London Sights and Tourist Attractions

While taking a city break in London, discovering what this fascinating metropolis has to offer is a must-see. There are thousands upon thousands of entertaining activities, however the most well-known of these are the tourist attractions that people travel the world to see. There are a plethora of sightseeing opportunities in London, of which attractions such as Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Tower Bridge and The Natural History Museum should be compulsory for every visitor.

© Tim Morris / Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
Tower Power
Tower Power
© siddhu2020 / Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
Christmas Lights
Christmas Lights
© Elliott Brow / Wikimedia Commons [CC BY 2.0]

Famous Buildings in London

Buckingham Palace

Located in the City of Westminster, Buckingham Palace is the residence of the Royal Family, where the Queen ceremonially receives state guests. In 1762, King George III acquired the building and Queen Victoria was the first to move in, in 1837. Due to her extraordinary popularity with the people, the Queen Victoria Memorial was built in front of the palace in her honour. The memorial is an impressive sight at 26m and carved entirely out of a single marble block. London’s largest garden is located behind the palace and there are many works of art on the estate, amongst others the Waterloo Vase. The Queen’s Gallery, with a large collection of paintings of the Queen, and the Royal Mews can still be viewed. The Royal Mews are nothing other than the Royal Stables. In order to better put yourself in the shoes of the members of the Royal Family, here you can take a look at the Royal means of transport, including the giant Golden State Coach, which seems to have come directly out of a fairy tale world. Sometimes visitors can also visit the luxuriously furnished State Rooms. These are the rooms the Royals usually use to receive guests. A real spectacle is the Changing of the Guard in front of Buckingham Palace, whereby the Royal Infantry marches from St. James Palace to Buckingham Palace, in front of throngs of people.  

The London Eye

On the banks of the River Thames in the Borough of Tower Hamlets is Europe’s largest Ferris wheel, the London Eye, also known as the Millennium Wheel. At 135m it is one of the most unique attractions that can be experienced on a trip to London. The first trip took place in March 2000, and although the Ferris wheel was only supposed to stay in use for 5 years, due to its enormous success, it was decided to keep the wheel in operation indefinitely. Before the journey starts, visitors are brought into the mood with a 4D film. The London Eye has 32 glass capsules with room for up to 25 people. Because the capsules are fixed to the Ferris wheel from the outside, visitors can enjoy almost unimpeded views over the city. Gaze out over the traditional city centre, shaped by a mixture of old and new architecture during your ride, which lasts about 30 minutes. This wheel almost never stops turning: it travels at such a slow pace that passengers can comfortably enter and exit their capsules while the Ferris wheel is still turning. Stops are only made for those in wheelchairs to ensure their safety. Depending on the weather visitors can see up to 40 kilometres into the distance – with a bit of luck right out to Windsor Castle outside of London. A special experience is a ride on the London Eye at night, when the city glows in an ocean of lights.  

The Tower of London

The Tower of London is one huge building complex, construction on which was ordered by William the Conqueror in 1078. Over the course of time the Tower was continuously extended and enlarged, until it reached its current size in 1840. The fortifications, surrounded by a moat, has served various functions – it was once a royal residence, and has also been an armoury, an observatory and even the royal mint. Later it was primarily used as a prison for royal prisoners and other prisoners of notable repute. The history of the Tower of London is testament to a number of famous prisoners – including Queen Elizabeth I, the "Tower Princes" and Sir Walter Raleigh – and has been the site of many atrocities. Today the Tower of London is above all known for being home to the Royal Crown Jewels as well as for having an impressive collection of weaponry and armour behind its walls. Tours through the Tower of London are carried out by the Yeoman Warders, also known as Beefeaters, who were once responsible for the protection of the King. The highlight of every tour is the Crown Jewels, one of the most valuable collections of diamonds and jewels in the world. In addition to this, visitors can view the old military fortifications and an exhibition on English history. The most famous residents of the tower these days are the Ravens of the Tower of London, at least six of which have supposedly been kept here for centuries owing to a superstition that predicts that, "If the Tower of London ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it." A particularly interesting ceremony, the Ceremony of the Keys, takes place every night at the Tower at 10pm on the dot. Entry is free of charge; however, the coveted tickets need to be reserved several weeks in advance.  

