London’s two-millennia history as a capital city set along the banks of the River Thames goes back to its founding as Londinium by the Romans. The heart of the conurbation is the City of London’s iconic Square Mile, following the boundaries of the medieval walls and now home to the world’s most important financial centre. The present-day city is a fantastic combination of history, heritage, landmark buildings, world-class museums, a vibrant theater district, shopping areas galore and amazing nightlife. Hosting literally millions of visitors annually, London’s tourist industry is backed by important historical sights such as Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London and Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and the four major museums. The green lungs of the city are Regent’s Park, Hyde Park, St James’s Park, Battersea Park and Hampstead Heath, and the upscale district of Mayfair is famed for its exclusive art and antiques galleries as well as its luxury hotels such as the Park Lane Hotel.
Whilst most of London’s major landmarks are set in the heart of the city, more are scattered along the banks of the Thames heading out of town to the west and should not be missed.
- Hampton Court PalaceTudor Hampton Court Palace lies on the banks of the Thames in the suburb of Richmond, and was the favorite retreat of King Henry VIII and his successive wives. Expect imposing red brick towers and halls, polished wood flooring, Tudor carvings and an overpowering sense of history.
- Covent GardenOnce the city’s flower, fruit and vegetable market, modern day Covent Garden is a hub for visitors for its Royal Opera House, market square, actors’ church, street entertainment, pubs, restaurants and winding, narrow shopping streets.
- WestminsterThe heart of historic London’s secular and religious activity, Westminster is home to the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and beautiful 10th century Westminster Abbey, home to the coronations of successive English kings and queens. Buckingham Palace is just a short walk away. You can find hotels such as The Strand Palace
- St Paul’s CathedralSet in the City of London, St Paul’s is one of Britain’s most spectacular cathedrals. Built to a design by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London destroyed its predecessor in 1666, the cathedral escaped damage during the WWII blitz and is a favourite with visitors.
- Tower of LondonCommissioned by William the Conquerer in 1066, the Tower of London and adjacent Tower Bridge are major London landmarks. The spectacular moated fortress holds the Crown Jewels, prison cells, ceremonial halls, an arsenal and the cottages of the Beefeaters who act as guardians and guides.
Eating and drinking and shopping nearby
London’s culinary scene will satisfy even the most picky gourmet, with many famous chefs established in city restaurants. For those with less unlimited means, a wide choice of international cuisine can be had in eateries all over the city, fast food outlets, typically British pub grub and fish and chip shops. Many central London hotels such as the Ritz and the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park boast excellent restaurants and Chinatown and Brick Lane’s Indian enclave serve the best of Asian cuisine. London is a shopaholic’s dream during the January and July sales, offering designer goodies in upscale Mayfair and high street names in the West End at great prices. Portobello Market is famous for its antiques malls, shops and street market.
The air arrival hubs for most of London’s tourists are Heathrow and Gatwick international airports, with Heathrow’s Piccadilly Line Tube station and Airport Express to Paddington Station giving fast access to the city centre. Gatwick has a fast rail link to Victoria Station. Once in the city, the best way to travel is by the Tube as its inner city stations are close to the majority of London’s attractions. London’s famous black cabs are convenient but expensive, and bus travel, although comprehensive, is slow due to overcrowded roads. Self-drive isn’t recommended due to the congestion charge, the expense of parking and the city’s day-long heavy traffic.