5 areas of London to explore

London is one of the world’s great cities and one of its most visited places. And though it’s a sprawling metropolis, many of London’s most popular and interesting sights can be explored on foot, with maybe a short ride on the Tube or a bus here and there. We recommend taking the city one section at a time – perhaps devoting a day to London’s west, north, east, south and central areas. Let’s go! 

See the iconic sights of Central London

Start your journey at the River Thames near the north end of Westminster Bridge. You’ll be facing one of the most iconic buildings in the world, the Houses of Parliament (aka the Palace of Westminster) and its legendary clock tower, the Elizabeth Tower. Though many think Big Ben is the name of the clock, it’s actually the name of the bell within the tower, which has chimed the hours for the past 157 years.

Immediately behind the Houses of Parliament sits Westminster Abbey. This architectural masterpiece holds more than a thousand years of history, from the coronation of every British monarch since 1066, to the marriage of Will and Kate in 2011.

A short walk north and west from Westminster Abbey, you’ll find yourself strolling through the lovely greenery of St. James Park on the way to Buckingham Palace, home of the British Royal Family since 1837. The Palace’s State Rooms are open for tours in August and September, but many people come to the Palace to see the historic Changing of the Guard, which is free and occurs at 11:30 a.m. every day in the summer months. At other times of the year, it follows a calendar that you can check here. [http://www.buckinghampalace.co.uk/changing-the-guard.php]

From Buckingham Palace, walk up the Pall Mall, pass through the Admiralty Arch and you’ll be in Trafalgar Square. Trafalgar sits at the heart of an area that boasts many historic buildings, museums and galleries, such as the massive National Gallery, which faces the square, not to mention the square’s wonderful fountains and Nelson’s Column, protected by its iconic lions.

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Go West

Just north of Trafalgar Square is Leicester Square, renowned for being the site of many big-time film premieres. From here, you’re within an easy walk to Soho and London’s West End with lots of live entertainment options – from West End shows to jazz bars. Piccadilly Circus, with its walls of electronic screens and lights, is the heart of London’s West End, with many of the city’s best theatres and clubs nearby.

From Piccadilly, traipse up Regent Street or take a quick bus/tube ride to Oxford Circus, and from there head west on Oxford Street, the busiest shopping street in all of Europe, with renowned stores like Debenhams, House of Fraser and Selfridges, with its elaborate window displays.

Once you reach the splendid sight of the Marble Arch, you’ll know you’re on the verge one of the world’s greatest urban parks. Hyde Park is where many Londoners and visitors come to relax, have a picnic or go paddling on the Serpentine. Hyde Park is continuous with Kensington Gardens, whose many notable features include the Albert Memorial, across from the legendary Royal Albert Hall, the Diana Memorial Playground and the famous Peter Pan statue, which appeared “magically” on the morning of May 1, 1912, having been erected in secret during the night. On the park’s western side, you’ll find Kensington Palace, once the home of Princess Margaret, and later, Princess Diana, and presently the home of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, aka Diana’s son Prince William and his wife Kate. The State Rooms of the Palace are open for public tours.

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Explore North London

In North London, Camden Town is an eclectic and diverse neighbourhood with a very definite alternative culture vibe. Shop in Camden Market, with its maze of open-air markets, enticing street food and stall after stall of unusual knickknacks, vintage clothing, used books and distinctive artwork. Afterwards, you can wander down to Camden Lock and follow the canal boats and pathways to Regent’s Park.

Continuing due west will bring you the St. John’s Wood neighbourhood and a street called Abbey Road, where just north of Grove End Road sits the legendary Abbey Road Studios. Here, the Beatles recorded nearly all of their world-shattering music, and many other classic albums were recorded, including Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, to name just one. Don’t forget to walk across the famous zebra crosswalk.

Cross to the South Bank

When visiting London, you would certainly be remiss to ignore the South Bank and the parts of the city south of the Thames. For art lovers, a visit to the Tate Modern is a must. It houses an astounding collection of modern art, including pieces by Picasso, Delaunay and Klee. There are also always stimulating exhibits on every level, and the building itself is a fascinating space to discover.

The London Eye is also a must-see, if you like getting a bird’s-eye view of your surroundings. The gigantic Ferris wheel was built to mark the turn of the millennium. The spacious and space-age pods can be shared with others, or you can pay extra and get a private sky-pod if you want to share the view with a special someone.
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Step back in time in London’s East End

In London’s East End, not many sites are more historic than the Tower of London. Built by William the Conqueror in the eleventh century, it has served many roles over the centuries: a fortress, a palace, a prison, a royal mint and even a private zoo. The Crown Jewels are also on display here, and they are certainly a sight to see. These walls can’t talk, but the next best thing is to take the guided tour where one of the Tower’s Yeoman Warders (aka Beefeaters) will educate you on everything from the executions of Henry VIII’s wives to the story behind the Tower’s famous ravens.

Spanning the Thames beside to the Tower of London is the magnificent Tower Bridge, which many mistakenly refer to as London Bridge. For the most photogenic views of Tower Bridge, try the Tower grounds near the river, or snap a photo from London Bridge, just to the west. For a little extra history, check out the Tower Hill tube station, just behind the Tower. Outside the station entry, there’s a large section of a Roman wall that’s survived from the time of Roman rule.

And it’s from the Tower Hill tube stop that you’ll begin another must-do in the East End: The Jack the Ripper walking tour. Hosted by Donald Rumbelow, “the world’s foremost expert on Jack the Ripper,” this London Walks tour starts nightly at 7:30 p.m. (Saturdays at 3 p.m.), taking you through all the locations in Whitechapel where Jack’s victims met their grisly end. You’ll even stop in at the Ten Bells Pub, where many of his victims drank gin, and where not a lot has changed since 1888. It’s a fascinating step back into the past to try to solve one of the most infamous crimes in history.

What was your London experience? Is there somewhere in this amazing city that you would recommend to first-time visitors? Tell us about it below!

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