London Introduction Walking Tour, London

London Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), London

After the Roman invasion of 43 AD, the settlement of Londinium came into being. Things went well enough until 61 AD. Then Queen Boudica and her Iceni warriors arrived. They burned the town to ashes. They were not just rowdy tourists. Londinium had died but it rose again and it flourished until the Romans left in the 5th century.

With the Romans gone, Londinium was Anglo-Saxon Lundenwic. Until 994 the Vikings were persistent visitors. It was the turbulent time of Danelaw and Alfred the Great. By the 11th century, King Edward the Confessor had built Romanesque Westminster Abbey. The stage was set for William the Conqueror.

On Christmas Day, 1066, William was crowned King in brand-spanking-new Westminster Abbey. William was no slouch. He set to work to scare his new subjects. He built the Tower of London. William II, the Conqueror's third son, built Westminster Hall. It was destroyed by fire in 1834, and replaced by the new Palace of Westminster.

Only a few Tudor houses, some Roman remains and the dreaded Tower in central London survived the Great Fire of 1666. Sir Christopher Wren, architect, designed 54 London churches after the fire. His works included St. Paul's Cathedral and the towering Monument to the Fire near London Bridge.

The architectural sights of London are varied, old and new. Among the new is 30 St Mary Axe, called "the Gherkin", built in 2004. The Gothic Revival St. Pancras Hotel was built in 1868. Shakespeare's reconstructed Globe Theatre of 1644 is not to be missed. The amazing 19th century Tower Bridge has a glass footbridge high above the Thames.

There are the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, the Royal Albert Hall, the London Eye ferris wheel. Should we mention parks? Hempstead Heath, with deer and peacocks. Hyde Park, Kew Gardens, St. James, Greenwich. Monuments, squares, museums, what does London not have? London is said to have two of everything, frequently more than that.

Cities, mayors, dioceses, opera houses, orchestras, universities, the list goes on. The city most visitors see is contained within its 18th century boundaries. It is easily explored on foot. Start with Westminster Abbey or almost anywhere.

The greatest cities, it has been said, are those where one can walk. The great English writer Samuel Johnson once said: "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life."
How it works: Download the app "GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities" from Apple App Store or Google Play Store 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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London Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: London Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: England » London (See other walking tours in London)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 13
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.2 Km or 2.6 Miles
Author: clare
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Westminster Abbey
  • Big Ben & Houses of Parliament
  • Westminster Bridge
  • Churchill War Rooms
  • 10 Downing Street
  • Household Cavalry Museum
  • Trafalgar Square
  • National Gallery
  • Admiralty Arch
  • St. James's Park
  • Buckingham Palace
  • Queen's Gallery
  • Hyde Park
1
Westminster Abbey

1) Westminster Abbey (must see)

Westminster Abbey stands as a striking Gothic church within the municipal boundaries of The City of Westminster. In the past, Westminster was an entirely distinct town separate from London. The documented origins of this abbey trace back to the late 10th century. A century later, during a major reconstruction under the reign of King Edward the Confessor, the church acquired its Romanesque appearance, becoming one of Europe's most magnificent religious structures of that era.

The construction of the current church started in 1245 under the rule of Henry III, who also oversaw the installation of the distinctive Cosmati pavement in front of the High Altar. Its completion largely occurred during King Richard II's reign. In 1519, during Henry VII's reign, a chapel dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary was added. The two western towers of the abbey, showcasing early Gothic Revival architecture, were incorporated between 1722 and 1745.

