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.
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.
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 view from this cocktail bar stars the Shard, London Eye and St Paul’s – all the hits. But designer Tom Dixon’s green-marble bar and bubblegum-pink banquettes will draw your gaze inwards. Catnip honey and pollen vermouth are some of the botanical menu’s curiosities, and the alcoholic Wyld Tea is blooming lovely… It’s a cosy, intimate spot to choose for dates over mates.
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.
Westminster Abbey has long served Britain’s monarchy. Kings and Queens have been crowned here since 1066. It’s been the setting for many a royal wedding, including Will and Kate’s in 2011. London’s history is writ in the church’s grand mausoleums and gilded splendour. You’ll even find Britain’s oldest door, which has stood here since around 1050. Entry is half price during Wednesday Lates.
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.