Piracy of the Caribbean III: Now a Trilogy!

Much like our trip to the Caribbean early next year, the history of the Caribbean is not only told on land but on the high seas as well. Piracy is not only the theme of our adventure, but it was a way of life for hundreds of years as men and women fought the law, and other law breakers, for the ability to live their lives the way they wanted as well as to line their pockets with an appropriate amount of coins. Today we are going to take a look at the legendary Pirates of the high seas and highlight some great stories!

Samuel Bellamy, better known by the moniker of “Black Sam” Bellamy, was an English pirate who roamed the seas in the early 18th century. Bellamy was born in 1689 to parents Stephen and Elizabeth in Devonshire, England. The youngest of six children he took up sailing very early in his life and by the time he was in his teenage years he had joined the Royal Navy and fought in many conflicts. He had a wild affair with a woman by the name of Maria Hallett, sometimes called the ‘Witch of Wellfleet’ for the belief that she used witchcraft to curse Bellamy when he did not return to her in a prompt fashion. Bellamy turned to a life of piracy and was very effective in the year he was active, even crossing paths with the man who would one day become known as Blackbeard! Bellamy would go on to capture or sink 53 ships in that short span and he became feared throughout the New World for his brilliant tactics and the ruthlessness that he managed to display. Just two months after acquiring the Whydah, a massive ship which was the largest pirate ship up until that point, it crashed off the coast of Massachusetts and claimed Bellamy’s life. Much of Bellamy’s fame came after his death, as it was calculated by Forbes that Bellamy was actually the richest pirate of all time, being worth over 130 million dollars at the time of his death when accounting for inflation.

Captain William Kidd was a Scottish sailor who sailed in the 17th century. He was tried and executed for piracy after returning from a trip that had sent him to the Indian Ocean. Many historians now believe that Kidd’s piracy charges were actually trumped up and that he was a mere privateer. What has contributed to the great myth about the man though is the belief that he left buried treasure behind to be found. This belief has penetrated popular culture for a long time, earning mentions in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Gold-Bug” and perhaps most famously in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

Have you decided the pirate’s life is for you? Fantastic! We are proud to be hosting the Black Pearl Ball, which is our welcome aboard Masquerade party!We want you looking like a proper, landowning pirate of course! Can’t have you show up in rags, what would the ‘Gentleman Pirate’ think of that!? For some good ideas for pirate outfits as well as accessories, go here. And for all of the details about our Drag Stars at Sea: Pirates of the Caribbean, go here.

 

A ‘Dam’ Fine History Lesson!

Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it, or otherwise just not know as many neat factoids about the areas they travel while visiting around the world as they perhaps should. Whether it be doom or ignorance, I’m here to help cure the ailment. Today I talk about Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, whose rich history is perfectly paired with its artistry!

The origins of Amsterdam make perfect sense, given its name. In the latter half of the 12th century locals of the river Amstel built a bridge over and a dam across the river, thus the name ‘Aemstelredamme.” The name is quite literal! An important year in the city’s long history is 1275. The ruling Count of Holland granted traders, sailors, and fishermen exemption from the high tolls all across the region. This gave the citizens the right to travel freely throughout the land without having to pay any tolls at bridges, locks, and dams. The richness of the city can be traced back to this granting of rights because merchants from all over Europe could come to the city and sell their wares at a more competitive rate than anywhere else. Amsterdam is a rather young city compared to many of the other cities in the Netherlands, not being granted city status until early in 14th century. After the miracle of Amsterdam occurred Amsterdam saw many pilgrimages from the Roman Catholic Church in order to celebrate it. The city has suffered through two major fires, one in 1421 and one in 1452. After the second one, where three quarters of the city was destroyed, the Emperor at the time ordered it to be rebuilt.

In the 16th century the Dutch rebelled against the king of Spain, Philip II. One of the main issues of concern, outside of the lack of political power for local nobility, was the Spanish’s marked intolerance when it came to religion. The Dutch believed, and to this day still believe, in the free exercise of religion and chuffed at the attitude shown by the king. As the religious wars raged through Europe over the decades many religious groups sought refuge due to the great tolerance of the Dutch. The 17th century marked what is considered to be Amsterdam’s Golden Age. Ships from the city sailed to locations all across the globe and by doing so established a worldwide trading network. The merchants of the city, incredibly wealthy as they were, financed expeditions all over the world and acquired possessions which would later form the basis for the Dutch colonies.

