City Orientation Walk, London (Self Guided)

London emerged as a humble settlement on the outskirts of the great Roman empire in the 40s AD. Originally known as Londinium, it was only the second incarnation of that village that survived. The first one burned to the ground at the hands of local tribesmen. In the course of two millennia since, London has evolved progressively first to become the capital of the Roman province of Britannia, then the capital of the kingdom of England, and then the capital of the British Empire, the largest the world has ever seen. The 300 years, during which the sun never set over the British empire, saw London transform into a thriving metropolis and a major forum of international trade, finance, free thought and culture.

Today's London is a cosmopolitan hub of creativity, hedonism and excitement. Throughout its history, London has found itself repeatedly at the epicenter of many revolutions – bourgeois, industrial, cultural, and even sexual – all of which have left their mark on the city's tapestry.

On this walk, we are going to visit some of London's major landmarks such as Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and others, so as to get a general sense of the city. Overall, this tour covers 17 sights and takes roughly two hours to walk. To obtain directions to the sights in question, tap the sight's name on the screen and then tap it on the map at the bottom of the sight's information screen. The GPS navigation function will guide you to the chosen destination.
How it works: Download the app "GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities" from iTunes App Store or Google Play to your mobile phone or tablet. The app turns your mobile device into a personal tour guide and its built-in GPS navigation functions guide you from one tour stop to next. The app works offline, so no data plan is needed when traveling abroad.

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City Orientation Walk Map

Guide Name: City Orientation Walk
Guide Location: England » London (See other walking tours in London)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 17
Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.7 km
Author: clare
1
Westminster Abbey

1) Westminster Abbey (must see)

Westminster Abbey is a Gothic church in the municipal borough of The City of Westminster. Back in the day, Westminster was a totally separate town from London. The documented origins of the abbey date back to the late 10th century. A century later, during a major reconstruction run by King Edward the Confessor, the church got its Romanesque look becoming one of the grandest temples of Europe of that period. The construction of the present church started in 1245 under Henry III, who put the unique Cosmati pavement in front of the High Altar, and it was largely completed during the reign of King Richard II. Under Henry VII, a chapel was added, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The chapel took 16 years to build and was finished in 1519. The two western towers of the abbey, featuring early Gothic Revival style, were added between 1722 and 1745. In the 19th century, the abbey underwent further refurbishment.

By far more than just a church but a symbol rather, Westminster Abbey, in a way, represents the epitome of Britishness set in stone. This is the place where all the English and later British monarchs have been crowned, starting with William the Conqueror in 1066. Some of them, like Queen Elizabeth I, are buried here as well, alongside prominent Britons like scientists Isaac Newton & Charles Darwin, writers Charles Dickens, Geoffrey Chaucer, and Rudyard Kipling, actor Laurence Olivier, and many others. In 1997, funeral of Diana, the Princess of Wales was held here. Recently, the Abbey made mark on a more cheerful note hosting the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011. The ceremony was televised to a billion audience worldwide and largely added to the abbey's popularity.

Owing to this popularity, all year round, Westminster Abbey is besieged by visitors who stand in long queues outside, waiting to get in. If you wish to skip the line, it is therefore recommended that you get your tickets online, in advance. Upon arrival, just tell the attendants you have your tickets already and walk straight in. No picture taking is allowed inside the abbey, mind you, so you'll have to rely entirely on your visual memory to absorb whatever info you can about this magnificent place.

Why You Should Visit:
You can't deny the amazing architecture and history that you're confronted with when approaching this collection of buildings.
Final resting place of so many people that contributed to civilization both ancient and recent.

Tip:
By all means get timed-entry tickets online (which include an audio guide).
Tell the attendances outside that you already have tickets, and you'll go right in.
Photos inside are not allowed, so you should visually absorb all you can.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Tue, Thu-Sat: 9:30am-3:30pm; Wed: 9:30am-6pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
2
Jewel Tower

2) Jewel Tower

The Jewel Tower is a three-story building standing right opposite the Houses of Parliament. This is one of the two surviving parts of the ancient Palace of Westminster. Separated by high walls and a moat that once ran into the Thames and was used for fishing, this tower was unharmed by the great fire that destroyed most of the palace in 1834.

The tower was built originally in the 1360s as a storehouse for the private treasures of King Edward III and was nicknamed the "King's Privy Wardrobe." The unusual L-shape design of the building is attributed to the fact that King Edward wanted it to take no space in his garden.

Later, in the early 17th-century, it was converted to store records of the House of Lords. Among these documents are some truly historic ones, like the execution order of Charles I. In 1869, the Standard Weights and Measures Department took over the building. Its thick medieval walls provided ideal setting for precise measurements.

Unlike the much popular Jewel House at the Tower of London – home to the British Crown jewels, the Jewel Tower of Westminster is a hidden gem that is largely overlooked by millions of tourists visiting here each year. Simultaneously with the Jewel Tower's construction, another tower was built nearby, designed to accommodate a 4-ton bell called "The Edward", a forerunner to Big Ben. That clock tower remained in place until 1698, standing on the north side of New Palace Yard, a little to the west of where the present clock tower is located.

