The Historic London, England by Ray Raposo

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Ray and Peg by London's Tower Bridge plus David Wynne's 'Girl with a Dolphin' sculpture on north side of Thames River

After traveling all around the USA during the 70s and 80s, our first trip to Europe in the early fall of 1994 started in London, England. In subsequent visits, I’ve come to appreciate London’s cultural treasures more and more. London is the capital and most populous city of England and the United Kingdom. Standing on the curvy River Thames in the south east of the island of Great Britain, it has been a major settlement for two thousand years. This is now a modern 21st-century city but with history stretching back to Roman times. 

London’s House of Parliament and Big Ben next to the Thames River

At its centre, right by the river, stand the imposing Houses of Parliament, the iconic ‘Big Ben’ clock tower and Westminster Abbey, site of British monarch coronations. Across the Thames River, sits the (now Coca Cola sponsored) London Eye, a giant Ferris observation wheel that provides panoramic views of the South Bank cultural complex, and the entire city. It slowly makes one whole revolution, never stopping, but going slow enough for passengers to get on and get off. 

A London Eye pod and view from top of wheel
Ray and view from London Eye
The National Gallery of Art in Trafalgar Square
Peg sits inside the The National Gallery

London has numerous museums and art galleries, many are free, including the British Museum, the Natural History Museum, the National Art Gallery, the Science Museum, Tate Modern Art Museum, the Museum of London, the National Portrait Gallery, The Victoria and Albert Museum and at least a dozen others. We visited most of these I’ve listed here and they are outstanding.

The entrance to the Tate Modern art museum
Ray inside the Tate Modern art museum.
By the Greek Revival entrance to the British Museum
Inside the British Museum

The  British Museum is the most popular visited attraction in all of the United Kingdom. The museum features ancient statues and artwork from many ancient civilizations including Greek, Roman and Egyptian. It also houses the Rosetta Stone, a large Granodiorite rock, which with it’s 3 ancient texts, provided the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs.

The Rosetta Stone, provided the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs.

The imposing exterior entrance is a Greek Revival facade with 44 ionic columns 45 feet high. Once inside, The Reading Room and Great Court glass roof added in 2005 provide a most impressive start to the museum. If paintings and sculptures, are more of interest, you’ll love the fabulous National Art Gallery, right in Trafalgar Square. For more modern art tastes there’s the Tate Modern, which has been recently enlarged and sits facing the Thames River. If you’re interested in the fascinating history of the city, don’t miss the Museum of London, you won’t be disappointed.

Entrance to the Museum of London
Inside the Museum of London
In front of Buckingham Palace’s Gates.
Inside Buckingham Palace, a guard stands at attention.
When many think of London the British Royal Family comes to mind. Queen Elizabeth’s London residency, Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace, the home of Princes William and Harry, both are tourist attractions as well. 
By Victoria Circle monument by Buckingham Palace
Part of Kensington Palace’s gardens
Queen Victoria monument in front of Kensington Palace.

One can tour both of these palaces, or just view them from the outside. Kensington Palace is surrounded by Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park which make for a fine relaxing walk.

The Tower of London and the White Tower.

Another popular stop is where the royals of yesteryear lived, and many died… The Tower of London. It’s a moat and double walled fortified castle next to the river’s north bank by the most iconic Tower Bridge. Started in the 11th Century, the Tower of London consists of a complex of buildings inside the walls. The biggest building is the White Tower that gives it its name; and the Inner Ward, where the crown jewels of England are kept. There’s the Armory and Museum where you can see Henry VIII’s many armors for him and his horse as well.

Tower guards are called Yeoman Warders or Beefeaters

Beginning with the Tutors, the Tower became less residence and associated more with a prison by the 16th Century. The Tower of London is one of four World Heritage sites in London which also includes Kew Gardens which encompasses Westminster Abbey and Palace, St. Margaret’s Church, as well as the historic Greenwich and the Royal Observatory.

Peg by Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey is an impressive Gothic church and the traditional place for all coronations, numerous royal weddings and burial sites of English monarchs. The Westminster area is the central city center, and its a must for all visitors.