By far more than just a church but a symbol rather, Westminster Abbey, in a way, represents the epitome of Britishness set in stone. It serves as the historic site for the coronation of all English and subsequent British monarchs, starting with William the Conqueror in 1066. Notable figures such as Queen Elizabeth I, scientists Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin, writers Charles Dickens, Geoffrey Chaucer, and Rudyard Kipling, actor Laurence Olivier, and many others find their final resting places here. In 1997, the funeral of Diana, the Princess of Wales, took place at this site, and in 2011, the abbey hosted the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

Due to its immense popularity, Westminster Abbey is constantly thronged by visitors queuing up outside throughout the year. To bypass the lines, it's advisable to purchase your tickets online in advance. Upon arrival, simply inform the attendants that you have pre-purchased tickets, and you can enter directly. Please note that photography is not permitted inside, so you'll have to rely solely on your visual memory to absorb the magnificence of this 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.
2
Big Ben & Houses of Parliament

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

Famously recognized as Big Ben, this iconic tower stands as a prominent feature of the London skyline. At its pinnacle lies a four-faced Great Clock with a set of five bells, the largest of them bearing the name Big Ben, which is not attributed to the tower itself. Astonishingly, this mighty bell weighs no less than 15 tonnes! It resounds with a resounding toll every hour, while the smaller bells chime every quarter past.

Prior to 2012, the tower bore the official title of the Clock Tower but was subsequently renamed the Elizabeth Tower in honor of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. The origins of the name Big Ben remain a subject of debate. Some believe it is linked to Benjamin Hall, the overseer of the bell's installation, while others suggest a connection to Benjamin Caunt, a heavyweight boxing champion of the era. In any case, Big Ben holds a significant place as a cultural icon, and its Victorian mechanism provides precise timekeeping for all of Britain, including the members of Parliament who occupy the nearby Westminster Palace.

Also known as the Houses of Parliament, this palace serves as the home to the House of Lords and the House of Commons. Ironically, following the destruction of the Old Westminster Palace in a fire in 1834, there was a proposal to relocate the British Parliament to Buckingham Palace, which was suggested by King William IV. However, the proposal was ultimately rejected, as Members of Parliament found Buckingham Palace unsuitable for their purposes, sticking with the good old Westminster instead.

Today, the House of Commons frequently captures headlines, with its sessions drawing significant attention, especially during Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesdays. Both the Commons and the Lords offer regular access to visitors, with public viewing galleries available. To attend Parliament sessions, one can either request a free ticket from their Member of Parliament or join a live queue outside, which is often a simpler option. There's tight "airport-style" security at the entrance, including baggage scanning and inspection of visitors' shoes, belts, and metallic items. It's not as time-consuming 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.
3
Westminster Bridge

3) Westminster Bridge

Westminster Bridge faced staunch opposition from the Church, the City, and the watermen when it was initially proposed due to concerns about potential losses in ferry traffic and trade. However, upon its completion, the bridge, featuring fifteen semi-circular arches, was hailed as a remarkable achievement, marking the first stone bridge to span the Thames in 500 years. Numerous artists, including Samuel Scott, Canaletto, and Claude Monet, found inspiration in the Old Westminster Bridge and depicted it in their works.

In 1831, the dilapidated old London Bridge was demolished, leading to increased water flow that resulted in erosion, undermining the foundations of Westminster Bridge's piers. In response, a Parliamentary Act was passed in 1853, transferring ownership of the bridge to the Commissioners of Public Works and permitting the construction of a new bridge. Thomas Page, the Commission's engineer, was tasked with its design. To ensure harmony with Sir Charles Barry's new Houses of Parliament, built after a fire in 1834, Barry was enlisted as an architectural consultant. The new bridge was inaugurated on Queen Victoria's 43rd birthday, May 24, 1862, accompanied by a 25-gun salute to commemorate her 25 years on the throne.

Measuring 827 feet (250 meters) in length and featuring seven elliptical cast-iron arches with abutments made of gray granite, Westminster Bridge boasts the highest number of arches among all Thames bridges. The Gothic revival ornamentation on the cast-iron parapets and spandrels was crafted according to Barry's designs. The bridge's verdant green paint pays homage to the leather seats in the House of Commons, the nearest part of the Palace of Westminster to the bridge. Decorative ironwork showcases symbols of parliament and the United Kingdom, including a portcullis, the cross of Saint George, a thistle, a shield, and a rose.