Tower exhibition is open daily from 10 am to 6 pm (last admission 5:30 pm). Entry fee: adult - £3.50; child (5-15 years) - £2.10.
Sight description based on wikipedia
3
Big Ben & Houses of Parliament

3) Big Ben & Houses of Parliament (must see)

Editor's note: At this time and until 2021, the Elizabeth Tower, which houses the Great Clock and Big Ben will be covered for renovation work (tip: walk over Westminster bridge and the clock is still open from that side)

Commonly known as Big Ben, this iconic tower is one of the dominant objects on the London skyline. At the top, there is a four-faced Great Clock with five bells, the largest of which is called Big Ben, not the tower itself - mind you, and it weights a staggering 15 tonnes!!! This grand bell tolls every hour, while the smaller bells chime every quarter past the hour. Up until 2012, the tower was officially known as the Clock Tower, but was then renamed to Elizabeth Tower for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. Some say, the Big Ben label relates to Benjamin Hall who supervised the bell installation, while others reckon it had something to do with the heavyweight boxing champion of that time, Benjamin Caunt. Either way, Big Ben is a cultural icon and its Victorian mechanism signals precise timing to everyone in Britain including members of Parliament who occupy the adjoining Westminster Palace.

Also known as Houses of Parliament, this palace accommodates the House of Lords and the House of Commons. Ironically, after the Old Westminster Palace burned down in 1834, the British Parliament could have ended up in Buckingham Palace, as proposed by King William IV who, in reality, simply didn't like the property himself and wanted to get rid of it. The MPs, however, found Buckingham not quite suiting their purpose and rejected the offer, sticking with the good old Westminster. The construction of the new Parliament building lasted nearly 30 years up until the early 1870s. In the 20th century, during the Blitz, Westminster Palace repeatedly came under attack by German Luftwaffe, the worst of which came in May 1941 killing three people and totally destroying the Commons Chamber. The Commons was rebuilt only after the war and re-opened in October 1950.

Today, the House of Commons is a regular news-maker and its sittings draw much attention, particularly Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesdays. Both the Commons and the Lords are regularly open to visitors and have public viewing galleries. To attend Parliament sessions, one has to request a free ticket from their MP or stand in a live queue outside, which is often simpler. There's tight “airport style” security at the entrance, scanning belongings, taking off and inspecting shoes, belts and other metal objects of visitors. It doesn't take as long as at the airport, though.

Still, if politics isn't one of your prime interests and your only care for Westminster for its architectural splendor, you may simply take a memorable photo of Big Ben and Houses of Parliament from a distance, at the nearby Westminster Bridge some 500 yards away.

Why You Should Visit:
Must be the most famous clock in the world, not just London.

Tip:
Walk 500 yards onto Westminster Bridge and the views of Big Ben are great. Alternatively, cross over Parliament Square to the other side and take some great pictures with some nice trees in the foreground.

Opening Hours:
Sun-Sat: 8am-8pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
4
Westminster Bridge

4) Westminster Bridge (must see)

Westminster Bridge is one of the many bridges spanning the river Thames in Central London. The current structure, created by Thomas Page, dates back to 1862 and replaces the original one built in 1750 by Swiss architect Charles Labelye. Because of its proximity to Houses of Parliament, and particularly the House of Commons, the bridge is painted the same green color as the benches inside the Commons. Oftentimes, because of this proximity to the seat of power, people mistake it for London Bridge, which is further downstream. A popular legend has it that the infamous Jack the Ripper threw himself off Westminster Bridge on the last stroke of midnight on 31st December 1891 to escape captivity and disclosure of his identity. Something we'll never know for sure...

Why You Should Visit:
An iconic bridge with great views to London Eye, Westminister, Big Ben, and the Thames river.
Sight description based on wikipedia
5
Churchill War Rooms

5) Churchill War Rooms (must see)

The Churchill War Rooms is a secret bunker underneath the former Office of Public Information in London (currently the Treasury). From here Winston Churchill commanded the British forces and recorded radio addresses to the nation during World War II. The unassuming entrance at the bottom of the Whitehall's Clive Steps on King Charles Street makes it easy to miss. The Germans never thought anyone would be stupid or brave enough to hide the emergency government in such a plain sight.
The bunker was built in 1938 and then expanded and reinforced with a bomb-proof ceiling during the war. Even then, experts say, it wasn't totally bomb-proof if hit directly. The bunker is only 12 feet underground whereas Hitler's bunker was 180 feet.

Quite spacious – with over 30,000 square feet – it accommodates offices, conference rooms and sleeping quarters for the Wartime Cabinet and their families. When the war ended, they simply took their belongings and left. The facility now looks pretty much like it was back in 1945. The clocks inside are set to 4.58pm - the time when the first cabinet meeting here started on 15 October 1940. The manual calendar in the Map Room shows 16 August 1945 - the final day the facility was used as a strategic site - the day after Japan had officially surrendered.

Found here black phones with green handles are the breakthrough technology of the 1940s. Scrambler phones for secret communication, they made it impossible for spies to listen into a conversation by producing a so-called white noise. These phones took up to 20 minutes to warm up before were ready to use.

The maps on the walls are dotted with thousands of tiny holes left by pins used to monitor the progression of Allied forces and convoys across the ocean. Some parts of the maps are so badly damaged that had to be patched over.

