First published on 19 Sep 2013. Updated on 5 Feb 2014.
Discover Britain’s history and culture at over 240 museums
The V&A houses one of the world's greatest collections of decorative arts, in such varied fields as ceramics, sculpture, portrait miniatures and photography. At the Imperial War Museum there are two exhibits – the Blitz and the Trench – which attempt to bring the experience of war to life for visitors fortunate enough not to have experienced it. The Design Museum by Tower Bridge encompasses modern and contemporary industrial and fashion design, graphics, architecture and multimedia. One of the world's oldest museums, the British Museum is vast. First-time visitors generally head for the mummies, the Rosetta Stone, Lindow Man, the Lewis Chessmen and the Sutton Hoo Ship Burial.
Get your art fix at top London galleries
Founded in 1824, the National Gallery is home to more than 2,000 works: Italian Renaissance masterpieces by Correggio, Titian and Raphael; 17th-century Dutch, Flemish, Italian and Spanish Old Masters: and works by the French Impressionists and post-Impressionists, including Monet and Van Gogh. Tate Modern is awe-inspiring: it was built as Bankside Power Station. Shut down in 1981, it opened as an art museum in 2000. The permanent collection features Matisse, Rothko, Bacon, Twombly and Beuys. The Courtauld Institute has outstanding works by Rubens, Manet, Seurat, Cézanne and Renoir. And Tate Britain showcases great British artists such as Turner, Bacon, Waterhouse, Constable and Moore.
Shop the big smoke
For those that take food seriously, all corners of the capital boast their own farmers’ markets, bringing locally grown produce to the table, while specialised culinary markets like Borough sell premium gastro products from all over Europe. Columbia Road’s famous flower market packs a Victorian cobbled street with bargain blooms every Sunday. Other essential markets are held at Brick Lane, Camden, Portobello Road and Covent Garden. Oxford Street is the main artery of London shopping, offering jumbo department stores and cheap high street shopping. From vintage treasure troves like Beyond Retro to high street heavyweights like Topshop, Soho is as brilliant when it comes to shopping. Bloomsbury is a treasure trove of bookshops, comics shops, camera shops and concept stores.
Tick off the city’s top monuments
Buckingham Palace is usually closed to visitors but the Changing of the Guard ceremony on alternate days sees soldiers, accompanied by their regimental band, march between Buckingham Palace and Birdcage Walk. Built as a memorial to Queen Victoria's husband in 1871, the Royal Albert Hall has been the venue for the (now BBC) Proms since 1941. You can take in the splendid exterior and regal interior on regular tours. The world's most celebrated clock is also a pedant's dream: Big Ben is just the main bell, not the tower. The popularity of Westminster Abbey has only increased since the wedding in April 2011 of Prince William and Catherine Middleton; Poets’ Corner is the final resting place of Geoffrey Chaucer and Robert Browning. On a clear day the London Eye, the world's largest observation wheel, offers views as far as 40km away; booking ahead is advised. Opened in 1894, Tower Bridge has an entertaining exhibition on the history of the bridge and a crow's-nest's view along the Thames. Kew Gardens is a magnificent World Heritage Site covering 300 acres with over 30,000 species of plants. The passing of three centuries has done nothing to diminish the magnificence of St Paul's Cathedral,Christopher Wren's masterpiece and London's most famous cathedral.