London is the capital of England with a population of more than 8m people. It covers more than 600sq miles, with 32 Burroughs and Medieval streets developed from the Roman and Anglo-Saxon settlements.
Some of the best-known areas of London are Fleet Street, Notting Hill, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Covent Garden, Downing Street, Knightsbridge, and Westminster.
With an amazing geographical location, which by many it is considered as the centre of the world, London is a global capital with highly varied architecture. Modern buildings, Victorian homes, mediaeval castles and architectural landmarks are some of what London has to offer.
Yet with 4 UNESCO World Heritage Sites deemed of particular cultural or physical importance, including: The Palace of Westminster, Maritime Greenwich, The Royal Botanic Gardens and The Tower of London.
Moreover, the city has 8 Royal Parks, all available to the public of which include the Hyde Park, The Regent’s Park, St. James’s Park and Green Park.
1. The Big Ben
The famous bell house, “Big Ben”, was completed in 1858 and sits in the Palace of Westminster. It is now officially called the “Elizabeth Tower” and it is one of the most recognised symbols both in the UK and Worldwide.
“Big Ben” has a height of 96m and was designed in “Gothic Revival” fashion. The building is made of bricks and cast iron and was voted multiple times as the most famous attraction in the United Kingdom,
This famous clock it is also considered as one of the most accurate public clocks, proved through the continued accurate run of its dials after they were damaged in WWII from a bombing raid.
2. Westminster Abbey
Whether it is the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee or the birth of a new royal infant, Westminster Abbey has become host to a 1000-year series of royal affairs.
It is the place of rest for 17 monarchs. Since monks appeared at the site in the tenth century, this has become a place of regular worship with services on a daily basis with anyone welcome to participate.
Begun by Henry III in 1245, this magnificent Gothic structure houses a mediaeval shrine to an Anglo-Saxon saint. The monuments and shrines represent the United Kingdom ‘s greatest array of monumental sculpture. Paints, stained glass, the magnificent Cosmottie pavements, textiles and other objects are among the treasuries in its hold.
When there is a celebration or occasion related to the Royal, National or Abbey, the ten Abbey bells are rung at full peal by volunteers. The bells are half-cloaked in cloth to muffle the ringing sound, if the occasion is sombre.
3. Changing Of The Guards / Buckingham Palace
The changing of the Queen’s guard takes place at Buckingham Palace throughout the year.
The old guard is relieved from duty by the new guard in a formal ceremony called the mounting of the guard. Arms are presented and hands are touched symbolizing the passing of the palace keys. The ceremony is accompanied by the guard band, which may be playing traditional band songs or songs from movies or musicals.
The soldiers who are dressed in red uniforms with bear skin caps are real military men on active duty who may have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are drawn from five different military regiments including Grenadier, Scots, Irish and Welch guards and two regiments of the Household Cavalry, the Life Guards and the Blues and Royals. Each is differentiated by buttons and decorative items on their uniforms. Sometimes visiting guards from other countries in the United Kingdom are invited to join the parade.
The foot guards have guarded the sovereigns since the seventeenth century. The ceremony as it is seen today dates back to the advent of Buckingham as a royal house in 1837 when Queen Victoria took up residence.
A few minutes’ walk from Buckingham Palace is St. James Palace where there is also a changing of the guard.
4. National Gallery
The National Gallery houses the National collection of over 2300 Western European paintings dating from the 13th and 19th centuries. From Medieval masters to French Impressionists, the museum presents the artistry of Vermeer, Titian, Cezanne, Seurat, Rubens, Bellini, Botticelli, Rembrandt, Degas, Monet, Van Gogh and many other great artists.
The collection was moved to its’ present site on Trafalgar square in 1838. The impressive domed topped, multi columned building has a floor space of 46,396 meters. Sculptures on the building are symbols representing peace and art. It is often the site of films and was featured in the James Bond film “Skyfall”.
An intricate marble mosaic by Russian-born artist Boris Anrep is the first artwork to be seen upon entering the Gallery’s Portico. Many mosaics, some featuring famous persons such as Winston Churchill are in the collection along with a large number of sculptures.
The core of the National collection was purchased in 1824 from John J. Angerstein including Italian works and fine examples of Dutch, Flemish and English schools. Sir George Beaumont, British landscape painter and collector bequeathed his collection in 1826.
