London is the capital and largest city of both the United Kingdom and of England. Situated on the River Thames in South-East England, it is also the largest European city. Greater London has an official population of roughly 7.5 million people, although the figure of over 14 million for the city’s total metropolitan area more accurately reflects the city’s size and importance.
London is historically one of the great cities of the world and remains a global capital of politics, culture, fashion, trade, and finance. In order to know more about London, here’s our special travel guide.
There are a total of 32 local boroughs (districts) that make up Greater London. For the foreign traveler, each borough is recognized by its functional, cultural, and social districts. For instance, Central London is the historical and financial core of the city; Westminster is the home of the British government and the royal family; and West End is where you find musicals being performed in theaters.
Like most inhabitants of big cities, Londoners are a mixed bunch. Most are fairly private and quiet, even reserved, but with no malice intended and a wicked sense of humor. Also, Londoners generally do not take themselves or other people too seriously.
Get in to the London Eye
It is the world’s tallest wheel at 135m high, giving you a comfortable and safe 360º view of London’s main districts (North, South, East, West) within a spacious capsule. Prices for tickets range from â‚¤6.50 for a standard flight child ticket to â‚¤29.50 for an adult "champagne flight" ticket. London Eye is located on the South Bank of the River Thames.
Take a bird’s eye view of London
Aside from the London Eye, other cheaper options to take an aerial view of the city is either through the Tower Bridge Exhibition (which costs up to â‚¤5.50 for adults, or taking 311 steps up The Monument (which costs only â‚¤2.00 for adults). Tower Bridge is more popularly known as "London Bridge."
Tower of London
The Tower of London has been an integral part of British Royal history for nearly 1,000 years. It is the original royal fortress by the Thames, which contained the Crown Jewels and guarded by Beefeaters. The Tower contains enough buildings and exhibits to keep a family busy for a full day, with plenty of warlike and domestic contents. Entry is expensive, but the Beefeaters (who are all retitled sergeant majors from the British Army) provide free guided tours.
Witness the Ceremony of the Keys
The Ceremony of the Key is the traditional locking up of the Tower of London and has taken place every night-without fail-for about 700 years. Although tickets are issued free of charge, you need to apply in advance through snail mail (more details on application through this site: http://www.hrp.org.uk/webcode/content.asp?ID=704). Note that groups are limited to a maximum of six people from April to October and up to fifteen persons from November to March. Remember to be at the Tower by 9:30 p.m. local time, as late arrivals will not be admitted. Also, there are no toilet or refreshment facilities available at this time, and photography is not allowed during any part of the ceremony.
Attend a Parliament session
If you happen to be in London between late September to mid-July, you could visit the Palace of Westminster (the seat of the British Parliament) and observe the Parliament in session while you are in the public gallery. The Parliament sits usually on weekday afternoons only; and when they are not, there are 75-minute guided tours, including all the important areas in the Palace. Remember that it is in the Palace of Westminster where Big Ben (technically called "The Clock Tower," as Big Ben is actually its main bell) is located.
Attend Westminster Abbey for free
The Westminster Abbey is an important church among Londoners and has become the center of many of England’s important events such as crowning of kings. The Abbey itself charges tourists for entry, but not its worshippers. Attend a church service for free and enjoy some of the finest choral music in London from the choir. Evensong at about 4:15 p.m. local time is an especially a good suggestion.
It is the official London residence of The Queen, and one of several royal palaces of London. Several areas in Buckingham are open for tours during August and September, although it is still a must-see sight even if you don’t get in.
Relax by Leicester Square
This area of London lie north of Trafalgar Square. It is probably one of the busiest areas in London. It houses the largest cinemas, as well as cafés and restaurants. Although everything here is expensive (including movie tickets and bottled water), you could find your place to relax by its pleasant garden and watch the activity happening all around you, from street entertainers to preachers. If you want to watch a movie but on a tight budget, consider Prince Charles Cinema at 7 Leicester Place. They don’t screen the latest films, but usually have an interesting selection, including foreign and art-house films and often have theme nights.
