Smart, Aristoctratic, Cultured England


The glorious Gothic architecture of Westminster Abbey, the color and pageantry, the greenery of the royal parks glimpsed as the open-topped carriage drove the happy couple to Buckingham Palace and then the cheeky Aston Martin that carried them away again – it was the best possible showcase for the exotic mix of old and new, quirky and traditional that goes to make up modern England and especially its sprawling capital, London.

One of the world’s truly great cities, London has a history that can be traced all the way back to before the Romans. From the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042-66) a long line of kings and queens were crowned in Westminster Abbey. Some are little more than names on a list, but from the 15th century when Henry VII established the Tudors in power a succession of rulers left their glitzy mark on the city.

One has only to think of King Henry VIII and his six wives, of “the Virgin Queen” Elizabeth I, of King Charles I who lost his head to parliamentary reformers, and of the long-lived Queen Victoria to recognize the glamour which the monarchy has bestowed on Britain.

Today the seat of that monarchy is Buckingham Palace, a sedate building partially open to visitors in summer. To eyeball the spectacular crown jewels you need to visit the much older Tower of London where many of the more blood-stained episodes of British history were played out. Diehard royalists will also want to explore magnificent Hampton Court Palace, famous for its maze, and Windsor Castle, home to the exquisite St George’s Chapel.

Of London’s many magnificent museums the most impressive is the British Museum which houses archaeological artifacts from all around the world, including sections of the Mausoleum from Halicarnassus (modern Bodrum), once one of the wonders of the world, and the delicate Nereid Monument removed from the world heritage site of Xanthos in the nineteenth century.

Other museums worth visiting include the Victoria and Albert Museum which showcases some magnificent oriental carpets, and the more child-friendly Science and Natural History Museums. Unmissable art galleries include the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, home to Holbein’s “The Ambassadors” which incorporates one of the Turkish rugs later nicknamed Holbein carpets.

The National Gallery houses many European masterpieces while the Tate Britain shows off the work of such great British artists as Turner and Constable. After something more cutting edge? Then head for the Tate Modern, housed in a converted power station immediately across the Thames from St Paul’s Cathedral.

Unlike Westminster Abbey, a Gothic gem whose architects are unknown to us, St Paul’s Cathedral is the masterpiece of Sir Christopher Wren, who bestowed more than fifty churches on London. The soaring dome of St Paul’s may remind Turks of the splendour and spaciousness of Aya Sofya in İstanbul; for the British it’s a stalwart survivor, having escaped the firebombs of the Second World War by the skin of its teeth.

London is dotted with iconic structures that everyone will recognize. Trafalgar Square is dominated by the soaring column that commemorates the 18th-century admiral, Horatio Nelson, while the Houses of Parliament at Westminister are overlooked by Big Ben, the clocktower whose chimes have been keeping Londoners on time since 1858. Finally, crowded Piccadilly Circus  is home to the famous statue of Eros, erected as a memorial to the Victorian philanthropist Lord Shaftesbury.

But London is much more than its historic monuments. This is the place to come to sample the mouth-watering delights of celebrity chefs such as Antony Worrall Thompson and Gordon Ramsay. After something more traditional? Then afternoon tea with cucumber sandwiches at the Ritz Hotel is still something of an institution.

London is also synonymous with some fantastic shopping experiences. Who could resist dropping in on Harrods, the department store that prides itelf on being able to obtain anything a customer wants, or on the more discreet Fortnum and Mason in Piccadilly whose food hall rivals Harrods’ for tasty treats?

Finally, London rivals New York for the quality and variety of its theatrical offerings. Whether your tastes run to long-running musicals such as Les Miserables or to classical Shakespeare performed in the Globe Theatre beside the Thames at Southwark you’ll be able to indulge them here.

The living statues of Covent Garden are a particular favorite with visiting photographers. Londoners adore St. James’s Park and its lake which is home to pelicans and other exotic waterfowl.

