Things To Do – London, England
There are certain cities that everyone should visit at least once in a lifetime. London, England is one of them. A day or two’s sojourn won’t do this place justice though perhaps you will see a few highlights, enough to whet your appetite to return. To get the real flavor of the city and visit its iconic sights, you need a stay approaching a week, minimum. Here’s what is to discover – and there is something for everyone befitting one of the largest cities in the world.
Tower of London – Here you will see historic armaments and the Crown Jewels, shiver at the spot where Anne Boleyn lost her head and tread lightly in the chapel whose floor is built over hundreds of bones. Discover carvings in the walls of the prison left by unfortunates long since dead. Be guided by traditional Beefeaters (Yeoman Warders and ceremonial guardians of the Tower) and hear the stories of the resident ravens doomed never to leave the Tower, a preventive measure against fulfillment of the prophecy of Britain’s downfall.
Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace† – This ceremony happens several times per day. If you miss it, you still get to admire the palace, home to the reigning monarch since 1837. Certain areas are open to the public. You can also visit the Royal Mews, the Queen’s stables. There are entrance fees and tours for all of these areas, but you can just show up for the changing of the Guard for free if you don’t care about a play-by-play commentary of the spectacle.
Tower Bridge† – Have your photo taken with the bridge as backdrop. Or pay to walk the glass walkway forty-two metres high above the River Thames and bridge floor – we dare you. (Don’t go looking for the old London Bridge. It didn’t “fall down” as the old nursery rhyme suggests but was sold and moved, piece by piece, to Arizona.)
Big Ben† – Nearby the Parliament Buildings is Big Ben. The name is actually reserved for the huge bell inside the clock tower. Be there as it strikes the hour. Unfortunately, one cannot arrange a tour inside as these have been suspended until 2021 due to refurbishment.
St. Paul’s Cathedral – Tour this church with its amazing dome. You can hear a whisper clearly from one side to the other in the gallery of this huge architectural feature. There is an admittance fee. You can attend the Choral Evensong every evening in August for free.
Westminster Abbey – This Gothic-style church is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Take a tour of the place where coronations, weddings, and funerals of royalty have taken place for a thousand years. See the tombs of the famous. There is an admittance fee, but worship is free.
Tower Bridge (Image: Pixabay).
Big Ben and Houses of Parliament (Image: Pixabay)
Buckingham Palace (Image: Pixabay)
Gondola on Coca-Cola’s London Eye (Image: Pixabay)
Harrod’s (Image: Pixabay)
Coca-Cola London Eye – Now as much a part of London’s skyline as any of the building’s listed above, the London Eye dominates with its Ferris wheel type architecture. See for miles over the city. Pay extra to sip champagne while enjoying the view. You can even rent out an entire gondola all for yourself (and friends) to sip on your complimentary champagne and indulge in chocolate treats without sharing the space with strangers. The gondolas or capsules are all see-through excepting the floor – all the better to enjoy those London views.
Madame Tussaud’s – No trip to London would be complete without a visit to this famous wax museum.
London Zoo – Animal lovers will want to visit the world’s oldest scientific zoo. You name it and you can probably see it here; gorillas, the big cats, monkeys, lemurs, penguins, birds, butterflies, reptiles and more.
Piccadilly Circus†- Head here especially at night for theatre, dining, shops and the bright lights.
Platform 9 ¾– The “entrance” to the world of Harry Potter is to be found at Kings Cross Station where you can pose beside a trolley disappearing into the wall under the platform sign. This is a “must” for fans of this popular series of books. Photos and selfies are free at certain times of the day. For a fee, you can arrange a professional photo. Beware: there are line-ups!
Harrod’s – Of course there is a seemingly endless variety of shops in London but a recommended stop to shop or just wander awestruck in a shopper’s paradise is this world-famous department store founded in 1849. Bet you can’t leave without a purchase! (You’ll want to have that iconic Harrod’s green bag on your arm as you stroll the streets of London.) The store even has a section called “Shoe Heaven” – and its own cobbler. Don’t miss the Food Halls, your best bet for an affordable buy.
Gardens & Walks
Royal Botanic Gardens – Most commonly referred to as Kew Gardens, this destination also contains the simple and small Kew Palace, home of George III, his wife and their brood. Stroll the landscape marveling at the flowering plants, rock gardens, arboretum and other themed areas of this vast property. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site boasting fifty thousand plants. Admission to the gardens also includes the palace (not open in winter).
Hyde Park† – Go for a stroll in this famous park, feed the swans, or take a paddleboat out for a spin on the Serpentine, one of its two lakes. People watch. See Speakers Corner (see below).
Thames Path†– This is not for the faint of heart or sore of feet. The walk stretches nearly eighty miles encompassing such attractions as The Royal Docks, Hampton Court Palace, South Bank, Canary Wharf and more. If you are not up for such strenuous activity, the walk is broken up into more manageable sections.
