I must say I had this image in my head of what London would look like: dreary and foggy like a Sherlock Holmes or Sweeney Todd movie. However, my preconceived notions were blown out of the River Thames when I arrived! The architecture and parks are positively gorgeous and the weather at least when CJ and I were there was stunning. London truly has the best summers, with a smaller chance of rain compared to the other seasons and the temperature never gets grossly warm (looking at you, New York City.) There is SO much to see in London, but here are some of my personal favorites if you are visiting for the first time:
Hyde Park is a beautiful park located in Central London. Because it is so large, it seems like the crowds are spread out and it is quite peaceful. Participate in boating, tennis, or horse riding. My favorite spot in Hyde Park is the Rose Garden, located in the southeast corner of the park and home to roses mixed with herbaceous planting.
Kensington Palace & Gardens
Kensington Palace is a royal residence located in Kensington Gardens, and has been home to Prince Charles and Princess Diana, Princess Margaret and the Earl of Snowdon, and more recently, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Queen Victoria was even born and christened in the palace. To celebrate the 200th anniversary of her birth, visit the two new exhibitions, Victoria: Woman & Crown and Victoria: A Royal Childhood. Then head out of the palace to see the gorgeous Sunken Garden!
Explore London’s trendy neighborhood featuring Portobello Road’s antique market, picturesque homes in Ladbroke Square, and pastel hues. Though you may not run into Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant, you will find high-end restaurants, cute brunch spots, and boutiques.
Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum in South Kensington is open every day and free to the public. The Museum is famous for its dinosaurs, so take a walk through the collection of fossils in the Dinosaurs gallery or see the skull of a Triceratops. There is also a 25.2 metre-long blue whale skeleton in Hintze Hall that is breathtaking!
Buckingham Palace is both home and headquarters to the monarch of the United Kingdom. The Palace is famous for celebrations as well as the Changing of the Guard ceremony. The State Rooms are open to the public for 10 weeks each summer and select dates in winter and spring, so check the website before you go!
Westminster Abbey is a gorgeous gothic style church home to the most important of royal events. Since 1066, all coronations of British monarchs have been in Westminster Abbey, and there have been many royal weddings at the abbey since 1100. I highly advise getting tickets in advance, as there will be quite a long line. Note that there are no photos allowed once inside.
The British Museum, founded in 1753 as the first national public museum in the world, is open every day and free to the public. A notable artifact housed at the British Museum is the Rosetta Stone, which was the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs.
If you are a theatre person, walk across the Millennium Bridge to the south bank of the River Thames. There you will find a replica of the Globe Theatre, an Elizabethan playhouse associated with William Shakespeare. Pop in for a tour during the day or a performance! Note that the Globe has an open-air concept, and those in seats will be under the protection of a sound roof if it rains. Those standing in the yard unfortunately run the risk of London’s unpredictable weather, especially because no umbrellas are allowed in the yard (but the show WILL go on!)
St. Paul’s Cathedral
St. Paul’s Cathedral is an Anglican cathedral and is the seat of the Bishop of London. It sits on Ludgate Hill at the highest point of the City of London, so I personally like the cathedral’s panoramic views of the city here more than anywhere else. If you want to see London from above, walk the approx. 500 steps to the top. Purchase tickets in advance and arrive early in the morning. Go straight to the steps that will take you to the top and tour the interior of the cathedral after, for the same staircase is used going up and down (and you don’t want to be too cramped!)
Walk across the famous Tower Bridge in London, which was built to lessen road traffic while at the same time maintaining river access to the busy Pool of London docks. To allow for river access, the bridge has giant moveable roadways that lift up for passing ships. Visit the Tower Bridge website to find out when the bridge will raise next!
Tower of London
The Tower of London is an iconic castle and a World Heritage Site. Since William the Conqueror built a stone tower at the center of his London stronghold in the 1070s, it has since been used as a fortress, a palace, and a prison. Do not miss the Crown Jewels collection or the Yeoman Warder tours given throughout the Tower of London. I suggest purchasing tickets in advance, as this is a very popular and crowded spot.
Big Ben was originally the nickname for just the bell called the Great Bell in the clock tower at the north end of the Palace of Westminster (where the Houses of Parliament meet) but now the name refers to the tower, the clock, and the bell. While Big Ben is one of the most recognizable landmarks in London, please note that conservation work is being carried out until 2021, and there is scaffolding that covers pretty much everything!