Our top sights, highlights, and exclusive tips
At once an icon of modernism and a toast to Britain’s storied past, London is a whirling city where the edgy meets the quaint and the monumental meets the cozy. Fanning out from the River Thames, each of the 32 boroughs offers something distinct. Visit quirky lanes in hackney or the royal palaces of Windsor. Grab fresh baked goods in Southwark’s Borough Market—a staple for over 1,000 years—and picnic under the elms in Hyde Park. Don’t leave without a pint at a local pub, and make sure to tell the bartender to have one on you.
St. Paul's Cathedral
Tower of London
Natural History Museum
In London’s old town, referred to simply as “the city,” soars the domes of St Paul’s Cathedral. Since its completion in 1710, this building miraculously escaped bombing in World War Two and has hosted countless civic and royal events. You may recognize this landmark as the wedding venue of Lady Diana’s and Prince Charles. Tour the baroque interior which can hold up to 2,500 people, and be sure to ascend to the Stone and Golden Galleries for breathtaking views of the city.
When William the Conqueror first built the Tower of London in 1078, it was just timber rampart protecting London’s exposed seaward side. Over the centuries, this humble fortification grew into the mighty complex we know today. Both a royal residence and infamous political prison, the tower's past is rich and sordid. Climb to the top of White Tower to view the Tower Bridge and London Bridge—where the decapitated heads of traitors used to sit on iron pikes.
Completed in 1894 and built in the Gothic style, Tower Bridge is an iconic feature of London’s skyline. You can’t miss it, just look for the 800-foot long drawbridge with two 213 foot towers. Take the pedestrian walkway to see the Victorian Engine room which used to power the draw bridge hydraulics with steam. Sign up for a private tour or download the app for a virtual reality experience.
Completed in 2012, the modernist skyscraper in London’s Southwark neighborhood has quickly become a city landmark. Intended as a “verticle city” by the architect Renzo Piano, this mix-use space offers choice accommodations, fine dining, and a viewing gallery. Ride up to floor 72 of 95 for birds-eye views of the River Thames, the Olympic Park, and Wembley Stadium on the open-air observation deck of the tallest building in the UK.
The Westminster Palace stands on the north bank of the River Thames. The Gothic Revival architecture is a reflection of the early industrial age that was nostalgic for earlier ages. Tour the ornate interior where the house of commons and house of lords meet to legislate. The palace has 1,100 rooms, two courtyards, and covers an area of 1,210,680 square feet. Don’t forget to take a look at the Elizabeth Tower on the north end, you may know it better as “Big Ben.”
As you tour the Westminster palace pay special attention to the Elizabeth Tower at the north end. Known as “Big Ben,” a moniker which actually refers to the 13-ton bell inside. This timepiece has faithfully ticked through six monarchs and two world wars, becoming a symbol of London itself. Currently under renovation, Big Ben’s exterior will be obscured by scaffolding until early 2020, but you can still see the iconic clock face.
Close to the city center in the South Kensington neighborhood, you’ll find the “cathedral to nature” or the natural history museum. With over 350 scientists and students working behind the scenes, the 80 million specimens of this collection—250 years in the making—aren’t just for show. See specimens collected by Charles Darwin himself and a first edition of his groundbreaking title On the Origin of Species.
A trip to the country inside the city, Hyde Park is the largest of eight royal parks within London with 350 acres of green space. Enter under the stately marble arch installed by Queen Victoria in 1851 and visit the Lady Diana memorial—an oval stream of alternately rough and smooth waters representing phases of her life. Paddleboat on the Serpentine, a 40-acre manmade lake in the park’s center, and see if you can catch a concert or a game of pickup soccer.
Join the crowds at 10:45 am to watch the iconic Changing of the Guard. Watch as the Queen’s Gaurd in red tunics and tall bearskin hats hand over the watch as the military band plays. Summer visitors can tour the 775 rooms of the palace interior, including the throne room, while the neoclassical facade is a treat year-round.
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