London, the capital and largest city in England and Great Britain. Considered by many to be the cultural and entertainment centre of Europe. The city offers so much that if we want to see everything and visit every attraction, a six-month visit may not be enough.
London’s population is steadily approaching 10 million (at the moment, London has about 9 million inhabitants), and the city itself is a kind of international melting pot. We can find every possible cuisine here and we will observe probably every existing culture.
The history of the city goes back to prehistoric times. The Romans also had their settlement here after the invasion in 43 AD. In the 2nd century, Roman London (Londinium) had a population of nearly 60,000.
The city began to gain importance again in the Middle Ages. The Westminster Abbey and the Tower Fortress (both complexes are inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List) come from this period. In addition to them, there are two other attractions on the UNESCO list, the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew and the Old Royal Naval College complex in Greenwich.
London is one of the few cities that really live around the clock. No matter what time we reach the city centre, it will be loud and noisy around us. It is worth going around in the evening and sees the city from this site, especially in Soho.
How to visit London?
The most enjoyable way to visit London is to combine strenuous walks with the use of public transport to travel to more remote attractions. Much of historic London is easily accessible on foot, although some attractions will require us to travel.
How much time should you spend exploring London?
London can be the perfect destination for a short weekend getaway as well as a long two-week vacation. It all depends on the attractions we would like to visit and see.
It is definitely not worth planning visits to too many attractions at once. The collections of London museums are really extensive and we will not be able to satisfactorily visit all the most important places quickly.
When is the best time to visit London?
If we care about the weather, we should consider visiting London from May to September. Unfortunately, tourists are crowded at this time and sightseeing may not be very pleasant. Some attractions related to the British Monarchy, such as Buckingham Palace, may only be visited during the holiday months.
In the winter months, from November to February, there are definitely fewer tourists and visiting the historical attractions and museums is very pleasant. It happens that only single people are in paid attractions. The exception here is the second half of December, which is the holiday season. During this time, London becomes colourful and attracts many tourists.
In winter, walks along the Thames and visits to gardens and parks may not be very enjoyable. Green areas in this period can look grey and depressing.
Public transport in London
Public transport in London seems complicated and difficult to understand at first glance. It is definitely worth getting acquainted with the method of payment for tickets and the various means of transport before arrival, thanks to which we will reduce the level of stress when visiting the capital of England.
We have prepared a separate article describing in a practical way the use of public transport in the capital of England. We encourage you to read it before leaving.
A more original way to explore London is by bike. The city is very friendly to two-wheeled travellers and boasts many kilometres of bicycle routes. In travelling by bike, for example, the Google maps application helps, on which we can plan a bicycle-friendly route between two points.
There is also an extensive system of city bikes in London. There are over 11,000 two-wheelers available for rent, located at 750 stations.
Transport for London (TfL) is responsible for city bikes. The station map can be found on this page. After clicking on the dot, a list of free bikes for a specific station will be displayed.
The way the system works is similar to other European cities. The rental cost consists of two parts: a fixed fee for the use of a bicycle for 24 hours (cost £ 2) and a fee for the duration of the ride.
The first 30 minutes of each ride (from the moment you download your bike to connecting it back to the docking station) is free. However, each subsequent 30 minutes costs £ 2. So it’s best to plan the sightseeing route so that our rides are short. Unfortunately, the downside of such a solution is the fact that we will not find available bikes at every station.
The process of renting a bike is relatively simple. We only need a credit or debit card with which we go to the terminal at the station. After booking, we will receive a code that allows us to download the bike. During one booking, we can download up to 4 bikes.
London offers visitors a whole host of attractions and interesting places. From historical monuments, through stadiums and modern business estates, to top-class museums. Before your arrival, it is worth getting acquainted with the available possibilities and preparing a sensible sightseeing plan.
