Published March 21, 2012
For a city over 2,000 years old, London remains remarkably young and exuberant. As the center of the world's largest empire for centuries, the city has amassed a dense history, yet it remains as fresh and vivacious as ever. With a truly cosmopolitan grace and enough historic landmarks to fill an entire country, it's easy to see why London is one of the world's most visited cities. Here are five of London's top attractions.
Tower of London
One of the world's most magnificent and well-preserved castles, the Tower of London is the embodiment of London's glorious and often brutal history. Construction on the original structure, the White Tower, began in 1078 by William the Conqueror, with later additions to the huge compound being added by rulers throughout the Middle Ages and early modern period. Though it was originally designed as a stronghold, it soon became more significant as a prison and execution site for enemies of the monarchy. Today, tour guides walk visitors through the Tower's checkered history while costumed actors and performers bring it back to life.
The Tate Modern
At the turn of the 21st century, an abandoned power station along the Thames' South Bank was transformed into one of London's premiere cultural attractions. Since it opened its doors in 2000, the Tate modern has received almost universal acclaim, helping it become the most visited modern-art museum in the world. The Tate's permanent collection comprises an outstanding body of work from masters of the contemporary art world, all housed in the wonderfully appropriate setting of a grand industrial compound.
The Camden Markets
With over 700 stalls sprawling across Camden High Street, Camden Lock Place and the Stables, the Camden Markets are a haven for everything weird and wonderful in London. It began with the Lock Market in the early 1970s, when weekend vendors flogged the wares produced by nearby craft shops.
Today, the market has expanded into a vast network of colorful stalls, stores and vendors selling pop-culture memorabilia, trinkets, and all manner of strange and quirky items. A full day could easily be spent wandering between stalls and sampling a variety of dishes from the array of exotic food stalls. For a casual afternoon you should consider heading mid-week, but if you thrive in a decidedly more manic atmosphere, you might consider braving the weekend crowds.
The British Museum has been among the world's top museums for centuries. Established in the 1750s, at the height of the Age of Enlightenment, the museum's collection grew significantly with the help of great British explorers of the 18th and 19th centuries. It houses some of great relics of humankind, including the Rosetta Stone of the Ancient Egyptians, the treasures of a 7th century ship-burial from Sutton Hoo, and the Parthenon marbles from Ancient Greece.
Royal Botanical Gardens
The Royal Botanical Gardens, more commonly known as the Kew Gardens, stand out as perhaps the most beautiful place in the vast metropolis of London. This 299-acre site encompasses scenic lakes, lawns, walks, pavilions and museums, as well as over 50,000 plants of exotic and unusual varieties. Visitors will be enthralled with the garden's botanical wonders even in the winter months, thanks to the three major hothouses containing striking plant life from a variety of climates.