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Day 1 -- Westminster/Trafalgar Square

London is huge and no matter how fit you are, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to walk to everything you want to see. Invest in a London Pass, and you’ll save your feet and receive free admission at more than 50 attractions. See our Travel Notes for details.

On seeing Niagara Falls, Oscar Wilde remarked that he reckoned the falls were the second greatest disappointment of American married life. We feel that way about the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. Unless you’re here off-season, which these days is pretty much limited to February, you’ll wait for an hour and the crowds will be so huge that you won’t see much anyway.

If you feel you really must see it, start your day by touring Buckingham Palace, the Royal Residence since Queen Victoria moved in during the late 1830s. The Palace was originally a country house and during the summer, you can tour the State Room, the Throne Room, the Picture Gallery, and other "public" areas. To avoid the long lines, purchase your tickets in advance.

After your visit, you can pop outside for the Changing of the Guard. Try to be there by 10:30AM.

A better choice is to show up at the Horse Guards north of Downing Street off White Hall Way whenever it’s convenient for you. Members of the Household Cavalry leave the Hyde Park Barracks at 10:28AM (9:28AM on Sundays) and arrive here at 11AM. There’s always a very photogenic mounted sentry posted outside the Barracks from 10AM to 5PM.

Mounted guards change here every hour to rest their horses. The troops are inspected daily at 4PM and dismount with plenty of pageantry at 5PM.

If you’re willing to pass on the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, start your day this morning with a "flight" on the British Airways London Eye. To get there, take the "Tube" to Waterloo Station.

The giant wheel towers 450-ft. above the Thames and from the top, you can see 25 miles on clear days. Since opening early in 2000, the Eye has become one of the city’s most popular attractions and the 30-minute "flight" provides a fantastic orientation.

After your flight, cross the Thames via the Westminster Bridge. With the Clock Tower, (commonly called Big Ben), and the Houses of Parliament on your left, this is one of the most beautiful approaches in the city and you’ll get terrific photos as you cross.

Those fascinated by democracy and the workings of government will enjoy a tour of the Houses of Parliament. This takes some advance planning, because you’ll need to request permission at least a month in advance. See our Travel Notes for details.

Otherwise, your best bet is to come back after 6PM. When the House of Commons is in session, it "sits" until 10:30PM -- or later -- on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. Trying to get in during the day usually involves a long wait.

Westminster Abbey, (don’t even think about calling it West-min-i-ster), has been the scene of coronations, funerals, and much pomp and pageantry since Harold was crowned here in 1066. It’s the oldest church in London, and undoubtedly the most important.

Today, Westminster Abbey is equal parts working church, magnificent example of medieval architecture and repository of 1,000 years of British history. Best of all, it’s just gorgeous. For our money, this is the most awe-inspiring spot in London.

Before you enter the church, walk around it. Most of the present structure dates from the 13th century, although the West Front Towers were built from 1734 to 1745. Take note of the tremendous flying buttresses supporting the nave.

As you enter the church via the North Transept, the Victorian Gothic Choir will be on your right. The organ dates from 1727. Past the Choir, the Nave was begun around 1362 and at 101 feet, it’s the highest ceiling in Britain. The West Window dates from 1735.

The four Cloisters date from the 13th to the 15th centuries. The octagonal Chapter House in the East Cloister dates from 1250. The King’s Great Council met here in 1257 and there are some beautiful original tiles and fan vaulting.

Outside the Chapter House in the South Transept is the Poets’ Corner. Chaucer, Edmund Spenser, Tennyson, Dickens, Kipling, and Thomas Hardy are buried here. And there are memorials to authors who were not laid to rest here, including Shakespeare and Lord Byron.

Composer George Frederic Handel and Laurence Olivier are also buried here.

St. Edward’s Chapel, roughly in the center of the Abbey, houses the Coronation Chair and Edward the Confessor’s shrine, as well as the tombs of many monarchs.

The Lady Chapel, also known as Henry VII’s Chapel, was begun in 1503 as the final resting place of Henry VI. A pair of bronze gates at the entrance displays royal badges of the Tudor house. The 16th-century wooden stalls are decorated with the banners and crests of the Knights of the Order of the Bath.

