Regent St, Carnaby, London W1B 5AH, UK
It’s no coincidence that walking around Liberty feels as if you’re exploring someone’s grand home; the department store’s founder, Arthur Lasenby Liberty, wanted to create that very feel, and so in 1875 settled on a Tudor-style building that featured a jumble of interconnecting rooms. A wooden staircase at one end connects the six floors, and a paper room sells stationery in the store’s iconic floral Liberty print, fashion and beauty halls, a cafe, and multiple branded treatment rooms. Still, it’s the florist’s shop outside that seems to provide the main draw; as any passing tourist will attest, its colourful array of blooms is highly Instagrammable.
Riverside Building, County Hall, South Bank, London SE1 7PB, UK
The giant ferris wheel on the south bank of the Thames is made up of 32 futuristic glass capsules - all of which are sealed, air-conditioned and big enough to house 25 guests. Riding the attraction is effectively being stuck in a bubble, albeit one that offers 40km views in all directions (see if you can spot Windsor Castle in the farthest distance on a clear day). This is the wheel that never stops turning, and while views at the top are stunning, you won’t feel the ascent/descent: the Eye does one full rotation every 30 minutes, and turns so slowly passengers walk on and off at ground level. Curiously there is no capsule 13; since the number is thought to be bad luck, its been replaced in the lineup by the infamous no.33.
Clive Steps, King Charles St, Westminster, London SW1A 2AQ, UK
This underground bunker lay undisturbed for 30 years after the end of World War II, and is now open to the public in its restored original state. The maps are as they were the day the war ended. It’s moving to contemplate that this is where Churchill and his staff planned the defense of Britain, and the free world. The adjacent museum to the Great Man offers a quite even-handed view of his life, which was relatively undistinguished except when it really counted
Queensway, London W2 5HS, UK
In recent years, London has been rediscovering its Victorian and Edwardian baths, built in the years when a Turkish-style steam was all the rage. One of the best and most authentic locations remains The Porchester Spa in Royal Oak in west London, where you can cook up a nice sweat in glorious art deco surroundings, then go for an invigorating swim, for a very reasonable £25 for the day (massages and other treatments are also available in addition). For other historic spas, try Ironmonger Row in Islington and York Hall in Bethnal Green.
Union Chapel, Compton Terrace, London N1 2UN, UK
Possibly no music venue in London has quite as intriguing a backstory as the Union Chapel in Islington. The 19th-century Gothic Revival church, with its mosaic floor, its carved ceiling, its stained glass windows, and its chunky brick belltower, is a sight to see of itself. But since it began hosting gigs to help pay for the building’s restoration it has become one of the trendiest and most popular music destinations in the city. It has hosted everyone from Bjork and Patti Smith to Ryan Adams and Elton John, yet still very much operates as a church, with a liberal, progressive congregation supporting an outreach that’s as musical as it is Biblical.
7 Leicester Pl, London WC2H 7BY, UK
There’s something almost cheeky about the Prince Charles Cinema. Tucked in a little alley behind Leicester Square, it seems to thumb its nose at the great swathes of visitors who go to the square to spend silly money in its vast multiplexes. If you don’t want to drop $20 on a second-rate blockbuster, the slightly dilapidated but always charming Prince Charles will offer you an eclectic mix of nearly new and utterly classic films for a fraction of the price. If you’re free to go to a daytime screening, it’s even cheaper. Then there are its famous marathon screenings, where you can spend an entire weekend geeking out on John Hughes movies, or staying overnight for a Harry Potter sleepover. It’s more than a cinema, really—it’s a community center for movie geeks.
If you’re looking for a moment of peace and reverence surrounded by gothic grandeur and ancient history, head for this often overlooked gem. It doesn’t get the noisy crowds of Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s, but Southwark is one of the most beautiful, dramatic, and historic places of worship in the city, its flagstones worn by a millennia of pilgrims and prayers. An Augustinian priory was established here in the 12th century and the Gothic church was reconstructed in the 13th after a fire, and its great arched ceiling and richly decorated chapels transport you back there with surprising ease. There are five services a day to which all are welcome, but to get the full effect, head to one where their outstanding choir is singing. You’ll get chills.
Great Russell St, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 3DG, UK
Checking out the famously preserved mummies at the world’s oldest public museum is on many London wish lists, but there’s much more to the British Museum than ancient Egypt. Other must-sees include the Elgin Marbles and the African masks, both part of an enormous collection that spans ancient Iran to modern Sweden. The Great Court, which was cleverly revamped with a geometric glass roof by Foster + Partners in 2000, is a spacious gathering area with a shop and a café—and a sight worth seeing in itself.
