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101 things to do in London: central London

Track down the best things to do in central London

© Heloise Bergman

The heart of the capital offers many activities, events and venues, and our list will help you find some of the best things to do in central London.

Things to do in central London

Contemplate life and death at the British Museum

In galleries lined with the prized possessions of kings and the everyday trinkets of peasants, the British Museum reveals stories of life, death and glory. Get a picture of how Native American cultures lived centuries ago, seek out the sport of a lion hunt in carvings circa 645BC and explore rituals of death and remembrance reflected in the decorated casket of the ancient Egyptian mummy of Katebet.

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See The Ambassadors at the National Gallery

Because it’s free to visit, even if you have just ten minutes you can nip into the National Gallery and see one great masterpiece on your way to somewhere else. Try Holbein’s ‘The Ambassadors’. Laden with symbolism, the painting also features the ‘anamorphic perspective’ technique popular in Early Renaissance art; the seemingly smudged image in the foreground becomes a human skull when viewed sideways on.

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Leicester Square

See both Tates in a day

Can’t decide between the Picassos at Tate Modern and the Constables at Tate Britain? Do both! The Tate Boat (decorated with Damien Hirst dots) runs along the Thames between Tate Britain by Vauxhall Bridge and the Tate Modern on Bankside every 40 minutes during gallery opening hours, seven days a week (except Dec 24-26).

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Drive a tube train at the London Transport Museum

Children can be seen and heard at this lively Covent Garden temple of travel. There are hands-on exhibits and visitors can clamber on board a tube train or experience what it’s like to sit behind the wheel of a bus. Sadly you can’t take one for a spin, but standing still certainly evokes the experience of London traffic.

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See inside Buckingham Palace while the Queen’s on holiday

You can visit the Queen’s Gallery and the Royal Mews all year round, but if you want a glimpse of where Her Majesty entertains presidents and goes about her royal duties, you get just two months of the year, while HRH is out of town. The Summer Opening (from late July to late September) includes a tour of 19 State Rooms, a special exhibition that changes from year to year, and a walk around the palace garden.

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See London from above at the Shard

Making the city’s skyline a whole lot more spiky than it used to be, the Shard has quickly become an iconic London landmark. The tallest building in Western Europe, the tower has floor-to-ceiling windows offering amazing views. The public visiting area, The View From the Shard, allows you to look out 244 metres above ground level, as if you’re perched over the city on your own cloud.

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Take a spin on the London Eye

Okay, at an elegant 0.6mph, the London Eye doesn’t really spin, but the views as it wheels round to 135 metres above the ground can be pretty thrilling nonetheless. Look out over the Thames and central London (you can even see if the Queen’s opened her curtains at Buckingham Palace), or book a special package – options include romantic champagne trips and a two-trip ticket so that you can ride early in the morning and at dusk on the same day.

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Take afternoon tea at the Houses of Parliament

If you’re taking a tour of this grand palace of politics you can book ahead to enjoy afternoon tea afterwards. Sadly there’s no chance of seeing the PM – teas are served on Saturdays and selected days during Parliament recess – but you can nibble on savouries and cakes in in the elegant Terrace Pavilion with views of the Thames rarely enjoyed by the public.

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See X-rated artefacts at the Wellcome Collection

Medical research charity the Wellcome Trust created its free-to-visit gallery on the Euston Road to help foster a wider appreciation and understanding of medicine. Innovative exhibitions, talks and performance events reflect themes of medicine and the body in all kinds of creative ways, often through art. The permanent collections include risqué objects such as century-old porcelain fruit containing tiny models of couples enjoying an 'intimate moment.

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Visit the park with London’s most unusual door policy

No one is allowed into Coram’s Fields playground unless they’re accompanied by a child. This small green space is a play haven, with playgrounds, sandpits and farm animals. In summer, children can splash about in water and the café is open, too. Surely the only place in Zone 1 where you’ll hear chickens and goats as you pass by on your way to work.

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