London is such an amazingly familiar city – even if you have never been. Every one of its iconic landmarks, many of its street names and traditions are so well known and recognizable you feel like you know the place well even before you get there.
There is a rich choice of things to see in this, once most powerful city in the world. Her many attractions are all must-sees. Whether your interest lies in art, history, colorful traditions, culture or grand buildings, you will find it in London. A wonderful thing is that entrance is free to many of London’s iconic attractions.
So, onwards to London’s finest!
In many respects London is still a royal city and the best illustration is Buckingham Palace. This 300 year old, 700-odd roomed building is the Queens’s residence. Only 19 rooms are open to the public and they are known as the State Rooms. They are used for audiences with the Queen and official visits from foreign dignitaries. It takes about two hours for the average walk around of the rooms.
While you are there you should not miss that wonderful institution so closely identified with the Palace – the Changing of the Guard. The ceremony lasts for half an hour and takes place every day at 11am. The pageant involves horses, drum rolls, smart uniforms and much impressive foot-stomping marching.
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Another famous (or “infamous”) royal residence is the Tower of London. The impressive pile of stone work has a grim and very mixed
reputation and history. It attracts millions every year and understandably so. It was a palace, treasury, armoury, fortress, London’s first zoo and torture hub. It has many a ghastly and ghostly tale associated with its rooms and battlements.
Today, thankfully, it is a lot less bloody. As a visitor you will gaze upon the splendid and priceless Crown Jewels; learn about the famous people executed; stories and legends such those of the Tower’s ravens and discover the swords, other killing implements and armour of yore.
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The British Museum
More than two and a half centuries ago this venerable and highly esteemed institution opened its doors to the public. Within its hallowed rooms, halls and corridors are a remarkable collection of artifacts and pieces covering more than two million years of human history.
It is dedicated to the study of world-wide human culture. The museum’s collection of exhibits includes the invaluable Rosetta Stone, the Parthenon sculptures and Egyptian mummies. It also has thousands of other treasures on permanent display. A visit is worth every minute you spend in the museum.
If many of London’s attractions are remnants of its long and illustrious history, then the London Eye is a futuristic vision from today. The world’s tallest cantilevered observation wheel it is an amazing symbol of modern engineering and London’s forward gaze.
Dramatically affecting the skyline, this technological marvel sits in the heart of the city, facing the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. Its slowly rotating 32 high-tech observation capsules look down on the city and old Father Thames, all the while offering you a panoramic 360 degree (and on clear days 40kms away) view of this majestic city and its landmarks.
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The Golden Hind
A proud symbol the Tudor era and of British Elizabethan seafaring exploits, the Golden Hinde, captained by Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the world. It was put on public display in Deptford for nearly 100 years where it rotted away.
A beautiful, faithful and full-sized replica is now berthed at Southwark, London for the modern day visitor. In a tiny dock on Cathedral Street, Southwark sits the full-scale reconstruction of Drake’s intrepid galleon. It is an un-missable part of the London experience. A tour is a lesson in living, romantic history where you get to soak in the atmosphere of what it must have been like to sail the high seas in the 16th century. A few minute’s walk away is Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
The current Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is a modern and very faithful replica of the original Elizabethan playhouse based on academic evidence. It stands a mere 750 feet from the site of the original 1599 and 1614 buildings.
The complex also includes an indoor theatre (Sam Wanamaker Playhouse). It is based on the designs of indoor playhouses of Jacobean times.
Royal Museums Greenwich
Site of the brass rail that marks the Prime Meridian, the Royal Museums include the National Maritime Museum, Queen’s House and the Royal Observatory. The beautiful, manicured settings are also a World Heritage Site.
The museums always have events and new (and ancient) exhibits to awe visitors. Some of the better known exhibits are a 4.5 billion year old meteorite, Harrison’s chronometers and Nelson’s uniform. It is also the location of a wonderful planetarium.
This ancient and hallowed Gothic church has witnessed the crowning of British kings from the time of William the Conqueror in 1066. A wonderful building complete with paintings, stained glass windows and an important collection of monuments it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Within the grounds of Westminster Abbey are the graves of giants such as Charles Dickens, Chaucer, Dr Samuel Johnson and Charles Darwin. It also has the tombs and monuments of 450 others. The Little Cloister which leads to the College Gardens, the oldest garden in England.
One of the world’s foremost art galleries, The National occupies one side of Trafalgar Square. It houses some of the world’s greatest paintings from the Middle Ages right up to the current century. At any given time over 2,000 paintings are on display. Works by Botticelli, vie for attention with those of Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Gainsborough, Renoir and Van Gogh.
Entrance to The National Gallery is free. It also conducts special exhibitions, lectures, video programmes and guided tours.
This is probably the world’s most famous open space. It is a landmark of Central London. It is the place to go to for special events, demonstrations and major celebrations such as St Patrick’s Day, Chinese New Year and New Year’s Eve
Dominated by Nelson’s Column and its four lions, it is a square that has witnessed much history and still provides a place for a wide variety of vibrant artistic performances. Since 1999, the Fourth Plinth is site for an ever changing display of modern art.
Named after a seventeenth century frilled collar, Piccadilly Circus is popular meeting place, busy traffic roundabout (thus the “Circus”) and a tourist attraction in its own right. At the center of the Circus and above the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain is the lovely aluminum (at that time a novel and rare material) statute of Eros.
A five minute walk from Trafalgar Square, it is located between the theatre areas of the West End and the Haymarket. The circus is the intersection of five main roads: Regent Street, Shaftesbury Avenue, Piccadilly Street, Covent Street and Haymarket. It is the site of London’s first illuminated billboard installed in 1895.
Within the Palace of Westminster, are the Houses of Commons and Lords, otherwise known as Parliament House. It was originally the residence of the Kings of England till fire consumed it 1512. Extensively rebuilt twice (It was destroyed by another fire in 1834) the only original parts still left are Westminster Hall, St Stephen’s Cloisters, Chapel of St Mary Undercroft and the Jewel Tower.
Designed by architect Charles Barry its famous facade, familiar around the world, is known as the River Front and sits on reclaimed parts of the River Thames. Its Gothic style buildings are marked by Victoria Tower and Elizabeth Tower – better known as Big Ben.
Big Ben is a symbol of London and is officially called the Great Clock of Westminster. This amazingly reliable time piece is accurate to within a second. Its elegant fairy tale like design consists of four identical dials fronted by milk glass. Located atop Elizabeth Tower, it stands at the north end of the Parliament complex and is lit up from behind at night.
St Paul’s Cathedral
The Cathedral sits on Ludgate Hill, the highest natural point in the City of London. The original church was dedicated to Paul the Apostle in 604 and the current one retains that name. Designed and built in the baroque style by the great Sir Christopher Wren, its dome is one of the most famous and recognizable sights of London. It dominated the London skyline for more than 300 years and is deeply embedded in the psyche of English national identity.
St Paul’s Cathedral is a busy working church, with hourly prayer and daily services. Its services have included the funerals of Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington; the wedding of Lady Diana and Prince Charles and the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II.