Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
See the best -- minus the Olympic crowds
The teeming crowds may have abated with the end of the Olympics, but there are still plenty of tourists clamouring to see the same attractions during London's muggy summer months.
Thankfully, there are plenty of gems to behold besides those on display in the Tower of London. Here's an insider's view of a slice of London most tourists haven't taken a bite of.
1. Changing the Guard
Why queue over an hour in advance to watch Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace when you can take in their rehearsal 45 minutes earlier without the hordes?
Those with children will enjoy a play at St. James's Park playground, directly across the street from Buckingham Palace. When the bombastic beats begin around 10:30 a.m., rush across Birdcage Walk to Guards Museum for a bird's-eye view of the pageantry.
2. Horniman Museum
Those who think London is without a great interactive children's museum haven't explored the Horniman. The Victorian tea trader's collection of natural history and anthropology artifacts from around the world lives at this free museum.
Here you'll find one of the U.K.'s largest collections of musical instruments (playing them is encouraged in their music room), Egyptian mummies and an aquarium. With panoramic views of the city, you'll want to spend a few quiet moments in its verdant 6.5-hectare gardens before heading across the street to Triangle Gardens for their physics-inspired water-play area and sandpit.
3. Trafalgar Area
Peering at Old Masters sandwiched between sweaty tourists at the National Gallery can be excruciating but at the much less crowded National Portrait Gallery next door, you'll be privy to thousands of portraits of the greatest figures in British history.
From Hans Holbein's portrait of Henry VIII to the familiar, iconic photos of the likes of Princess Diana and Mick Jagger, viewing the original portraits outside of textbooks and magazines seems surreal.
Be sure to catch either a lunchtime or evening candlelight concert at St. Martin-in-the-Fields located across the street from the Portrait Gallery. Downstairs the 18th-century crypt of St. Martin offers breakfast, lunch and dinner in Cafe in the Crypt. Insider's tip: Their afternoon tea is one of the least expensive in the city.
4. Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew
Not only is Kew Gardens a World Heritage Site, it's one of the world's leading botanical sites containing one in eight known plant species.
Boasting multiple exhibitions, guided biodiversity walks and an interactive outdoor play area, explorers young and old can make a full day of this once regal site. If time permits, venture outside the garden gates to the Original Maids of Honour for a cream tea or their namesake cake, which can be traced back over 200 years.
5. South Bank and Southwark
Head straight out of Waterloo Station and veer right once you hit the south bank of the Thames for a jaunt that'll take you all the way to Tower Bridge. Dotted with performing artists and live music, make a quick splash in the water fountains outside South Bank Centre before strolling down to Gabriel's Wharf for a bite or browse in their eclectic shops.
Continue on past the Tate Modern and Shakespeare's Globe Theatre to find the gothic Southwark Cathedral, the oldest cathedral in London, dating back to AD 600. The unimpressive bridge in front of the cathedral is actually London Bridge, but the next bridge along the river path is the fairy-tale Tower Bridge.
6. Army Museum
The history of the British army from the redcoats to recent conflicts lives at this interactive museum in the heart of tony Chelsea. If you're a history buff, you'll likely fancy the museum's recreations of a First World War dugout and trench and the Battle of Waterloo (using 75,000 toy soldiers), not to mention the skeleton of Napoleon's favourite horse.
7. Harvey Nichols
Whereas Harrods reeks of tourists, Harvey Nics drips with well-heeled locals. Purveyor to the Queen, this is now the place to shop and be seen.
Enjoy cocktails and views of Knightsbridge in the Fifth Floor Champagne Bar or take the tots to their Fifth Floor Café for a meal and equally splendid views. If a pilgrimage to Harrods is required, at least savour a macaroon at Ladurée, the infamous French patisserie where the upper classes get their sugar fix.
8. Somerset House
Located in the heart of London between the Thames and the Strand, this neoclassical building houses three impressive galleries focusing on impressionist paintings, czarist treasures and decorative arts. The fountain court delights weary tourists with 55 water jets during the summer heat and in winter transforms into a grand outdoor ice rink. Check out Michelin chef Tom Aikens' new restaurant, Tom's Terrace, and free children's activities during summer weekends.
9. Richmond Park
The oldest of the Royal Parks dates back to King Edward in the 14th century and currently serves as roaming ground for 650 of Her Majesty's deer.
The site is immense, covering 1,000 hectares of parkland, which is ideal for picnicking and horseback riding (hourly rides available). Or consider renting a mountain bike to explore the old stomping grounds of ancient monarchs.
10. Petersham Nurseries
When the city gets too much, trip over to the very West End for a world relatively undiscovered by tourists. From Richmond, meander along Petersham meadow past a herd of cattle, and you'll find a restful haven in the Petersham Nurseries' garden.
Hobnob with the likes of Nigella Lawson and Madonna in the delightful garden café (youngsters welcome) for a posh nosh on celebrity chef Skye Gyngell's seasonal fare.
11. Highgate Cemetery
The most fashionable Victorian cemetery in its time (imagine 30 burials a day back then) makes for an atmospheric half-day excursion.
Roaming the pathways in this lush natural setting, you could easily forget where you were if not for the ornate and occasionally ostentatious memorials. From there, wander over to Hampstead Heath, one of the city's most famous green spaces, for a breath of fresh air.
12. Hampton Court Palace
Gifted to Henry VIII reluctantly by Cardinal Wosley, this Tudor palace is the most spectacular of the Royal Palaces. With actors in period costumes performing historical re-enactments of Henry and his many wives, it's easy to feel as though you've stepped back into imperial court life.
Visitors can explore the vast Tudor kitchens, view state apartments with furnishings and artifacts from the Royal collection and get lost in one of the world's most famous mazes, planted for William III in 1690.
-- Postmedia News
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 25, 2012 D1
Updated on Saturday, August 25, 2012 at 1:23 PM CDT: adds fact box
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