What you see in London is largely up to you. You can do the museums and art galleries, you can wander around the various neighbourhoods which make up one of the largest city in the world, you can go down to the ‘City’, you can poke around Soho and Chelsea but here are a few musts on anyone’s list. Westminster Abbey, of course. This old English building is England itself. Here is where the rulers of Great Britain have been crowned for centuries. Here is where royalty is wed and many of the great of England are buried in the Abbey. The history of the English people can be read in these graves.
You can’t miss Big Ben at Westminster or Eros on his Piccadilly stand. The British Museum is a must even if you aren’t a museum-goer. The Houses of Parliament are near the Abbey. Built in 1840, they are neo-Gothic with Victorian overtones. History is made here and you may be in on its making by obtaining passes to the debates in the public gallery of the House of Commons or the House of Lords. Visitors from overseas and UK visitors who have not obtained tickets through their MP can queue at St Stephen’s Gate to gain entrance. The galleries are open only when the Houses are sitting. The most popular is Prime Minister’s Question Time and entrance is only possible if there are spaces left after ticket holders have gone in. There is no charge for entrance but expect to queue for entrance for 1-2 hours for the House of Commons Debates. There are also guided tours available in the Summer Opening hours for non UK visitors. UK residents are able to arrange these throughout the year. Queue on the day for the tour. If you go to debates later in the day or evening the queues are minimal.
Go to the Tower of London, scene of the darkest chapters in English history. It is now a museum and holds the Crown Jewels and other treasures. Within its walls is the beautiful little chapel of St. John, one of the perfect examples of Norman architecture. Take a day to see this vast building which has stood since the time of William the Conqueror. And don’t miss St. Paul’s Cathedral, which was built by Christopher Wren. The graceful Renaissance dome has been a landmark for more than two centuries.
Take a bus to the ‘City’, the financial heart of England. Here you will find ‘the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street’ (Bank of England), the Lloyds building by the famous contemporary English architect Richard Rogers. Wander, too around the four Inns of Court in London, the Temple, Lincoln’s Inn and Gray’s Inn. It is to these Inns that barristers belong and where they are called to the Bar. Visit Leadenhall Market and also Fishmongers’ Hall. The latter stands close to the famous Monument which commemorates the point where the Great Fire of London started. The city is crammed with lots of old buildings and churches squashed up amongst the new and modern. Many very old and interesting pubs are worth visiting in this area too. Just a few worth going to are the Hoop & Grapes in Aldgate High Street and is the only 17th century timber framed building to have survived the Great Fire of London in 1666. At Cornhill, Bank you will find The Jamaica Wine House, which in 1652 was the first coffee house in England. Going east along the river you will come across two of the oldest pubs in London, both located on the banks of the river: the Town of Ramsgate, in Wapping High Street where Colonel Blood was caught trying to escape after trying to steal the Crown Jewels and close by, the Prospect of Whitby, dating from 1543 and famous as a smugglers and villains hide-out in the 17th century. Both pubs have riverside bars. Finally, the famous The Cheshire Cheese, in Little Essex St, close to Farringdon Road is a Jacobean pub that is allegedly haunted.
Go to Marble Arch on Sundays and hear soapbox orators in nearby Hyde Park Corner. Watch the horse riders along Hyde Park’s Rotten Row, go to the world-famous London Zoo in Regent’s Park. Take a look at Mme. Tussaud’s Waxworks. Make a point of seeing the changing of the guard at Buckingham or St. James’ Palaces. Take a look at one of the most charming churches to be seen anywhere, St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square; all this by sightseeing bus or just by meandering by yourself. A wonderful way to see London is to take the No. 11 bus, which wanders over a huge territory. Its route goes from Liverpool Street Station to Fulham Road and passes all the well known tourist sites. Travel by Underground (subway). It is an interesting experience. Take the new London Docklands Light Railway (DLR) to the revamped docklands area to the east of the City. The train journey itself is exciting if you sit at the front of the first carriage. This area is one of the newest and most exciting tourist attractions in London, all the old docks and wharves have been developed with interesting shops, bars, restaurants and other sights all sitting on the riverside. See Canary Wharf, St. Katherine’s Dock, London Docklands, the Royal Victoria and East India Docks with the new Millennium Dome across the river on the opposite bank.
