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London

London

Lonod - Buckingham Palace Guards

London

One of the world's great cities, vibrant London manages to shine in the greyest weather and its diversity defies a simple definition. This sprawling city has drawn people for centuries, looking for something and finding the unexpected.

London is the capital of Great Britain and the largest city in Europe - but at times it can be both rather un-British and even un-European. It is one of the world's most international cities - borrowing a bit from here, a piece from there, and changing almost daily. The influences blend to create something new and unique, so, wherever you arrive from, the city is in places warmly familiar, in others wonderfully different.

Nevertheless, London's landscape is steeped in British history and tradition. The classic sights of Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square and Big Ben could not be more English, and are a permanent symbol of England's former greatness. If any single thing epitomizes London's character for both local and tourist alike, it's the tube, trains and red double-decker buses of its public transport system; the frenetic lifeblood that circulates three million people around the capital daily.

As everyone will tell you the city is undeniably expensive, but you get your money's worth like nowhere else on earth: no other city has such an excess of accessible history and dynamic modernity.

The result is a metropolis that is endlessly fascinating, able to excite the most jaded traveler and generate memories of a lifetime; it is this quality which ensures London will never lose its allure.

 

ATTRACTIONS

 

Westminster Abbey

With more than a thousand years of history, the awesome Gothic interior of Westminster Abbey has seen the coronations, marriages and funerals of British Royalty. Also buried and commemorated in the abbey grounds and mausoleum are the nation's most famous poets, including Chaucer, Tennyson and Charles Dickens. The memorial to the Unknown Soldier is a particularly poignant reminder of Britain's many war dead.

Westminster. Open: Mon-Fri 09h30-15h45; Wed 09h30-19h00; Sat 09h30-13h45. On Sundays the cathedral is open for worship only. Admission: GBP7.50, adults; GBP5, children; GBP15, family. Tel: +44 (0)20-7222-5152. Tube: Westminster.

 

British Museums

The British Museum remains England's greatest cultural attraction. Replete with the accumulated wealth of an Empire its galleries can almost boast more world class art works and attractions within its walls than exist in the entire city without.

The whole complex is now oriented around its splendid Great Court, opened by the Queen in 2001. Around this large covered space are over 80 galleries packed to the rafters with pieces from the world of art and history. The collections span the entire globe, exploring cultures and societies through artifacts that range from housekeeping to warfare. Naturally Britain is well represented, with displays such as the Mildenhall Treasure (a priceless collection of Roman silver discovered in Suffolk in the 1940s) and the remains of Lindow Man, an early Briton pulled from a peat bog in Cheshire.

The British Museum can also boast one of the largest Egyptian collections outside Cairo, as well as extensive Greek, Roman, and Japanese galleries. Some of the pieces are only on display in the face of controversy. The presence of the Elgin Marbles in particular has long been a bone of contention between the museum and Greece, and political movements have been made to have the frieze returned to Athens.

Great Russell St. Open: Sat-Wed 10h00-17h30; Thu-Fri 10h00-20h30. Note that some galleries such as the Mausoleum of Halikarnassos open at limited times only. Admission: free. Tel: +44 (0)20-7323-8299. Tube: Holborn or Tottenham Court Rd or Russell Sq.

 

London Eye

The British Airways London Eye is the world's highest observation wheel and since its inception in 2000 has become one of the most popular attractions in the city. Unsurprisingly the Eye is extending its South Bank tenure beyond the five years originally planned and will now remain a feature on the London skyline until at least 2025.

Revolving slowly like the wheel of time itself, the Eye takes its passengers on a half-hour "flight", in 32 glass-enclosed capsules, reaching a height of 137m above the River Thames. The view from the highest point is extraordinary, a fully panoramic view of the capital it stretches all the way to the edge of the city on a clear day. Book ahead to avoid disappointment or lengthy queues.

Thames South Bank. Tel: 0870-500-0600 (within UK). Tube: Waterloo or Westminster.

 

Tower of London

First established by William the Conqueror, over 900 years ago, the Tower of London was designed to be the seat of the king and a fortress to defend the City of London, both from invaders and from internal insurrection. The tower was originally only the square keep, today commonly referred to as the "White Tower". Over the centuries subsequent monarchs extended the tower's walls and defences to their still impressive present size.

As well as being the garrison for the city of London militia, the tower served as the royal armory and even private zoo (whose menagerie was the basis of London Zoo) but it is most famous for being the site of incarcerations and executions during the Middle Ages. The prisoner's roster here includes Walter Raleigh, Thomas More and Elizabeth I (as Princess Elizabeth). Henry VIII's wives Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard were both executed on the green here, while the Bloody Tower was the site of several murders, including allegedly that of the "Princes in the Tower".

