They’re the city’s most recognisable representatives, but don’t overlook them just because they’re the postcard perennials. These are the London attractions everyone should visit, and if even the most cynical Londoners don’t enjoy them, we’ll eat our bearskin cap.
Museums, parks and days out in London
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.
The IWM’s brand new First World War Galleries examine the politics and legacy of the 1914-1918 conflict, but also day-to-day life in the trenches. In photographs, artefacts like tins of food, and a collection of letters (many from fighters who never came back), the museum tells a powerful and moving story.
The Victoria and Albert Museum’s ceramics collection is the most extensive in the world. Grayson Perry might have revived an appreciation of the artform (see his handiwork here, alongside ornate pieces of the Medici age) but the collection shows how greatly valued ceramics have always been, from figurines crafted in Paris to soup tureens made in Chelsea.
For everyone from T-Rex-obsessed toddlers to budding paleontologists, the Natural History Museum remains the ultimate destination for matters pre-historic. A walk around the dinosaurs gallery, with its life-size models and skeletons, allows you to appreciate the sheer scale of these creatures, while the four animatronic displays reveal more about how they lived.
The Science Museum’s stunning new second floor gallery provides a chance to explore the imagination and creativity of invention as captured in photography and art. See a visiting exhibition or installation then kick back and discuss it over a coffee in the café.
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.
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).
The Peter Harrison Planetarium in Greenwich Park is the only place in London where you can take your eyes on a tour of the universe. In these days of HD and 3D TV, the Planetarium has raised its game, with state-of-the-art projection technology and spectacular films revealing the latest scientific discoveries. Shows include Space Safari, which is suitable for children under eight.
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.
The Magna Carta, works of Shakespeare and Dickens, copies of The Beano – they all have a home at the British Library. However, you can also see original manuscripts handwritten by some of the world’s greatest musical talents. See early drafts by John Lennon of ‘In My Life’, ‘She Said She Said’ and ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ written on a piece of Lufthansa-headed paper.
Part of the Vietnamese Kitchen group, with branches in Hoxton and Shoreditch, Cây Tre is just what you might imagine a Vietnamese restaurant in Soho to be like: chic, minimal decor, impeccably smart and efficient black-clad staff, and beautifully served food. Customers are very mixed – tourists, Chinatown youngsters looking for something fresh, and a smattering of techies and media types. The chain prides itself on using all fresh (ideally local) ingredients with impeccable provenance – witness the delectable Devon crab wrap with crisp lettuce and perilla leaves (in which to roll up the super-tasty filling); grilled Cornish scallops in spring onion oil, roasted peanuts and nuoc cham; and barbecued Somerset ribs with lemongrass, sriracha chilli sauce and galangal. The menu is peppered with imaginative combinations, such as a delicious textural treat of grilled squid stuffed with duck pâté, or braised ox cheek pho with lemongrass and coriander. Thoughtfully, counters with stools have been provided by the entrance, facing the street, for those in a hurry or singletons. A big choice of cocktails leaves little room for a decent wine list. Loud piped music throbs through the place – enjoyable, but not conducive to conversation. Sister restaurant Viet Grill in Shoreditch has had a makeover, and now has a dining room with a new organic menu, and a retro-styled Vietnamese cocktail bar.