13 Lincoln's Inn Fields, London WC2A 3BP, UK
Sir John Soane was an 18th-century architect who died nearly 200 years ago. He was also an undiagnosed hoarder. The man’s townhouse, which has been left untouched since his death and which free to the public, is an extraordinary jumble of his collection of antiquities—he had to modify the building in order to cram them all in. There’s even a genuine Egpytian sarcophagus in his basement (which originally housed a Pharaoh). It’s impossible to describe how completely bonkers his house is, and you’re not allowed to take pictures inside, so you’ll need to see it with your own eyes. Once a month you can join the Soane Lates for a candlelit exhibit. These are highly popular so be sure to book ahead.
183 Euston Rd, London NW1 2BE, UK
Completely unique and always fascinating, the Wellcome Trust, not far from the British Library, is a free museum devoted to the marvels of the human body. It has regular exhibitions, taking sideways scientific looks at everything from the the anatomy of the brain to the secrets of sleep (and their exhibition on death was not remotely as morbid as it sounds). But it’s worth a visit any time for its permanent collection, which combines clever hands-on exhibits that teach you about your own body with thoughtful artworks that reflect on the human condition—who knew your pancreas is halfway up your back? Plus it has a great cafe and bookshop.
149 Piccadilly, London W1J 7NT, UK
Famously given the address No 1, London when it was first built on the north side of Piccadilly, the Duke of Wellington’s former home is one of the few Georgian houses in London that still stands alone. From Hyde Park Corner you see it in all its grandeur, and a visit inside (it’s operated by English Heritage) brings you face to face with an extensive collection of 18th- and 19th-century art. Personally, Most interesting are the cases displaying some of Wellington’s personal affairs—including weapons, military medals, and armor. He is one of England’s most famous military leaders and hero, and you shouldn’t leave the country without learning about him.
93 Guilford Street
There’s nowhere more exclusive in London than Corams Fields—because this is the one square in the city where adults aren’t allowed, unless they’re accompanied by a child. A seven-acre park and playground, funded by charity for the past 80 years to keep a sanctuary in the middle of town where kids can play safely, this is a great stop off if you’re heading into or out of the West End with your family. There’s a city farm, a paddling pool, a cafe, and events throughout the year.
Hampstead, London NW3 2QD, UK
Hampstead Heath is a legend: 800 acres of wide-open space dotted with ponds, woods, walking tracks, and the odd stately home. North Londoners take pride in this place, where you will find dog walkers, picnickers, Saturday soccer players, and hardy outdoor swimmers at all times of the year. It brings a touch of true wilderness to the city, and it’s also home to a lido, a stately home with an unrivalled art collection (at Kenwood House), and the famous bathing ponds established by the Victorians (and thus separate for gentlemen and ladies). Parliament Hill also offers one of the best views in London.
Renzo Piano’s Shard has divided opinion with its 309 meters (1,000 feet) of spiky glass construction and jagged top. But there’s no denying its sensational views. Access them by booking a meal at contemporary-British restaurant Aqua on the 41st floor, or head up to the viewing platform on the 68th floor for a fascinating bird’s-eye glimpse over the train lines threading out from London Bridge station across the river and into the city beyond.
103 Borough Rd, London SE1 0AA, UK
South Bank has both the best river walk in London and the city’s liveliest cultural centers, so a walk along it is a must. The path takes you from the Globe and the Tate Modern along the Thames—passing Gabriel’s Wharf with its stellar restaurants and bars—to the National Theatre, the Royal Festival Hall, the Hayward Gallery, and the London Eye. A two-mile strip has never held so many different entertainment opportunities; you could spend weeks along it without getting bored. That’s not to mention the regular outdoor performances and the unparalleled views of the bridges over the river, Big Ben, and the Houses of Parliament.
St. Paul's Churchyard, London EC4M 8AD, UK
There has been a church on this site in the City of London for 1400 years and the current St. Paul’s Cathedral is the mother church of the Diocese of London. Designed by famed architect Sir Christopher Wren in the grand English Baroque style, it was completed in 1697 and the dome remained the highest structure in London until 1967. Visitors are welcome after the 8:00am Eucharist service, and a highlight is the Whispering Gallery where you and a friend can stand on opposite walls and hear each other across the void. Continue up the stairs to the Golden Gallery, at 280 feet it’s the high point of the outer dome, and you’ll be treated to panoramic views of London and up and down the River Thames.