11th March 2001

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Lose yourself in London

Get set to travel. Yes, in our new holiday promotion in association with Mackinnons Travels and Keells Hotels, there are heaps of exciting prizes lined up for you. Look out for this space over the next few weeks as The Sunday Times together with Mackinnons Travels and Keells Hotels brings you great offers both in Sri Lanka and some wonderful foreign destinations. All you have to do is read the article published here and answer the questions on the coupon. Readers can send in as many coupons as they like but they should not be photocopies. Please paste the coupon on a postcard and address to Great Getaways, C/o The Sunday Times, No. 8, Hunupitiya Cross Road, Colombo 2.

The closing date for entries is March 20, 2001. All those taking part will be eligible to win the grand prize of a free airticket to any one of the two destinations featured this month. The grand draw will be held at the end of March and the winners announced on April 20. Employees of Wijeya Newspapers Ltd., Mackinnons Travels and Keells Hotels are not eligible to take part in this promotion.

Cosmopolitan London is an engaging mix ture of the Third and First worlds, of chauffeurs and beggars, of the establishment, the avowedly working class and the avant-garde.

Unlike comparable European cities, much of London looks unplanned and grubby, but that is part of its appeal. Visiting London is like being let loose on a giant-sized Monopoly board clogged with traffic.

Lose yourself in LondonThe main geographical feature of the city is the River Thames, which meanders through Central London, dividing it into northern and southern halves. The central area and the most important sights, theatres and restaurants are within the Underground's Circle Line on the north bank of the river. The trendy and tourist-ridden West End lies within the western portion of the loop, and includes Soho, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square and Regent Street. The East End lies east of the Circle Line. It used to be the exclusive preserve of the Cockney but is now a cultural melting pot. There are interesting inner city suburbs in North London, including Notting Hill and Camden Town. South London includes a mess of poor, dirty, graffiti-ridden suburbs, like Brixton, which have vibrant, tribal subcultures of their own.

London is a year-round tourist centre, with few of its attractions closing or significantly reducing their opening hours in winter. Your best chance of good weather is at the height of summer, in July or August, although there is no guarantee of sun even in these months. The biggest crowds and highest prices can be expected at this time.

April/May and September/October are good times to visit London, when there's a fair chance of good weather and queues for popular attractions are much shorter. The cost of travel and accommodation in London would also be cheaper. If however, you do not mind braving the cold weather and the lack of sunshine, the cheapest fares and hotel prices are from November to March.

London offers visitors a wealth of famous attractions. Westminster Abbey, resting place of the royals, is one of the most visited churches in the Christian world. It is a beautiful building full of tombs and monuments. St. Paul's Cathedral, constructed by Christopher Wren between 1675 and 1710, stands on the site of two previous cathedrals. Its famous dome is the biggest in the world after St. Peter's in Rome. Westminster Cathedral, the headquarters of Britain's Catholic Church, is a prime example of neo-Byzantine architecture in the city.

Buckingham Palace, home to the royal family, the Tower of London, once a castle and palace, later used to imprison many well known figures in British history, the Houses of Parliament and No. 10 Downing Street, the official residence of the British Prime Minister are much visited sites in the city.

The British Museum is the oldest and most august museum in the world, while the Victoria & Albert Museum has an eclectic mix of nearly four million artefacts on display. The Natural History Museum, is one of London's finest Gothic-revival buildings.

Covent Garden, once a vegetable field attached to Westminster Abbey, later a major fruit and vegetable market, is now a triumph of conservation and commerce. The car-free piazza is surrounded by designer gift and clothes shops, hip bars and restaurants.

London is the venue of countless festivals and events. The calendar of events kicks off with the New Year's street party in Trafalgar Square. The end of May sees the colourful Chelsea Flower show. "Trooping the Colour", the Queen's birthday parade is held in June and Wimbledon Tennis is on for two weeks during the same month.

The Royal Tournament, Notting Hill Carnival, Horseman's Sunday, Guy Fawkes Day and the Lord Mayor's show are popular events of the second half of the year.

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