London has so much to offer that it can be hard to tear yourself away to explore the rest of the country. Places to visit on day trips include beautiful Canterbury Cathedral, the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, Shakespeare’s birthplace at Stratford-on-Avon and the prehistoric stone circle at Stonehenge. On London’s colourful streets you never know who you’ll bump into round the next corner.

The Premier League is the top football league in England, the cradle of the game. Normal season matches are played between August and May in the league, which attracts millions of viewers not only in England but around the world.

With more than a million record sales worldwide, The Beatles are considered one of the greatest music groups ever. The band, which included names like John Lennon and Paul McCartney, was formed in Liverpool

The pageantry of London is on show every day at the Changing of the Guard. Guards swap over at Horse Guards Parade, then proceed along The Mall to Buckingham Palace, much to the delight of the assembled crowd. Come rain or shine, the iconic Tower Bridge makes a stunning sight. Right beside it stands the Tower of London where Traitor’s Gate used to close behind the king or queen’s enemies.

Fish and chips are one of the first things that pop to mind at the mention of Britain. And this meal, which you can find frequently at restaurants and snack bars, is economical as well as healthy.

The nearest beach to London is at Brighton, a popular weekend getaway. Further afield the surf is highest at Newquay in Cornwall, accessible by a short flight. Fleet Street was once the throbbing heart of the British newspaper industry. Today that has migrated eastwards, but the street is still lined with historic buildings. Pop into the Temple area to see a rare church that survived the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Everyone passes through Trafalgar Square at least once to admire the statue of Nelson on top of his column. Nicknamed “the Gherkin”, the Swiss Re building has stamped its mark on London’s skyline.

A guest that drops in unexpectedly is always offered a cup of tea as a sign of hospitality. Made with milk and served with pastries and other snacks, late afternoon tea is turned into a ritual. A way of bringing friends together, this tradition has been around since the reign of King Edward.

Turkish Airlines offers daily İstanbul-London-İstanbul flights. For fares and timetables:

Follow London’s punks, Goths and other trendies as they bargain-hunt at colorful Camden Market at Camden Lock on the banks of the Grand Union Canal. It’s frantically busy at weekends.

London Zoo in Regent’s Park is a great place to take children to see elephants and giraffes. Alternatively, London Aquarium is in the south side of Westminster Bridge.

In summer Soho is wall-to-wall pavement cafes. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, in an alley off Fleet St, was frequented by the Victorian novelist Charles Dickens.

For a taste of the old-fashioned high life stay at the newly refurbished Savoy right on The Strand in the center of things and with great views of the Thames.
Take a cruise along the Thames to admire many of the greatest monuments such as the Tower of London from the water. Red double-deckers are central to Londoners’ lives, so you might also want to tour the main sites in one of the open-topped buses

The world’s oldest underground railway, the London Underground is the lynchpin of London. The Docklands Light Railway lets you gaze down on the eastward extension of the city and the high-rises of Canary Wharf.

Stroll from the Albert Hall and the Albert Memorial, commemorating Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert, to leafy South Kensington, home to the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Natural History Museum.

Eye up a waxwork who’s who of Great Britons at Madame Tussauds on Marylebone Road. 221B Baker Street, fictional home to Conan-Doyle’s famous detective Sherlock Holmes.

From Oxford Street to Piccadilly Circus to see what Londoners are buying. Apple’s shop on Regent Street is always humming with activity. Liberty’s is famous for its luxurious fabrics.

Scare yourself silly on a ghost walk down the capital’s haunted back streets and alleyways with a guide who can bring the most harrowing stories back to life. The most gruesome are Jack the Ripper tours in the footsteps of a 19th-century serial killer.

BARBARA NADEL  - Crime Writer
“It was a fine bright morning, and I could feel a murder coming on.” So begins Chapter 7 of my favorite London novel, Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem by Peter Ackroyd. Set in my birthplace of London’s East End, this is a tale of murder, magic, prejudice and legend. A fearful, colourful and macabre ride into the soul of old London.”