With London not being a city at all, but rather a collection of villages that have become mushed together, one of the best ways of exploring the areas beyond the circle line is to jump on any bus at random on a Sunday and just see where it takes you. Have a wander and jump on another. I think this is possibly one on the purest forms of travel and it means you can get a feel for the disparate neighbourhoods. This is especially true of North London with the rich variety of cultures from the Greeks and Turks, the Jews of Golders Green, The artsy crowd of Hampstead to the Irish of Kilburn to name just a few.
London is a very big city which can have very big traffic problems. It is in my opinion though, a very good city for tourists to visit. Whether this be for the shopping (even if you just want to visit Harrods) or the sites (London Eye, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, Saint Pauls cathedral, Lifeguards Parade, the Parks, the list goes on…), London has something for pretty much anyone.
London is big and noisy and crowded. The transportation system works fairly well, though often, underground delays can be frustrating and the trains over crowded and hot. There are far too many stairs for my liking but that’s the way it goes. It’s expensive, but there are lots of cheap or free things to do now that the major museums only charge for special exhibits. You can get travel cards and museum passes as well to offset the costs. There are always inexpensive places to eat; market stalls, pubs, buffet restaurants and you can always buy premade meals and sandwiches at cafes, corner shops, supermarkets (think Tesco Metro), Marks and Spencers or places like Boots the chemist and take it to a park bench and have a picnic!
I would recommend taking one of the many walking tours and also i would recommend simply walking on your own or with a small guidebook. There are lots of little corners and neighbourhoods, hidden churches and interesting shops you might only discover on foot.
Also recommended for first time London visitors would be one of the open top hop on and off bus tours, although they are a little expensive. You can use the ticket for 24 hours (48 in winter) and it’s great to use as transportation if you’re going to stop off and see some of the major attractions. Some tours have taped commentary (Big Bus blue route and Original London tours, all routes) and some have guides (Big Bus red route). Most of them also allow you a free one-way cruise on the Thames between Westminster and the Tower of London. There are two or three companies and they’re all similar in price and quality.
I love London for the history, for the architecture both new and old, for all it’s hidden nooks and crannies, for the shopping, for the entertainment and the wide variety of choices available for food and theatre.
Here are the best things to do in London:
1. Tower of London
The Tower of London actually comprises a walled fortification with several defensive turrets forming an interior courtyard where the most visible building, the White Tower with it’s four battlements juts high above the other buildings. The Tower complex includes the River Thames waterfront as one of it’s sides and there is a gate which allows a boat to enter from the river.
Formerly the site of a Roman fortification, the White Tower was the first of today’s buildings constructed here, in 1078 on the order of William the Conqueror, shortly after his successful invasion of England in 1066. Other walls, towers and fortifications were added over the centuries but one of the earliest uses of the site was as a zoo (1204-1835) for displaying some of the strange animals that were being discovered as exploration blossomed. Of course the Tower is also famous as a jail for high profile prisoners and for the many executions carried out both within (nobles) and without (common criminals) its walls. No prisoners have been held there since the early 1950s, so the Tower of London is now mostly a tourist attraction, although the Crown Jewels are still kept there for safekeeping.
2. London Eye
This Millennium addition to the London skyline and to the tourist map is a great success, and a “must-see” attraction. It may sound a little scary to some to be 135 metres (442 feet) above the ground, but trust me, it’s worth overcoming any fear you may feel.
You travel in an enclosed capsule with a small bench in the centre and 360 degree panoramic views (40km – 25 miles on a clear day). Unless you’ve booked a private flight you won’t get the capsule to yourselves though, and this is perhaps the only downside as on a busy day there could be around 20 other people in there with you, all eager for the best views. But be patient and take your time – once the initial excitement has died down you’ll find there’s plenty of time for everyone to get the photos they want and spot all the famous landmarks below.
I have to admit though that this isn’t a cheap attraction. Adults prices start at £17.96 if you book ahead online, more if you just turn up on the day. Children (4-15 years) are charged £12.60 (though under-fours go for free and there’s a family ticket that saves you a bit), senior citizens (60+) £16.50. Online booking not only saves you money, but also guarantees you a place on the busiest days – but of course you’ll be taking a gamble on the weather. The best thing to do is to book online on the morning of your planned visit.
