London sights and recommended sightseeing
TOP TEN THINGS TO DO
- Stroll through Trafalgar Square (see Nelsons Column, Pigeons etc..) to Piccadilly Circus (see sidewalk artists) to Leicester Square, and walk up Charing Cross Road 1 block (see famous bookshops) – [3 hours]
- Stroll through Covent Garden (see Piazza, Actors Church, Punch & Judy plaque, shop at Market) – [3 hours]
- Watch the Changing of the Guard and tour Buckingham Palace – [4 hours]
- Tour Westminster Abbey – [2 hours]
- Tour St. Paul’s Cathedral – [2 hours]
- Stroll through the Tower of London and tour the Crown Jewels – [3 hours]
- Drive past the Houses of Parliament, walk around Downing Street (No. 10 is Prime Ministers residence) – [1 hour]
- Stroll through Kensington, spend a couple of hours inside Harrods (see Egyptian Hall) – [3 hours]
- Tour Kensington Palace – [2 hours]
- On a Saturday morning, cab to Portobello Road market, stroll downhill through market (shopping), and get a return cab at bottom of hill – [4 hours]
Buckingham Palace– The official residence of Queen Elizabeth II, Buckingham Palace has been opening its doors to visitors for the last few summers. Originally acquired by King George III for his wife Queen Charlotte, Buckingham House was increasingly known as the ‘Queen’s House’ and 14 of George III’s children were born there. On his accession to the throne, George IV decided to convert the house into a palace and employed John Nash to help him. Nash doubled the size of the house with the addition of a new wing in the French Neo-classical style favored by George IV. Marble Arch was also constructed in celebration of the victories at Trafalgar and Waterloo. However, by 1829, the cost of reconstruction had escalated to nearly half a million pounds and Nash lost his job.
Queen Victoria was the first sovereign to live in Buckingham Palace (from 1837) but found it lacked sufficient bedrooms, so Marble Arch was moved to its current location and a fourth wing was added. The present forecourt (where the changing of the guard takes place) was constructed in 1911 as part of the Victoria Memorial scheme. Work on Buckingham Palace was completed just before the outbreak of World War One.
Visitors are permitted access to the State Rooms which are still used by the Royal family to receive and entertain guests on state and ceremonial occasions. Decorated in lavish fashion, they include paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens and Canaletto, Sévres porcelain and some of the finest English and French furniture in the world.
Buckingham Palace is open to visitors each summer.
Timed tickets operate between 09:30-16:30.
Buy your tickets in the Mall at white kiosk near the statue
Tube: Green Park.
Credit Card Hotline: 020 7321 2233.
Entrance: Adult: £11.50, Students and Snr Citizens: £9.50, Child: £6.00, Under 5s: FREE.
WHILE AT THE PALACE, ALSO VISIT:
The Royal Mewsmoved to Buckingham Palace during the 1760s, were rebuilt by Nash in the 1820s and remain some of the finest working stables in existence. The magnificent gilded state carriages and coaches, together with their horses and equipage, are housed here, including the most famous coach, the Gold State Coach, used as part of the Golden Jubilee celebrations in 2002.
Adult £5.00 GBP Children 5-16 £2.50 GBP
Changing the Guard– Ever since 1660 Household troops have guarded the Sovereign Palaces. The Palace of Whitehall was the main residence until 1689 and was guarded by the Household Cavalry. (They can still be seen here today; outside Horse Guards Arch). The court moved to St James’s Palace in 1689. When Queen Victoria moved into Buckingham Palace (1837) the Queen’s Guard remained at St James’s Palace and a detachment guarded Buckingham Palace, as it does today. The Changing of the Guard takes place inside the railings of the forecourt to Buckingham Palace. The Foot Guards provide a colourful display in their red tunics and bearskins and are accompanied by a band throughout. During the 45 minute ceremony the New Guard replaces the Old Guard and a detachment is left at Buckingham Palace with the remaining New Guard marching on to St James Palace. For a good view, get there early and position yourself near the railings or the Victoria Memorial. The Queen`s Guard, accompanied by a band, arrives from Wellington Barracks having marched via Bird Cage Walk to the palace.
