So you love England and you’re planning a trip to London, the capital city? You may have every place planned out and every little thing you want to see or you may have no idea what should be first on the list. Well, dear readers, we here at Londontopia have compiled a list of “must see” attractions that you absolutely have to visit while you’re in the city. From the historical to the modern, each one touches on a special aspect of Britishness and culture that will make you long to stay in Britain forever.
The Tower of London
It doesn’t get more historical than this. Built by William the Conqueror and completed in 1072, for centuries it was the seat of royal power in England. This historical castle has also served as a prison, a zoo, the Royal Mint, and the holder of the Crown Jewels. From the Ceremony of the Keys to the ghosts of prisoners to the Tower ravens, there is always something to see and experience within the walls of the Tower of London.
The British Museum
A natural history museum like no other on Earth, imagine one place being the repository of an empire’s history, dating back to pre-Roman times and including artifacts from every corner of the globe. The Great Court at the center of the museum is itself an architectural marvel, enclosing a space that includes the original reading room. Many important pieces of history have been displayed here in their time, including the Rosetta Stone, Lord Elgin’s Marbles from the Parthenon, and the Treasures of Tutankhamun.
George IV commissioned the public space in tribute to Lord Nelson’s famous naval victory against Napoleon. Lord Nelson’s column is a central feature of the square and is dedicated to his memory, and is guarded by four lion statues. Several other statues dot the area dedicated to other important Britons such as King George IV, Major-General Sir Henry Havelock, and General Sir Charles James Napier. The square is also a regular gathering place for Londoners and one of regular political demonstrations. And the National Gallery is always worth a visit.
A Local (Pub)
Sure, there are plenty of more touristy pubs out there, ones that certainly cater to giving foreigners a taste of what England looks like in their minds, but for a real feel of the city, you have to go to a smaller pub. A quick google search can help you find some of the best, or if you’re just wandering the streets of London, you should happen on one every block or so. Don’t be afraid to go inside and order a pint, just be mindful that this is a place where people from the neighbourhood gather and prefer respectful patrons to loud, noisy tourists. Just sit down and order a local pint and some food to get a real taste of London.
One of the oldest and greatest department stores in the world, it’s hard to find many like it in modern times. From clothes to toys to groceries, you can find a little bit of everything at Harrod’s. If you happen to find yourself a bit peckish (or hungry, as it were), there are several restaurants in the store from the more elegant establishments, cafes, and even a Krispy Kreme donut station. The store famously has two memorials dedicated to the late Princess Diana and Dodi Al-Fayed, installed by Mohamed Al-Fayed (though some say it’s tacky, we leave that judgement to you).
Not just a means of transportation in London, the Underground (or “Tube” as it’s also called) is a major part of the city. An average of 2.7 million people use it to get around every day, with the busiest station being Victoria with 76.5 million passengers moving through it every year. Buying a day travel card or an Oyster Card (for longer stays) will get you anywhere you need to go. The Tube oozes with history and it’s a great way to see London’s living history.
The Globe Theatre
An icon in the world of theatre and literature, the current Globe sits near to the original, which was destroyed by fire in 1613. Known as “Shakespeare’s Globe”, it is not just a historical monument to the Bard and his plays, but continues to serve as a performing venue. As such, photos are normally permitted of the stage, except when actors are rehearsing for a show. The current Globe was built to resemble its predecessor and is so accurate that it was used as a filming location for both “Shakespeare in Love” and the Doctor Who episode “The Shakespeare Code”.
The London Eye
Also known as the Millennium Wheel, the Eye is a great Ferris wheel situated on the Thames across from the Palace of Westminster. It is approximately 443 feet tall and the wheel has a diameter of 394 feet. It is not only Europe’s tallest Ferris wheel, but also the most popular tourist attraction in the UK, clocking over 3.5 million visitors annually. For a greater cost, you can also reserve one of the capsules for a private ride. The views of London are magnificent.
The West End
Many tourist locations are in this part of central London, but the real reason you should go is because it is home to the theatre district. Much like New York’s Broadway, the West End represents some of the best theatres in the English-speaking world and many top shows can be found there. Also referred to as “Theatreland”, there are some 40 venues within the district, presenting visitors with many opportunities to see a great show and perhaps a television or film celebrity.
Perhaps one of the newest London landmarks, the Shard eclipsed the London Eye for having the tallest view of the city. The 87 story building is approximately 1,004 feet high and is the tallest building in the European Union. Advanced booking is recommended to enjoy the view from floors 68, 69, and 72, but it is well worth it for the best look at London. Just don’t try to ride an anti-grav Triumph motorcycle up the side.
What attractions would you recommend for a first time visitor to London? Let us know in the comments!