London’s one of those holiday destinations which tend to beckon visitors time and again; the sheer number of attractions and activities in the British capital enough to keep one entertained for days or even weeks at a time, and that’s even irrespective of the crap weather! So whether you’ll be visiting London on a quick layover, mid-way to somewhere else, or as the final point of interest, rest assured that there will be plenty of action to keep you run off your feet. Here’s our list of the very best this enticing city has to offer.
Things to do in London – THE BEST OVERVIEWS
Hop around all over town
There’s no better way to get your bearings around London than by joining a Hop-on/Hop-off bus tour. There are three major companies offering this at the moment, with the Original Sightseeing Tour boasting the best reputation. A 24-hour pass costs just under £25, and the company offers three different routes to choose from. You are, of course, free to hop on and off at leisure, making this (theoretically) the most convenient way of traveling between attractions. We say theoretically because, in the real world, there is the London traffic to consider, which means that timetables can be somewhat dubious and your chances of seeing many of the attractions at length will also be limited. However, having said this, keep in mind that even if you were to not get off, you would be getting a brilliant overview tour of the city for only £25; so we suggest picking the best three points of interest to you and enjoying the knowledgeable commentary for the rest of the route.
We could also highly recommend choosing the Red Route which boasts an actual tour guide on board, as opposed to a recorder commentary. Your day-ticket also includes a walking tour and a river cruise, so if you’re a shrewd traveler you should be able to get your money’s worth out of this attraction.
Cruise the Thames
Once you have your initial bearings of the city and its main attractions, it will be well worth your while to see them all from a different perspective. Whilst you’re likely to be using ferry services to get around town, taking a relaxing sightseeing cruise will actually be infinitely enjoyable due to the fact you won’t have all those grumpy commuters spoiling your holiday fun. Book a sunset dinner cruise and you’ll enjoy London at its twilight best, a great meal and fantastic entertainment to boot.
Get an eyeful on the London Eye
For a bird’s eye view of London, head to Europe’s highest ferris wheel in Jubilee Gardens. While most Londoners were rather skeptical when the Eye was first constructed (much like Parisians were aghast at the unveiling of the Eiffel Tower), the rather kitsch attraction has proven to be one of the few which can literally WOW first-time visitors in London, and is now rated as the city’s number one crowd-puller. The sweeping unobstructed views are indeed spectacular, with the Thames, Westminster Abbey and Big Ben seemingly right at your feet. Crowds can be as mind-boggling as the views, yet if you buy a fast-track ticket online you could be in your own little pod within minutes of arriving (the extra £10 charge is well worth your while). What helps tremendously is if you happen to score a gloriously sunny day during your trip, which is no small feat.
Whilst The Shard, London’s newest attraction, has recently overtaken the Eye as the highest public viewpoint in town, when it comes to superlative high-point experiences, we believe the Eye still can’t be beat. Entry to the Shard is only marginally cheaper, yet still doesn’t offer the thrills of the Eye, nor the moving experience, so if you only have time for one viewing we recommend choosing the London Eye.
THE BEST PLACES TO VISIT
There are two places in London which we believe offer the most intense insights of the city’s illustrious history; one of them is Westminster Abbey. Traditionally, this was the place of the British monarchs’ most important rituals: the marriages, their coronations and their funerals. Nowadays it still represents one of the most important Royal landmarks in the whole country. Westminster Abbey was also the last burial ground for some of England’s most famous writers, poets, politicians and scientists. Aside the fact that the Abbey is home to several priceless artefacts, it seems most visitors are drawn by the sheer amount of famous dead people buried here. Architecturally, the Abbey is also colossally impressive, as most Gothic churches tend to be.
Join a guided tour to learn more about the Westminster’s history, and to aid you in navigating its most hidden corners. Visitor opening times can be sporadic, so do check the website before you visit.