The Changing of the Guard takes place daily at 11.30am and lasts approximately 45 minutes.
Tube: Victoria, St James’s Park or Green Park.
Entrance: Adult: £11.50, Students and Snr Citizens: £9.50, Child: £6.00, Under 5s: FREE.
Covent Garden– what started out in the seventeenth century as London`s first luxury neighborhood is once more a highly desirable place to live, work and shop. Inigo Jones designed the piazza in 1632. At the heart of the piazza lies the famous market. The large glass covered building comprises several arcades of fashionable boutiques, cafés and an arts and crafts market. In the open piazza jugglers, mime artists, variety acts and musicians delight and amaze the crowds. Restaurants, cafés and bars line the piazza, offering great views of this daily spectacle.
Now we have the elegant old market hall, and shops, restaurants and arts-and-crafts stalls. In the Piazza, say hello to the famous teddy bear lady – Anne Marie at the Bedford Bears stall – the most traditional bear maker in the world!
Look for the plaque on the back of the Actors Church commemorating the birthplace of the Punch & Judy puppet show – behind the left-most pillar. St Paul’s (the Actors Church) dominates the west side of Covent Garden Piazza – and the church plays an important part in the lives of many people; residents, workers and visitors to Covent Garden. Work on the building of the church began in 1631, with the impressive Tuscan Portico facing eastwards on to the Piazza. However, the Bishop of London, William Laud, insisted that the altar should be against the east wall, so the Portico was never used, two small doors being substituted on either side of it. The main entrance was by the west door, opening on to the little graveyard. The very first victim of the Great Plague – one Margaret Ponteous, a doctor’s daughter, was buried in the churchyard in 1665. In 1795 there was a disastrous fire at the church, when the roof, painted ceiling, and parts of the walls were destroyed. Many famous names have been connected with St Paul’s – John Wesley preached here, J.M.W Turner and W.S Gilbert were baptised here, and those buried here include the leading names of the stars of the West End Theatre.
The main entrance to the church is from Inigo Place, off Bedford Street. There are also passageways through to Inigo Place from King Street (to the North) and Henrietta Street (to the South). The church and gardens are usually open to the public 8.30am to 4.30pm, Monday to Friday.
Monument– Monument Yard, Fish St Hill, EC2. Monument or Cannon St tube station. Sir Christopher Wren`s spectacular column symbolizing the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire of 1666 (its 202ft height is equal to the distance it stands from Pudding Lane where the fire started). Magnificent views over London are offered to those brave enough to conquer the column`s 311 steps. Open Mon-Fri 9am-5.40pm, Sat/Sun 2pm-5.40pm. Trafalgar Square – where the statue of Admiral Lord Nelson dominates the square 167 feet above it. Built to commemorate his naval victory in 1805 it is a central piece of this magnificent area. Trafalgar Square laid out around 1830 is a popular venue for political rallies and used to be a home ground for thousands of pigeons. Recent ruling in banning of the pigeon food sellers to be there is going to certainly clean that patch of London of health hazards and of its long history of feeding them and taking photos with them. Each year people from all parts of London concentrate there to celebrate New Year but it looks as if that is also going disappear as unruly behavior and pollution of noise is endangering this occasion. Four majestic bronze lions, each 20 feet long and 11 feet high guard the base of column and the church of St Martin-in-the-Fields dating from 1721 makes it popular destination for tourists to come and see it all.
Nelson`s Column– raised in 1843 and now one of London`s best-loved monuments, commemorates the one-armed, one-eyed admiral who defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, but paid for it with his life. The statue which surmounts the granite column is more than triple life-size but still manages to appear minuscule, and is coated in anti-pigeon gel to try and stem the build-up of guano. The acanthus leaves of the capital are cast from British cannons, while bas-reliefs around the base – depicting three of Nelson`s earlier victories as well as his death aboard HMS Victory – are from captured French armaments. Edwin Landseer`s four gargantuan bronze lions guard the column and provide a climbing frame for kids to clamber over. 14 stonemasons held a dinner on top of Nelson`s Column before the statue was placed there. Every year, London receives as a gift huge Christmas tree from Norwegian city of Oslo.