 

No discussion of Amsterdam can be completed without talking about two of its most important artists. Rembrandt, born in 1606, is widely regarded as one of the best painters to have ever lived. One of the characteristics of his work was the theatrical employment of both light and shadow in his works to express the mood of the painting. He had a flair for the dramatic as well, and his compassion for mankind shone through in his work. Vincent Van Gogh was born in 1853 and his life was always a struggle. The horrors of mental illness always seemed to be awaiting around the corner for young Vincent, whose anxiety dogged him at every step. Critics note that while his early work is marred by his inconsistency, his later work has a sense of control that speaks to a man who was able to keep his demons at bay, even if only for a time. One of his finest works is the Starry Night, pictured above, which is considered by many to be one of the most recognizable additions to the Western culture.

Amsterdam has a lot of history at its back, as well as people who have made the Dutch people synonymous with cultural impact. We are very pleased to be able to take you there as part of our taste of Europe pre tour, which leads you into the Drag Stars at Sea: Europe Allstars! For all of the information about this great trip, go here.

Introducing the Scoundrel to Spain, Sir Francis Drake!

Much like our trip to the Caribbean early next year, the history of the Caribbean is not only told on land but on the high seas as well. Piracy is not only the theme of our adventure, but it was a way of life for hundreds of years as men and women fought the law, and other law breakers, for the ability to live their lives the way they wanted as well as to line their pockets with an appropriate amount of coins. Every Monday we are going to take a look at the legendary Pirates of the high seas and highlight some great stories! Today I am highlighting one legendary man, who led many successful campaigns within the Caribbean as well as all over the world.

Sir Francis Drake is a man of contention between the English and the Spanish. To his people in England he was a national hero, and why wouldn’t he be? He led several attacks against their enemies and was a capable ship captain. Not only that, but he became the first Englishman to lead an expedition that circumnavigated the globe successfully. In a strange note about the man’s mannerisms it is said that before he had a supposed mutineer, Thomas Doughty, beheaded he granted the man’s request for communion and while they were eating they both laughed like old friends and kept good cheer despite the circumstances. Drake’s greatest early success is undoubtedly the raid he perpetrated at Panama in 1573. It was hard fought, and involved the Spanish dogging their steps, but eventually they made out with several tons of treasure to bring back home. Drake, having been sent ahead and looking quite a mess, played a joke on his men who were awaiting him off island by appearing disappointed before pulling out a necklace of Spanish gold and giving them the good news.

As much as such successes made him a hero to England, it equally made him a villain to the Spanish people. He led successful attacks on Vigo and Santiago before selling across the Atlantic and sacking Santo Domingo and capturing Cartagena de Indias, which is present day Colombia. To top it off, he raided the Spanish fort of San Augustin in Florida. So angered was the Spanish King Philip II he ordered the invasion of England. Drake, not nearly having finished with the Spanish yet, launched a pre-emptive strike and ‘singed the beard of the King of Spain’ in 1587 by going into Cadiz and Corunna, two of Spain’s most important ports, and took the harbors. Afterwards he patrolled the Iberian coasts and disrupted the Spanish supply line in a major way. Due to the nature of these attacks the Spanish invasion force was delayed by nearly a year. When the Spanish Armada finally made its attempt to invade England Drake, a vice admiral at the time, won many battles for the English and contributed mightily to the defense of his homeland.

All good things must come to an end though, and so Drake’s success against the Spanish would as well. In his fifties he failed to conquer the port of Las Palmas, and led a disastrous campaign against Spanish America where he suffered numerous defeats. In his final conflict he led an unsuccessful attack on San Juan, Puerto Rico, eventually losing the famous ‘Battle of San Juan.’ He survived the encounter, but died weeks later of dysentery while anchored near Panama. With his dying breaths he asked to be dressed in his full armor and to be buried at sea. His wishes were respected and he was buried in a lead coffin near Portobelo, where explorers still search for the infamous coffin to this day. A hero to some, a villain to others, Sir Francis Drake left an indelible mark on history.

