Fancy a cuppa from all the way across the pond? I know I was, so my husband and I jetted off on an overnight flight to one of the oldest, most vibrant cities on Earth: London, England.
We wanted to hit all of the major sights while also seeing some lesser-known gems. We traversed the city, popping into museums, trying new foods, and trying to fit as much as possible into our time there!
If you’re planning a trip to what many consider to be the best city on earth, keep on reading! In this post, I’m sharing some fun facts about the more well-known things to do in London, and in my next post, I’ll dive into some of the less familiar places we visited!
We absolutely have to start with Big Ben, the most recognizable monument in London! Big Ben is actually the name of the bell that strikes each hour within the tower, while the clocktower itself is called Elizabeth Tower. You can find (and hear) this beautiful monument by the Houses of Parliament. Standing at 96 meters (315 feet), this beautiful tower is a must-see when you go to London!
Photography tip: if you want to take a photo with the typical red London phone booths that has Elizabeth Tower in the background (like my photo above), head down Great George Street, where you’ll have a straight shot of many phone booths and the tower! Try to get there early or there will be lines for photos.
Directly across the street from the Houses of Parliament, you’ll spy another famous London landmark: Westminster Abbey.
This magnificent abbey has quietly observed much of England’s history: royal weddings, funerals, and coronations have all occurred here. In fact, the Abbey is the spot where every English royal coronation has occurred for about 1,000 years! The architecture is spectacular to see, both inside and out. Book your ticket with GetYourGuide, my favorite company for ticket bookings! I booked everything for our trip through them, and they have excellent cancellation policies (a must in the times of Covid).
There is so much to look at inside the Abbey. From the vaulted ceilings of the nave to the resting places of famous Brits on the ground and all around, it’s hard to know where to look first! Keep your eyes peeled for the graves of Charles Darwin, Sir Isaac Newton, and more than 3,000 others buried or commemorated in the Abbey. Poets’ Corner, for instance, hosts memorials to some amazing English writers such as William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, John Keats, Lewis Carroll, Charles Dickens, the Brontë sisters, and the list goes on.
Walking down the nave, where so much history has occurred, it’s impossible not to think of the great people who have been there before you. However, only one grave in the whole Abbey has the honor of not being stepped on by visitors: the Grave of the Unknown Warrior. Interred in the Abbey on 11 November 1920, this soldier is representative of the many lives lost in World War I who were never identified or their bodies returned home. They are honored in the highest here in Westminster Abbey.
Next stop: The Tower of London. Located on the eastern end of the city, The Tower’s historic walls are juxtaposed against the metal-and-glass skyscrapers that have been built more recently in The City of London. Tucked into a corner of the Thames, the Tower of London is a treat for anyone who loves history and a little bit of gore.
If you aren’t aware, the history of the Tower is a particularly grisly one. This is where many traitors to the crown (whether they were really traitors or not) were brought through Traitor’s Gate, dragged up the hill inside the tower, and beheaded…
Beginning its life as a fortress some 1,000 years ago, when William the Conqueror first began to build the stone tower, it has evolved to be a palace, a prison, and a tourist attraction. I highly recommend taking a Yeoman Warder tour, which come free with the cost of entry and begin every 30 minutes from the main entrance. What’s a Yeoman Warder, you ask? A beefeater! It is their job to guard the tower, which is still housing the Crown Jewels to this day. Snag your tickets to the Tower!
Besides the crown jewels, something else that is unique to the Tower of London is their ravens. Why the ravens? Well, there is a legend that the kingdom of England will fall if the ravens ever leave the Tower of London! This is why you will always find ravens at the Tower. There is only one time in the Tower’s history when the legend felt close to coming true: during World War II, the Tower was bombed and there was just one raven remaining. To not alarm the country, this was kept secret until after the war was over and won!
When you’re done exploring at the Tower of London, you can head out to a picturesque view of Tower Bridge. It’s not called London Bridge, like I had always thought! London Bridge is actually just down the Thames, neighbor to the more famous Tower Bridge. London Bridge was the sole river crossing from Roman times in London, but Tower Bridge is the one we have all grown to love and cherish as a major London landmark.
Tower Bridge can be visited in varying ways: looking at it from the quays of the Thames, walking across the bridge, or going up into the upper level of the bridge, entering and exiting through the towers and walking across the glass walkways above the bridge (this costs £11.40 for adults at the time of posting).
Tower Bridge was finished in 1894 after 8 years of construction, and it is a bascule bridge (drawbridge-style). This means that the middle of the road crossing on the bridge can be lifted (drawn) to clear the way for passing boats! This used to be powered by steam using pumping engines, which can still be viewed today. It is currently powered using electricity and hydraulics, and the bridge is crossed by over 40,000 people per day. It’s worth a walk over if you’re in the area!
One of the Must-Sees that I really hadn’t planned on as it was “just too touristy” was the London Eye. Built in 2000, it opened as the World’s Largest Ferris Wheel – which has since been surpassed, but it is still the highest ferris wheel in Europe! It offers panoramic views of London: over the Thames, as well as of the Houses of Parliament and Elizabeth Tower/Big Ben, the Shard, the Tower of London, the Gherkin, and more. I highly recommend looking up sunset time on the day you’d like to visit, and click here to pre-book your time for a skip-the-line ticket! It was absolutely magical at sunset, and it was a wonderful way to spend our last evening in London, saying goodbye to the city.
These activities are just the tip of the iceberg of what London has to offer as a city, and I can’t wait to show you more! Whether it’s the history, the food, or the people, there is truly so much to see and experience when exploring London. What will London have in store for you?
Disclaimer: This post includes affiliate links from GetYourGuide, a travel company that I have used and loved for my travels. If you purchase a tour through the links provided, I will get a small commission and appreciate any support received!