Tour London - Day 1
To shake off that jet leg and become familiar with one of the world's famous cities...take a tour. Yes, it's touristy but it less than 3 hours visitors can view the highlights of the city and then decide which attractions warrant further exploration. Try a hop on, hop off style double decker bus tour with www.bigbustours.com or www.theoriginaltour.com departing from several locations. Tickets are good for 24 hours and usually come with an optional Thames river...read more
1 hide detailHop on, hop off city bus tour
Our Local Expert Says:
Perfect way to orient yourselves in the city before deciding which sights to investigate further. Book online for a discount. In low season the drivers often strike 2 for 1 deals & offer a 48 hour pass.
You've probably seen these buses - along with London double-deckers, tour buses and more tour buses. Regardless of your usual attitude towards guided tours, these hop-on, hop-off tours are a good way to get an overview of the city, and you can make mental notes of where to go for a more thorough visit. The price you pay with Big Bus is for a 24-hour ticket; during this time you can travel anywhere on the tour network, which encompasses stops over just about all of central London. Included in the price is a free walking tour and Thames River cruise, as well as numerous discounts for West End shows. Guide tapes are available in 12 languages, and the company won the London Sightseeing Tour of the Year award. Be careful when choosing the open-air rooftop, because London is notorious for fickle weather.
2 hide detailBeefeaters and Crown Jewels
Our Local Expert Says:
Saturated with fascinating history, spend the day
This ancient fortress continues to pack in the crowds with its macabre associations with the legendary figures imprisoned and/or executed here. There are more spooks here per square foot than in any other building in the whole of haunted Britain. Headless bodies, bodiless heads, phantom soldiers, icy blasts, clanking chains -- you name them, the Tower's got them. Centuries after the last head rolled on Tower Hill, a shivery atmosphere of impending doom still lingers over the Tower's mighty walls. Plan on spending a lot of time here.
The Tower is actually an intricately patterned compound of structures built through the ages for varying purposes, mostly as expressions of royal power. The oldest is the White Tower, begun by William the Conqueror in 1078 to keep London's native Saxon population in check. Later rulers added other towers, more walls, and fortified gates, until the buildings became like a small town within a city. Until the reign of James I (beginning in 1603), the Tower was also one of the royal residences. But above all, it was a prison for distinguished captives.
Every stone of the Tower tells a story -- usually a gory one. In the Bloody Tower, according to Shakespeare, Richard III's henchmen murdered the two little princes (the young sons of his brother, Edward IV). Richard knew his position as king could not be secure as long as his nephews were alive, and there seems no reasonable doubt that the princes were killed on his orders. Attempts have been made by some historians to clear his name, but Richard remains the chief suspect, and his deed caused him to lose the "hearts of the people," according to the Chronicles of London at the time.
Sir Walter Raleigh spent 13 years in the Bloody Tower before his date with the executioner. On the walls of the Beauchamp Tower, you can still read the last messages scratched by despairing prisoners. Through Traitors' Gate passed such ill-fated, romantic figures as Robert Devereux, the second Earl of Essex and a favorite of Elizabeth I. A plaque marks the eerie place at Tower Green where two wives of Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, plus Sir Thomas More, and the 9-day queen, Lady Jane Grey, all lost their lives.
The Tower, besides being a royal palace, a fortress, and a prison, was also an armory, a treasury, a menagerie, and, in 1675, an astronomical observatory. Reopened in 1999, the White Tower holds the Armouries, which date from the reign of Henry VIII, as well as a display of instruments of torture and execution that recall some of the most ghastly moments in the Tower's history. In the Jewel House, you'll find the Tower's greatest attraction, the Crown Jewels -- some of the world's most precious stones set into robes, swords, scepters, and crowns. The Imperial State Crown is the most famous crown on earth; made for Victoria in 1837, it's worn today by Queen Elizabeth II when she opens Parliament. Studded with some 3,000 jewels (principally diamonds), it includes the Black Prince's Ruby, worn by Henry V at Agincourt. The 530-carat Star of Africa, a cut diamond on the Royal Sceptre with Cross, would make Harry Winston turn over in his grave. You'll have to stand in long lines to catch just a glimpse of the jewels as you and hundreds of others scroll by on moving sidewalks, but the wait is worth it.
The presumed prison cell of Sir Thomas More is open to the public. More left this cell in 1535 to face his executioner after he'd fallen out with King Henry VIII over the monarch's desire to divorce Catherine of Aragon, the first of his six wives. More is believed to have lived in the lower part of the Bell Tower, here in this whitewashed cell, during the last 14 months of his life, although some historians doubt this claim.
A palace inhabited by King Edward I in the late 1200s stands above Traitors' Gate. It's the only surviving medieval palace in Britain. Guides at the palace are dressed in period costumes, and reproductions of furniture and fittings, including Edward's throne, evoke the era, along with burning incense and candles.
In 2004 several improvements were made, including the opening of a Visitors Center and the restoration of a 13th-century wharf. To the west of the Tower is the newly created Tower Hill Square, designed by Stanton Williams, with a series of pavilions housing ticketing facilities, a gift shop, and a cafeteria.
Oh, yes -- don't forget to look for the ravens. Six of them (plus two spares) are all registered as official Tower residents. According to a legend, the Tower of London will stand as long as those black, ominous birds remain, so to be on the safe side, one of the wings of each raven is clipped.
One-hour guided tours of the entire compound are given by the Yeoman Warders (also known as "Beefeaters") every half-hour, starting at 9:30am, from the Middle Tower near the main entrance. The last guided walk starts about 3:30pm in summer, 2:30pm in winter -- weather permitting, of course.