Regents Park & Primrose Hill† – This is a large open-space area of London with outdoor sports areas, four children’s playgrounds, a wildlife wetland sanctuary, and of course pathways through greenery, and lakes to row. Depending on the time of year one visits, there are approximately twelve thousand roses in bloom in Queen Mary’s Gardens. Climb Primrose Hill for the view.
The Play’s the Thing
West End Theatre – Enjoy live performances in the West End. For the nostalgic, there’s always Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap which has seemingly played for ever, and for the Disney enthusiast, catch the musicals The Lion King or more apropos for London, Mary Poppins. Have your travel professional arrange for your tickets before you go so you won’t be disappointed. There are so many shows to choose from in London, but they are all very popular!
Kew Palace (Image: Pixabay)
Regents Park (Image: Piabay)
White Tower, Tower of London (Image: Pixabay)
British Museum (Image: Pixabay)
The Victoria & Albert (Image: Bigstock)
Museums & Galleries
British Museum†– Head to the British Museum if Egyptology is your passion. The museum houses an extensive collection of artifacts and art with up to eight million pieces in its permanent collection. Many of these were gathered when the British Empire was at its height (hence a never-ending array of mummies and the Parthenon Marbles). There are also interesting exhibits of objects, historical and cultural, from all over the world. Open daily.
Victoria & Albert† – This museum is the world’s largest centered on art and design. View objects of creativity from all over the world. The museum has over two million pieces in its permanent collection and often holds special exhibitions (these may have a charge) which are well-worth seeing. Check what event is being offered when you are to be in town, so you don’t miss out. Open daily.
Imperial War Museum† – The building is only one part of the Imperial War Museums, open daily, and featuring exhibits on how war affected and still affects peoples’ lives. Enjoy permanent displays such as WWI Galleries or the Holocaust Exhibit, tours, special exhibits, meet the author events, performances, talks and more. Other sections of the Museum in London are HMS Belfast and the Churchill War Rooms both of which require tickets. This is a great activity for war history buffs.
National Gallery† – This gallery houses over two thousand works of art from medieval days until the present. Open daily, go here to see works by Van Gogh, Monet, Rubens, Gainsborough, Rembrandt and more. See Sunflowers by Van Gogh, Young Woman Standing at a Virginal by Vermeer, or the newly acquired Degas’ Ballet Dancers. This is an art lovers’ delight.
Royal Observatory in Greenwich – There is an admission for the Observatory, but you can see the Prime Meridian outside for free. The Prime Meridian is longitude 0 degrees and is known as the starting point for hours, known as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). The line is observable not only in the Museum but outside for a distance as well (at night it is a laser light). You can stand astride the line with one foot in each hemisphere. Admission to the Observatory gives you a show in the planetarium, a view from a camera obscura, a visit to the telescope that determined GMT, and more.
And for More Fun
High Tea – Enjoy a high tea (supper meal) or afternoon tea (finger sandwiches and sweets) at most higher end hotels and restaurants in the city.
Abbey Road†- Recreate the iconic photo of the Beatles at the zebra crossing on Abbey Road in northwest London. Travel there yourself (it’s about a seven- to ten-minute walk from St. John’s Wood station) or take one of the many rock-and-roll tours of London visiting this amongst other music nostalgia hot spots.
Curry Dinner in Brick Lane – This is the heart of London’s Bangladeshi community and hence the best place to go if you are seeking that iconic dish that Britons love so much.
Highgate Cemetery – Want to get close to the rich and famous? From Karl Marx to poet George Eliot and scientist Michael Faraday, a lot of them are buried in this north London graveyard. Stroll on your own through this park-like cemetery while noting how creepy is would be at night or take a paid tour which is the only way to see the West Cemetery. (The East Cemetery is not restricted.) Believe it or not, there is an admission charge.
Cruise the Thames – Arrange for a river cruise. This is a highly recommended activity as it gives you a different perspective of the city. You can couple a cruise with afternoon tea or a visit to other attractions such as the Royal Observatory at Greenwich.
Portobello Road Market† – Stroll this street market of over a thousand vendors daily except Sunday. You never know what antique or retro gem you may find. There’s fruit & veg, hot takeaways, second-hand fashion, and more to resist buying.
Speakers Corner† – Free speech is what it is all about. You don’t need a permit, just a soap box or something to stand on, and something to say. Hate speech is discouraged but heckling is not. This can be a great source of amusement for onlookers and recommended if you like to people watch. You can find a Speakers Corner in Hyde Park.
Thames River Cruise (Image: Bigstock)
Abbey Road: Picture Yourself Here (Image:Pixabay)
Probably the best way to see and enjoy London, and spend time doing the things that you enjoy, is to arrange for a custom vacation stay. This gives you a chance to sample a little of everything, or a lot of what really makes a visit special to you. With the city and its attractions being so popular no matter what time of year you go, it is imperative to have any tours or tickets pre-arranged just as it is to find that perfect hotel or accommodation that fits your budget. London can be pricey – but it’s worth it! Plan ahead with your travel professional to make the most of your London vacation.
† Denotes free admission. Note “free” museums may accept donations or charge for special exhibitions.
Feature image of Royal Guards courtesy of Pixabay.