London Travel Guide
Introduction to London
A city that has been home to a global geopolitical power for well over a half millennium, London is the place from which much of the world was conquered. As a result of this, the culture of its distant dependencies found its way here as surely as the English way of life was exported around the globe, giving it a cultural richness that has made it one of the world’s most interesting places. Today, London continues to be influential in the world not necessarily as a political force in the way it has flexed its muscle in the past, but as a financial hub that has made it very wealthy. The flip side of this is that London has become a very expensive place to live, even for locals. While the edge taken off this fact by sleeping outside Central London, taking the Tube, and cooking for yourself at your hostel or Airbnb, you will need to increase your budget for this world city, so budget well so you won’t miss the best of what London has to offer you.
Cultural Experiences in London
Begin your tour of one of the world’s greatest cities by exploring the Tower of London. Built shortly after the Normans completed their conquest of England in 1066, it has long stood as a symbol of power and oppression by those who resented being imposed upon by a foreign power.
While it has done everything from house the Crown Jewels (a function that continues to this day) to serve as a royal residence, its most notorious function over the years has been that of a dungeon.
Up until the 1950’s, it served this role, with the most notorious prisoner being Anne Boleyn, who was sentenced to die here by her former husband, Henry VIII.
After being beheaded though, it is widely believed that she didn’t go peacefully into the afterlife, as it is said that her ghost still roams these halls, head in hand.
Recognized as one of the world’s most significant cultural institutions, not only is the British Museum a must on any culture vulture’s to-do list, it’s also a killer attraction for those trying to save some cash, as its admission fees will set you back 0 pounds … that’s right, it’s 100% free!
From its Greek Revival facade, to the treasures of civilizations from around the globe in its collections (there are 8 million pieces in its archives and on the floor), you will be hard pressed to find a better value as a traveler in the world … which is ironic, considering its in one of the more expensive cities on Earth.
One of the most prestigious churches in the United Kingdom, Westminster Abbey has been the home of numerous coronations, royal weddings and state funerals. Built in the 13th century, this hall of worship has married 16 royal couples over its life, but if you’d rather admire its architectural grandeur and learn about its history than fawn over its past nuptials, its numerous Gothic features, and its on-site museum will keep you occupied for at least a couple of hours. Those wishing to get their fill of the British royals while in London need only visit Buckingham Palace, as it is here that where commoners can get a glimpse of how their royal rulers live. During the months of August and September, the inner sanctum is opened up to those that wish to see them, making this attraction a must for fans of the Royal Family.
Other Attractions in London
Those looking to hang out in one of London’s most iconic plazas need only find their way to Trafalgar Square.
Built to commemorate a pivotal naval victory in the Napoleonic Wars, this public space is home to numerous public gatherings through the year, especially in the lead up to Christmas and on New Year’s Eve.
Even when an event or festival isn’t on, Londoners and tourists are attracted by its stunning fountains, sculptures, and the architecture of surrounding buildings, making it the perfect place to enjoy a rare sunny day, and to watch this city’s 13.8 million people go about their daily business.
Seen as London’s answer to Times Square (or is that the other way around?), Piccadilly Circus is a plaza that is surrounded by gaudy signs and billboards that confront visitors with an in-your-face style that you will either love or hate.
Irrespective of your opinion of this part of London, it nevertheless makes a good meeting point for those heading out on a day/night on the town, as Piccadilly Circus is located adjacent to several well-loved shopping and nightlife districts.
Looking for foodie heaven? You’ll find it at the Borough Market, which features 70 stalls that showcases the creations and products of gourmet food producers. Top quality meats, fish, bread, pastries, cheese and fruit & veg can all be found here, so linger a while so you take home some drool worthy nibbles to take back to your hostel and rental flat’s kitchen.
Looking for the perfect vantage point to photograph London from above? There are two excellent options: one of them is the London Eye, a giant Ferris Wheel that has been granting world class views to visitors since the year 2000. For only £20, you get a 30 minute experience that will allow you to snap London from a variety of elevated vantage points, as well as an admission to 4D theatre production that promotes the best of what makes London one of the best cities on Earth.
While the Eye tops out at 443 feet high, it has since been replaced by a much higher (if static) viewpoint, as the observation deck of the recently completed Shard Skyscraper gives views of the surrounding city that stands at a vertigo inducing 800 feet above street level. Though spectacular, admission costs a hair raising £90 per person, so be sure to either factor this into your travel budget, or choose the former option if spending well over $100 USD on a view seems a bit much to you.