City Guide to London

London Calling !

21. Jul 2022
by Dawn Jorgensen

The skyline of England's capital city is dominated by modern skyscrapers. Every year, architects reach further for the skies as their buildings stretch closer and closer to the heavens. However, millions of tourists flock to London every year - not for the modern spectacles - but the old, historic postcard favourites: St Paul's Cathedral, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and the magnificent Tower of London.

Of huge significance in English history, the Tower of London has served as treasury, prison, site of execution, Royal Mint, arsenal, menagerie, and home to the Crown Jewels. Located on the north bank of the River Thames, and one of Her Majesty’s Royal Palaces, the fortress is secured by moats with two concentric walls and numerous guarded towers. It has been the infamous setting of royal tragedy and is steeped in myth and legend.

The Tower of London

It was in the late 1070s when William the Conqueror, fresh from victory over the Anglo-Saxons, built the massive stone fortress in London to defend and proclaim his royal power. The Tower had taken twenty years to construct with highly-trained masons arriving from Normandy, importing superior French stone. The majority of the labourers were Englishmen.

The Tower once featured a zoo

Over time the Tower was adapted to defend and control the nation. Henry III (1216-72) and Edward I (1272-1307) expanded William’s fortress, adding huge defensive walls with a series of smaller towers, also enlarging the moat. In so transforming the Tower into England’s largest and strongest ‘circular’ castle with one ring of defence inside another. Arms and armour were made, tested, and stored there until the 1800s, and the Tower controlled the supply of the nation’s money with all coins made at the Tower Mint from the reign of Edward I until 1810.

The Tower of London by night

Medieval kings built magnificent royal lodgings, using the Tower to protect their possessions – and themselves, with successive Kings and Queens storing their jewels, robes, and ceremonial regalia at the Tower of London for over six centuries. A unique collection and possibly the most visited objects in Britain, the Crown Jewels include the Imperial State Crown, worn by the monarch for the State Opening of Parliament. At the heart of the collection is the Coronation Regalia, a collection of highly symbolic objects in use since 1661, many visible at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

The Crown Jewels

The first zoo in London was housed at the Tower from the 1200s, holding a menagerie of exotic wild animals never before seen in the capital. The collection – many of them royal gifts - included lions, eagles, pumas, tigers, leopards, and jackals - some occasionally revenging their captivity and lashing out at the keepers. By the 19th century, the menagerie was in decline and concerns over animal welfare led to its closure in 1835.

Lions once roamed The Tower grounds

Stories of ghosts haunt the Tower, with two of Henry VIII’s six wives, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard still being “spotted” – centuries after they were beheaded on the grounds. Arbella Stuart, Elizabeth I's cousin who starved while under arrest for marrying without royal permission, is said to still frequent the Queen’s House. While the Yeomen tell chilling tales of a huge bear who occasionally appears to frighten visitors.

Henry VIIIth holding Court

The famed Yeoman Warders or ‘Beefeaters’ are recognised as symbols of the Tower and have been in residence for centuries. Originally part of the Yeomen of the Guard, today they guard the visitors and carry out ceremonial duties such as unlocking and locking the Tower each day in the Ceremony of the Keys.

The Beefeaters

Superstition says ‘if the Tower of London ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it’ – and there are always at least six resident ravens kept at the Tower of London, their presence, to protect The Crown. A visit to this intriguing 900-year-old monument can fill a whole day.

The Elizabeth Tower - home to Big Ben

London is Calling, and so are the city’s many landmarks

Ranked as one of the greatest places to live or to visit, London has been the capital of England since the Tower of London was completed in 1078. Among the oldest cities in the world and certainly one of the most cosmopolitan, Britain’s largest metropolis is a globally influential hub for finance, culture, and the arts. At its centre is the Houses of Parliament, the iconic Big Ben clock tower and renowned Westminster Abbey.

Westminster Abbey

One of the world’s most iconic buildings, Buckingham Palace is the scene of London's most popular display of tradition, where you can witness the Changing of the Guard and marvel at the meticulously dressed soldiers marching to the rhythm of military drums. Between July and October, you can visit 19 of the Palace’s magnificent State Rooms and explore the Gardens.

Buckingham Palace

St Paul’s Cathedral, as the Anglican cathedral of the Bishop of London, has been a place of worship for over 1,400 years. Built and rebuilt five times, its interior is awe-inspiring and its dome, framed by the spires of Wren's City churches, has dominated the skyline for over three centuries. Venture down to the crypt and discover the tombs and memorials of some of the nation's greatest heroes including Admiral Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington.

