London is an iconic place. It is the capital city of England, and has more than eight million residents.
The city stands on the River Thames, and has been a central part of British life since the days of the Romans. Today, London is a sprawling city. The central area has retained much of its old medieval boundaries, while Greater London is generally far more modern.
London is home to Buckingham Palace, the traditional home of the Royal Family, as well as the Houses of Parliament, which is a focal point of the U.K’s political system. In addition, London is an important place for tourism, travel, entertainment, finance and commerce. The city has one of the largest metropolitan area GDPs, ranking consistently in the top five, and is a major financial centre. It is also an important educational centre, being home to more than 40 universities.
London is a popular tourist’s destination, and it is easy to get to, and to get around once you are there. The city has several airports serving it. The two biggest airports are London Gatwick and London Heathrow, which are served by several major airlines, and are the typical entry points for both European and long haul flights. The other major airports are London Luton and London Stansted, which usually serve European destinations.
London is well served by high speed rail services, making it easy to reach from other parts of the UK. There are several major train stations, including the historic King’s Cross and Victoria stations, as well as Waterloo, Stratford and the iconic St Pancras, which is a bustling modern terminal served by Eurostar trains as well as domestic services. Budget travellers will find many coach services arriving in London, including National Express services which cover most of the UK and several popular European destinations.
Getting Around London
The public transport system in London is one of the best in the UK. Travellers have the option of purchasing individual tickets for public transport services, or using a pre-paid Oyster Card to enjoy discounts on local rail, bus and underground services. The London Underground / Tube service is a fast, affordable service which covers all of Central London, and offers good links to rail services which cover the Greater London area. In addition to this service, there is a range of buses serving popular areas of the city, and a ferry service for travellers wishing to cross the Thames. The Underground is not a 24 hour service; however there is a limited night bus service.
Tourists who need to travel late at night can make use of a taxi service. London’s official taxi service is the “black cab”, and these can be booked in advance, or hailed at specially designated taxi ranks. All licensed taxi operators in London display photo identification prominently inside the cab, and all journeys should be metered. Do not use a taxi service if the driver does not have a photo ID card, or refuses to turn on the meter.
Things to Do In London
There is no shortage of things to do in London. Popular tourist attractions include the historic Tower of London, the Tate Modern gallery, Madame Tussads, and the Science Museum. In addition to traditional tourist attractions, many people enjoy going shopping on Oxford Street, or dining at one of London’s many famous restaurants.
The Tower of London
The Tower of London is one of the most famous historic buildings in the city. It has a storied 900-year history, having served as a palace, a prison, a jewel house, and a place of execution. At one point, the tower even served as a zoo. Visitors can take a tour of the building with the Yeoman Warders, see the Crown Jewels, visit a former king’s bedchamber, and enjoy the spectacular sight of the White Tower.
The Tate Modern
The Tate Modern is a museum of modern and contemporary art. The building that houses this spectacular art gallery was once a power station. Today, it is home to some amazing permanent and temporary exhibits, including the works of Gauguin and Damien Hurst. After visiting the gallery, be sure to check out the restaurant – if not for the food, then for the beautiful views of the city you can enjoy from the dining area. Entry to the Tate Modern is free.
The world-famous Madame Tussauds wax gallery is a place that everyone should visit at least once. The gallery is constantly updated with new personalities, and visitors can enjoy meeting a wide range of people, including historic figures such as Shakespeare, modern pop icons like Lady Gaga and Brad Pitt, and members of the royal family including William and Kate, and Her Majesty the Queen. Each figure is lovingly crafted, and spookily realistic.
The Science Museum is a vibrant and exciting museum that will entertain people of all ages. Unlike many other museums, this particular attraction is not a stuffy place full of rocks and artefacts hidden behind glass. Visitors can actually touch many of the exhibits, and even try a few of their own experiments. In addition to interactive exhibits, there is an IMAX cinema with some exciting shows. Entry to the museum itself is free, and you can explore most of the floors at no charge, however some of the exhibits do require the purchase of a ticket.
The above is just a very short list of some of the most exciting London attractions. There are many other things to see and do in London. The city is full of museums and art galleries that are free to enter, and you can enjoy free entry to other attractions with the purchase of the “London Pass”, which is a great buy for anyone who plans to spend a couple of days in the city. Whether you want to go shopping, enjoy a romantic river cruise, see the city’s history, or head to the outskirts of London to explore the beautiful national trust sites and parks, there is something for everyone in this amazing part of the UK.