You can attend the nightly Ceremony of the Keys, the ceremonial locking-up of the Tower by the Yeoman Warders. For free tickets, write to the Ceremony of the Keys, Waterloo Block, Tower of London, London EC3N 4AB, and request a specific date, but also list alternate dates. At least 6 weeks' notice is required. Accompany all requests with a stamped, self-addressed envelope (British stamps only) or two International Reply Coupons. With ticket in hand, a Yeoman Warder will admit you at 9:35pm. Frankly, we think it's not worth the trouble you go through to see this rather cheesy ceremony, but we know some who disagree with us.
Tower Tips -- You can spend the shortest time possible in the Tower's long lines if you buy your ticket at the kiosk at Tower Hill Tube station before emerging above ground. Even so, choose a day other than Sunday -- crowds are at their worst then -- and arrive as early as you can in the morning.
3 hide detailMost Ornate Bridge in London
This is one of the world's most celebrated landmarks, and possibly the most photographed and painted bridge on earth. (Presumably, this is the one the Arizona businessman thought he was getting when he bought the London Bridge.) Despite its medieval appearance, Tower Bridge was built in 1894.
An exhibition inside the bridge commemorates its century-old history; it takes you up the north tower to high-level walkways between the two towers with spectacular views of St. Paul's, the Tower of London, and the Houses of Parliament. You're then led down the south tower and into the bridge's original engine room, containing the Victorian boilers and steam engines that used to raise and lower the bridge for ships to pass. Multimedia exhibits in the towers illustrate the history of the bridge.
4 hide detailBritish and international modern art museum
In the transformed Bankside Power Station in Southwark, this museum draws some 2 million visitors a year to see the greatest collection of international 20th-century art in Britain. How would we rate the collection? At the same level of the Pompidou in Paris, with a slight edge over New York's Guggenheim. Tate Modern is viewer-friendly, with eye-level hangings. All the big painting stars are here -- a whole galaxy ranging from Dalí to Duchamp, from Giacometti to Matisse and Mondrian, from Picasso and Pollock to Rothko and Warhol. The Modern is also a gallery of 21st-century art, displaying new and exciting works.
The Tate Modern makes extensive use of glass for both its exterior and interior, offering panoramic views. Galleries are arranged over three levels and provide a variety of spaces for display. Instead of exhibiting art chronologically and by school, the Tate Modern, in a radical break from tradition, takes a thematic approach. This allows displays to cut across movements.
You can cross the Millennium Bridge, a pedestrian-only walk from the steps of St. Paul's, over the Thames to the gallery. Or else you can take the Tate to Tate boat (tel. 020/7887-8888), which takes art lovers on an 18-minute journey across the Thames from the Tate Britain to the Tate Modern, with a stop at the London Eye. A day pass for the ferry costs £4.30 ($8.60); £11 ($22) for a family pass. Leaving from Millbank Pier, this catamaran is decorated by the trademark colorful dots of that enfant terrible artist, Damien Hirst.
5 hide detailMost famous clock in the world
Our Local Expert Says:
Skip the crowds close to the buildings, cross the Thames and view these iconic structures from the South Bank.
Think of London and the very first image that springs to mind will be that of the grand clock towering over the Thames river. Big Ben is actually the nickname given to the bell inside the tower. The tower is officially called St. Stephen's Tower. Ben chimes every hour on the hour and the smaller bells ring every 15 minutes. Unfortunately, as much as it beckons, only UK residents are allowed to tour Big Ben and even this has to be arranged well in advance by their MP. The good news however is that next to the famous clock tower, the Houses of Parliament - which are made up of the House of Lords and the House of Commons - can be toured by overseas visitors. The building which is home to both "houses" is the (former royal) Palace of Westminster, once home to the British monarchs. Every year in England, November 5th is commemorated with fireworks and bonfires which celebrate the foiled gunpowder plot of Guy Fawkes in 1605. Listen to the chimes of Big Ben
6 hide detailSeat of Power
For over 900 years this impressive assemblage of Gothic buildings has been the home of British government. Indeed, no other place so potently symbolises democracy in the Western world. The building covers an area of eight acres and consists of 1,100 rooms, 100 staircases, 11 courtyards and over three kilometres of passages. The House of Lords occupies the southern end of the building whilst the House of Commons occupies the northern end. Within the Houses of Parliament there are also Westminster Hall, the Crypt Church, Members' Lobbies, the Commons Library and the Peers Library. Outside, the tower containing Big Ben remains the single most celebrated structure in this very picturesque riverside seat of British government. In order to attend PMQ (Prime Minister's Question Time) in the House of Commons' Strangers' Gallery, UK citizens need to contact their local MP in advance to ensure entry. Alternatively one can queue at St Stephen's entrance but this may not prove successful. Admission is free.
7 hide detailRotating aerial view of London
Our Local Expert Says:
Try a night ride for stunning view of the city or the private “Cupid’s Capsule” complete with champagne
Many Londoners were none too happy when in the 135 meter high Millennium Wheel (as was first known) was erected in 1999 to commemorate the "turning of the century". Now known simply as the London Eye, locals have softened and have even taken a ride or two in one of the 32 capsules which hold up to 25 people each. Views up to 25 miles can be observed on a clear day and evening rides are available to see an illuminated London. Weddings, private events and children's birthday parties are held within the London Eye's pods. Special packages are designed for every season and holiday, the wheel glows with matching lights for the occasion. Even with pre-booked capsules expect lines; however, entertainment in the area is abundant with street performers, a playground and a carousel. Grab the camera because the best part of the London Eye is the most breath-taking view of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament across the Thames at ground level. A journey lasts approximately 30 minutes.