Starting at the top of the London Eye, Julia Shallcrass discovers London attractions and local haunts.
Circling above the city of London, the EDF Energy London Eye offers a unique vista of this vast city.
This giant Ferris wheel is a recent feat of engineering, with spokes and a central hub like the wheel of a bicycle.
We reach a height of 135 metres inside one of its fully enclosed glass capsules. The 30-minute rotation allows us ample time to find our bearings: the River Thames and the city of London stretch out below us like a map. We look out for landmarks like the Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and the bullet-like Shard, the tallest building in western Europe.
Designed at the start of the millennium, the London Eye is now the most popular paid for attraction in the UK, so it pays to pre-book your ticket for priority queuing.
Once we step off the iconic London Eye, we visit top tourist attractions and catch up with Kiwi expat friends for an insider's view of London.
For a closer view of London, visit these top destinations:
Thames River Cruise
Cruise the Thames River for an overview of London history and attractions. The "London Eye River Cruise" is a 40-minute circulatory cruise, and includes a commentary about the city's history. It proves a much quicker and easier way to see London than the double decker buses.
Aboard the river cruise, we learn that the Thames once divided two cities: the posh city of Westminster, which is home to the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, and Westminster Abbey; and the City of London, where Southbank was once known for its ruffians and actors, including actors at the Globe Theatre.
The legacy of Shakespeare lives on at Shakespeare's Globe theatre in London. If you don't have time to watch a play, check out the exhibition and learn the history and reconstruction of the Globe with a tour.
Our theatrical tour guide Katie tells us about the original Globe theatre built in 1599, which burned to the ground in 1613. Apparently sparks flew from a loaded cannon during a production of Henry VIII, and ignited the Globe's thatched roof.
Today you can gain an authentic Shakespearean experience by watching actors perform in the replica theatre - without the authentic cannon fire.
Gordon Ramsay at Claridge's Restaurant
We dine for lunch at Gordon Ramsay at Claridge's, a restaurant based in the opulent Claridge's Hotel. In case we see the wild-mouthed Gordon Ramsay, we dress up to avoid a dressing-down - but alas, the chef is not here today. Service is attentive, without a four letter word in earshot.
My highlight amongst the three course lunch is the lavender and white chocolate crème brûlée: delicate and exquisite. At £30 per person for a set three course lunch, this is fine dining that even the credit card can digest.
Piano Kensington Bar
If you have Kiwi friends who have stayed in London long enough to gain UK citizenship, or at least acquire the plummy accent, they should know the city's trendiest bars.
We meet Kiwi friends for drinks and tapas at the Piano Kensington bar. This cosy bar has the ambience of a pianist plays pop artists' covers on the grand piano. We are glad we booked a table in advance, as the bar becomes high-spirited throughout the night.
If London is calling, book the EDF Energy London Eye and London Eye River Cruise before you go: londoneye.com/TicketsAndPrices
Book tickets to Shakespeare's Globe: shakespearesglobe.com
Reserve a table at Gordon Ramsay at Claridge's Restaurant: gordonramsay.com/claridges
Reserve a table at Piano Kensington Bar: pianokensington.com