Thursday, April 18


Covering 600 square miles and thousands of years of history, London is a world-class city, filled with an almost endless amount of attractions to please even the pickiest traveler's interest. From the flashing lights of Piccadilly Circus, the stately grandeur of Big Ben to the soldier's solemn precision during  the Changing of the Guard; with so many sights to choose from, it's best to pick out the attractions you want to see and create a personalized itinerary for your London vacation.

Are you heading to London this Summer? Wondering what the most popular attractions are or where to start? These are my top 10 picks of must-see attractions in London, in no particular order. ENJOY!

Tower of London

Since its founding at the end of the 11th century, the Tower of London has served as both a royal residence and a prison. Today, the Tower protects the Crown Jewels. Despite the Tower of London's grim reputation as a place of torture and death, within these walls you will also discover the history of a royal palace, an armoury and a powerful fortress.
 Discover the priceless Crown Jewels newly displayed in 2012, join an iconic Beefeater on a tour and hear their bloody tales, stand where famous heads have rolled, learn the legend of the Tower's ravens, storm the battlements and get to grips with swords and armour and much more! Ceremony of The KeysEvery night, for something like 700 years, the Yeoman Warders of the Tower of London have performed a gate-closing ritual known as the Ceremony of the Keys. Only once, when a bomb knocked a couple of warders off their feet, has the ceremony been so much as delayed. It has never been cancelled. Members of the public can view the ceremony for free by writing to Ceremony of the Keys Office, Tower of London, London, EC3N 4AB. The Tower of London is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Sunday and Monday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Adults cost £20.90 GBP (approximately $33 USD) and youths under 16 cost £10.45 GBP (around $17 USD). Children under 5 get in for free. Plan your tour at the Tower of London website.

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace serves as both the office and London residence of Her Majesty The Queen.
It is one of the few working royal palaces remaining in the world today. During the summer, visitors can tour the nineteen State Rooms, which form the heart of the Palace. These magnificent rooms are decorated with some of the greatest treasures from the Royal Collection, including paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens and Canaletto. For tours in the summer, take advantage of the audio guide, included with admission, so that you hear a detailed history of each room at your own pace. The Palace advises you set aside at least two hours to see the State Rooms. Tour prices start at £19 GBP (about $30 USD) for adults; seniors (over 60) and students cost £17.50 GBP (about $28 USD); youths under 17 cost £10.85 GBP (about $18 USD); and children under 5 enter for free.
If you're in London while the Queen is still in town, you can book a private guided tour, but it will cost you. Check for details at the Buckingham Palace websiteIf you'd rather skip the admission fees altogether, you can still experience Buckingham Palace by witnessing the storied Changing of the Guard, which occurs daily at 11:30 a.m., from May until late July, and on alternate days the rest of the year.

Westminster Abbey

The setting for every coronation since 1066 and the burial ground for kings, statesmen, scientists, musicians and poets, Westminster Abbey is a true Medieval masterpiece. It truly is a must-see living pageant of British history. This medieval church, graced by 16 royal weddings and nearly 40 coronations, offers a magnificent tutorial of London's far-reaching history. Westminster Abbey is pretty much always busy—and the staff keeps you moving at a pretty swift pace—so do a little research ahead of time to avoid missing your personal must-sees.
For instance, if you're a bibliophile, consider a visit to the Poets' Corner. This is the final resting place of famed authors Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens, and Rudyard Kipling. If you're fascinated by all the intrigue surrounding the British royalty, you might like to visit the shared tomb of enemies and half-sisters Elizabeth I and Mary Tudor. Open to visitors Monday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Adults cost £18 GBP (approximately $28 USD), while children under 11 enter for free.  Free audio guides included in the price of admission. You can also take a 90-minute Verger-led tour and see the tomb of Saint Edward the Confessor, the Royal Tombs, Poets' Corner, the Cloisters, and the Nave. Tack on an extra £3 GBP (around $5 USD) to your admission price if you plan on taking this tour. Check the abbey's calendar for any scheduled closings before you plan your tour.

British Museum

One of London's top free attractions, the British Museum is both an architectural beauty and a treasure trove of some of the world's most noted antiquities. From the Rosetta Stone to the Elgin Marbles to the Lindow "Bog Man," the British Museum is a history buff's delight.
 If you're not an antiquities enthusiast, you might not want to spend all day here, but it's still worth even a brief look around. The immense collection can make an initial museum visit seem overwhelming: Pick the exhibits that most interest you, and hit the high points. Visit the museum Saturday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and on Fridays until 8:30 p.m. Though admission is free, donations are highly encouraged. Find more information at the British Museum website.

Tower Bridge

If you want an expansive view of London, head to Tower Bridge. Strolling across the spectacular stone-and-steel bridge affords walkers an almost magical view of London-town, especially as the setting sun blankets the city in warm light.