There are also a variety of more expensive “added extra” tickets including fast track ones that let you bypass the queue (£26.55 for adults), flexi fast track that let you visit at any time during the day of your booking (so you could wait until a shower past or morning mist lifted perhaps – £32.05) and a flexi standard (no queue skipping but you can pick your time of day – £22.96). Personally I wouldn’t pay the extra to skip the queue – it’s not a major hardship to stand in line and it’s a lot extra. But the flexi standard might be worth considering if you need flexibility or want to maximise your chance of decent weather conditions. However the best added extra is probably the “Night and Day Experience” which for £24.03 lets you have two rides – one in the day and one after dark.
A private capsule will cost you £500 and upwards! Or if you’re planning to propose, you could consider a so-called “Cupid’s Capsule” – a private capsule for two with champagne and chocolate truffles for £350. But remember, you’ll only have 30 minutes in which to do it!
3. British Museum
You could spend a day here and still come away wishing you had seen more! Despite the name, this isn’t a museum about Britain – the collections include artefacts from all over the world (including controversially some that people feel should have stayed where they were, such as the Elgin Marbles from the Acropolis), and span 2 million years of history.
- From Ancient Egypt (one of my favourite collections): statuary & decorated architecture, inscribed with hieroglyphs; coffins & mummies of individuals; furniture, fine jewellery & other burial goods.
- From Imperial China: calligraphy, paintings & ceramics
- From Anglo-Saxon: one of the most impressive collections, the treasures from the ship burial at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk.
- From Iron Age Britain: one of the items that has fascinated me since I first saw it, Lindow Man. This is the body of a man discovered in August 1984. Scientists have been able to do lots of research to learn about his life and death, concluding that he was probably the victim of a ritual sacrifice by druids.
Admission is free, as it is to all the major museums in London, although there is usually a charge for the special exhibitions which are invariably excellent. Open every day 10.00-17.30, and until 20.30 on Fridays.
4. Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey is an extremely ancient and interesting building, and probably well worth the entrance fee. The Abbey was founded in 960 and the current glorious Gothic structure was started in the late 13th century and has survived remarkably intact. The structure was dedicated to King Edward the Confessor, the English king whose demise triggered the Norman invasion in 1066, who was subsequently canonised, and still contains a shrine to his memory.
The Abbey is best known for being the venue for royal coronations, having been used for this purpose since 1066, when the ill-fated Harold (soon to be deposed by William the Conqueror) was crowned here. From 1301 until very recently St Edward’s Chair (on which the monarch is crowned) sat on the Stone of Scone – a 152kg stone on which Scottish monarchs were traditionally crowned. This symbolism of national subjugation wasn’t hard to interpret, and feelings still ran so high centuries later that it was ‘liberated’ by Scottish Nationalists in 1950, although it was soon recovered. It was officially returned to the Scotland in 1996 with the understanding that it would be temporarily returned to Westminster for the crowning of future monarchs.
Although the Abbey hosted the wedding of Prince William and Kate (or should I say Catherine) Middleton, it has not been the preferred venue for royal weddings over the centuries, and only two ruling monarchs have been married there.
There are an awful lot of famous dead people buried in the Abbey, including 17 ex-monarchs, so it’s definitely the Place to be Seen Dead, especially if you’re a literary sort! It is particularly well endowed with men of letters – the earliest being Geoffrey Chaucer who was interred here in 1400. Since then, the ranks of what became known as Poet’s Corner have been swollen by literary giants such as Robert Burns, William Blake, Lord Byron, Charles Dickens, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, George Eliot, John Dryden, T. S. Eliot, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Thomas Gray, Samuel Johnson, the Brontë sisters, John Keats, Rudyard Kipling, John Milton, John Masefield, Laurence Olivier, Nicholas Rowe, Alexander Pope, Jane Austen, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Thomas Shadwell, Dylan Thomas, Alfred Lord Tennyson and William Wordsworth. And in case you’re wondering how they can continue to find space to accommodate all this deceased writers, a condition for the more recent occupants is that they be cremated prior to internment.
Unfortunately one or two who were afforded the privelege didn’t want it: most notably Charles Dickens who had a horror of the Victorian rituals associated with death and specifically stated that he wanted to be buried at Highgate Cemetery instead. The Powers That Be were not impressed by this posthumous snub, and insisted on him being interred in Poet’s Corner in the Abbey anyway, by which time he was not in a position to object!
