City Orientation Walk (Self Guided), London

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 or 3.5 Miles
Author: clare
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Westminster Abbey
  • Jewel Tower
  • Big Ben & Houses of Parliament
  • Westminster Bridge
  • Churchill War Rooms
  • Number 10 Downing Street
  • Banqueting House, Whitehall
  • Household Cavalry Museum
  • Admiralty Arch
  • Trafalgar Square
  • National Gallery
  • National Portrait Gallery
  • Piccadilly Circus
  • St. James's Park
  • Buckingham Palace
  • Queen's Gallery
  • Hyde Park
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.

***Charles Dickens Tour***
No Dickens tour of London is complete without calling at Westminster Abbey to see the final resting place of one of England's greatest novelists. Found in the Poet’s Corner, alongside the likes of Geoffrey Chaucer, Thomas Hardy, Alfred Tennyson and Rudyard Kipling, a small stone with a simple inscription marks the grave of Charles Dickens.

Per author's own will, "That my name be inscribed in plain English letters on my tomb... I rest my claims to the remembrance of my country upon my published works...", the tombstone inscription simply states:

CHARLES DICKENS
BORN 7th FEBRUARY 1812
DIED 9th JUNE 1870

Dickens died at his home in Gad's Hill Place, near Rochester, Kent but was interred in Westminster Abbey following public demand, led by The Times newspaper, that the abbey be the only place for the burial of someone of such distinction. Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, Dean of Westminster, after being approached by John Forster and the author's son, readily agreed and the funeral was held strictly private, following Dickens' own instructions.

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

Opening Hours:
Mon-Tue, Thu, Fri: 9:30am-3:30pm; Wed: 9:30am-6pm; Sat: 9am-3pm (May-Aug) / 9am-1pm (Sep-Apr); Sun: Open for servies
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.
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 weighs 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.

Tip:
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.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 9am-5pm
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...

What does make this bridge special though is the views. The Palace of Westminster, the London Eye, County Hall, and the Thames itself make for a fabulous backdrop. The views north, east, and south are all superb.

Why You Should Visit:
An iconic bridge with great views to London Eye, Westminister, Big Ben, and the Thames river.
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 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 they 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, last admission 5pm (Sep-Jun); 9:30am-7pm, last admission 5:45pm (Jul-Aug)
Closed 24, 25, 26 December
6
Number 10 Downing Street

6) Number 10 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.

*** Harry Potter Movie***
Contrary to what many habitually perceive in their every-day life as solely the home and office of the British Prime Minister, the number 10 Downing Street is also where, according to the first chapter of “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince,” is a portal between the wizarding world and the muggles world, through which leader of the U.K. can occasionally communicate with the Minister for Magic.

It is also here that the magician Kingsley Shacklebolt operate undercover as a protector of the Prime Minister in a war against the evil magical forces led by Lord Voldemort. Apparently, there is more to this place than meets the eye…

Tip:
Recommended as part of a much wider visit to Whitehall and Westminster as a whole.
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
Household Cavalry Museum

8) 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:)
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.
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
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
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...)

*** Harry Potter Movie***
One of London’s best known landmarks recognized by its neon advertising screens, perpetual crowds and the Eros statue, Piccadilly Circus appears in the “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1” in one of the most memorable scenes where Harry, Hermione and Ron rush through London’s West End after fleeing from Death Eaters, who had attacked Bill’s wedding, and have a narrow escape from being run over by a quintessential London red double-decker bus. The actual spot where it took place in the movie is just in front of The Gap store, right off Piccadilly Circus, whereas in the book they ended up in Tottenham Court Road. Filming the scene in such a popular tourist location as Piccadilly Circus was a real challenge!

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.
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
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
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
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

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.
City of London Walk

City of London Walk

The City of London is the capital’s historic and financial heart. In this neighborhood colloquially known as the Square Mile as it is 1.12 square miles in area, the Roman and medieval remains stand side by side with 21st century architecture. This self-guided walk takes you back in time by strolling through narrow alleys and cobbled streets in this most historic part of the capital.

Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.4 Km or 3.4 Miles
Bloomsbury Museums

Bloomsbury Museums

There are over 240 museums in London and each year they welcome about 42 million visitors from all over the world. The Bloomsbury area features some of the world-famous and unique exhibitions the city has to offer, so whether you are a history buff or into arts, photography or cartoons, you will find something to suit your taste on this self-guided walk of London museums.

Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.8 Km or 3.6 Miles
London's Historic Pubs Walk

London's Historic Pubs Walk

If there’s anything more an iconic symbol for London than Big Ben or the London Eye, then it must be the traditional English pub and London is full of them, dating from pre-Victorian times to just about five minutes ago. With so much history surrounding London there is no shortage of historic pubs to choose from. Whether you fancy half timbered, rambling watering holes or small but perfectly...  view more

Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.8 Km or 3.6 Miles
Covent Garden Walk

Covent Garden Walk

During this self guided walking tour around Covent Garden areas you will have a chance to visit such famous and interesting London attractions, as National Gallery, London Coliseum, London Transport Museum and many others. Don't miss your chance to explore the best of the Holborn and Covent Garden areas.

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.3 Km or 2.1 Miles
Souvenir Shopping

Souvenir Shopping

Shopping is a 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 available which depict this vibrant city through their merchandise. Whether looking for something uniquely English as souvenir for yourself or as a gift for friends, you will find great inspiration in the shops featured on this...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.5 Km or 3.4 Miles
Walk around Buckingham Palace

Walk around Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace, the British monarch's official residence, is a must-see for anyone visiting London, but so are the adjacent royal establishments that give a unique window into the royal way of life. On this self-guided walk, along with Buckingham Palace, you will visit the St. James's private royal residence, the wonderful Queen's Gallery, and drop by the official Buckingham gift...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.1 Km or 1.3 Miles

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...