The Tower Bridge

The Tower Bridge is the most famous bridge in London, spanning across the River Thames and connecting the City of London on the northern side with the borough of Southwark in the south. The 244m long bridge was named after the Tower of London, situated on the northern bank of the Thames. The 65m tall bridge towers are not just connected by the span of the bridge, but also by a glass pedestrian bridge. These are situated above the traffic lanes on the deck, so that they can also be walked upon while the bridge’s bascules are up, for example to let ship traffic through, a highlight of any visit. From 43m in the air visitors have an excellent view out over London. During construction of the massive structure, 70,000 tonnes of heavy piles were dropped into the riverbed to guarantee stability. The Neo-Gothic Tower Bridge was dedicated in 1894 and today the main traffic artery, the A 100 leads over the bridge, which has become a real tourist magnet. The Tower Bridge is seldom raised, as most excursion boats and London liners fit underneath it without any problems. A maximum opening of 83° only takes place for cruise ships or as a sign of respect, for example, for the funeral processions of famous personalities, such as Winston Churchill. The bridge’s museum is located in the North Tower and is home to an exhibition on the construction and history of the Tower Bridge. However, a lot of tourists enjoy just standing on the banks of the river Thames and watching the ships pass by.

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey is a Royal proprietary church without a diocese in the City of Westminster. The first church on this site was built in 1045; construction on present-day Westminster Abbey began in 1245. Building was continued and expanded upon in the following centuries – the main towers, for example, arose between 1722 and 1745. The coronations of British monarchs, traditionally carried out by the Arch Bishop of Canterbury, have taken place here since 1066, which is also the venue for Royal weddings. Here there are also graves of more than one hundred members of the British royal family, as well as those of famous thinkers and poets. Westminster Abbey is located in the centre of London near the Houses of Parliament. The Great West Door in the nave of the abbey serves as the main entrance, and its façade displays depictions of Christian virtues and martyrs. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Oscar Romeo and Martin Luther King can be seen above the Great West Door together with 10 other 20th century Christian martyrs, a relatively recent addition to the façade. The vaulted undercroft, one of the oldest parts of the complex and a former monks’ dormitory, has been home to the museum since 1908, where you can view the burial objects of royal graves, medieval commodities and the oldest English altarpiece. Westminster Abbey is open Monday to Friday. The abbey cannot be viewed on religious holidays or during special events.

Windsor Castle

During your stay in London you should not pass up the opportunity to make a day trip to Windsor Castle, located in London’s environs, in Windsor. Although it does not technically belong to the London area, Windsor Castle is only 45 minutes away from London using public transport, is one of Britain’s most popular tourist attractions and hosts around 1 million visitors per year. Built just after the Normans invaded England in 1066, the castle is the longest-occupied castle in Europe and has a more than 900 year history as a fortification, palace and Royal Residence. It is still the Queen’s favourite weekend home, where she also holds diplomatic receptions and other state events. Aside from Queen Elizabeth II today, notable residents have included William the Conqueror, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. The exteriors of the castle are predominantly in Georgian and Victorian styles, whereas the interiors are an eclectic mix of everything from Gothic to Rococo, Classical to Baroque. Highlights include the State Rooms, the 15th century St. George’s Chapel and Queen Mary’s Doll House. When the Queen is in residence there is also a daily Changing of the Guard. Surrounding the castle is also extensive park land, which includes functioning farms, estate cottages and small towns. A good way to get an insight to the castle’s history and use today is on a 30 minute guided precinct tour, which is free of charge.