The traditional Yeoman Guards (commonly known as "Beefeaters") provide free tours that tell you the tales of the various people who inhabited the tower, and the many myths and legends instilled in the bricks and mortar. In the Armoury you can see the robust original battle armour of Henry VIII and various weaponry, while the Jewel Tower holds the Crown Jewels, the ceremonially trappings of the monarchy dating back centuries, and including the bejewelled crown of current Queen Elizabeth II. It takes at least half a day, and plenty of shoe leather to explore the Tower's attractions fully.

Tower Hill. Open: Mon-Sat 09h00-18h00 (Mar-Oct), 09h00-17h00 (Nov-Feb); Sun 10h00-18h00 (Mar-Oct), 10h00-17h00 (Nov-Feb). Admission: GBP13.50, adults; GBP9, children. Tel: +44 (0)870-756-6060. Tube: Tower Hill.

 

Buckingham Palace

When it's open (in August and September) most visitors find the prospect of peeking behind palace doors irresistible. You don't get access to the Royal Family's private quarters but the sumptuous interior and portrait gallery make this visit worthwhile. Even out of season it's worth seeing the majesty of the Queen's main home from the outside.

The biggest attraction though is the ever popular Changing of the Guard ceremony. The big event takes place every day at 11h30 and if you want a good view you will have to get there early. The best vantage points are in front of the Victoria Memorial and in front of the palace railings, near the entrance. There is no charge to view the ceremony.

The Mall. Palace admission: GBP12.95, adults; GBP6.50, children. Tel: +44 (0)20-7321-2233 (credit-card booking). Tube: St James's Park or Victoria.

 

Tate Modern

The most successful of the capital's Millennium projects, the Tate Modern art gallery occupies the massive Bankside power station building, on the south side of the Thames. Now fronted by the glittering Millennium Bridge that connects the attraction to St Paul's it is no exaggeration to say that the gallery has revolutionised the way people see Modern Art in Britain.

The addition of a glass roof has been the only external change from when the gallery was a power station, and the distinctive central tower has turned from eyesore into cultural exclamation mark in most people's minds. An incredible five and a quarter million people visited the gallery in its first year of opening, and with a constantly evolving collection of art on display over its three exhibition floors, people return time and time again.

Inside you can find works from Britain's enfants terribles of Modern Art: Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst and anyone who's anyone have all exhibited here. You'll also find classic works that sparked the Modern Art movement such as Marcel Duchamp's "Urinal" and Salvador Dali's "Lobster Telephone".

Thames South Bank. Open: Sun-Thu 10h00-18h00; Fri-Sat 10h00-22h00. Admission: free (optional donation). Tel: +44 (0)20-7887-8000. Tube: Blackfriars or London Bridge.

 

Science Museum

Science comes to life through highly innovative exhibitions that engage adults and children equally at London's Science Museum. The emphasis throughout is on interaction with the many exhibits.

Among the many highlights are the aviation lab with hands-on flight simulator; Digitopolis, which allows visitors to explore a digital landscape and consider how technology impacts on everyday life; and the fascinating Secret Life of the Home which looks beneath our domestic surfaces.

The top two floors of the museum are given over to medical and veterinary history, with over 5000 exhibits from across the world that collectively demonstrate the strange confluence between art and science that can characterise anatomical science. Traditional subjects such as classical physics, engineering and astronomy are well represented with detailed displays.

Exhibition Rd, South Kensington. Open: daily 10h00-18h00. Admission: free. Tel: +44 (0)870-870-4868. Tube: South Kensington.

 

Leicester Square and Covent Garden

Leicester Square and the area around it is the classic tourist magnet for any visitor to London. With hundreds of restaurants, bars and nightclubs, the plaza is the natural starting point for your exploration of London Town. From the central square ringed with its famous cinemas you are just five minutes' walk from salacious Soho, and its dubious delights.

Up Charing Cross Road you come across a bibliophile's heaven: more than 30 bookstores ranging from the triple-levelled Waterstones to highly specialised antiquarian treasure troves. Tube: Leicester Square.

Nearby Covent Garden is a popular place for shopping and an ideal starting point for a night out with always plenty going on in this European-style plaza and its central Victorian market hall. The main London theatres are all in close proximity, and the old market plays host to an array of buskers interspersed with cafés and bars. The nearby opera house relays live performances onto an open-air screen during the summer months. Tube: Covent Garden.

 

Shakespeare's Globe Theather

First built in 1598, the Globe was William Shakespeare's resident theatre where many of his most famous plays were premiered. The building featured a distinctive cyclindrical shape with a thatched roof and seating was tiered with the moneyed upper classes in the galleries and the "groundlings" at the bottom.