Have you decided the pirate’s life is for you? Fantastic! We are proud to be hosting the Black Pearl Ball, which is our welcome aboard Masquerade party! You have to do Sir Francis Drake proud of course, you can’t be looking like a scoundrel now can you? For some good ideas for pirate outfits as well as accessories, go here. And for all of the details about our Drag Stars at Sea: Pirates of the Caribbean, go here.

Loving on Landmarks in the City of Love, Paris!

We are very proud to offer trips all around the world, and we are invested in letting others see why we are so passionate about the places we go. The world is a very big place, and within it are numerous sights to see that are unique as they are beautiful, historically significant, or both. Today we are going to go to Paris, France, the city of love sparkles with many jewels to delight!

No discussion of Paris can begin without first touching upon the ever iconic Eiffel Tower. Named after its engineer, Gustave Eiffel, the tower was constructed in 1889 as the entrance arch to that year’s World’s Fair. Originally meant to be taken down, the tower endured the strong initial criticism of many French artists to become an enduring symbol for the city. One of the most sought after tourist destinations in the world, millions of people ascend the roughly 81 story tall tower every year and recently it saw its 250 millionth visitor! At the time of its construction it was the world’s tallest manmade structure, not being surpassed until over forty years later. The tower has three levels which are open to the public, with the first two being restaurants for visitors to enjoy the view. The third level is an observatory platform that is over 900 feet off the ground, which marks it as the highest accessible such platform to the public in the whole of the European Union.

 

The Arc de Triomphe is a well-regarded landmark and a stunningly beautiful symbol of French patriotism. The Arc was built to honor those who fought and died for France in the Napoleonic and French Revolutionary Wars. The names of all French generals as well as their victories are etched onto the surface of the structure. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, built to honor those who were lost in World War I and then later the Second World War, lies beneath its vault. The monument stands over 50 meters in height and is 45 meters wide, which marked it as the tallest triumphal arch in existence for nearly twenty years before a larger one was built in Mexico City. The Arc quickly became a rallying point to the French military, with troops celebrating in the vicinity of it after successful military campaigns as well as for the annual Bastille Day Military Parade. The monument is thought to be the linchpin of Paris’ famous Axe historique, a series of buildings and thoroughfares that showcase French history in an inspirational manner.

The Notre-Dame Cathedral, or simply Notre-Dame, is a historic Catholic cathedral in the fourth arrondissement of Paris. It is widely held to be one of the greatest examples of French Gothic architecture, and it is among the largest and most revered church buildings in the entire world. The cathedral takes on the role as the Archdiocese of Paris, which makes it the official chair of the archbishop of Paris. The treasury inside is noteworthy for housing some of the most important relics in Catholicism, including the Crown of Thorns and one of the Holy Nails. The building suffered major desecration during the French Revolution when much of its religious symbolism was harmed or destroyed, which was mended partially by an extensive restoration in 1845 and a further restoration that began in 1991.

There are, of course, many other historically significant and amazing landmarks to see in the vast city of Paris, too many to ever cover in a single article. From amazing feats of art, to a stunning display of French militaristic patriotism, to a monolith of religious awe there are a lot of treats to be seen in the famed city of love. You can be there soon with our Taste of Europe pre tour that is part of our Drag Stars at Sea: Europe Allstars! For all of the exciting information on this trip, go here.

 

 

Tackling St. Lucia by Sky and by Ground!

We will be traveling to various places around the Caribbean as part of our Drag Stars at Sea: Pirates of the Caribbean and we here know that people like a certain amount of adventure whenever they travel abroad. To that end we are going to look at some of the exciting prospects at our destinations and show you a few ideas for you to have a great time on this or any other trip to the Caribbean. Today we stop into St. Lucia, where the treetop adventures are only the half of it!

The Treetop Adventure Park is reputed to be the # 1 attraction in all of St. Lucia, and why wouldn’t it be? Located in the heart of St. Lucia’s rainforest it is a one of a kind adventure that is fun for everyone! Before you begin the zip-lining adventure you make your way to the eastern side of the island, where it is located, with a very knowledgeable guide who will teach you about the history of the island as well as provide all sorts of facts about the habitat around you. The guides have even been known to catch snakes so that the people they are guiding can have an up close and personal view of the wildlife! The tour is excellent, but the real fun is of course exploring the area for yourself as you race along a zip-line! You will soar three hundred feet above the ground and have a view of the canopies the entire time. The view, usually reserved for birds, is gorgeous and nearly everyone who has had a word to say about the experience has been nothing but glowing. There are twelve zip-lines in all, each with a more breathtaking view than the last. You can book online here for a very reasonable rate! Just be sure to get that booking in at least 24 hours in advance, we wouldn’t want you to miss out on such a great time!

