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London Spotlight

Incomparable, iconic, and utterly magnificent, London is second to none

By Anja Mutic

June 20th, 2005

No city in the world is quite like London. At once historic and cutting edge, stately and scandalous, hoity-toity and low-brow, gritty and manicured, the teeming British capital has such a complex (some might say split) personality that it almost defies description. Indeed, as Henry James once said, “It is difficult to speak adequately, or justly, of London. It is not a pleasant place; it is not agreeable, or easy, or exempt from reproach. It is only magnificent.”

Part of London’s undeniable magnificence stems from its megawatt royal, arts, and nightlife pedigree. After all, this sprawling city by the Thames is home to the world’s most-watched monarchy, some of the globe’s finest cultural institutions, and many of the planet’s oldest pubs and best DJs. And that’s before tipping our hat to its celebrated theater scene and role as international arbiter of all things deemed to be of proper good taste. In any other city, these qualities alone would justify a visit, but London ups the ante by offering visitors the opportunity to experience a multitude of unique local customs as well – from posh high tea to fire-engine-red double-decker buses – that always manage to captivate even the most jaded of world travelers, never mind the city’s many repeat visitors.

Indeed, more people return to London than to other cities of its class, in part because it’s next to impossible to see and experience everything this metropolis has to offer in one single foray. London only fully unveils itself to newcomers over time, making each subsequent trip one of new discoveries and familiar places.

With its tourist landmarks scattered all over its vast urban landscape, the city can be a challenge to explore. In a quick three-day visit, you should focus your time on the West End, the royal enclaves of Westminster and Whitehall, the elegant residential zones of St James’s, Mayfair, and Marylebone, the happening neighborhoods Soho and Covent Garden, and the high-brow academic retreat of Bloomsbury. If you have five days, add on the many remarkable neighborhoods of central London: the ancient quarter known as The City; the gentrified East London enclaves of Hoxton and Clerkenwell; the museum-packed area of the South Bank; and the swanky neighborhoods of Chelsea, Kensington, Knightsbridge and Notting Hill. Finally, if you have a week, tack on visits to the well-heeled areas of Hampstead and Islington and the market-filled Camden to the north; in the southeast, the main attraction is the famous Greenwich; all the way out west, another wonderful day can be spent strolling through the picturesque enclaves of Kew and Richmond. See them all, and you’ll have experienced the best and most diverse of London’s history, culture and local way of life.

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