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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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.
Square and Covent Garden
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.