A half-hour by suburban train from Charing Cross or on the DLR from London Bridge takes you to Greenwich. Alternatively take one of the little boats which leave from Westminster pier or Tower Bridge pier. At Greenwich there is the Cutty Sark, the old tea clipper wonderfully preserved and now a museum of the tea trade in London. Here too is Sir Francis Chichester’s boat Gipsy Moth IV. In this tiny craft he was the first person to sail single-handedly around the world. Walk along the river to the Queen’s House, part of the National Maritime Museum, and climb the hill to Greenwich Park where the Royal Observatory and the Greenwich Meridian Line are. Wander around the town and browse in the little shops and markets. Greenwich Market sells a variety of traditional, hand-made goods. The craft market is held at College Approach and the antiques market is off Greenwich High Road. All the markets are open at the weekend from around 09:00-17:00. Visit the riverside Trafalgar Tavern Park Row, Greenwich for a pub lunch or just a drink.
Another half hour suburban train ride, this time going south west from Waterloo will take you to the beautiful Hampton Court on the Thames, a great palace built by Cardinal Wolsey as a private residence who gave it to Henry VIII. The palace contains a wonderful art gallery and an interesting collection of historic English furniture. Its hundreds of square feet of windows look out on the most glorious gardens in England. There are geometric boxwood mazes for you to wander through, quaint walled Elizabethan flower beds, graceful groupings of beautiful shrubs, the Great Fountain Garden and reputedly the oldest vine in England. Here too you will see the Astronomical Clock in Clock Court which was made in 1540 for Henry VIII. Guides in period costume greet visitors and provide tours. Hampton Court is another all-day sight. In good weather you may take a river boat up the Thames between Westminster and Hampton Court through Richmond. Hampton Court is outside the zone that is valid for an Oyster Card discount travel. If going by train buy a cheap 1-day Travelcard.
Windsor Castle definitely deserves a day of your time in and around London. William the Conqueror started it and Henry III and Edward III both made additions to the huge building. Windsor is a royal residence and as a consequence is guarded by the Queen’s Regiment. You can watch the Changing of the Guard every day (apart from Sunday) at 10.50 am marching up the High Street. However, you can only see the changing ceremony from inside the castle. Inside the castle you will notice that each monarch has left the mark of their era on the interiors. There are some fine foreign paintings by Rubens, Rembrandt and others and a wealth of British portraits. State apartments are interesting and also the Queen’s Doll House. Climb the 220 steps of the Round Tower and you will be rewarded by a marvellous view of the surrounding countryside that has changed very little since Chaucer stood on the same ramparts.
The best way to see the lovely Great Park that surrounds this fairyland castle is in an open horse-drawn carriage. You are picked up from the High Street in front of the Castle Wall and then ride through Windsor into the Great Park. The streets around the Castle entrance give a wonderful impression of history. Here you will find many gift shops and places for refreshments. Mid July in Windsor sees the famous Swan Upping ceremony, where the Queen’s Swanherd and other city dignitaries ceremonially mark the swans as the Queen’s property and proclaiming “Her Majesty the Queen, Seigneur of Swans!”. The quickest way is from Paddington Station and, on the way you will be able to see Eton College and the Castle as you enter Windsor Central Station. Alternatively, you can go from Waterloo Station. The journey is a little longer (50-55 minutes) but unlike the Paddington service it is direct to Windsor and Eton Riverside Station. Both the Windsor stations are about 5 minutes walk from the castle. If you go by tran make sure you get a 1-day cheap travel card. It is also possible to reach Windsor Castle by Greenline Bus Service from The Colonnades opposite Victoria Coach Station.
The things to do and see outside of London are numerous and fascinating. In the following short description of some of the major highlights, England has been roughly divided into seven sections. The English countryside is dotted with enchanting little inns and the food is comparable