Churchill slept only three or so nights in this bunker, but often used his bedroom for afternoon naps and was quite famous for holding meetings here in various states of undress.
Among other artifacts depicting Churchill's life here is the fire bucket behind his chair which he used as an ashtray. Rumors say that the Marine guards used to sell Churchill's cigar stubs, left in the bucket, as souvenirs.

Underneath the secret bunker is another bunker for maintenance personnel and supporting staff. Most visitors to the War Rooms don't realize it exists as these sub-basement quarters are strictly-out-of-bounds. Filled with miles of lagging, pipes, wires and cables, these tunnels run for miles under Downing Street, the Houses of Parliament, Trafalgar Square and many other strategic locations in London. One of these caves is said to have been Churchill’s wine cellar.

Tip:
Pre-book your ticket(s) online to jump the standby queue outside!
Allow a minimum of just over an hour for the audio tour.
Please be aware that there are not many food places in the immediate vicinity.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9:30am-6pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
6
Number Ten Downing Street

6) Number Ten Downing Street (must see)

10 Downing Street, or simply “Number 10”, is the official residence and the office of British Prime Minister. It has been UK's no. 1 address for almost 300 years. The building contains over 100 rooms and was once three separate houses, now combined. A private residence in which the Prime Minister's family lives is on the third floor and their kitchen is in the basement. The other floors contain offices and numerous conference and reception rooms. There is an interior courtyard and, in the back, a terrace overlooking a half-acre garden. The Cabinet Room is separated from the rest of the house by soundproof doors.

The famous black front door is actually made of reinforced steel, rather than wood as most people may erroneously believe. This door has no keyhole and can only be opened from the inside, for which purpose there's always a doorman on duty. Speaking of that, the expression “In the hot seat” literally originates in Downing Street. A large black chair in the entrance hall of Number 10 is the seat previously used by the nightwatchman. This chair has an underneath drawer which, back in the day, was filled with hot coal to keep the guy on duty warm during long, cold night hours. The lamp above the door, the lion door knocker and the black and white floor in the entrance hall are also the iconic features. They were all added under the premiership of Lord Frederick North between 1770 and 1782.

Just as many other London properties, Downing Street suffered damage during WWII. On 14 October 1940, a bomb falling nearby hit the kitchen and state rooms. In 1991 another – mortar attack perpetrated by IRA – shuttered 10 Downing Street again. A reminder of that attack is the splinter stuck in the plasterwork upstairs, left untouched.

The walls of the Grand Staircase are lined with portraits of every British Prime Minister in chronological order. During his years as prime minister, Tony Blair had six plaster bees commissioned in the window frames in one of the drawing rooms upstairs. Under Mrs. Thatcher, there was a little model roof thatcher built into one of the door frames. None of this, however, is open to a public eye, as the entry to Number 10 is strictly forbidden to the general public for security reasons. Only staff and authorized personnel are allowed in.

Why You Should Visit:
Recommended as part of a much wider visit to Whitehall and Westminster as a whole.

Tip:
Entry to “Number 10” is not available to the public for security reasons. Only staff and authorised visitors are allowed to enter.
Sight description based on wikipedia
7
Banqueting House, Whitehall

7) Banqueting House, Whitehall

The Banqueting House in London's Whitehall is the grandest and best known survivor of the architectural genre of banqueting house, the only remaining component of the Palace of Whitehall. Built in 1622 in neoclassical style, it marked a new, transformation step in the history of English architecture. 27 years later, in January 1649, King Charles I of England was executed right in front of this building, on a scaffold. Today, the Banqueting House is a listed national monument, open to the public.

The Palace of Whitehall was largely the creation of King Henry VIII, who expanded an earlier mansion that once belonged to Cardinal Wolsey and was originally known as York Place. The King was determined to make his new palace the "biggest palace in Christendom" to befit his newly created status as the Supreme Head of the Church of England. All evidence of the disgraced Cardinal Wolsey was eliminated and the building rechristened the Palace of Whitehall. During Henry's reign, the palace had no designated banqueting house; the King preferred to banquet in a purpose-built temporary structure in the gardens.

The first permanent banqueting house at Whitehall had a short life. Built for James I, it was destroyed by fire in January 1619 when the workmen, clearing up after New Year's festivities, decided to incinerate the rubbish inside the building. An immediate replacement was commissioned from the fashionable architect Inigo Jones. Jones had spent time in Italy studying architecture evolving from the Renaissance and that of Palladio, and returned to England with what at that time was considered revolutionary ideas: to replace the complicated and confused style of the Jacobean English Renaissance with a simpler, classically inspired design. His new banqueting house at Whitehall was to become a prime example of this. Jones made no attempt to harmonize his design with the Tudor palace of which it was to be a part.

