London might be the sunny capital of cool Britannia but its long history has produced plenty of less than seemly incidents - here are a few recommendations for visitors with a taste for the macabre...
First stop has to be the London Dungeon in Tooley Street, near London Bridge. This gruesome theme park uses live actors and special effects to bring gory moments in the city's history to vivid life. Visitors experience the horrors of medieval torture and the Great Plague of 1665, including watching a doctor perform an operation without anesthetic, then take a boat ride that recreates the last journey of a man condemned to death at the Tower of London. The notorious deeds of two infamous serial killers, Sweeney Todd and Jack the Ripper, are dramatized, as is the Great Fire of London of 1666. Visitors end up condemned to death by a (rather hammy) hanging judge. Exhibits are as humorous as they are twisted and gory, so any youngsters in your party should (hopefully) be titillated rather than traumatized.
For real historical horror to spark the imagination you can't beat the Tower of London, scene of many a gruesome real life incident. The Tower is really a castle, built in 1078 by William the Conqueror to protect the city from foreign invaders, and much expanded over the centuries. It developed a fearsome reputation as a place of execution and torture. Among the aristocratic prisoners it held - most of whom never saw the world outside the walls again - were John Balliol, King of Scotland; John II, King of France; noblemen captured at the Battle of Agincourt such as Charles I de Valois; Henry VI and his mistress, Margaret of Anjou; and George Plantagenet, brother of King Edward IV. Edward V and his brother Richard of Shrewsbury (the so called 'Princes in the Tower') were famously murdered here on the orders of their uncle, the Duke of Gloucester - their bones were recently excavated.
Anne Boleyn was locked up by her husband, Henry VIII, and even Queen Elizabeth I spent some time here before starting her reign. Sir Walter Raleigh, Guy Fawkes and Thomas More have done time here too. Even right into the twentieth century the Tower was still in use; more modern day prisoners included Rudolf Hess and the Kray twins. Many prisoners were tortured, often on the rack, which stretched them painfully, and executed, generally by being beheaded with an axe. There are plenty of these chilling implements on display today. Prisoners were brought here by boat through Traitor's Gate - which is still there, though mercifully the wall above it is no longer decorated with severed heads on spikes. All this history has left the Tower the most haunted building in England: among the ghosts that have been seen here are those of Henry VI, Lady Jane Grey and Anne Boleyn - she carries her head under her arm.
Another notorious old prison - the Clink, on Southwark's Clink Street - is now a museum. This dank, dark building was used as a prison from the twelfth to the seventeenth century. As well as the usual debtors and drunks, it held plenty of religious non-conformists and priests. You can see the cramped, lightless cells they were kept in, the manacles and chains that hold them and the torture instruments they would have lived in mortal terror of. A soundtrack of moans and groans and waxwork dioramas do a good job of evoking the hellish life of a convict - and make this one a bit too adult for young kids.