Built in the Victorian era, Tower Bridge will give you a good sense of old London. If you're interested in viewing the city from a higher vantage point, consider a tour of the Tower Bridge Exhibition. This tour will take you to the top of the bridge, as well as to the bottom, with exhibits and displays on the bridge's inner workings and history. Adults pay £8 GBP (about $13 USD), youths ages 5-15 cost £3.40 GBP (approximately $5 USD), while children under 5 get in for free. For more information head to the Tower Bridge website.

Houses of Parliament

The Houses of Parliament, comprised of the House of Lords and the House of Commons, fill the more than 1,000-room Palace of Westminster. The Palace of Westminster began life in 1042 as a royal residence under Edward the Confessor and is one of the largest medieval halls in Europe. The clock tower is home to Big Ben, don't forget...that's the bell. If you're not interested in sneaking a peek at the political process, admiring the iconic structure from afar is still a quintessential London to-do. The Lambeth Bridge provides a superb vantage point for photos, especially at night. However, if time permits, a tour of the elaborate 'palace' (which you can attend when Parliament is on recess) is worth the experience. It is absolutely fascinating in all respects and some of the interiors are gloriously over the top in color and gilding. Every corner having something of historic interest.
The guided tour lasts about 75 minutes, and includes such highlights as the Commons and Lords Chambers, the Queen's Robing Room, the Royal Gallery, Westminster Hall and even a climb to the top of the clock tower to see the famous bell, Big Ben. If you're in town while Parliament is in session, you might want to sit in on a debate; schedule these through your embassy. Tours take place on Saturdays from 9:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and six days a week during the summer. Adults pay £15 GBP (about $24 USD), youths 5-15 cost £6 GBP (approximately $10 USD), and children under 5 enter for free. Head to the House of Parliament website to schedule a tour.

The London Eye

The London Eye, the giant Ferris wheel, is a fantastic way of getting a bird's eye view of the city. On a good day you can see for miles and miles – at the top, the whole of London is laid out before you. It circles around slowly, offering an unbeatable perspective of London's South Bank.

However, those with a fear of heights should beware: When you're more than 400-feet high, the 360-degree views can be a bit disconcerting. Some travelers consider the London Eye a quintessential must-do, while others find the long lines and steep ticket prices frustrating. Standard admission for adults is £17 GBP (around $27 USD). To see a complete list of ticket options, or to book your ticket online (save 10 percent by doing so), head to the London Eye website. Also be sure to check the website for opening times, which vary by season. 

Covent Garden

Covent Garden is a world famous district, unequalled in its mix of shops, restaurants, history, entertainment and culture. It's a bit of continental Europe right in the middle of London, with tables from restaurants and eateries spilling out onto the piazza. Covent Garden is also where you'll find London's best street performers, from singers belting out arias to mime artists performing crowd-pleasing stunts.

With everything housed in and around the historic Market Building and traffic free piazza, it is no wonder that Covent Garden is a much loved destination. For the ever changing event and market calendar look no further than the Covent Garden website.
 Piccadilly Circus

The Circus, once considered the hub of the Empire, attracts a large and varied crowd. It was created by John Nash as part of his new road from Carlton House in St James's to Regent's Park. 
The Statue of Eros, officially the Angel of Christian Charity, is a memorial drinking fountain erected in 1892 to the philanthropist, Lord Shaftesbury. There's always a real buzz in Piccadilly Circus – the buildings are lit up with electric signs leading you to SohoChinatown and Leicester Square, areas where you'll find restaurants, pubs, clubs, theatres and cinemas.

St. Paul's Cathedral

Besides Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's Cathedral is arguably the other must-see church in London.
With its imposing dome, the third largest in the world, St. Paul's forms a predominant spot along London's skyline. It's also a survivor: Although an older incarnation burnt during the Great Fire of London, Sir Christopher Wren's dome (completed in 1710) survived numerous World War II bombings. My favorite way to enjoy the cathedral is by  attending the Evensong service. The service is free and takes place Monday through Saturday at 5 p.m., and on Sundays at 3:15 p.m. Make sure to check the cathedrals website for holiday hours. Sightseers can tour the Cathedral Monday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Adults cost £15 GBP (about $24), students and seniors pay £14 GBP (about $23), while children (ages 6 to 17) cost £6 GBP (approximately $10). The cost of admission grants visitors entry to the cathedral floor, crypt, and the three galleries in the dome.

My list of must-dos just barely scrape the surface of all London has to offer. Do a bit of research and come up with your own personalized list. Time spent on this side of the pond will save you time once you arrive in London, giving you and your travel partner a most enjoyable vacation.

Mr.P and I are taking Ms.E to Europe this Summer. The Cranley Hotel
is our home base while visiting London. Cranley Hotel is one of London’s most charming and welcoming townhouses, a luxury boutique hotel situated in the sophisticated Royal Boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea. Comprised of 3 Victorian townhomes which date back to the early 1800's, the 39 bedrooms and suites offer a tranquil home away from home in the heart of London. It’s traditional English character and ideal location make it the ideal location for a whirlwind vacation in London! 

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