Big Ben and Houses of Parliament

The British House of Lords and House of Commons sit in the Houses of Parliament. Originally, the Houses of Parliament made up the Royal Westminster Palace. However, they haven’t been used as such since 1512. Henry VIII made Westminster Palace available to Parliament in 1550, where it has been meeting since. The Palace is situated on the banks of the River Thames on Thorney Island and is approximately 1000 years old. Parts of the palace were destroyed in the fire of 1834 and were rebuilt according to Charles Barry’s designs in Neo Gothic style. This is why the appearance of the Houses of Parliament is now very nineteenth century. The Houses of Parliament are divided into three main segments: the House of Lords, the House of Commons and Westminster Hall, where many important trials have taken place. Construction began on Westminster Hall in 1097 under William Rufus. The architectural ensemble’s trademark is the Clock Tower, Big Ben, with its 13 tonne bell. The Houses of Parliament, together with Westminster Abbey and St. Margaret’s Church, became UNESCO world heritage sites in 1987.

Parks and Squares in London

Hyde Park

Hyde Park, an oasis of green in the middle of the metropolis, is a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of the concrete jungle and is one of London’s royal parks, offering visitors a myriad of leisure opportunities. The Serpentine, Hyde Park’s lake, is a nice place to take a boat ride or to go swimming. There are also facilities for bowling, a number of horse trails and, of course, wonderful, vast lawns where you can have a picnic. Even in the evenings there’s usually something to do, and in the summer there are sometimes rock and pop concerts. The Rolling Stones played one of their legendary concerts here as long ago as 1969. Hyde Park’s tourist attractions include Wellington Arch and the memorial fountain built for Princess Diana in 2004. The fountain’s water flows in two directions at various speeds and in this way is supposed to symbolise both the turbulent and the happy times in Diana’s life. The Speaker’s Corner is also an important area in Hyde Park, where British freedom of speech is celebrated, in that everybody has the opportunity to give a lecture on a topic of his or her choice. The only criterion for exclusion is using the Royal Family as the object of the speech.

Although London is a metropolitan region with several parks and botanical gardens, it can be interesting to get out of the city in order to get in touch with the surrounding nature. From captivating cliff formations to charismatic caves, there is many a unique natural phenomenon to explore and discover in this beautiful country. If more information about the unique landmarks around London and in the UK is required, for instance about the Brimham Rocks or the magnificent Badbury Hill bluebell woods, further details can be found under information on natural and artificial landmarks around London.

Piccadilly Circus

Picadilly Circus is a triangular public square that serves as a junction of five very busy streets. It connects Regent Street with the shopping street, Picadilly. This square is famous for the wall of neon advertisements at its north end, as well as for its "Eros" fountain. The impressive fountain was built in 1893 in honour of the philanthropic 7th Earl of Shaftesbury. The statue that decorates the fountain was, in its day, of the highest technical standard, as casting in aluminium was still brand new technology all over the world. The winged figure with bow and arrow is the god Anteros, who embodies selfless love and is the brother of Eros. Because most are not familiar with the figure of Anteros, the fountain has come to be known as the Eros fountain. In the architectural sense, a “circus” is a round, public surface. In London, Picadilly Circus stands for an intersection or a kind of traffic roundabout, although it does not have a built-in island in the centre. Today it is the starting point of many shopping and entertainment areas. Because Picadilly Circus is such an important junction of London street, it is often used as a lively meeting place.

Art and Culture in London

Madame Tussauds

Madame Tussauds, a 'museum' of sorts, world-famous for its wax figure display, is certainly worth a visit during your stay in London. Originally founded in 1835 by Marie Tussaud in Baker Street, it was moved to its current address in Marylebone Road by her grandchildren upon her death. At Tussauds you can marvel at replicas of many famous people including Queen Elizabeth II, Kate Winslet, Barack Obama and Colin Firth (great for fans of Pride and Prejudice!). Let yourself get blown away by this barrage of unique and life-like figures, from the realms of sport, politics, film, fashion and history. Some are also set into scenes depicting historical events, such as Lord Nelson’s sea battle, with canon and smoke effects. Here, the world’s history can be seen in a completely new, magical way. Those with a darker side should visit the "scream" zone. Live the excitement of devilish serial killers breaking out of their prison cells to take you as their next victim. The "scream" zone is not open to children under 12 and is not recommended for pregnant women or visitors with weak hearts. One of the most recent exhibitions is a trip back in time with the "Spirit of London", which displays highlights of British history, starting in the Elizabethan period and working up to the present day. The exhibitions are continuously being expanded with new figures. Newer exhibition figures include Captain America, Usain Bolt and Taylor Lautner as well as Prince William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.  

