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How to entertain yourself while you wait for your turn in the London Eye.
CNN Insider Guides are thoroughly checked for accuracy. Given the fluid nature of the travel industry, however, some listings may fall out of date before guides can be updated. The best practice is to confirm current information on official websites before making plans to visit any business or attraction.
(CNN)Buckingham Palace, the Dickens Museum, Hyde Park, a Hitchcock walking tour, Kew Gardens, Shakespeare's Globe Theater, St. Paul's cathedral, the Thames, Wimbledon -- these are just a few examples of the best of London.
It should be no surprise that a city 2,000 years old is an alphabetic mishmash of things to gawp at.
But like a Dickensian novel, the best of London's real character seeps out of the cracks that split its major attractions.
Yes, London is the world's financial capital (along with New York), yes it's Europe's cultural hub and, yes, more than 300 languages are spoken within its perimeter.
But we don't care about any of that, mate.
Transport links have been improved, hotels have had facelifts and restaurants have been refitted.
London looks better as a result and now -- before the dust and grime settle down again -- is a great time to visit the city.
Hotels this quaint go for £351 per night.
It came a year late and £100 million over budget, but in October 2010 one of the world's most legendary hotels opened its doors after a rumored £200 million facelift.
Unlike some facelifts, however, the results for this old lady --- now owned by an Arab sheikh and run by Canadians --- are impressive.
Perfectly located for the shops of Covent Garden and the cinemas of Leicester Square, it was Marilyn Monroe's London hotel of choice and, if you can stretch to the £400-plus nightly fee, it can to become yours.
The acclaimed Savoy Grill -- now in the hands of acerbic celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay (do not expect the steaks to be as blue as his language) -- can be expensive, but is not overpriced.
Tip: rooms 328, 428, 528, 628 enjoy river views but entry-level prices.
The Savoy, The Strand, London WC2R 0EU England; +44 (0)20 7836 4343
Charlotte Street Hotel
Situated in London's media neighborhood just north of Soho, this former dental hospital now contains 52 individually designed rooms, including loft and penthouse suites.
The huge, comfortable beds and trademark polished granite and oak bathrooms are suitably indulgent, and some rooms have luxuriously high ceilings.
Tip: if you can afford it, go for one of the split-level loft suites.
Among other things they feature TVs in the bathroom.
A pound for a room? Take a dozen and still have change for a show.
A pound for a room?
Take a dozen and still have change for a show.
This smart budget option could not be better located, bang in the middle of the capital's most buzzing nightlife area.
The Hoxton has been a big hit since it opened in 2006, not least for its famed £1 rooms, which it sells throughout the year.
A word of warning: during the last sale, 500 rooms were booked in less than 10 minutes.
There are no mini-bars, suites, or turndown service, but you do get complimentary Wi-Fi, a banana, yogurt and orange juice for breakfast and one hour of free calls each day to anywhere except "Costa Fortune," according to the management.
Tip: when Pret A Manger sandwich shop entrepreneur Sinclair Beecham opened this 205-room hotel, he used the no‑frills airline approach to setting room rates -- the earlier you book, the less you pay.
Just along from the Ritz Hotel, the Wolseley exudes history and style.
Housed in a former car showroom, and later a branch of Barclays bank, it has vaulted ceilings, polished marble, an art deco interior and the odd celebrity.
Poached native lobster, Cornish crab, two types of caviar and three kinds of oyster decorate the menu.
Harden's has tipped The Wolseley as an excellent business restaurant, but the look and feel is anything but stuffy, so leave the laptop in the office.
Traditional English breakfast here is a must and, with a reported 1,000 covers each day, so is booking ahead.
The Wolseley, 160 Piccadilly, London W1J 9EB England; +44 (0)20 7499 6996
Head to the exclusive Mayfair area of London for dinner and you might expect to need a government bailout to settle your bill.
Not so at Wild Honey.
Value is the theme in the wood-paneled dining room with favorites including crisp ox tongue and slow-cooked venison.
The Saturday lunch menu will set you back £29, as does the a la carte.
The cheeseboard is excellent.
Wild Honey, 12 St George Street, London W1S 2FB England; +44 (0)20 7758 9160
Great location, excellent service.
Aurora on Lexington Street is small, intimate and has excellent service.
The walls are painted a bohemian blood red with the interior dark, cozy and unpretentious.
The modern European menu is as equally unfussy and changes each month.
There are two sittings, one at 7:15 p.m. and the other at 9:15 p.m. --- opt for the latter and you can finish off at one of the many late-night bars of Soho, London's boozy and sometimes seedy entertainment quarter.
Tables on the ground floor enjoy a better ambiance than those downstairs.
Cunningly named, the Booking Office sits on the site of the old booking hall of St. Pancras station and is found in the lobby of the refurbished St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel.
It's a great place to enjoy a cocktail while admiring what is undoubtedly one of the architectural wonders of the capital -- a magnificent red-brick Gothic masterpiece that was formerly the Midland Grand Hotel.
The Midland Grand closed almost 80 years ago and only narrowly avoided demolition.
It was reopened in 2011 after a seemingly never-ending £150-million refit.
The cocktail menu lives up to the surroundings and shows a deep respect for the history (and abundance) of British drinking with sours, fizzes and cobblers.
The Booking Office, St Pancras Renaissance Hotel Euston Road, London NW1 2AR England; +44 (0)20 7841 3566
It's dark, it's dingy and the waiters shush you if you talk over the numbers.
Ella, Miles and Curtis are just some of the greats to have graced Ronnie's down the years.
This seminal jazz club tucked away on Soho's Frith Street is worth a visit even if you don't like jazz.
It's jazz hands all-round if you do.
Tables are arranged in neat, tiered rows around a sunken stage, with luminous red lamps dotted around the dim room.
Seats are priced according to the view and act.
Cocktails are very much a club asset.
Unfortunately they've stopped serving The Ellington, apparently a favorite of the Duke himself, but the choice is plentiful.
Forget eating here -- it's not the main draw and largely a disappointment.
Hailed as the world's best department store by many industry insiders, Selfridges dominates the west end of Oxford Street and is made up of six floors, four hectares of shopping space and two exhibition halls.
Although second to Harrods in terms of size and celebrity, it's less touristy, more cutting-edge and attracts a more discerning clientele.
It's high-end, high-octane and comes highly recommended.
You can stay the whole day, leave empty-handed and still feel like Julia Roberts in that scene from "Pretty Woman."
In any case, it contains 10 restaurants to keep your energy levels up while its personal shoppers can do the hard work for you.
London's oldest market --- dating to the 13th century --- is also its busiest.
On the banks of the Thames just south of London Bridge, you'll find beautifully displayed organic fruit and veg, cheese, cakes, bread, olive oil, fish, meat, beer, wine and chocolate.
Go hungry, go early, sample everything and bring cash -- few stallholders accept credit cards.
Londoners bore visitors to death about how great the views are from Waterloo Bridge, but they have a point.
Although it contends for the title of ugliest bridge in London, the views are inspiring, and you can save yourself the money it costs to ride the London Eye (and the one-hour wait) and head here.
On one hand are the Royal Festival Hall, Elizabeth Tower (as Big Ben has been renamed to commemorate the queen's Diamond Jubilee), the Houses of Parliament and the BT Tower.
Looking in the other direction you can take in the views of St. Paul's, Canary Wharf, the Gherkin (as the rather phallic skyscraper properly called 30 St. Mary Axe is dubbed), the Oxo Tower and the recently completed Shard, which cost £450 million to build and at 310 meters is the tallest building in the European Union.