Alongside New York and Paris, London is one of the most popular capital cities in the world. But where do tourists from around the world flock to when they visit England’s capital city?
In a country steeped in centuries of history, tradition, and architecture, here are a few of our recommendations for where to visit in London.
Buckingham Palace and the Changing of the Guard
The most quintessentially British institution is often the first stop on most tours of London. Buckingham Palace was established in the 1700s and has been the official residence of the Royal Family, from Queen Victoria to Queen Elizabeth II. While the house itself is largely sealed off to the public, it still attracts plenty of tourists, royalists, and those just curious to see the world-famous palace.
One aspect of the palace which is accessible to visitors is the Changing of the Guard. The ceremony centers on the Foot Guards – dressed in the iconic red tunics and black bearskin hats – who have guarded all the royal palaces since the 17th century. To a strict military routine, and often accompanied by music, one Foot Guard relieves another of their duty and replaces them in the process. An entertaining military tradition for tourists it may be, but at its heart, the ceremony is a reminder of the strong relationship between the Armed Forces and the Royal Family.
The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben
Less than a 20-minute walk from Buckingham Palace and overlooking the River Thames, you will find another famous London landmark: the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. The Palace of Westminster – to give the building its official name – is the meeting place for the House of Commons and the House of Lords (the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom). The heart of the British government, the Houses of Parliament holds a significant place on the world stage but it is the beautiful architecture that tourists come from all around the world to admire.
However, the whole building is overshadowed by the Clock Tower at the Palace’s north end which boasts an incredible 23ft in the diameter clock face. While it is commonly referred to as Big Ben this is actually the nickname of just the Great Bell of the striking clock. The 316 ft tower is actually known – since the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 2012 – as Elizabeth Tower.
The Tower of London and Tower Bridge
Known just as much for its bloody past as it is for housing the Crown Jewels, the Tower of London is a castle that has played a vital part in English history. Used as a prison for eight centuries, a powerful asset to determine who had control of the country, and currently one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country, the Tower has served many purposes. Nowadays experts provide a detailed history of the famous Yeomen Warders (or ‘Beefeaters’) and explain why ravens are known as the guardians of the Tower.
Just a stone’s throw from the Tower of London, Tower Bridge has become one of the most famous symbols of London (and indeed the United Kingdom). Essentially a double bridge, the bottom bridge functions as a road for pedestrians and traffic while the top bridge acts as a tourist exhibit for those willing to pay a small price for admission.
London’s art and history
The British Museum and the National Gallery are not just two institutions celebrating Britain’s art and history, they are two of the most respected cultural centers in the world. For those wanting to expand their cultural knowledge of the country, the British Museum and the National Gallery have curated an extensive and broad range of artifacts detailing the history of the British isles.
Another museum that many visit while perusing London is the Victoria and Albert Museum, a pioneering exhibition of art, design, and performance. The building was named after, no surprise, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert who founded the world’s largest museum dedicated to the arts in 1852. To find out more about the founding couple – or indeed the British Royal Family – watch the Royal Family documentary Albert: The Power Behind Victoria.
Although typically associated with looming architecture and its bustling streets, London boasts some luxurious gardens and parks. Among them is Hyde Park, which was used by Henry VIII as a hunting ground, and has since been used as a space for public events and to escape the noise of the city. Kew Gardens is another such space that attracts millions of visitors every year with its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and as home to 50,000 living plants.