Answers from Our Experts (4)
London has so much to offer that even those of us who've spent our entire lives in the city are discovering new wonders all the time. I've puzzled over this question for weeks – how can you possibly choose just one thing to represent a place this huge, diverse and ever changing?
My first thought was the River Thames, but as my fellow correspondents have already provided some great ideas on exploring this magnificent waterway, I'll turn to another unmissable area of the city: Soho.
Spend a couple of hours wandering around this small central district and you'll get a fantastic sense of why London is the best city in the world. What was once a royal park belonging to King Henry VIII is now one of the hubs of the media and entertainment industry in the capital and a nightlife destination known for its restaurants, bars, clubs and theatres. In the middle of the last century Soho was famous for two things, music and the sex industry, and although it's now neither as avant-garde nor as seedy as it used to be, the legacy of those years lives on in legendary venues such as Ronnie Scott's and the handful of licensed sex shops that remain.
Browse the stalls at Berwick Street Market, grab a coffee at Soho institution Bar Italia, have a drink in one of the gay-friendly pubs on Old Compton Street (Soho is London's best known gay hotspot), explore Chinatown, catch a West End show, enjoy the sunshine in Soho Square...the list goes on and on. Buzzy, open-minded and always evolving, Soho is London distilled.
With so, so much to see, explore, take part in and soak up in London, it's impossible to narrow in on just one must-do. But, if you really are pushed for time, make sure you at least pay a visit to the River Thames.
England's longest river winds through the heart of its capital, beautifully reflecting the modern, Victorian and Gothic architecture in its waters through ever-changing colors, from the break of dawn to the dead of night; inspiring many a well known artist to capture it in brushstrokes through the ages.
Wide paths - the shop, gallery and restaurant-lined strip from Waterloo to Blackfriars especially - allow visitors to soak up its glory on foot, while river cruise companies such as City Cruises run frequent trips, 365 days of the year – from 30 minutes to three hours - giving uninterrupted views of iconic bank-side sights, such as Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, the Millennium Bridge and St Paul's Cathedral.
In a city as large and diverse as London picking just one must-do activity is almost impossible. But sometimes needs must, and if you're really pushed for time the best thing to do if you want to take in as much as possible is to take a walk along the river Thames.
Travel by tube to Westminster station (Jubilee, Circle and District lines) and start in Parliament Square, from which you can see Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben towering above you. Get snap-happy with your camera before crossing the river on Westminster Bridge. At the other side, turn left along the river path. You'll pass the new London Dungeon and then the London Eye - if time (and the queue) allows, the Eye is worth a quick ride for views over the city from on high.
Continue along the river's south bank, London's arts quarter. You will pass the Southbank Centre with its fantastic outdoor book market and the National Theatre, where you'll find the Propstore - a great place to stop for a coffee and enjoy the view. Next you will reach the Oxo Tower, where you can travel up to the top floor to take in the view (and a drink if there's time).
From here it's a short walk along to Tate Modern art gallery, home to the UK's leading collection of modern and contemporary art (and free to enter). The Founders Arms pub on the riverside here does great pub food and real ales and has a cracking view across to St Paul's Cathedral.
Complete your walk by crossing the river on the Millenium Bridge to St Pauls. Look out to your right here for a view of Tower Bridge - London's most iconic river crossing. On reaching the river's north bank you can pop into St Paul's Cathedral to see the famous whispering gallery, or simply get back on the tube at St Paul's station (Central line).
London is such a sprawling, historic and cosmopolitan city, with so much to do, that it's impossible to narrow it down to a single activity. Especially as it all depends on your personal interests. But if you are in London for the first time, and only have half a day to spare, probably the most rewarding activity you can undertake is a walk around Westminster.
The most attraction-packed district of the city – at least in terms of international icons – a stroll around this area can mean taking in the following architectural highlights: Big Ben, 10 Downing Street, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Harrods Department Store, the National Gallery, Westminster Cathedral, Nelson's Column, Horse Guards Parade and the Natural History Museum – among many other things. Of course, you won't have time to do anything except stop for a quick photo and move on, but it will definitely make you want to come back to this incredible city.