One of Europe’s gems when it comes to culture and entertainment is the city of London. Everyone who wishes to witness these grand sights in London is sure to be awed. London culture and entertainment which includes music, dance, theatre, festivals, museums, and art galleries can range from contemporary to the old school.
Glam and art are very evident in London’s South Bank Centre where you’ll see both the Royal Festival Hall and Queen Elizabeth Hall. A few blocks away are the well-known Globe Theatre and National Theatre. For those inspired by art, visit the Tate Modern, Hayward Gallery, and Tate Britain.
Museums in London are usually the best spots to see and appreciate London culture. There are a lot of great museums in this part of the world. Considerably grandest in all of London is the British Museum situated in Bloomsbury in central London. But interesting enough to visit as well as the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Natural History Museum.
The London culture and entertainment scene is also characterized by art galleries visited by visitors and the London people themselves. Choices include the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square and the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly. Aside from the British Museum, central London also has the Barbican Centre and the Royal Albert Hall which are popular venues for performances.
London culture and entertainment range from traditional music halls to state-of-the-art IMAX cinemas. But for a vacationer, West End theatres are a must-see. Jazz clubs are also great hangout places. You won’t be bored on your Fridays and Saturdays if you head for Soho or Covent Garden where you can enjoy a tasty meal in a London restaurant. Young people usually come to these London entertainment hubs for a drink or for that big night out, but the place is relatively safe despite the thick crowd.
Unlike other European cities like Barcelona and Paris, London has no dominant architectural style. The city in itself contains a variety of architectural styles, progressing through late 17th century churches, 18th and 19th century financial institutions, the modern skyscrapers. Read on to know more about Historic London architecture.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
St. Paul’s Cathedral now occupies the site where a Gothic church once stood. Its immediate predecessor went in ruins when it was destroyed by the 1666 Great Fire. The present structure was built between 1675 and 1710 and is the fourth cathedral to stand in the site, sacred even before the arrival of Christianity.
Westminster Abbey is a splendid London building that grew over centuries. The abbey is believed to have been erected between 1055 and 1065 by Edward the Confessor for a Benedictine monastery. It is believed to occupy the site of a Saxon church erected by King Sebert. You can still see his grave in the abbey.
The Tower of London
The Tower of London is one of the oldest and most interesting sights to see in London. It is one of the great examples of the feudal fortresses numerous in the country during the Norman times. It has a central 92-foot high donjon, with 16-foot thick walls, popularly known as the White Tower. The Tower of London was once a monarch residence.
The vivacious and exciting London is home to numerous world-class museums. In fact, you have more than 300 museums to choose from, which range from the very traditional to the hi-tech ones. Admissions to most of the major London museums are free.
Holding a London Pass gives you free entry to some charging exhibitions, museum guidebooks, and audio tours. Here are some of the most popular London museums.
The British Museum
Better than ever, the British Museum is one of the best in the world where you can find 4000-year old Pharoahs enjoying a busy afterlife and Karl Marx enjoying the company of the Buddha. Located just north of Covent Garden, the British Museum houses the world’s largest African collection with more than 200,000 artifacts.
For maximum efficiency we suggest that you do it in a number of shorter trips instead of having a marathon tour of the museum. After all, admission is free. The museum is open Saturfay to Wednesday 10 am to 5:30 pm and Thursday to Friday 10 am to 10:30 pm.
Sir John Soane’s Museum
This museum looks like a miniature version of the British Museum. It is full of artifacts; every bit of ceiling and wall is used. It has a great set of Hogarth prints and employs friendly curators who will give you great anecdotes. There are also hidden panels that reveal even more artworks. The museum is open Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 5 pm. Admission is free.
The Natural History Museum and Science Museum
Museums in London are highly concentrated in South Kensington. The Natural History Museum and the Science Museum are two of the more popular ones in this area. They are great for rainy days and kids love them. Better to visit both museums because admission is free. They are open every day from 10 am to 6 pm.
The Victoria and Albert Museum
Conveniently situated near the Science Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum is one huge museum of arts and culture. It is worth the visit for its cast rooms alone. Some of the greatest architectural gems in Europe are found in two huge halls. It also features British Galleries, Oriental Galleries, Fashion, Performance, the Cast Room, and Jewelry.
Whatever it is you are interested in, you will find it. You can spend many hours in this London museum just wandering, but it is a good idea to visit several times instead of one visit. The Victoria and Albert Museum is open 10 am to 6 pm everyday. Admission is free.
