I can’t believe how quickly my trip back to London is approaching! It will be my last stop on my little mini European tour 2013! Hopefully I won’t go another five years until I go back. I’m really excited for London because it has thousands of years of incredibly rich history in and surrounding the city. Like New York, you could easily live in London and still never have enough time to see everything, which really makes things difficult for tourists. Planning an itinerary for such a fabulous city is so overwhelming. If you’ve only got a limited amount of time and want to take your picture in front of iconic spots and/or see the main tourist sites, here they are. Again, these are not necessarily my favorite spots in London but, these are, arguably, the top 10 most popular tourist spots in London (from a New Yorker’s perspective). My favorite pastime though is having a beer with fish and chips at a pub! What more can you ask for? That said, here are the must-see London attractions.
(1) The Tower of London and the Crown Jewels: The Tower of London was founded in 1066, its original use was as a royal residence. It eventually came to be used as an infamous prison. Make sure you take a tour led by one of the Tower Guards–also known as the Beefeaters. They only give a few tours per day, so make sure to check the times before you go. You don’t want to miss it! The line to see the Crown Jewels can get really, really long in the prime tourist season, so make sure to factor that in to your visit. It’s worth it to go in and see them, they’re truly breathtaking.
(2) Tower Bridge: Arguably, one of, if not the most iconic bridge in the world. When you see it you’ll immediately recognize it, or you live under a rock. Often mistakenly called London Bridge by tourists (myself included! Don’t feel bad!). You can walk across it and take the obligatory touristy photos in front of it! Just say cheese!
(3) Big Ben and the Parliament building: Big Ben actually refers to the bell inside the clock tower. Again, this is arguably one of the most iconic clock towers in the world and you’ll immediately recognize it. Take the mandatory photos in front and get on with your day–you’re not allowed inside Big Ben anyway, unless you’re a British citizen! Sorry, old chap!
(4) Buckingham Palace: The London home of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip. If the flag with the Windsor coat of arms is flying on top, you’ll know she’s in residence. If the British flag aka the Union Jack is flying on top, she’s not. You can’t get very close, obviously, but you can watch the changing of the guards ceremony. And that’s pretty cool to see.
(5) Westminster Abbey: Historic and iconic church. The place where Queen Elizabeth was coronated and William and Kate got hitched. This church was founded in 960 AD and has been the home of the Royal coronations since 1066! Also, Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin, just to name a few, are buried here. Obviously, this is a pretty historically significant place!
(6) The London Eye: Basically, a slow-moving ferris wheel with large glass capsules that you stand inside. The London Eye rotates around so you can get a spectacular view of the city of London. I would recommend purchasing your tickets online ahead of time, as you’ll still have to wait in the line even if you already bought your tickets. But one line is better than two! I’d also recommend going with the option where you can ride the Eye once during daylight hours and once at night, for two different perspectives of the same city. If you’re going to choose one though, definitely do it at night so you can see all the lights!
(7) St. Paul’s Cathedral: Gigantic church built after the great fire of 1666. It’s gorgeous and historically significant. Apparently, when it was first built is was subject to a lot of criticism for being “Un-British” looking. In more recent history, it is where Prince Charles and Diana Spencer got married. It is simply breathtaking.
(8) Windsor Castle: A short ride outside of the city of London is Windsor Castle. It’s absolutely awe-inspiring. In terms of population, it is the largest inhabited castle in the world and the longest-occupied palace in Europe. It still remains a functioning royal home. Some of the rooms are closed off to tourists during some parts of the year, but it was really amazing to see the room where people have been knighted for centuries. There is an overwhelming amount of art and artifacts such as swords and knick knacks from all over the world throughout the Castle. And the gothic architecture feels super old school British. Sadly, a significant portion of the castle was destroyed by a 1992 fire, but it has since been restored. Windsor Castle will definitely be a highlight of your trip!
(9) Churchill War Rooms: A historic and gigantic underground complex that housed a British government command center throughout World War II. Churchill was quoted as saying that this is where “I will direct the war.” An absolute must-see for a history buff. Even if you’re not a huge history fan, you will learn a lot.
(10) Covent Garden: Once a wealthy, fashionable area that fell into disrepute as theatres, coffee shops, and brothels popped up in the area, Covent Garden is now a popular tourist site with lots of chain stores/craft market/restaurants, as well as bars and pubs. There are typically quite a few street performers in the area, as well. Fun fact: Eliza Doolittle, the title character from the play,Pygmalion, and movie adaptation, My Fair Lady, was a flower seller at Covent Garden. Also, Alfred Hitchcock’s film, Frenzy, was set here.