Piccadilly Circus– during the weekend this place is absolutely packed with people. Nightlife is in abundance here, especially with nightclubs like the Hippodrome, MGM Cinema, local pubs and bars, people trying to draw your picture and the Trocadero centre. Inside the Trocadero is Segaworld the world`s largest indoor theme park, spanning seven floors and offering you all kinds of 21st Century games. Rock and pop music are the subject of an exciting exhibition created by Madame Tussaund`s – Rock Circus- in the old London Pavilion. Most of the waxen rock legends appear closely accompanied by their hits. Queuing is likely and if you do not like the buzz of the crowds avoid this area completely.
Tower Bridge– one of the most famous landmarks in London and just over a hundred years old, the Tower Bridge with its twin drawbridges, or bascules, each weighing about 1,000 tons have been raised more then half a million times since it was built. It takes only 90 seconds for the bascules to be raised with electric motors which replaced the old steam engines. From Tower Bridge you can view HMS Belfast, an 11,500-ton cruiser that opened the bombardment of the Normandy coast on D-Day. The closest tube stations for those two are, Tower Hill and London Bridge. Open from: daily 10am-6:30pm; Nov-March 10am-5:15pm. Tel: 0207 403 3761.
The Tower of London– overlooks the river at the eastern boundary of the old city walls. Chiefly famous as a place of imprisonment and death, it has variously been used as a royal residence, armoury, mint, menagerie, observatory and – function it still serves – a safe-deposit box for the Crown Jewels. Although you can explore the Tower complex independently, it is a good idea to get your bearings by joining up with one of the guided tours, given every thirty minutes by one of the forty-odd eminently photographable Beefeaters. These ex-servicemen are best known for their scarlet-and-gold Tudor costumes. The Tower is one of London’s most popular visitor attractions and forms a stunning riverside backdrop. The Tower of London came into existence following the Norman conquest (1066) and the need to colonise and defend England. Since then it has been used as a prison, palace, place of execution and a showcase for the Crown Jewels. After King Henry VIII’s break with the Catholic Church it housed religious prisoners including two of Henry VIII’s six wives – Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, both of whom were beheaded on the scaffolds at Tower Green. Visitors can also see the Crown Jewels which are still used by the Royal family today, the Yeoman Warders (‘Beefeaters’) who have been protecting the tower since the fourteenth-century and the infamous ravens. Legend has it that Charles II was told that if the ravens left the Tower then the monarchy would fall.
The Tower of London opens daily 09:00-17:00 Mon-Sat 10:00-17:00 Sun (Mar-Oct). 09:00-16:00 Tues-Sat 10:00-16:00 Sun-Mon (Nov-Feb). Closed 24-26 Dec and 1 Jan.
Tube: Tower Hill.
Enquiries: 020 7709 0765.
Entrance: Adult: £11.50 Students and Senior Citizens £8.75 Child: £7.50. Under 5s: FREE.
The Crown Jewels – the castellated Waterloo Barracks, built to the north of the White Tower during the Duke of Wellington`s term as Constable of the Tower, now hold the Crown Jewels, perhaps the major reason so many visitors flock to the Tower. At least some of the Crown Jewels have been kept in the Tower since 1327, and have been on display since Charles II let the public have a look at them. The oldest piece of regalia is the twelfth-century `Anointing Spoon`; the most famous is the `Imperial State Crown`, sparkling with a 317-carat diamond, a sapphire from a ring said to have been buried with Edward the Confessor, and assorted emeralds, rubies and pearls.
Westminster Abbey– it has been so closely connected with the Crown and the nations history. The coronation of every king and queen (apart from two) spanning 900 years has been held here. The magnificent Gothic building seen today dates from the 11th century. Westminster Abbey is one of Europe’s finest Gothic buildings and the scene of coronations, marriages and burials of British monarchs. It dates back to the 11th century, and highlights include the Coronation Chair made in 1300, Poets’ Corner and the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior.
Tel: 020 7222 7110
Open for sightseeing Monday-Friday and Saturday morning, Sundays for worship only.
Entrance: Adults: £6.00, Children over 10 and Students: £3.00 or accompanied under 10s: FREE.
