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Top 10 Things to Do in London
For things to see and do, visitors to London have endless options. Whether you’re visiting for several days or just wanting a flavour of this great city, here’s how to make the most of your time.
The London Eye is a 135-metre-high observation wheel. Opened in 2000 as part of London’s millennium celebrations, it immediately became one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks notable not only for its size but for its circularity amid the block-shaped buildings flanking it. Thirty-two capsules, each holding up to 25 people, take a gentle 30 minute round trip. On a clear day, the Eye affords a unique 40-kilometre view, which sweeps over the capital in all directions and on to the countryside hills beyond.
Following the Great Fire of London in 1666, the medieval cathedral of St. Paul’s was left in ruins. The authorities turned to Christopher Wren to rebuild it, but his ideas met with considerable resistance from the conservative Dean and Chapter. Wren’s 1672 Great Model plan was not at all popular with them, and so a watered-down plan was finally agreed upon in 1675. Wren’s determination paid off, though, as can be witnessed from the grandeur of the present cathedral.
The British Museum
The oldest public museum in the world, the British Museum was established in 1753 to house the collections of the physician Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), who also helped create the Chelsea Psychic Garden. Sloane’s artifacts have been added to by gifts and purchases from all over the world, and the museum now contains innumerable items stretching from the present day to prehistory. Robert Smirke designed the main part of the building (1823-1850), but the architectural highlight is Norman Foster’s Great Court, with the world-famous Reading Room at its centre.
Houses of Parliament
For over 500 years the Palace of Westminster has been the seat of the two Houses of Parliament, called the Lords and the Commons. The mock-Gothic building was designed by Victorian architect Sir Charles Barry. Big Ben, the vast bell, was hung in 1858 and chimes on the hour four smaller ones ring on the quarter hours. Westminster Hall is the only surviving part of the original Palace of Westminster, dating back to 1097.
The National Gallery
The National Gallery has flourished since its inception in the early 19th century. In 1824 the House of Commons was persuaded to buy 38 major paintings, including works by Raphael and Rubens, and these became the start of a national collection. Contributions by rich benefactors have today resulted in a collection of some 2,300 Western European paintings. The main gallery building was designed in Green Revival style by William Wilkins and built in 1833-8. To its left lies the Sainsbury Wing, financed by the grocery family and completed in 1991.
Hampton Court was not originally built as a royal palace but begun in 1514 by Cardinal Wolsey, Henry VIII’s Archbishop of York, as his riverside country house. Later, in 1528, in the hope of retaining royal favour, Wolsey offered it to the king. After the royal takeover, Hampton Court was twice rebuilt and extended, first by Henry himself and then, in the 1690s, by William an Mary, who employed Christopher Wren as architect. When visiting, lose your self in the maze, one of the garden’s most popular features.
The Tower of London
For much of its 900-year history the Tower was an object of fear. Those who had committed treason or threatened the throne were held within its dank walls. A lucky few lived in comparative comfort, but the majority had to put up with appalling conditions. Many did not get out alive, and some were tortured before meeting violent deaths on nearby Tower Hill.
The Changing of the Guard
Although the Queen’s role is now largely symbolic, the guard at Buckingham Palace still patrols the palace grounds. The impressive ceremony – dazzling uniforms, shouted commands, military music – consists of the Old Guard, which forms up in the palace forecourt, going off duty and handing over to the new guard. The Guard consists of three officers and 40 men when the Queen is in residence, but only three officers and 31 men when she is away. The ceremony takes place in front of the palace.
The Abbey is world-famous as the resting place of Britain’s monarchs, and as the setting for coronations and other great pageants, such as the marriage of Prince William in 2011. Within its walls can be seen some of the most glorious examples of medieval architecture in London. It also contains one of the most impressive collections of tombs and monuments in the world. Half national church, half national museum, the Abbey is part of British national consciousness.
The Victoria and Albert Museum
The V&A contains one of the world’s widest collections of art and design, ranging from early Christian devotional objects to cutting-edge furniture design. Originally founded in 1852 as the Museum of Manufactures to inspire design students, it was remained by Queen Victoria in 1899 in memory of Prince Albert. The museum is undergoing a dramatic redisplay of some of its collection, including work on a number of galleries and the Sackler Education Centre.