No trip to London would be complete without seeing Buckingham Palace and some of the other amazing sights in the City Centre. You can either make your own way to places or take one of the many City Tours or individual tours on offer. Londoners love London! Just one of the tour operators is www.guidelondon.org.uk You will see many of the 'Hop on- Hop-off' open top double decker buses wherever you are in Central London and you can buy a pass for 24 or 48 hours or sometimes other times.
ROYALTY, PALACES, PARLIAMENT, WESTMINSTER ABBEY AND ST PAULS CATHEDRAL…
Buckingham Palace - is where the Queen lives (most times) and it is right in Central London. You have no doubt seen the Gates countless times on TV, and this will be mostly as far as you will get, but it makes for a great photo. The Palace does have tours that run between the 1st August and 27th September (book on-line), while the Changing of the Guard happens each day at about 11-15 and finishes at 12 o'clock. Get here early if you want to get a good position in the crowd. You will also find a Royal Collection Gift Store next door too at 7 Buckingham Palace Road where you can buy very stylish Royal memorabilia, and visit the Queen's Gallery – with its incredible collection of paintings. Another Royal Residence that is open for a few weeks each year is Clarence House, the townhouse home of the Prince of Wales. See www.princeofwales.gov.uk located at Little St James Street. See www.royal.gov.uk/theroyalrsidences/clarencehouse
Almost next door to Buckingham Palace is the Royal Mews – where the Royal Carriages, Windsor Grey and Cleveland Bay horses and horse stables are located on Buckingham Palace Road. It opens at 10am each day, and a lot of people don't know about it, but it is a great place to visit. See www.royalcollection.org.uk to see the Jubilee State Coach, Gold State Coach and other parts of the Stables.
Next door to the Palace are St James's Park (where Royal Processions have taken place) and Green Park. No doubt you will also know these names too, and on a summer's day or in the early spring the Parks are beautiful places to sit, walk or wander. St James's Park has a lake with ducks and is a particular favourite park to visit.
Equally beautiful is Hyde Park, a massive green space in the City, with giant old trees, the lake, lawns, pathways and gardens.
Kensington Palace is located at one end of Kensington Gardens, (Kensington High Street end) and these Gardens connect to Hyde Park, separated by the Long Water and Serpentine Lake in the middle. You can visit this Palace and see many of the rooms inside. It is open Monday to Sunday from February to November from 10am to 6 pm. See www.hrp.org.uk/kensingtonpalace Kensington Palace is where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge live with their children Prince George and Princess Charlotte. Kensington Road with lots of Buses running along next Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park through to Knightsbridge. This is also where you will find Royal Albert Hall. Bayswater Road is on the other long side of the Parks, leading up to Marble Arch.
Knightsbridge is one of London's most prestigious addresses, and home to Harrods Department Store at 87- 135 Brompton Road (See www.harrods.com ) The Food Hall in Harrods is stunning as well as the perfume and the other fashion and homewares departments, be it that you buy something or not. The Victoria and Albert Museum, Natural History Museum and Science Museums are close to here too (see below).
If you love horses and ceremony – see if you can visit the Household Cavalry Museum in Whitehall, where the Horse Guards are stationed. See www.householdcavalrymuseum.co.uk The Museum is in Whitehall – the closest Tube stations being Charing Cross, Westminster and Embankment – and you can see and get to understand many of the traditions and ceremonial Uniforms that are used by the Horse Guard. Whitehall is also where the British Foreign Office is located, the Street itself equally famous, also on the Monopoly board too.
Banqueting House (Palace) – Whitehall. This is a hidden gem, MUST SEE located on Whitehall, close to the corner of Horseguards Avenue. Banqueting House is where James the 1st was beheaded in 1649. While this was a gruesome event, Banqueting House was a also great place for Royalty to enjoy banquets and 'masques' – stage events where the players/actors wore masks to hide their identity, to entertain those enjoying a Royal Banquet. While Banqueting House may look just like another Georgian style building on the outside, what is inside is truly amazing, with the highlight being the Main Hall – which has a massive ceiling painted by the famous Flemish artist, Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). It is absolutely stunning. Also look to see the Undercroft – a place with James the 1st could escape the rigours of Royal Life!
The British Houses of Parliament are also called "The Palace of Westminster and the Parliamentary Estate" (overlooking the Thames) with Westminster Abbey very close by.
