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London 101

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It would take several lifetimes to experience all that London has to offer. This sprawling city, sliced in half by the famed River Thames, offers layer upon layer of history, culture and non-stop entertainment. From higgledy-piggledy streets to dramatic skyscrapers, gritty urban landscapes to beautiful parks and palaces, England’s capital is a diverse microcosm of the UK, Europe and beyond.

Bird's eye view of London

Credit: Visit Britain, Andrew Pickett

The Big Ben and The London Eye at Sunset

Credit: Visit Britain, David Angel

Historic sites

Practically every street here reveals some element of the city’s long history, but some landmarks stand out from the crowd. St Paul’s Cathedral, which has stood in the same spot in various forms since the year 604, is an icon of the London skyline. Take in the view of its striking dome from the south side of the Thames, before heading within to see the breathtaking nave, intricate altar and more. The American Memorial Chapel was installed during restoration works after the Blitz, and commemorates the 28,000 Americans stationed in the UK during World War II.

St Paul's Cathedral

Credit: Visit Britain, Alex Peyton

View of St Paul's Cathedral from the South Bank

Credit: Visit Britain, Richard Allen

Westminster Abbey is packed with history; it’s been the site of every coronation since 1066; hosted key marriages including those of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Philip; and was the location of Princess Diana’s funeral. Many famous and important figures are buried here, including Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, Laurence Olivier, Stephen Hawking and many monarchs. Memorials to modern-day martyr Martin Luther King Jr and Walter Hines, US Ambassador to the UK during the Great War, can also be found within the abbey.

Westminster Abbey and the London skyline at night

Credit: Visit Britain, Julian Elliott

St Mary’s Church in Rotherhithe is the final resting place of Captain Christopher Jones, who sailed the Pilgrim Fathers to the New World on the Mayflower. His grave is unmarked but a blue plaque commemorates him. Highlights of nearby Southwark Cathedral include the Harvard Chapel, named after John Harvard, who was baptised here, as well as memorials to Shakespeare and Sam Wanamaker, the famed American actor who fought for the construction of Shakespeare’s Globe. St Bride’s Church on Fleet Street also has a small but significant connection with the US: the parents of Virginia Dare, the first English child born in North America, were married here – a bust near the font commemorates her.

Whether you follow current British politics or not, the Palace of Westminster (home to the houses of parliament) is a striking architectural masterpiece. Its most iconic element, Big Ben features the largest bell ever created at The Whitechapel Bell Foundry – another of their famed bells being the USA’s very own Liberty Bell.

Benjamin Franklin lived in London for nearly 16 years. Explore his only remaining home at the Grade I listed Benjamin Franklin House on Craven Street, which is today a museum and educational facility dedicated to his life and work.

Here for the royals? Make a beeline for Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s official residence (open to the public in August and September) and the Tower of London, where her jewels are kept under strict guard.

Bird's eye view of Buckingham Palace

Credit: Visit Britain, Jason Hawkes

The Tower of London

Credit: Visit Britain, George Johnson

 

Courtyard of Buckingham Palace

Band performing during The Changing of the Guard ceremony taking place in the courtyard of Buckingham Palace, Westminster, London.

Credit: Britainonview, Pawel Libera

Things to do

Fun fact: there are eight statues of US presidents scattered around the city. Find George Washington in front of the National Gallery; Eisenhower, Reagan and Roosevelt in Grosvenor Square; JFK inside International Students House; Lincoln in Parliament Square and also the Royal Exchange; and Roosevelt once more, with his ally Churchill, near New Bond Street.

The Churchill statue and Big Ben, Westminster

The Churchill statue and Big Ben, Westminster, London.

Credit: Britain on View

Museum hoppers are in for a treat here. Beat the crowds at the lesser-known Horniman Museum and browse its anthropological wonders in the World Gallery, including native American artefacts; or explore the history and impact of the World Wars at the Imperial War Museum and Churchill War Rooms – the latter offers the chance to see where Winston Churchill and his colleagues directed the Second World War. The Science Museum and Natural History Museum are particularly family-friendly – the former’s exhibits include paraphernalia from various Apollo missions. For an insight into the capital’s culture, the UK and world as a whole, check out the Museum of London and the British Museum. Artsy types should opt for the V&A or the Tate Modern.

The Science Museum

Credit: Visit Britain, Britain on View

The V&A Museum

Credit: Visit Britain, Andrew Pickett

Imperial war museum on Lambeth road, Waterloo

Imperial war museum on Lambeth road, Waterloo, London.

Credit: Britain on View

Central London shopping is unparalleled. Wander east along Oxford Street and meander to Covent Garden via Carnaby Street and Soho for a million excuses to splash some cash. Follow some retail therapy with a show in the West End – London’s equivalent of NYC’s Broadway – or experience the likes of Hamlet or A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Shakespeare’s Globe.

Carnaby Street

Credit: Visit Britain, Richard Allen

Shopping around Covent Garden

Credit: Visit Britain, Richard Allen

For a cosmopolitan capital, London is remarkably green. From central Hyde Park to hilly Hampstead Heath, deer-filled Richmond Park and Kew’s Royal Botanic Gardens, there’s always somewhere to stretch your legs. If showstopping panoramas are your thing, book tickets for the London Eye observation wheel or The View from The Shard, London’s highest viewing platform, within the UK’s tallest building.

Hyde Park

Credit: Visit Britain, Eric Nathan

 

The Shard of London

Credit: Visit Britain, George Johnson

Food and drink

There are thousands of excellent pubs in London. If you can visit only one, choose The Mayflower in Rotherhithe – the mooring point of the Pilgrim Fathers’ ship still stands just outside. Plus, this charismatic, creaky old pub is the only such establishment that sells US postage stamps!

Food options in the capital are seemingly endless, with new cafes, bars and restaurants opening every week, but there are plenty of dependable classics too. Spend an afternoon browsing Borough Market, where in amongst the fresh groceries you’ll find international food stalls galore; or head south to Brixton Market for a community vibe and flavoursome dishes.

Borough Market

Credit: Visit Britain, Craig Easton

 

The South Bank is perfect for an al fresco aperitif before heading out for dinner; Brasserie Zedel and Flat Iron offer brilliant value, while the Michelin-starred River Cafe and The Ritz are ideal for special occasions.

 

 

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