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London Sights and Culture

Explore the City of Westminster
London Sights and Culture
London is home to streets and buildings that have shaped the history of the world. Allow them to transport you back in time and you will come home with a wealth of stories to share.
By Savi and Vid, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Savi and Vid
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    Explore the City of Westminster
    Explore the City of Westminster
    It's easy to spot Big Ben as you exit Westminster Tube station. The tower—whose actual name is Elizabeth Tower, but most know it by the famous moniker for its bell—boasts one of the world's largest four-faced chiming clocks, although it's undergoing much-needed repairs which means the famous bongs won't be heard againuntil 2021. Still, it's worth a trip to take in the iconic landmark's intricate exterior, which has been featured in countless films and TV shows, and the adjoining Houses of Parliament offer a peek into Britain's storied past. Take a guided tour to learn about the House of Commons, the House of Lords, and the Queen's Robing Room.
    Photo by Savi and Vid
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    From St. Paul's to Westminster Abbey
    From St. Paul's to Westminster Abbey
    London has a number of stunning cathedrals, with St. Paul's Cathedral one of the most famous. It is frequently used for important events like coronations, marriages, and state funerals. Its intricate architecture is endlessly fascinating and its dome provides one of the best viewing points in the city. England's most important religious building, Westminster Abbey, is another must-see. The dramatic gothic architecture of this 700-year-old building is a sight to behold. Over the years, it has seen the lives of poets, war heroes, statesmen, conquerers, and politicians unravel within its confines.
    Photo by Savi and Vid
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    Covent Garden's Frenetic Energy
    Covent Garden's Frenetic Energy
    There is never a dull moment at the crowded but festive Covent Garden, a labyrinthine open space peppered with restaurants, vintage markets, craft stalls, and independent boutiques. Take the time to enjoy the singers, magicians, and miscellaneous other street artists performing on every corner, before exploring the rich history of the area by visiting the London Transport Museum or the Royal Opera House. Pick up a unique gift at The Apple Market, which boasts of a variety of quirky craft stalls. Then head to Leicester Square, whose numerous alfresco restaurants hide one of the great movie theater treasures – the Prince Charles Cinema.
    Photo by Savi and Vid
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    Brick Lane and Spitalfields
    Brick Lane and Spitalfields
    The chaos and cosmopolitanism of Brick Lane and its neighboring Spitalfields is a far cry from the historical ambience of The City of Westminster. This lively area just east of central London has been home to French weavers, Jews, and Bangladeshi immigrants over the centuries. Today it is one of London's most artsy areas, and offers a peek into contemporary British society. Spend your day absorbing the radical street art on offer, sampling traditional Bangladeshi curries, and shopping at the independent boutiques and vintage stores in the area. Don't forget to sample the legendary salt-beef bagels at Beigel Bake, one of London's last traditional Jewish bakeries. The eclectic Spitalfields Market is open every day but is best on the weekend.
    Photo by Savi and Vid
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    Tower Bridge, the Shard and the London Eye
    Tower Bridge, the Shard and the London Eye
    London's famous suspension bridge, Tower Bridge, was built in the nineteenth century. It consists of two massive towers joined by walkways, and opens its bascules to allow ships to pass through. Visit The Tower Bridge Museum in the South Tower and opt for the Tower Bridge Experience to learn about its history and enjoy amazing views from the upper walkway. Stunning by day, the towers and walkways are even better at night when they are strategically lit and make for perfect photographs. As an alternative to viewing London from the bridge, check out the London Eye—a giant observation wheel built for the new millennium. Standing at over 400 feet high, each glass-walled capsule allows for a panoramic view of the city. For a true eagle eye's view, try the 72nd floor of the Shard.
    Photo courtesy of VisitBritain
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    Tour the Palaces
    Tour the Palaces
    The residence and office of Her Majesty the Queen, Buckingham Palace is one of the few working palaces in the world, and is used to entertain guests of State. A portion of the palace is open to the public from July to September, including rooms adorned with paintings by masters such as Rembrandt and Rubens. Time your visit to include the elaborate Changing of the Guard ceremony: There is nothing quite like seeing in person the bearskin hats, red uniforms, and gold buttons of the guards. Follow this with a visit to the grandiose Hampton Court Palace. A tour includes the palace’s impressive Tudor kitchens, which once fed over 600 people twice a day. The art deco Eltham Palace and Gardens in Greenwich is an excellent place to picnic.