Museum of London
This London museum is rather like other regular museums you will find in most cities and towns. But it is more than your ordinary museum. Located near the Barbican Centre, the museum documents the rich history of the city from the Prehistoric to the modern times. It is chiefly concerned with London’s social history. The museum is open from Monday to Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm. It is closed on December 24 to 26. Admission is free.
London has always embraced diverse cultures and traditions while keeping its individuality whole. You can witness this wholeness in festival events. The colorful celebrations, energetic spirits, and the excitement among Londoners make London festivals a truly memorable experience. The food festivals, music festivals, dance shows, countless parties, and the fireworks make London truly a festive city. Here are some of the more popular festivals in London.
City of London Festival
The City of London Festival is held in June and July. It is mainly a celebration of art, architecture, music, and film. From jazz to world music, from the contemporary to the classical, this festival promotes a broad range of styles performed and sung by some of the leading artists in the world.
The London Parade is one of the greatest street festivals in Europe that happens on New Years Day. It features over 10,000 performers, representing more than a dozen countries. The street performers assemble in the center of the city bringing music, laughter, and merriment to the excited crowds. This festival in London usually starts at 12 noon in Parliament Square and it ends on Piccadilly, at Berkeley Street at about 3 pm.
Notting Hill Carnival
One London festival that attracts a huge crowd is the Notting Hill Carnival. Started in 1964, it is an explosion of culture, food, and fun. The Notting Hill Festival is now the largest street festival in Europe. Around 2 million revelers pass through the streets of west London. It happens every August over 2 days (Sunday and the next bank holiday).
Rise Festival (London United)
Formerly known as the Respect Festival, the Rise festival is an open-air free event. It celebrates the great multicultural city and makes a stand against racism. This one-day festival features pop, rock, world music, and a wide range of family entertainment. Due to the events following the London bombings, it was renamed London United.
Lord Mayor’s Show
The Lord Mayor’s Show started in 1215 when King John granted a Charter that allowed the City’s people to elect their mayor. The procession today takes place annually every 2nd Saturday of November. It is watched by tens of thousands of people, with about 5,500 participants, 2,000 military personnel, hundreds of motor vehicles, horses, floats, marching bands, carriages and the celebrated State Coach.
St. Patrick’s Day
One of the most well-known London festivals is St. Patrick’s Day. This celebration marks the important contribution of the Irish communities to London – historically, socially, and economically. The Irish community is the largest minority group in the city, with about 400,000 residents of Irish descent. St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated every 17th of March.
Modern London music is alive and kicking. This explains the wide array of live music venues in the city from back rooms to arena venues. Most major musicians make their stop in the capital when they on tour. Here are 5 of the best music venues that makes London trully world-class:
Roundhouse used to be a steam engine repair shed, a north London landmark. It was a major music venue throughout the 1960s and 1970s, playing host to such music icons as The Doors and Jimi Hendrix. It reopened in 2006 following major renovations and has seen performances from the Beastie Boys, Paul McCartney, The Who, Chemical Brothers, James Brown, and Morrissey. The fully accessible and adaptable performance space can accommodate around 1,800 seated and around 3,000 standing.
O2 Academy Brixton
Formerly the Brixton Academy, the award-winning O2 Academy Brixton was originally a variety theater built in 1929. The Art Deco interior of this south London music venue is still a beholding sight and the staircases and entrance hall add to its grandeur. It played host to numerous big name acts such as Rolling Stones, Sex Pistols, Coldplay, Foo Fighters, REM and Madonna.
The O2 is also a great venue if you want to hear music in London. The O2 Arena can hold about 20,000, while the indigO2 has a smaller capacity of 2,350. The O2 Arena has played host to really the performances of such big names as Elton John, The Rolling Stones, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, and many more.
The Forum bought Mean Fiddler in 2007 and since has had further renovations, expanding its capacity to 2,350. It is another old building that has been converted, with wonderful decor but still feels intimate. Past famous acts include Radiohead, Van Morrison, James Brown, and Prodigy.
Royal Albert Hall
The Royal Albert Hall is home to London music. It is famous for hosting the Proms concerts every summer. This fabulous London music venue was opened in 1871 by Queen Victoria in 1871. It is host to diverse musical performances, from classical concerts to opera, ballet, pop, and rock. Led Zeppelin played here in 1970 and ABBA in 1977. It is also a favorite venue of Cirque du Soleil, returning regularly.
