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Travellers often complain of having to spend important hours at airports between flights — so why not take advantage of a layover in London and indulge in a couple of extra days to see the city’s ever changing museum exhibits and theatre productions.
You can cram a lot into 48 hours and you needn’t spend a lot of money — as many museums are free and you can often get rush seats to the theatre (or indulge in an afternoon matinee) at a fraction of the regular ticket price.
Recently, I was in London again and with only three nights and two full days, I wanted to see as much as possible. Even with such a short visit, we were able to see five exhibits, a hot new play, and retreat to a hip new hotel that everyone is talking about. We even squeezed in a quick shopping expedition to a Marks & Spencer department store.
Below are some highlights you may want to consider for your next visit:
Museums and galleries
Sir John Soane’s Museum — 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields (www.soane.org). The innovative townhouse of the Georgian-era architect and inveterate collector John Soane is one of London’s hidden treasures — jam-packed with curios, antiquities and artworks. This is hands down my favourite museum in London.
Tate Britain, Millbank — Located in the Millbank area of central London (www.tate.org.uk). This gallery has a dramatically remodelled spiral staircase at the entrance. Here you can walk through 500 years of British art. Check the website for a list of the ever changing art exhibits — in addition to the permanent displays of works by Henry Moore, William Blake, J.M.W. Turner and many more.
Tate Modern, Bankside — Built in a former power plant, this Tate gallery (www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern) offers works of modern and contemporary art.
The first retrospective to encompass the full scope of Richard Hamilton’s 60-year career opens in spring 2014. He is considered to be one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century
Note: Use a Thames River boat to travel between the Tate Britain and Tate Modern galleries. For about $5, it’s a delightful way to see London from another perspective.
The Wellcome Collection — At 183 Euston Rd. (www.wellcomecollection.org). See art, antiquities and artifacts with a medical angle — including Napoleon’s toothbrush and a transcription of the human DNA sequence, which fills an entire bookcase.
Somerset House — The Strand, London (www.somersethouse.org.uk). Home to rotating exhibits, Somerset House is a large neoclassical building overlooking the Thames River in central London. Until March 2, 2014, the Embankment Galleries at Somerset House features the exhibit, Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore!
Victoria and Albert Museum — Cromwell Road, London (www.vam.ac.uk). This is a museum that deserves an entire day of browsing. Much of the gallery is free. You do pay to enter special exhibits. Upcoming exhibits include The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945 – 2014 (April 5 – July 27, 2014); William Kent: Designing Georgian Britain (March 22 – July 13, 2014); Disobedient Objects (July 28 – Feb. 1, 2015) and many more.
Halcyon Gallery — 144-146 New Bond St., London (www.halcyongallery.com). Halcyon Gallery was established in 1982 as a platform for inspirational art. Bob Dylan currently shows off his artistry in Mood Swings, an exhibit displaying raw industrial iron gates that the musician welded using old metal and random objects such as lawn tools, roller skates and a meat grinder. The show runs to Jan. 25, 2014.
There is no more colourful way to shop in London than by sampling its many markets. For those who have a genuine interest in food, all corners of the city boast farmers’ markets that sell produce for the dinner table. Specialty markets include Columbia Road’s famous flower market, which packs a Victorian cobbled street with bargain blooms every Sunday.
Find market listings online at: www.londonmarkets.co.uk.
View from above — Joiner Street (theviewfromtheshard. com). A 60-second elevator ride takes you up 87 storeys to the summit of architect Renzo Piano’s The Shard, an immense glass skyscraper. The reward is a view that stretches for 60 kilometres in all directions.
Hit the dance floor — Karen Hardy Studios, Imperial Wharf, London (www.karenhardystudios.com). Take private ballroom dancing lessons at the studios of a Strictly Come Dancing champion. Choose from a variety of levels of dance. All include a glass of bubbly plus the chance to be photographed with Karen Hardy’s Strictly Come Dancing trophy.
Behind the Scenes — Brit Movie Tours (www.britmovietours.com.) gives tours relating to iconic British films and TV series.
These include studio tours and walking or bus tours of locations used for the filming of Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones and the James Bond and Bridget Jones movies.
Royal palaces — A Historic Royal Palaces membership gives you access to the palaces, invites to special events and a magazine. Learn more about this offer at: www.hrp.org.uk,
Showtime — An AGT Theatre Card can get you half price and priority tickets for many London stage productions. Check it out at www.atgtickets.com
A special scent — The Perfume Studio offers a session with a perfume consultant and the chance to create your own signature fragrance. Find details at www.visittheperfumestudio.com.
The year 2014 marks 100 years since the start of the First World War. Attractions at sites around England, led by the Imperial War Museums, will be part of a four-year commemorative program of events.
Aug. 4, 1914, the day that England entered the war, will be marked on Aug. 4, 2014 with a candlelit vigil of prayer at Westminster Abbey. For more information, visit www.1914.org.
The Imperial War Museum London will open new First World War Galleries in the summer of 2014. These will tell the story of people whose lives were claimed by the First World War. Learn more online at www.iwm.org.uk
The Georgians and the Vikings will also be remembered.
The British Library and Historic Royal Palaces will mark the 300th anniversary of the accession of George I to the throne with exhibits and events, including a delectable 18th-century Chocolate Kitchen at Hampton Court Palace.
The British Museum will host a major Vikings exhibit from March 6 to June 22.