Why You Should Visit:
What truly sets this bridge apart are the breathtaking views it offers. The Palace of Westminster, the London Eye, County Hall, and the majestic Thames itself create a magnificent backdrop. The vistas to the north, east, and south are all exceptionally stunning.
4
Churchill War Rooms

4) Churchill War Rooms (must see)

The Churchill War Rooms is a secret underground bunker situated beneath the former Office of Public Information in London, presently housing the Treasury. From this covert location, Winston Churchill directed British forces and delivered radio broadcasts to the nation during World War II. The unassuming entrance, tucked away at the base of Whitehall's Clive Steps on King Charles Street, is easy to miss. The Germans never anticipated that anyone would be audacious enough to hide the emergency government in such plain sight.

Constructed in 1938, the bunker underwent subsequent expansions and fortifications, including the installation of a bomb-resistant ceiling during the war. However, experts maintain that it was not entirely impervious to direct hits. The bunker is situated a mere 12 feet underground, in stark contrast to Hitler's hideout, which was 180 feet below ground.

Spanning over 30,000 square feet, the facility features offices, conference rooms, and sleeping quarters for the Wartime Cabinet and their families. When the war concluded, they simply departed, leaving the place virtually unchanged since 1945. The clocks within are permanently set to 4:58pm, the precise time of the first cabinet meeting held on October 15, 1940. In the Map Room, a manual calendar displays the date of August 16, 1945, marking the facility's final day as a strategic site, following Japan's official surrender.

Inside, you'll encounter black phones with distinctive green handles, representing cutting-edge 1940s technology. These scrambler phones, used for secure communication, emitted a white noise that rendered eavesdropping nearly impossible. They required up to 20 minutes to warm up before use. Meanwhile, the maps on the walls are riddled with tiny holes from pins used to monitor the movement of Allied forces and convoys across the seas. Some sections of the maps are so damaged that they've needed patching.

While Churchill only spent around three nights sleeping in this bunker, he often used the bedroom for afternoon naps and was known for conducting meetings here in various states of undress. Among the artifacts that provide a glimpse into his bunker life is a fire bucket which served as an improvised ashtray. Rumor has it that Marine guards used to sell Churchill's cigar stubs, left in the bucket, as souvenirs.

Beneath this secret bunker lies another one intended for maintenance personnel and support staff. This subterranean realm is typically off-limits to visitors, concealed by miles of insulation, pipes, wires, and cables. The tunnels extend beneath Downing Street, the Houses of Parliament, Trafalgar Square, and other critical London locations. One of these underground spaces is believed to have served as Churchill's wine cellar.

Tip:
To bypass the queue outside, it's advisable to pre-book your ticket(s) online.
Plan for a minimum of slightly over an hour for the audio tour.
Keep in mind that there are limited dining options in the immediate vicinity.
5
10 Downing Street

5) 10 Downing Street

10 Downing Street, or simply "Number 10", serves as both the official residence and workplace of the British Prime Minister, making it the UK's premier address for nearly three centuries. Originally three separate houses, the building now boasts over 100 rooms, with the Prime Minister's family occupying a private residence on the third floor and their kitchen situated in the basement. The remaining floors house offices, as well as numerous conference and reception rooms. The property features an interior courtyard and, at the rear, a terrace overlooking a spacious half-acre garden. The Cabinet Room is isolated from the rest of the building by soundproof doors.

Contrary to popular belief, the famous black front door is constructed from reinforced steel rather than wood. This door lacks a keyhole and can only be opened from the inside, which is why a doorman is always on duty. Speaking of that, the phrase "In the hot seat" originates from Downing Street. The entrance hall of Number 10 contains a large black chair, originally used by the night watchman. Underneath this chair is a drawer that, back in the day, was filled with hot coals to keep the watchman warm during cold nighttime hours. Other iconic features, including the lamp above the door, the lion door knocker, and the black and white flooring in the entrance hall, were added during the premiership of Lord Frederick North between 1770 and 1782.

Like many London properties, Downing Street suffered damage during World War II. On October 14, 1940, a bomb struck nearby, causing damage to the kitchen and state rooms. In 1991, another attack occurred when the IRA launched a mortar attack, resulting in further damage to the premises. A reminder of this attack is a splinter lodged in the upstairs plasterwork, left untouched.