Buckingham Palace, Queen Victoria Monument and Changing of the Guard
For many tourists, the greatest symbol of the British royal family in London is Buckingham Palace, which has been the official seat of the monarch since 1837. The palace building certainly impresses with its size – several hundred chambers and rooms are located on 77,000 square meters.
Some readers may be pleased that the apartments and the palace itself are open to visitors, although unfortunately not everyone visiting London will be able to do so. The royal apartments are available to visit only for 10 weeks a year (from July 20 to September 29 [last update June 2019]), and the entrance tickets are very expensive. On this page, you can check the exact admission times and purchase a ticket.
Throughout the year, we can visit the Royal Mews located a bit further, where are exhibited, among others. carriages belonging to the British monarchy. Between the stables and the palace, there is a characteristic building housing The Queen’s Gallery, an art gallery with collections belonging to the crown. In addition to the permanent collection (including works by old masters and a collection of decorations inside), temporary exhibitions are organized inside. Unfortunately, unlike many other art galleries in London, entrance to the Queen’s Gallery is ticketed.
Solemn Changing of the Guard
Most of the year, the Changing of the Guard takes place every other day (Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays) at 11:00 am. During the summer months (usually from May to July), a ceremonial changing of the guard is organized every day.
Attention! The Changing of the Guard ceremony may be cancelled in case of bad weather and during various important state events. A detailed schedule can be checked on the official website of the British army at this address.
During the changing of the guard, the new guards take over from those who leave their places with the duty of protecting the queen. Music plays during the ceremonial ceremony, and the guards are dressed in their traditional clothes: black pants, red tunics and high black hats.
Not every tourist is aware of the fact that there is another ceremonial changing of the guard taking place in London, not far away. The Queen’s Life Guard is being changed at London’s largest parade, Horse Guards Parade, on the eastern side of St James’s Park. In the past, the square was part of the Whitehall Palace and was used to host various events, including the annual celebration of the birth of the famous Queen Elizabeth I or knightly tournaments.
It is worth noting that this large square was used as a parking lot in the 1990s. It was only the tragic terrorist attack that led to the decision to restore the square’s purely representative function.
The Horse Guards Parade ceremony takes place every day: Monday to Saturday at 11:00 am and Sunday at 10:00 am. Attention! Hours and days are subject to change. Detailed information on changes to the schedule can be found on this page.
Queen Victoria Monument
At the beginning of the 20th century, an impressive Queen Victoria Memorial was erected in front of Buckingham Palace, which is today one of the most characteristic buildings in London. The monument, 25 meters high and topped with a golden statue, took over 20 years to build. Its designer was Thomas Brock. The monument was first unveiled on May 16, 1911, and construction work lasted from 1901 (the project was created a few months after the queen’s death) until 1924.
To the north of the monument, there is a pleasant park called Green Park, where we can rest from the crowds of tourists and hide from the sun.
The entrance to the park is guarded by the richly decorated Canada Gate, which was created as an integral part of the Queen Victoria Monument. The name of the gate is not accidental – it is a gift given by the Canadian authorities, which at that time was part of the British Empire. The Canada Memorial was erected near the entrance to the park, a modest monument to commemorate the million Canadian soldiers (including nearly 100,000 casualties) who fought alongside the British during World War I and II.
The monument is shaped like a granite slab covered with maple leaves (one of Canada’s most important symbols) in bronze.
Westminster is a borough that covers a vast area of central London on the north side of the River Thames. In the past, Westminster was an independent city. The present-day boundaries of the district include, among others Westminster Palace and Abbey and Buckingham Palace. Today, most tourists make their first steps in London in the vicinity of the famous Palace of Westminster.
The Palace of Westminster is known to everyone and is associated with the characteristic Elizabeth Tower. Don’t you know the name? Elizabeth’s Tower is mistakenly referred to as Big Ben. And where does this error come from? Big Ben is the name of the great clock bell located on the upper levels of the tower. The colloquial name has become so popular that almost no one uses the original and correct nomenclature anymore.