The closest Tube Station to Parliament House is Westminster (on Circle, Jubilee and District lines), with the Tours and Ticket office to see the Parliament Houses is located next to Westminster Bridge that crosses over the Thames. Westminster Pier is where Thames River Cruises leave from just off Victoria Embankment. See www.parliament.uk/visiting There is a lot to see here in this area, including the famous Big Ben Clock. The name Big Ben was named after a boxer who stood taller and stronger than others at the time, and Big Ben is officially the 14 ton bell itself that rings on the hour, its tone distinctive to other smaller bells that ring on the quarter hour. On St Margaret Street there is a second entrance for Visitors called Cromwell Green, and over the road look for Jewell Tower which opens to the public from around 28th March to 30th September (see www.english.heritage.org.uk )It is located next to Abingdon Street Gardens. A little further along is where St Margaret Street becomes Abingdon Street – here see if you can see the Black Rod's Garden and Victoria Tower Gardens overlooking the River Thames.
Westminster Bridge crosses over the Thames, and on the other downstream side you will see The London Eye Ferris Wheel (See www.londoneye.com ) with each of its glass sided capsules carrying up to 25 people. As you would expect, there are great views over the city from the top, which is 135 metres high. Almost next door to it are the Jubilee Gardens and also SeaLife Aquarium. Waterloo Station is not far from here too.
For great views, see www.the-shard.com – 'The Shard' which is the 310 metre, 87 Storey high-rise building close to London Bridge (downstream from Westminster). You can see the whole of London on a clear day from the viewing floors up top. The Shard address is 32 London Bridge Street. The cost to go to the top varies depending on the time of day but can be as much as 25 to 35 pounds, so quite expensive.
Westminster Abbey – and St Margaret's Church are directly opposite the Houses of Parliament at 20 Deans Yard on the land side of the Parliament Buildings, as opposed to the Thames River side. Westminster Abbey (the Collegiate Church of St Peter) and this site have history dating back to the time when it was a small Benedictine Monastery in 960AD.
The Abbey has been where Coronations and Royal Weddings have taken place since 1066, with the current Abbey built in the 13th and 16th Century. It is a truly amazing building and history too – and there are tours here with the Verger of the Abbey. See www.westminster-abbey.org There are 600 monuments and wall tablets in the Abbey, with some 3000 people buried here. The Abbey has stained glass windows and the magnificent Gothic Architecture to see, as well as to hear the story of the Abbey. Visitors are welcome between 9-30 and 6pm from Monday to Saturday, with Sunday reserved for Church Services. Also ask about Chapter House and the Pyx Chamber – built by Royal Masons in 1250 for Benedictine Monks to hold meetings, and later used by the King's Great Council – the King's advisors. The crowds of people coming here to see the Abbey can sometimes be big, so go early or pick a time when you hope the crowds will be less. The whole atmosphere of the Abbey, the sheer brilliance of the artistry and symbolism of all that you see from the floors, to the walls and ceiling above you is awe inspiring. It does cost around 20 pounds to see inside, but it is worth it knowing that you are making a contribution to maintaining the Abbey and all that it contains.
Westminster Cathedral – the Roman Catholic Cathedral is close to Victoria Station, off Victoria Street at 42 Francis Street. The Cathedral was built on the site of an old prison, Tothill Fields Prison that dates back to its opening in 1834, with the Cathedral's foundation stone laid in 1895 and the Cathedral consecrated in 1910. It is a spectacular building and used daily for masses, with a gift shop also located here too. See if you can go to the Tower Viewing Gallery – it has great views over London.
St Pauls Cathedral – is located at St Paul's Churchyard (near St Paul's Tube Station). The Cathedral opens for Morning Prayer at 7.30 in the morning, Eucharist at 8 am and Visitors are welcome between 8.30 and 4pm. Christianity came to Britain with the Roman Monks and St Paul's was officially founded in 604AD, with the first Cathedral built here around 1087AD. The current Cathedral (The 4th one on this site) was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and built between 1675 and 1710 after the 3rd one was destroyed in the Great London Fire of 1666. It is also a fascinating Cathedral, one of the most famous in the world. See www.stpauls.co.uk
Museum of London – this is just a short distance from St Paul's Cathedral at 150 London Walk. See www.museumoflondon.org.uk This Museum is all about London from 450,000 BC to the days of the Romans, medieval London to today, with stories of London in the great Plague to the Great Fire of London, London Blitz and wartime to modern times. Here you will also be able to see the Lord Mayor's horse drawn Carriage and many other displays. Just one of the many exhibits and information relates to the Great Fire of London of 1666, when 13,200 houses were destroyed, 87 churches, 3 city gates and 52 Livery Halls. The fire lasted for days, with firefighting equipment mostly being leather buckets and some fire squirts to shoot water at the flames. Even St Paul's Cathedral did not escape the fire, and London Bridge, at that time a bridge with wooden houses on the bridge itself on both sides, only just managed to survive the fire. London Bridge, at that time the only Bridge over the river in London City with the current London Bridge built in 1824, and more work carried out in 1973. More of this story and others make the Museum of London a good place to get a real feel for London's history and the changes that have shaped the city.
