Europe

London England: You have to visit at LEAST ONCE!


Photo caption: Theodore Scott

Not a day goes by that you don’t hear about, read about or see something about London, England.

The city is everywhere!

And as such, it’s a reminder that you’ve always wanted to visit – or visit again.

Well … you should.

London, one of England’s most iconic travel destinations and home to an array of sights, activities and events often conjures visions of Royalty, theatre, fun-looking taxis and buses, shopping for sure and a long history to explore …

If you have been often, you still haven’t seen it all, and if it’s your first time here, prepare to be enthralled.

London, the capital of the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland), has a recorded history that goes back some 2,000 years. The city’s history reaches back some two millennia to its founding by the Romans, who called it Londinium. And after two thousand years, London has become one of the most significant cultural and financial capitals of the world.

As such, visiting London presents an opportunity to satisfy both the novice and most sophisticated of travellers.

In and around London, one can sightsee history, tour the most famous of castles, visit world-acclaimed museums and galleries, watch pomp and ceremony, attend the best of theatre, get around in London Black cabs or The Tube, shop at famous stores … the list goes on …

But the question often arises. When is the best time to visit?

London’s climate is among the mildest in England, with damp but mild winters and moderate summers. Yet London’s weather is fickle. You can expect clouds and rain even in the summer.

Temperatures during the summer (June to August) average around 180c but can occasionally rise to 300c or higher.

During the spring (late March to May) and autumn (September to October), temperatures average 11-150c.

In winter (November to mid-March) it’s cool, if not cold. It very rarely freezes in London, but the dampness can often make it feel two or three times as cold.

But like other large cities across the world, London is open and welcoming all year-round. Your best chance of good weather is, of course, at the height of summer in July and August, but there’s certainly no guarantee of sun even in those months, but it’s also when you can expect the largest number of tourists and highest prices.

The next thing you need to know is that in London, the most important consideration when planning a visit is time. There is so much to see and do that you need to plan your time accordingly.

Since London can satisfy the interests of almost anyone, ask yourself first what you really want to see and do. Best Advice: Plan your visit.

And here’s a tip … If you are a family planning a vacation, rather than a beach holiday’, introduce your kids to the world of international travel. London is a great eye-opener and particularly family-friendly. Years from now, your kids will be able to say “I’ve been there!”


Photo credit: Freefoto.com

“If you’re tired of London, you’re tired of life.”

Samuel Johnson (1709 – 1784) referred to as Dr. Johnson, was an English author.

London is comprised of 32 boroughs and the City of London (also known as the Square Mile), many of which are destinations in and of themselves, and the city is often described as more of a conglomerate of villages than a unified city.

These diverse “villages” reflect the gamut of the city’s residents. From exclusive, elite establishments to dingy dives and home-grown habitations, there’s something for every visitor to experience. Here’s a brief description of areas …

When one refers to the “City of London” he or she is referring only to the area occupied by the original old walled city built by the Romans. It was the beginning of this great metropolis we know today simply as London.

The old city covered an area of roughly one square mile and was surrounded by an eighteen foot high wall and a moat. The walls disappeared many years ago, but the area is still referred to as “The Square Mile” or “The City”.

The Great Fire of 1666 destroyed almost the entire City of London. Within a week, Sir Christopher Wren had produced a set of plans for the rebuilding of the City, based on a layout similar to the one he had seen on his only trip abroad, to Paris. Six days to design a complete city? The City of London gradually rose from its ashes and returned to being the most important financial centre of the world.

Then, almost three centuries later during the air raids of the Second World War (1939-1945) the City was almost totally destroyed again.

Home to hoards of trendy young things, Battersea & Clapham is the place to go for fun and funky bars and restaurants.

Famous for its train station and the Peruvian bear named after it (the marmalade sandwich-munching Paddington Bear), Bayswater & Paddington is a good bet for affordable accommodation that’s close to the tranquility of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.

Bloomsbury is London’s literary capital and a walking tour is the best way to discover the haunts of the city’s verbose geniuses. A visit to the area is not complete without a wander through the hallowed halls of one of London’s most popular tourist lures – the British Museum.

