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London

Updated: Jan 24, 2012 03:31 PM EST
The core of London is one of the most fascinating places on earth. (©Barry Abisch) The core of London is one of the most fascinating places on earth. (©Barry Abisch)
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By Darwin Porter and Danforth Prince,

London never seems to get tired. It's perhaps the greatest paradox of a city with a history spanning two millennia that it stays forever young and energetic. Britain's capital is home to the great art collections of the National Gallery, architectural icons such as Tower Bridge, and a rich Royal heritage, but it also spawns underground design and musical innovation. It is a city of independent villages -- for example, Chelsea or Greenwich have little in common with Shoreditch or Soho -- and a conurbation of green spaces as well as great buildings.

Things to Do -- The old always sits alongside the new here -- nowhere more so than at Wren's great baroque dome of St. Paul's Cathedral, framed by 21st-century skyscrapers -- and London is rightly famed for its museums and galleries. Prized collections, ancient and contemporary -- from Bloomsbury's British Museum to the South Bank's Tate Modern -- share top billing with small spaces such as the Sir John Soane's Museum that could only exist in this city. Ride the London Eye observation wheel to get to grips with the city's layout.

Shopping -- The variety of shopping districts can be bewildering, even for a regular visitor. Knightsbridge and Chelsea have the chi-chi boutiques, Mayfair the finest men's tailors, and the latest in street-style springs up from Shoreditch and the East End. This is a city with something for every taste or budget, and best buys remain collectables, vintage fashions, and accessories. Street markets as diverse as Columbia Road (flowers and niche design) and Portobello (antiques, secondhand goods, and fashions) are experiencing a mini-renaissance.

Eating & Drinking -- Whatever your favorite flavor, you'll find it somewhere in this global culinary city. As London's center of gravity moves east, so does the dining scene: Nuno Mendes' Viajante is the most creative eatery to grace an eastside hotel. British classics Rules and J. Sheekey are as good as ever, and 2011 saw superstar chef Heston Blumenthal reinvent Dinner in Knightsbridge. Areas with lower rents continue to attract skillful chefs to gastropubs, cool cafes, and a new breed of tapas bar.

Nightlife & Entertainment -- When darkness falls, the historic monuments and grand museums fade into the inky night, and a whole new London comes to life. The West End's bright lights draw the crowds with long-running mega-musicals and big-name dramas. Less well known is London's growing taste for the offbeat, from cabaret and Charleston revival parties to dubstep, burlesque, and even underground bingo. Soho is still buzzing -- and the streets of Shoreditch, Hoxton, and Dalston are jumping well into the small hours.

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