St. Paul's Cathedral

The British Library’s collection includes over 150 million items in most known languages. It receives copies of every publication produced in the United Kingdom & Ireland and is home to some of the earliest dated printed books, the 9th century Diamond Sutra, and even one of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks. 

The foundation of English law, the Magna Carta, manuscripts by Shakespeare and Dickens and even copies of The Beano comic all have a home at the British Library.

The British Library

Take to the skies in the London Eye, one of the world’s tallest Ferris wheels. The gradual rotation in one of the 32 high-tech glass capsules takes around 30 minutes and gives an ever-changing perspective of London. To add to the appeal, book a private capsule and add a glass of Champagne to the proceedings.

The London Eye

Alternately, head to the top of The Shard, London’s 95-storey skyscraper and the tallest building in Western Europe. Having established itself as a London landmark, The View from The Shard boasts floor-to-ceiling windows with amazing cityscapes. Walk the Millennium Bridge and bike along the South Bank on a Santander Cycle, London’s bike-hire scheme.

The Shard - home to the Shangri-La hotel 

Take in one of your favourite musicals in the West End. Renowned for its long-running hit shows including The Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables, the area is synonymous with historic theatres and exceptional live entertainment. Catch a show at the reconstructed Shakespeare Globe Theatre and visit the Globe Exhibition to listen to recordings of riveting Shakespearean performances.

Leicester Square

Browse legendary brands on Carnaby Street, a shopping mecca tucked behind Oxford and Regent Street. It is filled with independent, flagship stores and some of the city’s finest places to eat and drink. This pedestrianised street remains one of London’s most popular shopping destinations. Creative Carnaby is known for being at the heart of London’s swinging ’60s when the likes of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Elizabeth Taylor were regular visitors. Bond Street, Regent Street and Knightsbridge are where you head to for the luxury boutiques that London is known for.

Carnaby Street

Borough Market in Southwark has existed since the early 11th century. Still operating as a wholesale market in the early hours, it is now known as a foodie’s paradise where discerning Londoners come to buy top-quality produce. There is also an amazing array of street food and a dedicated covered area to linger in. 
Museums, art, natural science, and Britannia

London is home to some of the finest museums and art galleries in the world.
The British Museum is dedicated to human history, art and culture with highlights being the Parthenon sculptures, Lewis chessmen and The Rosetta Stone. The world-famous Egyptian stone and key to deciphering the hieroglyphs. The National Gallery offers visitors the chance to immerse themselves in iconic works by many of the greats including Van Gogh, Caravaggio, Titian, and Botticelli. With over 2,300 works of art that cover key moments in Western European art, from the 13th to the early 20th century, the collection dates to 1824.

The British Museum

The Tate Modern homes a world-class collection of contemporary art in a former power station next to the River Thames. Large-scale installations are displayed in the vast Turbine Hall with works by Andy Warhol, David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein, Salvador Dalí and Tracy Emin throughout. The museum was founded in 2000 and celebrated its 20th anniversary with an immersive exhibition by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama.

The Tate Modern

The Natural History Museum’s collection tops 80 million specimens and is famed for its dinosaur exhibits, however it covers the fields of botany, entomology, mineralogy, and zoology. Opened to the public in 1881, it is based on the collection of 17th-century physician and botanist, Hans Sloane.

The Natural History Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum is a leading museum of art, design, and performance with Queen Victoria herself laying the foundation stone in 1899. This museum boasts a permanent collection of over two million objects, covering over 5,000 years.

Victoria & Albert Museum

Topics covered include architecture, furniture, fashion, textiles, photography, sculpture, painting, jewellery, glass, and ceramics. The V&A also holds book arts, Asian art and materials related to design, theatre, and performance. With groundbreaking exhibitions that have focussed on David Bowie, Winnie The Pooh and Christian Dior, the V&A lives up to its boast as being “The World’s Leading Museum Of Art and Design”.

Green Spaces and City Parks

London may be a big city but there are plenty of open spaces to retreat to for a picnic, bird spotting, cycling, and walking. The centrally located Hyde Park with more than 4,000 trees, a lake, meadow, rose gardens and the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain, as well as historic Speaker’s Corner, is one of them. The 140-hectare royal park is the biggest in London and fondly referred to as the city’s ‘green lung’. Adjoining Kensington Gardens are home to Kensington Palace, the Albert Memorial, Peter Pan Statue, beautiful flowers, green grass for picnics and the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground. Follow the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Walk, a seven-mile-long walk charted by 90 plaques set in the ground, that take you within sight of buildings and locations associated with the Princess during her life.