It boasts of world-class theaters, opera and ballet, orchestras, music festivals, and church concerts. The London performing arts are truly the ones to beat. London is a center of cultural entertainment.
London holds the distinction as the world’s most important theater city, with New York as its only real competition. Fringe theaters and the West End combine to produce around 600 new productions every year. Favorite venues include the Tricycle Theater, the Donmar Warehouse, and the Bush Theatre.
The intimate Tricycle Theatre is well-known for raising some questions about humanity, while the Donmar Warehouse stages revolutionary new productions. The Bush Theatre is one of the city’s most consistently appealing fringe theaters.
Opera and ballet
Opera and ballet companies in the city survive on small funds, but they still manage top-class productions. The best operas are performed in the Royal Opera House. Great performances plus breathtaking architecture equals an unforgettable opera experience. The premier dance venue in London is Sadler’s Wells. It hosts contemporary dance and ballet performances, as well as major theatrical works.
Your experience of London performing arts will not be complete without hearing the city’s wealth of classical London music. With chilling orchestras and numerous choral and chamber ensembles,
London is the perfect place to fine tune your ears. Kensington’s Royal Albert Hall is where the famous “proms” happen – the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts. The city’s top-class orchestras also perform at the Barbican Centre and the Royal Festival Hall.
London has cutting-edge world-music festivals. The Royal Festival Hall is home to the Meltdown festival that happens every August. The repertoire at the Barbican Centre ranges from world music, pop, and rock to experimental and electronic music events. The annual Bite festival features multimedia artists like Cirque Eloize, Sasha Waltz, and Laurie Anderson.
The city has a very strong tradition of church concerts. St. Paul’s Cathedral is known for organ recitals and choir, while St. John’s Smith Square and St. Martin-in-the-Fields offer full classical music programs all year round. The richly ornate Wigmore Hall is host to outstanding chamber groups. The lunchtime concert season at Banqueting House is certainly worth checking out.
For an overview of London performing arts, check Time Out, a weekly magazine available at most newsstands.
Movies about London
London is a cinematic city. So cinematic that it has been used frequently both as a filming location and as a film setting over the years. Here are some of the more popular London movies, movies about London, set in London, or featuring London.
“Notting Hill” is a 1999 delicious romantic comedy set in, well, Notting Hill. In this movie, floppy-haired independent bookstore owner William Thacker (Hugh Grant) falls in love with the most famous Hollywood star, Anna Scott (Julia Roberts). The heart of the film is the Portobello Road street market, one of the 10 top London attractions.
Four Weddings and a Funeral
“Four Weddings and a Funeral” is a 1994 romantic comedy that used to be the highest-grossing British film in cinema history and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. This film is a sappy yet amusing look at the never-ending search for love.
The film has turned a number of London locations into top tourist attractions. For example, Café Rouge in Covent Garden – where Carrie (Andie MacDowell) enumerates her sexual conquests benefiting Charles (Hugh Grant) – is now flocked by lovers.
Woody Allen’s 2005 film, “Match Point”, uses an up-market view of London to mirror the lives of the upper class protagonists. This dramatic thriller film, starring Scarlett Johansson, was shot in some famous London attractions such as Notting Hill, Chelsea, Belgravia, Tate Modern, and St. James Park.
“Closer” is a 2004 Hollywood drama film directed by Mike Nichols, starring Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman, Clive Owen, and Jude Law. One of the more popular scenes is set in one of London’s icons: Postman’s Park. A love scene between Alice (Portman) and Dan (Law) happens in this park.
Bridget Jones’s Diary
“Bridget Jones’s Diary” is a romantic comedy, starring Renée Zellweger (Bridget), Colin Firth (Mark Darcy), and Hugh Grant (Daniel Cleaver). Borough Market was relatively unknown until it became Bridget’s home patch. Many tourists now head to Bedales winery, which is across the street from the Globe. Here Darcy and Cleaver make their famous fistfight.
This is one of the London movies that shows a cross-section of life in London: from the east-side artist-community of Shoreditch, where Bridget swills Chardonnay with her friends in the very hip Light Bar; to the Kensington Gardens in the west side, where Darcy and Cleaver continued their fight, splashed out in the beautiful Italian Fountains.