The Tower of London
Together with Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London is considered the city’s most historical landmark. Once a Royal Palace, the Tower was also used as a prison and sight of executions during its tumultuous 900-year history. It must be said that this is one of the most underrated landmarks in London, most people simply not realizing how enticing the guided tours really are. Join one of the hilarious and rather informative Beefeaters on a guided tour, and you’ll get all the juicy and rather unappetizing stories of all that went on behind those tall, dark, walls. Moreover, the tower’s nooks and crannies offer gorgeous views over the Thames and the city, and it also boasts its very own changing of the guards which may not be as pompous as the one at Buckingham Palace, but it also lacks the ogling crowds so here you may actually get to see it! Bonus! It’s also the home of the Crown Jewels, and entry to the Crown Jewels exhibition is included with every ticket. Buy your entry tix online and skip the queues.
The Queen’s Palace
Republicans and monarchists alike all agree: no trip to London is complete without a visit to Buckingham Palace. The Queen’s humble abode, which consists of 775 rooms, is open to the public although admittedly you’ll only be allowed to visit 19 of the State Rooms, where the most official of Royal gatherings take place. The Royal Palace’s collection includes invaluable artwork and furniture, though it must be said that an insider’s peek is really only worth it for the most Royally enthused visitors. If you’re not so inclined, then stick to the opulent and pristine gardens and, whatever you do, don’t miss the infinitely famous changing of the guards. Should you be vertically challenged, get here at least 2 hours ahead of schedule to secure front gate views.
The British Museum
Truth be told, the British Museum could be visited over several days; the collections so vast, and museum so enormous that seeing all it has to offer on a single visit is logistically impossible. One of the world’s most respected museums showcases man’s best works, from pre-historic time right up to the present day; the most visited sections belonging to Ancient Egypt and Ancient Rome.
The British Museum is home to the incredible Rosetta Stone (basically the ancient version of google-translate which helped experts decipher hieroglyphics), as well as an awe-inspiring ‘Life and Death in Pompeii’ exhibit.
To get the best out of your visit (actually to get anything out of your visit considering you may spend half the time just finding your way around) we urge you to download the museum’s map from their website, study it in detail before coming here thus allowing you to have a clear plan of your intended route. Entry is free for all, yet some of the most precious exhibits will require an entry fee.
St Paul’s Cathedral
St Paul’s Cathedral may be renowned for its hosting of Princess Di and Prince Charles’ wedding, yet it’s for its historical important and utter beauty that it shouldn’t be missed. As testament to the city and perhaps even the citizen’s stoic resilience, the Cathedral has suffered major hurdles during its 300 year history, including a catastrophic fire in 1666 and equally tragic bombardment during WWII; yet still stands resplendent in the heart of the city.
The striking domes, spires and intricately painted ceilings are absolutely stunning, as is the Whispering Gallery on the very top floor. The ascent may be a challenge for those suffering from vertigo, yet it should at least be attempted by all who visit: the views are breathtaking. The Sunday organ recitals showcase the spectacular acoustics of the Cathedral, so do plan to visit if you’re in London over a week-end.
MOST ICONIC EXPERIENCES
Catch a show
London is rated as one of the world’s finest cities for entertainment, be it for musicals, cabarets or concerts. As far as best London experiences go, nothing can compete with spending an evening at Her Majesty’s Theatre watching The Phantom of the Opera. The show has been running continuously here for over a quarter of a century, and still manages to entice a full-house almost every night. The theatre is as iconic and historic as the show itself (although ‘historic’ seats aren’t all that comfy) and the whole experience a rather classic one indeed. For great special offers, head to the TKTS booth near Leicester Square during the day, and grab your last-minute discounted tickets.
Enjoy a great cuppa
Where would London be without its afternoon tea tradition we wonder. Certainly not at the Ritz! Incidentally, this is exactly where you should be if you plan on indulging in one of the most beloved English traditions there is. A scrumptious and elegant tea-sipping afternoon awaits you at the hotel’s Palm Court and, whilst this sounds somewhat snotty, let us assure you it is as divine as afternoon tea can get. Except for the coffee which is rather average but then again, we should all learn to drink tea. From an abundance of nibbles on offer, to a wide array of teas and quite possibly the best scones in London, an Afternoon Tea at the Ritz is really something to be experienced.
Bookings are needed well in advance, and you may have to ditch the jesus-creepers and shorts for this one. Dress to impress is definitely the way to go here.
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