Be in two places at the same time
A trip to the Royal Observatory Greenwich, the home of the world’s prime meridian (Longitude 0") and the Greenwich Mean Time, is both a scientific and cultural wonder. Stand on the line with one foot at the Eastern Hemisphere and the other foot at the West.
Visit London’s many museums and galleries
London possesses one of the best collections of museums and galleries anywhere in the world. For instance, world cultures throughout history are well-represented at the British Museum. Aside from British Museum, several museums in the city are free of charge (though there may be a suggested donation), such as Museum of London (featuring the history and development of this great city), Victoria and Albert Museum (highlights decorative art like fashion and furniture), and Natural History Museum (famous for its dinosaur exhibit).
Museums with free entrance on most exhibits include National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery (which is around the corner from National Gallery), Tate Galleries (showcasing some of the best of British and Modern Art), and the Imperial War Museum.
Frolic on London’s parks
The city has many parks both great and small scattered all over, among them include Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, Green Park, and St. James 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.
Visit Madame Tussaud’s
Here you can see (and take photos of yourself with) a lot of very realistic wax figures of celebrities, politicians, and more.
Hop on an open top bus tour
These tours offer a good, although somewhat expensive, introduction to the sights of London. Dominated by two principal operators, open top bus tours provide hop-on/ hop-off services where you can get off at any attraction and catch the next bus. These tours also provide live commentaries in English and recorded commentaries in other languages.
Make your own bus tour
If you don’t feel like spending on the bus tour, you can make one on your own by buying a Travelcard and spend
ing some time riding around London on the top deck of standard London Buses. Although you don’t get the open air or the commentary, the views are very similar. If you worry getting lost, consider the bus tour.
Explore London’s most interesting buildings during Autumn
The London Open House Weekend is normally held in Autumn. During this weekend, several hundred building that are not normally open to the public are opened up.
Take a view of London by the sea
Take advantage of the London Ducktours. Your tour "bus" is actually a D-Day landing water/land vehicle that has been refurbished.
Experience London theater
God and see a musical, play, or comedy in London’s Theaterland. The West End district is where you would find famous imported Broadway shows and some very good local productions. You can find discounted tickets to these shows at the Half Price Ticket Booth in the area, where reduced tickets are sold on a free-seats basis.
For a true London theater experience, watch a Shakespearean play. The Globe Theater is a reconstruction of the open-air playhouse originally designed in 1599. It is currently a venue of Shakespearean plays and (sometimes) watch it the old-school way, when they stand up on the yard.
Skate on ice
London has a number of outdoor ice rinks that open in the winter months. Considered by some to be somewhat overpriced and overcrowded, they nonetheless have multiplied in recent years. Most charge from $10 to $12 per adult for an hour on the ice, including skate rent. Recommended in our list include Somerset House, Kew Gardens, Canary Wharf, and ever at the Tower of London.
Anything and everything you could possibly want to buy is probably available in London, if you know where to look, and if you can afford it-as London is not famous for bargain shopping.
For fashion, you can try out Oxford Street (where all of UK’s high street retailers are located), Bond Street (UK’s fashion heaven), Camden Town (youth culture wear), Soho (alternative clothing), and Knightsbridge (the slightly more expensive end). Meanwhile, Chelsea is noted for homeware, while Tottenham Court Road specializes in interior decorations and electronic, Charing Cross Road has lines of bookstores, and Regent Street is home of Hamleys (considered to be London’s flagship toy store).
London also has plenty of markets, whether you are looking for antiques, clothes, or fresh food. For starters, try Portobello Road, which can be considered the world’s largest antiques market, along with Brick Lane, Greenwich, Borough, and Brixton.
Central London shops are usually open late at least one night a week, while West End shops (from Oxford Street to Covent Garden) stay open until late on Thursdays, while Wednesday evening is late opening for Chelsea and Knightsbridge.
Tax-free shops in airports do not have strong varieties, and prices are almost equal when you shop at the city.