There are audio tours and themed trails. Visitors will find the collection well organized for viewing. Handicap accessible, it has a café, dining room and espresso bar along with a Museum shop.
5. British Museum
The British Museum collection represents the entire culture and history of mankind and contains over seven million items. Founded in 1753 with the purchase of a private collection, it was the first national public museum in the world.
There are representations from every continent of the world covering cultures, archaeology, science, the arts, crafts, and decorative items. Departments include Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Oceania and the Americas with extensive collections in each.
Some of its best known treasures are the Rosetta Stone, sculptures from the Greek Parthenon, Egyptian mummies and one of the ancient seven wonders of the world; the mausoleum of Halicarnassus.
The colossal bust of Ramesses II and other colossal sculptures are part of the ancient Egyptian collection which is the largest collection outside of Egypt. The museum also has the largest collection of the Anglo Saxon period in the world.
You can explore Babylonian, Sumerian and Assyrian antiquities, cuneiform tablets and beautiful metal work from the 5th to 4th BC. Whether you are interested in archaeology, biblical history, pagan or religious artifacts or more contemporary art you will find it here.
Some of the artists whose work is represented are Rubens, Rembrandt, Raphael, Michelangelo, Durer, Titian, Watteau and Leonardo DaVinci. There is also an extensive water color collection by English artists such as Turner, Cruikshank, Holland and Constable. Pablo Picasso’s “Vollard Suite” of 100 etchings was added to the permanent collection in 2011.
There are cafés and a restaurant for dining. The museum is handicap accessible. Guide and assistant dogs are welcome.
6. Tate Modern
Presently housed in the former Bankside Power Station, Britain’s National Museum of modern and contemporary art showcases international works of art. Changing exhibits feature themes and artists’ retrospectives from all over the world. It has become the most visited art gallery in the world.
The permanent collection includes some of the finest pieces of Surrealistic art in any museum, with works by Magritte, Miro and Dali. Early modernists are represented by Picasso, Matisse and Mondrian. Pop art, Abstract expressionism, Cubism, Minimalism and Conceptual art are all represented.
Visitors can also view work by Cezanne, Bonnard, Rothko, Warhol and Bourgeois.
The Various zones with themes:
- Poetry and Dream: Surrealism
- Energy and Process: Sculpture of the 1960’s and Post Minimalism
- Structure and Clarity: Abstract or Constructive art of the inter-war periods
- Transformed Visions: Post WWII expressive abstraction
There are four wings and in the center of each a hub that focuses on a major change or influence in art history that was considered pivotal.
There are Shops, Cafes and The Tate Modern restaurant which offers views of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the city with breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea daily and dinner on Friday and Saturday with an award winning wine list.
7. The London Eye
This giant Ferris wheel stands high above the city on the left bank of the Thames. At 135 meters it is the tallest cantilevered observation wheel in the world. Glass capsules that will hold 25 people each allow riders an amazing view of the city of London. The 32 capsules have 360 degree views, benches for seating and are heated and cooled as needed. Views are equally spectacular whether it is day or night.
Numerous special capsules are available including: wine tasting, chocolate tasting, cupid’s capsule for couples and a private capsule for families.
Since its’ opening in 2000 as the “Millennium Wheel”, it has become a symbol for modern Britain. It is the most popular of London’s paid attractions and has been the setting for many TV shows and movies.
Twenty two hundred tons of concrete and forty four concrete pilings make up the foundation for the wheel. Above that is a second foundation that required twelve hundred tons of concrete to hold the backstay cables in tension.
As a prelude to their ride, visitors can enjoy a 4D experience of a 3D film with effects that include wind, bubbles and mist.
8. St. Paul’s Cathedral
St. Paul’s Cathedral sits at the highest point in London at the top of Ludgate Hill. It is the Church of England; the seat of the Bishop of London.
Designed by Sir Christopher Wren and built between 1675 and 1710 it stands on the hallowed ground of four preceding cathedrals.
Visitors upon entering have a breath taking view from the nave of the long interior chapel where royal weddings and funerals have taken place. It became a highly visited attraction after the wedding there of Lady Diana and Prince Charles.
Built in the shape of a cross, it has one of the largest domes in the world at the cross arms, weighing 65000 lbs.
The dome can be climbed and has a “Whispering Gallery” where words whispered against the wall will travel and can be heard 32 meters away.
