This travelogue covers some of the more 'inland' treasures of London. As the city map shows, London has a very expansive downtown area, and getting around on foot is super easy. But if you don't feel like walking too much, you can get around just as easily using the Underground. This travelogue begins at Buckingham Palace, located to the west of the city, then works progressively eastward towards the Tower and Bridge.
Buckingham Palace absolutely defies description. Take all the other palaces on this website and add steroids. I even think Buckingham is more impressive than Versailles. During a limited part of the summer, when the royal family is away at Windsor Castle, Buckingham is open to tourists for a limited walkthrough. If you decide to go, expect to wait in a very long line. Also, be sure to get a schedule for the changing of the guard ceremonies and go early -- you will be joined by crowds that resemble a Who concert.
Most of the times I've gone, though, it's been looking from the outside, mostly of the guards. Unfortunately, I have not yet been able to witness the big ceremonial changing of the guard, normally done at 11:00AM -- daily for most of the year, but during the winter they do it only on certain days.
Surrounding Buckingham Palace are several nice parks, if you are interested in a nice walk. I've personally visited Hyde Park to the west and St. James Park to the south, both of which were big and had lots of walkways, waterways, and ducks.
Buckingham Palace faces the Mall, a wide boulevard leading toward the commercial center of the city, ending with the Admiralty Arch and Trafalgar Square. The second picture is of the British National Gallery, located on Trafalgar Square. The Gallery contains an impressive collection of artwork from medieval times to the Victorian period, among interior decor designed perfectly to house such treasures. And as with many of London's attractions, the help are distinguished, sophisticated, and friendly, making you feel as an honored guest.
Trafalgar Square is a huge, beautiful open park loaded that used to have more pigeons per square centimeter than any other I can recall. In fact, Trafalgar used to be famous for its millions of pigeons. Not any more -- feeding a pigeon on the square now is discouraged via heavy fines. Not many pigeons there anymore.
Further north by about three blocks is the British Museum, shown in the third photograph. I visited there twice, once in 1996 and again in 2001, discovering that museum went through a significant renovation and is now twice as fantastic. The Museum has archaeological exhibits from all over the world, primarily Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Asia. And these are 'little' exhibits, they included reconstructed temples, towering Sumarian sphinx doorways, and a twenty-five meter Japanese totem pole that sits among a three-floor stairwell. It was also one of the rare big museums where photography is not restricted, so take advantage when you go.
Coming back south is a trio of great shopping areas. Piccadilly Circus, shown above with the signature Eros statue at the far right, is a major city roundabout in the middle of several square kilometers of shopping, restaurants, and theaters. The Trocadero is one particular galleria that you should seek out. There are also theaters (in 2001 I took in a matinee of a wonderfully funny play, "The Abridged Works of Shakespeare," and loved it.) Next to the east is Leicester Square, which is awash with big-name theaters. Finally is Covent Garden, with its famous open-air market hall. In between is a network of pedestrian zones, restaurants of every possible cuisine, and shopping galore. Some of the best night spots are north of Covent Garden along a brick road, so look for it.
But after an exhausting day of walking about, who's got energy for nightlife? Well, I did. When the sun goes down, London is just getting warmed up, and the whole city becomes a sea of people going to the literally hundreds of pubs and discotheques. The Warner Bros. Theater, pictured below, was the first European moviehouse I've ever been to, and I found it quite different (assigned seats? a short film before the main feature? 20 minutes of commercials? enjoying it all with a pint of London's finest ales? -- We Americans could stand to overhaul our cineplexes, methinks.)
But to me, being a big fan of sport, the ultimate nighttime experience was taking in a Premiership League football tie at White Hart Lane, home of Tottenham Hotspur. The Spurs hosted Newcastle United on this evening, and the rabid fans from both clubs engaged is a singing dual through the whole game. There was much to sing about, as Tottenham won a rare scorefest -- 4:2, including three penalties, one missed -- allowing the homesteaders to sing their victory song (sung to "Glory, Glory, Hallelujah!"), "Glory, Glory, Tott-n-m HOT... SPURS... Glory, Glory, Tott-n-m HOT... SPURS!" Of course, if you can't get to a Spurs game, remember that several top flights clubs reside in the London area -- Arsenal, Chelsea, and Fulham among them.
The heart of the city can't be beat. Three times there has not been enough for me.
Trip taken 30 December 2000 - 7 January 2001 and 23-27 December 2003 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2001, 2003 Tom Galvin