The walls of the Grand Staircase are lined with portraits of every British Prime Minister in chronological order. During Tony Blair's tenure as Prime Minister, he had six plaster bees installed in the window frames of one of the upstairs drawing rooms. Under Mrs. Thatcher, a miniature roof was incorporated into one of the door frames. Regrettably, none of these areas are accessible to the general public, as entry to Number 10 is strictly prohibited for security reasons, with access only granted to staff and authorized personnel.

***HARRY POTTER MOVIE***
Contrary to what most folks usually think of as just the British Prime Minister's home and office, 10 Downing Street also serves as a secret link between the wizarding and muggle worlds, as mentioned in the first chapter of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince". Through this portal, the UK's leader can sometimes have a chat with the Minister for Magic.

It's also where the wizard Kingsley Shacklebolt works undercover, guarding the Prime Minister against the dark magical forces led by Lord Voldemort. Seems like there's more to this place than you'd expect...

Tip:
Best enjoyed as part of a broader exploration of Whitehall and Westminster as a whole.
6
Household Cavalry Museum

6) Household Cavalry Museum

If you spend some time at Horse Guards, you're bound to encounter a member of the Household Cavalry either standing guard or riding past on horseback. They are a striking sight, dressed in vibrant crimson uniforms adorned with gleaming brass armor. Comprised of soldiers from the most prestigious regiments in the British Army, the Life Guard and the Blues and Royals, membership in this elite unit is considered a great honor. They serve as the official bodyguards of the Queen and play a vital role in state events, including the renowned Changing the Guard ceremony.

Located within the original 17th-century stables of the cavalry, the museum houses exhibits showcasing uniforms and weaponry dating all the way back to 1661. Additionally, there are interactive displays highlighting the regiments' present-day operational duties. In the tack room, visitors can handle saddles and bridles, and even try on a trooper's uniform, complete with the distinctive brass helmet featuring a horsehair plume. Behind a glass wall, you can also observe the working horses as they are cared for in their stable block.
7
Trafalgar Square

7) Trafalgar Square (must see)

Trafalgar Square holds the distinguished title of being the foremost square in Britain, making it the closest you can get to the heart of London. Interestingly, Charing Cross, a small traffic island situated to the south of the square, is the official reference point from which all distances to London are measured. Speaking of measurements, Trafalgar is also home to the Imperial Standard measures that were utilized in the UK prior to 1965, encompassing units like inches, feet, yards, links, chains, perches, and poles. These measures were originally installed in the northern terrace wall in 1876 but were relocated behind the cafe and arranged along the steps in 2003, coinciding with the conversion of the north side of the square into a pedestrian area.

The name "Trafalgar Square" pays homage to Admiral Lord Nelson, who met his fate on October 21, 1805, at the Battle of Trafalgar. This historic naval battle was part of the Napoleonic Wars and witnessed the British, led by Admiral Nelson, taking on the combined French and Spanish fleet. The Royal Navy achieved a resounding victory, regarded as its greatest triumph in history. In commemoration of this event, the name "Trafalgar Square" was officially bestowed in 1835.

Eight years later, another tribute to Lord Nelson emerged in the form of Nelson's Column, which was erected at the square's center. Constructed from Devon granite, the column featured four bronze reliefs at its base, illustrating Nelson's most renowned battles: Saint Vincent, Copenhagen, The Nile, and Trafalgar. In 1868, four guardian lions were added at its foot, replacing the original stone ones, which were considered inadequate. Sculpted by Edwin Landseer, these bronze statues were crafted with remarkable anatomical precision, although a notable error was made in depicting the concave back of a lying lion, contrary to reality.

Lord Nelson stands amidst cascading fountains, bustling crowds, and, until recently, a multitude of pigeons. A previous London mayor deemed the city's "winged rodents" a public annoyance and consequently removed the long-standing bird-feed vendors from the square.

