The ultimate culture vulture guide to London

If you’re heading to London this summer, check out our guide. (Shutterstock)
Updated 24 July 2018

The ultimate culture vulture guide to London

LONDON: Here, we take a look at six cultural things to do the city that is loved by visitors from across the Gulf – it can only be London.

London Arabia Art & Fashion Week
Kicking off on Aug. 1, the event celebrates Arab culture and gives you the incredible chance to view the astonishing pieces of fashion and artwork originating from the Arab world across various spots in London, including the Jumeirah Carlton Tower Hotel and Harvey Nichols.

See Westminster Abbey’s medieval galleries
The galleries are a medieval space that will be open for the first time in more than 700 years. Starting with a climb up Weston Tower, you will rise up 16 meters above Westminster Abbey, from where you’ll enjoy unparalleled views of the setting for British royal weddings and coronations. The galleries are open until July 31.

Check out the Royal Academy’s $73m extension
Yes, even more art and history to wander through — this is London, after all. The Royal Academy is a vast art institution near Piccadilly Circus, and it’s now grown by 70 percent. The highlight of this expansion is the opening of the vaults, filled with enormous Greco-Roman statues and jaw-droppingly high ceilings.

See the Exhibition Road Quarter at the V&A
Close to Harrods, this porcelain courtyard opened last summer — and it needs to be seen to be believed. Out of step with traditional Knightsbridge architecture, the piazza is a striking masterpiece, so blindingly white that it seems to sizzle on a hot day.

See the city by night at the Museum of London
The London Nights exhibition at the Museum of London celebrates Europe’s biggest city in a purely nocturnal light. See how Londoners have lived by night all the way from the late-19th Century through to today. The exhibition runs until Nov. 11

Get posting on the ‘Mail Rail’
London once had a secret railway line that was used exclusively by the Royal Mail to transport post between mail depots around the British capital — and it’s now open to the public. This one opened last year, but it’s so unusual that it’s getting a listing for 2018. Yes, it sounds geeky and like something your awkward uncle might rave about, but it genuinely is an extraordinary ride under this ancient metropolis.

Mass tourism threatens Croatia’s ‘Game of Thrones’ town

Updated 21 September 2018

Mass tourism threatens Croatia’s ‘Game of Thrones’ town

DUBROVNIK, Croatia: Marc van Bloemen has lived in the old town of Dubrovnik, a Croatian citadel widely praised as the jewel of the Adriatic, for decades, since he was a child. He says it used to be a privilege. Now it’s a nightmare.
Crowds of tourists clog the entrances to the ancient walled city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as huge cruise ships unload thousands more daily. People bump into each other on the famous limestone-paved Stradun, the pedestrian street lined with medieval churches and palaces, as fans of the popular TV series “Game of Thrones” search for the locations where it was filmed.
Dubrovnik is a prime example of the effects of mass tourism, a global phenomenon in which the increase in people traveling means standout sites — particularly small ones — get overwhelmed by crowds. As the numbers of visitors keeps rising, local authorities are looking for ways to keep the throngs from killing off the town’s charm.
“It’s beyond belief, it’s like living in the middle of Disneyland,” says van Bloemen from his house overlooking the bustling Old Harbor in the shadows of the stone city walls.
On a typical day there are about eight cruise ships visiting this town of 2,500 people, each dumping some 2,000 tourists into the streets. He recalls one day when 13 ships anchored here.
“We feel sorry for ourselves, but also for them (the tourists) because they can’t feel the town anymore because they are knocking into other tourists,” he said. “It’s chaos, the whole thing is chaos.”
The problem is hurting Dubrovnik’s reputation. UNESCO warned last year that the city’s world heritage title was at risk because of the surge in tourist numbers.
The popular Discoverer travel blog recently wrote that a visit to the historic town “is a highlight of any Croatian vacation, but the crowds that pack its narrow streets and passageways don’t make for a quality visitor experience.”
It said that the extra attention the city gets from being a filming location for “Game of Thrones” combines with the cruise ship arrivals to create “a problem of epic proportions.”
It advises travelers to visit other quaint old towns nearby: “Instead of trying to be one of the lucky ones who gets a ticket to Dubrovnik’s sites, try the delightful town of Ohrid in nearby Macedonia.”
In 2017, local authorities announced a “Respect the City” plan that limits the number of tourists from cruise ships to a maximum of 4,000 at any one time during the day. The plan still has to be implemented, however.
“We are aware of the crowds,” said Romana Vlasic, the head of the town’s tourist board.
But while on the one hand she pledged to curb the number of visitors, Vlasic noted with some satisfaction that this season in Dubrovnik “is really good with a slight increase in numbers.” The success of the Croatian national soccer team at this summer’s World Cup, where it reached the final, helped bring new tourists new tourists.
Vlasic said that over 800,000 tourists visited Dubrovnik since the start of the year, a 6 percent increase from the same period last year. Overnight stays were up 4 percent to 3 million.
The cruise ships pay the city harbor docking fees, but the local businesses get very little money from the visitors, who have all-inclusive packages on board the ship and spend very little on local restaurants or shops.
Krunoslav Djuricic, who plays his electric guitar at Pile, one of the two main entrances of Dubrovnik’s walled city, sees the crowds pass by him all day and believes that “mass tourism might not be what we really need.”
The tourists disembarking from the cruise ships have only a few hours to visit the city, meaning they often rush around to see the sites and take selfies to post to social media.
“We have crowds of people who are simply running,” Djuricic says. “Where are these people running to?“