It has survived mad cow, mad politics, and Madonna, and that's just recently. The best things in London have endured much worse over hundreds of years, and they'll still be standing when you get there. Here's a personal selection of the best things to do and see in old London.
Medicinal plants have been grown since 1686 in a quiet corner of central London called the Chelsea Physic Garden. It's an extraordinarily peaceful place a stone's throw from the highway that runs alongside the Thames. The garden society now grows healing plants from around the world, and runs a pretty spiffy Web site.
Smell The Roses
Speaking of gardens, how do the English do it? It's as if an infinite number of garden gnomes with uncannily green thumbs is perpetually pruning every square inch of London. At Kensington Gardens, one of a chain of central parks, you can lounge and gawk, stroll the willow-draped Long Water, and have tea in the palace Orangerie.
Follow The Bard
It's been the wrong side of the river for centuries as far as the nobs are concerned, but Southwark is where Shakespeare lived. His Globe Theatre, rebuilt in 1996, stages his plays in as authentic a setting as modern fire laws allow. One of his hangouts, the George Inn, still stands. More on his life here is at the Southwark site.
Gloat Over Loot
Lord Elgin practiced poor politics in 1804 when he packed up the rubble of Greece's Parthenon and took it home as a souvenir. They're at the British Museum, a monument to the impeccable taste and sticky fingers of the Empire's adventurers. Some exhibits are devoted to England's past, like the Sutton Hoo Hoard.
Get The Shivers
William the Conqueror built the vast, gloomy Tower of London after his 1066 invasion, mostly to cow the natives. He was also known as William the Bastard, but not to his face. In spite of the crowds, the Tower retains an aura of dread. This is where two of Henry VIII's wives arrived through Traitor's Gate, at left, to be executed. Oh yeah, and don't miss the Crown Jewels.
Make The Scene
The fresh produce vendors are long gone, replaced by corny souvenir shops and fast food, but the fabled energy of Covent Garden survived its renovation. Saturday is the best day, as street performers do their best and crafts people set up stalls. Mondays mean flea market. A Covent Garden Web cam is trained on the action.
Try The River Path
If you thought about it too much, the story of the Thames over the last 1,000 years, real and fictional, would make your toes curl. But the fabled river is perhaps more beautiful (and clean) than ever. Big Ben and the Embankment Gardens are rivaled by new attractions across the river, where the Globe Theater, the Millennium Eye and the Tate Modern are linked by walkways.
Dig Into The Past
You can't stick a spade into dirt in London without turning up an ancient Roman coin, or a Victorian bottle. The Museum of London displays some of the trash and treasure that built up over 2,000 years of human habitation. Upstairs is Roman-era London, featuring recent discoveries. Downstairs are winding London streets of many eras. Kids love it.
Tip Your Hat...
...to the sheer guts of London's people. A short stroll here can tell you more than any history book about the effects of war. Memorials to victims of the Blitzkrieg abound, many small and modest. In the oldest part of town, the ruins of Christ Church Greyfriars, consecrated in 1325 and gutted by bombs in 1940, still stand. A rose garden grows within, in a design that follows a floor plan created in 1707.