The British Parliament is located in the complex. Not everyone is aware, however, that the Palace of Westminster in its present shape was not built until 1840-1870. The medieval palace on this site burned down in 1834.
Right next to the Victoria Tower, there is one of the last remaining elements of the old palace – the 14th century Jewel Tower. The structure was established in 1365 and the treasures of Edward III were initially kept here. The tower can be visited. Inside, we will see the original architecture of the building and a small exhibition.
The Palace of Westminster can be visited on a 90-minute guided tour. We can buy tickets online or at the ticket offices (remember that there may not be enough seats in the season). More information can be found on the official website of the British Parliament.
On the west side of the Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey is one of the most important places in England’s history. The kings of England are crowned within the walls of the abbey. The first took place in 1066 when William the Conqueror was crowned. Inside, we find the burial places of many famous British people, including William Shakespeare, William Blake, Isaac Newton or the amazing tomb of Elizabeth I.
Unfortunately, the entrance to Westminster Abbey is not cheap.
North of the palace and the abbey you will find the pleasant Parliament Square Garden surrounded by sculptures (including the statue of Winston Churchill). On the west side of the square, we can see the facade of the British Supreme Court, from the south, the Church of St. Margaret, and on its northern side, there is a government building in the basement of which the British authorities operated during the war. Today the complex (Churchill War Rooms) is open to tourists. We will also find Churchill’s museum there.
St James’s Park
St James’s Park is one of the most enjoyable city parks in London. Looking at the map, it can be said that it separates Buckingham Palace from the Prime Minister’s seat at 10 Downing Street, i.e. the royal power from the executive. A small lake flows through the middle of the park. In the park, we will meet residents walking or squirrels approaching fearlessly. During the walk, we will in no way feel that we are in the heart of a large metropolis.
East of the park stands the Royal Horse Guards. The building itself is worth seeing from the outside, and today the Household Cavalry Museum is located inside.
One of the most iconic squares in London is Trafalgar Square. The square was named after the victorious naval battle of 1805, during which the islanders defeated the united forces of France and the Kingdom of Spain. The square played an important role in the city since the 13th century, when the royal stables were located here.
In the centre of the square stands Admiral Nelson’s column surrounded by four lions, and next to it are fountains. The most important building on the square is the British National Gallery, one of the most important art galleries in the world. The square is a kind of artistic center. It is occupied by street musicians and artists, some paint beautiful works with chalk on the pavement.
It is best to walk to Trafalgar Square from the Palace of Westminster area along Whitehall Street, which is surrounded by beautiful buildings and monuments (including a monument to some women who lived during World War II)
On the way, we will see, among others Banqueting House, which is the last remnant of the historic Whitehall Palace. Inside, we can see the ceiling decorated with works painted by Piotr Rubens.
Opposite the Banqueting House is the entrance to the Horse Guards Building in front of which there are horse guards.
What are London and Great Britain associated with inseparability? For many, the first answer will be the British monarchy and the queen.
It should come as no surprise that in London we can find several places related to the rich history of the British crown.
Perhaps the most famous of them is Buckingham Palace, in front of which almost every day (usually every other day) gathers hundreds of tourists waiting for the changing of the guard.
Other monuments related to the monarchy are, among others
- Tower of London – A fortress that used to be a prison in the past. Today, royal regalia are kept in the treasury;
- Hampton Court Palace – a palace that has been in the hands of the monarchy since 1528. The palace has gardens with the famous hedge labyrinth;
- Kensington Palace (Kensington Palace) – a royal residence from the 17th century, today inside there are, among others royal art gallery;
- Windsor Castle – Royal residence from 1110. It is still used today by the royal family.
Despite the rich history of the city, today in London you will not find many buildings from medieval times. This is mainly the result of the Great Fire of 1666, which consumed most of the city. This does not mean, however, that no medieval buildings have survived. Apart from the monuments mentioned in the previous sections, at least a few more buildings are still in good condition.
