London's Jolly Good Show
For decades, London had the reputation of having good theater and bad food. Today, all that has changed as new attractions, along with some of the noted old ones, come into play. Even the food has been made over, with offerings to please every palette. But London is a big city with lots to see and do. Trying to do everything will surely overwhelm you.
If you're in London on a brief visit, then the normal half-day tour will have to suffice. But if you're there longer, plan out an itinerary that gets the most out of the city's sights. Using Web sites will certainly help, but for an on-site overview, nothing can beat London Transport's two-hour overview tour on a double-decker bus, departing from Victoria Station, that will help you decide which places you want to see more in depth.
By far the most popular sight is the Tower of London, the great Norman fortress of William the Conquerer and the legendary prison which held so many royals awaiting execution. Here you'll find the Crown Jewels on display. To avoid the long lines, get there as soon as the Tower opens and head straight for them. There's nothing like being in a room full of royal gems to get your heart pumping.
Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament occupy the second most popular spot. Dating only from the mid-19th century, the site is where early kings of England held court. You can take a tour when Parliament is not in session.
The most hallowed place is London has to be Westminster Abbey where English monarchs along with famous writers and artists lie at rest. If you're a history buff, this is the place for you. While strolling around the old city, visit St. Paul's Cathedral, designed by architect Christopher Wren.
The English love pomp and circumstance. The most famous ritual is the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, held at 11:30 A.M. daily. A smaller, but no less impressive, ceremony occurs at 11 A.M. Monday through Saturday and at 10 A.M. on Sunday at the Horse Guards at Whitehall.
Don't miss a chance to take a short boat ride up the Thames River to Hampton Court Palace or to the Old Royal Observatory at Greenwich where you can visit the Royal Maritime Museum. Afterwards, take in some stunning views from the top walkway of the London Tower Bridge. While there, visit the interactive London Bridge Experience, which tells the story of the bridge.
Though London is full of famous museums — you could spend an entire week in the British Museum — it also contains dozens of smaller ones. One of the most fascinating is the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms, the protected bunker from which Winston Churchill directed the fighting in World War II. To understand the city better, visit the City of London Museum, built along a section of the original city wall, with displays covering ancient Roman times to the present. Other unique museums include the Cartoon Museum, London Transport Museum, the Foundling Museum, Pollock's Toy Museum, and the Old Operating Theater Museum, to name a few. If you love gardens, wander through the greenhouses at Kew Gardens to see thousands of historic plant varieties.
London also offer a plenty of opportunities for art lovers. Beginning at the National Gallery, you can move on to the Courtauld Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, the Tate Modern, the Queen's Gallery, and the Victoria and Albert Museum — enough art to fill an entire visit.
The EDF Energy London Eye, the newest addition to the London skyline, is the world's highest observation wheel, with 32 capsules, each weighing 10 tons, and holding up to 25 people. Climb aboard to get some unforgettable views.
Tickets to theaters in London's West End, once inexpensive, now cost as much than those on New York's Broadway. Since many of the shows are the same as those in New York, why not attend a performance at Shakespeare's Globe Theater, a reconstruction of the theater where the playwright's shows were originally held, or at the National Theater, instead.
Though a sprawling city, you'll find London easy to get around. Most people take the subway, which Brits lovingly call "the Tube" or "the Underground." If you plan to use it a lot, buy one of the special passes. You can also ride the double-decker buses. It's best if you take either to a particular part of town, then walk to your destination. You'll find wandering the narrow lanes of Shepherd's Market in Mayfair, strolling along the Chelsea Embankment by the Thames River, or ambling through St. James' Park all enjoyable. If you want to learn as you walk, take one of the many walking tours, such as Charles Dickens' London or the London of Jack the Ripper.