Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee and the approaching date of the summer Olympics make London the place to be in 2012. Three short years ago my son and I visited the capital city of England and were left with fond memories. I have been recounting these memories lately every time I see an image of a red phone booth or Big Ben on television and now have a desire to return to one of my favorite cultural cities. Unfortunately, London is not about my summer travel plans and the closest I’ll be getting a taste of England is visiting the Lost Colony when we go to the Outer Banks, North Carolina in August! For now, I’ll be happy reliving the memories of this fascinating city while sharing some of the highlights of our trip through this post.
Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus
On our first day in central London, we visited Trafalgar Square which had served as a public space from when it was first opened in 1844 to commemorate the great naval battle of 1805 (the Battle of Trafalgar) when the English defeated the French Fleet under Admiral Lord Nelson during the Napoleonic Wars. Nelson’s column dominates the square and stands at 170 feet and is guarded by bronze lions. After we had checked out some of the statues and fountains, we spent some time on the north side of the square at the National Art Gallery which houses some of the world’s greatest European art collections. I thoroughly enjoyed viewing many of the masterpieces of art, my son, however, had more fun “people watching” at one of the open-air Cafe’s afterward when we stopped for lunch.
Piccadilly Circus is another public space is in London’s west end. This busy road junction is at the end of Regent Street. The bright neon signs on the corner buildings reminded me of Times Square. Dubbed as “the hub of London.” there is no shortage of stores to shop, restaurants, and entertainment.
Parliament and Big Ben
The best way to visit Parliament is by a guided tour. Tours are available on Saturdays and six weeks in the summer. The tour is a little over an hour, and you get to see places like the Commons and Lords Chambers, the Queen’s Robing Room, the Royal Gallery, and Westminster Hall. Since both my son and I love history, the tour was an excellent way to learn about what Parliament does and its history at different times.
UK residents can only visit the clock tower of Parliament, more commonly known as Big Ben. Although we couldn’t visit Big Ben, we still found it exciting to be standing in front of London’s most famous landmarks.
The London Eye
The husband and wife team, David Marks and Julia Barfield created London Eye to celebrate the millennium and give visitors a unique view of the city. The London Eye is the world’s tallest observation wheel and has 32 large capsules rotating continuously. The long line was well worth the wait to enjoy the panoramic view. At night the Eye is lit up with different colored lights.
Cruising the Thames
After getting a bird’s eye view of the city, we decided to get a closer look by cruising the Thames River. We boarded one of the city cruises that left from the London Eye Pier. We enjoyed taking in the views of the iconic Tower Bridge, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Millennium Footbridge and the HMS Belfast.
Tower of London
The Tower of London was amazing. Associated with so many important events in English history, we learned that it had served as a citadel, palace prison, mint, and menagerie. Built-in 1078 (now that was a long time ago), the White Tower stored 500 years of high armor, the prisoner’s exhibition, the Ravens and of course the Crown Jewels. We enjoyed all the different exhibits, but it was a little overwhelming, and if I had to do it again, I would join the Yeoman Warder tour.
The Iconic Symbol of London
The Tower Bridge Exhibition brings you inside the world’s most famous bridge. The original hydraulic machinery is in the museum. The upper walkway is another great place to take given the Thames and the Tower of London.
St. Katharine Docks and Fish & Chips
East of the Tower Bridge, built in 1827, lies St. Katharine Docks. Today it is a yacht marina. There were several restaurants and shops, and we found it refreshing because even though we were in the heart of historic London, we didn’t feel like we were in a tourist trap. We enjoyed watching the boats arrive via the lock bridge and enjoyed some fish and chips over an early dinner. Of course, we couldn’t leave London without sampling some British food.
Our visit to London is one of my favorite trips. I had traveled out of the United States many times, but this was the first trip that I traveled internationally with my son. Another reason why the trip was special is that we were able to visit one of my best friends who at the time was living in London, but has since moved to Singapore. I loved being entrenched in history and being from New York; I found it easy to get around. London offers so much to history and culture that unfortunately we couldn’t see and do it all! We will have to make another trip some day soon. In the meantime, I’ll be watching the Olympics remembering our days in London.
Do you have plans to head to London this summer?
Enjoyed this post? You might like another related post – A Tale of Two Palaces, Hamleys, and Hyde Park, An Afternoon of Child’s Play and A Trip to a Prehistoric Monument