Now that the mega-parties of 2012 have drawn to a close, people might wonder if there is anything left to do in London.
In a word, lots. And this is an excellent time to visit for several reasons. Fall and winter bring good deals on everything from hotels to airfare. Temperatures are cool -- no one goes to London for the weather anyway -- and major attractions are open year-round.
The city's "Jubi-lympic" frenzy has settled into a warm glow of remembrance. During a recent visit, the collective mood on the streets seemed light, as if everyone had issued one huge sigh of relief and patted themselves on the back for a job well done. After welcoming the world in grand style, Londoners now have their city back, the hordes have gone home and it's easier for everyone to get around.
It's impossible to see all of fabulous London in a single trip. And it's impossible to describe everything on offer there. But if you are considering a visit, here are a few ideas:
WEST END WONDER
London has another "it" girl, and it's not the Duchess of Cambridge, her sister Pippa, the latest Bond babe or even Her Majesty.
The special little girl who has captured the hearts of Londoners is Matilda, a fictional plucky but neglected telekinetic genius who has been packing them in night after night at the Cambridge Theatre in the West End.
Based on the book by children's author Roald Dahl, the acclaimed Matilda The Musical appeals to adults as much as kids. The Royal Shakespeare Company production has won many theatre awards, including seven Oliviers -- the most ever won by a single show. London reviewers have declared it everything from "smashing" to "delicious" to "heart-stopping." It is all that, and more.
Matilda The Musical continues at the Cambridge Theatre in 2013. A production will also open on Broadway next year. Tickets are pricced from £20 (about $32) to £62.50 ($100). See matildathemusical.com.
SPIN THE DIALS
Cambridge Theatre is on Earlham St., in the funky Seven Dials area of Covent Garden, where seven narrow streets converge at a roundabout with a skinny pillar adorned with six sundials at its centre. (Six streets were planned when the area was developed in the 1690s, but a seventh was added after the pillar had been made.)
If you are going see Matilda, or just out and about, allow time to explore this arty neighbourhood, which has come a long way from its days as one of London's most notorious slums. Seven Dials has been written about by everyone from Charles Dickens (Sketches By Boz) to Agatha Christie (Seven Dials Mystery) to Samantha Shannon (The Bone Season, due to be released in 2013).
Today the neighbourhood is home to many small restaurants, bars, cafes, bakeries, galleries, fashion boutiques, and interesting art installations such as the work-coat "sculptures" hanging from "clotheslines" strung across the cobblestoned lanes. Don't miss the completely charming and colourful Neal's Yard with its dairy, vegetarian cafe and new-age bookstore.
TEA WITH A TWIST
Kitty-corner from the Cambridge Theatre, the Mercer Street Hotel -- part of the Radisson Blu Edwardian group -- is serving a fun and family friendly Matilda-inspired Stupendous Afternoon Tea.
Designed to appeal to a child's palate -- or an adult with an extreme sweet tooth -- the tiered tea plate is laden with a selection of sandwiches and beautifully presented treats -- Ludicrously Lovely Lemon Loaf Cake, Bang Bang Brownies, Tremendously Terrific Trifle, Fantastic Fondue (fresh fruit, marshmallows and chocolate dipping sauce) and more -- all served with a Magic Milkshake or selection of teas for grown ups.
Stupendous Afternoon Tea takes place from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the four-star hotel's Dial Bar. Prices are £13.75 (about $22) for children, £29.50 ($47) for adults. Each child also receives a complimentary copy of Dahl's much-loved classic to take home. See radissonedwardian.com.
At every time of year, there are dozens of fantastic exhibitions taking place in London's standout cultural institutions.
On my recent visit, I took in Bronze, continuing through Dec. 9 at the Royal Academy of Arts. The shows pulls together 150 pieces from Asia, Africa and Europe -- figures, animals, groups, objects, reliefs, gods and heads -- spanning 5,000 years of human history. Rare pieces such as the 400 BC Chimaera of Arezzo and a sixth-century Buddha are on view, as well as works by prominent artists such as Pablo Picasso, Henry Moore, Auguste Rodin and Donatello. See royalacademy.org.uk.
