London, the capital of the United Kingdom, is a very busy and crowded city where life moves at an accelerated pace. The architecture, shopping, parks, pubs, double decker buses and historic attractions mark it out as typically British and quite conservative. It is packed with cultural traditions, royal heritage and over 2000 years of history, which all combine to make London such a special place to visit.
Here is an overview of the highlights of London: Buckingham Palace Located at the heart of the city and next to Green Park and St James’s Park, Buckingham Palace is the main residence of Queen Elizabeth and the royal family. You can even tell whether the Queen is in residence by looking to see if the royal standard (red and yellow) is flying above the palace. Other highlights to look out for are the famous balcony and Queen Victoria’s Memorial Fountain. Plan your visit in the morning to see the ceremonial Changing of the Guards, a colourful parade to witness. Changing of the Guard This ceremonial pageant takes place daily from May through July and on alternate days the rest of the year. It begins at 11.00am but you need to be outside the gates of Buckingham Palace about 10.30am to get a good view of the parade. The guardsmen march down the Mall in their red dress uniforms and black bearskin helmets accompanied by band music and drums. The whole changeover of the guard duty takes about 30 minutes. Full information about this ceremony can be found on the official website of the British Monarchy: http://www.royal.gov.uk/ Hyde Park Hyde Park is one of the largest public parks in London – it covers an area the size of about 180 football pitches! It is a peaceful place to walk, relax on the grass, take a boat on the Serpentine and people-watch. To find out more about the park, including Speakers’ Corner, visit http://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/hyde-park Westminster Abbey Surviving since the 11th century, Westminster Abbey is where British monarchs are usually crowned, christened, married and buried. You may recognize it from the royal wedding of Prince William to Catherine Middleton in April 2011. The architecture, along with the history of this lovely building, is very impressive. There is however an admission charge if you want to go inside. The Abbey is just around the corner from Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, so you can view them all briefly in about one hour. More details are available at: http://www.westminster-abbey.org/home Big Ben and Houses of Parliament The Houses of Parliament, also known as the Palace of Westminster, is rich in culture and history. It was rebuilt in 1870 after a fire destroyed the old palace. Located beside the River Thames it accommodates both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. It is over 300m long and has more than 1100 rooms. You will not be surprised to know that this beautiful building is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. At one end of the Houses of Parliament is the impressive freestanding clock tower known as Big Ben. This is actually the name of the largest 13-tonne bell that chimes every hour. Make sure you time your visit around the hour to hear the deep chimes close up – it is quite impressive. The tower itself was renamed the Elizabeth Tower in honour of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee (60 years on the throne) in 2012. More information about these iconic buildings can be found at: http://www.parliament.uk/visiting/ London Eye Just across Westminster Bridge from the Houses of Parliament is the London Eye. This giant Ferris wheel is a whopping 130 metres high and it rotates very slowly to give visitors great views right across London from the clear Perspex pods. A “flight” (one full turn) takes about 30 minutes and visitors can look down on the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and its gardens, Canary Wharf, St Paul’s Cathedral dome and even Windsor Castle 40km away on a clear day. Check out the details here: http://www.londoneye.com/ Tower of London The most fun way to reach the Tower of London is by boat from Westminster Bridge, which will also have a commentary about the sights as you sail down the Thames to the Tower. The landmark Tower of London was built in the late 11th century after William the Conqueror came to the throne. It was intended to be a royal residence but has a notorious history as it was quickly turned into a prison for those who displeased later monarchs. Tower Green was where many members of the royal family and others charged with treason were actually beheaded. A visit inside the defensive walls of the Tower of London will include access to the White Tower and many other buildings. See the Crown Jewels, the traditional ravens and the colourfully dressed Beefeaters who guard the tower. More details are available on the official website: http://www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/ The Three Main Squares in London: Piccadilly Circus Piccadilly Circus is Britain’s answer to Times Square. The easiest way to reach it is by catching the Tube (Underground) to Piccadilly Circus. It has a few neon billboards, although less than in the past, and is very impressive when lit up at night. It was built in 1819 as a major junction of intersecting streets including Regent Street (for shopping) and Shaftesbury Avenue. At that time it would have been busy with horses and carriages rather than taxis, buses and cars that whizz around it today. Look out for the fountain and statue of Eros, shooting his bow and arrow, along with the famous Criterion Theatre, the London Pavilion and the Trocadero exhibition and events space. Leicester Square Bustling Leicester Square is in the heart of London’s Theatreland and is an area that most tourists head for in the evening. You will find a wide array of entertainment including cinemas, theatres, pubs and restaurants. The crowds also provide good cover for pickpockets, so be extra vigilant here. Trafalgar Square Trafalgar Square was commissioned to celebrate the victory of Admiral Nelson over France in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. His statue can be seen on top of Nelson’s Column which is 54m high. The square has two fountains and several plinths with statues on them. One side of the huge area is occupied by the massive building housing the National Gallery, which has free admission. Trafalgar Square is a traditional gathering place for celebrations such as New Year’s Eve, the Chinese and Jewish celebrations, outdoor movies, concerts and events.