Things to do in London
You may well have been to Tower Bridge or Natural History Museum as a child on a school trip, clip board and work sheet in hand, but when was the last time you took time to walk about London as a real, grown-up tourist? Do we take our national monuments for granted, imagining they are reserved for the pleasure of foreign tourists and busloads of children? Our capital city is heaving with extraordinary architecture in its monuments and museums, if only we could give ourselves time to appreciate them. As we fix our gazes towards London and the Coronation, perhaps now is the time to start planning some real life visits of our own. Here are some of our favourite things to do:
Great British Presents
When was the last time you actually visited Westminster Abbey, and stood amongst the tombs and memorials of some of the greatest minds that this country has ever produced? It might be a masterpiece of 13th and 16th century architecture, and all eyes will be trained for the time being on the Coronation Chair, but have you taken time to sit in Poet’s Corner and think about the literary geniuses memorialised or buried around you, or noticed the wonderful breath of the characters around you. Laurence Olivier is buried here, sharing his resting place with Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin, and Edward the Confessor. It’s a heady mix.
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Mudlarking on the Thames
Thanks, in part, to the brilliant, best-selling books by Lara Maiklem, mudlarking on the Thames foreshore has become rather popular recently; hardly surprising, as it is a fascinating and hands-on way to engage with London and its history. Twice a day the Thames swells with tidal water, and as it gushes through the ancient channel from the North Sea, so it leaves behind centuries of junk, from clay pipes and roofing tiles to copper buttons and silver coins, all waiting to be found on the river’s winding shores. There is a strict ‘eyes only’ policy operating on the foreshore, meaning that digging, scraping and metal detecting is not allowed without a licence, and anything collectable (whole pottery, gold and silver) must be reported to the Museum of London, but it still makes for a memorable way to spend an afternoon. There is lots of information available to novices from the Thames Explorer Trust; just remember to check tide times and make sure you are suitably dressed (grippy shoes and rubber gloves essential).
Museums Big & Small
One of our favourite London museums is the glamourous Wallace Collection, tucked away conveniently behind the bright lights of Oxford Street and a welcome solace from the frenzied local consumerism. Displayed in Hertford House, the former London residence of the marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, the collection was bequeathed to the nation in 1897 and opened to the public in 1900. Take a walk through room after elegant room filled with 18th-century French art, 17th-19th century paintings and medieval and Renaissance works of art. There is also a jaw-dropping arms and armour display (fantastic if you have small or large boys in tow), and an ever-changing programme of exhibitions and talks – a current favourite is the unmissable Portraits of Dogs, from Gainsborough to Hockney.
Tiny by comparison, and tucked away in Shoreditch is Dennis Sever’s House, another of our favourite places. The house tells the story of an imaginary Huguenot family who lived here since it was built in 1724 and it charts the history of Spitalfields as it went from affluent merchants’ quarter to Victorian slum. A wonderfully immersive and original experience, we would highly recommend booking a visit.
Another tiny gem of a place is the Viktor Wynd Museum, a place that claims to do nothing more than display anything and everything that has caught the eye of its founder, and ‘hopes to fill the vacuum between what the establishment elite believes is worthy of worship and what exists in the world’. Leave your expectations at the door and immerse yourself in this Hackney basement curiosity shop.
London At Christmas
Take the children to the pearly ice rinks fronting festive backdrops at iconic landmarks including the Natural History Museum, Somerset House or Canary Wharf.
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