London has some of the most recognised sites and attractions in the world. From the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge to Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament, these places draw millions of tourists each year from all over the world.
You probably think you know everything there is to know about these iconic places. However, some little-known facts about London’s most famous tourist sites will surprise you. These hacks can make it easier for you to visit overwhelmingly popular attractions, or let you discover new sides to places you thought you knew inside and out.
What it’s known for: Possibly the most famous royal residence in the world, tourists come in droves to stand at the gates, admire the palace’s imposing façade and watch the changing of the guard. This grand palace was originally acquired by the British royal family in 1762 when it was purchased by George III. It was later expanded by George the IV in 1825, and then further added to in 1846 and 1913 (under George V), when the east front gained its present Neoclassical façade that crowds flock to see today.
Secret hack: Not many people know that visitors can also tour the State Rooms of Buckingham Palace at certain times. This is not possible year-round as these rooms are still very much in use by the royal family. However, since 1992 the palace has opened up the State Rooms to the public for around 10 week each year, usually when the Queen heads to Balmoral for her summer break. These grand and impressive rooms are the spaces used by the royal family to receive visitors during State and official occasions, and feature very fine antiques, furnishings and decorations.
The Tower of London
What it’s known for: The Tower of London is a World Heritage Site and arguably not only one of the most famous but also historical important sites of London. This was the seat of power for the whole country for many years, variously being the chief armoury, treasury, the Royal Mint, a prison for important political figures, and the home of the Crown Jewels of England (as it continues to be today). Visitors flock here to see these dazzling crown jewels, as well as to meet the ravens and see the impressive royal armoury.
Secret hack: Besides these famous collections, the Tower is also home to a number of exhibitions and museums. Go beyond the throngs of tourists at the Crown Jewels, and you will discover some fascinating pieces of English history. This includes the exhibition on the Royal Menagerie, which describes the incredible range of exotic animals that have been kept at the Tower, including lions, tigers, elephants, zebras and even alligators.
Harry Potter Studio at Warner Brothers London
What it’s known for: The Harry Potter Studio at Warner Brothers London is also known as “Harry Potter World” and it really is an all-immersive Harry Potter experience. The studios are incredibly popular with fans of all ages who come to see the genuine sets, costumes and props from the films. The tour includes a number of interactive experiences, such as walking through the Great Hall of Hogwarts, browsing Diagon Alley, and drinking a Butterbeer.
Secret hack: Anyone who’s tried to take their kids (or themselves) to Harry Potter World will know that the official site can sell out months in advance. However, it is possible to avoid disappointed tantrums and be able to find tickets at the last minute. The Tour Scanner site has tickets to the Harry Potter Studios up to just a few days in advance, perfect for last minute changes to plan, or a spontaneous outing.
The London Underground
What it’s known for: London’s iconic underground train system is one of the things that the city is most famous for, and tourists delight riding the trains as well as taking snaps by the famous tube signs and maps. However, train tunnels are not the only thing under London’s streets.
Secret hack: The subterranean world below London actually has a wealth of surprises to offer. Below the streets of the city are an amazing area of tunnels, spaces and shelters. This includes the Clapham South Subterranean Shelter, a deep, vast shelter with another space for 8000 people. It has built during the Blitz as a civilian shelter and this extensive space includes over a mile of subterranean passageways, a medical bay and eight canteens. It can be visited at certain times on private tour.
The Houses of Parliament
What it’s known for: The impressive and iconic Houses of Parliament buildings are not only the heart of British government to this day, but a symbol of the city of London and the country in general. Visitors come to the banks of the Thames to see the historic buildings, and in particular the legendary Big Ben.
Secret hack: Few people know that visitors are not confined to seeing the Houses of Parliament from the outside but can actually peak inside too. UK residents can arrange a free tour by contacting their MP or a member of the House of Lords. This guided tour will show you inside the buildings whilst describing the history of the UK Parliament and its modern workings today.