Hyde Park

Hampstead Heath offers wonderful walking trails and bathing ponds. Branded an island of beautiful countryside, you will never tire of this thriving inner-city escape. Another Victorian green space is Wandsworth’s Battersea Park, which comprises 80 hectares of parkland, feature fountains and a small-scale children’s zoo.

London skyline from Hampstead Heath

The beautiful gardens at Regent’s Park span 166 hectares and were designed in 1811 by renowned architect John Nash. Named after King George IV, Regent’s Park comprises magnificent formal gardens, laid out pathways, the 12,000 roses in Queen Mary’s Gardens and a Boating Lake. It also has the largest outdoor sports area in London, and an open-air theatre.

Regent's Park

Covering 1,000 hectares, the views from the top of the hill in Richmond Park are stunning. Renowned for its unrefined woodland gardens and deer herds, Richmond Park’s rich history includes notable royal connections dating back to Edward’s reign in 1272. There are ancient trees, historic buildings, and numerous rare wildflower species.

Richmond Park

Kew Gardens is the perfect escape from the city. Visit the beautiful glasshouses including Palm House and its exotic rainforest, the Princess of Wales Conservatory which demonstrates ten of the world's climatic zones, and the Waterlily House with its giant lily pads.

Kew Gardens

You cannot help but love the Treetop Walkway which soars into the tree canopy offering a bird's-eye view of the gardens. Kew Palace is the former summer residence of King George III.
Field of Dreams

London is peppered with sporting venues. For soccer, there is Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs. For cricket it is Lords or The Oval. For tennis, Wimbledon is the greatest tournament in the world. For golf – Wentworth and the James Bond favourite Stoke Park. Followers of horseracing head to Epsom or Ascot. The River Thames hosts the annual University Boat Race and Twickenham is the home of rugby union.  And of course head to any of London’s bridges to play Poohsticks. 

All English Tennis Club - Wimbledon

Star-studded restaurants, Afternoon Tea, and the familiar English Pub

Confirming the city as an exceptional dining destination, London has over 60 Michelin- starred restaurants; eight with two stars and five with three. Among these is Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester Hotel, Core by Clare Smyth, Hélène Darroze at The Connaught and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. Sketch, Pierre Gagnaire's uber-chic Mayfair restaurant, and the exploratory gourmet institution, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal is aptly local too.

Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester

Afternoon Tea is a quintessential British practice created during Queen Victoria’s reign quite simply to indulge and socialise in the utmost style. London has countless offerings of this British staple, from elegant servings at the Ritz Hotel, The Dorchester, Claridge’s or even at The Royal Albert Hall. Expect tasty patisserie, sensational just-baked scones, incredible finger sandwiches, perfectly brewed tea and even a glass of Champagne to further lift the spirits. 

Afternoon Tea at The Dorchester

Those with a stout disposition should not miss a good old English Pub crawl. Suggestions include the traditional Royal Oak in Southwark and the Kings Arms in Waterloo for ambience, steak tartare with Marmite and toast, as well as their Scotch Eggs. The Harp in Covent Garden is a little removed from the crowds, while The George Inn near London Bridge is the city’s last surviving coaching inn and has a cobbled courtyard that is a drawcard for that thirst-quenching pint in Summer.
The Poshest Places to Lay Your Head

From golden chandeliers and marble staircases to gilded ceilings and serene sanctuaries, London erupts with grand dame hotels and Michelin-star restaurants, many establishments frequented by the celebrities the city has always drawn.

Read our guide to the best luxury hotels in London

The Beaumont

Navigating London

London is a huge city, and the Underground – Tube - is the most convenient way to navigate it. While the Queen has her own carriages, but you will have to share with the hoi polloi. As a treat, hire a Rolls Royce, the benchmark of British sophistication, which will allow you to move around in ultimate style. For an aerial perspective, book a private tour or transfer with the London Helicopter Company. London's official Black Cabs can be hailed in the street or at designated ranks. Uber and Bolt add to the convenience.

The quintessential Black Cab

Getting there

It could not be easier with London conveniently serviced by six major airports: London City, London Gatwick, London Luton, London Stansted, London Southend and the UK's main gateway, London Heathrow. Eurostar, an expansive rail network and numerousferry connections make getting to the city a breeze.

Heathrow Airport searches hundreds of travel sites at once to help you find the best premium travel offers for both flights to and from the city and accommodation in London.

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