Reggae beats and spicy treats prevail in Brixton, London’s largest Afro-Caribbean community. Once a shabby, no-go area, it is now frequented by all kinds of people, including trendy, affluent types who hang out in the myriad of cool bars and clubs. The wonderful cultural diversity is visible in the bustling, popular market, and the famous Fridge nightclub.

Camden is all about crowded streets that spill over with shoppers and people-watchers who flock from far and wide to visit the Camden Market. But good restaurants, clubs and a top comedy venue make Camden much more than a grocery shopping stop.

Chelsea & Fulham Chic boutiques, expensive restaurants, snooty aristocrats and models in slick sports cars frequent Brompton Cross, King’s Road and Kensington High Street. You will want to cross the Albert Bridge at night when it’s all lit up.

Clerkenwell & Shoreditch is a trendy area flush with hip, sofa-laden hangouts, swanky restaurants and sleek galleries. Most of the action revolves around Hoxton Square, but East London is always booming due to its proximity to the city. Once favoured only by struggling artists on the cutting edge, the area is now a new media mecca with artists and savvy tech upstarts providing a vibrant mix.

The open-air party atmosphere still pervades in Covent Garden. The 18th century iron and glass former fruit and vegetable market has evolved gracefully and now houses fashion boutiques and other expensive stores. Stroll down Long Acre, Floral Street and cobbled Neal Street or catch a performance at the Royal Opera House .

The Docklands was heavily bombed during World War II, but today this area has become the incarnation of 1980s prosperity. Canary Wharf Tower dominates the skyline and the Canary Wharf area is one of the capital’s greatest economic powerhouses.


Photo credit: Freefoto.com

Greenwich is world famous as the traditional location of the Prime Meridian, on which all Coordinated Universal Time is based. The Prime Meridian running through Greenwich and the Greenwich Observatory is where the designation Greenwich Mean Time, or GMT began, and on which all world times are based.

To mark the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II, in 2012 Greenwich became the fourth Royal Borough, due to its historic links with the Royal Family, and its status as home of the Prime Meridian and as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This Hampstead neighbourhood is a leafy suburb with a charming village ambiance. Steeped in literary history, the homes of poets, playwrights and actors (past and present) are marked by endless blue plaques. An afternoon in Kenwood House or strolling on Hampstead Heath will keep you worlds away from the noise and bustle of the City.

No doubt you will find yourself in Knightsbridge. The two reasons to shop in this area have to be Piccadilly Circus and Harrods. Down the road is the stunning Baroque Brompton Oratory, and be sure not to miss Kensington Church Street or Sloane Street.

Full of tourist frenzy, Leicester Square & Piccadilly is where you will find several bright multiplexes that are no stranger to star-studded film premieres. There is a plethora of bars, pubs and clubs that keep the punters happy. Stroll down Piccadilly and pop into Fortnum & Mason, take tea at the Ritz or shop along the sartorially elegant Jermyn and Regent Streets.

Harley Street in Marylebone is renowned worldwide for the medical consultants and cosmetic surgeons located here. A stone’s throw from Baker Street is Madame Tussaud’s and Regent’s Park. Take a stroll along Elegant High Street. The beautiful interior of St James’ Church, around the corner in Spanish Place, was restored thanks to John Paul Getty III.

Mayfair is full of refined hotels. The impressive 18th Century edifices of Mayfair are inhabited by people of fabulous wealth. First-class shopping can be found along Bond Street and you can pick up a gem or two at Sotheby’s.

Yes there really is a Notting Hill. This supremely hip district is where you will find designer boutiques, retro shops, heavenly delicatessens, and the antique stalls of Portobello Road Market. The world famous Notting Hill Carnival at the end of August brings a Caribbean flavour to the streets. Fantastic cafe life, decadent bars, and superb restaurants satisfy food-lovers. The gospel choir at Kensington Temple is well-known for its soulful, arm-waving harmonies.

