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After the medals and the fireworks, what next? London has been a colossus on the world stage since before the days of hansom cabs and gas-lit cobbles, but 2012 has helped boost its global reputation to almost unprecedented levels. You’d have to say it’s earned the right. Today’s city is a supersized miscellany of mingled histories, fresh culture and rampant nightlife, a world to dive into and indulge your fancies, popping up for breath in a Soho bistro, a Mayfair showroom or a Notting Hill pub. Crucially, like all truly great cities, it’s still founded on substance as much as style.
Our top five sights
Already a world-class art museum, the Tate Modern augmented its standing even further in 2012 with the opening of The Tanks – disused underground spaces – as exhibition galleries.
Newly relaunched after being damaged by fire, the Cutty Sark is back on display. Walk the famous decks of the world’s last surviving tea clipper.
Grant Museum of Zoology
A winningly bizarre collection of preserved birds, pickled chimps’ heads and rare insects, the Grant Museum of Zoology is now in new premises.
The sheer weight of history at Westminster Abbey, from Edward the Confessor to William and Kate, is incredible. Six centuries of monarchs are buried here, as well as writers, villains and great thinkers.
The View from the Shard
London is not short on spots from which to admire the scenery, but The View from The Shard, opening in February, gives a panoramic platform from a cool 310m on high.
Our top five activities
Catch a performance at the already-acclaimed St James Theatre, the first newly built theatre complex in central London for three decades.
Offering a range of wine tastings and wine courses, the independent – and, most importantly, unbiased – West London Wine School demystifies the wine process in a relaxed setting.
One of the planet’s great opera venues, the Royal Opera House remains among London’s top draws for a cultured evening out. It’s beautiful, too.
Adventurous types can try the new ‘Up At The O2’ roof-walk of the O2 Arena, tracing a path that stretches over the dome’s full canopy and grants a wraparound view of London’s sights.
Learn about cars
A world first, Audi City is a new digital car showroom that uses state-of-the-art technology to showcase every possible combination in the Audi range.
Our top five events
May: Chelsea Flower Show
The Royal Horticultural Society’s annual garden show has been a city spectacle since 1862 and still acts as a magnet for the rich, the famous and the green-fingered.
A free-to-visit showcase in Canary Wharf, Motorexpo gives the chance to admire a broad variety of top-of-the-range cars at close quarters. Aston Martin, Bentley and Ferrari are among those involved.
The world’s most famous tennis tournament remains a classically British experience, now with added impetus from its – and Andy Murray’s – Olympic showing.
September: Thames Festival
Turning the South Bank into a whirl of dance, music, food and drink, this weekend-long celebration now stands as one of the most eagerly awaited festivals in London.
October: London Film Festival
The UK’s largest public film event has been running for more than half a century, showing films from around the world and running lectures, masterclasses and Q&As.
As with most things in London, knowing where and when to shop is an ongoing lesson. Markets bloom and fade, high-end boutiques spring up, modern malls appear in a blink. The trick, essentially, is to know the experience you’re after. For browsing and people-watching, street markets like those at Spitalfields and Portobello Road remain as kooky and absorbing as ever. For one-off clothing items and quirky gifts, Kingly Court (behind Carnaby Street, 020 7333 8118) is always an interesting bet, while larger centres such as the new Westfield Stratford City (Montfichet Road, 020 8221 7300) house respected brands.
Food & Drink
Spend a while in London and you start cursing the fact that the day only allows for three meals. The calibre and breadth of the restaurant scene has never been better, and you don’t need to pay through the nose to get high-quality food. As well as the options ingrained in city culture – a zinging curry in Brick Lane, high tea at Claridge’s, a stall-fresh lunch from Borough Market – the overall list is boundless. A new opening to know about: Duck & Waffle (110 Bishopsgate, 020 3640 7310) is a 40th-floor restaurant serving good food 24 hours a day.
Which night of the week to choose? All seven of them. As well as every flavour of drinking den imaginable – from time-warmed gin palace to minimalist wine bar – the city also thrums nightly with cabaret, concerts, clubs and comedy. It can be a nightmare if you’re indecisive. Assuming you’re here with enough advance notice, check ahead for music and theatre listings. If you’re not, try diving into Clerkenwell to seek out The Craft Beer Company (82 Leather Lane), with its huge selection of keg ales, or heading to the soaring Booking Office Bar (St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, 020 7841 3566) for cocktails.
Accommodation in London
Such is the seemingly endless roster of notable hotels in London, the choice of accommodation can be a little overwhelming. What’s safe to say is that regardless of your taste and budget, you’ll find somewhere to suit. Central districts like Mayfair and Knightsbridge are well stocked with luxury properties, while heading further from the centre still reveals some good-value business hotels. Two impressive new openings in town are the Bulgari Hotel & Residences (171 Knightsbridge, 020 7151 1010) and the ME London (336-337 The Strand, 0808 234 1953) – both have quality meeting space and good bars and restaurants.
Flights from London City Airport LCY to destinations in Europe with CityJet.
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