The Golden Gallery at the top of the dome rewards visitors with a spectacular view of London.
Color was added to the ceiling with mosaics by William Richmond in 1890 at the request of Queen Victoria.
The Crypt is the burial place of many notables including the Duke of Wellington and the architect of the cathedral, Sir Christopher Wren.
Visitors can journey through 1400 years of history through film at the Oculus in the former treasury Crypt.
9. Tower of London
The Tower of London, a castle and Royal Palace is probably best known for some of its darker years when it served as a prison. Built by William the Conqueror, in 1066 as a fortress, it has stood guard over the capital for over 900 years. It is home to the royal mint, and the dazzling royal collection of over 23,578 jewels.
Located on the north bank of the River Thames, it features many elements of Gothic Revival architecture. The original tower, known as the “White tower” is the Norman Keep that still stands. Often modified by English monarchs in the Middle ages and after, it is a large complex of defensive walls with battlements and a moat.
Strange happenings in the “Queen’s Palace” are sometimes attributed to the ghost of Ann Boleyn, the second wife of Henry the Eighth, who he had executed within the castle walls. There is a memorial to all who were executed there on the green.
Tickets are available to visitors for tours of the tower, viewing the crown jewels, the royal mint museum and historical reenactments. The 700 year tradition “ceremony of the keys” (the locking of the tower) is free.
10. Imperial War Museum
Established in 1917 while the First World War was still being fought, the Imperial War Museum was created to make certain future generations would understand the causes and consequences of war.
Its collections are intended to show the experiences of those who lived through and those who served in war times. Displays of photographs, art work, films, podcasts, recordings and family letters serve to memorialize them.
Visitors can experience a hundred years of British art work that explores themes such as War Rooms, destruction, construction, machinery and the tension that hung over people’s lives.
The life of an English family is chronicled through photos, recordings, letters and a miniature reproduction of their home to show what it was like to live through the war and how they had to adapt to survive.
The IWM collection covers technical, social, cultural, political and personal artifacts that relate to Britain and its role in the conflict. From counterfeit match boxes issued to Special Operations Agents who worked in occupied France to trinkets collected by soldiers and families, the displays range from the unique and special to the ordinary items of daily life in war time.
Facilities include a café. The building is handicap accessible and guide and assistance dogs are welcome.
11. Victoria and Albert Museum
Named for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, the Victoria and Albert Museum was established in 1852. It has a permanent collection of more than 4.5 million art objects. It holds the world’s largest collection of design and decorative arts.
The comprehensive collection spans over 3000 years with representations of the richest art of many countries and cultures. It includes costumes, jewelry, ceramics, glass, textiles, metals and 10,000 paintings.
Decorative interiors, furniture and housing items from Europe, North America, Asia and North Africa are on display. The fashion collection has 400 years of costumes from rare 17th century gowns to 20th century designer clothing. There are over 60,000 objects in the museum’s South and South East Asian galleries.
Some of the greatest treasures of the Medieval and Renaissance ages occupy ten continuous galleries. Included is the largest collection of Italian Renaissance sculpture outside of Italy and Leonardo Da Vinci’s notebooks.
“Family friendly”, the museum has hands on exhibits as well as fun and educational activities for children.
In addition to the 154 galleries there are gardens, indoor and outdoor cafes as well as visitor facilities with storage lockers. It is situated on 12.5 acres.
The museum and grounds are wheelchair accessible.
12. Trafalgar Square
Built around the area once known as Charing Cross, Trafalgar Square is a vibrant open space and landmark in the heart of the city dating back to the Middle Ages. The largest square in London; it has numerous statues and two impressive fountains with elaborate sculptures.
Designed by Sir Charles Barry, it was built on the location of what was once the Royal Mews for hawks and then The Royal Stables.
The location of many celebrations and events like St. Patrick’s Day, Chinese New Year, Christmas, and Royal occasions, it is often the site of movies and photography.
The “Fourth Plinth” on the square is a display area for contemporary sculptures. It has become known for artistic performances and artist gatherings nearby.
It is surrounded by buildings rich in history. Nelson’s 170’ high Corinthian column commemorating Admiral Nelson’s victory over the French at the battle of Trafalgar is located here. The square was named after him.
Guarded by four huge bronze lions, Nelson’s statue faces south towards Whitehall, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and the River Thames. The Admiralty Arch at the entrance to the ceremonial drive to Buckingham Palace is in the South West.
