London is one of the easiest European cities to visit from Seattle and also for the neophyte traveler. Several airlines have direct flights such as Continental, United, and British Airways, while many others including US Airways and Delta have connecting flights.
London is also an easy destination for the American or Canadian traveler because English is the language used. The tube or subway is easy to navigate and streets are well marked.
If you are interested in British history, one stop which shouldn’t missed is the Tower of London. The bloody, and gruesome side of British history is in evidence here. The tower was begun in 1078 by William the Conqueror. It was added on to over the years and originally served as the royal residence and treasury. In 1529 Henry the VIII moved to another palace and the Tower of London became a prison. As you walk through the tower you can see the place where Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, two of Henry’s wives were beheaded. The Bloody Tower is where Edward V and his little brother were imprisoned and murdered by their Uncle Richard III. Edward was 12 at the time.
In the courtyard of the tower you’ll notice some birdcages with ravens. Legend has it that if the ravens ever leave the tower will fall, hence the cages. The White Tower holds arms while the oldest church in England, the chapel of St. John, dating from 1078 is within the tower. The tower can be very crowded, so go early. There are free tours given by very humorous gents dressed in the traditional Beefeater costumes. These tours are well worth the time due to their level of detail. A great deal of history has taken place in the tower’s thousand years of existence.
Just a few steps outside the tower are some great views of Tower Bridge. Often mistaken for London Bridge, the Tower Bridge is one of the symbols of London. It was designed to rise to let ship traffic pass under, originally powered by steam engines, it is now run on electricity.
The most visited venue in London is the British Museum. One of the best museums in the world, it has antiquities and art from all over the world. During the days of the British Empire, artifacts were gathered from every corner of the globe. Greece, Egypt, India, and Central Asia are well represented. If you have time visit several times. It would take days to see the entire collection, and could result in museum burnout. The British Museum is another place where a guided tour is a good idea even if you plan to wander through the museum on your own. There are several options to choose from and they all serve as a great introduction to the mind numbingly huge collection.
The center of London, known as ‘The City’ has some very famous sights. Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and the Houses of Parliament are all clustered together. A good example of English Gothic architecture, the building seems light and airy. It was begun in the 11th century and most British Monarchs have been crowned here. The acoustics are excellent and make attending a service a pleasant experience.
The Houses of Parliament are just a stone’s throw from Westminster Abbey. There are multiple visitors galleries and you can even reserve a free guided tour of Big Ben. Nearby is also the Westminster Cathedral, the seat of the Roman Catholic church in Britain.
Some other museums worth visiting are the Tate Galleries, the Museum of Natural History, and the Florence Nightingale Museum. Shakespeare’s Globe Theater has also been preserved.
London can be an incredibly expensive city. Admission prices are steep, $25 for the Tower of London for example. There are ways to cut costs. If you are willing to commute to the center of London from near the airport you can find reasonable hotels.
A traditional English breakfast is probably one of the greatest deals around. It includes bacon, sausages, eggs, fried bread, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, and baked beans. Ethnic food such as Indian or Chinese can be reasonable as is pub grub. A visit to a traditional English pub is a must. Take care in choosing restaurants. Price is not always indicative of quality. Look for local reviews and many people eating in any given restaurant. British food is also getting better.
London is a great destination year round. It has a climate similar to that of the Pacific Northwest, so winters are not severe.