The original Globe Theatre burned down during a particularly enthusiastic performance of Henry VIII and although a replacement was quickly built, the acoustics were considered poor and the general design inferior. Within 20 years of Shakespeare's death in 1616 the Globe had been pulled down and its foundations buried. In 1970 American actor Sam Wanamaker set about rebuilding the Globe on its original site to its original design and the result was opened in 1987. The Globe has hosted a regular Shakespeare season since 1996, allowing audiences to participate in an authentic London ritual - some 400 years after the curtain was first raised on Julius Caesar.

If you simply want to have a look around, the Globe Exhibition is a treat for fans of Shakespearean theatre with displays of Elizabethan costumes and original manuscripts, with regular guided tours showing you what's what behind the scenes.

New Globe Walk. Exhibition open: daily 10h00-17h00 (Oct-Apr); 09h00-12h00 & 12h30-17h00 (May-Sep). Tours held every 15-30 minutes. Admission to exhibition: GBP8.50, adults; GBP6, children. Tickets to performances cost from GBP5 (standing) to GBP29. Tel: +44 (0)20-7902-1500. Tube: London Bridge.

 

St. Paul's Cathedral

St Paul's Cathedral rose from the ashes of the Great Fire of 1666, designed by England's most famous church builder, Sir Christopher Wren. The cathedral took ten years to design and over 40 years to build, but even several centuries on the massive dome and the fabulous acoustics are objects of architectural admiration.

During the war the cathedral became a symbol of British resilience in the face of the Blitz bombing campaign that saw areas of the city reduced to rubble - the dome proving indestructible even on the occasion that it was directly hit by a Luftwaffe bomb. Although it has since been dwarfed by the skyscrapers of the financial "City" that surrounds it, the cathedral remains an indomitable part of the London skyline.

Climb the 530 steps to The Golden Gallery for an outstanding view and try out the amazing acoustic properties of the Whispering Gallery. Entombed in the Crypt are the remains of some great English heroes including Admiral Horatio Nelson, General Wellington, Florence Nightingale, and fittingly, Christopher Wren.

Open: Mon-Sat 08h30-16h30. Admission: GBP7, adults; GBP3, children. Note that service is held on Sundays and while you will not be required to pay to enter during worship, neither will you be able to visit all parts of the cathedral. Tel: +44 (0)20-7236-4128. Tube: St Paul's.

 

The National Gallery

The British National Gallery houses an extensive collection of European paintings from the 13th to 19th centuries, including all of the big names from Van Gogh to Leonardo. Excellent audio-tours are available in several languages, and there is even a Micro gallery that allows you to browse the collection from a CD-ROM and print reproductions of your favorite works.

Trafalgar Sq. Admission: free, donations are encouraged. Tel: +44 (0)20-7747-2885, Tube: Leicester Sq or Charing Cross.

Thames Cruise

The muddy Thames snakes its way to the sea through the city and en route links several of London's top bankside attractions. A cruise is a fantastic way to relax and see the sights roll by, accompanied by often rather corny, but quite amusing banter from the captain.

Several companies operate "hop-on, hop-off" cruises leaving from Embankment or Westminster pier, or you can take a cruise down to Greenwich or Richmond. Prices start at around GBP7 return although if you have a London Travelcard you will get a reduction. Tube: Embankment.

 

Hyde Park

The mark of any great capital is the amount of space left open for its citizens. London is dotted with dozens of parks, but Hyde Park, right at its heart, is one of its most popular. This vast open space is a bolt of green amid the city grey where the picnic blanket and the rollerblade rule in peace. On a summer's day it's just about possible to forget you are in one of the world's busiest cities.

You can also ride a horse down Rotten Row, take a boat on to Serpentine Lake or listen to people share their views at Speakers' Corner. Tube: Lancaster Gate, Hyde Park Corner or Marble Arch (for Speakers' Corner).

 

Greenwich

Historic Greenwich makes for a pleasant weekend excursion to visit the fleamarket and craft stalls and enjoy the numerous restaurants and cafés. Just next to the town the Cutty Sark is moored in a dry dock near the water. The beautifully restored deck and immaculate rigging take you back to the late-19th century when this was the fastest ship of its kind in the world. A trip to the Observatory where you can walk the zero degree meridian line is also worthwhile, as is a visit to the Maritime Museum.

To get there you can take the Docklands Light Railway to Cutty Sark, or get off at Island Gardens and then walk the Greenwich foot tunnel under the Thames. Alternatively combine a visit with a boat trip down the Thames. Boats leave from Westminster Pier and the Tower of London regularly for Greenwich.


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