 

Pigeon Island National Park offers many breathtaking views and is a must visit during any excursion to St. Lucia! The cost of entry is only around 5 dollars and once inside there are many places to explore. The first thing many sightseers will notice are some lovely ruins just inside of the park which show off a bit of the Island’s history. One of the great views comes from the long abandoned British Fort Rodney, used in its heyday to spy on the French in the area. Once you make it up there the entire north half of the island falls within your gaze, so don’t forget to soak it all in! You can see the shoreline and hills all the way past Castries! You can also climb down to a musket port if you so wish, but the best part about this place is the view! If you’re feeling very adventurous you could also try to brave Signal Hill, which is a bit of a climb but the bounty that awaits you is well worth it. Signal Hill has, by far, the best view of the entire island, including such views as the picture of Fort Rodney above! Be advised if you are going on this trek that you should bring water though, shade does not appear to exist in between these two amazing points!

Whether it be enjoying the view from the sky or going to locations by ground, St. Lucia is a truly beautiful island with a lot to offer anyone who wishes to brave it! We are really proud to be going here as part of our Drag Stars at Sea: Pirates of the Caribbean! For all of the details about this amazing trip, go here.

The History of Antigua!

Today we are going to be touching on the history of one of the Caribbean’s most luxurious islands, Antigua! It is truly an Island rich with history, albeit some of it dark, which we are going to be visiting as a part of our Drag Stars at Sea: Pirates of the Caribbean trip.

Antigua, which means ancient in Spanish, has a long history. The first known settlement on the Island cropped up around 2900 BC, made up of pre-agricultural Amerindians. When this group died out they were succeeded by agriculturalist Saladoids, named such due to their early adoption of ceramics. These people migrated from Venezuela, and were later replaced by Arawakan speakers, an ancient language that developed in South America, around 1200 AD. While the history of the first two groups is not well documented, the history of the Arawaks is fairly well preserved. They made their way to the Island by canoe from Venezuela after a war with another people and brought wide-spread Agriculture to Antigua. The most famous crop they bought to the Island is the world famous Antiguan Black Pineapple, which is noted for its uncommon sweetness.

The Arawak people were eventually enslaved by yet another segments of people known as the Caribs, whose superior weapons and seafaring ability afforded them many advantages when it came to taking over the Arawak nations. The people of the West Indies made excellent sea vessels that were used to sail the Atlantic and Caribbean. Because of this ability both the Caribs and the Arawaks were able to spread their nations throughout much of South and the Caribbean. Many descendants of these people still live in countries such as Brazil and Colombia.

In 1493 Christopher Columbus sighted islands during his second trip to the new world and named the largest one ‘Santa Maria de la Antigua.’ The population of Caribs made it difficult for them to settle on the island, however, as their fortifications were excellent. It was not until 1632, well over a hundred years later, that England finally managed to colonize the islands by establishing the settlement of St John’s. Once England was in place they began to raise new crops on the island to great success, including tobacco, indigo, ginger, and the ever popular sugarcane cash crops. In the 18th century Antigua also housed the headquarters of the British Royal Navy Caribbean fleet. English Dockyard, which it was nicknamed, was a sheltered and well-protected deep water port and thus made natural sense to be the main base and saw its facilities massively expanded during the latter half of the century. It was not until 1981 that Antigua gained its independence from England.

These days Antigua has put its warring past behind itself and is a beautiful place to visit, featuring all sorts of events and resorts as well as a glimpse into a rather bloody history, all things told. Antigua is just one of the great islands in the Caribbean for someone to delve into past and see what is uncovered! For my look at Old San Juan, go here. For details about our wonderful Drag Stars at Sea: North America: Pirates of the Caribbean please click here.

 

The Rock of Gibraltar!