Some of these:
- Guildhall (address: Gresham St) – the historic town hall. The oldest surviving secular building in London. It was established in 1411. Today, the city hall no longer functions here, but the building still has representative functions. The monumental Great Hall is the hallmark of the complex. We can look inside, as long as there is no party going on there. The beautiful façade is also enchanting.
- Lambeth Palace (address: 5 Lambeth Palace Rd) – the 13th-century seat of the Bishop of Canterbury. It is located just a short walk from the Palace of Westminster, however, on the other side of the River Thames. A crypt and a chapel belonging to the palace. The entrance to the complex is guarded by a Tudor-era residential gate (Morton’s Tower). Unfortunately, the palace is not available for sightseeing “from the street”. Sometimes there are guided tours – more information on the official website. The oldest private gardens in the city belong to the palace. They can be visited every first Friday of the month from 12:00 to 15:00 (April 7 to September 1). We will pay £ 5 for entry, but we will get coffee or tea inside.
- The Charterhouse (address: Charterhouse Square) – The Charterhouse complex was established in 1348 and served as a monastery. Monks who called themselves brothers lived there. It is in very good condition, but it is located a bit from the centre. The complex can be visited during a guided tour. More information at this address. We can also visit the free museum and the chapel on our own.
We have included some of the churches from the medieval period in the Churches in London section (below).
Several other traces from before the Great Fire have also been preserved in London. Some of them are:
- London Stone – London Stone (address: 111 Cannon Street) – one of the most mysterious monuments of London is … the stone, which is now hidden behind a grate in the lower part of the facade of one of the buildings. The stone was first mentioned in the 10th century. It probably served as a milestone since Roman times.
- All Hallows Staining Church Tower (Address: London EC3R 7AE) – The church located on this site survived the Great Fire, but only five years later collapsed. Only the tower has survived of the entire temple. In 1674, it was decided to rebuild. Two centuries later, in 1870, it was decided to merge the church with nearby St Olave Hart Street. The result of this decision was the demolition of All Hallows Staining. Fortunately, it was decided to spare the tower, which today stands proudly among modern office buildings. The tower is approximately 700 years old.
- Winchester Palace – Winchester Palace (address: Pickfords Lane) – a fragment of the remains of the 13th-century palace that was once the residence of the Bishop of Winchester. A fragment of a wall with a rosette and a fragment of the floor separated from the street have been preserved. The palace survived the Great Fire, but it was destroyed by another fire in 1814. Right next to it is a museum created on the site of the historic medieval prison The Clink (The Clink Prison Museum). However, not everyone will like this attraction. Inside, we will not see the original rooms, only small exhibitions intended to reflect the atmosphere of this dark institution (e.g. wax heads or dressed mannequins). According to some, the museum is a typical tourist trap.
In order to commemorate the Great Fire at the London Bridge, a huge monument in the form of a Doric column was built – Monument to the Great Fire of London (simply called the Monument by the locals – The Monument). It is possible to climb to the top of the monument.
World War II in London
Great Britain played a great role in World War II. London itself was bombed many times during the Battle of Britain.
During the air raids, the British authorities were hiding in special bunkers built under government buildings, right next to the Palace of Westminster. The entire command centre was created there. After the war, the complex was closed tightly for several dozen years. Today, we can visit the underground (Churchill War Rooms) that look identical to August 1945, exactly as it was when it was closed. On the spot, we will go through underground tunnels and look into rooms separated by glass. Finally, we will enter a museum dedicated to Winston Churchill, which presents the life of this colourful politician and leader.
Another important war-time attraction is the museum ship HMS Belfast. The name comes from the name of the capital of Northern Ireland, where the ship was built in the local shipyard. From the very beginning, the unit took part in hostilities, including during Operation D-Day in Normandy. Today we can go inside and go through almost all the rooms.
While walking around the city, we should repeatedly find monuments and places of remembrance of soldiers and victims of both wars. Several of them are located along the River Thames.