When you visit a new city, you want to see the must sees. Going overseas, you have to make sure that you are prepared before you go since we never really get as much time to site the sites as we would like. Here’s the top ten of what I think are the must sees for London.
London has a rich historical past of more than 2000 years, but it’s also a very modern city offering everything you can imagine and more. They are at the forefront of fashion, music, food and the arts. In my opinion, the top ten places that you absolutely have to go see while in London are the British Museum, the National Gallery and Portrait Gallery, the London Eye, the Tate Modern and Tate Britain, the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral.
The British Museum is the oldest museum in the world and opened in 1753 with the collection of Sir Hans Sloane. The collection continued to built over the next two centuries with collections donated by Captain James Cook, Lord Elgin, Lord Curzon and Charles Townley. The collection houses over six million items spanning 1.8 million years of history. The current building was completed in 1850. The must sees for this museum include Parthenon Sculptures, the Rosetta Stone and a statue of Ramses II. The Great Court is an exquisite glass roofed building that houses some of the most important books and documents in history.
The National Gallery has one of the largest collections of art work in the world. It houses over 2,300 works from the early Renaissance through the Impressionists. Some of the works not to miss and some of my favorites are the Arnolfini Portrait, the Rokeby Venus, Young Woman Standing at a Virginal and Bathers at La Grenouilliere (one of my all time favorites). The National Portrait Gallery, which opened in 1856, has a vast selection of portraits from some famous and not so famous to unknown portraits. My favorites? The Brontes, Queen Elizabeth I and William Shakespeare.
Wonder what the London Eye is? It’s the ferris wheel! It was built to celebrate the millennium and has become a huge tourist attraction. The seats are actually enclosed capsules so you can go up when it’s raining too to get a breathtaking view of the city. What can you see up there? Pretty much everything on a clear day. Look for the House of Parliament, Canada Tower and Windsor Castle.
I have to say that I am not a big fan of modern art, but the Tate Modern is pretty exciting. It has 88 galleries housing works by artists such as Dali, Picasso, Matisse, Rathko and Warhol. The nice thing is that they change displays frequently. My favorite painting is Jackson Pollock’s Summertime No. 9A. He was a genius. The Tate Britain is more my speed. I’m a traditional girl. The museum opened in 1897 by Henry Tate who made his money in sugar. There are some really powerful pieces in this collection. Make sure you don’t miss The Deluge, The Lady of Shalott and Girl with White Dog. All very moving pieces.
I feel like a kid again when I go to the Natural History Museum. It does feel like history comes to life. They have over 70 million specimens. Yes, 70 million. What started out as a place to house the findings of Charles Darwin, Captain Cook and Joseph Banks got so grand it naturally evolved into a museum. The kids love it because they have interactive exhibits and what child doesn’t like a dinosaur collection? Not to miss are the vault, the earthquake simulator, the water cycle video wall, the fossils (I love fossils), the blue whale, the dinosaurs and the Darwin center.
The Science Museum has lots of hand-on, fun things to do so it’s great for children too! Lots of inventions throughout history to the present time can be viewed. You have to catch exploring space, the pattern pod and Apollo 10.
Ah, Buckingham Palace. You have to go see her in all her glory. The house was first built as a townhouse for the first Duke of Buckingham in 1705. John Nash extended the size over a century later. In 1913, the front of the building was completed and remains in such condition to date. The Queen lives there, but it is also open for tours. You can see more if you go during the summer. You have to see the changing of the guards (You really can’t make them laugh.), the Grand Staircase, the Throne Room, the State Ballroom and the Picture Gallery. Regal in every sense. Part of Buckingham Palace includes the gardens. St. James and Green Park are right there on site. Other parks are a short walk away. Hyde Park and Kensington gardens are beautiful.
Westminster Abbey is where it all happens. Royal coronations, weddings, funerals, they all happen here. You have to go in. The nave is the tallest Gothic nave in England at 102 feet. Walk through, take it in and realize that you are walking through architecture that was built in the 11th century. That makes itover 1000 years old. It’s hard to believe.
Parliament Square is where religion and politics meet. You have Westminster Abbey, the House of Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Hall, St. Margaret’s Church, the Winston Churchill statue, Central Hall, Dean’s Yard, the Jewel Tower and the statue of Oliver Cromwell all in one location. Make sure you go into the House of Parliament. It’s awesome.
The Tower of London used to be a prison, but it’s most known for being the city arsenal, home to the Crown Jewels and the Royal Mint. Very creepy but you have to go to the Bloody Tower. I swear it’s haunted. Who was housed in the prison? Some very famous people including the Bishop of Durham, Henry VI, Sir Thomas More, all of Henry VIII’s wives and Lady Jane Grey just to name a few. The Crown Jewels? Yep. Expect to see some lavish pieces including the Imperial state Crown which was worn by Queen Elizabeth II on her coronation day.
St. Paul’s cathedral was built in 1708 by Sir Christopher Wren, who is also buried here. He got his inspiration from St. Peter’s Cathedral in Vatican City. It has a vastly ornate bell dome and a swing bell that rings everyday at 1 pm. The bell also rings when there is a death in the royal family or of a senior churchman. Don’t forget to look up when you go in and the mosaics are breathtaking as well. You may have seen it on television. It’s where Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer married.
So when you head to London, make sure you see at least these few tourist attractions. You won’t be disappointed. London is full of history, stories and culture we will never see in the United States, at least not for a few hundred years.