Gibraltar is a very small country, a little over two square miles, located at the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula at the beginning of the Mediterranean Sea. It has many attractions despite its small size, but none are more famous nor loom as large, both literally and figuratively, than the Rock of Gibraltar.

The Rock of Gibraltar is a monolithic limestone promontory, which basically means it is a big slanting piece of land. It is one of the Pillars of Hercules, denoted as such because it was one of the promontories that flank the entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar. It stands 1,398 feet tall and is a part of the Betic Cordillera mountain range. When one stands atop the Rock you can see the African coastline if you look towards the south, while the heart of the Mediterranean ocean awaits your visage if you stare eastward.

Inside of the Rock there is a labyrinth of tunnels known as the Great Siege Tunnels. The construction of the tunnels began as a way to withstand the Great Siege during the Revolutionary War. France and Spain wished to retake the Rock from Britain and so the man in charge offered a handsome reward for anyone who could find a way to move goes from the northern face of the rock. The idea was a great success and helped quite a bit in the efforts to fend off the overwhelming force. Such was the success that the tunnels were expanded during World War II to further help the war effort.

Sticking underground anyone who visits here should check out St. Michael’s cave! It has been visited for thousands of years as a point of interest because it was believed to be bottomless. Because of this rumor started to spread that the cave was possibly connected to the continent of Africa by a subterranean passage of some length, which also was used to explain where the apes came from. During World War II the cave was prepared as an emergency hospital but was never needed. These days it is known as the Cathedral Cave and makes a wonderfully unique auditorium for all sorts of events.

No trip to the Rock would be complete without discussing the Apes’ Den, which is home to the world famous Barbary Macaques. It is a popular legend among the people of Gibraltar that if the apes – often mistaken for monkeys – leave this place that it will no longer be British. They are descended from North African populations of the same kind. They may be adorable but let me be the first to warn you they are more than a little feisty and they are indeed wild animals, so while you can admire them don’t do so too closely or you might be in for some trouble!

We are proud of the fact that we are going to be stopping in Gibraltar as part of our Drag Stars at Sea: Europe Allstars! For all of the details about that trip, you can go here. 

Indian Cuisine in Lisbon

One of the great things about traveling is the chance to experience different cultures around the world first hand, and there are few better ways to do that then to take a bite of someone’s food. Like music, food is a universal language. We all eat, we enjoy food in vastly different ways, and one person’s supreme meal is another person’s garbage.  I have been doing a lot of research lately when it comes to the highlights of the world, and quite a bit of that time has been devoted to various eateries. Today we go to Lisbon, Portugal and a taste of India!

Fishtail Restaurante is a place that intrigued me from the word go: it is an Indian establishment which uses the Tandoori style of cooking. The Tandoori method, named after the clay oven ‘tandoor’, has its origins in India as well as Pakista. They boast that they stand alone in Lisbon as the only authentic Indian cuisine in the city, and the people who visit there agree wholeheartedly: In my research of various sites with reviews this place has a 95%+ positive rating everywhere! The people who live and visit Lisbon love this place!

Before the food can be discussed, an essential part of Fishtail that makes it stand out from the crowd is the friendly atmosphere and stellar wait staff. There is a clear pattern when locals and tourists alike discuss this restaurant: one of the reasons it is a must see place within Lisbon is how welcoming it is. In a city full of places that can give off a pretentious air this is a great place to simply sit down and relax. The staff is very knowledgeable about the menu and have no problems going over the various options with customers so they select the right choice for them, from the many Indian flavors that make up their plentiful dishes to being acutely aware of how spicy each of their dishes can get, the staff is always willing to make sure the customer has a great time with an accompanying smile on their face.

Their menu is as varied as it is good, with options for meat lovers and leaf eaters alike! They offer a wide range of curry, a food linked heavily with India, for anyone’s palette to enjoy. Their Asparagus and Mushroom special has gotten rave reviews, while their lamb curry with spinach is also quite the crowd pleaser and is perhaps their most popular curry dish. The twist for this place, as the name indicates, is their wide variety of high quality seafood. They serve various fish with the aforementioned curry, bread, and a host of vegetables to give an authentic Indian flavor each and every time in increasingly delicious ways. It cannot be stated enough that if you enjoy spicy food then this place is going to simply blow you away! What is also going to blow you away is the price: for having such high quality food the price is ridiculously cheap, with customers paying an average of fifteen dollars a visit for well portioned meals and drinks.