Opening hours: Monday to Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm (last admission at 16:15). Entry fees: adults - £5.00; children under 16 – free; full-time students, over 60 years with ID - £4.00.
Sight description based on wikipedia
8
The Household Cavalry Museum

8) The Household Cavalry Museum

The Household Cavalry Museum is one of London’s most historic buildings. It dates back to 1750 and houses the headquarters of the Household Division in which the Household Cavalry has been performing the Queen’s Life Guard daily ceremony largely unchanged for over 350 years now. The Calvary itself was formed in 1661 by direct order of King Charles II and presently consists of two senior regiments of the British Army – The Life Guards and the Blues and Royals. The place offers a unique opportunity to observe real troopers doing their daily chores, among which is working with horses in the original 18th century stables. The Household Cavalry Museum features an outstanding collection of rare and unique treasures – from ceremonial uniforms, royal standards and gallantry awards to musical instruments, horse furniture and Fabergé silverware.

Museum is open daily 10 am – 5 pm. Admission fees: adults - £6.00; children (aged 5-16) - £4.00, family ticket (2 adults & 3 children) - £15.00.
9
Admiralty Arch

9) Admiralty Arch

Heading west up the Strand to Trafalgar Square, one can't help noticing the Admiralty Arch. This arch is one of the most photographed buildings in London and marks the outset of another major street, the Mall, leading straight to Buckingham Palace, residence of the British monarch.

The Admiralty Arch was commissioned by King Edward VII in memory of his late mother, Queen Victoria. Sadly, the King never lived to see it finished, as he himself died before it was completed in 1911. The building adjoins the Old Admiralty from which it takes the name. The Admiralty originally housed the offices and residences of the Sea Lords – heads of the Royal Navy. Today, the building has been sold on a 125-year lease to a private developer to be converted into a 100-room hotel complete with residences and a private members' club.

A peculiar thing about the arch is the so-called “nose” – a stone protrusion, the size and shape of a human nose – found high on the inside of its northernmost wall. No-one knows for certain as to why it is there or what it represents. Some say, this is one of the several prosthetic noses placed around London by artist Rick Buckley some decade ago. Others reckon the nose is a tribute to the Duke of Wellington who indeed had a fairly large nose, although there’s no absolute proof to that. This fact, however, doesn't stop the Royal Horse Guards, passing through the arch, from routinely rubbing this protrusion for a good luck as a token of their respect to the Iron Duke:)
Sight description based on wikipedia
10
Trafalgar Square

10) Trafalgar Square (must see)

Trafalgar Square is a #1 square in Britain and is as close as you can get to the heart of London. Charing Cross, the small traffic island south of Trafalgar, is technically where all distances to London are measured from. Speaking of measures, the Imperial Standard measures used in the UK prior to 1965, such as inches, feet, yards, links, chains, perches and poles, are all found in Trafalgar Square as well. In 1876 they were installed in the northern terrace wall, but in 2003 were relocated behind the cafe and placed along the steps, after the north side of the square was made pedestrian.

The story of Charing Cross itself is quite remarkable and starts in 1290 when Eleanor, the wife of king Edward I, died and her body was taken from Lincoln to Westminster Abbey. On the way, the procession stopped at 12 different locations including the village of Charing. At each of those stops, a memorial Eleanor Cross was erected. The memorial cross in Charing was eventually destroyed during the Civil War in the 17th century and was rebuilt only in the Victorian era, in the 1860s. Mistakenly, however, they put it in London, outside Charing Cross Station, and not in the Charing village.

Trafalgar Square owes its name to Admiral Lord Nelson who died on 21 October 1805 at the Battle of Trafalgar. That battle was part of a Napoleonic war and saw British, led by Admiral Nelson, take on the combined French and Spanish fleet. The Royal Navy enjoyed a remarkable victory that day, commemorated since as the greatest victory in its history. In memory of that event, the name “Trafalgar Square” was coined in 1835.

Eight years later, another tribute to Lord Nelson – Nelson's Column – was erected in the center of the square. The column was built of Devon granite and adorned, around its base, with four bronze reliefs depicting Nelson's most famous battles: St Vincent, Copenhagen, The Nile, and Trafalgar. Four guardian lions at its foot appeared in 1868 and were made initially of stone. The ones we see today are cast in bronze and replace the originals considered not impressive enough. The bronze statues were created by sculptor Edwin Landseer and modeled on real lion corpses to ensure ultimate physiological accuracy. Despite that, however, a serious blunder was committed about the lions' backs. In real life, the back of a lying lion is always convex, not concave, as it is in the sculpture.

In 1845, in order to reduce space for public gatherings in Trafalgar Square, two fountains were added, designed by Charles Barry. Eventually, they had to be replaced with new fountains, while the original old ones were gifted to Canada. To oversee public gatherings in Trafalgar, in 1926 a one-man police phone box was installed in its south east corner. Today, it is used solely by cleaners as a storage room.

Why You Should Visit:
Great place to relax over an evening, surrounded by so many traditional London buildings.

Tip:
Go sit on the steps as the sun starts to set, take in the noises of London...
...or use Trafalgar Square as a starting point for London's attractions.
Sight description based on wikipedia
11
National Gallery

11) National Gallery (must see)

The National Gallery is a popular attraction visited annually by up to six million people. It houses one of the greatest collections of Western European art in the world spanning from 1250 until 1900, comprising the works of Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Renoir, Picasso, Van Gogh, and many other greats.