The Chapel contains the tombs of Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots.

There’s no place in Britain as simultaneously grand and intimate as Westminster Abbey. So be sure to take time to let it all sink in.

When you leave the Abbey, walk past Parliament Square and head down Parliament Street, which becomes Whitehall. When you come to Downing Street, take a left. The Prime Minister’s residence at Number Ten is about halfway down the street. Number Eleven is the official residence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

If you’re hungry, the Red Lion at 48 Parliament Street (Whitehall) is the best pub in the area. The original Red Lion was built here in 1733 and was mentioned in Dickens’s David Copperfield. This one replaced it in 1899 and it’s a favorite watering hole for Members of Parliament. There’s a dining room upstairs.

Past the Red Lion, on your right, is the Banqueting House, designed by Inigo Jones in 1622 in the Palladian style. It contains a ceiling painted by Rubens. On your left is the Horse Guards. If it’s near the hour, hang out to see the mounted guards change.

Walk down Whitehall to Trafalgar Square. If anyplace is the heart of London, this is it. Overseen by Nelson, who stands atop the 145-ft. column in the center of the square, Trafalgar has been a gathering place for centuries. The huge Classical building is the National Gallery and the church on the right is St. Martin-in-the-Fields.

If you haven’t eaten, Leicester Square is your best bet. You’ll find plenty of restaurants. While you’re there, if you don’t have plans for the evening, stop by the tkts booth (formerly the Half Price Ticket Booth) in the Square, which sells unsold day-of-performance theater tickets at a discount.

After lunch, return to Trafalgar Square to visit the National Gallery. Begun in 1824 when George IV purchased 38 major paintings by Rembrandt, Raphael, and others, the National Gallery has one of the finest collections of art in the world. In addition to masterpieces such as Leonardo da Vinci’s "Virgin and Child with St. Anne and John the Baptist," Bellini’s "Doge Leonardo Loredan," Piero della Francesca’s "Baptism of Christ," van Eyck’s "Arnolfini Marriage," Botticelli’s "Venus and Mars," and van Gogh’s "Sunflowers," the gallery hosts blockbuster traveling exhibitions. For upcoming shows visit their web site included in our attractions link to the right.

If time and energy permit, you can visit the National Portrait Gallery which exhibits everything from a cartoon of Henry VIII by Hans Holbein to photographs of Mick Jagger. Shakespeare buffs will enjoy the only surviving portrait of the Bard painted from life.

Overshadowed by its neighbor, The National Portrait Gallery is highly underrated and well worth a visit.

Across from the National Portrait Gallery, St. Martin-in-the-Fields is the final resting place of artists William Hogarth and Joshua Reynolds. There’s a crafts market in the back of the church. And evening concerts are held here Thursday through Saturday at 7:30PM.

When you’re beat, walk to Covent Garden. If you’ve been to London before but it’s been a while, you’ll be amazed at how much lighter of heart the city seems.

Always a home to buskers and street performers, Covent Garden was London’s first "piazza." Today, it presents one free show after another. It’s one of the most vibrant parts of the city, and the buzz here is contagious, particularly around sunset. There’s an antiques market here on Mondays.

Find an open air café on the piazza, order something to drink and watch the jugglers, acrobats, and musicians. If you’re going to the theater tonight -- and if you aren’t, why aren’t you -- have a bite to tide you over before heading back to your hotel to change.

There are more than three dozen theaters in London’s West End where you can see everything from Greek tragedy to next year’s Broadway smash. For complete listings, pick up a copy of Time Out. If you want to see the latest hit, it’s wise to purchase tickets in advance. See our Travel Notes for details.

Those who are content to see less popular performances can drop by the tkts (formerly Half Price Ticket Booth) at Leicester Square or see your concierge for tickets.

In addition to the West End theaters, London has several of the best repertory companies in the world, including the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal National Theatre, and Shakespeare’s Globe, a recreation of the Elizabethan original on the banks of the Thames. Try to see at least one show and at least one play during your visit.