With great customer service, a great menu, and can’t beat prices I am sure Fishtail should be a part of your Lisbon experience! Remember to check back regularly as I am going to be discussing a great many things in the upcoming weeks about cities all over the world! Need an excuse to explore Europe? We’ve got an amazing excursion for that with the Drag Stars at Sea: Europe Allstars! For details, go here.

Eating in Southampton

One of the great things about traveling is the chance to experience different cultures around the world first hand, and there are few better ways to do that then to take a bite of someone’s food. Like music, food is a universal language. We all eat, we enjoy food in vastly different ways, and one person’s supreme meal is another person’s garbage.  I have been doing a lot of research lately when it comes to the highlights of the world, and quite a bit of that time has been devoted to various eateries. Today I start with Southampton, England and one local favorite in particular.

Today’s focus is going to be on a restaurant called Coco Rio, which is located in the center of Southampton in Bedford place. The atmosphere is a point of pride for them, with an emphasis on their guests relaxing as the tropical magic soothes the soul. They want you to become mellow and have a great time while you are there and the reviews on yelp are in agreement – they do a fantastic job with that!

Coco Rio offers a wide variety of food that is all well received. The backbone of their lunch menu is the ‘soul bowls.’ Done in the tapas style, which is a Spanish way of including a wide variety of appetizers, the bowls come in hundreds of different combinations that will typically include rice, bread, fresh vegetables, and an expertly seasoned meat of your choice. Vegan options are available for this as well!

For the Evening menu the restaurant is well known for their amazing variety and quality of steaks from Rump to Fillet mignon. One of the things that jumps out to me as I peruse the menu and see people talking about the food here is just how many options there are for spice lovers out there! All of the steaks, for example, can come with extra spice cooked in and their brandy pepper sauce is described to be as hot as fire! Their chicken and fish options include a blackened option as well, which excites me as a person who can’t get enough spiciness in his everyday life. For the leaf eaters out there they also serve a Spiced Chickpea & Roasted Chorizo salad which is served in a baked tortilla shell and includes charred sweet potatoes and roasted red peppers. It’s enough to make my mouth water. They have an excellent wine menu, with enough selections of White, Red, and Rosé wine to suit anyone’s palette and meal choice. For those more inclined to knock back a few drinks and have a good time, there is an excellent cocktail menu that has all sorts of tropical delights for the adventurous diner to explore including the old favorite Mai Tai.

Everyone’s favorite part of dining out, dessert, is well accounted for at Coco Rio. They offer a wide variety of teas, coffees, ice creams, and fruit sorbets to be enjoyed! Two items stood out to me though. One was their Coconut Iced Parfait, which includes a charred pineapple and topped with rum syrup. The other is something I never knew I needed in my life: A Banoffee tart. They had me sold when they mixed bananas, cream, and toffee into one piece of food and told me it was served with vanilla ice cream!

If you are in Southampton be sure to stop in and give this place a try, it looks welcoming and delicious. Remember to check back regularly as I am going to be discussing a great many things in the upcoming weeks about cities all over the world! Need an excuse to explore Europe? We’ve got an amazing excursion for that with the Drag Stars at Sea: Europe Allstars! For details, go here.

London: 10 Things to Do

This article was originally posted on Time

1. Tate Modern

Many Britons regard high culture with suspicion. Yet thisgallery devoted to modern art effortlessly pulls in the punters and locals as well as the tourists, and ranks among London’s most-visited attractions. Part of its appeal is the building itself, fashioned by architects Herzog and De Meuron from a vast disused power station on the Thames’s south bank. In addition to blockbuster exhibits and live events, the gallery invites a prominent artist every year to transform its cavernous turbine hall: Chinese artist and dissident Ai Wei Wei blanketed the space with 100 million hand-sculpted and painted porcelain sunflower seeds in 2010; British artist Tacita Dean paid homage to 35mm filmmaking in 2011 with her 11-minute loop of grainy, flickering images projected onto a towering screen at the rear of the hall.

