Extraordinary London

I’m over Big Ben. How many times can you go on the London Eye or see Westminster Abbey before it gets a bit tired?

This month I picked through London’s countless attractions to uncover the best places to visit, most of them off the usual tourist trail:

St. Dunstan-in-the-East is an extraordinary find: a 1000-year old church that survived the Great Fire of London and various other disasters throughout history but didn’t quite make it through World War II.

 

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Even the bombings couldn’t completely destroy this impressive building and its ruins are  now used as a public garden. Open-air services are held in the ruins on special occasions and the gates are open to visitors on most days.

 

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Oxo Tower Restaurant & Bar. Harvey Nichols operate this beautiful rooftop venue on the 8th floor of the historic Oxo Tower on the south bank of the River Thames. The menu is principally fine British dishes featuring the best local seafood and meats.  The casual bistro also has a noteworthy menu.

 

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Portions are generous, staff and friendly and the champagne flows until late in the evening. A bottle of Harvey Nichol’s Champagne and a Chateaubriand for two makes for a decadent evening.

 

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Or even just a visit to the bar for a cocktail is worth it just for the view…

 

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Spitalfields, once the roughest area of London and the stomping ground of Jack The Ripper, has had something of a facelift over the last two decades. Gone are the soup kitchens for impoverished Jewish immigrants and squalid doss houses and shady public houses.

 

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The slum lands have been replaced by gentrified terraces, cool cafes and the splendidly trendy Spitalfields Markets. All that is left of the hard times in Spitalfields is a few interesting facades, preserved as the buildings have been remade into fashionable offices and apartments.

 

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The London Zoo, being quite old and near the city, is not the sprawling animal paradise as you may find in the zoos of Singapore, Sydney or San Diego. However, they are dedicated to conservation and education – important for both humans and animals alike.

 

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I think they’ve done well with their small area, although I do believe that if there isn’t the room to house particular animals, then it’s best that the zoo doesn’t keep them. The aviary was too small for such large birds and the zebras didn’t seem to have much space. However the penguins, meerkats, sloths and hippos seemed happy, healthy and loving their home in London. Some have become quite the exhibitionists, posing for their admirers.

 

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Bevis Marks Synagogue is the oldest in the UK and has been in regular operation since it opened in 1701 – something that is quite rare for Europe. Hidden in a courtyard, the beautiful old place of worship is open to visitors on most days, usually in the mornings, for a small fee (discounts for National Trust members, check the website for times and prices)

 

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It is worth seeing this heritage site as it is unique not only in Britain but throughout the world. 1701 is the kosher restaurant attached to the synagogue. 1701 is, in one word, excellent. Kosher or not, this is fabulous European-Middle Eastern fusion cuisine.

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