It’s no surprise that in a theatre town, there are plenty of places to go for an after-theatre supper. The Ivy has been going strong since 1911 and Joe Allen is very popular.


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Day 2 -- Bloomsbury/Kensington

This morning, take the tube to Russell Square, in London’s Bloomsbury neighborhood -- the city’s literary quarter. The Bloomsbury Group, which included Virginia Woolf, Lyton Strachey, and Dora Carrington, were active here during the first three decades of the century.

There’s lots of literary history here. Dickens wrote Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickelby at 48 Doughty Street. Today, there’s a small museum in the house.

Across from Russell Square, the Russell Hotel is one of the last remaining grand hotels from the turn of the century. The hotel was renovated, so if you enjoy the architecture of the period, pop into the lobby for a peak.

The main draw in Bloomsbury -- in fact, with 5 million visitors a year, the main draw in London -- is the British Museum. Founded in 1753, it’s the oldest museum in the world, and certainly one of the most important. With 94 galleries covering two-and-a-half miles, there’s more than you could possibly see in a months of visits.

The best course of action is to decide which things you really want to see and stay focused. No one should miss the controversial Elgin Marbles which were brought from the Parthenon in 1816; the Rosetta Stone, which provided the key to deciphering Egyptian heiroglyphics; the Sutton Hoo Treasure; and the Lindow Man, who was preserved in a peat bog for 2,000 years.

In 1998, The British Library was moved to its own space on Euston Road, freeing up space for the British Museum’s new £100 million Great Court which opened in December 2000. The glass-crowned court is now the largest covered space in Europe and it’s spectacular. There are galleries, an educational center, and the restored reading room.

What this means is that many of the documents that were once at the British Museum -- including the Magna Carta, the Lindisfarne Gospels, the Guttenberg Bible, a First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays, and Paul McCartney’s scribbled lyrics to the Beatles classic "Yesterday" -- are now at the British Library, making that well worth a visit too.

The Library is next to St. Pancras Station.

When you finish at the British Museum, take a stroll down Museum Street where there are cafes, old book stores, and antique shops. When you’re hungry, or thirsty, the Museum Tavern on Great Russell Street has a good "Ploughman’s lunch," (bread, cheese, cold meats, cold salads).

For the best fish and chips in London, try the North Sea Fish Restaurant on Leigh Street. If you’d prefer something more sophisticated, take the tube to Knightsbridge and head for Harrods. There are a dozen places to eat in the upscale department store. Or you can get picnic supplies at the Food Halls.

After lunch, there are three great museums in the Kensington area to choose from. If you’re a thorough and deliberate person, one may be all you can do. Two is an accomplishment for anyone. And three is out of the question. So choose wisely.

The Victoria and Albert is the world’s largest museum of the decorative arts. The 145 galleries here are filled with furniture, jewelry, textiles, metalwork, ceramics, and clothes from all over the world -- and all periods of history.

With four million objects in all, there’s something for everyone. Highlights include the best collection of Indian art outside India; miniature portraits; Constable paintings; the Medieval Treasury with priceless objects such as the Eltenberg Reliquary; the Dress Collection with clothing from the 1600s to the present; and the room William Morris designed as a refreshment room for the museum in the 1870s.

The British Galleries contain an unrivaled collection of British treasures. And the museum frequently hosts temporary exhibitions. The V&A shop is a wonderful place to find gifts.

Up Cromwell Road from the V&A, the Natural History Museum uses interactive technology to make subjects like biology, zoology, and geology engaging. Highlights of the Life Galleries include the Dinosaur Exhibition, which features life-size robotic models. You’ll walk past them on a raised walkway, then pass them again at ground level. The Creepy-Crawlies Exhibition, which arachnophobes should avoid. And the Mammals section with a 70-foot model of a blue whale.

In the Earth Galleries, you can experience an earthquake, and see thousands of gems and minerals in the Earth’s Treasury.

The third choice in the neighborhood is the Science Museum, which will appeal to anyone interested in technology. The seven-floor building has the earliest steam locomotive, a V2 missile, the Apollo 10 command module, navigational instruments, a replica of the first flying machine, and computer prototypes. The exhibits are hands on and inventive.

