Constantly vying with New York City as the capital of the Western world, London pretty much has it all. It is a vibrant city that thrives on its multi-cultural flair where anyone can find a corner to call their own. Truly a city of neighborhoods, London’s vibe can change from one block to the next, from dense urban centers to hipster hang outs to bustling nightlife scenes. And given that some of the most famous celebrities in the world call London home, from Gwyneth Paltrow to the Queen, it is not surprising that the city attracts different types of people from all over the world with its quality of life, plethora of parks, amazing array of architecture and fantastically diverse culinary scene. So without further ado, here are the top ten reasons to visit London:
[Also see our travel article “A Family Holiday in Greater London“]
10. The Thames
The stately River Thames has played an important role in London’s long history. In fact, if it weren’t for the river’s existence, London might never have been built! Although many legends persist about the early origins of London, a number of pre-historic arrowheads and artifacts that have been excavated along the banks of the Thames, suggest that the river served as some kind of boundary for early tribes.
After London’s settlement, several bridges were built along the river, the first being the infamous London Bridge, which was originally built in the 1000s and subsequently reconstructed several times.
Perhaps the most iconic bridge across the Thames is the Tower Bridge. Built in the late 19th century and just down the river from the London Bridge, this grandiose drawbridge is one of London’s most visited tourist sights.
Over the years, the River Thames has served as an important transportation source that allowed boats to carry cargo from the British capital all the way out to sea and around the world. Likewise, through history, many British monarchs and royals loved the river, building graceful palaces and important structures all along its banks. Some of these are still standing today, including Kew Palace, Hampton Court, and the Greenwich Royal Naval College, which is home to the Greenwich Observatory.
Today, quite a few other famous London attractions also overlook the Thames, including the National Theatre and the famous Ferris wheel, the London Eye.
Photo credits: David Iliff, Stephen McKay
9. Amazing Markets
There are dozens of markets in London. Whether you are hoping to find something fashionable for cheap or some fresh produce for a picnic, there is a market catering to just about everyone. It is also a city whose residents have a strong commitment to buying locally sourced products. As a result, many farmers and artisans bring their goods from all over the English countryside to sell at the various markets around the city.
The most famous market in London is undoubtedly Borough Market, which sprawls across several huge Victorian arcades on the south bank of the River Thames near London Bridge Station. Borough Market is a heaving mass of produce vendors, food carts and shoppers all vying for space and fresh goods.
Other markets, though, might offer something more authentic and quaint. Camden Market is a great place to score bright purple tights, Doc Martens and other punk-wear, while Portobello Road Market in Notting Hill is the place to go if you’re after antiques.
Photo credits: David Iliff, Mike Peel
8. Ethnic Eats
London is a multicultural paradise, especially when it comes to food. For centuries, people from all over the world have arrived to the city, bringing with them the sights, traditions and most importantly flavors of their homes.
Chinese food is understandably popular in London, thanks largely to the British rule of Hong Kong. Many Hong Kongers came to live in Britain, bringing with them flavors of the South China Sea, including dim sum – the famous type of Cantonese cuisine. Today, Chinatown is the place to be to find the widest array of Chinese food in London.
The British Empire also attracted scores of migrants from India, Pakistan and Nepal, which has given rise to incredible Indian fare. In fact, Indian food is one of the most popular cuisines in modern Britain, and the delicious dish Chicken Tikka Masala was purportedly invented by a Pakistani chef in Scotland. Whether or not that’s true, you’ll find fantastic South Asian food in London, and Brick Lane is a famed street in East London packed with curry houses.
7. A Hegemonic History
History comes to life when you’re walking through the streets of London. Having been the capital of the world’s greatest empire, London is a city that has truly seen it all. It is a city that has lived through feast and famine, war and peace, and its mishmash of architectural styles reflects that. London was heavily bombed during World War II, which has led to an interesting mix of both historical and modern architecture set side-by-side.
If you’re unsure where to start, walking is the best way. Dozens of walking tours are offered in London, taking you to every end of the city. These are usually led by guides who double as professional actors and specialize in one historical figure or period. Whether you are interested in the ghostly remains of London’s gaslight lamps or the unusual exploits of Oscar Wilde, there is a walk for you.
6. Royal Watching
Almost everyone loves a good reality show and the Royal Family has been providing a live-action drama to the British people for centuries. From Queen Elizabeth’s perfectly tailored suits to Kate Middleton’s wedding dress and the questionable aging of Prince William, who doesn’t love a good royal gossip now and again?
Royal watching is a fond pastime for many residents of London. Whenever one member of the Royal Family or another makes a public appearance (which, admittedly, are few and far between), a whole herd of “royal watchers” can be found in the wake, snapping photos and generally gawking at them. And because the Royals live in London for a large portion of the year, you stand a chance of running into them – an even better chance if you sign up for a tour of Buckingham Palace!