London is one of the world’s top destinations for travelers — and no surprise why.
The city is packed with everything: world-class museums, Broadway shows, dozens of public parks, boutiques and restaurants galore, a historic castle in the middle of the city with dungeons and jewels, and a 443-foot-tall Ferris wheel.
More than 15 million people from all over the world visit The City every year, making it one of the world’s most visited areas in terms of international visits.
I’ve been to London three times now, and there’s always something new to see. This time around, I got to visit Borough Market, Harrods Food Hall and Warner Bros. Studio Tours London (read: the set of “Harry Potter”) for the first time. And there were a few other spots — Sherlock Holmes Museum on Baker Street, Kensington Palace and the Lamb & Flag, possibly the oldest pub in London — that I missed. But since this was my husband’s first time to London, we planned on hitting some of the usual spots.
I believe that there are some places, no matter how commercialized or crowded, are must-stops on any travel list. Can you really visit Paris without a stop at the Eiffel Tower? And why go all the way to Peru if not to stop and marvel at Machu Picchu?
Same goes for London.
There are some things you just have to see. Some are worth the long queues (British for “lines”) and others, well, are not.
Here’s my take on a few popular London attractions — and you can decide whether or not you want to put them on your list:
Tower of London, London. Phone: 0844 482 7777
What used to be called Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress is one of the top attractions in London, with more than 2 million people visiting every year. Interestingly enough, it has been a visitor favorite since at least the Elizabethan period with the most popular displays being the Royal Menagerie and suits of armor. Today, people wander around this complex of buildings, with the longest lines outside the torture chambers — of course — and the tower housing the Crown Jewels. There are beefeaters — yeoman warders — still working the castle grounds (though now more as tour guides), which adds to the whole experience. I’ve never been here without hoards of other people, so if you want to see this place, you’ll have to deal with that. But this historic castle on the north bank of the Thames is worth visiting at least once. As my husband said, “It’s a living, breathing history experience.”
British Museum, Great Russell St., London. Phone: 020 7323 8299
The British Museum is one of those things: It’s there and it’s free, so you may as well go. (The museums in London are all free, though it’s suggested — and advised, really — to offer up a donation.) But you’ll be surprised how much is crammed into this historic building on Great Russell Street. Its permanent collection totals some 8 million works, among the largest and most comprehensive in the world. And on display is everything from the famous Rosetta Stone to the stuff the Brits stole from the Parthenon in Greece. If you want a quick lesson in world history, this is the place to go. Cameras are allowed everywhere, and you can even touch Egyptian artifacts. Personally, I love the clocks and money exhibits.
Westminster Abbey, 20 Deans Yard. Phone: 020 7222 5152
Who doesn’t love Westminster Abbey, the stunningly beautiful gothic church in the City of Westminster where countless royalty have wed, including Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011. While you could just photograph the exterior — it’s one of the most photographed buildings in London — you can tour some exhibits including a collection of royal and other funeral effigies and the graves of such significant historical figures as Jane Austen, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin. And with Parliament and Big Ben just across the street — not to mention the Tower Bridge and other attractions — a stop at the Abbey won’t derail your London plans.
Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road. Phone: 44 (0)20 7942 5000
This was the first time I’ve been to the Natural History Museum — or anywhere in that area — and I was pleasantly surprised. This museum is home to about 80 million life and earth science specimens in five collections, even some collected by Charles Darwin himself. The big draw here is its dinosaur skeletons, which weren’t accessible when we went. (The exhibit was closed for maintenance.) It was adequately interesting — but I probably wouldn’t go back.
Harrods Food Hall, 87-135 Brompton Road
The last time I was in London, people bugged me about not going to Harrods, the upmarket department store in Knightsbridge. This store, which sprawls over 5 acres, is best known for its food hall. Like the department stores in Japan, the bottom floor of Harrods is dedicated to all things food, from tapas to high tea to gastropub fare to high-end produce and goods. We actually didn’t have that much time to wander around, but the quick walk-through — with a nice meal at one of the restaurants — was enough to entice me to come back.
An old-fashioned English pub
The short answer? Yes. Pubs are a must. And it doesn’t really matter which one you go to. Most of them are the same, serving British ales (warm) and traditional pub fare like fish and chips and meat pies. We found this one — Jack Horner — by accident, walking around looking for another restaurant. It sounded inviting — who doesn’t love nursery rhymes? — and there wasn’t any line to get in (bonus). So we walked in, grabbed a table, ordered some grub, including a cottage pie and chips with London’s legendary Brown Sauce, and called it a night. A great night.
Follow Cat on her #FoxHoneymoon to England, Scotland and Ireland on Twitter @thedailydish and Instagram @catherinetoth. Track her travels at #CatTravels.