The London Eye is iconic. It is also known as the Millennium Wheel because it was completed in 1999. You’ll queue up and wait a bit, but the views are worth it. You’ll be able to see Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, and countless monuments up and down the River Thames.
There are so many highly charactered pubs to choose from! Check out this guide to some pubs with their own local flavor: London’s 15 Best Pubs. When you order a beer, keep in mind that the status quo in London is a warm, flat beer (no carbonation whatsoever). Be sure to inquire to avoid or try this more traditional approach to fermentation.
Learn the originations of the nursery rhyme you may remember from childhood:
London Bridge is falling down,
Falling down, falling down.
London Bridge is falling down,
My fair lady
I highly recommend doing one of the day trip tours outside of London. We had a tour guide who was essentially a stand-up comedian / historian in a British accent, all in all delightful. I learned more on this guided day trip than on the rest of our trip put together. Our trip included a stop at Windsor Castle, time for tea and a biscuit (aka snack/coffee), a visit to Stonehenge, lunch at a quaint pub, then a trip to the town of Bath.
Sure, it’s touristy, but it’s a great way to see a bunch of the sites on your London checklist. You can hop on, hop off, as often as you like, so it’s also a great option if it’s raining and you want to keep exploring sans poncho and galoshes.
Visiting with hordes of tourists admittedly detracts from the allure. Still, the wind whipping presence of the stones and all they signify as a prehistoric burial ground, believed to have been constructed between 3000 and 2000 BC according to radiocarbon dating, is irreplaceable. Aligned to the sunset of the winter solstice and the opposing sunrise of the summer solstice, there is something here that feels rooted in a larger human sense of circadian balance.
Piccadilly Circus, in the heart of West End, is where you’ll hop off the underground. The area has shops, restaurants, government buildings, businesses, and a hopping nightlife. Select a show from the menu of options in the theatre district. You can’t go wrong with a musical!
Bath, a charming town with a central square and this storied public bath house. The Roman Baths are apparently Britain’s only hot springs, and the waters are described to have mystical healing qualities for whatever might ail you – from barrenness to leprosy (although rumors indicate that infidelity may have played its role in the former of these two, more so than the medicinal waters…)
Thanks to colonialism, the British Museum is home to over 8 million permanent works, perhaps the most comprehensive collection in the world. Schist heads, mummies, sarcophaguses, roman gladiator helmets, gold jewelry, gold statues, gold goblets, and not to mention the Rosetta Stone. The British Museum has it all.
Historic Harrod’s – Shopping
There are all sorts of boutiques and shops to explore as you wind your way through the London streets and alleys. A longstanding staple couched in centuries of lore is Harrod’s Department Store. When we were there in November, people lined up on the sidewalk to storm in the second the store opened, to commence their holiday shopping in the departments of decadence.
Harrod’s used to have a famous pet department that would supply exotic animals to celebrities, actors, and politicians. This Pet Kingdom sold elephants, tigers, camels, alligators, and even an elephant to Ronald Reagan who wanted one for a Republican party rally, before he became President. Rumor has it that when Reagan called to place the elephant order by telephone, the response was, “Would that be African or Indian, sir?”
The pet department has since closed its doors, but the historic establishment retains its Through the Looking Glass feeling of otherworldly opulence. My favorite room in the center of the first floor has black and white checked floor tiles, a floor to ceiling chandelier, and is a literal feast for the eyes. You’ll be greeted with piles of dates, pyramids of shrimp, rainbow towers of fruit, a Gatsby-esque oyster bar, chocolates on chocolates, silver stacks of fresh fish, and every kind of produce or bon bon imaginable.
Underwhelming is the word I would use to describe the palace. Check it out for the changing of the guard or to paparazzi stalk Kate, but otherwise I don’t know why the royal family would want to live here (besides location) as opposed to Windsor Castle. Of course, maybe the exterior is deceiving and the real attention has been paid to the interior. Fooled me.
You can’t miss this bad boy. If you start at the London Eye, you can walk across Westminster bridge to Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and then up the Birdcage Walk along St. James’s park (home to families of swans) to Buckingham Palace.
A true gothic architectural phenomenon, I think Westminster is just grand. All coronations for English and British monarchs have taken place at the abbey since William the Conqueror in 1066, as well as over a dozen royal weddings. No longer a functioning abbey or cathedral, Westminster has been sanctioned a ‘royal peculiar’ since it exists for ceremonial use by the sovereign family.
Another childhood song based upon a London landmark, this one is sung as a canon:
The little bells of Westminster go ding, dong – ding, dang, dong.
And that concludes this London bucket list. P.S. Don’t forget the holiday markets if you are there in November or December!