Soho is the area enclosed by Piccadilly Circus, Shaftesbury Avenue and Cambridge Circus to the south, Charing Cross Road to the east, Oxford Street to the north, and Regent Street to the west. Oxford Street is the main shopping street in London but much of it is in the Mayfair-Marylebone district.

The area immediately surrounding Old Compton Street in the southern part of Soho is widely recognised as London’s foremost gay village and is a very stylish part of London indeed.

As well, Soho is sometimes considered to include London’s Chinatown. Chinatown, however, lies south of Shaftesbury Avenue and, having a culture distinctly different from the rest of the West End

In this district, visitors can watch Shakespearean actors pace the boards at the marvellous Globe Theatre. The Tate Modern Gallery further boosts the Southbank’s shining cultural program. Foodies may wish to visit Butler’s Wharf – a gastronomic temple. Don’t miss the London Eye (also known as the Millennium Wheel) near Westminster Bridge. The gigantic Ferris wheel offers unrivalled views of London.

Westminster & St James‘s The British Empire was ruled from Whitehall, but now it only serves the United Kingdom. Not surprisingly, civil servants and politicians abound in the vicinity. Big Ben strikes out the hour, loud enough to wake the old kings and queens from their tombs in Westminster Abbey. Visitors should definitely tour the A.W. Pugin-designed Houses of Parliament situated along the beautifully illuminated river, and take a stroll in St. James’s Park and Green Park.

There’s more to Wimbledon than the Wimbledon Tennis Championships, although it does tend to dominate the summer months. There’s a Common where you can ride horses or spot Wombles. You can also visit the Georgian Cannizaro House and the Wimbledon Windmill. This is where Baden-Powell invented scouting and Thomas Hughes wrote Tom Brown’s Schooldays.

What to See (Where to Begin!)

London is a large and sophisticated city, so as previously mentioned, one should plan their time here in advance, to ensure seeing what interests you most – and then plan to see or visit somewhere that will astound you!

Sights


Photo credit: Flickr user nini003

A visit to London would not be complete without visiting Buckingham Palace, the official London residence of the Queen. The Palace is open for tours during the summer months only, but a must-see sight even if you don’t go in.

The London Eye is the world’s third largest observation wheel, situated on the South Bank of the Thames with magnificent views over London.

30 St Mary Axe or The Gherkin, a peculiarly-shaped 180m building in the City, which provides a 360° view of London on the 40th floor.

Marble Arch is a white Carrara marble monument designed by John Nash. It is located in the middle of a mammoth traffic island at one of the busiest intersections in central London where Oxford St meets Park Lane in Mayfair.

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 large, iconic neon hoarding.

Trafalgar Square, home of Nelson’s Column and the lions, and once a safe haven for London’s pigeons until birds of prey were recently engaged.

Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster (including Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament) are also a must … The seat of the United Kingdom parliament and a World Heritage site, The Abbey has served as the setting for royal coronations since 1066, most recent being Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. The Palace of Westminster is open to the public only for viewing parliamentary debates; tours of the building are available during July-August when Parliament is away on summer recess.

St Paul’s Cathedral, in the City, is 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”.

Situated just south east of the City, the Tower of London is 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. 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 features a drawbridge. You can visit the engine rooms and a Tower Bridge exhibition.

Glance up to view The Shard, a futuristic skyscraper due to be topped-out in 2012, and dominates the London skyline. The Shard will become the tallest building in the EU. When finished, this multi-use 310m (1,017ft) tower will feature a viewing deck on the 72nd floor.

Museums and Galleries

London can boast of a number of outstanding 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. Although London can be expensive, many of the best museums and galleries are free* including:

  • British Museum
  • National Gallery
  • National Portrait Gallery
  • Victoria and Albert Museum
  • Natural History Museum
  • Tate Modern
  • Tate Britain

* Note that admission to many temporary exhibitions is not free.

In addition, the British government lists over 240 genuine museums in the city.

You can also take some time to stroll Hyde Park and adjoining Kensington Gardens, and Regent’s Park, all of which provide a substantial amount of open space in central London.

