The diversity of London begins with its architecture. The city features an abundance of historic buildings, but at the same time keeps up with the latest trends in modern structures. However, most tourists are more interested in the old buildings, especially since six of London’s most significant cultural landmarks received international recognition and were given the status of World Heritage Sites.
The Tower of London, Kew Gardens, St Margaret’s Church, Westminister Abbey, the Palace of Westminster and Maritime Greenwich should be on the top of your must-see list.
The Tower of London, which was built in 1100 by William the Conqueror, is a fine example of the capital’s Medieval architecture. In London you will find many examples of other styles, many times right next to each other. The Gothic style is exemplified in the architecture of the Westminster Abbey, which was erected in the 13th Century during the reign of Henry III. The Tudor style is represented by the Hampton Court Palace and, to an extent, by the reconstructed Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, which was originally built in the early 1600s and represented the English Vernacular style of the day, but was slightly modified due to the renovation. In the 17th Century, Inigo Jones introduced yet another style to the British architecture − the Palladian style.
In 1666, after the Great Fire of London destroyed much of the city, authorities reacted immediately and appointed Christopher Wren to design and oversee the rebuilding of the fifty-one burnt-down churches. Most of these churches, especially St Paul’s Cathedral, which was Wren's masterpiece, were built in the English Baroque style with the characteristic intricate ornamentation and curved lines. In the early 19th Century, English Baroque was replaced by the Regency style which left its trace on many a building throughout central London. Although new styles kept appearing, the old ones weren't entirely forgotten. Gothic architecture, for example, saw its revival with the construction of the Houses of Parliament.
Tourists who are also book fans might be curious to know that London has been an important centre of literature, both as a setting for many plots and as the home to many famous writers. Londoner, Charles Dickens, wrote novels that painted a foggy and grim picture of the city which has had a major influence on how it was perceived by the people of the early Victorian period. Also, William Shakespeare, the most renowned British writer, and Ben Jonson, one of his contemporaries and a fellow playwright, spent most of their lives living and working in London. Ben Jonson's ‘The Alchemist’, one of his most distinguished plays, is set in London.
London is home to the major global music corporation EMI, countless bands, industry professionals and musicians, and is one of the major popular and classical music capitals of the world. For those seeking musical entertainment there is a great variety of venues that organise rock and pop concerts, including large arenas such as Wembley Arena and Earls Court, as well as smaller and more intimate clubs such as Hammersmith Apollo and Brixton Academy. The city and its surroundings have given rise to many icons and pop artists − world-famous stars such as Jimmy Hendrix, Bob Marley and Freddie Mercury lived in London at some point in their lives.
Other famous musicians and groups closely connected with the city are Elton John, The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, Iron Maiden and Elvis Costello and many more. As Britain’s largest urban arena, London has played a key role in the development of the urban and electronic music genres, such as UK garage, drum and bass, grime and dubstep.
Classical music can be heard in the two major opera houses in London: the Royal Opera House and the Coliseum Theatre. Admirers of high art will also appreciate the splendid performances of the English National Ballet and the Royal Ballet, both performing in the beautiful interiors of the Royal Albert Theatre, the Royal Opera House and Sadler’s Wells Theatre.
As a centre of popular entertainment, the British capital has played an important role in the development of the film industry. The major film studios, Elstree, Shepperton, Pinewood and Leavesden, specialise in post-production and special effects and are among the best film studios in Europe. Not to mention the fact that London is the setting of many international films which have contributed significantly to the image and reputation that London boasts world-wide. The London Film Festival presents the most interesting pictures from around the world and takes place each October.
Alongside Paris, Milan and New York, London is one of the four important fashion centres. Many top world designers have their workshops and boutiques here, attracting both the clients, who look for unique and extravagant wear, and the young talents, who want to try their luck in the fashion industry. The international London Fashion Week, in particular, is a magnet to all fashion buffs.
The city of London hosts a number of fairs, festivals and carnivals throughout the year. One of the most famous is the Notting Hill Carnival, which is the second largest Afro-Caribbean carnival in the world. It takes place over the weekend on a bank holiday in August and attracts nearly one million people each time. Its major events include a competition between the steel drum bands and a three-mile street parade with live music and dancing. Other colourful parades are held on St Patrick’s Day and St George’s Day.
Another place where you can feast your eyes is one of London’s art galleries. There is an abundance of these venues, certainly more than you can visit during one stay, giving you another reason to travel to London again. The National Gallery, which holds the British National collection of Western Art, is by many considered the most notable. Major collections of pre-20th Century art are to be found in the Courtauld Gallery, the Dulwich Picture Gallery and the Wallace Collection. British art of the 20th and the 21st Centuries is displayed in Tate Modern, while earlier works are exhibited in Tate Britain. The Portrait Gallery hosts a major collection devoted to distinguished British people from all historical periods. And if you are interested in contemporary art, visit the Saatchi Gallery, White Cube or the ICA.
To experience in full your visit to London, you should stop by at least one of the 240 museums in the city. Among the most significant are the British Museum, with antiquities from all over the world, the Natural History Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Imperial War Museum, the Science Museum, the Museum of London and the National Maritime Museum – there's plenty to choose from! So make your choices and start discovering London!