Essential Central London: what to see and do in the heart of the capital

For those looking to stay in and around Central London on a short-break, there’s a seemingly unending choice of things to see and do – whatever the time of year, even if you’re looking to come in the autumn and winter (and staying right in the centre of things at one of the hotels near Marble Arch). So how on earth do you narrow it down and actually plan an itinerary for your stay? Well, here are some ideas…

ZSL London Zoo

(Regent’s Park NW1 4RY)

It’s been entertaining and educating young and old since it first opened way back in 1847, which is hardly surprising because London Zoo (sometimes referred to as Regent’s Park Zoo) contains innovative, inspiring exhibits made up more than 750 different species and in excess of 12,000 individual animals. We’re talking tigers, lions, gorillas, penguins, otters and meerkats, among so many more. Specifically, you must check out the ‘Into Africa’ and ‘Butterfly Paradise’ areas, both of which house some of the zoo’s most fascinating and rarest creatures.

Chelsea Physic Garden

(66 Royal Hospital Road SW3 4HS)

Located just a short way from the West End (so ideal for those thinking of making the likes of a Marble Arch London hotel the base for their stay) and founded nearly 350 years ago, this venue in the salubrious environs of Chelsea is the second oldest botanical gardens in all England – and yet, it’s often referred to as one of London’s so-called ‘secret gardens’. Having been originally intended for medicinal plant study, today it’s just as dedicated as it ever was to researching ‘the properties, origins and conservation’ of the 5,000 plant-species it contains.

HMS Belfast

(The Queen’s Walk SE1 2JH)

Launched in 1938, this legendary, nine-decked British battleship served with distinction in both WWII and the Korean War. Now permanently moored on the South Bank, just a short walk to the east from the area’s other attractions, and serving as a museum, it’s the place to hop aboard to learn about 20th Century-era UK naval history and the experience of sailors serving in both peacetime and at the extraordinary times of warfare.

Cutty Sark

(King William Walk SE10 9HT)

Another maritime highlight, this ship is the last surviving Victorian tea clipper and is famed for having been the fastest and greatest of that great sea-going age. Fully renovated recently, following a fire that almost devastated it, this great historical artefact (docked on the banks of the Thames in Greenwich) is now better than ever, offering all visitors – especially curious kids – a truly immersive experience. Perfect for vacationing families.

Kew Gardens

(Kew, Surrey TW9 3AB)

Finally, one attraction that’s slightly further afield; in that it’s outside of Central London but, just like all the other attractions on this list, well worth visiting. The botanical gardens are globally renowned for their beauty and horticultural quality – so much so they’re actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site – and they don’t just contain 120 hectares of green and colourful foliage, but a plethora of glasshouses and art galleries. Particularly recommended are the treetop walk, the nature trails and the stunning rose gardens – all in all then, making for an outstanding and unforgettable day out for all the family.

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