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A city of contradictions; old yet modern, exhausting but relaxing, over-populated yet strangely intimate, London doesn't like to settle, London likes to keep the punters guessing.
1. Expect the unexpected
It doesn’t matter how many guidebooks you’ve read, how many magazines you’ve absorbed or how many friends have been already – three, four, five times or more – London will never be what you expect. And even if you've been before, the experience will never repeat itself. London doesn’t ‘do’ monotony. London likes to change. Continually and unapologetically.
2. It's where the modern meets the bygone
With a history so rich you can hear the whisper of ancestors escaping from cracks in the brick, to contemporary happenings that erupt every day, London can't decide if it wants to be an historical landmark, or at the forefront of modern ingenuity. So it settles on both – in equal measures. From Big Ben to London Bridge, the dungeons that loiter beneath and architecture that still bears a dusting of blackened ash from an industrious past, London’s history reads from its streets like pages of a Charles Dickens’ novel. And yet, there’s no disputing London is a city that forges the layout for all things cutting-edge, whether it’s a new fitness craze involving early morning raves (sober ones) in abandoned warehouses, cafés built in former Victorian bathrooms, or niche underground movies that take place in forgotten tube stations, somehow London makes the quirky cool, when anywhere else it would be considered bizarre.
3. London's best light is an early light
If you’re an early-riser (or if the jetlag permits) catch the city in its majestic morning light, before the mass exodus of commuters disrupt the calm. Almost post-apocalyptic – and in a city of eight million inhabitants – it’s not often London rests so serenely. Find breakfast in the crease of an alleyway or inside bijou cafés serving hot pastries and espresso. Britain may not be renowned for great coffee, but in a city of 270 different nationalities, you’re bound to find one that executes the perfect strong black.
4. There are plenty of non-touristy spots
Tourist attractions abound, but idle days can be one of London’s most under-rated pleasures. Venture to one of the city’s numerous green spaces with a hamper of goodies bought just one hour earlier from an organic food market. Find a grassy knoll and watch the cricketers bowl, or rent a boat and row across the river, working up the appetite for an ice-cream.
5. The West End is a must see
For something sedate, London’s major art galleries and museums all offer free admission, while the glitzy West End is constantly flush with exciting new productions. Scratch a little deeper and you’ll find much more than mainstream musicals, including immersive theatre and free improv comedy, it pays to dart into a dank London pub down an otherwise derelict side-street, for that is where the laughter bellows.
6. It'll leave you exhausted
London's inexhaustible. You'll give into fatigue way before she does; this is a city that hasn’t slept since Roman occupation. From the well-known hot spots to the lesser-known gems you’ll stumble across en route, there aren’t enough hours in the day to discover every nook, cranny, pop-up bar, pub, boutique or beer battered chip shop. But my, you’ll want to try!
London Top 5
Eat: Traditional fish and chips. Tastes like home – until they add the gravy, mayonnaise and grated cheese (and the cheese is red). The big question is, are you brave enough to add mushy peas?
Play: With the interactive exhibits at London’s acclaimed Science Museum. Centrally located on Exhibition Road in South Kensington, admission is free. Click here for all of London's free museums.
See: A West-End show. Book before you go to ensure you get to see the show of your choice, on the day you want.
Find: Your way around the city with a rotation on the London Eye, there’s no better way to scope out the sheer enormity of London.
Try: The original guided terror walk with a hair-tingling twist – London’s Jack the Ripper tour. Follow in the footsteps of London’s Victorian police as they pursued the infamous serial killer.
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