Before I went to London, I read a huge book about the city and its history. I was fascinated by the fact that this sprawling international hub had once been surrounded by city walls. I loved how the River Thames had always been there, ever since Roman times. I could not get enough of the history of London and how it has continued to evolve over hundreds of years to become the place it is today. As you can imagine, I was thrilled to fly into the city, despite the drizzling rain and grey weather! I am not in London right now – this was four years ago. But, here are some of the highlights of my trip.
The British Museum
With free entrance, you could easily spend days exploring all the exhibitions. When I visited, there were many free tours you could sign up for throughout the day. I enjoyed these, as the tour guides had a way of bringing the historical artefacts to life. However, I also liked browsing this huge place for myself. I spent half a day here, but you should definitely allow longer if you have the time.
St Paul’s Cathedral
This building should be admired both during the day and at night. My friend took me inside for the Choral Evensong one day (free entrance). The enchanting melodies echo through the vast space of the cathedral. It is a beautiful way to experience the building!
The National Gallery
With free entry, the National Gallery is a must for all art-lovers. I only spent a couple of hours here, but you definitely need longer to admire the spectacularly large selection of masterpieces. Situated in Trafalgar square, the building was founded in 1824 and houses over 2,300 paintings!
Located in the City of Westminster, Central London, you can see the majestic lions guarding Nelson’s column, with the National Gallery in the background. This place was named after the Battle of Trafalgar (1805) and has a rich history. These days, it is often used for public demonstrations and community gatherings. In fact, on the day of my visit, there was a protest underway.
Victoria and Albert Museum
Founded in 1852 after the Great Exhibition, this grand building houses works from the best of both worlds – history and art! It is the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design, so allow a good day here, preferably two. Each of the 145 galleries house various forms of art, from textiles, ceramics and print-making, to costume design, sculpture, jewellery and much more.
Another iconic landmark, London Bridge is best seen at the time when it splits in half to let the big ships come through. If you are going to take a long walk along the River Thames, I suggest starting here. You can see so much from the river and there are footpaths all the way along.
The Tower of London
For history-lovers, this is a must. Built in 1078 by William the Conquerer, on the North bank of the river Thames, it is crazy to imagine what life was like here over the centuries. It has been used for many purposes from a prison, armoury and menagerie, to home of the Crown Jewels. Today, it is still officially Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London. Despite the crowds, it is well worth the entrance fee.
The Museum of London
This museum specifically showcases the history of London. It has a wealth of information and exhibits, which I found fascinating. Just outside, a section of the old London Wall still stands. This original defensive wall was built by the Romans around then Londinium. However, it was subsequently maintained until the eighteenth century. Imagine being part of an age where the threat of invasion required a wall to safeguard the city?!
Harrods Department Store
Built in 1849, Harrods has everything you could possible need! It’s hard to believe that this huge, multi-storied building began as a single roomed shop. Needless to say, the business expanded rapidly and by 1880, it was a thriving department store, employing 100 people. Not only this, it was the site of England’s first ‘moving staircase’ (escalator) in 1898! These days, it has 330 departments.
The West End
The West End of London is known all around the world for its theatre. I splashed out on three shows here – it had been a dream of mine for some time to see musicals in the West End, so I had to make the most of it! I ended up seeing ‘The Lion King,’ ‘Chicago’ and ‘Rock of Ages,’ in unique historic theatres. The quality of the musicals were outstanding. London has a rich history of live performance, so it is well-worth experiencing a show first hand.
The Globe Theatre
If you are a Shakespeare enthusiast, you will no doubt end up at the reconstruction of the Globe Theatre. Whilst it is not the original building, guided tours bring this venue back to life and you can imagine what it would have been like back in the day, when Shakespeare’s plays were as popular as cinema is today.
The London Eye
Whilst I didn’t actually take a ride on this ferris wheel (it is rather overpriced), it has become an iconic landmark, as it can be seen from lots of places around the city. I’m sure the views would be spectacular from the top – maybe next time!
Black taxis and the red double-decker buses are common in London. I spent lots of days travelling on the top deck of the bus, enjoying the sites from the window. However, I would avoid the taxis, mainly because London traffic can be really heavy and you might just find the meter going above and beyond what you expected to pay! Besides, travelling with public transport has its benefits, particularly being able to recognise all the stops from the Monopoly board. Oxford Street, Park Lane and Piccadilly actually exist!
A trip to London would not be complete without a visit to some historic pubs. The George was one such pub, so old that the floors weren’t level anymore. There were also a great many pubs that were situated in cellars, so you had to walk down narrow stair cases underground to get to them. Try an English pint of beer, or if you prefer, a fruity cider- a much better range than you get here in Australia.
There are so many places to visit – as a lover of history, theatre and arts, these were my top picks. However, I did not even get around to mentioning the Westminster Cathedral, Buckingham Palace or the Houses of Parliament. There is simply too much to see and do here in a short space of time. If you are going to London, I would recommend picking the best of what you love, not what everyone else recommends. If you start committing to every suggestion, you simply won’t have enough time.
And if you are lucky enough to be living here for an extended period of time, there are so many possibilities for exploring the rest of the English countryside. You can literally jump on a train and be anywhere in a few hours.
What are your favourite places in and around London? I would love to hear about them!