London: South Bank
SEE Tate Modern Bankside in Southwark, near the Millennium Bridge 20/7401-5120 tate.org.uk/modern
Museum in a converted power station was an instant hit on opening five years ago. It houses the Tate Gallery's collection of contemporary art, arranged by theme, and its always-excellent temporary exhibits. The vast hall at its center is used for show-stopping, space-specific single installations. Open Sun.--Thurs., 10 a.m.--6 p.m.; Fri. and Sat., 10 a.m.--10 p.m. Free.
SEE The Saatchi Gallery County Hall, Belvedere Rd., 20/7823-2363 saatchi-gallery.co.uk
Adman-turned-art collector Charles Saatchi championed the rebellious YBAs (Young British Artists), including Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin, in the early 1990s, and has now opened a public space to showcase his holdings. The traditional, wood-paneled rooms are a strong contrast to the conceptual, offbeat art. Open Sun.--Thurs., 10 a.m.--8 p.m.; Fri. and Sat., 10 a.m.--10 p.m. Admission: £8.75.
SEE British Airways London Eye Riverside Building, next to County Hall 870/500-0600 ba-londoneye.com
For the best views of London, book a 30-minute flight in one of the pods that slowly trundle around this 450-foot-tall Ferris wheel. To check for times and minimize the wait in line, buy a ticket in advance at londoneye.com. Hours vary throughout the year. Closed in Jan. and on Christmas Day. Admission: £12.50.
EAT Anchor & Hope 36 The Cut, 20/7928-9898
Waterfront gastropub serving traditional British ales and a list of affordable wines and sherries alongside inventive, unusual dishes such as preserved rabbit. Desserts are a high point; try the creamy rhubarb pudding. Open for lunch and dinner Tues.--Sat., dinner only Mon., and closed Sun.
SPLURGE Le Pont de la Tour 36d Shad Thames, Butler's Wharf, 20/7403-8403, conran.com
Classic Terence Conran megaplex-- with a bakery, food shop, and bar and grill-- though the best part is the summertime outdoor seating, which has an unbeatable view of Tower Bridge. Warning: The game-heavy menu is expensive, but it's worth every penny.
SPLURGE Oxo Tower Restaurant, Bar and Brasserie Eighth Fl., Oxo Tower Wharf, Barge House St. 20/7803-3888, harveynichols.com
Loud and brash, but the views from this elevated eatery can't be beat, especially from the terrace. The modern European food is pricey but tasty, so limit yourself to a glass of wine at the bar if you're on a tight budget.
DRINK Baltic 74 Blackfriars Rd., 20/7928-1111
The food at this eastern European eatery is so-so, but most people come for the astonishingly wide selection of homemade vodkas-- try them either in cocktails, or better, as shots. It's especially lively late at night, when the restaurant empties out, the bar fills up, and the music pumps.
DRINK Royal Oak 44 Tabard St., 20/7357-7173
A 19th-century alehouse that boasts vintage fixtures, classic Sussex ales, and what looks like a few of its original clients, too.
SHOP Oxo Tower Wharf Barge House St., 20/7401-2255, oxotower.co.uk
Beneath the restaurant (see listing below), you'll find a sprawling complex of shoebox-size studios and retail spaces offering ceramics and handmade textiles, all beautifully chic and understated. There's an art gallery on the ground floor.
PLAY National Theatre South Bank next to the Waterloo Bridge The Cut, 20/7452-3400, nationaltheatre.org.uk
Sure, the building is monstrously ugly-- a relic of 1970s urban planning-- but the programming more than makes up for it: Instead of the jukebox musicals taking over the West End, the three auditoriums are a rotating selection of plays, both classics and premieres. (The latest hit was an adaptation of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy.) Ticket prices from £10. Come summer, the central concrete piazza is used for free performances every night but Sunday.
PLAY Old Vic Theatre Waterloo Rd., 870/060-6628, oldvictheatre.com
Kevin Spacey has brought cachet and Hollywood glamour to the Old Vic during his tenure as artistic director-- pity the productions have been so hit-and-miss. Even so, it's worth checking out his latest offering, as it's guaranteed to feature prestigious screen names slumming it on the stage. Ticket prices from £10.
ESCAPE Brighton 906/711-2255 (toll number), visitbrighton.com
There are plenty of reasons to spend a day on England's south coast-- only an hour or so by train from Victoria Station. For one thing, the shopping in Brighton-- the best outside London-- is mostly independent boutiques crammed into the network of cobbled alleys known as The Lanes. Another draw is the impressive Regency folly known as the Royal Pavilion, with its bizarre Eastern-influenced architecture. And lastly, crowds flock to Brighton for the town's nightlife: Clubs are often cooler than in London, and usually feature fierce up-and-coming bands and DJs.
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