Established by British government in 1824, The National Gallery started off with just slightly over 30 paintings or so. Today, it boasts a collection of more than 2500 pieces, two-thirds of which are private donations, and the rest have been acquired with donated funds including £50 million from Sir Paul Getty. Some of this cash has been used to expand the building, such as the Sainsbury Wing constructed in 1985.

Apart from viewing famous artworks, there are many other off-the-beaten-track things you can do at the gallery. One such thing is discovering the hidden Leonardo. For example, “The Virgin of The Rocks” piece. There, underneath the famous upper layer hides another layer painted also, quite possibly, by Da Vinci himself. If you go to room 66, you may then pride yourself on the knowledge that you have seen actually two pictures for the price of one:)

Also, you can try your hand at life drawing in a class with a real life naked model! Speaking of nudity, you might as well do some maths at the National Gallery counting nipples on display, just to keep yourself busy until the closing time. While at it, please note that between 11.30am and 2.30pm each day the gallery offers free 1-hour tours. These tours are a sort of “crash courses” in fine arts and British art history. Additionally, at 1pm the gallery runs specially-scheduled lunchtime art talks. Also, every couple of months the National Gallery holds late night Friday events on a variety of topics, such as Renaissance art, sugar crafting, calligraphy workshops, etc.

If you fancy a bite in the arty setting, why not do so in style, right here at the National Gallery. The local restaurant is quite unique in terms of serving Colchester native oysters alongside a regular choice of cakes, sandwiches, teas, coffee and more. The National Gallery has its own afternoon tea, the menu and the theme of which vary depending on the exhibition currently in place. Regardless of the menu, the scones are always present. The afternoon tea is served daily and no prior booking is required.

Why You Should Visit:
Free admission, and rooms upon rooms of gorgeous art from various artists (including some very well known ones). You can take pictures or you can take an audio guide.

Tip:
Aside from the main Gallery, there is also the Sainsbury Wing which is where large exhibitions and talks are normally held. There is also a shop where you can buy books on the artists and exhibitions, a refreshment area and plenty of seating.

Opening Hours:
Fri: 10am-9pm; Sat-Thu 10am–6pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
12
National Portrait Gallery

12) National Portrait Gallery (must see)

If you like portraits, why not give yourself a treat, while in London, at the National Portrait Gallery located next door to the National Gallery, at St Martin’s Place, just off Trafalgar Square.

Established in 1856, this gallery promotes through portraits the men and women who made mark in the British history and culture. Pursuant to this goal, the gallery boasts the world's largest collection of portraits including caricatures, drawings, paintings and sculptures, selected primarily not for their authors' greatness or technical excellence, but for the unique feeling they create. Among them, of course, there are some truly great works of art as well, including the portrait of Shakespeare dated around 1610, Oliver Cromwell, Lord Nelson, Charles Dickens, Lord Byron, as well as a self-portrait of Winston Churchill. Recent additions to the collection include painted and photographic images of Mick Jagger, Tony Blair, J.K. Rowling and others.

Aside from portraits, the gallery also provides a good choice of savouries in its Portrait Restaurant and Bar. Their afternoon tea menu, other than sandwiches, scones and desserts, also features salads and other culinary treats, depending on season. As an extra bonus, the restaurant treats visitors to the great view over Trafalgar Square and further afield, taking in the London Eye, Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. To enjoy all this, you need to book in advance. The afternoon tea is served daily.

Why You Should Visit:
A unique collection of portraits, where royalty, celebrities, and the common folk are represented on canvas. No other museum in London feels so purely English.

Tip:
There is a fabulous restaurant on top of the building with amazing views (but book in advance, as it tends to always be booked up).

Opening Hours:
Fri: 10am-9pm; Sat-Thu: 10am-6pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
13
Piccadilly Circus

13) Piccadilly Circus (must see)

Piccadilly Circus was built originally as a junction between Regent Street and Piccadilly in 1819. Back then, it was a circle roundabout up until 1886, when Shaftesbury Avenue was built and the circle was gone. But the name stuck. The name Piccadilly derives from one of the shops once present in the area, called Piccadilly Hall. Its owner, Robert Baker, was the tailor specialized in making certain collars, known as piccadills. Hence the name.

The postcard image of Piccadilly Circus is traditionally dominated by huge advertising boards mounted on the corner building of its north side. The very first illuminated sign put up there was that of Perrier mineral water in 1908. For the whole duration of WWII, Piccadilly Circus remained in total blackout and was re-lit only in 1949. The only other times the Piccadilly lights went out again were for funerals of Churchill and Princess Diana, and for the Earth Hour organized by the World Wide Fund for Nature.

Beneath the ground, Piccadilly Circus houses two outstanding sights: Criterion Theatre and Piccadilly Circus tube station. Built in 1873, the theater is entirely underground except for box office. Back in the 19th century, during its performances fresh air had to be pumped in specially to ventilate the building from toxic fumes from the gas lights. As for the Piccadilly tube station, it is one of the few stations on London Underground network that is truly 100% underground. For a short while after its opening in 1906, the station did have an above-ground ticket office, but it was scrapped in the 1920s after the station's renovation.

Another key sight to behold in Piccadilly Circus is the Shaftesbury memorial fountain and the statue often erroneously attributed to Eros. The fountain was built in 1893 to commemorate philanthropist Lord Shaftesbury. While the statue depicts Greek god Anteros, the bow in his hand makes it look like the Greek god of love, Eros.