Take note of the Blue Plaques. English Heritage operates the Blue Plaques programme in London. Blue Plaques celebrate great figures of the past and the buildings that they inhabited. These are among the most familiar features of the capital’s streetscape and adorn the façades of buildings across the city. Since the first plaque was erected in 1867, the number has grown steadily and there are now more than 800. Recipients are as diverse as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Sigmund Freud, Charles de Gaulle, Jimi Hendrix and Karl Marx.

London Facts

  • London is the biggest city in Britain and in Europe.
  • London occupies over 620 square miles
  • London has a population of 8,000,000 plus
  • About 12 per cent of Britain’s overall population live in London; 4,699 people per square Km
  • London was the first city in the world to have an underground railway, known as the ‘Tube’.
  • There are over 100 theatres in London, including 50 in the West End. London theatre accounts for 45% of all UK theatre admissions and over 70% of box-office revenues.

London Weird Facts


Photo credit: Michael Warren

Law reformer Jeremy Bentham left his entire estate to London’s University College in 1832 on condition that he be stuffed, dressed in his finest clothes and mounted in a chair from where he would continue to attend the annual meeting of the university’s board of governors. His figure is still brought out to preside over an annual debate.

All London taxis are “Hackney Carriages” and in the olden days that meant “Horse-drawn”. Regulations stated that no horses should go hungry and therefore insisted that all horse- drawn carriages that were registered as “Hackney Carriage” (mainly Taxis) should carry a bale of hay. That rule has still not been changed and hence still applies.

Who says you cannot drive on the right hand side of the road in London? Well you can, but only in the Savoy Courtyard. It is a short street which leads to the Savoy hotel entrance.

The Strand, London … A very famous name. Most people know about the “Strand” in London. No such street exists in London.

Even though being the sovereign of The United Kingdom, Her Majesty the Queen is not allowed to enter the City of London with seeking the permission of its Lord Mayor.

Some 80,000 umbrellas are lost annually on the London Underground.

There are a dozen secret rivers flowing beneath London. One, the Effra travels under the Oval cricket ground.

There are over 30,000 John Smiths in Britain.

In 1945, a flock of starlings landed on the minute hand of Big Ben and put the time back by five minutes.

A huge Gothic edifice erected to the memory of Prince Albert, the consort of Queen Victoria, is decorated with sculptures which reveal an extraordinary but quite unintentional set of coincidences. There are 61 human figures (Albert died in 1861); there are 19 men (Albert was born in 1819); there are 42 women (Albert died at age 42); and there are 9 animals (Albert had 9 children).

The statue of Handel in Westminster Abbey has someone else’s ear. The sculptor, Louis Francois Roubillac, thought that Handel’s ear, though without doubt musical, was rather ugly. So he used as a model the ear of a certain Miss Rich, which, though not at all musical, was sculpturally perfect.

London’s first traffic island was put in St. James’s Street in 1864 at the personal expense of a Colonel Pierpoint, who was afraid of being run over on his way to his Pall Mall club. When it was finished, he dashed across the road to admire his creation and was knocked down by a cab.

When New Scotland Yard was being built in 1888, the torso of a woman, headless and without arms, was discovered in the foundations. All the resources of the Criminal Investigation Dept. failed to find the murderer or the identity of the victim. And so Scotland Yard was built on the site of an unsolved murder.

In the floor of Westminster Abbey is a tiny stone marking the burial place of the poet Ben Jonson. He was too poor to pay for the normal grave space, so he is buried standing up.

In St. Bartholomew-the-Great, London’s oldest church, is a wall tablet recording the death in 1652 of one Edward Cooke. His epitaph asks you to cry for him, “or if ye find noe vent for tears, yet stay and see the marble weepe.” This is no poetic flight of fancy, for the memorial is made of “weeping marble,” so called because of its tendency to break out into “tears” of moisture.

On October 17, 1678, the body of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey was discovered in a field near the present Regent’s Park called Greenbury Hill. Later three men were executed for the murder. Their names were Green, Berry, and Hill.

Although the Great Fire of London destroyed much of the city, only six people were killed.

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