" Earth has not anything to show more fair. Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty.
This City now doth like a garment wear/The beauty of the morning: silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky..."
The view may have changed since Wordsworth penned those words, inscribed at the vantage point next to Kenwood House, but the panorama from Hampstead Heath remains unrivalled, except, perhaps, by the sight from the top of nearby Highgate Hill. North London's great rus in urbe is part of the 30 per cent of the capital that is open space, and one of London's 143 registered parks and gardens. From Richmond, Kew and Wimbledon in the west, to Blackheath and Greenwich in the east, London is studded with green lungs, varying from wilderness and woods to the elegant fountains by the Serpentine in Kensington Gardens.
Unlike Paris, where the banlieux sprawl north of the peripheral, London is a series of villages. They may not have their own cricket greens or other such bucolic features, but they each have their own distinctive character. Locales have treasured delicatessens, street florists, specialist bookshops, even their own familiar tramps (what would Kentish Town be without the collection of well-refreshed gentlemen who gather of an afternoon on the benches next to the Tube?). Each village naturally thinks it is superior to all the other neighbourhoods, although beware: some areas are entirely the creation of estate agents (hello Brackenbury Village, formerly known as Hammersmith).
The Olympic Park will bring much-needed development to the Lower Lea Valley, one of the most deprived areas in the UK. Around 12,000 new jobs are expected to be created in east London, while after the games the athletes' village will be turned into 9,000 new homes. The park itself represents the largest urban open space created in Europe for 150 years.
No city in the world boasts such a variation in cuisine as London, where the stodgy fare for which Britain was once infamous is now as rare as the saignant steak frites that we do just as well, thank you, as they do on the other side of La Manche. From Chinese-Malaysian-vegan in Harrow, to the Little Lebanon that is the Edgware Road, to the creations of Gordon Ramsay and Tom Aikens, the most demanding gourmand can be satisfied in London's 6,000 restaurants. Plates of painfully indigestible pierogi in Moscow? Nyet.
5 Jermyn Street
Buy the finest shirts known to humanity watched over by the statue of Beau Brummel. After a post-prandial port at your St James's club, naturally.
Wave after wave of newcomers have made London a sea of different races, colours and religions. If a new Britishness is being forged, it is here, where 30 per cent of the population comes from minority ethnic groups. The old Cockney stereotype is just one of the many Londoners, now that the capital is home to 300 different languages and 200 nationalities; one of the royal parks contains a mosque; and even Neasden, once celebrated by Private Eye as the home of Sid and Doris Bonkers, is now known instead for the magnificent Hindu Shri Swaminarayan Temple.
The likes of Francis Bacon may no longer stagger out of the Colony Room Club's tiny premises on Dean Street, but the set of rooms, painted a nausea-inducing green, still remain a home from home for Britain's bibulous contemporary artists; until the club shuts, and they move on to disturb the media types in the Groucho, down the road. Round the corner, buffed young men come out to play in Old Compton Street, near Jeffrey Bernard's old watering hole, The Coach and Horses. Dotted around are the garishly lit entrances to an older generation of Soho business, the strip joints and the sex clubs. A wonderful concentration of urban sleaze that will never succumb to insipid gentrification, Soho by night remains the open sewer any great city needs at its heart.
8 Iconic venues
Olympic events are due to take place at Lord's (archery), Alexandra Palace (fencing) and Hyde Park (triathlon). Tony Blair has said that he is especially pleased that beach volleyball is scheduled for Horse Guards Parade, as it is just outside his window in Downing Street.
Where else to hear the language of Shakespeare, Stoppard and Schaffer than London, which accounts for 70 per cent of all UK box office revenue? American film stars flock to earn the kudos of treading the capital's boards. One - Kevin Spacey - even liked it so much he stayed to become artistic director of The Old Vic. The West End's famous venues make but half of London's theatres, which number over 100. Smaller venues, such as Hampstead's tiny New End Theatre, also play host to such distinguished thespians as Jerry Hall and, er, Bonnie Langford.
10 Legacy for sport
After the games are finished, London will have five new world-class sporting venues - an athletics stadium, an aquatics centre, a cycling arena, a hockey centre and an indoor sports centre. These will be available for use by sports enthusiasts of all levels and will help future bids for London to host other events.
11 Camden Market
Famous the world over, the six open-air and indoor markets that lead from Camden Town Tube nearly all the way to Chalk Farm cater to all the needs of the alternative shopper. Rugs, incense burners, and magic mushrooms are on offer for the hippy-minded, while most of the accessories required by the well-dressed Goth are also to be found. There's even an antiques market catering for the odd bourgeois interloper. Despite occasional attempts by the police to stop it, locals posing as dope salesmen continue to maintain the quaint old Camden tradition of selling passers-by pieces of cardboard wrapped in cling-film.
12 The South Bank Centre
Often criticised for its generous display of concrete - walls, walkways, pillars - the collection of buildings on the south bank of the Thames is a true palace of culture. All kinds of music - classical, jazz, world, rock - are to be heard within the environs of the Festival Hall; there is art at the Hayward Gallery; and the National Theatre's brutal façade serves only to accentuate the quality of the productions played out on its stages.
13 The Thames
This grand, grey creature drains the strength of its forgotten (and hidden) tributaries, such as the Fleet, the Walbrook and the Westbourne, so that long after it has passed the peaceful lawns of Hampton Court, it snakes its way heavily through the centre of the city, under Tower Bridge and on to the sea - and thereby makes London a port.
14 Primrose Hill
Druids still gather to celebrate the solstice on Primrose Hill, while the inhabitants of the village indulge in other pagan practices, such as wife-swapping. Bounded by Regent's Park on one side and a railway cutting on the other, the area has been like jam to a bee, attracting such celebrity names as the Gallagher brothers, Ewan McGregor, Kate Moss, Zoe Ball, and, ahem, Les Dennis.
15 Notting HIll
Although almost totally deprived of credibility by Richard Curtis's film of the same name, the area, and its elegant neighbour, Holland Park, retains its edgy border with Ladbroke Grove (where Julia Roberts was rather less likely to go wandering around on the tourist trail). Despite the influx of bankers on seven-figure salaries and the exodus of the original (poorer) inhabitants, Portobello Road, the markets, the carnival and the pain-au-chocolat at Mr Christian's deli keep Notting Hill in London's Top 20.
16 Rock music
The Marquee, The Borderline, The Barfly, The Roundhouse ... The list of legendary London music venues is longer than a Cossack balalaika or a Spanish guitar solo, and considerably more lively than a French chanson. And that's just rock.
As well as the imposing British Museum and the twin Tates guarding the river, what other city can boast such a glorious curiosity shop as the Sir John Soane Museum?
From Tracey Emin's bed to Rachel Whiteread's house, no scene has been more creative than the British contemporary artists in the past 20 years. One work currently on display in London, by Antony Gormley, was even made out of toast (he chomped his way through the shape of his body - and felt very sick afterwards). Beats the Louvre's pyramid into a cocked hat.
19 The Literati
Wherever you go in London, you can't turn the corner without stumbling over an author. Everyone's at it, from bona fide Booker-type writers like Michael Frayn and Ian McEwan, to less obvious members of the literati such as Joan Collins and Jordan. Some have become synonymous with their areas, such as Nigel Williams, the title of whose novel They Came From SW19 became a fast-selling T-shirt in Wimbledon.
20 The Weather
The British are fond of complaining about the weather, but in fact London enjoys better weather conditions than Moscow and Paris in the summer, being both cooler and drier - both an advantage for athletes.Reuse content