Attractions

There are many things to see in London (!). I would recommend the following (see also Museums):

  • ArcelorMittal Orbit (TUBE Stratford NRLOGO Stratford Station/Stratford International) - Originally created for the Olympics in 2012 this amazing structure offers fantastic views of the surrounding area including Queen Elizabeth Park and the Westfield Stratford City shopping complex. The “slide” is a recent addition allowing you to slide seated on a mat inside a winding metal tube (with occasional windows) from the top to the bottom (lots of fun). The abseiling on the outside does not look as interesting. A lift takes you to the top though there is also a long, gradual spiral staircase. There is a cost for timed entrance and for each activity (available online and in person); There is also an onsite gift shop and lockers (no personal belongings allowed on the slide though, to be honest, if it is in your pocket you are fine, even phones). Admission charge.

The Oribit

Amazing view down

  • BBC (TUBE Oxford Circus) - Though they offer a 'tour' called the BBC experience I would try to get into a television or radio show – they are FREE and a great way to spend the evening (though perhaps a bit tedious if there are retakes). If you have an address to send it to they will mail them for free also.
  • Buckingham Palace (TUBE Green Park) - In the summer they offer (rather expensive) tours of the famous London residence of British sovereigns. Worth the tour (though I would book tickets in advance over the phone, you can wait in line EARLY in the day for tickets), quite odd to look through the inside of the palace to all the people looking through the gates at the front). The changing of the guard occurs every day at 11:30 but is ALWAYS crowded. The best spot is one where you can see into the front courtyard and see the street at the same time but most likely you will have to sacrifice one for the other. I have never actually stayed for the whole ceremony which is quite long. Take a walk through St James's park (though avoid the restaurants which tend to really take advantage of tourists).
  • Churchill War Rooms (TUBE Westminster) - The basement site of Churchill's war council during the Second World War. An audio guide is included with the tour which is fairly basic but very well done. The rooms are preserved as they would have been when in use at the beginning of the war and it is interesting to hear how the people working there actually did their jobs. The tour is relatively brief and I would suggest stopping the audio tour at frequent intervals to more closely examine various artefacts on the walls as well as in the rooms. One of the cheaper attractions in London, if you are a war buff or simply have an interest in this aspect of British history this is an interesting place to visit. Admission charge.
  • Houses of Parliament (TUBE Westminster) or “The Palace of Westminster” - The home of British government, very few people would not know the site of the clock tower housing Big Ben. A spectacular building which is in constant use. Queues form outside St. Stephen's tower (hall) for both the House of Lord's and the House of Common's when the houses are in session. Though the line tends to be long, it proceeds very quickly. The House of Common's is the home of the elected government and is therefore more popular though the Lord's is much more elaborate with carved wood and gilt. Entrance to the Houses of Parliament is free and tours can be arranged through in advance by writing the House of Commons Information Office, 1 Derby Gate, Westminster, London SW1A 2DG (tours are held on Fridays). Note: The houses are NOT open on weekends only during operating hours. When visiting, be sure to look at the various paintings and statues on the walls (and look up!). Starting in 2000 the Houses of Parliament will be open for guided tours including both houses. Tours last approximately one hour and a nominal charge is payable. Tickets for 2000 are available at TicketMaster (website only, telephone operators do not seem to know anything about this), keywords “Palace of Westminster”. Free.
  • Kensington Palace (TUBE Queensway) - Located to the extreme west of Hyde Park this was the London home of Princess Diana. Though not terribly imposing from the outside it's modest gardens yet lavish interiors somewhat make up for it. A bit on the expensive side (£8.50) admission to the State Apartments also includes a display of court dress and dress-making (granted, not my cup of tea). The State Apartments are fairly bare but the ceilings are by far the most impressive. Admission charge.

Kensington Palace Gardens

  • The London Aquarium (TUBE Westminster) - A relatively new attraction located on the south (east) side of Westminster Bridge which seems to cater for the young crowds though many adults will find what little information is there interesting enough. I found that many of the exhibits were more like stages and little effort made to simulate a realistic environment (I wonder if they have ever heard of Kelp in the large salt water tanks?). Be prepared for a bit of a walk. There has been a certain effort to encourage interaction considering the inclusion of a 'Friendly Ray' petting tank (VERY popular). Further information is available at (020) 7967 8000. Admission charge.