London's Roman Amphitheatre – London has been a recognized township (Square Mile) since 100 AD, when it was the Roman's Capital in Britain and called "Londinium". In 1988 excavation unearthed a Roman Amphitheatre and now you can see the foundations of this here at Guildhall Galleries – a remarkable Art Gallery/Museum located at Guildhall Yard (off Gresham Street) nearest Tube stations being Moorgate and Bank. It is roughly midway between the two Tube Stations, a few streets away. There are also the foundations of other Roman buildings around Central London too – some of which can be seen near the Tower of London.
London's Tower Bridge on the Thames River and the Tower of London and HMS Belfast are close together, the closest Tube Stations being Tower Hill on the north side of the River and London Bridge Station on the south side. The Tower Bridge is also one of the most recognizable bridges in the world, with its towers on each side of the river, and the roadway lifting as two halves opening to allow vessels to pass under the roadway. If you go on the website www.towerbridge.org.uk you will be able to see the times when it will open. There is also a Tower Bridge Exhibition here too, and you can, with a ticket form the Ticket Office at the base of the North Tower, walk to the top of the bridge to cross over the pedestrian walkway up top, with even walk on a glass floor to look downwards as well as see the Engine Rooms on the lower level of the South Tower. Also close by at 2-4 Tooley Street, there is the London Bridge Experience – a scary show about London's scary past when Jack the Ripper and other characters lurked in the laneways. See www.thelondonbridgeexperience.com
Tower of London – This is officially named as "Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress" but was also a prison with a history dating back to the time of the Norman invasion around 1078AD, but over coming centuries it was expanded, most of the construction being around 1350. There are four towers on top of the Fortress walls, and there are Guided Tours of the Building by the Yeoman Warders in their distinctive uniforms – See www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon . There are the famous Ravens that live at the tower, as well as the Scaffold Site where 3 different Queens were beheaded, and also the Crown Jewels are here too. It has to be one of the highlights of a visit to London.
All Hallows by the Tower – Byward Street, next to the Tower of London, is the oldest church in London, founded by the Abbey of Barking in 675AD. It is a remarkable church inside, and well worth seeing. Look to see Undercroft Museum here. When executions happened in the Tower of London, their bodies were first brought here to the church. See www.ahbtt.org.uk
Monument to the Great Fire of London - this is a tower column located in Fish Street Hill designed by Christopher Wren that commemorates the Great Fire of London in 1666, the fire that destroyed so much of the City at that time. There is a gold urn in the shape of a fire at the top of the column, the tower itself being 61.5 metres high and located 61.5 metres away from where the fire first started in a Bakery shop on Pudding Lane.
Aspley House – is not as well-known as other places, but if you love to see beautiful room décor, gilded interiors, amazing floors, coffered ceilings, porcelain, sculptures, silverware, Chandeliers, Paintings and furnishings, this is "The House". Aspley House is located at 149 Piccadilly right at Hyde Park Corner. Tel 44 20 7499 56 76, or search on-line to find opening times. This is the original home of the Duke of Wellington, who defeated Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo. See www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/aspley-house/history The house is only open on a few days of the week, so you need to check the website to see that it is open on the days you want to visit. There are also other historic homes that are open – see www.englishheritage.org.uk and www.nationaltrust.org.uk .
British Library – see www.bl.uk This is a massive library housing some 14 million books. It is located at 96 Euston Road. It is an easy walk from Kings Cross/St Pancras Stations.
Other Mansions and Open Houses – There are a number of historic homes and gardens in London managed by the National Trust and other organisations. These are just some of them – Note: check to see that they are open if you are wanting to visit.