Ray atop one of the huge lion sculptures in Trafalgar Square

Some of the other attractions include the Piccadilly Circus area, the huge St. Paul’s Cathedral and Trafalgar Square, a gathering area that features fountains, some enormous lion sculptures, Nelson’s Column and includes the National Art Gallery.

The Shard skyscraper and a Tube Subway entrance

There’s also the newer Shard skyscraper with an observation area, and the aforementioned Tower Bridge. Many mistakingly think the bridge is the popular song’s namesake, London Bridge. The beautiful Tower Bridge consists of two towers with two upper level crossing walkways and a street level with the rising bridge section to let ships pass underneath. Construction of the bridge started in 1886, with several renovations over the years, a mayor one finished in 2010, and the last one in 2016. You can tour the Tower Bridge Exhibition inside the towers for a historical view and why it was so important to the city. 

Standing next to The Tower of London with The Tower Bridge in background.
London’s West End theater district

If you’re into live shows and theater, there’s the West End theater district. It is London’s Broadway, where you’ll find a slew of live shows. With both plays and musicals playing continuously. There are almost 20 theaters in the West End area and hundreds outside the area throughout London.

The Globe Theater by the Thames River

One of those outside the West End is the iconic Globe Theater. It is an oak-and-thatch replica of the original Elizabethan one showing Shakespeare plays in open air. The theater also sits by the Thames River, near both the Tate Modern and the actual site of the original Globe Theater. 

London street by Selfridges showcasing Fashion Week.
London offers so may attractions that I could go on and on and never finish… I’ll mention just a few more areas and things to see. There’s the circular Royal Albert Hall concert arena on the south side of Kensington Gardens, while on the north side of Hyde park is the Marble Arch. Other smaller parks are sprinkled around town as well. Nearby Paddington, just north of the park you’ll find The London Zoo, Abbey Road Studios and the Beatles’ famous zebra street crossing. The Sherlock Homes Museum and Madam Trousseau are both nearby as well. 
Sitting in Selfridges Department Store
If shopping is your thing, you wouldn’t want to miss a visit to either Harrods, Selfridges or Liberty London. Harrods has 7 floors and 330 departments with the finest products including food, homeware, technology and of course fashion. It also has 20 restaurants and specialty services available. Selfridges department store has an incredible collection of high end brands as well as eateries. Liberty London has a Tutor exterior and features a whole range of cutting edge designs and multiple designer fashions.
Outside one of the many pubs in London
One can’t forget that London is a city full of pubs and restaurants. The numerous pub bars offer a taste of classic old English meeting and relaxing venues. Over the years the variety of London eating establishments and many venues has grown enormously. Where there was mainly just typical English, Indian and Chinese fare, now there’s something available to every type of palate. You’ll find fancy restaurants as well as fast food eateries.
Getting around is made easy by their subway system known as the Tube and labelled by signs that read:  “Underground”. Once you familiarize yourself with the different color coded lines and stops, it’s a breeze to use and you can connect all the way to Heathrow Airport, way west of London proper. You can also use the famous double decker red colored London busses which you’ll see all over town as well as the iconic black London Taxi cabs. Since they drive on the opposite side of the road, I would caution you from both driving in London and being extra careful when crossing the street, as vehicles come at you from the right instead of the left.
The Dickens Inn, a Tutor style restaurant near The Tower of London
Modern London offers something for just about anyone. You can also take day trips to surrounding towns and villages, where you’ll find something of interest for every taste. You can catch a train, or book a bus tour to numerous locations. We’ve enjoyed trips to Bath, a quaint historic warm springs town; the university town of Oxford; Shakespeare’s birthplace in the lovely Stratford-upon-Avon; the historic Medieval Warwick Castle; the white cliffs of Dover and seaside town of Folkestone, just to name a few. 
 
Hopefully you’ll be able to enjoy a visit to London and maybe other parts of England. It’s definitely another dream vacation location.
St. Peter’s Cathedral across The Thames River
London’s red double decker buses by Marble Arch
Typical London Row house buildings.
London’s iconic red telephone booths

® All photos by Ray or Peg Raposo

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