London bound? With so much to see in one of the world’s most popular cities, there is obviously a glut of choices. Here are a 11 essential picks to give newbie visitors from down under a touristy taster of what London town is all about.
1. BIG BEN AND ELIZABETH TOWER
The iconic sight of Big Ben set against the august backdrop of the Houses of Parliament is probably one of the most instantly recognisable sights in the world. Technically, Big Ben refers to the 13-ton bell that has sent out its chiming reverberations across London for around 150 years, with just the occasional time off for repairs. The tower many people think of as Big Ben is actually the Elizabeth Tower and stands a grand 96 metres from the ground and, along with the eponymous bell, celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2009. It is a testimony to the engineering of its construction a century and a half ago that Big Ben has chimed out across the streets of London throughout the reigns of 6 UK monarchs.
2. CHURCHILL’S WAR ROOMS
Enter into the historic war rooms where legendary UK Ex-Priminister Churchill and his close advisors discussed tactics and strategies that kept Britain free from Nazi invasion during World War 2 and which ultimately lead to the overthrow of a regime whose villainy was described by Churchill as “never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime.” The palpable atmosphere of the war rooms transports you to the time when England stood all alone against the might of the expanding Nazi empire. It’s fair to say, these rooms witnessed the planning and strategising of events that had a profound effect on the outworking of the 20th century.
3. LONDON EYE
The London Eye is the perfect way to enjoy views across the Thames, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament all in one sweep of the eye. Operating since the year 2000, this 135 metre Ferris wheel was the world’s tallest when constructed, and remains Europe’s largest Ferris wheel today. There’s no doubt, the London Eye offers one of the best views of the city and was, in fact, the highest viewing platform in London until being overtaken by the Shard in recent years.
4. VIEW FROM THE SHARD
Towering 244 metres over the city is the unmissable Shard. Designed by Architect Renzo Piano and opening in 2013, it offers visitors to floors 68, 69 and 72 a staggering view of up to 40 miles away. It towers nearly twice as high as the London Eye offering an unrivaled 360-degree view of the city, and is the only place you can see the whole city from end to end. Special events such as album launches are sometimes held up in this crystalline tower, as are yoga classes, silent discos and the Shard’s own self-styled champagne experience. Special tickets can be purchased to view the city both by day and again at night when the view sparkles and shimmers with a million city lights.
5. LONDON BRIDGE
London Bridge is another iconic landmark of England’s capital and today you can enjoy this historic piece of engineering in a variety of ways. Walk on the glass platform 42 metres in the air and if you time things right, you may see the bridge rise beneath your feet! The traditional walkways offer views of the city skyline too, affording more photo opportunities. Take a tour of the engine rooms and peek behind the scenes of one of the world’s most famous bridges.
6. CHANGING OF THE GUARD
A display of British pageantry at its finest, the Changing of the Guard is every bit as iconic as the Tower of London, Big Ben and the London Eye, and can be seen outside Buckingham Palace every day from 10:45 am. The ceremony lasts around 45 minutes and continues up until the end of July. It’s free to watch, but make sure you arrive in plenty of time to get a closer look as the ceremony proves popular with visitors. It’s quite likely the guards you see have seen action overseas.
7. TRAFALGAR SQUARE
As you gaze up at the 185 feet granite column, remember that according to some sources the height was deliberately chosen to mimic the height of the main mast of Horatio Nelsen’s flagship. True or not, the spectacular Dartmoor granite column stands is an unmissable landmark and is perhaps a fitting tribute to the Admiral who died in 1805 at the Battle of Trafalgar off the Spanish coast.
8. TRANSPORT MUSEUM
London’s red busses, its trams, its taxis are all an intrinsic part of London that feature on countless souvenirs sold all over the world. London’s Transport Museum offers an historical tour of the city’s expanding transport network where you will be able to see how it has evolved over the last 200 years into what it currently is and also features some fascinating insights into what may be in store for the future of the city’s transport system.
9. COVENT GARDEN
Craft stalls and fashion boutiques are on show aplenty in Covent Garden Market. As you enjoy perusing the handmade soaps, hand-knitted children’s clothes and an endless range of
handiwork made by local artisans, you may want to think about how this place very nearly didn’t happen. In 1974 the site was earmarked for demolition but was rescued at the last minute, slowly evolving into the dynamic market it is today that attracts visitors from near and far.
10. PICCADILLY CIRCUS
The frenetic intersection of Piccadilly Circus is the place to watch the world go by. Its instantly recognisable advertising board washes all manner of colours over the nearby statue of Eros, bronze fountain and countless passing London busses as night falls. The dynamic flow of Piccadilly makes it very much feel like one of the main arteries of this living city.
11. THE HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT
The august looking buildings flanked by the flowing Thames which are the Houses of Parliament is a sight perhaps without rival amongst the world’s political edifices. Many are surprised to learn the building was largely reconstructed after the 1834 fire. While that makes much of what is seen relatively new, there are sections such as the Westminster Hall which date back around 1000 years.
Of course, there is a host of other sites in London including the British Museum, Madame Tussauds, Buckingham Palace and the Science Museum to mention just a few. Whatever you see, London will no doubt leave you with the feeling that you have visited one of the world’s most dynamic and unique cities.
“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” – Maya Angelou