There are maybe 100 other Museums in London, and the best place to see if there are ones that have a particular interest to you is to search on www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/list_of_museums_in_london
ART GALLERIES –
There are also many other public and private Galleries in London too, but the ones above are the most famous.
London is full of shops with even Napoleon commenting that "England is a nation of shopkeepers" back in the early 1800's!
Best known perhaps are the big name Department stores and you should try and visit at least one of them when you are here. On Oxford Street you will find Marks and Spencer's (near Oxford Circus Tube Station); Primark at 14-28 Oxford Street, John Lewis and Selfridges (closer to Marble Arch Tube), and many other fashion stores like H&M, and the Apple Store while Liberty is on Regent Street, (very close to Oxford Circus Tube) in its old black and white Tudor building and the toy store. Hamleys and famous fashion street, Carnaby Street (see www.carnaby.co.uk) is close by too. You will also find lots of high end fashion stores close to Harrods on Brompton Road, Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge, and along Kensington High Street.
Also look for Bond Street and Sloane Street for high end fashion stores.
Westfield Shopping Centres (Malls) are at Stratford City (nearest Tube – Stratford) and Westfield London is in Shepherd's Bush (Shepherd's Bush Tube Station) located at 4006 Ariel Way. Here you will find over 300 shops, including high-end fashion, movie theatre and Kidzania ( see www.kidzania.co.uk - a great interactive role play/learning experience for kids up to around 12 years or so).
There are also lots of stores in and around almost all Tube stations and there are also a number of Street Markets that happen in and around London – some of the best known ones being –
The markets listed above are just some of the markets that you will find in London.
If you are looking for men's suits – the 'big name' street is Savile Row in Mayfair, near Bond Street – where you will find the finest tailors.
For Jewellery – head to Hatton Garden Jewellery Quarter, nearest Tube station is Chancery Lane.
Another MUST SEE is the Silver Vaults at Chancery House, 53-64 Chancery Lane. The Vaults are built underground and were first built in 1876 to safely store the silver used by silversmiths. Today the Silver Vaults house a number of silversmiths and probably the biggest and most amazing shops selling all sorts of things made in silver. Quite incredible.
WALKING LONDON –
As much as catching the tube is a great way to quickly get around London, you don't see much when you are underground, while above ground the buses will let you see more but also can get very crowded too. There are also the 'Hop on – Hop off' open top double decker buses which take you around the main sites within Central London. You buy a pass for 24 hours or 48 hours to travel on them.
Central London is very walkable – with good footpaths and lighting and there are a number of parks and walkways that make it easy to get a real feel for London and its way of life. Even if you do get a bit lost, it is easy to ask someone how close you are to a landmark or Tube station, and go from there.
There are also walking tours with a commentary to that take you to see different parts of the City, or talk about particular characters, like Jack the Ripper or other notable events like the Great Fire of London. Just one of these tours is www.weareundiscovered.com/london/freetour
Weather will play a big part in how much walking you do, but if the weather is good, these are some of the places that you might wander to –
Beside the Thames – The Thames River has played a central part London life for its whole history and there are walkways and cycleways on both sides of the River, with a number of bridges linking the two sides. The River has lots of boats, barges and traffic on it, and is tidal so the water moves pretty fast too. Just walking or cycling along beside the River and taking a few photos makes for a great morning or afternoon. The South side of the River Thames near to Tower Bridge has lots of activities, bars, cafes and ice-cream sellers, making it very popular.
Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, Green Park and St James's Park are the big central parks in London – just four of the 8 Royal Parks in London. These historic parks with their lakes, birds, ducks, walkways, giant old trees, formal gardens, garden benches and green space are all linked together and you could easily spend days in these parks. St James's park alone covers 58 acres of grounds and lake. Do what Londoners do, and have a picnic!
The other four Royal Parks are equally stunning too. (See www.royalparks.co.uk )These are Richmond Park, Bushy Park (near Hampton Court Palace – in the Upper Thames Valley), Regent's Park (where London Zoo is also located, and next to Regent's Canal and Greenwich Park in Greenwich. All of these Royal Parks have their own special features, landscape, animals, birds and plantings. Greenwich Park for example covers 183 acres and has been an enclosed park since 1427, while Richmond Park is where red deer and fallow deer can be seen grazing near the giant old oak trees.