When you can’t assimilate another thing, you can take a stroll through Kensington Gardens. If the weather’s fine and you have any strength left, you can rent a boat and row across the Serpentine.

Otherwise, find a pleasant place to plop and have some refreshments.

For dinner tonight, try one of Sir Terence Conran’s trend-setting restaurants. Bibendum in the beautiful Art Nouveau/Art Deco Michelin Tire Building serves French-influenced fare. Bluebird in Chelsea is more a complex than a restaurant. There’s a café, a flower stand, and a housewares store too. But the cavernous upstairs restaurant is always buzzing. Le Pont de la Tour is right on the Thames next to the Tower Bridge and the views are sensational.

Whichever one you choose will have the best shellfish in town.

There’s more to London nightlife than theater, so take advantage of it. London has five symphony orchestras, several opera, dance, and ballet companies, and evening concerts in churches and other historic building. Consult "Time Out" for listings.

If you’re heart’s set on seeing something, make your reservations well in advance to avoid disappointment. See our Travel Notes for ticket resources.

London’s dance clubs are legendary. The best have long lines and fickle door policies, so it’s a good idea to call ahead for details or ask your concierge for advice. The hottest clubs at press time are Scala, which can accommodate 800 enthusiastic hipsters; and Fabric where the "Bodysonic" dance floor is a gigantic woofer.

Those who want to wing it will find plenty of choices around Covent Garden. Bar Rumba and Wag are two of the best.

Jazz fans should head for Ronnie Scott’s in Soho. Top international acts like Cedar Walton, Monty Alexander, and Terence Blanchard play two sets a night and the sound there is first-rate.


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Day 3 -- The City/Southwark

If you weren’t out too late last night, get an early start this morning. Take the tube to Monument Station. The monument in question was designed by Christopher Wren to commemorate the Great Fire of 1666, which destroyed four-fifths of the city. Climb the 311 steps to the top for wonderful views.

Since you’ve already burned some calories, head for Leadenhall Market on Whittington Avenue. The ornate Victorian arcade dates from 1881 and today, it houses some of the best food purveyors in London. Enjoy wandering and sampling goodies. Then walk to the Tower of London.

During its nearly one-thousand-year history, the Tower has played many roles, most notably that of a prison. To get the most out of your visit, get there early and take one of the tours conducted by the Yeoman Warders -- they leave every half hour.

You’ll see the White Tower which dates from 1076 and houses the Royal Armouries and the Romanesque Chapel of St. John. North of the White Tower, the Waterloo Barracks is where the Crown Jewels, including the Imperial State Crown with its 317-carat diamond, are displayed. The Bloody Tower is where Richard II imprisoned 12-year-old Edward V and his ten-year-old brother. The two disappeared in 1483 and their whereabouts remain a mystery.

Two of Henry VIII’s six wives were beheaded on the Tower Green. The ravens are there for a reason; legend has it that if the ravens leave, the tower will fall.

We’re not enthusiastic about the Tower Bridge Experience, although there are great views up and down the Thames from the elevated walkways -- albeit behind glass. If you’re interested in engineering, you might find it interesting. But we think the 90-minute tour is a poor use of time. Better to spend your time on the other side.

Your first stop after crossing the Thames should be Southwark Cathedral. Shakespeare’s brother, Edmund, is buried here and John Harvard, the founder of the University, was baptized here. Inside, there’s a 13th-century wooden effigy of a knight and the tomb of Chaucer contemporary John Gower, dating from 1408.

About a block away is one of the most ambitious — it’s not a museum, it’s not a winery, we’re not even sure what to call it — one of the most ambitious attractions in London — Vinopolis, City of Wine.

This $35 million complex (for want of a better word), occupies two-and-a-half acres of floor space in the city’s gentrified Southwark neighborhood. You can take a highly interactive tour of the world of wine, taste your choice of 200 premium wines from 40 tasting stations, have a wine-tasting lesson, or purchase more than 800 different kinds of wine. Tours must be booked 48 hours in advance.

