Please check out the Pre and Post Cruise Stays Section of this website for complete information on London. In that section I cover:
Places to see
Transportation to and from the airports
Transportation to and from the port of Southampton
Day trips from London
Taking the Tube
Hop on Hop off buses (Big Bus, Original Bus etc.)
In this blog I suggest a few places that a first time visitor to London should consider seeing.
Tower of London - always number one on my London list.
You need to buy a ticket to get into the Tower and you can buy those in advance online or at a ticket kiosk at the Tower itself. Your admission ticket gives you entry to all public areas of the Tower of London, including the Crown Jewels. I usually like to start with a tour given by one of the Yeoman Warders. These are included in the price of admission and tend to start near the Tower entrance. They are always entertaining and sometimes a little topical. Those tours usually finish up in the chapel and from there you can start visiting the buildings such as the White Tower and the Bloody Tower. I also suggest you walk the battlements where you will find that you have a great view of Tower Bridge (which some people mistakenly call London Bridge). When going in to see the Crown Jewels, make sure to see the front and back of the crowns. Give yourself time to enjoy this site.
Near the tower are the ruins of an old Roman wall that was built when the Romans occupied Britain (43 to 410 AD). It is located just as you exit Tower Hill station and start walking towards the Tower. Stop and have a look. I speak more about this in my Roman and Medieval London blog.
British Museum – I love this museum and as with all museums in Britain, it is free! Loads to see here. It also has the finest exhibit of Egyptian mummies and artifacts outside of Egypt. No matter what your interest, chances are this museum has something for you. Highlights include:
The Holy Thorn Reliquary - A medieval masterpiece
Shiva Nataraja (Lord of the Dance) - A remarkable bronze sculpture from the south India;
Easter Island statue Hoa Hakananai’a - A colossal figure from a lost Civilisation;
The Parthenon Marbles (and yes Greece still wants them back);
The Rosetta Stone - The key to deciphering hieroglyphs;
The Egyptian exhibit; and
Clocks and Watches – Check out the ship clock as it is my favourite piece in the collection:
Westminster Abbey – Near the Houses of Parliament so it is easily possible for you to view and photograph the seat of government before heading to the Abbey. The Abbey is very impressive and there is a great deal to see inside and out. This is the place where coronations and royal weddings take place so many people have seen it on television, but to see it in person gives you a whole new perspective on just how visually stunning it is. Loads of famous people are buried here so as you walk around the massive abbey you might find yourself walking on the grave of someone famous. The Stone of Scone was here but has now been returned to Scotland.
There is a charge to enter but book ahead and if you are with a group the rate is around £17.00.
Five nights a week there is an Evensong service which is offered at 5pm. If you stand in line to enter the services, your admission to the Abby is free and you are treated to organ playing and choir singing. Our group attended and even though we had members of our group who were not religious, all enjoyed the experience of attending Evensong. I highly recommend it.
For people just wanting to photograph this historic building from the outside, be forewarned, there is no good location to get a complete photo of the Abby. For those wanting to purchase a memento, there is a gift shop outside the Abby (where the line for the Evensong service begins), with a good selection of items.
Buckingham Palace – The statue of Queen Victoria in front is impressive but Buckingham Palace alone is a building I find underwhelming. Buckingham Palace is the London residence and administrative headquarters of the Queen. If you stand in front of the palace, you can photograph the palace and the famous balcony where the royal family stands on special occasions. Worth a photo stop but I suggest you don’t spend too much time there as there are more interesting and historic places to visit. Usually this is further down on my list, but I find that people visiting London usually want to see Buckingham Palace simply for its tie to the royals. If you do go see the palace, you can tie in your visit with the changing of the guard ceremony and kill two birds with one stone.
The Changing of the Guard takes place at 11:30 every second day. I don’t find it all that impressive compared to the Canadian changing of the guard’s ceremony but for those who like the pomp and ceremony, it offers up a little tradition, colour, music and good photo ops.
Note: Tours of Buckingham Palace are only allowed in July, August & early Sept.so the rest of the year all one can do is stand outside the palace gates and look at it.
Victoria and Albert Museum
The self described “world's leading museum of art and design” is free to enter and also offers up a large number of interesting exhibits. If you enjoy art and design this IS the place for you. My favourite sections include jewelry, art and design. I will always pop into the photography section to see some work by my relatives who were early portrait specialists in London.
Churchill War Rooms
I have to admit it took me forever to go see the Churchill War Rooms. I thought it would be a little dull even though I love history and I like Churchill. I finally went and found the place really interesting. So much so I returned and will definitely go again.
Described on the website as “the underground nerve centre where Winston Churchill and his inner circle directed the Second World War” it is so much more. I could write a page on this place alone, suffice to say, it is well worth the price of admission if you like history, Churchill’s wicked wit and want to find out more about how and why certain decisions were made.
Cost is £17.60 per person / senior rate (59+)
London Eye - People either love or hate this giant Ferris wheel style viewing platform. It will give you an overall view of central London and the river Thames. Book a time and pay in advance as the line-ups at this attraction can be very, very long.
The cost is £27.00 on the day or £24.30 if tickets are bought in advance.
Trafalgar Square – This free attraction is well worth a stop. Not too far from Piccadilly Circus, stop by to see this historic square and if you walk around the area surrounding the square, there are additional points of interest. Photograph Nelson’s Column or the four lions found at the base of the column. Stop in to see St Martin-in-the-Fields at the north-east corner of Trafalgar Square or my favourite, the National Portrait Gallery. Free to enter and chock full of portraits. For those of you who have viewed the art section of this website, you will have noted my fascination with portraits so you can see why this museum is a regular stop for me.
Madam Tussaud’s Wax Museum
Wax figurines of famous people (both current and historical). A famous tourist place, it was established in 1836 and it always has some fun exhibits.
The costs is £29 for online in advance entrance tickets and £38 for online, in advance entrance tickets plus one more attraction (London Eye or London dungeon etc.)
Jack the Ripper Walking Tour - I have taken this tour four times and Dan has taken it five. Originally, I had no interest in the tour but my friend talked me into taking it and it was fascinating. If you are not into history or murder mysteries, give this one a pass. It is about two hours of walking. During the tour you hear about the places where the Ripper’s victims were murdered and the circumstances. You do visit places where a major suspect worked as a barber in the basement and where two of the victims were known to drink. You will see the actual doorway on which Jack the Ripper scrawled a message. It is a little creepy to walk down some of the darkened alleyways.
There is also a free tour offered that leaves Tower Hill Station at 6 and 8pm. I have not taken it but one of my friends did and described her experience as excellent.