Other must-see exhibitions:
-- Renaissance To Goya: Prints and drawings from Spain, through Jan. 6 at the British Museum. This free exhibition showcases works by important Spanish and European artists from the mid-16th through the mid-19th centuries. See britishmuseum.org.
-- Hollywood Costume, to Jan. 27 at Victoria & Albert Museum. A hundred years of memorable costumes from the Wizard of Oz to Spider Man to Avatar. See vam.ac.uk.
-- Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde, through Jan. 13 at Tate Britain. Masterpieces by the "rebels" of Victorian art. See tate.org.uk/Britain.
-- Ansel Adams: Photography from the Mountains to the Sea, through April 28 at the National Maritime Museum. A major retrospective focused around the American photographer's life-long fascination with water.
If you plan to visit many museums and galleries, a National Art Pass can be real money-saver. See artfund.org/pass for details.
A NEW VIEW
For a different perspective on London, hop on the new Emirates Air Line for a scenic 1-km cable-car trip across the River Thames from the Royal Docks to Greenwich Peninsula. Sponsored by Dubai-based Emirates airline, 34 glass-front gondolas transport up to 2,500 passengers per hour in each direction while gliding 90 metres above the Thames. The 10-minute trip offers views of iconic landmarks such as O2 Arena, Canary Wharf and The Shard. See tfl.gov.uk and click on Emirates Air Line.
WALK THIS WAY
London is a great walking city. Visitors can join one of many excellent guided walks organized by outfits such as London Walks (walks.com). These run the gamut from general sightseeing to special interests such as Jack the Ripper walks, Harry Potter walks, ghost walks, spy walks, etc. And you can just stroll about on your own. In addition to dozens of major attractions such as Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, St. Paul's Cathedral, Tower Bridge, Tower of London, etc., the city is full of wonderful architecture in a range of different styles, beautiful monuments, stately statues and modern art. While strolling near the Dorchester Hotel on Park Lane, I encountered La Dolce Vita -- Lorenzo Quinn's giant aluminum sculpture of a child's hand holding a Vespa moped. It's part of the Halcyon Gallery's public art program.
Take along a good guide book or online app to help identify what you are seeing. Don't forget to wear comfortable shoes and bring a lightweight umbrella.
Uber-trendy May Fair Hotel, also part of Radisson Edwardian Blu, has a Winter Treats package starting from £205 (about $325) per night from now until Jan. 20. The deal includes accommodation, full English breakfast and a festive Afternoon Tea for two each day of your stay, shopping incentives, and 20% off dining at the in-house Quince restaurant.
Located on Stratton St., the five-star boutique hotel has one of the best locations in Mayfair, steps from leafy Green Park, the London Underground (aka the Tube), Picadilly, restaurants, and the charming Shepherd Market area, where Prince William, the Duchess and her sister Pippa were recently spotted at 5 Hertford Street, the area's most exclusive club.
During the festive season, guests who feel overwhelmed by holiday chores can call on the May Fair's Christmas Concierge. The team will be on hand to book tickets for hot shows and events, provide tips for finding the perfect "pressie" and more.
NEED TO KNOW
For details on all aspects of travel in Britain, contact visitbritain.com. Air Canada has regularly scheduled direct flights from Toronto and other gateways in Canada to London's Heathrow airport. See aircanada.com.
After clearing customs, the Heathrow Express train will deliver you to Paddington Station in less than 15 minutes, where you can connect to the Tube or take a taxi to your hotel.
London's quick efficient Tube criss-crosses the city. So grab a system map, apply some cash to an Oyster Card and off you go. The prepaid Oyster cards offer the best fares on many forms of public transit. After a few days, you'll be navigating the Tube like a local and wondering what is wrong with our city leaders when it comes to public transit. See tfl.gov.uk/tickets.