Among the most popular tourist destinations in the world, the capital of England draws almost 20 million international travelers every year. The city is renowned for its history, art and architecture.
Here is a review of the 10 attractions that every first-time visitor should check out in London.
10. London Eye
A good way to begin your explorations is to take a ride on this Ferris wheel, the largest in Europe. It stands 443 feet (135 meters). Enclosed, temperature-controlled passenger pods rotate for one-half hour, as riders gaze at vistas 25 miles (40km) away on a clear day. The experience affords an excellent view of the city, the River Thames and beyond. There are several ticket packages, one of which includes a river cruise.
9. St. Paul’s Cathedral
This stunning hilltop church, the highest point in the city, is another place to enjoy panoramic views. The original structure opened in 604. Christopher Wren designed the current cathedral following the Great Fire of London in 1666. St. Paul’s mammoth main dome is the second-highest among all the world’s cathedrals. Visitors reach three galleries as they climb up into the dome. The impressive exterior is characterized by towers and columns. The lavish interior contains seven chapels, with monuments and artwork.
8. Hyde Park
When it’s time to take a break from sightseeing, this 350-acre green space offers an oasis of trees, grass and water. A former hunting ground for kings, the park has been the scene of national celebrations since the early 19th century. You can walk, jog, bicycle, play tennis, ride a horse, and swim or paddle in a large swimming pool. There are numerous monuments, memorials, fountains and statues.
7. Trafalgar Square
This park is another place to relax. It lies in the middle of the city, amid historic buildings, museums and the National Gallery. A public gathering place since 1830, the square hosts political rallies and other events. The 169-foot (52m) Nelson’s Column is flanked by fountains and four bronze lion statues. There are many additional monuments, statues and fountains throughout the park.
6. Westminster Abbey
Benedictine monks founded this cathedral in 960. The current Gothic-style structure, a World Heritage Site, dates to 1245. The location has been the scene of royal coronations since 1066. Seventeen kings and queens, as well as eight prime ministers, are buried there. The stately exterior features two large bell towers, and a facade decorated with sculptures and carvings.
5. The British Museum
If you want to dig into England’s past, this is the spot. Four large wings contain books, artifacts and other materials. The 1852 building is an example of Gothic Revival architecture, with tall columns in front and a pediment on top that are reminiscent of Greek temples. The King’s Library, the oldest part of the museum, stores more than 60,000 books.
4. Tower Bridge
A monument spanning the River Thames, this bridge was an engineering wonder when it opened 120 years ago. Visitors still marvel at the movable roadways that lift into the air to allow ships to pass underneath. You can look down at the river through a glass floor, and scan the horizons from walkways atop the bridge. Exhibitions tell the history of the structure, and the Victorian Engine Rooms display the steam engines that formerly powered the bridge lifts. There are interactive family tours; as well as free, hands-on activities for children.
3. Tower of London
An iconic British landmark on the banks of the River Thames for more than 1,000 years, this building complex has been a palace, castle and fortress. From 1100 to 1952, it also served as a notorious prison that earned the nickname “Bloody Tower.” The ghost of Anne Boleyn, who was buried there after her beheading in 1536, supposedly still haunts the place. The site has been the home of the British monarchy’s crown jewels since 1661. There are 23,576 diamonds and other gemstones. The tower is a World Heritage Site.
2. Buckingham Palace
The residence of the queen, this classic building has hosted royal and national celebrations since the 1700s. There are 775 rooms, including state rooms filled with magnificent furniture, artifacts and works of art. Among the treasures are Queen Victoria’s gilded piano and a large collection of green porcelain. The Picture Galley contains paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Rubens, Van Dyck and others. The main attraction is the famous changing-of-the-guard ceremony, in which members of the Queen’s Guard march with musical accompaniment from their barracks to the palace.
1. Big Ben
This neo-Gothic clock tower, erected in 1859, has become not only a national icon but also a symbol of democratic government. It is a World Heritage Site that is officially called the Elizabeth Tower, in honor of the queen. The 315-foot-high, 16-story structure is one of three towers that rise above the Palace of Westminster, also known as the Houses of Parliament. The walk to the belfry involves 332 steps. Enormous clocks face all four directions, and bells chime four times per hour.