London is a vast city with a population of more than 7.5 million. It is a myriad of quite streets and bustling avenues. There are parks where silence reigns and noisy squares. It is a romantic city and cultural haven. It is, also, a Royal City where the current monarch, Queen Elizabeth I, resides and reigns. London is old, it is young and, like all great cities, it is continually evolving, changing its face while remaining the same where it matters.
London is a city with a past, present and future that constantly fight each other to capture the hearts and minds of its visitors. There is no London singular.
This is a multi-cultural, multi-faceted ever-changing city. London is a place where people and things combine to provide the casual visitor and serious tourist with whatever they came to the city to find. Whether it is sports, art, architecture, music, food or royal gossip, you are sure to find it here. In fact, London thrives in this mixture of diverse but related elements.
This combination of sights, sounds and nascent potential can make it difficult to decide what to do and see. The possibilities are overwhelming. London’s whispered promises are attractive and very overpowering, yet irresistible. Although you may read all you want, research the city totally, first time around, you may be better off to take one of the many tours. These can be grounding.
A good general tour can provide you with an idea of how vast the task may be and give you some suggestions on where you can focus.
London tours can show you the different eras – Medieval, Elizabethan, Edwardian, Georgian, Victorian and modern. With a tour, you can explore the worlds of Shakespeare and other cultural icons associated with the city. You can catch a play, get lost in an art gallery or explore the past in a museum.
For those for whom culture is synonymous with shopping, London has more than its share of possibilities. There are campy shops and quaint shoppes. The city has expensive and exclusive retailers as well as Marks and Spencer. This is not to forget Harrods.
On a general tour, you can dabble in all of these or focus on one aspect.
A tour will also help you become familiar with the location of the major sights. It allows questions. It can also, depending upon the tour, help you discover how the city runs. It may introduce you the transportation system and help you sort out the question of money.
Tours are also capable of showing you how to save on the costs of visiting the various attractions. There are passes, coupons and many different ways to accomplish this. Talk to a travel agent or a tour guide and contact the tourist kiosks. Do your research in advance.
Must visit places
Contrary to popular belief, Big Ben is not the name of the clock. It is the nickname of the 14-ton bell residing in the 320’, 4-faced clock tower rising grandly above the House of Parliament. Its name comes from the Chief Commission of Works responsible for the existence of the bell – Sir Benjamin Hall.
He saw to its creation and hanging in the clock tower in 1858. Here, it joined 4 smaller bells. These ring out the quarter hours. Big Ben booms in the hour.
Since its casting at Whitechapel, Big Ben has come to symbolize Britain. Its deep sounding notes reverberate around the world every day. During WWII, it withstood the Nazis. After a visit here, you can take the time to look at another national symbol– the Parliament Buildings.
The Parliament Buildings
The Houses of Parliament officially occupy the Palace of Westminster. The structure dates from 1099, but only Westminster Hall reflects these origins. The much admired hammer-beam roof of solid oak adds to the dramatic nature of the interior. This Norman Hall is the largest of its kind remaining in Europe.
The Hall is but 1 of 1,100 rooms hidden away in the essentially Neo-Gothic building. The architect was Sir Charles Barry (1795-1860). He was also responsible in London for the HM Treasury Building in Whitehall, Bridgewater House and the Royal College of Surgeons. These reflect his preferred style – Italianate.
At the House of Parliament be sure to view the Lord’s Chamber as well as the Common’s Chamber. You might also want to see the 323’ tall Victoria Tower and St. Stephen’s Hall. The latter features vaulted ceilings and faded murals to reflect this new- Gothic style.
British Airway London Eye
The newest and most prominent of the city’s landmarks is the former Millennium Wheel. Known as the London Eye or the Great Wheel, this structure is the largest observation wheel that was ever constructed. It is 443’ tall and weighs more than 2,000 tons. It consists of 32 pods capable of holding up to 25 individuals. The designers were David Marks and Julia Barfield.
The purpose of the Eye is to provide visitors with a 25 to 30 minute round trip. During the ride, there are a number of sights available for viewing. The view includes glimpses of the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace from a unique angle. On a good day, when the London smog is cleared away and it is not raining, you can see as far as Windsor.
The London eye is close to 2 other popular attractions: the London Aquarium and Dali Universe.
The British Museum dates back to a collection started in 1753. This massive attraction housed in built in the early 18th century to a neo-Classical design by Robert Smirke, consists of 94 galleries. It is not a day trip for a serious museum-goer. At best, you can only obtain a brief overview of the treasures within.
A brief trip should take you through the worlds of past and present. Do not miss the Rosetta Stone or the controversial Elgin Marbles. There is also the 4th c Roman silver table ware – the Mildenhall Treasure as well as the 7th c ship burial – Sutton Hoo Treasure. Make time to see the Lindow Man removed from a Cheshire peat bog. Do not leave without stopping to admire the beautifully proportioned domed Round Reading Room.