On the west side of Piccadilly, one can still see a relic police public call box, established in 1935, one of the few left in Britain.

Another secret treasure mounted to a wall somewhere in Piccadilly Circus is a sculpted nose - one of the Seven Noses of Soho. Legend has it that whoever finds all the seven noses, will get rich beyond measure. Wonder if any of the nearly half a million people passing here every day is after that fortune...)

Why You Should Visit:
A classic, fast-paced London intersection, very centrally located, from where you can easily explore Regent St, Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square, Coventry Garden and the West End theatre district.

Tip:
Best seen at night for maximum effect.
Sight description based on wikipedia
14
St. James's Park

14) St. James's Park (must see)

St. James's Park is a 23-hectare park in Westminster, and is the oldest of the Royal Parks of London. Both, the park and the surrounding area are named after a leper hospital dedicated to St. James the Less, the Bishop of Jerusalem, that stood here from around the 1180s up until 1531 when it was demolished for the construction of St James’s Palace. To the west of the park is Buckingham Palace. For that reason, St. James's is never short of visitors coming to see the royal residence.

The park has a small lake, called St. James's Park Lake, with two islands - Duck Island and West Island. A bridge across the lake offers a remarkable view of Buckingham Palace framed by trees and fountains, plus a view of the main building of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, framed just as cutely, to the east. St. James's park is the easternmost of the near-continuous chain of parks comprising Green Park, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens.

Why You Should Visit:
Lots of green space to lay around, and lots of wildlife.
You may also find live music, events, or other fun things occurring.

Tip:
Allow time to walk all the way through and hop the tube on the other end!

Opening Hours:
Daily: 5am-12am
Sight description based on wikipedia
15
Buckingham Palace

15) Buckingham Palace (must see)

Buckingham Palace is the official London residence of the British monarch. Prior to becoming a palace, it was Buckingham House - a large townhouse built for the Duke of Buckingham in 1703. In 1761, King George III acquired this property as a private home for Queen Charlotte. It finally became the official royal residence under Queen Victoria in 1837. It was also Victoria who started the tradition of the royals showing up on the balcony, when she appeared there for the first time during the opening of the Great Exhibition at Hyde Park in 1851.

The oldest part of the palace, dating back to 1760, is the wine vaults located below the west wing. During the 19th century, the palace had three wings added around a central courtyard. Eventually, Victoria realized that the palace wasn't big enough for official receptions, so she ordered that the Marble Arch, once set in front of the palace, be moved to the north east corner of Hyde Park, and then used the vacated space for the construction of the palace's fourth wing.

Buckingham Palace boasts the largest private garden in London, 39 acres. It is also home to the National Collection of mulberries. The Palace itself is built on a site once used by King James I for a mulberry garden planted in an attempt to rear silkworms in the 1600s.

Within the garden there is an oldest helicopter pad in London. The very first helicopter landed there just before the Queen’s Coronation in 1953. Half a century later, in the year 2000, an official helipad was built there to prevent the lawn from damaging. Instead of concrete, though, which didn't look too appealing, the Royal helipad is paved with a layer of matting underneath the grass.

Inside the palace itself, other than 775 rooms and various amenities, there is a Court Post Office run by Royal Mail, an ATM machine, and reportedly a swimming pool, doctor's office and a movie theater. Rumors also suggest there's a branch of the Post Office Railway running right beneath the palace and the underground tunnels linking Buckingham to various parts of London including the Whitehall and Houses of Parliament.

Why You Should Visit:
It's amazing to see parts of an actually working Palace, though you don't get to look around all its 700 rooms.

Tip:
If you don't bring a packed lunch thinking you can have some food in the local shops, you will be astonished at the prices.

Opening Hours:
9:30am-7:30pm, between the 22nd of July and 31st of August
Sight description based on wikipedia
16
Queen's Gallery

16) Queen's Gallery (must see)

Everyone visiting London these days feels obliged to go to Buckingham Palace, as the matter of must, to see the famous Changing of the Guard ceremony. Few realize, though, that the palace is also renowned for its Queen’s Gallery which is very much a “must see” attraction in its own right. Interestingly enough, at some point, Buckingham House that once stood on the spot occupied by palace today, was considered a potential site for the British Museum, but was eventually discarded as too expensive.

During the Blitz, in 1941, the palace’s chapel was destroyed by a bomb, and when the reconstruction began, it was decided not to rebuild the chapel but to create a Royal Museum so that people could see items from the Royal Collection.

The Gallery was opened to the public in 1962. In total, it has over 450 items displayed at any given time, on a rotational basis: clothing, decorative art, furniture, paintings, photographs, porcelain, and sculptures. NOTE: if you wish to see the Crown Jewels, you have to go to the Tower of London! Also, if you visit with kids, you may want to take advantage of the Family Activity Bag which is designed to help the young ones understand the exhibits in a fun way.

Taking photos or filming inside the gallery is strictly forbidden and visitors are asked to turn off their mobile phones.

