Tower of London
Founded by William the Conqueror in 1066, the tower has a fascinating history having been used as a fortress, royal palace, a prison, a place of execution and an armoury. The Yeomen Warders – more famously known as the ‘Beefeaters’ – give free tours and have great anecdotes. Hear all about the Ghost of Anne Boleyn and other fascinating stories spanning centuries of the Royal Family Tree. Both witty and informative this is not to be missed.
St Paul’s Cathedral
Among the skyscrapers of the city, the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral forms a dramatic part of the London skyline. Highlights include the Whispering Gallery – so-called as words spoken quietly against one wall can be heard on the opposite side. Walking over the Millennium Bridge from the Tate Modern art gallery provides a striking approach to the cathedral.
Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament)
The Gothic-revival façade of the Palace of Westminster is one of London’s best-known icons, with its famous clock tower, popularly known as ‘Big Ben’, looming over London – although the name is actually that of the bell inside. The meeting place of the House of Lords and the House of Commons, tours are available that give an insight into political life as well as the history of the building.
London has no shortage of fine palaces. Kensington Palace, the childhood home of Queen Victoria, and now the London residence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, is charming and has a delightful Orangery for lunch or afternoon tea. Hampton Court, on the outskirts of London, provides an interesting contrast. Part-Tudor, part Baroque, the palace is vast, including an impressive network of kitchens built by Henry VIII to feed his court, and is surrounded by beautiful gardens, including a maze.
Museums and galleries
London’s most famous museums include the Science Museum, the V&A and the Natural History Museum, all conveniently located in a cluster in South Kensington. Several museums stay open late: the V&A is open until 10pm on a Friday and the Science Museum has an adults-only late opening night on the last Wednesday of each month, except December. The British Museum over in Holborn is open until 8.30pm on a Friday. Highlights of London’s galleries include the Tate Modern and Tate Britain (art lovers can take a boat between the two) and the National Gallery – the National Gallery has 2,300 paintings in its collection but it has highlighted 30 of its best-known for those short on time, including van Gogh’s Sunflowers and Constable’s The Hay Wain.
The London Eye observation wheel provides a wonderful view of London but soaring above the city in a helicopter is a thrilling way to see the sights. Viewing London by boat also provides another perspective on the city, and a popular trip heads from Westminster to Greenwich, home to the Cutty Sark tea clipper, the National Maritime Museum and the Royal Observatory.
Dennis Severs’ House
Created by the artist Dennis Severs, visitors follow the tale of a fictional family of Huguenot silk-weavers from 1724 to 1914. Touring the candle-lit house in silence, you sense the family’s presence in every room as if they might just have left it for a moment.
Leighton House Museum
Victorian artist Frederic Leighton designed his home in Kensington to show off his collection of art and curios and includes a stunning ‘Arab Hall’, complete with golden dome and Islamic tiling.
Sir John Soane’s Museum
The architect Sir John Soane asked that his house remain untouched after his death, and 180 years on, it is as he left it: an eclectic treasure trove that includes Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress and an Egyptian sarcophagus.