous scarlet PVC membrane stretched over the entire volume of the hall like a mammoth Venus flytrap or some invertebrate sea monster from 1,000 fathoms deep. Then, with 2004's "The Weather Project," Olafur Eliasson seemed to make the sun rise and set inside. People were drawn to it like moths, prostrating themselves on the concrete as if to sunbathe—it was that magical. It's possible to catch the Tate catamaran—it's the one with the Damien Hirst polka-dot design—up the Thames to the now unfairly neglected Tate Britain. (It also stops at the London Eye and provides a spectacular view of the Houses of Parliament from the river.)
Sun–Thurs 10–6; Fri–Sat 10–10; free admission.
England EC3N 4AB
Tel: 44 870 756 6060
Tube: Tower Hill
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.
Tel: 44 207 942 2000
Tube: South Kensington
The V&A is the tamest of the three massive Victorian edifices in South Kensington (the others are the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum), but kids like the music galleries, where you can pull out case after lit-up case of rare and strange instruments, and the Cast Courts' reproductions of buildings and monuments from around the world. For adults, it's a wonderland: 35 galleries, containing thousands of pieces that make up the permanent collections, include centuries of couture and the Great Bed of Ware (sleeps 16) in the British Galleries, and there's the Ardabil carpet, considered to be one of the most beautiful to have survived from the 16th century, in the Asia collection (there's a copy in 10 Downing Street). There are also the hugely popular Medieval and Renaissance galleries, which opened in December 2009; they occupy an entire wing of the museum and display over 1,800 works dating from the fall of the Roman Empire to 1600. Temporary exhibitions have included retrospectives of the work of fashion designers Gianni Versace and Vivienne Westwood and the most complete presentation of photographer Diane Arbus's work ever assembled. Museum admission is free.—Updated by Giovanna Dunmall
Open Saturdays through Thursdays 10 am to 5:45 pm, Fridays 10 am to 10 pm. Note, some of the galleries are currently closed for refurbishment; check the museum's Web site before visiting.
England W1U 3BN
Tel: 44 207 563 9500
Tube: Bond Street or Baker Street
A treat along the lines of the Frick in New York, wherein the setting is as much of a draw as the art, the Wallace Collection is spread out over the 28 rooms of a gracious mansion in the West End, as if it were still a private home. Amassed by the third and fourth Marquises of Hertford, plus the illegitimate son of the latter, Sir Richard Wallace, the collections consist of a great deal of French 18th-century paintings, furniture, and porcelain, plus oils by Titian, Canaletto, Rembrandt, and Gainsborough. There are also some arms and armor and a notable cache of miniatures. Look in the listings for the chamber-music concerts that sometimes take place here.
Open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; free admission.
183 Euston Road
England NW1 2BE
Tel: 44 207 6112222
Tube: Euston Square, Warren Street
The Wellcome Collection is a high-tech, free museum located within the headquarters of the Wellcome Trust (the second largest medical-research charity in the world). It's home to a unique permanent collection, a world-class library, a café, and a bookshop. Over his lifetime, American-born pharmacist, philanthropist, and businessman Henry Wellcome collected over a million and a half weird, disturbing, and wonderful objects, some of which (amputation saws, a human heart, ancient Japanese sex toys, a mummified Peruvian body) are on display here in modern surroundings. The bold program of temporary exhibitions—dedicated to eclectic themes such as Addicts and Apothecaries or plain old dirt—tends to get a lot of attention, and rightly so.—Giovanna Dunmall
Open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays 10 am to 6 pm, Thursdays 10 am to 10 pm, and Sundays 11 am to 6 pm.
England SW1P 3PA
Tel: 44 207 222 5152
Tube: Westminster or St James's Park
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.
77–82 Whitechapel High Street
England E1 7QX
Tel: 44 207 522 7888
Tube: Aldgate East
An essential stop on any contemporary art lover's tour of London, the Whitechapel Gallery reopened in April 2009 after a major expansion and renovation of its exhibition and archive spaces in East London. The Whitechapel Gallery's history of groundbreaking contemporary art exhibitions is almost unparalleled. Picasso's Guernica was displayed here during its first and only exhibition in England, and the gallery hosted the first solo U.K. shows of such luminaries as Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, and Jasper Johns. At its opening in 1901, the Whitechapel Gallery was the home base for contemporary Jewish art in London, and the gallery's archives house a marvelous collection of notebooks, sketches, and drafts in Hebrew by early 20th-century Jewish artists, portions of which are on display. The gallery's commitment to emerging artists extends to its use of the new space: One international artist each year will be awarded a fellowship to create artwork specifically for a newly designated exhibit room.—Siobhan Adcock
Open Tuesdays through Sundays 11 am to 6 pm. In addition, the Whitechapel Gallery participates in First Thursdays, during which over 100 galleries in East London stay open till 9 pm on the first Thursday of each month.