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London for beginners

What you can’t miss and what you canThis is my first trip to this city of lords and chimney sweeps. As I was raising four children, everyone else seemed to slip away to London except me. The London I’ve finally discovered is as rumpled and comfy as old corduroy (which I like) and as stylish and smug as the sassiest fashionistas (which I don’t).

From that perspective, here’s my ranking of London’s sights, the musts and the busts. But, really, it’s London, so you can’t go completely wrong.

Don’t miss

Tower of London: Creepy and beautiful all at once. The brilliant guides, the Beefeaters, may well be the best entertainers in town; houses the crown jewels.

Westminster Abbey: Profoundly moving site of coronations and funerals. On weekdays, catch the youth choirs at late-afternoon services.

Portobello Market: Best lunch in London? Gets our vote. On Saturdays, this Notting Hill market is a crazy, cool cultural mobfest. Try the Ghanaian stew ($9).

St. Paul’s Cathedral: Charles and Di married here. If you’re fit, climb the narrow stairway to the Whispering Gallery, where secrets spin ’round the walls.

London theaters: The Italians make art. The French make love. The British make theater … in opulent venues surrounding wonderful Leicester Square.

Buckingham Palace: Changing of the guard, 11:30 a.m. most days, draws insane numbers, like some sort of British Disneyland. Go anyway.

The Tate Modern: In a city of engaging museums, this art venue is a standout. Lively riverside setting. Like most London museums, it’s free.

London Eye: Not technically a Ferris wheel, because the cabs are on the outside of the giant hoop. Whatever. Pricey, at $25, but unforgettable views.

Covent Garden Market: This hyper-touristy old market is worth a quick stop for its shops, cafes and street entertainers. The Royal Opera House is steps away.

Hyde Park: Henry VIII’s former hunting grounds are the ideal spot for a Sunday stroll; a living period piece. Be sure to check out the rental rowboats.

Skip it?

British Museum: The Rosetta Stone resides here, as do miles of Middle Eastern antiquities. After the mummies, it’s a bit of a slog.

Thames Tour: More relaxing than the land-based tours, but the city’s chill seeps up through the hull. On blustery days, grab an inside seat.

Harrods : Maybe the timing is just bad, but unless you’re a sheik, this whopping shopping cathedral seems not of the moment: Who pays $50 for a dozen oysters?

Oxford Street/Piccadilly Circus: Lively, youth-oriented shopping district with world-class buzz. One of the city’s main traffic snarls, so be prepared to walk.

Royal Albert Hall: Perhaps a winner during a concert. But as a tour stop, not as much. The Albert Memorial across the street helps elevate the experience.

Jack the Ripper tour : Despite a game and active guide — he even sang — this walking tour is a dud. Maybe it’s because some of the 19th Century sites are gone.

| Tribune Newspapers
Article from: Chicago Tribune

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