Britain's capital is genuinely a world-class city, with a centuries-old heritage, a spicy mix of cultures, and arts and history gloriously on show. Take in five of the best places in London – from royal parks and abbeys to the immense observation wheel on the Thames – all wrapped up in quintessential British quirkiness.

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1. The British Museum

Ancient Egyptians, Aztecs and Vikings meet at one of the world's largest and oldest museums. Thousands of exhibits bridging 2 million years of history would take days to fully explore, so be selective. Find out how the Rosetta Stone unlocked the hieroglyphs' secrets, and peep at Egyptian mummies and Nesperennub's ornately painted coffin. Entry is free, so pop back whenever you're in the Bloomsbury neighborhood.

2. Westminster Abbey

From Harold's 1066 coronation to the 2011 wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, this Gothic abbey has celebrated British royalty. It's a treasure trove of stained glass, monumental sculptures and the tombs of 17 monarchs. In the Poets' Corner, a rose window lights up the memorials and gravestones of great literary figures, including William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens. Every Sunday at 5:45 pm, enjoy a free recital showcasing the magnificent Harrison pipe organ.

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3. The National Gallery

With Van Gogh's swirling sunflowers, Rembrandt's somber self-portrait and Monet's delicate bathers, this museum houses a truly great collection of Western European art. And, like many of the best places in London, there's no charge for entry. You'll find it easy to move through the 13th through the 20th centuries in its well-signposted, high-ceilinged rooms. Take a break outside on Trafalgar Square, where Nelson's Column looms 169 feet above.

4. The South Bank

After your 30-minute ride on the London Eye observation wheel, explore the River Thames' South Bank. Stroll at your own pace past the multi-arts Southbank Centre and National Theatre, busy and dazzling at night thanks to colored florescent lights and regular free events outside. The stalls under Waterloo Bridge are filled with second-hand books and antique tomes. Meanwhile, boats – from commuter catamarans to sightseeing vessels – traverse London's famous waterway. Why not get aboard?

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5. Regent's Park

Londoners love their city's verdant spaces. Join them at Regent's Park, once Henry VIII's hunting ground. After you've strolled rose gardens rich with birdlife and heard recitals in a Victorian bandstand, drift in a rowboat on the lake. Nearby Primrose Hill is one of the best places in London to view such landmarks as the Millennium Dome and the Post Office Tower. In summer, make reservations for a Shakespeare play at the fairytale-like Open Air Theatre.