London Holidays Guide: Perfect Sights and Best Travel Season

London is one of the favourite urban haunts of visitors to Europe because of landmark sights like Big Ben, St Paul’s Cathedral and the historically rich Westminster Abbey. The city also boasts some of the world’s greatest museums and art galleries, and more parkland than most other capitals.

London Sights

London Sights

General Information on London
London – the grand resonance of its very name suggests history and might. Its opportunities for entertainment by day and night go on and on and on. It’s a city that exhilarates and intimidates, stimulates and irritates in equal measure, a grubby Monopoly board studded with stellar sights. It’s a cosmopolitan mix of Third and First Worlds, chauffeurs and beggars, the stubbornly traditional and the proudly avant-garde. But somehow – between Her Majesty and Pete Doherty, Bow Bells and Big Ben, the Tate Modern and the 2012 Olympics – it all hangs together.

Weather Overview
Many who live in London would swear that global warming has added a twist to the city’s unpredictable climatic conditions. While locals used to complain about the frequent, but still somehow always unforeseen, arrival of rain, now they find themselves faced with sudden outbreaks of sunshine and dry heat instead.

Recent summers have seen record temperatures, approaching 40°C and autumns have been positively toasty. As the tube turns into the Black Hole of Calcutta and traffic fumes become choking, London is particularly ill-equipped to cope with such heat.

However, meteorologists point out that recent statistics don’t yet represent anything terribly out of the ordinary for such a naturally variable climate. The average maximum temperature for July, the hottest month, is still only about 23°C. In spring and autumn temperatures drop to between 13°C and 17°C. In winter, the average daily maximum is 8°C, the overnight minimum 2°C.

Despite the appearance of snow in the past few years, it still rarely freezes in London. What weather forecasters do predict in the long-term, as a result of climate change in London, are drier summers, wetter and stormier winters and more flash floods.

When to Go
London is a year-round tourist centre, with few of its attractions closing or significantly reducing their opening hours in winter. Your best chance of good weather is, of course, at the height of summer in July and August, but there’s certainly no guarantee of sun even in those months – plus it’s when you can expect the biggest crowds and highest prices.

Visa
London is a year-round tourist centre, with few of its attractions closing or significantly reducing their opening hours in winter. Your best chance of good weather is, of course, at the height of summer in July and August, but there’s certainly no guarantee of sun even in those months – plus it’s when you can expect the biggest crowds and highest prices.

Tipping
Many restaurants now add a ‘discretionary’ service charge to your bill, but in places that don’t you are expected to leave a 10% to 15% tip unless the service was unsatisfactory. Waiting staff are often paid derisory wages on the assumption that the money will be supplemented by tips. You never tip to have your pint pulled in a pub.

If you take a boat trip on the Thames you’ll find some guides and/or drivers importuning for a tip in return for their commentary. Whether you pay is up to you. You can tip taxi drivers up to 10% but most people round up to the nearest pound.

Activities – Places of Interest
Bumpkin

This faux rustic outfit is good for an unpretentious helping of old-fashioned comfort food. Wash down everything from dorset crab bruschetta, to beef pie and huge steaks, with a glass of Guinness, Adnams or some very unusual whisky cocktails. The cooking’s not fancy and it does get noisy, but there’s something uncomplicatedly pleasant about the experience.

Ottolenghi

Stylish Ottolenghi is one of Islington’s best, with its long white communal table (plus a few private ones) and arty meringue displays. It’s casual enough for a relaxed breakfast and chic enough for a night out. Meals are usually composed of two or three servings of delicious modern Mediterranean dishes. There’s other branches in Notting Hill and Kensington.

Baltic

The swish, shiny bar lined with amber and vodkas tends to attract a buttoned-up after-work crowd, but the food in the high-ceilinged restaurant behind is excellent, taking Polish to the mainstream, with excellent renditions of blini (crepes), herrings, pierogi (dumplings) and caviar, black pudding and smoked eel.

Busaba Eathai

This is a 21st-century Wagamama-style noodle bar – a bit more stylish with it, but brought to you by the same man, Alan Yau. Below ceiling fans and golden buddhas, customers lap up delicious Thai curries and soups on dark wood benches and communal tables. There’s another branch on Wardour St in Soho.

Brick Lane Beigel Bake

This renowned round-the-clock bakery turns out some of London’s springiest, chewiest bagels and attracts daytime and after-club crowds. It’s a slice of real London, but not kosher (in the Jewish sense). The hot salt-beef bagels have eager punters queuing out the door, a sure sign of a good thing.

Spitalfields Market
Spitalfields has always been about snaffling. Up-and-coming designers tout clothes, cutting-edge jewellery and household objects, and adventurous shoppers get their fill. Unfortunately, a new retail complex now hogs a good deal of the market’s space, but not enough to seriously dent its status as one of the city’s best and busiest hangouts.

