London: The World in One City

  • 4 February 2004
  • UK

Lonely Planet’s new guide to London describes the city as “one of the most dynamic hubs on earth”. According to the latest edition, this “world in one city” is a welcoming, pulsating and contradictory place that is “the place to be right now”.

The guide states, “London has always been a compelling capital but right now it’s one of the most dynamic hubs on earth, leading the vanguard in music, visual arts, fashion, film and, these days, even food. It’s not the technicoloured swagger of the swinging ‘60s but London’s back in the spotlight and it is certifiably groovy”.

According to this latest edition, it’s impossible to be left twiddling your thumbs in London:

  •         On eating in London: “dining out has become unfathomably fashionable… there has never been a better time to explore the local foodscape” (p222).
  •         On drinking in London: “Sampling a range of boozers is, for our money, one of the highlights of any visit to this great city. From ancient and atmospheric taverns to slick DJ bars, London has much to offer.” (p264).
  •         On older, enduring attractions: “London is home to magnificent historical architecture and such familiar landmarks as Big Ben, St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey… it’s a cornucopia of cultural wealth that boasts some of the world’s greatest museums and art galleries” (p5).

    Sarah Johnstone, a co-author of the guide and long-term London resident, unexpectedly fell back in love with the city when researching the new edition and urges jaded locals to try to see London through its visitors’ eyes. “Go to one of the open days in the new City Hall,” she suggests. “Then walk back along the south bank of the Thames, to Waterloo, just to see how the city has opened up, especially from Tate Modern and the Oxo Tower to the London Eye and the Saatchi Gallery at County Hall. Or simply take a long lunch hour to reacquaint yourself with one of the marvellous galleries, museums or buildings that almost invariably will be on your doorstep.”

    Things Londoners take for granted — red buses, black cabs, police bobbies with their helmets, pinstriped workers, the London Underground symbol and even Oxford Street’s Top Shop (simply “an icon”) — still thrill overseas visitors. But the guide goes far beyond those, with many lesser-known attractions: a romantic interlude at the atmospheric Dennis Severs’ House, a performance at the Battersea Arts Centre (where Jerry Springer The Opera began), a curry in Tooting (“the new Brick Lane”), a visit to the almost criminally underrated Wallace Collection or even a night at the greyhound racing in Walthamstow, which is “cheap and cheesy”, but “guarantees excitement”.

    The guide also provides words of warning: “So many chain pubs, cafes and restaurants have sprung up over the last decade that it’s difficult to tell streets apart”. London is at risk of tuning into “Generica – a place where all the urban landscapes look the same”. Litter, and more particularly litterbugs, are also criticised: “It’s galling to see people casually chuck rubbish out of car windows or toss their litter on the street. Get with it, London!” Despite such criticisms, London is still “amazing”. “It will enthral you, seduce you… let yourself be carried by the ebb, flow, and rhythm of a city in perpetual motion”. From the hip to the historical: London has it all.

    Lonely Planet’s Top Five Essential London
    National Gallery
    St James’s Park
    South Bank
    Trafalgar Square