The Tate Modern

At the turn of the millennium, the Tate Modern opened its doors to the public after finding home in the former Bankside Power Station, an iconic and historic landmark in itself. It is now the world’s most-visited modern art gallery with nearly 5 million guests per year. It is a British national gallery and exhibition space, mainly showcasing modern and contemporary art from around the world. The permanent Tate Collection is housed on the 3rd and 5th storeys and is divided up into the thematic categories "Poetry and Dream", "Energy and Process", "Setting the Scene" and "Structure and Clarity". They are open every day and include works by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein, Salvador Dalí and Damien Hirst. Admission to the Tate Modern in general is free of charge, apart from admission to temporary exhibitions, which take place on the 4th floor. Contemporary artists show their work on the 2nd floor, and in the Turbine Hall – a huge, five storey-high exhibition space, large works are commissioned from artists such as Ai Weiwei and exhibited here between October and March. Owing to the huge success and popularity of the Tate Modern, extension and development work to the existing site as well as adjacent area is ongoing. When complete, the new- look Tate Modern will allow visitors to engage more intensely with the art. The ambitious project hopes to redefine the modern day museum. There is good transportation connecting the Tate Modern with the rest of London. In addition to this, the gallery is connected to the other side of the Thames – where you can, for example, see St. Paul’s Church, the Millennium Bridge, and various other landmarks that are dotted around within walking distance. Depending on where their holiday apartment is, guests staying in Lambeth can get to the Tate Modern on foot, during a beautiful stroll along the banks of the Thames.

Museums in London

British Museum

The British Museum in Camden is one of the largest and most spectacular museums of human culture and history in the world, covering an area of more than 92,000m2 and displaying a collection of more than 50,000 artefacts. Established in 1753, this museum was one of the first of a new series of museums open to the public and independent – belonging neither to the church nor the king. The current premises were erected in 1848, after the previous building became too small and crowded to house the museum’s ever-expanding collection. The building has had many further architectural expansions and additions, one of the newest of which being the glass roof over the inner courtyard, designed by Sir Norman Foster and made up of 3,312 glass plates, none of which are exactly the same. The museum has ten different departments: Ancient Egypt and Sudan; Greece and Rome; the Middle East; Prints and Drawings; Prehistory and Europe; Asia; Africa, Oceania and the Americas; Coins and Medals; Conservation and Scientific Research; and Libraries and Archives. Some of the museum’s most notable artefacts include the Rosetta Stone, the controversial Elgin Marbles, Egyptian mummies, the Lindow Man and paintings and drawings by artists as famous as Michelangelo. Visitors to London should not miss the opportunity to visit this amazing testimony to the history of the human world.

Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum is home to an impressive collection of over 70 million items relating to life and earth science. Built between 1873 and 1880, the Natural History Museum building is in itself an impressive site, reminiscent of a cathedral and often referred to as the "cathedral of nature". The museum has collections pertaining to Botany, Entomology, Mineralogy, Palaeontology and Zoology and is divided into four sections, the Red, Blue, Green and Orange sections. The collections are of scientific and historical significance and some of the botany and entomology specimens were collected more than 400 years ago. Traditional highlights include the iconic "Dippy", a 32m long Diplodocus replica skeleton in the central hall; the Dinosaurs gallery in general, including a T. Rex skeleton; and the skeleton and model of a blue whale in the Large Mammals Hall. The more recent Visions of Earth exhibition shows how humans have historically viewed the earth and guests can take an escalator through a model of earth to the upper galleries. The Darwin Centre is another more recent highlight and was opened in 2008. Phase two of the most significant development to the museum since its opening in 1881 has seen the construction of a massive, eight storey high cocoon, which houses the historical core of the museum’s collections as well as botanical and entomological exhibits. The Natural History Museum is located centrally in South Kensington, in an area known in the 19th century as "Albertropolis". Other places of interest in Albertropolis include the Royal Albert Hall, the Albert Memorial and the Victoria and Albert Museum.  

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