The sunshine streamed in, bright and beautiful, making a pattern that glimmered off the rooftops. It carried with it no heat, only comforting warmth, especially as there was a cold nip in the air. The quaint tiled sunshades with slanted slopes, the gleaming sidewalks and cobblestone pathways reminded one of a delicately structured toy city.
London certainly has it all ] culture, glamour and endless excitement. It’s the western world’s version of a patchwork, a quilt merging a myriad of colours from the past and the present, “When a man is bored of London,” said Dr Samuel Johnson, “He is bored of life, for there is in London all that life can afford!”
Here are a few must-see places on your trip to London.
This has been the official residence of Queen Elizabeth and the royal family from 1837. A visit to the palace should be timed to coincide with the colourful ceremony of “Changing of the Guard” that takes place every morning in summer, and every other day in winter [at 11.30 am]. The manner in which the Horse Guards ride back to their regimental quarters after having completed night duty at the palace is truly a majestic sight.
Big Ben and Houses of Parliament
The Palace of Westminster is the political seat of London where the House of the Commons and the House of the Lords are situated. Designed in the Neo-Gothic architecture, it dates back to 1834 when it was reconstructed after a great fire burnt down most of the palace. At the north end of the Houses of Parliament, stands the clock tower known as the Big Ben – the most celebrated landmark of London. Big Ben is actually the name of the bell that hangs in London’s clock tower which weighs 13 1/2 tons! The chimes of the Big Ben became popular the world over, when BBC adopted them as their time signal in 1923.
The Tower of London
The Tower of London has been a castle, a palace and a prison in its long history and it remains the capital’s most important sight. There are entertaining hour-long guided tours that function every half an hour. The most interesting attraction at the Tower of London would be Her Majesty’s crown jewels, which are housed in the northern section of the Tower. Here sits the Kohinoor diamond that was once the pride of the Indian Empire.
Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum
Madame Tussaud’s wax dolls look very much like they were made of flesh and blood. They are splitting replicas of great politicians, world leaders, movie stars, religious heads, world famous novelists, and royalty. Some even put the original to shame! Our desi favourites like the Mahatma, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Bollywood legends like Shah Rukh Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Salman Khan and even the recent darling of the British press, Shilpa Shetty, have been carved to perfection.
Madam Tussaud is said to have inherited two collections of wax figures in 1794, from her uncle under whose guidance she learnt the art of moulding wax. During the French Revolution she was imprisoned as punishment for being a supporter of the bourgeois. She was forced to make wax moulds from the heads cut off from the guillotine! When she was freed, she toured the country for 33 years, and met great leaders who were willing to pose for her. Madame Tussaud’s is now renowned for its life-like figures of larger-than-life celebrities. After you’ve taken your fair share of photos with the waxy and the wealthy, it’s time to pay a visit to another unique aspect of this exhibition – the Chamber of Horrors. The Chamber of Horrors will reveal the barbaric and tortuous methods employed in execution of thousands of people in those days. On display in this recreated tomb of torture, is the original guillotine blade that was used to chop off the head of Queen Marie Antoinette during the French Revolution!
The London Planetarium
The London Planetarium will bring time and space to life in a vibrant show. It houses a wealth of information regarding advancement in the field of astronomy and space exploration along with wax models of space adventurers. The 30-minute programme with spectacular special-effects takes you on a trip into outer space while educating you about the comets and constellations. An extremely educational and enjoyable excursion for kids and adults alike.
The most famous quadrangle in central London, the Trafalgar Square is a unique experience in itself. Filled with hundreds of plump pigeons that feed off the birdseed bought in droves by excited sightseers, it is truly a remarkable to witness how tame these birds actually are. They are probably the laziest and fattest species of their kind and they truly do not know the meaning of fear. Buy a packet of bird seed for them at fifty pence and watch how they climb all over your head shoulder and arms, taking turns to peck at your plastic cup to their hearts content! You might have to shake them off you though and it might not be advisable to buy more than one cup of birdseed at a time, for you might start a feathery stampede!
An architectural masterpiece of the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries, Westminster Abbey also presents a unique pageant of British history–the tombs of kings and queens and countless memorials to the illustrious men and women. It has been the setting for every Coronation since 1066 and for numerous other royal occasions. Every monarch since William the Conqueror with the exception of Edward V and Edward VIII was crowned in the Abbey. Today it is still a church dedicated to regular worship and to the celebration of great events in the life of the nation.
The London Eye
The London Eye is a huge ferris wheel [a big wheel that rotates slowly and is vertically-oriented], with capsules the size of small rooms. Each capsule completes one full rotation, furnishing a truly awesome aerial view of the city. It cost 35 million pounds to develop and build. Each capsule is designed to hold up to 25 people, and even when ‘full’, there is a lot of room to move about, and plenty of window space to gaze out from. The only problem you may have here is to chose whether to ride the London Eye in the morning, when the view is fresh and gorgeous or to go at night when the twinkling lights make the world look like a fairy land.
The London Dungeons
Eerie and cold, the London dungeons have an aura of their own. Scenes from the life and times of one of the world’s most repulsive and terrifying murderer, Jack the Ripper, has been recreated here. Jack the Ripper was a surgeon who stalked and murdered prostitutes and “fallen women” on darkened London streets, by tearing out their insides in the most gruesome manner. London dungeons also expose the inhuman conditions prisoners were subjected to in the dark ages, where mercy and pardon were rare and human rights were unheard of.
The Millennium Dome [now the O2 in Greenwich]
“Give our school children 758 million pounds and ask them to come up with a millennium project and there you have it! The millennium dome!” our hotel concierge exclaimed. Indeed, there is nothing that is shrouded in more controversy than the monumental dome-shaped structure erected to mark the millennium celebrations in 2000 and to proclaim the grandeur of the British Empire. Designed by the Richard-Rodger partnership, it boasts of having the largest roof in the world, but its critics are not impressed. They say the dome is too “educational” spewing out facts and figures and lacking innovation and imagination. Perhaps that is why it was re-developed and rechristened in 2005. It’s now called the 02 Millennium Dome in Greenwich. The entry fee is frightfully expensive, but it could provide an entertaining day for children.
London I-MAX Cinema
The London I-MAX cinema is ten-storeys high and boasts of the biggest film screen in Britain with 80 million tiny holes for even the minute sounds to filter into the auditorium. The structure has been built on springs that cut off the surrounding traffic noises. One can view 3-D movies with special headgear.
London has an excellent public transport system. There are four means of public transport–the infamous double-decker buses, the tube or underground trains, British rail, an over ground train and the Docklands Light Railway [DLR]. Each of these is covered by an integrated ticketing system. The traveller must buy a ticket before boarding. This ticket must be inserted into mechanical booths, which read the code and only then allows you access into the boarding area. This procedure is repeated at every station when passengers wish to disembark as well.
When to go
The best time to visit London would be from mid-June to mid-September. Though this is the peak tourist season and prices of hotel rooms, tickets and various attractions shoot up, it is not advisable to visit the city after September because of the biting cold winter, gloomy weather and lashing rain.
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