Fascinatingly, I discovered that the Abbey is classified as a ‘Royal Peculiar’ – as it turns out, this is not an inbred, halfwitted relative, but rather a church that falls under the jurisdiction of the monarch rather than a bishop.
5. St. Pauls Cathedral
It is one of my favourite London sights! And to think that if it weren’t for a major historical disaster, we wouldn’t even have it! I’m talking about the Great Fire of London, in 1666 – the original St Paul’s was destroyed in the blaze and Sir Christopher Wren commissioned to design its replacement. Although in fact this is the fifth cathedral on this site – there has been one here since 604.
When the Fire destroyed a large part of the city, Wren had the idea to use the opportunity to redesign it on what were then more “modern” ideas. His plan was never realised, but its centrepiece, a magnificent new cathedral, was. Although his initial design was modified several times, his vision for a grand domed cathedral on classical lines was broadly realised, though it took 36 years to build.
Westminster Abbey may be the capital’s premier place of worship for state occasions, notably coronations, but St Paul’s has also seen its fair share. In 1897 Queen Victoria celebrated her diamond jubilee here, and Queen Elizabeth II has also commemorated her jubilees in the cathedral. Royal weddings have been held here as well, most famously (in recent years) that of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer in 1981. State funerals that have been held here include those of Admiral Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and of the wartime Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill. I remember the latter well although I was only a child at the time – it was a very grand and rather sombre affair captured in detail on TV. There are monuments here to Nelson and Wellington, and also (among others) to Captain Scott who died in 1912 after his failed attempt to be first to the South Pole.
The scale of the building is awe-inspiring, especially as you stand beneath the dome and look upwards. But don’t just look up – you can ascend the dome and it is well worth doing. You will need some stamina however, especially if you want to go all the way to the top. I have done so on a few occasions and the views, as well as the sense of being somewhere rather special, do justify the effort. But your first goal is the Whispering Gallery, 259 steps up from the cathedral floor. Here you can test the phenomenon that gives the gallery its name – even softly spoken words carry from one side to the other due to some sort of acoustical effect. From here 119 steps take you to the Stone Gallery, which encircles the base of the dome on its exterior. Already you can see the views opening up, but press on up the remaining 200 steps to the Golden Gallery, and you will be at the highest point of the dome, with views of the River Thames, Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre among other landmarks.
Back at ground level, do have a look at some of the works of art in the cathedral. Two of the most impressive are the painting by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Holman Hunt, The Light of the World in the North Transept, and Henry Moore’s wonderfully fluid sculpture. Mother and Child in the North Quire Aisle.
You can also visit the Crypt, where you will see the tombs of the famous, including Nelson, Wellington, Wren himself and many more.
The cathedral is open for sightseeing from Monday to Saturday from 8.30 am to 4.00 pm. The adult admission price of £16.50 includes all areas, while children (6-16) pay £7.50 and students and seniors £14.50. There are also family tickets available – check the website for details. On Sunday the cathedral is open for worship only and there is officially no sightseeing, but of course if you attend a service, you will get the chance to see inside (for free!), although not to climb to the galleries.
6. Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace, one of several properties used by the Royal family, is one of the most visited tourist attractions in London. It originally was a country house built for the Duke of Buckingham. The royal family uses but is not owner of Kensington Palace, Buckingham Palace, St James’s Palace, Windsor Castle, Hampton Court, and other residences. They are owned by the state and cared for by the National Trust. Sandringham and Balmoral belong to the queen.
In 1825 George IV commissioned John Nash to remodel the existing house into a palace where he could then hold Court and conduct official business. Due to a lack of sufficient funding, the existing house was incorporated in the new palace. Interesting George IV never lived in the palace. In 1850 the large east wing was added, including a large 40 meter long ballroom. In 1913 the East Facade was remodeled to what you see today. In 1837 only three weeks after her Accession Queen Victoria took up residence, and Buckingham Palace has served as the official London residence of Britain’s sovereigns since 1837. Since her time a flag is hoisted each time the monarch is in the castle. Today the Palace contains 600 rooms and resides on a 40-acre garden.
7. Houses of Parliament and Big Ben
The Palace of Westminster (otherwise known as the Houses of Parliament) is perhaps the most recognisable building in London and one of my favourites. Why ‘Houses’ of Parliament? Well, the British Parliament comprises two houses: the lower House of Commons of elected representatives and the upper House of Lords, peopled with hereditary and life peers.
