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Arts and Culture


Whilst an outmoded view of London might see it as consisting merely of Madame Tussauds and the Tower of London, the city is currently flourishing under something of a social and cultural renaissance. The most recent exciting cultural news in London has been the development of the city's South Bank.To get to Bankside, get out at the Black Friars, London Bridge, Southwark, or Monument Tube stops. There's also no shortage of trendy places to have a bite, a beer, or do some shopping.

Tate Modern

(Bankside Power Station, The Queen's Walk; tel. 0207/887-88-88, www.tate.org.uk/modern): This behemoth of a building is matched inside by quadruple- volume spaces and massive iron sculptures by Louise Bourgeois. The actual gallery rooms on the third and fifth floors are by and large a bit pokey, though. Divided up into themes, the paintings and sculptures deal with History/Memory/Society, Nude/Action/Body, Landscape/Matter/Environment, Still Life/Object/Real Life, and 'Between Cinema and a Hard Place.' At times, the magnificent panoramic views visible through the floor-to-ceiling glass windows outdo the art on display. Especially the sight of St. Paul's Cathedral directly ahead.

Tate Gallery

(Beside the Thames, Millbank; tel. 0207/887-80-00): Along with the new Tate Gallery of Modern Art, the entire contents of the original have been reorganised, so that instead of the conventional art-museum structure that follows chronological order, the two Tates are designed thematically. In addition, the Tate Gallery now houses only British art as the modern art collection has been moved to the new Tate. Be sure to catch the misty Turners and the God-drunk Blakes.

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre

(21 New Globe walk, opposite the Bankside Pier; tel. 0207/401-99-19, www.shakespeares-globe.org): Here you'll find the biggest exhibition devoted to the world of Shakespeare from Elizabethan times to today. Documenting everything from blueprints to corsets, the more interesting part of the building is the actual theatre, which is open only in summer, when the Shakespeare productions are performed. The original site of the theatre is around the corner, where there is a plaque and some informational boards. The Globe has been reproduced as closely as possible to an Elizabethan theatre.

Dalí Universe

(County hall, Riverside Building; tel. 0207/620-24-20; www.daliuniverse.com): If you're a Dalí enthusiast, this is definitely worth a visit since it is the first permanent commercial Dalí exhibition in the world, comprising four galleries of over 30,000 square feet. The collection of about 500 sculptures and drawings includes the Mae West sofa (the giant red lips), and a selection of dripping clocks. Located right next to the London Eye, the galleries make for a surreal contrast to the super-symmetrical engineering of the big wheel.

Saatchi Gallery

(98a Boundary Rd.; tel. 0207/624-82-99): Bankrolled by ultra-wealthy advertising kingpin Charles Saatchi, the gallery exported its Sensations and hosts bizarre exhibitions and installations, including a room half-filled with sump oil. The tree-filled suburban location of this venue stands in contrast to its wide-open space of oddities, illusions, and eye-openers.

Hayward Gallery

(tel. 0207/960-42-42; www.hayward-gallery.org.uk): This modern art gallery merits a mention since it is the largest public art space in the UK. It features everything from modern masters to contemporary names, showcasing controversial exhibits similar to those at the Saatchi Gallery.

Serpentine Gallery

(Kensington Gardens; tel. 0207/298-15-15; www.serpentinegallery.org): Back in the centre of the city and certainly worth a detour if you're in Hyde Park, this gallery is the exhibition site for contemporary artists. The structure was a tea pavilion in 1934 and now houses modern art exhibits that change every two to three months.

British Museum

(Great Russell St.; tel. 0207/636-15-55; www.britishmuseum.ac.uk): There's something for everyone in this giant storehouse featuring around six million exhibits. After the completion of a lengthy refurbishment programme – the centrepiece of which being the construction of Lord Foster’s ambitious glass-roofed Great Court – the British Museum is back in place as one of the world’s finest museums. The awesome scale of the museum means it is essential to select just a few of the 94 galleries for close attention. Highlights include the Rosetta Stone, a copy of the Magna Carta and the controversial Elgin Marbles (taken from the Parthenon in Athens), which Greece want back before the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

Victoria and Albert Museum

(Cromwell Rd.; tel. 0207/938-84-41): Possibly the biggest museum devoted to applied arts, here is housed a gigantic collection of Asian art, modern design objects, and seven legendary tapestries by Raphael.

National Gallery

(Trafalgar Sq.; tel. 0207/747-28-85): On the north side of Trafalgar Square is one of the world’s greatest galleries, the National Gallery, which houses an incredible collection of Western paintings from the 13th to the early 20th century, as well as frequent special exhibitions.

National Portrait Gallery

(St. Martin's Place; tel. 0207/306-00-55): This gallery displays the country’s famous, infamous and forgotten in the media of oil, watercolour, marble and photography. In May 2000, the Queen officially opened the new Ondaatje Wing (which includes a lecture theatre and restaurant) as part of a wider project to make the gallery more spacious and the art more enjoyable and accessible.

Royal Academy of Arts

(Piccadilly; tel. 0207/300-80-00; www.royalacademy.org.uk): If you're in London during the months of May till August, check out the annual Summer Exhibition. Featured are rooms with hundreds of little paintings cluttered together on the walls as well as modern sculptures, drawings, and architectural models. One room is usually dedicated to the work of an individual artist while another sculptor is chosen to exhibit a large piece or pieces in the front courtyard of the building. The majority of the works are for sale and there are prizes awarded to the artists.

Hawksmoor's Christ Church

Located in Spitalfields, near the market, it is considered by many to be one of London's most beautiful churches. It was designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor and Sir Christopher Wren. Constructed between 1715 and 1759, the church falls into the English Baroque style and features a dramatic Georgian steeple rising from a grand portico.

The Central Mosque

On the western side of Regents Park, is the largest Islamic Centre in Britain. First opened in 1978, the building has a minimalist design with a couple of dazzling touches such as the minaret and the golden dome.

Shri Swaminarayan Mandir

Europe's first traditional Hindu Temple. Built in 1995, it is a replica of the Akshardam temple in western India. It was created with 26,300 pieces of limestone and marble crafted by over 1,500 sculptors in India, and then shipped to London to be erected, all at a cost of about £10 million.

St. Bartholomew The Great

The oldest surviving Parish church in London, built between 1123 and 1250, and possibly the most beautiful (Enter through Tudor-style gate called Smithfield Gate, at the cloth fair; Tube to Barbican).