Quintessential London

Looking for the things and places that typify the capital? Read on for the attractions, food and leisure activities that are the very definition of London.

Tourist checklist

The Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament are synonymous with London. The latter is a splendid example of neo-gothic design, and everyone is welcome to enter the building and watch both the House of Lords and the House of Commons in session. You can also book a tour to see the inside of the Big Ben, by going up 334 spiral steps and wandering around behind the clock faces.

The guards outside Buckingham Palace are renowned for their statue-like poise regardless of their surroundings, but if you want to see some movement watch the colourful ceremony of the Changing of the Guard. It consists of the guardsmen changing over, and takes place in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace at 11.30 am daily in the summertime, and on alternate days throughout the rest of the year.

One of London’s most famous landmarks, St Paul's Cathedral is the work of Christopher Wren, also responsible for the Royal Observatory and the façade of Hampton Court Palace. Way before the London Eye and Heron Tower came along, the top of this building provided the best views over the city, which are still well worth a look. Prove your stamina by climbing up the 530 steps to the top via the Whispering Gallery, so-called because even the slightest whisper can be heard through the walls on the opposite side of the building.

Alternatively, you could hop into one of the capsules of the London Eye. The experience lasts half an hour, during which you’ll get to enjoy spectacular views. Each capsule fits 25 people, unless you fancy splurging on a private capsule.


Shop

Londoners may loathe it, but Oxford Street is still the capital’s premier shopping street. All the high street shops you can imagine are here, as well as department stores Selfridges, Debenhams, John Lewis and House of Fraser. In the run-up to Christmas the street is lit up by festive lights, but don’t expect to be able to get anywhere in a hurry.

If you’ve got cash to splash, head to the designer shops of Bond Street, or browse the smart tailoring on Savile Row.

Nowadays Camden has more tourists than punks, but you’ll still find the odd character with a brightly coloured mohican posing for photographs. Aside from that, Camden Market and the Stables Market are good places to buy vintage clothing, artworks and jewellery.

Portobello Road Market in Notting Hill is another great destination for second-hand clothing, furniture, antiques and jewellery. After shopping, go for a walk in the surrounding area to admire the pretty terraced houses painted in bright pastels.
Food

What could be more British than fish and chips? Well, its origins are in fact Jewish, and are credited to Joseph Malin, the first person to serve deep fried fish in batter with chips back in 1860. The kitsch revival means that instead of eating them in a greasy caff you can hop to trendy Poppie’s in Shoreditch instead, where the staff sport 1940s garb. Golden Fish Bar in Clerkenwell has been doing a roaring trade for over 100 years, and Kerbisher & Malt does some of the best chips in the capital.

It may be a heart attack on a plate, but nothing soothes a hangover quite as much as a Full English breakfast. Our favourite places for a Sunday morning fry up are here. Add a cup of builder’s tea (milky with two sugars) but don’t accessorise with baring your derriere.

Another ubiquitous meal is pie and mash. For the most authentic experience head to M. Manze, where you can also try jellied eels. This pie shop has been open since 1902; they’ll also deliver if you can’t trek over to one of their branches.

If you get a chance, it’s also worth trying a salt beef bagel from the 24-hour Beigel Shop after a night on the tiles.
Leisure

The area between The Strand, Oxford Street and Covent Garden is known as Theatreland for a reason; there are more than 40 venues showing musicals, dramatic plays, fringe theatre, comedy and more. Many local restaurants also offer pre-theatre dinner deals.

Take a stroll through Hyde Park and feed the ducks in the lake. This majestic park (which can get very busy on warm days) also offers pursuits like horse riding, boating, tennis and bowling.

The tradition of taking afternoon tea began with the hunger pangs of the 7th Duchess of Bedford, who would snack on tea and sandwiches at around 4 pm every day. She began inviting friends along, and the event became a formal social occasion. Although the custom has waned somewhat – tea is as popular as ever, but it’s reduced to a cuppa at your desk mid-afternoon – there are still plenty of places that offer an opulent afternoon tea. The Ritz and The Dorchester are the obvious choices, however they don’t come cheap and get booked up quickly. There are some other options here including where to be truly decadent and wash those scones down with a cocktail or three.

No matter what neighbourhood you’re in you’ll be hard pressed not to find a pub, however some of London’s drinking holes have mutated into fancy gastropubs and wine bars. Nothing wrong with that, but if you’re after a quintessential London boozer offering several types of ale try The Euston Tap, the tranquil Uxbridge Arms or The Harp. Or why not have a drink in one of London’s oldest pubs, like the Prospect of Whitby in Wapping, the George in Borough – which is London’s oldest coaching inn – or the White Hart on Drury Lane.

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