The current building is a flamboyant confection by Sir Charles Barry in the Perpendicular Gothic style and surprisingly recent, with the exterior having only been completed in 1870 (and much of the interior much later than that). Like many Central London buildings, the Houses of Parliament have been cleaned in recent years to remove accumulated surface grime and I think that the honey coloured limestone – a pleasant counterpoint to the rather stark white Portland Stone which has been used for the facades of many of the Whitehall buildings – is beautiful, particularly in the early morning and late afternoon, when the masonry seems to glow in the gentle light.
8. Madame Tussauds and Planetarium
Madame Tussaud’s is a wax museum with an incredible (and morbid) history. Her illustrious career began in the 18th century, when she started taking death masks of prisoners about to be executed. Don’t ask me why.
Her work eventually progressed to wax models of celebrities and notables, continuing after her death, and today the museum is loaded with dozens of uncannily realistic old and modern celebrities. The celebs range from Steven Spielberg to Henry VIII, from Adolf Hitler to the Rock, and stand freely about the museum so that you can see them up close, have your picture taken with them, and tell them that you thought they were really great in Be Cool.
There is also a gruesome Chamber of Horrors and a fantastic trip through time to experience ‘Old London’ in a miniaturized London cab. I particularly enjoyed this last bit and recommend it for the whole family (unlike the Chamber of Horrors, which is be a bit scary for children). The show is cheapest in the evening, so I’d suggest the 5pm show. Be there in plenty of time to queue up and grab a ticket!
I doubt there is any London tourist who doesn’t pass this spot at least once during their visit. For locals too, it is one of the most popular meeting places in the West End, as everyone knows it and transport links are so good.
At the centre of the “circus” is the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain, with the statue of an archer which everyone calls known as Eros, or the Angel of Christian Charity, but which should more properly be known as Anteros, the twin brother of Eros and the God of Selfless Love. Following some re-routing a few years ago of the various roads that meet here, the paved area surrounding the fountain can be reached without risking life and limb crossing the busy traffic, so the base of the fountain has become an even more popular meeting and resting place.
Piccadilly Circus is particularly lively at night, when the neon lights shine out in a blaze of colour. Incidentally, this is no modern phenomenon – the first electric advertisements appeared here in 1910.
10. Hyde Park
There are so many wonderful parks in London, that is one of the good things about London with all its numerous attraction – that you can seek refuge in one of its marvellous parks.
Hyde Park is the largest park in center London and a Royal Park. It is adjacent to Kensington park, it covers a very large area in center London. It has got a big artificial lake – the Serpentine, which divides the park in two – you can rent a boat and even swim in the lake on hot days. There is a good restaurant by lake Serpentine: The Serpentine Bar & Kitchen, where one can sit and enjoy the wonderful surroundings.
Hyde Park used to be a deer park and a private hunting ground for the King in the olden times but was opened to the public in 1637.
There are several entrances to the park, one of them being the Grand Entrance or Queen Elizabeth Gate (1825).
There is a memorial fountain in Hyde Park right next to the Serpentine. It is in memory of Princess Di, the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial fountain. It was opened by The Queen in 2004. It is beautiful and so serene. It is open from 10:00-16:00 in September-October, from 10:00 until 16:00 in November-February. In March from 10:00-18:00 and in April-August from 10:00-20:00.
There are so many beautiful statues in the park, including one of a big horse-head.
Don’t miss Speaker’s Corner on Sundays: it can be quite funny listening to the speakers standing on soap-boxes, sometimes entertaining, sometimes plain funny or frustrating. It is located in the North-East part of Hyde Park which is closest to Marble Arch.
Opening hours: 05:00 until midnight, but it gets way too dark in the park to walk through it.
11. Portobello Road and Notting Hill
The Portobello markets, located on Portobello road, are a fantastic way to spend half a Saturday.
Not only are there stalls lining the street, the little shops behind them are also open, meaning there is twice as much to see.
There are a number of antique stores and music shops, as well as vintage and original clothing stores. There are jewellery stalls, which remind me quite a lot of the jewellery I saw when I was in Bali in Indonesia, as well as bags – both vintage and new, as well as a few designer knock-offs. This is definitely the place to go if you are in need of a new scarf, as there are literally 100’s of options at the markets – from embroidered, to plain, in every colour and every fabric imaginable. I picked up 2 vintage scarf’s last time I was there for only 3 pounds and they are gorgeous and in perfect condition.