13. Millennium Bridge
Officially known as the London Millennium Footbridge, the millennium bridge is a pedestrian bridge across the river Thames. It links the city of London, near St. Paul’s Cathedral, to Bankside by the Globe Theatre and Tate Modern museum. It creates a new route into Southwark running between Southwark Bridge and the Blackfriar’s Bridge.
The suspension bridge design is a combination of architectural, engineering and sculptural elements that were the result of collaboration between sculptor Sir Anthony Caro, Foster and Partners and Ove Arup & Partners, engineering firm. A team of over 200 people worked to complete the design that won an international competition.
The construction is of steel with an aluminum deck. Eight suspension cables pull a force of 2000 tons against piers set into the banks. It can support 5000 people at one time. It is estimated it was crossed by 100,000 people upon its opening in June of 2000.
Initially, the bridge had too much sway and was uncomfortable for pedestrians crossing so it was reinforced with dampers discreetly fit under the deck to eliminate “the wobble”.
An innovative lighting design on the deck illuminates the bridge at night creating a ribbon of light across the Thames.
14. West End
The West End is home to many of central London’s top attractions.
Originally a location for palaces and expensive town houses, it is probably best known for its theatre district. There is something for every taste in “Theatreland” from raucous comedy, and musicals to heavy drama. Some of the world’s finest shows originate here.
A more historical Elizabethan experience can be found at the reconstruction of the original Globe theatre, (synonymous with William Shakespeare).
Performances of the famous playwright’s work are set in a round, open air venue much as in Shakespeare’s time.
The Royal Opera House offers the finest in ballet and opera performances staged in a magnificent setting. The building serves as a museum of the theatre’s history. Reserve tickets in advance, and you can take a backstage tour for a glimpse behind the scenes.
Oxford Street is one of Europe’s busiest shopping districts with representatives of every flag ship store. In addition to haute shopping there are lots of opportunities for people watching.
For a quieter experience, you can find village life at Marylebone High Street where you can browse in elegant boutiques or eat in quiet restaurants.
Entertainment abounds in the West End with numerous galleries and museums as well as year round special events and festivals.
15. Oxford Street
Oxford Street is a luxury shopping destination that is 1.9 km long. With every Flag Ship Department store represented, and numerous boutiques, it is Europe’s busiest shopping area.
In this ultimate shopper’s paradise with high end fashions, international brands, children’s wear, accessories, and technology, visitors can find over 500 recognizable brand names in its 300 plus stores. It is touted to have some of the finest shopping at the most competitive prices to be found anywhere.
Famous stores such as House of Fraser, Selfridges, John Lewis, Marks and Spencer, Topshop, and Russell and Bromley can be found there along with Gap and Nike. Many additional stores with specialty items or international flavors offer unique high end shopping.
Majestic buildings, some with modern architecture set the scene here with lots of red double decker buses coming and going along with London’s famous black cabs.
Early in its history, Oxford Street became one of the major routes in and out of the city following an old Roman road that linked Hampshire and Colchester with Trinobantina.
Numerous excellent restaurants, pubs and takeaway shops lie just beyond the main thorough fare.
16. The Royal Botanic Gardens ( Kew Gardens)
With 300 acres of natural and formal gardens to explore, this UNESCO Heritage Site offers visitors 250 years of history along with its’ extensive botanic collections. Prior to becoming a national botanical and horticultural garden, it was a royal retreat and pleasure garden. Original structures include Kew Palace which is open to the public.
Works by renowned landscape architects illustrate significant periods in garden design from the 18th and 19th centuries. The folly temples, Queen Charlotte’s Cottage, the Orangery, and Syon Park House are all representative of that time.
Other elements from that period are found in Rhododendron Dell, the ornamental lakes and ponds, the herbarium and the plant collections.
Decorative structures in the gardens include a Chinese Pagoda 153’ high which was built in 1762. There is also an elaborately carved Japanese gate that is a 4/5ths replica of one in Kyoto, Japan. It is set in a garden area with many Japanese elements.
There are extensive botanic collections of specimens from all over the world in the eight glass houses. The tempered Glass house is the largest Victorian still in existence. There are numerous museums, galleries and historic buildings to tour.
An outdoor walkway takes visitors 59 feet in the air so they can walk in the treetops and have long vistas of the grounds.