London Zoo – see www.zsl.org first opened in 1828, making it one of the first Zoos in the world. The Closest Tube station to it is Camden Town or Regent's Park Station. You can also take a boat from Maida vale through the canal, with a stop at the London Zoo.
There are many other green park and common areas in London – just some of them being Clapham Common and Wandsworth Common, Battersea Park – all south of the River Thames, while in North London – look for Hampstead Heath. Every Londoner will no doubt have their favourite park, maybe close to where they live, and in Central London some of the prestige areas around Mayfair and Chelsea even have private gated parks exclusively for their resident members.
A few personal favourite parks, apart from the ones above – Ranelagh Gardens near Chelsea Bridge (opposite Battersea Park where the Peace Pagoda is located); Highgate Cemetery – Swain's Lane, Highgate in North London – a Victorian Cemetery where Karl Marx is buried, and Kew Gardens. Also a tiny area called "Little Venice" where there are houseboats on the Great Union Canal in Maida Vale (nearest Tube station is Warwick Avenue). From here you can walk along the towpaths to Regent's Park.
Walking the Streets of London – in and around Central London, off the main thoroughfares will take you to residential areas on smaller streets, roads and avenues. Just walking in Chelsea, Knightsbridge, South Kensington and other areas along these streets, finding a pub or a café to sit down to have a drink is a great way to discover some of the magic of being in London. Pubs can be found all over London, and it is not hard to find one. Most Londoners will have their own "Local" – and some of these pubs have histories dating back centuries.
People watching – head to Trafalgar Square – the biggest square in London with Nelson's Column in the centre, stone lions and fountains and lots of people and pigeons. Trafalgar Square is located near Charing Cross tube station.
Britain is famous for Cricket, Tennis, Football and other sports – and if you are able to go to a Football match where two of the big Premier League Football Clubs playing, you will have a great time. No doubt you have seen matches being played on TV, but to really feel part of the action and hear the crowd reactions to goals, missed goals, fouls and other action, there is nothing better than being there. There are a number of Stadiums in London, and for tickets contact www.myticketsonline.com or www.footballticket.net.com/EPL
Wembley Stadium also has games for both Rugby and National Teams, as well as other big events during the year – See www.wembleystadium.com Crowds of up to 90,000 can find seating here. Twickenham is the home of English Rugby.
'Lords' is still today seen worldwide as the home of cricket, and many players and cricket 'fanatics' consider Lords to be "hallowed ground". The Grounds are located opposite Regent's Park at St John's Wood (nearest Tube – St John's Wood) on St John's Wood Road (off Wellington Road). The Marylebone Cricket Club, whose grounds these are, was founded in 1787, and there is a Museum and Shop here that run "Behind the scenes" tours of the grounds, Pavilion, player's Dressing Rooms and other parts of Lords, when there are not big matches being played. The original 'Ashes' urn is held in the Museum. See www.lords.org/groundtour
For Tennis - Wimbledon is the home of the world's best known Lawn Tennis Courts, with the Wimbledon Tennis Championship happening each year in late June, when Wimbledon 'Centre Court' is where the world's best Tennis players do battle. The Championships have been played here since 1877. There is a Museum and Tours each day of the year, with some exceptions – so best to check on the www.wimbledon.com website, where you can also find out about tickets.
The very first English Tennis Court dates back to 1530 can be seen in the summer at Hampton Court Palace. This is where King Henry VIII played "Real Tennis" . See www.royaltenniscourt.com Check to see that it is open for visitors.
WEST END THEATRE –
The two most famous 'Live theatre' experiences are Broadway in New York City, and the 'West End' in London and if you like to see live theatre, than look to see a show in the West End while you are here in London. There are many shows happening, but book early if you want the best seats. Check out www.londonboxoffice.co.uk, www.boxoffice.co.uk and www.lastminute.com There are also many movie theatres in the West End. Head to Leicester Square where you will find a number of cinemas. Leicester Square is also where you will find the Hippodrome Casino – See www.odeon.co.uk, www.empirecinemas.co.uk
CASINO - See www.hippodromecasino.com located at Cranbourne Street in Leicester Square.
ON THESE PAGES we have briefly outlined some of the places that you might want to see to enjoy your time in London. We hope you have a great time. As with many big cities, there is a lot to see, and the more time you have here, the more you will end up seeing.
Book a good place to stay. Get an Oyster card, a Tube map and Tourist map – and have a great time.