Why You Should Visit:
Great place to unwind in the evening, surrounded by the charm of traditional London buildings.

Tip:
Sit on the steps as the sun sets, absorbing the sounds of London...
...or use Trafalgar Square as a starting point for exploring London's attractions.
8
National Gallery

8) National Gallery (must see)

For anyone with even a passing interest in art, placing a visit to this museum high on your London to-do list is a must, as it ranks among the world's premier art institutions. Boasting over 2,300 masterpieces, including works by renowned artists such as Michelangelo, Leonardo, Turner, Monet, van Gogh, Picasso, and many more, it's a true treasure trove of artistry. Enter through the grand portico that offers views of the north side of Trafalgar Square, and you'll find yourself immersed in a collection of exceptional artworks. Notably, the Sainsbury Wing, a modern structure located immediately to the left, primarily focuses on medieval art, and tends to be less crowded.

A full day could easily be spent exploring the riches within this institution. Among its most famous highlights are Hans Holbein's "The Ambassadors", a portrait of two affluent visitors from France surrounded by symbol-laden objects, including a captivatingly distorted giant skull at the base, revealed only from a certain angle; Jan van Eyck's "The Arnolfini Portrait", featuring a solemn couple holding hands, with a fish-eye mirror behind them mysteriously illuminating unseen details; Leonardo da Vinci's magnificent altarpiece "The Virgin of the Rocks", commissioned in 1480; and J. M. W. Turner's "Rain, Steam, and Speed—The Great Western Railway", a portrayal of the mystical dynamism of the steam age amidst rain, steam, and mist (be sure to spot the fleeing hare).

The National Gallery hosts special exhibitions, several of which occur annually and are often major events. These exhibitions typically require tickets, so booking in advance is advisable. However, admission to the permanent collection is always free. Guided tours of the collection and curator's talks are regularly held both within the gallery and online; you can find detailed information on the website.

Why You Should Visit:
Enjoy free admission and explore numerous rooms filled with exquisite art by a variety of artists, including some of the most renowned in history. You have the option to take photographs or use an audio guide to enhance your experience.

Tip:
For a dining experience in an artistic setting, consider the on-site restaurant at the National Gallery. It offers a unique menu that includes Colchester native oysters, alongside more traditional choices like cakes, sandwiches, teas, coffee, and more. The National Gallery also offers its own themed afternoon tea, with the menu and theme changing depending on the current exhibition. Regardless of the menu, you can always count on scones being a part of the experience. Afternoon tea is available daily, and no prior booking is required.
9
Admiralty Arch

9) Admiralty Arch

The grand tree-lined expanse of The Mall, often considered London's equivalent of a Parisian boulevard (though without the cafes), was designed in the early 20th century as a tribute to Queen Victoria and gracefully runs along the northern border of Saint James's Park. At the Trafalgar Square end of The Mall, you'll encounter the imposing Admiralty Arch, which, until recently, while at the opposite terminus stands the extravagant Victoria Memorial, a lavish 2300-tonne marble homage commissioned by Edward VII in honor of his mother.

Admiralty Arch is actually composed of five arches: two for pedestrians, two for vehicular traffic, and a central arch that is opened solely for state events. Until 2012, it served as a government building and even provided an alternative residence for the Prime Minister during the renovation of Downing Street. Presently, it is undergoing conversion into a luxury hotel and the site of a £150-million apartment, London's most opulent residence.

Keep an eye out for a peculiar bronze nose affixed to the inside wall of the right-hand traffic arch (when facing The Mall). This enigmatic nose was clandestinely placed there by a mischievous artist in 1997 and has since been allowed to remain. The precise reason for its presence remains a mystery, as does its symbolic significance. Some speculate that the nose pays homage to the Duke of Wellington, who was noted for his substantial nose, although concrete evidence is lacking. Nevertheless, this intriguing feature doesn't deter the Royal Horse Guards from their tradition of routinely rubbing the protrusion for good luck, a sign of their admiration for the Iron Duke.
10
St. James's Park

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

Many years ago, a royal once asked a courtier about the cost of closing Saint James's Park to the public. The courtier's response was, "Only your crown, ma'am". This park, bordered by three palaces—Buckingham, St. James's, and the governmental complex of the Palace of Westminster—is among London's most enchanting green spaces. Furthermore, it holds the distinction of being the oldest, as it was originally marshland acquired by Henry VIII in 1532 to serve as a deer nursery. Later, during the reign of James I, the land was drained, and an aviary was installed, giving rise to the name Birdcage Walk, along with a zoo that featured crocodiles, camels, and an elephant.