    Photo courtesy of VisitBritain
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    Take a walk along the River Thames
    Take a walk along the River Thames
    The River Thames is one of London's most defining and appealing landmarks. The river snakes past most of London's illustrious sites and sometimes offers up panoramic views of the city. A number of companies run river cruises and boat tours, but the best way to experience the Thames is to take a leisurely stroll. The prettiest stretches of the river are found in Greenwich and Richmond, though the pedestrian area of the South Bank is arguably the most interesting, including a whole host of cultural landmarks from the Tate Modern to the Globe Theatre and Southwark Cathedral. No matter which section of the river you choose to explore there is bound to be a traditional pub along the way—pop in for a spot of English refreshment like no other.
    Photo by Gordon Scammell/age fotostock
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    Unwind in the Park
    Unwind in the Park
    London's parks are the lungs of the city, a perfect antidote to the urban sprawl. There are eight Royal Parks including Regent's Park and Kensington Gardens (perfect for picnics and flower shows), Greenwich Park and St. James's Park, and Hyde Park, which hosts London's most popular Christmas Market, as well as the chance to get on your soap box at Speakers' Corner. But there are plenty of open spaces both north and south of the river, none perhaps more unique than Hampstead Heath – proof that London has its own woods. No matter whether you're exploring markets in Richmond, visiting Buckingham Palace, or shopping at Oxford Street, there is always a park near by—keep your eyes open for activities that take place in the parks, from bird-watching courses to guided tours.
    Photo courtesy of VisitBritain
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    Historic Trafalgar Square
    Historic Trafalgar Square
    Trafalgar Square dominates the landscape near Charing Cross. It was made to commemorate the Battle of Trafalgar; at the center is Nelson's column, which features a statue of Horatio Nelson—the vice admiral who commanded the British Fleet at the battle. The column is flanked by four majestic lions and overlooked by the historic National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, which house masterpieces by famed artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Claude Monet, and J.M.W. Turner. This area is crowded—mainly with tourists—during the day, but at night once the crowds have thinned it is absolutely magical—perfect for a walk after dinner. Carry on down Whitehall for the home of the British government – from 10 Downing Street to Churchill's War Rooms.
    Photo by Anders Good/age fotostock
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    A Taste of the Countryside at London's City Farms
    A Taste of the Countryside at London's City Farms
    London's city farms are the perfect way to experience the bucolic nature of the English countryside without actually leaving the city. There are a large number of farms you can visit, most of which include animals, fresh produce, and children’s areas. You can volunteer on many of them, if you are so inclined, and experience England's agrarian side hands-on. Mudchute Park and Farm, one of London’s largest city farms, is built on 32 acres on the Isle of Dogs. There are over 100 animals including pigs, sheep, turkeys, ducks, horses, and even llamas. It is undeniably surreal to be at a farm within sight of the Canary Wharf skyscrapers, but this unique experience is well worth your while, especially if you have children with you.
    Photo by Savi and Vid
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    Hit up the West End shops
    Hit up the West End shops
    British MuseumBritish Museum44 Doughty Street small independents (check out the Charing Cross bookshops) to high street brands  to designer boutiques… the further west you travel, towards Bond Street, the more expensive the clothes get. But perhaps the best experiences are London's oldest, and most famous, department stores, including Selfridges and Liberty. And why would you leave without checking out the city's most iconic toy store, Hamley's?
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    Join Bloomsbury's cultural elite
    Join Bloomsbury's cultural elite
    From the Euston Road to Holborn, the area known as Bloomsbury has been the home of some of the most influential authors, composers and artists in the world. You can spot its legacy in the blue plaques that dot the buildings, telling you who lived there – the infamous Bloomsbury Set of the 1930s (including Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell, John Maynard Keynes and EM Forster) are much in evidence. Charles Dickens fans should head straight to 44 Doughty Street, former home of the famous Victorian novelist, while the British Museum houses a vast collection of classical antiquity, as well as more contemporary exhibits. While you're in the area, don't miss Sir John Soane's house, just south of Holborn, one of the best boutique museums in the city.