Another highlight is the food stalls – this is a great place to buy cheap fruit and vegetables, as well as a place to buy French cheese, Spanish goods, olives, feta and sun dried tomatoes, bread and cakes.
There is a great antique map store which i love, with maps from all over the world, at all different point of time in History. Its a very interesting shop!
There are even books stores, shoe stores and home ware stores. There are also plenty of pubs and cafes open if you want a snack or a drink.
The Portobello markets are quite popular and thus busy, but if you go there in the afternoon, after 1 or 2, it does quieten down quite a bit.
12. Trafalgar Square
Is there a London tourist who doesn’t come at some point to Trafalgar Square? It’s rightly one of the best-known and most iconic places in the city, and on a sunny day is a great place to linger a while and enjoy the sights. These include:
- Nelson’s Column, of course – a granite column 185′ (56m) high, crowned by the statue of Lord Nelson.
- The wonderful bronze lions, by Edwin Landseer, at the 4 corners of the monument.
- The fountains, adorned with mermaids, dolphins and tritons – a cooling sight on the hottest of days.
- The smallest police box ever built, on the SE corner of the square (now sadly used only for storage but once a facility for the famous Scotland Yard).
- The Imperial Standards of Length, marking the point from which all distances from London are measured.
The square is surrounded by great buildings, including the National Gallery on the north side, St Martin in the Fields (a beautiful Wren church, currently undergoing renovation) to the north-east, South Africa House (for years the site of a permanent anti-Apartheid protest, now thankfully no longer necessary) on the east and Canada House on the west. To the south, wonderful views can be had down Whitehall to the Houses of Parliament at the end . At Christmas the square is extra-special, with the large tree donated every year by the Norwegian government (in gratitude for Britain’s assistance during WW2) a focal point for carol singing and in recent years a European-style Christmas Market. The square is also the centre for major celebrations (when London was awarded the Olympic Games, for example, and when England won the Rugby World Cup) and for demonstrations. In fact, there is nearly always something going on here – so do come and join in!
13. Camden Town, Lock and Market
Camden Town is well-known for its alternative scene including the market stalls, the Camden Lock and the surrounding shops, recreational drugs such as cannabis sold in the form of lollipops and poppers and the food stalls flocking off really nice Asian food. The smell of the dishes on offer is amazing. You almost cannot make up your mind, as there are so many to choose from.
There are lots of shops in Camden Town that sell stuff that is perhaps hard to come by anywhere else such as “alternative” clothing, vintage stuff, body piercings, club wear and other cool & original gear, but they have lots of junk and cheap imports from China which are just dodgy pirate copies of the original stuff – especially on the outdoor markets, because they have become a major tourist attraction (especially at weekends).
14. Tower Bridge
One of the most instantly spotted landmarks of London, the Tower Bridge, offers a tour called “Tower Bridge Experience”.
It’s a real treat to take this tour. I discovered that the people of London presented petitions to have a new bridge built as a crossing below London Bridge. It was a successful petition, and Tower Bridge was completed in 1894. It’s a bascule bridge; in other words, it opens to allow big ships to pass below.
On the tour, we saw a few films about its history and construction. Then we visited the upper walkways. There are two walkways. They were originally built for pedestrians to cross the bridge when the bascules were in a raised position. These walkways were closed in 1909 because of the manysuicides that happened from there; fortunately, these walkways are now enclosed in glass, and they can once again be used by the public.
Wow! The views from the walkways are excellent! In the downstream walkway, they have an exhibit of old photos of Tower Bridge over the last 100+ years. Don’t miss a visit of the engine room of this working bridge. The old boilers (coal-fired) have been saved for this exhibit. They now raise the bascules via electricity.
It was quite an enjoyable learning experience.
The Tower Bridge spans the Thames River next to the Tower of London. Tickets are purchased at the north tower; then one takes the left to the walkway.
15. Natural History Museum
This is one of a group of museums in South Kensington, and is a great place to take the kids, for one simple reason – dinosaurs! If there is a child anywhere who isn’t fascinated by these amazing creatures, I have yet to meet them. Even before you get to the special Dinosaurs Gallery, the main entrance hall is dominated by a huge skeleton of a Diplodocus, whetting the appetite for the awesome exhibits in the gallery itself, including a giant animatronic model of a Tyrannosaurus Rex (not for the nervous child perhaps) and an intact Triceratops skeleton.
