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So What About London

Of course, it’s the capital, so it doesn’t get any bigger than this; in fact, London is the most written about city in the world and the biggest conurbation in Europe. Yet to many of the people who live there it’s simply a series of inter-related villages.

It’s also renowned for separating people from their money, but at the same time widely regarded as one of the safest ‘global’ cities; and it has a history of tolerance and providing refuge for exiles of other countries. It’s a welcoming city.

And given the size and scale of London, it’s typical it can’t content itself with simply being one city, as there are actually two cities within London: the City of Westminster, and the City of London, but more of that later…

So it’s pretty clear this is no ordinary city. But whichever way you look at it, London is all about power. And as such, a visit to London can make you feel you’re part of something big.You see, London positively buzzes with its international role as the global centre for commerce; and it’s alive with its rich history – not wallowing in it, but building on it, strengthening it and, most importantly, enjoying it.

The Glory Of London

Be it the monarchy, Church or democracy, London exudes authority and crackles with reminders of power struggles over the years. This is a place where important decisions are, and always have been, made. From an early centre of administration in Roman times, over the years London has increasingly dwarfed all other cities in the land, has continually expanded and simply kept spreading outwards, gobbling up communities in its’ path.
 
It houses the official London residence of the Monarchy, namely Buckingham Palace, and is home to no fewer than nine Royal Parks (see sidebar for a flavour), several other palaces – Kensington, Kew, Alexandra, Hampton Court, Eltham – a multitude of historical mansions, and the Tower of London; one of the country’s finest historical attractions, with events and displays which brilliantly bring to life British Monarchs over the years, and the painful ends for traitors (and of course, the Crown Jewels).
 
And then there’s Westminster Abbey, in which every sovereign’s coronation has taken place since 1066 and home to countless memorials and tombs to the most famous monarchs, statesmen, priests and influential people throughout the ages.And in Westminster itself we have the home of the country’s democracy: the Houses of Parliament.
 
All put together it’s a heady mix that tells the story of the struggles between King and Parliament, Church and State, and England and the rest of the world.
(Sidebar: Those nine Royal parks- and how to differentiate them: Bushy Park (deer), Regents (Sports), Richmond (Biggest), St James (Central), Green (peaceful), Greenwich (oldest), Hyde (popular), Kensington (formal), Brompton (cemetery))

A Truly Global Poerhouse

Power struggles are commonplace in most countries’ histories, but what grabs you about London is the global impact of things here. And there are two areas that really stand out: first, the financial and commercial clout of the City, and second, reminders of the military muscle.
 
Consider The City itself, a square mile that includes the splendid architecture of the Bank of England, modelled on the Bank of Amsterdam, and the London Stock Exchange.And with over 500 foreign banks and the planet’s largest concentration of economic analysts, The City is the world’s most internationalised financial centre. Add in Canary Wharf, which includes Cesar Pelli’s 800ft Canada Tower – the tallest building in the country – and we start to get some idea of the global importance.
 
But also consider the power it had in terms of the docks: this was the country’s leading port at the start of the 19thcentury, the greatest port in the World no less: West India docks, India docks, London docks: all testament to London’s trading relationship and influence with the rest of Europe and beyond.
 
And finally, think about military or global power: consider Trafalgar Square, Nelson’s Column, and all the other historical memorials such as the imposing Admiralty Arch, Horse Guards Parade, and the focus of Remembrance Sunday each year, the Cenotaph.

Entertainment Mecca For All Ages And Tastes

There’s a special feel to London, a certain attitude that gives it its’ very own identity; indeed internationally London is seen as the effortlessly cool capital. And that’s thanks in part to its industries focusing less on making things (apart from money, that is) and more on consuming them: shopping, entertainment, music, art and culture all combine to make London what it is: world class.
 
First consider the shopping. London has first-class options whatever your fancy.
How about checking out Burlington Arcade, the world’s first shopping arcade and one of the most attractive covered shopping streets in Britain. It’s known the world over for its craftsmanship and so is packed with luxurious accessories.
 
For gentlemen, try Savile Row and Jermyn Street (synonymous of course with exquisite tailoring; in fact, the Japanese word for suit, ‘Sabiro’, is simply ‘Savile Row’ assimilated in to the Japanese language…). For antiques, go to Portobello Road or Kensington Church Street. For independent street wear try Seven Dials (good for trainers) next to Covent Garden and Carnaby Street. For markets, as well as Portobello Road, try Camden Market for handmade jewellery and vintage fashion; Covent Garden’s Apple Market for handmade craft products; or pop over to Greenwich for a buzzing art and craft market.
For department stores hit the West End/Oxford Street and try the new Westfield or stick to the big guns: Selfridges on Oxford Street, nearer the marble Arch End, the unrepeatable Harrods in Knightsbridge and two absolute one-offs, Liberty’s, near Soho, and Fortnum and Mason on Piccadilly. And then there’s Hamleys, the world’s most famous toy store; Foyles, London’s iconic bookshop; and Waterstone’s, the country’s biggest bookshop, in Piccadilly. This of course is just a taster, for wherever you go you’ll find interesting, shops, boutiques and markets.
 