It would be easy to spend the entire day in the gallery, but you might want to get out and walk around the neighborhood: Enter foodie heaven in nearbyBorough Market, where the delis and restaurants are open all week and a farmer’s market operates Friday and Saturday. Directly across the river from the Tate is St Paul’s Cathedral, Sir Christopher Wren’s most celebrated building. To get there you cross the £18.2 million Millennium Bridge, a suspension footbridge completed in 2000, which quickly gained the sobriquet the “Wobbly Bridge.” (They’ve since fixed the wobble.)

2. Marylebone Stroll

What’s the nattiest neighborhood in London? Not leafy Notting Hill, which lost its claim to cool after Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts frolicked through it in the eponymous 1999 rom-com. And not fashionable Hoxton or Shoreditch, even with their spiky-haired, skinny-jeans-clad tribes of cool kids. They’re all worth a look, but the real cool resides in Marylebone, an area so confident of its charms that it doesn’t need to broadcast them.

Lying north of the glossy Selfridges department store and south of Regent’s Park, Marylebone (pronounced mar-le-bone) is an affluent, strollable residential district of white terraced Georgian and Edwardian townhouses, the grandest of which are still single-family. It’s also home to the Wallace Collection, where the girl with the billowing skirts in Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s The Swing remains as seductive as when France’s dirty old master painted her in 1767. The main shopping drag is Marylebone High Street, but the whole area is packed with fabulous shops and restaurants: Come here for everything from haute couture and baby clothes to organic butchery and extravagant cakes. There’s also a specialist travel bookshop calledDaunt Books that’s worth a detour just for its Edwardian fixtures and fittings.

3. The London Eye

Yes, it’s a giant ferris wheel, and, yes, it’s for tourists — but it’s a worth a spin. Once you’ve boarded your glass-sided capsule — each capsule holds 25 people — it will be a half-hour before you get back down. Creeping along at 0.6 miles (0.9 km) per hour, it’s an excruciatingly slow flight, as a trip on the London Eye is called, but from the top of the 443-foot (135-m) wheel you’ll be rewarded with gloriously unimpeded views over London. At night, take one of the special “champagne flights,” and you’ll find yourself in one of the capital’s best bars. Continue a scenic theme with dinner and drinks at Skylon, a dimly lit lounge and restaurant overlooking the Thames with floor-to-ceiling windows.

4. Inns of Court

You might easily overlook the small arched entrance to Middle Temple, one of the four remaining Inns of Court, which are responsible for training all of Britain’s barristers. The Inns were first established in the 14th century and housed in large, walled compounds; today, judges and barristers still work, study and sometimes live in these enchanted precincts. Beyond the gates of Middle Temple (locked overnight and on weekends), on the south side of the Strand where it morphs into Fleet Street, lies a time capsule. Step into the Elizabethan banqueting house, Middle Temple Hall. It’s a real-life Hogwarts, but twice as magical.

5. J. Sheekey

If you like your dinner with a side order of celebrity, head to one of Caprice Holdings’ restaurants: Le Caprice, a sleek art deco brasserie just behind the Ritz hotel, the Ivy or J. Sheekey; the latter two are in London’s theaterland. Their clientele rosters read like the guest list for a charity gala thrown by Bono and Angelina Jolie. When famed London restaurateurs Jeremy King and Chris Corbin left Caprice Holdings in 2002, the celebritocracy had a minor heart attack — wherever would they get their Spotted Dick (a traditional steamed pudding with syrup) now? But to their great relief, this trio of eateries — along their new sibling, the refurbishedScott’s restaurant in Mayfair — still have the edge over the competition, serving simple seafood and game dishes, perfectly executed and perfectly served. The most intimate of the bunch is J. Sheekey, a fish restaurant with leather banquettes, paneled walls and an impressive art collection. (King and Corbin went on to open The Wolseley and the now-shuttered St. Alban.)