Tip:
You can get your ticket stamped at the end for a free return to other exhibitions within the next 12 months.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9:30am-5:30pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
17
Hyde Park

17) Hyde Park (must see)

Hyde Park is one of the largest Royal Parks in London and a home to several attractions. The most notable of them is the Speakers' Corner on the north-east side, near Marble Arch. This platform for campaigners, preachers, and those seeking to express their views on a variety of subjects, all except criticizing the Queen of course, has been in place since the mid 1800s. Among the historic figures to have spoken here at the time are Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and George Orwell.

The tradition of public speech in this spot dates back hundreds of years to the infamous Tyburn Gallows that use to be nearby. There, between 1196 and 1783, over 50,000 people had been executed, each of which was allowed a final word before hanging. Some of them confessed, others defended their innocence or criticized the authorities. People enjoyed watching the executions and even bought tickets. Eventually, the gallows were dismantled, but the tradition for protest and pleasure at Hyde Park remained.

Not far from away here is a Rotten Row, famous for being Britain's first illuminated street. The lights here were installed back in the 1690s by King William III who built this road to travel between Kensington Palace and St James's Palace. In fear of attack by highwaymen, he ordered it to be lit with 300 gas lamps. The name “Rotten Row” is a mispronounced version of the French “Route du Roi”, which means King's Road.
Another popular sight of the park is near the Grand Entrance at the south-east corner. It is called Apsley House and was originally built for Lord Apsley in 1778. What makes it popular is that for several years this house was the home of the 1st Duke of Wellington who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. It was also the first property on the north side of Piccadilly that came into sight for those entering London from the west, for which reason people jokingly referred to it as 'Number 1, London'. The official address here is 149 Piccadilly, Hyde Park Corner, London, yet rumors insist that if you post a letter to “Number 1, London”, it would come here.

Inside the park, there is another tribute to Wellington - the statue of Achilles made from 33 tonnes of bronze sourced from the cannons captured by Wellington's army in France.
Hyde Park is divided in two by the body of water called, the Serpentine. This pond is much popular with nature lovers and photographers, and is also one of the best-known outdoor swimming spots in London. Every Christmas, members of the Serpentine Swimming Club gather here for the Peter Pan Cup organized by the Peter Pan author JM Barrie in 1904. South of the Serpentine is the Diana, Princess of Wales memorial fountain opened on 6 July 2004. Hyde Park also hosts a pet cemetery, near the Victoria Gate Lodge on Bayswater Road. It started in 1881 and contains over 300 pet graves. Today the cemetery is closed for public, except for occasional tours.

Why You Should Visit:
Great place for so many activities! In this park, you can nearly do anything.

Tip:
Take a map with you if you're not familiar with the park, or rent a bike and cycle around.
For nature lovers & photography enthusiasts, add Serpentine Lake to your list.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 5am-12am
Sight description based on wikipedia

Walking Tours in London, England

Create Your Own Walk in London

Create Your Own Walk in London

Creating your own self-guided walk in London is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Bloomsbury Museums, Part 2

Bloomsbury Museums, Part 2

There are over 240 museums in London and they welcome about 42 million annual visitors nationwide. This wonderful tour will lead you to the most famous and significant museums of London Bloomsbury area, such as Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, Wellcome Collection, The Crypt Gallery and others.

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.2 km
City of London Churches

City of London Churches

London can proudly boast of having an awe-inspiring collection of churches. Here, you will find every style and type. The religious buildings have been a magnet for people ever since the Vikings started striking terror into the city in the 790s. Take this tour to discover most significant religious sites in the City of London.

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.8 km
East City of London Walk

East City of London Walk

The City is a notable part of central London. This neighborhood is colloquially known as the Square Mile, as it is 1.12 square miles (2.90 square km) in area. The City of London is able to offer great number of things to see. This tour will guide you from the Tower Bridge to the “30 St Mary Axe”, great achievements of architecture and engineering.

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.3 km
Bridges of London

Bridges of London

Thirty-four bridges span the Thames in London. Each one has its own history and is worth seeing. Take this walking tour to appreciate the beauty of London bridges.

Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 6.1 km
Souvenir Shopping

Souvenir Shopping

Most visitors to London consider shopping as part of the must-do London experience. From street markets to Victorian arcades and from snobbish Sloane Square to busy Oxford Street there are a host of shops selling items which typically depict this vibrant city. Whether you are shopping for souvenirs for yourself or gift for friends, here are a few ideas to give you some great inspiration.

Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.5 km
Walk around Buckingham Palace

Walk around Buckingham Palace

London is deservedly recognized as one of the cultural centres of the world. Among many cultural treasures found here are perfectly reserved ancients buildings, grandiose monuments and beautiful statues, as well as museums with wide collections of various objects, featuring traditions of different nations and epochs. This self guided walking tour around Buckingham Palace will reveal some of the...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.6 km

Useful Travel Guides for Planning Your Trip


London Souvenirs: 20 Distinctively British Products for Travelers

London Souvenirs: 20 Distinctively British Products for Travelers

Most visitors to London consider shopping as part of their must-do London experience. From street markets to Victorian arcades to snobbish Sloane Square to busy Oxford Street, there are a host of shops selling items which typically represent this vibrant city. Whether you are shopping for souvenirs...