Upon Charles II's return from exile in France, where he was greatly impressed by the magnificent gardens of the Palace of Versailles, he redesigned the park into formal gardens, complete with avenues, fruit orchards, and a canal. The lawns became home to goats, sheep, and deer. In the 18th century, the park took on a different role as a hunting ground for affluent individuals seeking nighttime companions. A century later, John Nash revamped the landscape in a more naturalistic, romantic style. When gazing down the lake toward Buckingham Palace, you could easily imagine yourself on a country estate.

At the east end of the lake, there is Duck Island, home to a large population of waterfowl, including pelicans, geese, ducks, and swans that belong to the Queen. From March to October, you can find deck chairs available for a fee, filled with office workers enjoying lunch while being serenaded by music from the bandstands at midday. One of the most enjoyable times to stroll through the park's leafy walkways is in the evening, with Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament rising above the floodlit lake.

Why You Should Visit:
Ample green areas for relaxation and abundant wildlife.
Additionally, you might encounter live performances, events, or other enjoyable activities.
11
Buckingham Palace

11) Buckingham Palace (must see)

If Buckingham Palace were open year-round, it would undoubtedly rank as the most frequented tourist attraction in Britain. However, it welcomes the public for most of August and September and on some days in winter and spring.

A tour here encompasses the palace's 19 State Rooms, featuring magnificent gilt moldings and walls adorned with priceless Old Masters' artwork. The Grand Hall, followed by the Grand Staircase and Guard Room, astonish with their marble grandeur and opulent gold leaf decor, complemented by colossal, sparkling chandeliers. Other noteworthy stops include the dramatic Throne Room, housing the original 1953 coronation throne, and the Ballroom, where the Queen wielded a sword to confer knighthoods and other honors with a gentle touch on the recipient's shoulders. The State Dining Room is adorned with royal portraits, while the Blue Drawing Room dazzles with its resplendent beauty. The Music Room, designed in a bow-shaped layout, boasts lapis lazuli columns framing floor-to-ceiling arched windows, while the White Drawing Room's alabaster and gold plasterwork makes an imposing statement of affluence and authority.

The Changing the Guard ceremony remains one of London's most captivating free spectacles, culminating in front of the palace. To the accompaniment of live military bands, the old guard proceeds up The Mall from St. James's Palace to Buckingham Palace, followed shortly by the new guard from Wellington Barracks. In the forecourt, the captains of the old and new guards symbolically exchange the keys to the palace. Arriving early is advisable for the best vantage point.

Reasons to Visit:
Fascinating opportunity to explore portions of a functioning palace, even though access to its full 700 rooms is restricted.

Travel Tip:
Visitors gain entry via timed-entry tickets, with slots available every 15 minutes throughout the day. It's highly recommended to complement your visit with a guided tour of the extensive palace gardens, which can also be explored separately. Allocate up to two hours to fully appreciate the experience.
12
Queen's Gallery

12) Queen's Gallery

In today's London, it's almost a rite of passage for every visitor to make their way to Buckingham Palace to witness the renowned Changing of the Guard ceremony. However, what many may not realize is that the palace also boasts a remarkable attraction – the Queen's Gallery – which is a must-see in its own right. Interestingly, it's worth noting that at one point in history, Buckingham House, which once occupied the same location as the palace does today, was considered as a possible location for the British Museum. Ultimately, this idea was abandoned due to cost considerations.

