Big Ben’s bongs may have gone quiet during restorations, but Britain’s parliamentary seat remains a source of national pride. Tour the Commons and Lords Chamber in the Palace of Westminster, tiptoe around Westminster Abbey, or hop aboard the Thames Clippers for a windswept jaunt down the river. A stroll along the South Bank takes in one of London’s loveliest stretches, with picture-perfect views over London’s distinctive landmarks. St Paul’s outshines them all, especially after dark when its dome is lit.
Head south of the river for round-the-clock entertainment. Waterloo’s much more than a station, with The Old and New Vic theatres, and immersive, avant-garde shows in the station Vaults. The Southbank Centre’s myriad venues account for all tastes. The BFI screens niche films; the Tate Modern baffles and delights. Spy sharks at the London Aquarium, picnic in Green Park, and watch the Changing of the Guard at the Queen’s humble abode. Or follow the locals’ lead and spend a balmy day watching street performers and skaters beside the Thames – it’s totally free.
These Thameside venues cover all bases, from genre-spanning musos at the Royal Festival Hall to the Hayward Gallery’s intriguing art shows. Browse the book market’s antique specimens, then put up your feet on the view-blessed terrace. From Fridays to Sundays, the food market peddles duck-confit and raclette burgers, Ethiopian salads and other moreish treats for the whole family.
You’d never guess Queen Elizabeth Hall’s brutalist shell hid one of the city’s loveliest secret gardens, where fruit trees flourish, allotments thrive and wildflowers run amok. Its view of the London skyline is second-to-none. The sundowners you’ll sip on here go towards supporting a horticultural therapy project, so you can feel virtuous while stopping for a drink and a snack.
When it first arrived on the South Bank, the London Eye seemed as if it had been lifted from the seaside and plonked in the city centre. Now, the skyline wouldn’t be the same without it. From the top (135m up), you can see London spread out like a map before you. If that’s not highfaluting enough for you, you can always add Champagne, book a private pod for the family, or get down on one knee.
The beautifully converted Bankside Power Station suits contemporary artwork to a tee. Some exhibitions are charged, but entry to most galleries is free. The Turbine Hall has hosted an artificial sun, playful swings and Louise Bourgeois’ spiders. Gallery themes rotate, but the collection spans the Dadaists, YBAs, Turner winners and Pop provocateurs. Hit the Terrace Bar for panoramic views.
London’s HQ for big-ticket musicals is finally getting the dining scene it deserves. Market Halls is set to bring upmarket street food to the neighbourhood. In the meantime, head to the new Belgravia outpost of the Jones Family Project for purse-friendly pre-theatre menus and Sunday roasts. The terrace makes a fab hideaway if you fancy settling in for the long haul with the cocktail list.
Decorated with wood, copper and lashings of greenery, the Garden Museum’s café opens onto an indoor garden with a view of the river. It’s a pleasing spot with a daily changing menu, rustled up from seasonal produce by the two young chefs. Cornish prawns with homemade harissa, free-range beef Wellington, cherry-blossom baba… Finally, a museum pitstop that truly embodies the culinary spirit of London.
This free-to-visit art gallery showcases works from the private collection of Damien Hirst. Solo artists and group exhibitions take over the vast, converted spaces of this Victorian brick building. Keep your eye sharp with Picasso, Bacon, Banksy, Tracy Emin, as well as young emerging artists. While you’re at it, give the little ones a chance to discover contemporary art.
If you can’t get enough of concrete and urban landscapes, take the time to wander among the stark surfaces of the National Theatre and the Southbank Centre. These auditoriums date from the 50s and 70s, though recent restorations have revealed their full glory. Don’t miss the Hayward Gallery for its remarkable art shows, or Queen Elizabeth Hall’s rooftop for unobstructed views of the Thames.
Young fans of skating and street culture will feel right at home at this outpost of the celebrated checkerboard brand. Much more than a shop, this funky venue packs in an art gallery, a concert hall, a restaurant, and of course, ramps. Why not book a class to finally get to grips with the back flip? If that’s a little too daunting, just drop in to admire the mad skills of London’s talented skaters.
The walk along the South Bank is one of London’s most romantic. To make matters more heavenly, you can snag sweet, dinky donuts from the riverfront stall for a snip.