There are several restaurants and cafes for visitors.
Founded in 1854, Harrods is the largest shopping center in all of Europe. The grocer Charles Harrod established the first small store at the same site selling groceries, cosmetics and stationery.
With over One million square feet of shopping in 330 departments, the Harrods of today offers an array of luxury goods unlike anywhere else in the world. At night, the face of the building is lit with over 12000 light bulbs.
Three hundred thousand people from all over the world shop in Harrods each day for everything from pet accessories to toys, beauty items, sporting goods, clothing, (including haute couture from Paris) and brands like Gucci and Tiffany’s. You will find a bridal boutique there as well. The company motto is “Everything for Everybody Everywhere”.
There are a wide variety of places to eat including twenty plus restaurants. Choices of foods can include anything from hamburgers to high tea to haute cuisine. You can pick up premade picnic baskets (hampers) for all occasions.
Check the Harrods calendar for regularly scheduled entertainment and you might find free face painting or an acrobatic performance going on in the store. Tasting events might offer the finest Saki or whiskey. The wine department has its’ own tasting room.
18. Piccadilly Circus
Piccadilly Circus has been described as “Post Card London”. The atmosphere of the plaza located at the juncture of five busy streets can be infectious. With the huge Brittania Store, performance artists, street vendors and neon lighted advertising displays, it has been equated with Times Square in New York, though a smaller version. Nonetheless it is uniquely English.
Cars, buses and pedestrians circle around its’ famous Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain. Built in 1893 to commemorate Lord Shaftesbury who was known for his support of the poor, it depicts the Angel of Christian Charity. It was later renamed Eros for the Greek God of love and beauty. The fountain is made of bronze, but the statue is made of aluminum which was a rare metal at the time.
It was named “Piccadilly” for the tailor Roger Baker who became rich creating piccadills, (a large broad collar of cut-work lace that became fashionable in the late 16th and early 17th century.) “Circus” was added to the name in reference to the way traffic circles the roundabout.
Gift shops abound and cafeterias offer some wonderful baked goods. The fragrance of roasted chestnuts permeates the air from vendors’ carts on the street.
There are multiple entrances on all sides to the underground tube.
19. Covent Garden
Currently a shopping and leisure center, Covent Garden is known for its open air cafes and street performers. It is home to restaurants, pubs, shopping stalls, theatres and the Royal Opera House, home to the Royal Ballet. Antique, art and craft vendors alongside tea houses add to the atmosphere. The former floral market now houses the London Transport Museum.
The central glass roofed shopping area was built in 1830 with the roof being added later. The architecture has been carefully preserved. Pineapple motifs can be seen on top of the lights and elsewhere. They were a symbol of wealth and hospitality in earlier times.
The name came from a time in the 13th century when it served as a 40 acre garden for the convent at St. Peter at Westminster. It became a major source of fruit and vegetables for London over the next 700 yrs.
The first Punch and Judy shows were written and staged here by Samuel Pepys in 1542. The area became known as a source of entertainment attracting a Bohemian culture of artists and writers. Over the years Theatre and Opera became synonymous with the area.
The original market outgrew the location and was moved. In 1980 the building was reopened as Europe’s first specialty shopping center.
20. Portobello Road Market
The Portobello Road Market is the world’s largest antiques market with 1000 vendors stretched over two miles. It is one of London’s best loved landmarks attracting visitors from all over the world. Every kind of antique and collectible is sold here.
Located near the Notting Hill tube station, the antiques section has hundreds of shopping stalls, shops and arcades. Collectibles and books might date from BC to the 1960’s. There is a huge array of silver, glass, china and crystal in the stalls.
The market has a fresh fruit and vegetable area with fish mongers, fresh breads, cakes and a cheese stall. The new goods area might have toys, socks and electronics.
New designers show their wares alongside vendors of vintage wearable’s and accessories at the fashion market. Some of the bigger brand shops are located in this area. The used goods area offers some fashion buys as well.
Originally a farm, the area was named after Puerto Bello in the Caribbean in memory of Admiral Vernon who captured the town in 1739. Many of the homes, shops and pubs carry seafaring names.
It was used as a location for the film “Notting Hill” with Hugh Grant and has since drawn curious tourists to see the movie location in person. Most of the fun and action are on weekends with lots of street food and music in the air when the crowds press in for bargain shopping.
Get Ready to Travel
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