Wine enthusiasts may find it a little superficial. But the admission includes tastes of five wines and a Bombay Sapphire martini. So all in all, it’s a good excuse to drink wine during the day. The restaurant and wine wharf is a pleasant spot for lunch, and stocks 300 kinds of wine.

Another good spot for lunch is the Anchor. The original pub was destroyed in the Great Fire. This one dates from 1666 and it’s very atmospheric. In fact, Tom Cruise had a beer here in the film "Mission Impossible". Dr. Johnson was a regular patron. And there are great views from the riverside terrace.

Shakespeare’s Globe is past the Southbank Bridge, on the Thames. The brainchild of American actor Sam Wanamaker, the Globe is a recreation of the original Tudor theater where Shakespeare produced many of his plays. You can tour the theater and visit the Exhibition, where you’ll learn about construction of the theater and how costumes, special effects and other aspects of production were managed during Shakespeare’s time.

The visit takes about 90 minutes and it’s worthwhile for those interested in theater.

The spectacular Tate Gallery of Modern Art at Bankside is practically next door, so you’ll need to decide how to spend your time. One of the most important collections of 20th-century art in the world is now housed in the former Bankside Power Station. With its two-story glass ceiling and turbine hall running the length of the building, the physical plant itself is amazing. And modern art lovers will enjoy seeing major works by Dali, Picasso, Warhol, van Gogh and other modern masters.

When you’re through, cross the Thames and head back for the City.

Take the Millenium Bridge, which will take you right to St. Paul’s Cathedral. The Great Fire destroyed the original cathedral here, so Christopher Wren was hired to create a new one. The design he presented in 1672 was not well received, so the final product is a modification of his original plan. In fact, the towers weren’t added until 1707.

At 360-ft. the dome is second only to Michelangelo’s great dome at St. Peter’s in Rome and it’s as magnificent inside as it is outside. During the bombing raids of World War II, the dome became a symbol of resilience for war-weary Londoners.

The cruciform church has been the scene of many historic occasions including the funeral of Winston Churchill and the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spenser. Christopher Wren is buried here, as are Nelson and the Duke of Wellington.

The vast interior space is beautifully decorated with mosaics and intricate carvings. Aerobics instructors can climb 530 steps to the top of the dome for the best views in the city.

When you’re exhausted, the Bow Wine Vaults on trendy Bow Lane is a two-minute walk. There are tables on the sidewalk, dozens of wines by the glass, and goodies like deep-fried goat’s cheese and game terrine.

For something different tonight, consider visiting one of London’s popular comedy clubs. There are a dozen to choose from. Comedy Café and Comedy Store seem to book the best acts, even if you haven’t heard of them.


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Day 4 -- The Strand

A red letter day for art lovers.

This morning, take the tube to Westminster Station and walk along Millbank to the Tate Britain Gallery. This branch of the museum now displays British Art from the 1500s to the present. It’s a wonderful collection, highlighted by the bequest from landscape painter J.M.W. Turner which included 19,000 watercolors and 300 paintings.

Other standouts here include the work of the Pre-Raphaelites, and paintings by Constable, Blake, and Whistler.

Take the tube back to Temple and walk to Somerset House. Built on the site of a former Tudor Palace, the present building dates from 1775 and was intended to house government agencies and learned societies under one roof.

A massive renovation has transformed Somerset House, and the 18th-century courtyard, Thames River terrace, and synchronized fountains make it one of the most attractive destinations in the city.

Today, it is the home of three of London’s most extraordinary art collections: The Courtauld, the Gilbert Collection, and the Hermitage Rooms.

The Courtauld Institute of Art, now the gallery of the University of London, is at the north end of Somerset House. The foundation stock for the gallery was the private collection of Samuel Courtauld, a descendent of the Huguenots who cornered the rayon market.

The collection is particularly strong in the French Impressionists. If you’ve enjoyed the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, you’ll love it here. Manet’s "A Bar at the Folies Bergere" is here, as is "Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe." There’s also major work by van Gogh, Degas, Renoir, Monet, Gaughin, Cezanne, and Toulouse-Lautrec, and several Italian Renaissance masterpieces.

