From Big Ben to Buckingham Palace and Sherlock Holmes to Shakespeare, London is drenched in majesty, history and lore. Explore its endearing customs and age-old traditions. Witness the pomp and circumstance of the Changing of the Guard; sip traditional afternoon tea; ride a double-decker bus, take in the theatre and a pint at the pub. You’ll not want for diversity in this colorful metropolis.
London is one of the greatest cultural destinations in the world. With 70 large museums, more than 30 major art galleries and almost 150 theatres, not to mention hundreds of years of fascinating stories behind its monuments, palaces and historic houses, this capital city is the perfect location for a culturally enlightening vacation. The crowning glory of Trafalgar Square, London’s National Gallery is a vast space, filled to the rafters with Western European paintings from the 13th to the 19th centuries. In this iconic art gallery you can find works by masters such as Van Gogh, da Vinci and Renoir, as well as the renowned English artists, Gainsborough and Turner. The National Theatre, in addition to stellar performances on stage, hosts music concerts, lectures, backstage tours and exhibitions. Fans of the Bard should check out the Royal Shakespeare Company, which frequently stages seasons in London, or head to Shakespeare’s Globe, a magnificent open-air playhouse. The Royal Opera House is home to the Royal Ballet, Royal Opera and Royal Opera House Orchestra.
To the Palace, Please
Buckingham Palace is a symbol and home of the British monarchy, an exquisite art gallery and an awe-inspiring tourist attraction. Behind the gilded railings and gates is not only the weekday home of the Queen of England and Prince Philip, but also the London residence of the Duke of York and the Earl and Countess of Wessex. The State Rooms of the Palace are lavishly furnished with some of the greatest treasures from the Royal Collection – paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens, and Vermeer; sculpture by Canova and Chantrey, splendid examples of Sevres porcelain and some of the finest English and French furniture in the world. Though the Palace is only open to visitors from late July to September, you can see the ceremonious Changing of the Guard on alternate days year-round.
An architectural masterpiece, Westminster Abbey is the tallest Gothic building in the British Isles. The structure was deliberately designed in the shape of a cross, its pointed style strongly influenced by contemporary French cathedral architecture. More than 3,000 people are buried or memorialized inside these walls, among them, some of the world’s greatest kings, queens, scientists, musicians and poets. The Abbey has held every English coronation for the last 900 years. Today it is a living church dedicated to daily worship as well as a living pageant of British history for visitors to explore. If you “time” it right, you’ll likely hear the resounding gongs of Big Ben echoing throughout the city streets; the name “Big Ben” refers not to the famous clock tower, but to the 13-ton bell hung within.
Bright red double-decker buses seem to be everywhere in London, offering a variety of mix and match tours. These guided excursions are an ideal way to get an informative, entertaining and comfortable overview of the city. Depending on your choice of routes, you can visit St. Paul’s Cathedral, see the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London and even take a narrated cruise on the scenic River Thames. By the time you’re done, you will probably know more about London’s history than some of the locals!
Hit the Streets
London may be one of the world’s most easily navigable cities, either by foot or via the Tube. Be sure to explore Covent Garden, a delightful jumble of eclectic shops, eateries, cultural venues and entertainment, from street performers to live performances at its plethora of theaters. Piccadilly Circus is the London equivalent of Times Square; a busy, colorful junction and popular gathering spot. From here it’s a short walk to Soho, Trafalgar Square and the fashionable shops of Carnaby Street. Discover more fine finds at the upscale shops along Oxford, Regent and Bond Streets, replete with designer couture. Don’t miss Harrods, the world’s most famous luxury department store and a destination in itself!
While you’re out and about, climb aboard the London Eye for a breathtaking experience. The world’s highest observation wheel, it presents panoramic views of the city and more than 55 of London’s most famous landmarks. It’s a thrilling way to start or end your Dream Vacation in this marvelous city.
Author: Lisa Codianne Fowler, Grand Getaways Lisa Codianne Fowler is an award-winning travel journalist, travel video host and travel radio co-host. She’s covered cities from St. Petersburg, Russia to St. Petersburg, Florida; ridden bum boats in Singapore and swum with sharks in Tahiti. An active Grand Getaways member, she has contributed feature articles from destinations across the globe.