When visiting a city so vast and old as London, time is precious. Most cities can be exhausted in a few days, but not this one. Knowing where to go and what to avoid are essential if you want to make the most of your time.
Madame Tussauds regularly tops the "most-visited" lists, yet many find the experience underwhelming. It is, after all, only a waxwork museum. The models are not particularly realistic, and unlike visiting a museum or art gallery, you quickly grow bored of the exhibits. It is also expensive.
The London Eye is also overrated. For all the hype, it is little more than a ferris wheel. True, it offers an impressive view of central London, but not when the clouds gather and the light fails (a not-uncommon experience in the city).
How about Shakespeare's Globe? If you intend to see a play, it is worth the visit. Not only are the actors first-class, but the shows attempt to recreate an Elizabethan performance. If you merely intend to wander the outside and take photographs, however, you may be disappointed. Some visitors expect a 400-year-old original, not realizing the present theater opened in 1997.
London is justly famous for its museums and art galleries. The British Museum offers a trip through the ages, with everything from Roman swords and Indian buddhas to medieval coins and Greek statues. If science is more your thing, try the Natural History Museum. If you prefer the arts, visit the National Gallery. Admission is free and the collection impressive. The beautiful building alone is worth the visit. The National Gallery also overlooks Trafalgar Square, with Big Ben in the distance. If you prefer contemporary art, try the Tate instead. London's premier modern art gallery, it is housed in a former power station, which gives it a more edgy, modern vibe.
No London vacation would be complete without a trip to Westminster Abbey. No place embodies the island's history and culture like this 10th-century abbey. Seventeen monarchs lay buried there, along with poets and scientists, including Geoffrey Chaucer, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Thomas Hardy, and Charles Dickens.
However, if history and culture bore you, the city still has plenty to offer. London is a shopaholic's dream, with something for everyone. Oxford Street is perhaps the most famous shopping center, but for more exclusive and unusual shops you will need to be adventurous. Try Regent Street, Mayfair, Bond Street, and Carnaby Street. If your tastes are more for the alternative and artsy, head out to Camden Lock, well-known hang out for writers, artists, and musicians.
On a sunny day, Soho and Covent Garden are perfect for a coffee and some people-watching. As for dining, forget the stereotypes. London is no longer the home of fish and chips and jellied eels. With so many migrants, it boasts restaurants of every kind: Greek, Italian, Chinese, Indian -- you name it, London has got it.
So long as you are cautious, the city is a safe place to drink and socialize. Covent Garden and Leicester Square may be pleasant for a daytime coffee, but they are overpriced for a night out. Avoid Hackney, which can be dangerous. Try Shoreditch instead, with its numerous hip, artsy clubs and pubs. London is also one of the world's most gay-friendly cities, with a lively gay scene centered around Soho.
London has something for everyone. Here, 2,000 years of history and high culture are mixed with gay clubs, pop stars, and vibrant contemporary fashion. But choose wisely, and above all, plan each day carefully.