Top Picks

On this page I list current or approaching events and special exhibitions that I’m particularly keen on. I’ll give a brief description and, where possible, a link.

With the coronavirus lockdown beginning to ease, some of the bigger tourist destinations are beginning to reopen. Sadly, some top picks that only open in the summer months have already cancelled the 2020 season – for example Buckingham Palace. For anything that is open, it is essential to book in advance. To keep visitor numbers at an appropriate level, admission is usually by advance ticket only. Here are some initial suggestions:

Both the Tate Modern and Tate Britain have reopening, with strict routes to be followed. Both are enjoyable, although I suspect that the immensely popular Tate Modern is often only visited for the remarkable building – the former Bankside Power Station – rather than the art inside. The Tate Britain can be overlooked, and yet its collection of JMW Turner paintings alone is worth the trip to Millbank.

The Tower of London is immensely popular – and rightly so. It is an astonishing location, at the heart of British politics and monarchy for 900 years. The Crown Jewels are open to visitors but there is so much more to take in. In this period of limited admissions it might be the moment to visit as it will not be overrun.

The National Gallery has a remarkable collection of European Art.

The Museum of London and Museum of London Docklands have reopened. These are certainly among my favourites. I would caution that part of the Docklands outpost addresses slavery and pulls no punches – sobering but essential. The original museum is located on London Wall but scheduled to move in a few years to West Smithfield. In the meantime my advice to visitors (particularly with children) is not to get caught up too much in the first few galleries (unless Roman archaeology really floats your boat) because the later galleries are more relatable and, dare I say it, fun. Both branches have reconstructed streets which for me are the highlight of any visit.

If you are unable to travel, some London-themed tomes I can recommend and which are probably available from all good online bookstores, and possibly on kindle, are:

  • The Good Old Days – Crime, Murder and Mayhem in Victorian London (Gilda O’Neill, 2006) is as entertaining and vivid as her other two non-fiction books, both about her native East End.
  • A History of the Port of London – An Emporium of all the Nations (Peter Stone, 2017). He could have done with a better editor, but the history of the port from Roman and medieval times to its inevitable closure in 1980 makes for enthralling reading, especially for Londoners. You’ll understand just how dominant the port was over the city for centuries – something difficult to appreciate now it’s gone.
  • London Fog – The Biography (Christine Corton, 2015). Find out what is was, when it happened, when and why it stopped happening (yes, it has stopped) and even what it looked and smelled like (faintly yellow and sulphurous, it transpires).
  • Secret London – An Unusual Guide, 3rd Edition (Rachel Howard and Bill Nash, 2019). Dip in at random to discover some of London’s amazing curiosities.
  • The London Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (Ben Weinreb et al, 2009). If you’ve always wondered about the history of the Crystal Palace, or why Of Alley has such a ridiculous name, or when the Civil Service Stores burned down, or when Rules was founded, or why the Marks and Spencer’s on eastern Oxford Street is called The Pantheon, or what the hell the Royal Panopticon or Egyptian Hall was, then this is the book for you. A reference book that can steal your entire day as one topic leads to another and then another. Think of it as a London Wikipedia, only written down on paper and more reliable. A word to the wise – only get the 3rd edition, which was a massive overhaul of the hastily updated 2nd.