Elsewhere in the museum you can see a life-size model of a blue whale, a piece of the moon, a 1,300-year-old giant sequoia and even experience what an earthquake feels like. It has to be said though that some of the galleries have less child appeal – collections of rocks and minerals, for instance, are likely to bore them fairly quickly, so it helps to plan your route carefully.
There are several places to eat and drink (including an indoor space in the basement where you can eat a packed lunch in bad weather), plenty of toilet facilities, and several shops where you’re highly likely to succumb to “pester power” (a cuddly T Rex, anyone?) The website has a very practical Parents’ Survival Guide section to help you plan a visit with small children.
I also like the fact that you’re allowed to take photographs and videos for personal use anywhere in the Museum.
Admission is free (apart from some of the temporary exhibitions), and the museum is open Monday to Sunday 10.00AM – 17.50PM, every day except 24th -26th December. Last admission is at 17.30PM.
16. River Thames
The best way to see London’s River Thames is possibly to take a boat trip along it. There are several companies offering these, all pretty similar. Trips depart from a number of central London locations along the river, including Charing Cross Pier (by Embankment tube station), Westminster Pier (by Westminster Bridge and the tube station of the same name), Tower Bridge and Waterloo on the south bank. Some trips are quite short and focus on the central stretch of the river, while others go as far west as Kew Gardens or as far east as the Thames Barrier.
Depending on how long the trip you chose is, the sights you will see from the boat will probably include:
- London’s bridges, including the iconic Tower Bridge (not to be confused, as some tourists do, with the more mundane London Bridge).
- Great views of some of the most famous sights, such as Parliament, St Paul’s cathedral and the Tower of London.
- The restored warehouses in the eastern part of the city, now among the most sort-after London addresses for those that can afford to live here.
You’ll also get a good insight into all the activity on the river itself, with other sightseeing boats, river police, barges and privately-owned vessels, etc… passing regularly. Commentary is usually provided in a number of languages, and refreshments available on board. In the evening some of the companies run dinner or disco cruises, and boats can also be hired out for groups to enjoy a private customised tour.
Fares vary depending on the route you choose but are typically between £8 and £14 for an adult (one way), with discounts for children, senior citizens and family groups.
17. Markets and Street Life
Broadway Market is the largest indoor market in South-London – way down in Tooting Broadway. Next to it is Tooting Market. These two indoor markets are ever so vibrant, I love going there. Colliers Wood, the next stop to Tooting Broadway, is not such a “happening” place, so I spent a lot of time in Tooting Broadway, where you get a feeling of being in the center of London, it is so busy and bustling and there are endless red double-deckers on the main streets – a pure London feeling – so far south in SW17.
The inhabitants in Tooting Broadway are mainly immigrants and here is the centre of the Muslim Indian community in South-London. It is said that one can get the best curry in London here in Tooting Broadway.
Broadway Market has been open since 1936 (Tooting Market since 1930) and there are about 100 stalls here at Broadway Market, with myriad of food-stalls with multicultural cuisine, clothes stores, shoe-stores, jewellery shops, a stall with suitcases, hairdressers, barbers, fishmongers, butchers etc.
One can get palm-reading at Broadway Market – with the promise of casting away all deamons of all religions. The palm-readers are a bit aggessive in pulling passers by in, or maybe it is just a cultural thing, it must just be their way.
Opening hours: Monday-Saturday: 09:30-18:30 on Wednesdays from 09:30-17:30. Sunday: closed.
18. Covent Garden
Covent Garden is situated in the West End of London. This is connected with where the former fruit and vegetable market was held (which was a short distance away) but now it attracts high street and independent retailers, restaurants, cafes and is also an established tourist attraction. There are two markets: Apple Market, an arts & craft market, and another market is held in Jubilee Hall. The central square is lively with its street performers.
There is also The Royal Opera House, Theatre Royal Drury Lane and the London Transport Museum that are situated nearby. There are some historic buildings worth noting such as the St Paul’s Church and Inigo Jone’s Italianate arcaded square.
The name ‘Covent Garden’ came from the 16th Century when Henry VII acquire the Abbey land in that name and the area became popular since then and over the centuries.
19. Royal Botanic Gardens – Kew Gardens
A few key points about Kew Gardens: It is huge. It is impressive. It is not cheap.
