You could spot us a mile off - jet-lagged foreigners who couldn't quite comprehend why we were repeatedly confronted by bolted gates at every station to London's famed Underground.

Apparently my my two-day whirlwind stay in England's capital precisely synchronised with a rail strike. Awkward. Particularly when you're on a tight time frame.

Yet, there was a silver lining. On streets I would have whizzed beneath on the train I was thrilled to glimpse familiar names from books or film, and window-shopped at a multitude of tiny, arcane speciality shops.

But it was culture that I was really here for.

First up, St Paul's Cathedral. That Baroque architectural gem has dominated London's crowded skyline for 300 years. The site has been a centre of worship since at least 604AD, but I found little respectful acknowledgment of the Almighty as I joined noisy sightseers stampeding through its doors. (I fancy architect Sir Christopher Wren would not have contemplated its use as a location-shoot for Karl Lagerfeld's latest incarnation of the Royal Ballet tutu, either.) An £80 million restoration has ensured visitors' heads will be mostly tilted upwards to capture the full glory of the gilt ceiling mosaics and elaborate wood carvings. Much fun can also be derived from a trip upstairs to the Whispering Gallery, where well-chosen words carry your voice to the opposite side, some 32m away.

Downstairs in the chilly crypt, there's plenty of monumentally ugly memorials to national heroes to observe and, somewhat macabrely, upmarket dining options at the new cafe and restaurant.

Next to tick off the list was Buckingham Palace and the opportunity to shake hands with the Duke of Edinburgh, who had dutifully dragged himself out on his 88th birthday.

The bows and curtsies over with, it was time to walk the palace halls, taking in the Queen's Gallery - her impressive art collection - and the striking State Rooms where HM evidently likes pink. A lot.

The next day I made an early morning dash to the free British Museum, since I'd always had a hankering to view the Elgin Marbles. Having satisfactorily taken in a reconstituted Parthenon and other ancient artefacts, I struggled in vain for a decent view of the famed Rosetta Stone, evidently much-loved by snap-happy tourists. Instead I consoled myself with a wander through the upmarket gift shop, practically an attraction in itself. FYI: If you ever want a life-size marble statue of a Roman warrior, he's yours for the NZ$25,000.

From there I bolted across the river to the famed arty South Bank, and the historic, very busy Borough Market, where organic produce is on sale to famous chefs and the public alike. It's fun strolling the great maze of booths looking at all manner of delicacies.

Stomach filled with tasty market treats, it was off to the Tate Modern. From the outside, the building has the charm and ambience of a giant crematorium but this temple to modern art is well worth a visit. Hugely popular and free, it is arranged on levels according to themes, which accounts for the somewhat head-scratching juxtaposition of some of the more "challenging" exhibits. But it also has a delightful bonus - expansive views of the city across the Thames from the cafes.

Later that night, in a fitting end to my brief re-acquaintance with a city renowned for its theatrical delights, it was off to the crowd-pleasing musical Billy Elliott.

- Ann Newbery travelled to Britain courtesy of Emirates and Visit Britain.