Tips for Exploring City on Foot at Your Own Pace

Whether you are in London for a quick stopover or have a few days to see the city in more detail, exploring it on foot, at your own pace, is definitely the way to go. Here are some tips for you to save money, see the best London has to offer, take good care of your feet while walking, and keep your mobile device – your ultimate "work horse" on this trip - well fed and safe.

Saving Money with City Passes


To save yourself time and money visiting London's multiple sights, you may want to resort to the so-called city passes, such as the London Pass, London Explorer Pass, or iVenture Card.

A city pass combines all or multiple London's top highlights, tours and experiences in one prepaid attractions pass, using which you can save incredible amounts on general admission fees as compared to purchasing tickets separately. Often, a city pass also allows you to skip the lines at major attractions, thus saving you precious time.

Staying at Walk-Friendly Hotels


Since you're keen on exploring cities on foot (we assume that you are, and this is why you're here), it is important that you stay at a hotel close to the city's major attractions. It saves you time and energy. Here are a few of London hotels conveniently located for a comfortable stroll: The Trafalgar St. James London Curio collection by Hilton, Corinthia Hotel London, The Grand at Trafalgar Square.

Taking Care of Your Feet


To ensure ultimate satisfaction from a day of walking around the city as big as London, it is imperative to take good care of your feet so as to avoid unpleasant things like blisters, cold or overheated soles, itchy, irritated or otherwise damaged (cracked) skin, etc. Luckily, these days there is no shortage of remedies to address (and, ideally, to prevent) these and other potential problems with feet. Among them: Compression Socks, Rechargeable Battery-Powered Thermo Socks for Cold Weather, Foot Repair Cream, Deodorant Powder, Shoes UV Sterilizer, and many more that you may wish to find a place in your travel kit for.

Travel Gadgets for Your Mobile Device


Your mobile phone or tablet will be your work horse on a self-guided walk. They offer tour map, guide you from one attraction to another, and provide informative background for the sights you wish to visit. Therefore it is absolutely essential to plan against unexpected power outages in the wrong place at the wrong time, much as to ensure the safety of your device.

For these and other contingencies, here's the list of useful appliances: Portable Charger/External Battery Pack, Worldwide Travel Charger Adapter, Power Converter for International Travel Adapter, and Mobile Device Leash.

Exploring City on Guided Tours


We have a strong bias towards exploring a city on foot, at your own pace, because this is how you get to see things up close with a maximum freedom. You decide how much time you wish to spend at each attraction and don't have to worry about following a crowd. That said, however, we also understand that some of you may want to go with a guided tour. If that is your case, here are some guided tours to consider. Be ready to fork out a bit of money, though, as a guided tour of London typically costs somewhere between US$30 and US$130 or more per person:

- Board a hop-on hop-off double-decker to enjoy sightseeing of London from the open top of the bus listening in the headsets to the commentary provided in a variety of languages, and be able get on and off at any of the stops along the six interconnecting routes, plus get on board the Thames River Sightseeing Cruise. The tickets are valid for 24, 48, or 72 hours.

- Spend half a day pedaling your way around London Royal Parks on a guided bike tour to see the city's most spectacular highlights stopping at some for a bit of rest, watching the surroundings, and learning interesting facts about the attractions from a knowledgeable group leader.

- Commit yourself to a full-day of sightseeing to appreciate the English capital in its full splendor complete with its top (UNESCO-listed and other) attractions, plus to enjoy a sightseeing cruise down the River Thames, and more.

- Dive into Britain’s royal and political history on the Westminster Abbey & Houses of Parliament tour for an up-close view of the country's two most prominent landmarks that have been in place and duly served their purpose for almost a millennium.

- Explore the WWII chapter of the British history on a guided 2-hour walking tour of Churchill War Rooms & Westminster to see how they operated back in those days. Hear some little-known war tales and tidbits about London and the country's most celebrated leader, Winston Churchill.

- Satisfy your penchant for English tradition, glamour and food culture in style with an afternoon tea experience at the 5-star Grosvenor House Hotel in London complete with a full set of lovely cakes, sandwiches and tea!

- If you're into music, give yourself a treat, whilst in London, to the Musical Theater Show at Apollo Victoria Theatre presenting the alternate side of the famous Wizard of Oz story previously untold.

Day Trips


If you have a day to spare whilst in London, why not use it to explore some out-of-town destinations like the Warner Bros. Studio London, Stonehenge, Windsor Castle, and Bath, Oxford, Stratford-upon-Avon and Warwick Castle, Cotswolds, or Leeds Castle, Cliffs of Dover and Canterbury. For as little as circa US$100+ to US$120+ per person you will get a chance to explore the postcard-inspiring UNESCO World Heritage sights, get behind-the-scenes of the mystical world of Harry Potter, see what has been the home of the British Royals for the past 900 years, explore the ancient rock formations, Roman Baths and medieval castles, walk the streets of the charming hometown of William Shakespeare, check out one of the world’s most prestigious universities, get to see the picture-perfect region officially designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, otherwise known as “forever England,” renowned for its quaint villages and rolling hills, admire the symbolic White Cliffs of Dover, and more. For any of these tours you will be picked up straight from your hotel in London and transported by a comfortable air-conditioned coach or train (whichever is applicable) to the destination of your choice and back again.