Ok, how about the entertainment scene?
There’s over 60 theatres in London’s Theatreland, covering every genre from dance to musical to play, and the area around Leicester Square, Piccadilly and Covent Garden positively teems with them.
Add in the atmospheric Shakespeare Globe, and the modern theatres – the National Theatre, Europe’s largest arts centre, the Barbican, and the Southbank Centre – and the evening entertainment’s covered.
 
Music? As the home of the original anti-establishment Punk movement- the Sex Pistols and The Clash both hail from London- as well as iconic acts such as the Rolling Stones, The Who, David Bowie and, more recently, Amy Winehouse, London is a mecca for music fans. With The Proms at the world famous Royal Albert Hall; the opera at the Covent Garden Opera House; concerts from the London Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, both resident in the city; Ronnie Scott’s Jazz club in Soho; plus the new state-of-the-art British Music Experience at the O2 arena, which allows you to perform at a virtual concert – and without even mentioning the numerous Summer festivals in the capital – and this city is simply music to the ears.
 
And where else but London can also boast attractions such as the original Madame Tussauds, now exported to other cities around the world; the World’s first scientific zoo, London Zoo; and the most popular paid for attraction in the country, and the tallest wheel in Europe, the London Eye.
Phew.

The World Cultural Powerhouse

London really comes into its’ own here as a true cultural powerhouse in terms of museums and galleries; the capital has over 250 museums and a huge number of galleries.
 
The museums cover a vast breadth of subjects: from the well-known Natural History Museum, with its iconic T-Rex and life-sized blue whale model, and the V&A, which celebrates 3,000 years of art and fashion and includes four million pieces of furniture, sculpture, jewellery and metalwork from around the World; to the Science Museum, which features landmark inventions such as Stephenson’s Rocket, Whittle’s turbojet and the Apollo 10 module, and the neo-classical British Museum, with its iconic glass-roofed Great Court and Egyptian artefacts (including the Rosetta Stone, the famous mummies, Parthenon sculptures and the Elgin marbles).
 
But why not spread out and visit the National Maritime Museum to get an example of the might of British sea travel, or the Bank of England Museum to appreciate the evolution of a powerful banking system over time. The Design Museum down by the river celebrates all aspects of modern design, while the Geffrye Museum depicts English interiors over the last 400 years. And the Fan Museum in SE10 is the only museum in the world devoted to fans, with over 3,500 of them.
 
Into browsing galleries? London has the National Gallery, housing one of the World’s greatest art collections (Van Gogh’s Sunflowers is there, as is Monet’s Water Lilies and Seurat’s Bathers at Asnieres); the National Portrait Gallery, with over 160,000 portraits of famous British men and women- the largest collection of portraits anywhere in the world. It’s got Tate Britain; following on from the National Gallery, this displays five centuries of British art from the 16thcentury, including Constable, Hogarth and Bacon, as well as more contemporary artists like Hockney and Freud. And how about Tate Modern?  For an indication of scale and power marvel at the huge Turbine Hall used for temporary installations on a jaw-dropping scale, as well as much modern art from the likes of Pollock and Matisse.
The Institute of Contemporary Arts on The Mall is an absolute one-off; wonderful location meets challenging, boundary-pushing art.
But for a whistle-stop tour of art over time why not plan your trips by chronology: start with the National, then consider the Dulwich gallery of European old master from 17thand 18thcenturies, then move up to date with the Dali Universe, then consider the Saatchi gallery and end up in White Cube.
 
What’s that old saying by Samuel Johnson: ‘When a man is tired with London he is tired with life’…imagine what he’d make of it now, some 300 years later?

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London really comes into its’ own here as a true cultural powerhouse in terms of museums and galleries; the capital has over 250 museums and a huge number of galleries.
 
The museums cover a vast breadth of subjects: from the well-known Natural History Museum, with its iconic T-Rex and life-sized blue whale model, and the V&A, which celebrates 3,000 years of art and fashion and includes four million pieces of furniture, sculpture, jewellery and metalwork from around the World; to the Science Museum, which features landmark inventions such as Stephenson’s Rocket, Whittle’s turbojet and the Apollo 10 module, and the neo-classical British Museum, with its iconic glass-roofed Great Court and Egyptian artefacts (including the Rosetta Stone, the famous mummies, Parthenon sculptures and the Elgin marbles).

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