6. Kensington Gardens

Londoners of a certain age will tell you that Germans shaped their city. They’re right, but the Blitz wasn’t the only thing that left its mark on London. In 1728, Caroline of Brandenburg-Ansbach, the German-born wife of King George II, commissioned works to the southern swath of Hyde Park — later redesignated Kensington Gardens — creating the Serpentine, an artificial lake, and landscaping the surrounding lawns and walkways. (A stately circuit of these ornamental waters will take you 40 minutes, and you can swim at the Serpentine Lido from May to September.) Queen Caroline lived in Kensington Palace, on the western edge of the park, which has been home to assorted members of the extended royal family and household, but will, of course, forever be associated with its most iconic resident, Princess Diana. Kensington Gardens is studded with shrines to the late Princess, including a fountain dedicated to her memory by the Queen in 2004.

7. Berry Bros. & Rudd

The poet Lord Byron was just one of many patrons of Berry Bros. & Rudd who submitted to a public weighing on one of the shop’s giant coffee scales. “Let us have wine and women, mirth and laughter/Sermons and soda water the day after,” wrote Byron. Britain’s oldest wine merchant and sometime coffee seller set up shop here on St James’s Street in 1698, and remains one of the world’s leading purveyors of fine wine. Despite its pedigree, it’s not snobbish. Staff happily expound on the virtues of the cheaper wines and spirits they sell, alongside the rarest vintages. If you can’t get to the original shop, there are branches in Dublin, Hong Kong and Shanghai, as well as a factory outlet in Basingstoke, south of London.

8. The Royal Court Theatre

The roll call of playwrights championed by the Royal Courtis long and distinguished — John Osborne, Edward Bond, Joe Orton, Caryl Churchill, David Hare, Sam Shepard — not least by their propensity for tackling controversial themes and subjects. Dedicated to new and innovative work, audiences at this two-theater venue in Sloane Square first saw transvestite Dr. Frank-N-Furter strut his stuff at the 1973 premier of The Rocky Horror Show, and winced in 1995 at the late playwright Sarah Kane’s scandalous debut, Blasted, which was decried by critics for its graphic brutality — only to be hailed at its 2001 revival by some of those same critics as a profound and disturbing work. More recently, the theater has debuted Mike Bartlett’s satire, Love, Love Love, which follows the journey of the Baby Boomer generation from the tumultuous 1960s to the harsh realities of the present, and Bola Agbajie’s Belong, profiling a Nigerian politician in London struggling to define his identity.

9. Barfly and Roundhouse

If you get claustrophobic at the Hollywood Bowl or Madison Square Garden, then neither of the live music venues I’m about to recommend is for you. The Barfly, above a pub in Camden, is tiny, but that doesn’t stop punters from piling through the doors and turning the whole room into a mosh pit. It’s a regular staging post for new bands tipped for greatness: Oasis and Coldplay both performed here. But don’t let that deter you; other alumni include Blur and the Young Knives. Across the road, theRoundhouse shows it knows the meaning of eclectic, with a program that includes big-name musicians, left-field comedians and even circus acts, in a converted 19th-century steam-engine repair shed.

10. Smithfield Pub Crawl

London is far from being a 24-hour city. Alcohol licensing laws were relaxed in 2003, but finding a late-night drink still requires ingenuity. There is one part of city, however, that doesn’t sleep: Smithfield. The neighborhood is home to a historic meat market, which operates in ornate Victorian halls weekdays from 4 a.m. to noon — and many of the local pubs and cafes open early to serve pints and hefty fry-ups to the market workers.

Start your evening at Ye Olde Mitre, an 18th-century pub in the jewelry district adjacent to Smithfield; then, head east through Ely Place to the market, on the way passing St Etheldreda’s the oldest Catholic church in England. Taste the wines of southwestern France at theCellar Gascon bar and Comptoir Gascon restaurant; their posh sister, Club Gascon, has bagged a Michelin star for its exceptional cooking. The Fox and Anchor boasts the tastiest scotch eggs in the country — and keenly priced accommodations. Catch a nap in one of the designer rooms above the bar or go straight back out to dance off the calories at the so-hip-it-hurts nightclubFabric. You may want to refuel at Kurz & Lang, a tiny joint selling German bratwurst and beers; it’s open until 11:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and never closes on Friday and Saturday.

Before daybreak, try The Hope for your early morning pint, and Ferrari’s Snack Bar for an artery-clogging full English breakfast. Just what the doctor didn’t order.

You can enjoy the sights of the city as part of our Drag Stars at Sea: Europe Allstars London Pillage & Plunder, part of our pre tour options! For more information on this exciting trip, go here.