The London Eye

  • British Airways London Eye (TUBE Embankment or Westminster) - Offering tremendous views of the city, this is definitely one of the best Millennium attractions. Waiting times can be quite significant during rush periods (weekends). Trip time is 1/2 hour. This is the highest Ferris Wheel in the world (despite what they might say in Paris). Tickets are available at the site (beside the London Aquarium on the “South Bank” of the Thames), prices are reasonable (about 7 pounds).
  • Lord's Cricket Ground - The home of cricket offers tours in addition to regular cricket matches (in 1999 it is the home of the Cricket World Cup competition). Further information is available from (020) 7432 1066
  • Madame Tussaud's (TUBE Baker Street) - I was actually more impressed with the famous wax-works museum than I expected to be. The images are SO real it is scary. Many of the figures are well known though there a few obscure figures (I noticed that the Prime Minister of Canada was missing). The settings are a bit forced but by and large the displays are well done. There is a bit of a write-up for each figure but this is not that elaborate. I found the bit about Napoleon and how the figures are created one of the most interesting aspects of the museum. Be prepared to QUEUE for the very expensive tickets…
  • The Magic Circle (TUBE Euston Square NRLOGO Euston) - The world headquarters for the famous society devoted to the magical arts. Admission charge (see site for booking details).
  • National Gallery (TUBE Charing Cross) - Right on Trafalgar Square this massively impressive building contains some of the finest works of art in Britain. Admission is free and a tour is highly recommended to get a general overview of this huge series of buildings. The building itself is half of the spectacle. Free.
  • St Pauls Cathedral (TUBE St. Paul's) - One of the most popular destinations of any tourist. Walk up the (many) stairs to the top of the cathedral stopping along the way at the whispering gallery (great to try with a friend sitting a bit of a distance away from you around the edge). Nice view looking down. The view from the very top is quite impressive though now largely blocked by high office towers. Admission charge.

On the Millenium Bridge -- Back to the Tate Modern, Looking towards St. Paul's

  • Shakespeare's Globe Theatre and Exhibition (TUBE Mansion House or Cannon Street) - Perhaps over-hyped, this is both a working theatre and a museum during the day. The tour is interesting but I would recommend going to a show (ANY show) paying as little as £5 for 'groundling' tickets (standing only). The craftsmanship is quite extraordinary: don't miss the front gate with individual characters representing each of the bard's plays. Admission charge.
  • Tate Gallery (TUBE Pimlico) - Another great, FREE, art gallery with an relatively equal split between modern and classical art. Fantastic Turner gallery has got to be high on the 'must do' list. This gallery is ALWAYS busy so be sure to arrive early and try to avoid weekends. Free (some exhibitions charge).

Tate Modern on the South Bank of the Thames

  • Tate Modern (TUBE St. Paul's) - A massive new gallery on the banks of the Thames now housing the modern part of the Tate collection - directly opposite St. Paul's on the Thames (with the Millenium Bridge – pedestrians only – connecting the two across the Thames). Massively successful also in the number of people that flock to see London's newest art gallery - Try to avoid visiting on the very busy weekends. Free (some exhibitions charge).

Inside the Tate Modern

  • Tower of London (TUBE Tower Hill) - Incredibly expensive to get in but well worth it. This attraction is ALWAYS busy so don't be too disappointed to see a line stretching for quite some distance when you arrive. Take a tour with a Yeoman and see the crown jewels. Audio tours are also available (at extra cost). A bloody chapter in British history topped only by the violent exhibits found at the London Dungeons just across the river. Nearby Tower Bridge has a small museum culminating with a climb to the top of the bridge for wonderful views of the city. Admission charge.

Tower of London

  • Warner Bros. Studio Tour: London - The Making of Harry Potter (NRLOGO Watford Junction) - Can be very busy and a bit of a trick to get to, but well worth a visit for fans of the series or even those simply interested in the art and magic of film making. A bit expensive but when you consider it is a very full day to visit…Admission charge.
  • Westminster Abbey (TUBE Westminster or St. Jame's) - Always busy, though not bad off season (and less expensive). A lot of history can be found in these massive halls. Visit the grave of the Unknown Soldier and Poet's Corner. Tours are operated by Vergers and are well worth the extra cost. Admission charge.

See My London - Millennium Attractions for the year 2000 attractions that were in place.

For the outdoors:

  • Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens (TUBE Lancaster Gate, Marble Arch, Hyde Park Corner, Knightsbridge, Queensway) - A wonderful island of tranquillity in a sea of the turmoil that is London. Wonderfully quiet and yet well used, there are many outdoor activities that can be enjoyed here though perhaps the most unusual is Speakers Corner (on Sunday's – some say Sunday morning only though I have seen speakers well into the evening ranting and raving about something or another) where anyone can speak out on whatever they want (excepting, of course, that which may be illegal and may be an 'incitement to riot'). I was overwhelmed and surprised by the sheer size of the park and how well it is kept up – worth a visit – to relax. Free.

The Albert Memorial in Hyde Park

  • Kew Gardens (TUBE Kew Gardens) - Quite a bit away from the center of London but well worth a visit. It is very easy to spend a day here just wandering through the various glass houses with some incredible specimens. Especially noteworthy is the Palm House (don't miss the walkway around the roof area and the fish exhibit in the basement). Lots of walking, try to visit on a sunny day. Admission charge.

Kew Gardens

  • WWT London Wetland Centre - Difficult to get to but a great, wild, haven of wildlife in the west end of the city. Admission charge.
  • Trafalgar Square (TUBE Charing Cross) - THE place to be on New Years (though I found it a bit disappointing seeing as I do not drink - never mind one firework - that's it) but a great place to people (and pigeon) watch. Free.
  • Walthamstow Wetlands (TUBE Blackhorse Road or Tottenham Hale) - Also difficult to get to but an amazing haven of wildlife just north of the Olympic Park. Free.

Note: TUBE Indicates closest London Underground station, see Transport for London for further information.