Glimpse London's thrilling past and thriving present in its myriad iconic buildings: Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, St Paul's Cathedral, and now Stratford's gleaming Olympic Park (www.london2012.com/spectators/venues/olympic-park/), which was home to the successful 2012 Summer Olympics. Get a bird's eye view from the London Eye (www.londoneye.com), a river view from a Thames cruise (www.citycruises.com), and a country view in the green, lake-filled expanse of Hyde Park (www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/hyde-park). Despite being a sprawling global power with over 7 million residents, London has a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere that makes it an ideal tourist destination.
Many of London's museums are free, and all offer a world of culture. Why not start with the innovative Museum of London (www.museumoflondon.org.uk) or the Tate Modern (www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern) art gallery, which is housed in a former power station by the Millennium Bridge? Kids love the "extraordinary experiments and dizzying demonstrations" of the Science Museum (www.sciencemuseum.org.uk). Head downriver to the Discover Greenwich Visitor Centre (www.ornc.org/visit/attractions/discover-greenwich-visitor-centre) in UNESCO-listed Greenwich, and explore the place where (Greenwich Mean) Time began.
London has more than a sprinkle of Michelin stars in its cosmopolitan culinary scene, including the modern Chinese cuisine of Hakkasan (www.hakkasan.com), the chic sushi of Nobu (www.noburestaurants.com/london), and the extravagant French tasting menus of L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon (www.joelrobuchon.co.uk) in Covent Garden. British cuisine has seen a resurgence with dynamic young chefs like Jamie Oliver, whose Fifteen restaurant (www.fifteen.net) is one of many trendy eateries in up-and-coming Shoreditch. For traditional English tea, relax in the courtyard café of the Wallace Collection (www.wallacecollection.org/visiting/thewallacerestaurant).
A hot spot for dining and nightlife is the South Bank of the Thames, where you'll find not only the National Theatre (www.nationaltheatre.org.uk) but also the huge Southbank Centre (www.southbankcentre.co.uk) with its concerts, performances and art installations. Restaurants line the river, but if you just want a cocktail and snack, pop into chic Benugo (www.benugobarandkitchen.com) in the British Film Institute. Travelling with children? Book a musical in the neon-lit West End (www.westendlondon.com) or check out the youth-oriented Round House (www.roundhouse.org.uk) theatre in Camden.
London’s upscale department stores, such as Liberty (www.liberty.co.uk), are a must for any serious shopper, while families make a beeline for Hamleys (www.hamleys.com) - the world's largest toy shop. When the weather is fine, you can't beat the flea markets of Camden (www.camdenlock.net) and Portobello Road (www.portobellomarket.org). Foodies head to Borough Market (www.boroughmarket.org.uk) for their treats. Otherwise, dive into Westfield Stratford City (uk.westfield.com/stratfordcity) - a swish new shopping centre near the Olympic Park.
The Olympics may be over, but London's sporting events still draw huge crowds. Tennis fans munch on strawberries and cream at Wimbledon (www.wimbledon.com), while 105,000 people can cram into Wembley Stadium (www.wembleystadium.com) for football tournaments and concerts. If August's Notting Hill Carnival (www.thenottinghillcarnival.com) is too boisterous, you may prefer Shakespeare at the Globe (www.shakespearesglobe.com). London's parks also offer beautiful settings for major events. In the run-up to Christmas, Hyde Park's Winter Wonderland (www.hydeparkwinterwonderland.com) is complete with a huge ice rink, Santa's grotto, gift markets and heaps of Christmas spirit.