Admission is ￡15 for adults. I balked at this a little but bit the bullet and went in, and I didn’t feel as if I’d been ripped off. However, Kew is massive, and you’re on your own for getting around. So you may have trouble packing it all in, depending on when you start out.
Kew does not consist of gardens simply for enjoying, like the other royal parks have (e.g., lots of nice roses and a fountain), although those do exist. The park has numerous little greenhouses and other buildings and areas that showcase different plants from different climates (e.g., temperate, tropical, desert, alpine) and specialty plants, like water plants and carnivores. I wouldn’t want to guess at how many genuses are covered, but each building includes hundreds of species, and it’s very hard to process it all. The palm house’s showcase piece is a cycad from the 1700s, still going strong. One part also has some fish on display, including a piranha.
There’s an evolution hall that shows the different plants growing on earth at different points in history, which was neat. When I got there, I found that the floor of the walkway is a metal grate, and you can see through the holes to the ground way, way below.
In summary, I found it was worth visiting. If you have zero interest in walking around and looking at interesting plants, however, skip it.
20. Gherkin – 30 St. Mary Axe
Exit Liverpool street station right down bishopsgate turning into Camomile Lane then first right into St Marys Axe.
There is a funny shaped glass building in London – which has turned into a landmark in London and an icon really – if you see this building you know it is London. It is called The Gherkin by Londoners due to its shape – a gherkin is a small cucumber. There are other names used for it as well, of sexual nature, one can only imagine…
The Gherkin has changed the image of London, before it the The Barbican center was the most prominent building in the City. The Gherkin was built in 2003-2004. It is 180 metres (590 feet) tall with 41 floors. On the 39th floor there is a restaurant.
The Gherkin was built on the site where the IRA planted a bomb in 1992.
Chinatown is in down-town London in Soho. It is only a couple of connected streets, but so worth a visit. Two of the entrances to Chinatown have got large ornate gates and you will find the main street lined with restaurants with women in traditional Chinese clothes standing outside the restaurants welcoming you in. In many windows of the restaurants there are the traditional roasted ducks (geese?) on display.
Besides the Chinese restaurants there are bars, herbal-treatments shops, bakeries, Chinese food-stores and souvenir shops there. It is a heaven for vegans, as they have the cheapest tofu and seaweed there – and a really good selection of vegetables.
The first Chinatown was in East-End, but got damaged in the bombings in WW2 and the Chinese community started making a new Chinatown in Soho, but it was only in the late 80’s that the gates were set up and Chinatown became pedestrianised.
It is a must visit while in down-town London.
22. Soho and the West End
Carnaby Street, theatres, restaurants, pubs and clubs – these are the things that bring tourists to Soho – a maze of narrow streets bounded by Oxford Street, Shaftesbury Avenue, Charing Cross Road and Regent Street. Once known as London’s sleaze and vice centre , nowadays the area is at the forefront of the city’s television production, magazine publishing, and the funky side of fashion. Thankfully, it still retains its air of raffish charm and individuality with scores of independent shops, small cafes and restaurants and plenty of pubs. It’s here that you’ll find central London’s only surviving fruit and vegetable market, open daily and still selling the freshest and cheapest produce to be had in the West End. As well as fruit, flowers and vegetables there’s fish, bread and cheese to be had along with herbs and spices, fabrics and cheap household goods. Established in 1839 and still going strong, although much reduced in size, it’s a taste of bygone London that the stall holders cherish as they joke with their customers in time-honoured London costermonger style.
Along with the market, Berwick Street was once just about kerb-to-kerb fabric shops, most of which have long disappeared in the face of cheap High Street fashions and today the few fabric and trimmings shops that remain are neighbors to music stores and good second-hand record shops – this is the place to come to look for that rare vinyl – a Japanese supermarket, and other small and quirky shops.
It’s also where you’ll find Flat White, home to what many see as the best coffee in London and one of the few places to serve a true Antipodean-style coffee.
23. New Zealand War Memorial
The New Zealand War Memorial is located along the eastern part of Hyde Park Corner and, like the Australian War Memorial at the other end of the Hyde Park Corner, this Memorial is dedicated to the war deads of New Zealand in both World Wars. It was unveiled in November 11, 2006. The design is made of 16 bronze standards (shaped like a cross). The top of the standards are adorned with different texts, patterns and small sculptures, all symbolic of New Zealand.
