With its rich and varied history; impressive modern and ancient architecture; plentiful entertainment and mixture of traditional food and fine dining there is no one weekend break that could do the wonderful city of London justice.
Instead, here are eight themed weekend breaks that will bring the city alive to tourists and resident expats alike.
Weekend 1: Royal London
With the most well-known existent royal family in the world, a weekend break in royal London is a great way to start to understand what it feels like to live in a city which is also the headquarters of one of the few constitutional monarchies. Experience the pomp and ceremony of the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace (daily May to July; otherwise on alternate days), and try and identify the different regiments of Foot Guards by the subtle differences in their uniform. Five of the eight Royal Parks (Hyde Park, St. James’s Park, Green Park, The Regent’s Park and Kensington Gardens) are all within close proximity, and Westminster Abbey, where the royal weddings take place, is not too far. If you have time, take a tour of the Tower of London and catch a sight of the Crown Jewels.
Heading further west, spend a day exploring Richmond Park with its population of 630 deer and nearby Hampton Court Palace. Before you finish your trip, make sure you take in the world’s oldest and largest occupied castle: Windsor Castle in Berkshire.
Weekend 2: Architectural London
London is an architect’s dream with ancient palaces, cathedrals and monuments rubbing shoulders with wonders of the modern world. There is no better place to start than Westminster with Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben all within a stone’s throw of one another.
The London Eye affords unbeatable views of the London skyline and the iconic River Thames. Follow the river east and you will soon come to St Paul’s Cathedral, Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece which was built following its predecessor’s demise in the Great Fire of London. Further round still and the Shard, completed in 2012, dominates the landscape. Viewing areas are located on the 68th to 72nd floors from where you will be able to see all you’ve visited so far as well as another of London’s modern constructions – The Gherkin. In stark contrast, nearby Tower Bridge and the Tower of London are still wowing visitors, the latter founded shortly after the Norman invasion in 1066.
Weekend 3: Scientific London
There is plenty to engage the scientific-minded, not least the Science Museum with its seven floors featuring everything from energy, materials and medicine to space exploration, media and computing. Over in Greenwich, East London stands the home of GMT, the 300-year old Royal Observatory featuring London’s only planetarium. In the autumn, the annual London Science Festival will take over the capital. Founded in 2011, the festival aims to bring science to the people and in 2014 will join forces with the Great British Festival of Bioscience. The hub of the events will be in Bethnal Green, East London this year.
Weekend 4: London for Shopping
If you love to shop then you could easily while away a weekend in London indulging in your passion. If you have expensive tastes, Knightsbridge is the home of the famous Harrods department store where even a shopping bag will set you back almost £20! Otherwise there is plenty of high street shopping waiting for you on Oxford Street, after which you can check out the exclusive brands on Bond Street en route to Piccadilly, home of Fortnum & Masons and the Ritz Hotel.
For a totally different perspective on London shopping, head to the markets, Camden Market (really a network of separate markets off Regent’s Canal), is an experience not to be missed, especially if the weather’s fine, while Borough Market, in Southwark, is one of the most well-regarded food markets in the capital. The markets at Spitalfields are also a shoppers’ highlight not to be missed.
Weekend 5: Political London
London is the political centre of both England and the United Kingdom, and visitors can get up close and personal to the seat of power by getting a ticket to one of the weekly debates or Question Time sessions in the Houses of Parliament, where MPs ask questions of government ministers in the famous chambers. You will need to book a long weekend to catch them though, as business is conducted Monday to Thursday only. After taking in the majesty of the parliament buildings and nearby Big Ben, it’s time to take a trip up Parliament Road/Whitehall. Shortly after the Cenotaph, take a look to your left and you will see Downing Street where the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer live and work. Don’t expect to be able to have a nose through the windows though; Downing Street is hidden safely behind huge iron gates and protected by police officers. After passing by the various governmental buildings of Whitehall you will find yourself at Trafalgar Square complete with Nelson’s Column and the obligatory pigeons.
Weekend 6: Historical London
From plague and fire to royal intrigue and political upheaval, London has seen it all in a history that spans over 2,000 years. But London is also a repository for the history of the British Isles itself, as well as for artefacts from all over the world. This history is spread throughout numerous museums, each of which has enough potential for a weekend break in itself.
The British Museum, near Covent Garden, has one of the largest permanent collections ever recorded with over 8 million artefacts. It focuses on the story of human history from all corners of the globe. Three other famous museums share the same neighbourhood in South Kensington: the Science Museum, Natural History Museum and Victoria & Albert Museum. With all of that reading and learning you will probably be grateful for the proximity of Hyde Park where you can stroll as you think about and digest it all.
For an alternative history of London, visit the enigmatic London Stone of Cannon Street and consider whether the legend of Brutus and the Trojan founding of the city could have its basis in truth.
Weekend 7: Delicious London
Whether you’re a food connoisseur or a ravenous carnivore, there is a tasty treat around every corner of the capital. To start, check out the London Review of Breakfasts blog for the lowdown on the best and worst places to fuel up for the day. Depending on your taste and budget, lunch could consist of pie and mash at one of London’s many traditional pubs or a perhaps a top notch meal at one of the award-winning eateries at Spitalfields market. For the most well-heeled, afternoon tea at the Ritz could be an option, but there is a starting price of £47 and a jacket and tie dress code.
For your evening meal, the aromatic pleasures of Soho’s Chinatown await, or you could try out one of London’s high-brow Michelin star restaurants such as Restaurant Gordon Ramsey in Chelsea or Brett Graham’s Ledbury.
Weekend 8: Entertaining London
If you’re only interested in being entertained, then the show really does never end in London. During the day there are all the usual tourist spots, including tours of the Tower of London, London Dungeon and Buckingham Palace; spectacular views from the London Eye and the Shard and plenty of green spaces with everything from lakes and woodland to rose gardens and open-air swimming ponds.
For evening entertainment, the West End is awash with musicals and plays or you could take in a Shakespeare play at the rebuilt Globe Theatre on the south bank of the Thames. Soho is the nightlife centre of London and you can party long and hard into the night in the numerous clubs and bars of this gritty relic of old London. You might even bump into a celebrity or two if you’re lucky.