There’s no doubt about it, London is one the world’s major tourist destinations. In which case, if you’re planning to visit the UK capital on a short break, it’s only fair to say there’s some attractions you simply must visit. We’re talking the places whose dropping into a conversation will give you bragging rights wherever on the planet you might hail from – especially if it’s outside the British Isles themselves. Now, while it’s true a whirlwind tour of London’s far from advisable, it’s so richly diverse and crammed with so many things to see and do, be sure that if you’ve never visited the city before you absolutely should make time for these seven attractions…
Known as one of the world’s foremost shopping thoroughfares, Oxford Street is the place to go to find the flagship stores of not just the major UK high-street retailers such as Top Shop, Next and HMV, but also of department stores John Lewis, Selfridges, House of Fraser and Debenhams. Easily accessible by Tube (stations: Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Road and Bond Street), it’s situated right in the heart of the city and literally lights up during the holiday season when it’s famously decorated by Christmas lights, as are the equally as prestigious shopping streets that intersect it, Regent Street and Bond Street.
The British Museum
Located a little further east, you’ll find possibly the best regarded museum on the planet. The British Museum’s name may fool a number of those not in the know, but don’t be; its permanent collection is extraordinarily extensive, containing an estimated eight million objects from all over the world, from Egyptian mummies to tools from the Palaeolithic age and helmets worn by Anglo-Saxons to the drawings of Leonardo da Vinci and from the famous Rosetta Stone to the utterly iconic – if not controversial – Elgin Marbles. Free to enter, it’s consistently one of the most visited attractions in London.
The Tower of London
A tad further east again and not far from The City (where you’ll find many an outstanding place to stay, such as The Marble Arch by Montcalm London) is the Tower. Begun in the 11th Century, it’s one of the capital’s ultimate icons, thus one of the essential London short break attractions. Following the construction of the White Tower, to be found at its centre, in 1078, the site grew and grew throughout the Middle Ages; serving first as a fortification, next as a palace, then as a prison and finally in the 19th Century it took on its present incarnation as one of the world’s primary tourist attractions. In fact, quite rightly, today it’s recognised as a World Heritage Site, its pull for visiting punters being royal bedchambers, armour collections, the Crown Jewels and the marvellous tours led by its charismatic Yeomen Warders who live on-site.
The Royal Opera House
World-famous as the home to both the Royal Opera and the Royal Ballet (since 1948, in fact), this attraction’s one for visitors whom have either made it a priority on their trip or for those for whom money’s no (or not so much an) object. In short, it’s a pricey, pretty exclusive place. Still, there’s no question the productions it mounts are fantastic, beautiful examples of high art. If you haven’t booked for a show in advance, you may have a challenge hunting down a ticket that’s not costly, but all the same it may make for a once in a lifetime experience. Alternatively, why not just go along to the Covent Garden venue simply to admire its luxurious, impressive architecture and interiors?
Should the opera or ballet in be a little out of your price range, don’t be turned off visiting the area, for the piazza itself is an irresistible tourist trap. Back in the day, Covent Garden was once a convent site (hence its name) and then used to be one of London’s premier vegetable markets; now it’s probably best known for its many street performances from classical musicians, acrobats and mimes. There’s many a charming, boutique little shop to browse in, as well as excellent (if expensive) dining options. Or, of course, you may wish to visit the place due to its cultural credentials – it plays a pivotal role in the George Bernard Shaw’s legendary play Pygmalion and its later musical adaptation My Fair Lady.
Covent Garden in London
London is nothing if not a beacon for Royal enthusiasts. And Buckingham Palace is truly top dog when it comes to experiencing the pomp and circumstance and pageantry and prestige of the Windsors. The official London residence of Her Majesty The Queen, it was first opened up (or at least parts of it) to the general public in 2009, an endeavour that proved such a roaring success that it now does so every spring/ summer. Should you pay to enter, you’ll be able to enjoy priceless works of art, objects and furniture from the official Royal Collection and get something of a feel for what it must be like to attend a state affair.
Finally, another London landmark intimately associated with both Britain’s monarchical present and past is this traditional site for its numerous coronations and Royal weddings down through the centuries. Originally built in 960AD as a Benedictine monastery, Westminster Abbey is simply brimming with historical curiosities, lending itself wonderfully to those happy to simply wander around the beautiful place of worship at their leisure. However, visitors are highly advised to check out the Coronation Chair, of course, as well as Poets’ Corner, Chapter House and the sobering Tomb of the Unknown Warrior.