There are many monuments and memorials at the busy Hyde Park Corner, which is a major road junction at the southeastern corner of Hyde Park that compasses six streets, namely: Piccadilly (northeast), Constitution Hill (southeast), Park Lane (north), Grosvenor Crescent (southwest), Grosvenor Place (south), and Knightsbridge (west).
24. Leicester Square
Leicester Square in down-town London is so lovely, the cinema square – with Leicester’s Square Odeon, Emporium, Odeon West-End and Vue – and many more cinemas in this area. If you ever want to spot a famous actor this might be the place to be. Just hang around there at the premiere of a big movie.
Leicester Square is often closed off when there are premiers of new films and the actors in the main roles show up there. And the security guards can get really aggressive, shouting at people to “get off” – which I find very offensive.
Leicester Square is always very crowded with its cinemas, bars and clubs and on Friday and Saturday nights this is the place to be – if you are into clubbling. There are so many restaurants on the square itself and in this area – and this is an expensive area to sit down and eat.
During Christmas time there is a theme park on Leicester Square.
By the square is also an Information centre/ticket office.
In the park there is a fountain with a statue of Shakespeare with dolphins, one of Charlie Chaplin and many other statues.
If you want your portrait drawn and don’t mind a lot of people watching you in the process then there are several artists on this square every day.
25. Tate Modern
The Tate Modern opened to the public in May 2002 in what was once the Bankside Power Station which stands on the south bank of the Thames on the former site of Great Pike Gardens, which supplied fish to the religious houses in the area during the 14th century.
The building was constructed in two stages between 1947 and 1963 and was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. It consists of a steel structure enclosed by 4.2 million bricks, the chimney, being 99m (324ft) high, was designed to be lower than the 114m (374ft) dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral across the river. The western half of power station, which includes the chimney, went into production in 1952 and the eastern half in 1963. The power station stopped generating power in 1981, standing empty for thirteen years until the Tate Gallery took over the site in 1994.
The design by Hertzog & De Meuron, winners of an international competition for the conversion of the old power station, kept the buildings main structure intact and retained the huge turbine hall as an exhibition space and public forum. Galleries were added over the seven floors of the boiler house, as well as a two storey ‘lightbeam’ which allows natural light into the galleries below and offers panoramic views across the Thames to St Paul’s Cathedral and the City of London.
The cost of the conversion was £134 million and in the first three months of its opening the gallery had over two million visitors. The gallery holds the Tate’s modern art collection from 1900 to the present day and holds a number of temporary exhibitions each year.
- Featured image: DaniKauf [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 1. Tower of London: Bob Collowân [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 2. London Eye: User:Diliff [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 3. British Museum: Diliff [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 4. Westminster Abbey: Ermell [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 5. St. Pauls Cathedral: © User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons, via Wikimedia Commons
- 6. Buckingham Palace: Diliff [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 7. Houses of Parliament and Big Ben: giggel [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 8. Madame Tussauds and Planetarium: Cezary p at Polish Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 9. Piccadilly: Dietmar Rabich / Wikimedia Commons / “London, Piccadilly Circus — 2016 — 4866” / CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
- 10. Hyde Park: Txllxt TxllxT [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 11. Portobello Road and Notting Hill: Cristian Bortes from Cluj-Napoca, Romania [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 12. Trafalgar Square: mattbuck (category) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 13. Camden Town, Lock and Market: David Castor (user:dcastor), via Wikimedia Commons
- 14. Tower Bridge: Dietmar Rabich / Wikimedia Commons / “London, Tower Bridge — 2016 — 4676” / CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
- 15. Natural History Museum: jhlau — a.canvas.of.light [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 16. River Thames: Dietmar Rabich / Wikimedia Commons / “London, Tower Bridge — 2016 — 4767” / CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
- 17. Markets and Street Life: Arpingstone, public domain
- 18. Covent Garden: Dietmar Rabich / Wikimedia Commons / “London, Covent Garden — 2016 — 4878” / CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
- 19. Royal Botanic Gardens – Kew Gardens: Diliff [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 20. Gherkin – 30 St. Mary Axe: Samuel Zeller samuelzeller [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 21. Chinatown: Aurelien Guichard from London, United Kingdom [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 22. Soho and the West End: Jim Linwood from London [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 23. New Zealand War Memorial: Amanda Slater [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 24. Leicester Square: Mzx Photography [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 25. Tate Modern: Hans Peter Schaefer, Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported