House of Parliament
Covent Garden Market
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In the case of a destination like London and if you have limited time and a tendency toward sore feet or legs, it is a good idea to get a sense of London's layout and points of interest from a sightseeing tour. There are the legendary open-top London doubledecker bus tours, and different plans offered by several companies that vie fiercely for the business. Many of them depart from centers like Trafalgar Square. Run a search for "London Sightseeing tours" and you will see that there are also themed tours for those so inclined.
If you feel like a walking tour as well (a very different experience), you can join any that are offered, rain or shine, e.g. http://london.walks.com/ There is an extraordinary range from Jack the Ripper or The Beatles tours (including the Abbey Road studios) to areas of London that you would never think to visit to beachcombing on the Thames.
You could certainly also take your guide book and plan your own walking tour, depending on your interests.
The Usual Suspects
Within a single tourist site, it is not possible to give a comprehensive list of activities for London and environs. Nevertheless, there is a "must-see" list of the usual suspects, many of which are described on the "London" link from our homepage. Remember to plan your trip geographically, so as not to waste resources (both money and time) on London transport.
A tourist center and frequent first stop is Piccadilly Circus/Trafalgar Square. From there, you can branch out throughout London's West End (or theater district), Soho (Chinatown), or even go shopping along Oxford, Regent Street (see below) or at the Covent Garden market.
London has amazing museums for different folks with different strokes. Foremost amongst these is the British Museum, a gargantuan institution with something to fascinate every age group. For art, there is the National Gallery and the Tate Gallery. The National Portrait Gallery also provides an engrossing portrait history of the major figures throughout history, from politicians to actresses. More recently, the Tate Modern was opened, and it is a fascinating building housing a changing collection. For something completely different, visit Madame Tussaud's Waxworks Museum, down the Baker Street area. For an overview of London's museums, see http://www.londonnet.co.uk/ln/guide/about/museumsatoz.html
Buckingham Palace (see picture on left) is worth a visit, and if you time it right, you get to see the changing of the guard, or the trooping of the colours. Also in the same vein, Westminster Abbey is a prime destination, as with the Houses of Parliament.
For cultural sights, it is fun to see the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, which adjoins the Covent Garden market, where you can also get eats and a glass of wine at cocktail hour. Other performing arts organizations worth visiting would be the South Bank Complex (including the Royal Festival Hall and the National Theater) and the Barbican Center. The Royal Albert Hall is the home of the famous London Promenade Concerts (held in the summer), where people may queue for standing room in the mammoth 8000- seater across from the Prince Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens.
A theater experience is a must. London's theater is second to none. It is a great equalizer, and you see the folks arriving in their limousines, as well as the folks who've brought their dinners after work, and are waiting for "returns" (tickets turned in at the last moment). Discount tickets may be purchased at ticket booths in the West End or online (check with your hotel). The best source of events for London is the publication Tme Out, also accessible online.
Ever had high tea? Consider splurging and going for high tea at Harrod's, one of the world's foremost shopping institutions. You will have all sort of scones with Devonshire clotted cream (a neart attack special, but at least, you will walk it off), delectable cakes, sandwiches etc., served on beautiful china with your choice of wonderfully brewed English tea. Fortnum and Mason's also does the same, but Harrod's itself is worth a visit.
Wandering along Oxford and Regent Streets for shopping is exhausting, but must be pursued for a bit, if only to see firsthand how the capital of the English-speaking world bustles. For another veritable institution, check out Hamley's Toy Store on Regent Street.
For a different experience, you might want to do a small pub crawl. London's West End is full of interesting pubs. You can get a nice wine or Guinness, or try an English invention, the shandy (mix of lemonade and beer).
Day Trip suggestions
You will find you have plenty to do without going too far afield. But should you have time during your holiday, here are a few suggestions of places to visit. All are accessible by train. Check distances and schedules and decide if it is worth an overnight stay.
Oxford and Cambridge are wonderful cities/towns, and you will feel like you have stepped straight onto the bedrock of tradition and education. Likewise, Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare, while 2 hours away, is a wonderful place to see, with the expected Shakespeare "monuments," but also a character all its own.
Closer in, consider visiting Kew Gardens, an awe-inspiring horticultural experience. Or take a trip to Hampton Court, also accessible by train, and put yourselves in the shoes of royalty for a day.
If you have a lot of time, the rest of England can be picture-postcard perfect. The Lake District in the north of England is magnificent, so is Cornwall on the coast with its quaint fishing villages like Mevagissey, where winding streets are the width of a single small car and houses still have thatched roofs. The choices abound, and you are in for a visit of a lifetime!
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