Set on the River Thames, London Town is a modern world city with a history that spans two millennia. Not only is London the capital of England, but it is also a global center for finance, healthcare, the arts, education, culture, fashion, and entertainment. When you combine the city’s rich history with its modern offerings, and add in that it is home to a certain royal family known as the Windsors, it is no wonder why London was named in MasterCard’s annual travel study in both 2014 and 2015 as the world’s leading travel destination.
When you visit London, you can feel like you’ve stepped back in time at one moment and then leapt far ahead into the future at the next. The picture above is of the futuristic Millennium Bridge, connecting pedestrians from London’s South Bank (home of both Shakespeare’s Globe Theater and the Tate Modern) to the magnificent St. Paul’s Cathedral, built at the turn of the 18th century and later the location of the wedding between Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. See what I mean?
This paradox of London, however, is what makes it a truly fascinating place to visit. And when you do, here are some sites that are not to be missed:
- The Museums. London is home to some of the finest art and artifact collections in the world. At the British Museum, which is the oldest museum in the world, you’ll find more than 6 million treasures, including the Rosetta Stone and a Mummified Cat, that span over a million years of civilization. Art lovers must visit the National Gallery to view paintings from the Renaissance to the Impressionists as well as the neighboring National Portrait Gallery for exquisite portraiture, including famous paintings of both QE1 and Willy Shakes.
- The Royal Palaces and Parks. No trip to London would be complete without a visit to Buckingham Palace. Be sure to time your visit to see the Changing of the Guard which happens at 11:30 am in the spring and summer. From there, you can explore London’s gorgeous royal green spaces, including St. James’ Park, Hyde Park, and Kensington Gardens. Within Kensington Gardens is the beautiful Kensington Palace, once home to Princess Diana.
- The Churches. Along with St. Paul’s, London’s other most famous church is the medieval Westminster Abbey, founded in 960, and the location of the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, the funeral of Princess Diana, and the Coronation of QE2. Music lovers will not want to miss the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, known for its rich tradition of musical liturgy.
- The Towers. Perhaps most famous as the place where Henry VIII sent not one but two wives to be executed, the Tower of London is a massive riverside fortress that now houses both the Crown Jewels, including the Imperial State Crown, and group of six famous ravens. From the Tower of London, it’s a short walk to Tower Bridge, one of London’s most known landmarks, and a true feat of engineering. It now has a glass walkway if you are feeling daring.
- The Entertainment. From the performing arts to live music to theatre in London’s West End, there is no shortage of entertainment options, which, of course, can be preceded or followed up by a pint at one of London’s many (many) pubs.
And then there’s the London Eye. Sitting right on the banks of the River Thames, this giant wheel is the largest in the world and offers breathtaking vistas over all of London. Some of the best views are of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, which sit directly across the river.
London is truly a city for the ages – at once historical but modern, royal but accessible. For single travelers, one of the best ways to see London is part of a group tour.
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