In the City of London you will come upon St Paul`s Cathedral. The present structure is the fifth cathedral to be built on the site. The weddings of the Prince and Princess of Wales, the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill and many other occasions have graced this spiritual centre. Built of Portland stone with a Dome that rises to 365 feet and with Great Paul, the largest bell in England, this has to be one of THE MUST SEE sights in London. Open from: Mon-Sat 8:30am-4pm. Tel: 0207 236 4128.
The Houses of Parliamentare the place where laws governing British life are debated and enacted. Begun in 1840 after a fire destroyed the previous building, the Gothic style was designed by Sir Charles Barry with aid from A.W. Pugin. It contains the bell Big Ben that is struck each quarter hour. A light in the clock tower tells when the House of Commons is in session. The Houses of Parliament are steeped in pomp, ceremony and splendour. The Queen rides in a State coach to Westminster to open each new session of Parliament, usually in the second week in November. A word of caution; in the summer months it can get pretty congested with all of the tourist coming and regular traffic trying to cross the square. After many long speeches by politicians promising `Free Trafalgar for people`, finally in September 2002 Mr. Ken Livingstone has changed driving routes so that pedestrians can have more freedom. Open from: Mon-Fri 9am-4pm, Sat 9am-2pm & 4-5pm, also Wed 6-7.45pm. Tel: 0207 222 5152.
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatreand Exhibition is the fascinating story of the re-creation of Shakespeare’s Globe. Visitors can see the reconstructed Elizabethan theatre, built with materials, techniques and craftsmanship of 400 years ago. The largest exhibition in the world devoted to Shakespeare explores the playwright’s London, Elizabethan theatre and the Shakespeare’s influence around the world. The summer season of plays sees Shakespeare performed in an authentic setting.
Exhibition and guided tours of the auditorium are available from 10:00-17:00 from Oct to April. During the theatre season (May-Sep) guided tours are available between 09:00-12:00 and the exhibition is open from 12:00-17:30.
Entrance to exhibition and guided tour: Adult: £8.00, Students: £6.50 and Child £5.50.
Tel: 020 7902 1500
Tube: London Bridge
Kensington Palace State ApartmentsThe birthplace of Queen Victoria, Kensington Palace was also home to Princess Diana between 1981-1997. Originally a private country house, it was adapted substantially by William III and Mary II (1689) who chose to spend winters there to escape the damp of Whitehall. Over the next 70 years it was to become the focal point of the life and government of the country. George I and George II spent vast sums of money on ornate and lavish furnishings to adorn Kensington House (as it was then known), including elaborate ceiling decorations by William Kent. The sudden death of George II in 1760 marked the end of an era. Kensington Palace was never again to serve a reigning monarch. Early one morning in June 1837 Princess Victoria, who was occupying apartments in Kensington Palace, awoke to the news that she was Queen of England. She immediately moved to Buckingham Palace. Kensington Palace first opened to the public in 1912 with a display of relics and objects relating to the City of London. It attracted 13,000 visitors in just one day! The museum pieces now form part of the collection at the Museum of London. Visitors today can see the State Apartments, the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection that includes outfits from the eighteenth-century to the present day, the Orangery and sunken gardens.
Kensington Palace opens daily. 10:00-16:00 (Nov-Feb) 10:00-17:00 (Mar-Oct). Closed 24-26 Dec.
Tube: Queensway, Notting Hill Gate or High Street Kensington.
Enquiries: 020 7937 9561.
Entrance: Adults £10.00, Students and Snr Citizens £7.50, Child: £6.50 Under 5s: FREE.
A DAY TRIP FROM LONDON
William the Conqueror chose to build a castle at Windsor more than 900 years ago to defend the western approach to the capital. As one of the Queen’s official residences Windsor Castle still plays a formal role in State and official occasions. To share in the pageantry of this palatial residence you can watch the Changing of the Guard as they march up through the town to the castle, accompanied by a band, when the Queen is in residence. When the Queen is away, they mount guard by the Henry VIII gate in winter, and on Castle Hill in summer.
Changing of Guard at 1100 Mon-Sat (Apr-Aug).
Tube: Paddington to Windsor and Eton Central (Great Western)
Entrance: Adults £11.50, Children £6.00, Snr Citizens £9.50 and Families £29.00