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A cutting-edge capital

There’s more to London than a giant clock, that bridge from the nursery rhyme, the Queen’s humble abode and a few famous churches. Home of the 2012 Olympics, London is one of the world’s most cutting-edge cities with a host of lesser-known attractions that are a great reflection of the city’s present – and future – rather than its illustrious, but very well-trodden, past.

London Eye
At 135 metres tall, it might resemble a giant’s bicycle wheel, but in just five years this ferris wheel on steroids has become as synonymous with the London skyline as Big Ben just across the Thames. A magnificent feat of engineering, the viewing capsules – air conditioned glass cocoons that comfortably hold 20 people each – don’t hang from cables but are attached directly to main rim, rotating as the wheel turns.

It’s all a bit complicated, but the effect’s phenomenal: the movement’s so smooth you feel like you’re floating in a bubble above the city. And with 30 minutes of virtually unobstructed views of the city – a panorama taking in everything from the Battersea power station to the giant glass gherkin that is the Swiss Re building – it’s the ideal place to start your visit. Get there early though as the ticket queues can get long – or have your friend stand in line while you enjoy a cherry danish and cappuccino at Cafe Manga.

Modern city, modern art
Just down the Thames – across from St Paul’s – is a monstrous building with an exterior so drab it can only have been dreamed up by a team of government architects. Nor surprising really, given that it’s a disused power station

Step inside though and it’s clear why the Tate Modern has attracted over 20 million visitors since opening in 2000 (and that’s not just because entrance is free). Apart from housing one of the world’s biggest art bookshops and a restaurant offering London’s best views, the Turbine Hall is jaw-dropping.

At seven storeys high, and running the entire length of the building, it’s a massive exhibition space that will have you goggling in amazement and/or confusion, before heading up to the displays on the third and fifth floors. Expect works by the likes of Dali, Pollock and even Rodin’s famous statue, ‘The Kiss’.

See into the future
No stranger to overhauls itself, the Science Museum might not be as sprightly as the Eye or the Tate, but offers a look into our collective futures and offers some rather amazing collections. There are plenty of interactive displays that resolve life-or-death questions such as how astronauts take a leak in orbit, but spread over six storeys it can be a little overwhelming.

Be sure to check out the space exhibition (for more than just the toilet answer), the history of flight, and ‘Making the modern world’ – a walk-through timeline including exhibits like the world’s first steam locomotive, cars, a TV set from the 1930s, the Apollo 10 capsule and the prototype of a clock designed to keep time for 10 000 years.

Computers to clubbing
If you get tired of all the bookish stuff you can always hit the shops, but if it’s cutting edge you’re after give Harrod’s a skip – it’s just so last century.

The guys at NikeTown weren’t kidding when they named their flagship store – it’s a virtual ‘town’ comprising nine ‘buildings’, each housing gear for a specific sport from rugby to golf.

Most impressive is the central ‘town square’ with its virtual ‘town crier’ – a three-storey high, 360-degree projector screen that regularly erupts with sporting images – but even that pales when considering they’ve got computer consoles allowing you to customise your own pair of NikeID shoes. Now that’s cutting-edge.

Equally so is the Apple Store in Regent Street. Like an Apple product, it’s all about minimalism and a spot of fun: a modern day library meets lounge. Between the shelves and shelves of accessories, and desks and desks of the latest drool-worthy hardware you’ll find beanbags circling coffee tables and the Genius Bar where you’re served tech advice instead of drinks.

Slightly less genteel, but equally worth a visit, is Cyberdog in Camden’s Stables Market. Tucked away behind all the T-shirt stalls, magic mushroom vendors and patent leather nurse outfits, it’s more of a nightclub than a clothing store where , if you can stand the music long enough, you can get your hands on some of London’s most outlandish clubbing gear and accessories.

More mainstream retail therapy can be had at Canary Wharf, as close as you’ll get to Manhattan in London. Apart from the three swanky malls you’ll be treated to rows of gleaming skyscrapers – including the 240-metre high One Canada Square emblazoned with names like HSBC, Barclays and Reuters; with its outdoor digital tickertape of stock prices. Locals are typically of the besuited Blackberry-toting broker types.

And when it all gets too much, escape the madness by rising above it – literally – on the Docklands Light Railway. Connected to central London, the aerial railway, with driverless electric trains under automatic computer control, is the stuff of ‘Bladerunner’ dreams.

  • This article originally appeared on iafrica.com.

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