Rellik

One of London’s most-lauded retro clothing stores, this place is not cheap, but there is a chance of unearthing secondhand designer labels, including from the likes of Vivienne Westwood, Zandra Rhodes and even 1960s icon Ossie Clark. While you’re here, have a look at Trellick Tower opposite – another love-or-hate London building.

Lesley Craze Gallery

One of Europe’s leading centres for contemporary jewellery, this has exquisitely understated, and sometimes pricey, metal designs, as well as a small selection of cheaper, mixed-media pieces. Perfect if you’re looking for something out of the ordinary.

Bethnal Green Working men’s Club

London’s club of the moment mines a rich vein of post-modern irony, with its red-heart of lights on stage and events like 1950s tea-dance Viva Cake (girls on roller-skates serving Earl Grey tea and trestle tables laden with cakes), lounge-meisters The Karminsky Experience, cabaret evening Toot-Sweet, the goth Hellfire Club, Dolly Parton evenings and more.

Hollybush

A beautiful pub that makes you envy the privileged residents of Hampstead, Hollybush has an antique Victorian interior, a lovely secluded hilltop location, open fires in winter and a knack for making you stay longer than you had intended at any time of the year. Plenty of real ale on offer and a top-shelf asking to be sampled.

Loungelover

If you’re in the mood for a little glamour, make your way to this ‘maximalist’ styled bar. Entering from the run-down streets outside, you’ll find yourself faced with an entrancing mish-mash of chandeliers, antiques, street lanterns and comfy lounge chairs. The cocktails aren’t cheap, but you’ll have a memorable evening.

Shakespeare’s Globe

The Globe is a near-perfect replica of the building on this site where Shakespeare himself worked in from 1598 to 1611. Even if the particular production you attend comes across a bit ‘theme-park Shakespeare’ – and they occasionally do – you’ll never forget being in this up-close-and-personal open-roofed theatre in the round.

Fabric

The first stop on the London scene for many international clubbers, 1500-capacity Fabric is still going strong. In a converted meat cold-store, it’s a bit of a labyrinth: you enter on the ground floor and the club stretches down through three dance floors (including a vibrating one), chill-out spaces and plenty of dark corners.

National Gallery

The National Gallery is to the north of Trafalgar Square and was founded in 1824. Counting some 2100 paintings on display at any one time, it is one of the world’s largest and richest art galleries. The gallery’s paintings are hung in a continuous timeline so you can gaze your way through the ages.

British Airways London Eye

The London Eye (aka the Millennium Wheel) is colossal. At 135m (443ft) tall, it’s the world’s largest Ferris Wheel and London’s fourth-tallest structure. It’s a thrilling experience to sit in one of the 32 enclosed glass gondolas, enjoying views of some 40km (25mi) on clear days across the capital.

Royal Observatory

Standing with one foot in the world’s western hemisphere and the other in the east: that’s the Royal Observatory’s cheap thrill. Other than the chance to straddle the prime meridian (of time and longitude), there’s also an absorbing tale of how the observatory’s astronomers battled to accurately measure longitude, and help improve maritime navigation.

Tate Modern

A spectacularly converted power station, the world’s most successful contemporary art gallery hasn’t ever really been about the art, but about the building, location and views. So the recent rearrangement of its works into a more thematic and chronological order is a refreshing bonus rather than a vital reinvention.

Old Operating Theatre Museum & Herb Garret

This former Victorian surgical theatre is not for the squeamish. However, others will be compelled to see the rough-and-ready conditions under which simple 19th century operations took place – without antiseptic or anaesthetic, and on a wooden table in what looks like a modern lecture hall. There’s a nod to alternative therapies in the adjoining herb garret.

Whitechapel Art Gallery

The Whitechapel is one of the most interesting and challenging of London’s contemporary art galleries. Behind its Art Noveau facade and entry hall, you’ll find revolving exhibitions of photography, painting, sculpture and video art, plus fundraising events, poetry readings and educational programmes.

Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetery can’t be beaten for Victorian-Gothic atmosphere and downright eeriness. Its overgrown grounds include Egyptian-style catacombs, enough chipped angels to please the most discerning Joy Division fan, Karl the more serious Marx brother and personalised tombs reflecting their eccentric inhabitants.

Sir John Soane’s Museum

Sir John Soane’s Museum is partly a bewitching house and partly a small museum brimming with surprising effects and curiosities, representing the taste of celebrated architect and hoarder extraordinaire, Sir John Soane (1753-1837). The candlelit night-time tours are utterly enchanting, with the light flickering off busts, old coins and dark paintings.

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