College Tourist City Guide to London, England
London: an entire world within a city
London, England: city of theatre, city of nightlife, city of history. The capital city of England and the United Kingdom dates back to the height of the Roman Empire when it was known as Londinum. London was then occupied by the Anglo-Saxons, invaded by Vikings, and was “refounded” by Alfred the Great in 886. By the 11th century, London was the largest town in England and Westminster Abbey was one of the grandest churches in Europe. William, Duke of Normandy, was crowned King of England in 1066 and constructed the Tower of London. London went through many changes and struggles during the Middle Ages, such as the Black Death in the mid-14th century and the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381. In the early modern age, the Tudor period produced a major shift in religion, and mercantilism grew as trade expanded to the New World. In the 16th century, William Shakespeare wrote thousands of famous words that are still quoted frequently to this day. In 1666, the Great Fire of London broke out and quickly spread across the city. Christopher Wren completed St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1708, literacy developed, and Fleet Street became the center of British press. However, London’s overcrowded conditions led to disease and death, thus bringing about the world’s first urban rail network: the London Underground. Youth culture exploded on the London scene during the 20th century as popular musicians like the Beatles and the Sex Pistols ignited the sexual and cultural revolutions of the time and highlighted political change.
“You find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” -Samuel Johnson Today, London is known as a leading global city and is at the top of many people’s destination lists. The vast urban area of the city of London is home to several districts, each with their own distinctive character. The West End is London’s main entertainment and shopping district, whereas the East End saw much of London’s early industrial development and is know known today as being one of the poorest areas in London. London has become a major multicultural city and is an incredible example of a metropolis that has survived as a preservation of the past, whilst simultaneously transforming into a modern hub of culture and commerce. Some of London’s main tourist attractions are some of the most historic and memorable places in the city.
What To See:
London offers dozens of famous sites to see, but these top five usually hover at the top of many bucket lists.
The Tower Bridge and Tower of London:
Opened in 1894, the Tower Bridge drawbridge can be traveled by car or on foot and offers a great view of the city, while being a huge attraction in and of itself. The bridge leads to the other side of the river where the Tower of London resides. The Tower truly offers something for everyone as it comprises the famous Crown Jewels exhibition, tours of the Tower’s bloody past, the Royal Armories, and the White Tower – an iconic symbol of London’s heritage and history.
Buckingham Palace is the Queen’s London home and is open for tours in the summer. However, you can still fully appreciate the Palace from the outside and witness the storied Changing of the Guard which occurs daily at 11:30 a.m. from May until late July, and on alternate days the rest of the year.
Houses of Parliament:
The Houses of Parliament are composed of the House of Lords and the House of Commons and are open for tour, offering a unique combination of years of history, modern politics and incredible architecture. However, admiring the iconic structure from afar is still a quintessential London to-do. The Lambeth Bridge provides a fantastic spot to take photos of Parliament and the very famous Big Ben clock tower.
This medieval church has been graced by 16 royal weddings and nearly 40 coronations and is a platform for years of British history. The Abbey is the final resting place of famous authors such as Charles Dickens and Geoffrey Chaucer, as well as British royalty such as Elizabeth I and Mary Tudor. The Abbey is definitely a must-see attraction, though the admission price may discourage some travelers.
The London Eye:
The London Eye is a more modern attraction and a great way to see stunning views of London, or to be its own centerpiece in a London panorama. The Eye circles around slowly at over 400 feet high, and offers a birds-eye perspective of London’s South Bank. The London Eye is an experience to be had, but perhaps only a once-in-a-lifetime experience as the admission prices and long lines can be taxing.
If you are looking for somewhere outside of the normal tourist destinations, try heading down to Camden Town. Camden is well known for its markets that originally began as a small food market serving the local community. Unfortunately, the area can be home to many tourists on the weekends, but it is a very fun and quirky area to find vintage clothing stores, organic local foods, and unique homemade items.
Fun For Free:
There are many fun and free things to do in the city of London. Walking the streets of a city is always the best way to get to know it. Many websites offer free self-guided walking tours, or if you are brave enough to wander about by yourself, there is nothing like getting lost in London. London also offers many free markets to look around in (like Camden) and see street performers. Seeing the outsides of many historic buildings are usually free and photos always make the best souvenirs. Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens are free to the public, as are the British Museum, British Library, National Gallery and many other museums. London in general can be a very expensive city, but there are dozens of free things to see and do.
What To Eat:
London is a global gastronomic hotspot, where you can experiment with dishes you are not going to find anywhere else. Whichever part of London you find yourself hungry in, you are bound to find a plethora of interesting choices. London is a multiethnic city that offers the very best of cuisine from the south of France, such as La Petite Maison – the place to see and be seen, with seriously good food – and also offers the best and greasiest street food you will ever have after the pubs close. You can eat all the fish and chips and bangers and mash you want, but definitely branch out and try some of the other interesting cuisines London has to offer. Visiting a pub, or several, is definitely an essential.
The real fun begins when the sun goes down. London is brimming with pubs that you can stay at from dawn until dusk, but the city also offers many clubs, nighttime boat tours on the Thames, and different nighttime tours. Verve Bar is a fun place to dance the night away and is usually a stop along the way, if not the meeting point, for a weekly pub-crawl that many young tourists frequent. London also has several great piano bars that offer a lively and more local experience, such as Piano Kensington quoted as being “one of the best nights out in London” by Edward Sullivan from the Evening Standard.
Trains, trains, trains. London is famous for its tube system, The London Underground, and it is truly the most efficient way to travel around the city. However, London also has plenty of cabs and on-and-off double decker buses that many travelers pack into their itinerary.
Tube etiquette: It is important to learn and understand: always stand on the right of he escalator and let people pass on the left, have your ticket/Oyster card out and ready to use when standing at the barriers, check the map on the walls of the station and do not block people by standing in the middle of the station, try to avoid rush hour.
Pub etiquette: order at the bar, pay for drinks as your order them, buy drinks in rounds if you are with a group of people – especially locals, tipping the bartender is not usual but you can definitely offer to buy them a drink – tipping in general is entirely voluntary in the UK.
Everyone who visits London experiences it differently. No matter what you end up doing, London is sure to show you a fabulous time and she is welcome with open arms for you to come back and visit. In the middle of the chaos, you will discover the beauty of it all.