The Gilbert Collection in Somerset’s Embankment building includes more than 800 works of decorative art, including exquisitely detailed silver plates, gold boxes, portrait miniatures, and Roman micro-mosaics.

The Hermitage Rooms display paintings, jewels, and decorative arts on loan from the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. Advance booking for this exhibit is advised. See our Travel Notes for current exhibition details.

When you’re ready for lunch, there are several good spots at Somerset House, Admiralty has consistantly earned good reviews and the riverside terrace is a tough location to beat.

From Somerset House, it’s a brief stroll to Sir John Soane’s Museum. Nineteenth-century architect Soane bequeathed his house to the nation upon his death in 1837 with the provision that nothing in it be changed.

Today, it’s one of the most fascinating places in London. The house itself is full of surprises -- rooms that turn out to be merely reflections, folding panels that double wall space -- and there are many treasures and curiosities among the contents.

The walls are covered with Soane’s art collection, which includes paintings by Reynolds, Lawrence, Hogarth, Canaleto, and Watteau. The basement, which is lit from a skylight high above, contains an Egyptian sarcophagus. There are ancient statues throughout and an odd collection of Gothic casts.

Spend the rest of the day shopping. Regent and Oxford Streets in the West End, are good for almost everything. You’ll find Marks and Spencer, Liberty of London, and Laura Ashley there. And Knightsbridge and Chelsea have up-market stalwarts Harrods and Harvey Nichols.

For dinner this evening, try the Sugar Club in Soho for Asian-influence fusion, Zafferano for Italian, or Aubergine in Chelsea.


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Day 5 -- London Environs

Today, see whatever you haven’t had time for so far, or visit one of London’s more far-flung attractions.

If it’s Saturday, head for Notting Hill and the Portobello Road Market. The earlier you get there the better. And after the market, antique lovers will find 90 antique shops along the Portobello Road.

North of the city, Hampstead is a charming Georgian village bounded by the Heath, a three-square-mile swath of greenery separating Hampstead from the city proper. On clear days, you can see the dome of St. Paul’s from the hillsides.

The village has always been popular with writers. D.H. Lawrence, Shelley, Stevenson, Kingsley Amis, John Le Carre, and John Galsworthy are all associated with the area.

There are several historic houses worth visiting here, including the home of John Keats. Flask Walk and Well Walk are filled with quaint shops. And nearby Highgate Cemetery, where Karl Marx is buried, is worth a stroll.

Despite seeming a million miles from the city, Hampstead is on the tube line and is just a 20-minute trip from the heart of London.

Hampton Court Palace was built in 1515 for Cardinal Wolsey and later given to Henry VIII, probably to avoid having it "appropriated." Christopher Wren renovated much of the palace for William III, so it’s not as Tudor as you might hope. But it does provide much insight into court life.

The gardens alone are worth the trip. There’s a shrubbery maze, a Knot Garden, the King’s Privy Garden, the Great Fountain Gardens and several others.

During the summer, you can make the trip more interesting by taking the train to Hampton Court and cruising back on the Thames.

Gardens lovers can take the tube to Kew Gardens Station, visit the spectacular gardens there, then cruise to Hampton Court Palace and take the train back from there.

The Royal Botanic Gardens -- commonly called Kew Gardens -- has more than 50,000 species of plants on 300 acres of beautiful grounds and in greenhouses and garden pavilions. This is one of the foremost gardens and botanical research centers in Europe and a must-see for horticulturalists.

If you prefer to remain in town, visit Apsley House, the home of Wellington, who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo and later became Prime Minister. His treasures -- gifts of a grateful nation -- are displayed in this Robert Adam-designed house in the corner of Hyde Park. Highlights here include the mammoth statue of Napoleon by Canova, and the superb collections of porcelain and silver.

For your last night in London, pull out all the stops and have dinner with a view. Try Terence Conran’s Le Pont de la Tour, the Ship Hispaniola, or The Portrait Restaurant in the National Portrait Gallery.

Images of St. Pauls and the London Eye Courtesy of www.freeimages.co.uk.