Beginner’s Guide to London
What to See?
Buckingham Palace The official London residence of the Queen. Open for tours during the summer months only, but a must-see sight even if you don’t go in.
Tower of London London’s original royal fortress by the Thames. It is over 900 years old, contains the Crown Jewels, guarded by Beefeaters, and is a World Heritage site. It is also considered by many to be the most haunted building in the world. If you are interested in that sort of thing its definitely somewhere worth visiting. Sometimes there are guided ghost walks of the building.
Tower Bridge Is the iconic 19th century bridge located by the Tower of London near the City. It is decorated with high towers and featuring a drawbridge and you can visit the engine rooms and a Tower Bridge exhibition.
Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster (including Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament). The seat of the United Kingdom parliament and World Heritage site, as well as setting for royal coronations since 1066, most recently that of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. The Palace of Westminster is open to the public for viewing parliamentary debates, tours of the building are available during August-September when Parliament is away on summer recess and every Saturday throughout the year.
St Paul’s Cathedral. Sir Christopher Wren’s great accomplishment, built after the 1666 Great Fire of London – the great dome is still seated in majesty over The City. A section of the dome has such good acoustics that it forms a “Whispering Gallery”.
Trafalgar Square – Home of Nelson’s Column and the lions
Piccadilly Circus is one of the most photographed sights in London. The status of Eros stands proudly in the middle while the north eastern side is dominated by a huge, iconic neon hoarding.
The London Eye. The world’s third largest observation wheel, situated on the South Bank of the Thames with magnificent views over London.
Marble Arch is a white Carrara marble monument designed by John Nash. It is located in the middle of a huge traffic island at one of the busiest intersections in central London where Oxford St meets Park Lane in Mayfair.
30 St Mary Axe or The Gherkin, a peculiarly-shaped 180 m- (590 ft-) building in the City, which provides a 360-degree view of London on the 40th floor.
The Shard, a futuristic skyscraper that was topped-out in 2012 and dominates the London skyline. It’s the tallest building in the EU at 310 m (1,017 ft) and features a viewing deck on the 72nd floor.
Museums and Galleries
London hosts an outstanding collection of world-class museums. Even better, it is the only one of the traditional “alpha world cities” (London, Tokyo, New York City and Paris) in which the majority of the museums have no entrance charges, thus allowing visitors to make multiple visits with ease.
Although London can be expensive, many of the best museums and galleries are free including:
National Portrait Gallery
Victoria and Albert Museum
Natural History Museum
and most museums in Greenwich. Note that admission to many temporary exhibitions is not free.
Aside from these world famous establishments, there is an almost unbelievable number of minor museums in London covering a very diverse range of subjects. Over 240 genuine museums are listed in the city.
The ‘green lungs’ of London are the many parks, great and small, scattered throughout the city including Hyde Park, St James Park and Regent’s Park. Most of the larger parks have their origins in royal estates and hunting grounds and are still owned by the Crown, despite their public access.
Regent’s Park is wonderful open park in the northern part of central London.
St James’s Park has charming and romantic gardens ideal for picnics and for strolling around. St. James’s Park is situated between Buckingham Palace on the west and Horse Guards Parade on the east.
Hampstead Heath is a huge open green space in north central London. Not a tended park a such and is remarkably wild for a metropolitan city location. The views from the Parliament Hill area of the heath south over the city are quite stunning.
Richmond Park also is a huge green space, but has a thriving deer population that is culled in the spring. Excellent place for cycling.
Bushy Park, near to Hampton Court Palace, is the second-largest park in London. More low-key than its larger cousin, Richmond Park, it too has a large deer population. Bushy Park contains numerous ponds, bridleways, two allotments, and at its northern edge, the National Physical Laboratory.
Though not particularly known for bargain shopping, nearly anything you could possibly want to buy is available in London. In Central London, the main shopping district is the West End (Bond St, Covent Garden, Oxford St and Regent St). On Thursdays many West End stores close later than normal (19:00-20:00).
Oxford Street. Main shopping street home to flagship branches of all the major British high street retailers in one go including Selfridges, John Lewis, Marks & Spencer and other department stores.
Regent Street (between Oxford Circus and Piccadilly Circus). Includes such gems as Hamleys, considered to be London’s flagship toy store, on seven levels, and the London Apple Store.
Bond Street. Some of the world’s most luxurious designer stores such as Cartier, D&G, Jimmy Choo, Louis Vuitton and Versace.
Tottenham Court Road. Contains some of the world’s most luxurious designer interior stores such as Heals, whilst the southern end is famous for its large concentration of hi-fi, computer and electronics stores.
Covent Garden. Fashionable area home to quaint outlets and relatively expensive designer stores. Around Seven Dials chains include Adidas Originals, All Saints, Carhartt, Fred Perry, G Star Raw and Stussy. For shoes head for Neal St. Also the London Transport Museum whose gift shop has some of the best souvenirs in the city (old maps, vintage Tube posters, etc). But the vendors are now not allowed to sell merchandise with Union Jacks on. Sad.
Charing Cross Road (near Covent Garden). A book lovers haven! New, second-hand, antiquarian and specialist.
Soho . Offers alternative music and clothes. Now home to Chappell of Bond St’s historic music shop.
Camden Town. Alternative clothing and other alternative shopping, popular with teenagers and young adults. Also nearby Camden Lock market. Has lots of really cool and affordable stuff but kind of gothish.
Chelsea. The King’s Road is noted for fashion, homeware and kids. On Wednesday many stores close late.
Knightsbridge. Department stores include the world famous Harrods (includes a food hall) and Harvey Nichols. On Wednesday many stores close late.
Beauchamp Place. Where royalty and celebrities shop. One of the world’s most unique and famous streets. Over the years it has developed its strong reputation as one of London’s most fashionable and distinctive streets, housing some of the best known names in London fashion, interspersed with trendy restaurants, jewellers and speciality shops including the world famous trademark Fortuny
Savile Row is home to some of the world’s best men’s bespoke tailors including Henry Poole, Gieves & Hawkes, H. Huntsman & Sons, Dege & Skinner and many others.
Westfield. In Shepherd’s Bush. Hard to miss. Has designer shops in with the more affordable chain shops. It’s the biggest shopping centre in Europe. Has lots of good places to eat. It can get very busy on weekends though. Has its own train station.