During the Blitz in 1941, a bomb destroyed the palace's chapel. When the reconstruction efforts began, the decision was made not to rebuild the chapel but instead to create a Royal Museum, allowing the public to view items from the extensive Royal Collection. Surprisingly, this collection is three times larger than the National Gallery!

The Queen's Gallery was opened to the public in 1962 and currently hosts temporary exhibitions spanning seven rooms, showcasing pieces from the aforementioned collection, which includes a stunning array of artworks by renowned artists such as Michelangelo, Raphael, Holbein, Reynolds, Gainsborough, Vermeer, Van Dyck, Rubens, Rembrandt, and Canaletto. It also boasts the world's largest collection of Leonardo drawings, unique Fabergé eggs, and an abundance of Sèvres china, jewels, ceremonial weapons, and textiles.

Please note that photography and filming are strictly prohibited inside, and visitors are requested to turn off their mobile phones.

Pro Tip:
Don't forget that you can have your ticket stamped at the end of your visit for a complimentary return to other exhibitions within the next 12 months.
13
Hyde Park

13) Hyde Park (must see)

Hyde Park stands as one of London's most expansive Royal Parks, offering an array of attractions to explore. Among its notable features is Speakers' Corner, located on the northeastern side near Marble Arch. This iconic platform has served as a forum for campaigners, preachers, and individuals looking to express their views on various subjects, with one notable exception: criticizing the Queen. This tradition dates back to the mid-1800s and has hosted historic figures like Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, and George Orwell.

The roots of public speaking in this location extend centuries into the past, harkening back to the infamous Tyburn Gallows that once stood nearby. Between 1196 and 1783, over 50,000 people faced execution at Tyburn Gallows, each granted a final word before their hanging. Some confessed, others proclaimed their innocence, and some openly criticized the authorities. The spectacle of these executions drew crowds, and tickets were even sold. While the gallows have long since disappeared, the tradition of protest and expression in Hyde Park endures.

Not far from this area is Rotten Row, renowned as Britain's first illuminated street. King William III, who commissioned the road to link Kensington Palace and Saint James's Palace, installed 300 gas lamps along the route in the 1690s to ward off highwaymen. The name "Rotten Row" is a mispronunciation of the French "Route du Roi", meaning King's Road.

Another prominent site within the park is Apsley House, originally constructed for Lord Apsley in 1778. What makes it significant is its association with the first Duke of Wellington, who resided here after his victory over Napoleon at Waterloo. Positioned on the north side of Piccadilly, it was the first landmark that travelers from the west would encounter upon entering London, earning it the playful nickname "Number 1, London". While its official address is 149 Piccadilly, Hyde Park Corner, London, there's a persistent rumor that letters addressed to "Number 1, London" will still find their way here.

Hyde Park is divided by the Serpentine, a picturesque body of water cherished by nature enthusiasts and photographers. It's also a popular outdoor swimming destination in London, with the Serpentine Swimming Club holding the Peter Pan Cup here every Christmas, an event organized by "Peter Pan" author JM Barrie in 1904.

Why You Should Visit:
A multitude of activities to enjoy, making it a versatile and welcoming destination.

Tip:
If you're unfamiliar with the park, consider taking a map with you or renting a bike to explore its vast expanse. Nature lovers and photography enthusiasts should make sure to visit Serpentine Lake.

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South Bank Walking Tour

South Bank Walking Tour

The South Bank is a stretch of the Thames in London that is beautiful to walk through because there are so many iconic and magnificent things to see along the way. A lively and ever-changing area at the heart of London’s cultural scene, it also has the advantage of offering views across the Thames to some of the most famous buildings anywhere. The Palace of Westminster is the major feature in...  view more

Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.8 Km or 3 Miles
Shakespeare's London Walking Tour

Shakespeare's London Walking Tour

Often called England's national poet or simply "the Bard", William Shakespeare is revered as one of, if not the greatest playwright this world has ever seen. The dramas, such as Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth are among the finest creations in the English language, translated into every major language and performed more often than those of any other author....  view more

Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.7 Km or 2.9 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...