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Top sights in London

September 30, 2011

London is a fascinating place filled with hundreds of years of bloodshed, adultery, betrayal, political conspiracies, etc. At the same time it offers modern, posh places to browse through to take a break from all the dark and evil history. Here are the list of must-sees when visiting London:

1. London Eye

One of the landscape icons of London is the London Eye, which is basically a Ferris wheel located right in the middle of the city on the Thames river. We did not go up (we decided to spend 18 GBP per person on beer instead), but on the last day I noticed an ad for a London Eye restaurant which might be a reasonable way to go as you can get meal with the view (but I am not sure about the price).

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2. London Tower and Tower Bridge

IMHO, the best thing to see in London is the London Tower. You don’t need to be a history buff to appreciate this place. The entrance fee is ~20 GBP per person, which is totally worth it. (We actually had a 2 for 1 deal, which we picked up at the train station on the way back from Cambridge.) The price includes an hour long tour which is conducted by Beefeaters (retired military soldiers who “guard” the tower). You can easily spend half a day walking around the towers and looking at various exhibitions of weapons, armory, torture tools (although I was disappointed with the breadth), Crown Jewels where you can see the 530 carat diamond from Africa).

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3. Big Ben and the Parliament

I got to first see the Big Ben at night with its face lighting up the dark London skies.

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It looked just as pretty in the day time.

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4. Westminster Abbey

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We did not go inside the Westminster Abbey (we weren’t that interested in seeing graves of famous people), but we passed the building a few times marveling at its beautiful architecture.

5. Greenwich Market and Observatory

I ran into a London-based journalist at the BUILD conference a week prior to the trip and he recommended that we take a clipper boat up the Thames to Greenwich and stroll through the park and the market area. I am so glad we followed his recommendation. Greenwich is beautiful.

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(Did you notice anything interesting about the clock behind us? We didn’t at first.)

I am not a big market fan, but I was impressed with the selection of handmade artistry. We purchased two beautiful photos of London (and my bargaining tactics were a success). 

6. Trafalgar Square and the Art Gallery

We stopped by Trafalgar square twice. The first time was through our walking tour where we witnessed the Tour of London. Crazy fast cyclists were zooming by with crowds cheering them on.

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The second time was on the way to National Art Gallery. It was on a Saturday so the square was packed for a festival and concert.

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I love browsing through museums. Being to the Met and Smithsonian’s a few times, I have  a pretty high bar for Art galleries. London’s National Gallery has a wide range of 14th-19th century artists: Leonardo Da Vinci, Raffaello, Monet, Manet, Renoir, Vincent van Gogh, Gauguin. They’ve got all the big guys well covered. Smile We also went to the Portrait Gallery next door to look at Tudors portraits.

7. Buckingham Palace and St. James Park

We got lucky with the weather during the trip and had a nice picnic in St. James Park of bread, cheese and fruit. We returned to the Buckingham Palace to watch the guard change the next day.

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8. Guard change

This is the best show in town. I first thought there will be a couple of soldiers changing shifts in a few minutes. Was I ever mistaken! During summer months the change of guard happens daily at 11:30, but Sept-May it’s every other day. You’d want to get there at least half an hour before to find a good spot as it’s a huge tourist attraction. If you get lucky, you will get entertained while waiting for the guard change to start by one of the local protest groups– in our case it was Justice for Fathers, who want child visitation rights, so they dress up like superheroes and climb on things, to demonstrate that they are responsible adults (!?!).

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The first group of guards came from the center of St. James park.

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The second group appeared from the right about ten minutes later:

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And if that wasn’t enough, they brought out the cavalry.

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9. Kensington Palace and Hyde Park

Kensington Palace was closed for restoration and only one wing was opened with a guest exhibit, so we did not get to see the inside of the palace (a bit of a letdown).

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The best part was high tea at the Orangery restaurant where I got the traditional English tea experience of London’s finest Breakfast tea and freshly baked fruit scone with cream (something between butter, sour cream and cream cheese) & jam. Eric went with an American classic – Carrot Cake with Cream cheese frosting Smile

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To walk off some of the delicious calories, we strolled through the Hyde Park on our way to Harrods. In the park, I posed next to Peter Pan statue, dipped my hands in Princess Diana’s Fountain, almost got bitten by a swan, and met a new friend, Charlie.

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10. Harrods

Harrods is a bit overrated, if you ask me. For starters, it’s extremely expensive and crowded. The designers cost the same in GBP as they do in US$ back home, and they don’t have any sales! “Featuring 300 departments” translated to 300 small rooms that you keep getting lost in, so after 30 minutes of fighting through crowds and feeling out of place around the posh merchandise we hit the street. We spotted Eric’s fantasy car on the way, but we were too shy to go in to see it in person, and had to settle for drooling at the window.

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[Jane Asks]: What would be your top pick to see in London?

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. October 3, 2011 6:11 pm

    Hogwarts 🙂

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