When planning your itinerary for a London trip the first two places you think of are the “Changing of the Guards” and “Buckingham Palace.” Both, of course, you must see. However, there is so much more to see, learn and enjoy about London. Did you know about the ravens that live at the Tower of London. It’s believed that the monarchy will fall if they ever leave. Now, a royal decree protects these birds. Or, do you know who “Big Ben” was named after?
Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace is a daily occurrence at 11:30 am during the summer months. Thereafter, it takes place every other day for the rest of the year. This 45 minute ceremony of the Foot Guards involve seven separate regimens. Each having minor, but distinct differences. What you may not know about these guards is that they are not just “for show.“ They are serving soldiers that carry out their duties throughout the world. These guards are trained as some of the most elite of all the British Army. While planning your trip, check the schedule for this event. As part of this event, visit The Guards Museum to learn about the history and different guard regimens.
Buckingham Palace is the official home of the queen of England. The state rooms are open to the public in August and September. During this time the Queen resides at one of her many country estates. You will see royal collections and lavish furniture. You may be offered site of the ballroom set for a state banquet or the Queen’s Gallery with original paintings by Rembrandt, Canaletto and Ruben.
Refreshments of drinks and ice cream are offered for purchase in the garden area. Well behaved children are allowed in the palace. However, strollers and baby buggies are not allowed. So if you have very small children go prepared to carry them or at the very least hold on to them. No cell phones in the palace, but they are permitted in the garden.
Tower of London is where the spectacular crown jewels have been housed since the 14th century. When your tour the tower you will see the Cullinan I. This is the largest cut diamond in the world and sits atop the Queen’s scepter. While visiting you will see the Yeoman Warders or Beefeaters as they are sometimes called. They will be your tour guides, answering all your questions. Don’t be surprised by the ravens, they live there.
The tower was actually once a prison with executions held on the grounds which included two of Henry the VIII’s wives, Ann Boleyn and Catharine Howard. Lovely thought. Sir Walter Raleigh wrote “The History of the World” while he was a prisoner there. The tour will take between two and three hours. They are offered November through February, daily (except December 24, 25, 26 and January 1).
Big Ben is as much a part of London as any of it’s other attractions. In 1857 the original bell cracked. The current 316 foot tower holds the clock and bell. It is thought to have been named after Sir Benjamin Hall. He was the first Commissioner of Works and known as “Big Ben” in the House of Commons. Big Ben is part of Westminster Palace. Tours can be arranged to climb the tower through members of parliament.
Natural History Museum is a way of experiencing all of life (as we know it) through all the ages. The skeletons of dinosaurs and a blue whale will send a shiver down your back. It’s really hard to realize what “life size” means until you see it. Try out the exhibit “The Power Within” to feel what an earth quake would feel like.
Children of all ages will love the Gallery Characters. Historical actors wander the museum telling their story to guests. Sir Hans Sloan created chocolate. He will introduce himself and tell you his story of chocolate. Or, you may be greeted by Mary Anning who will tell you her story as fossil collector and paleontologist. She may very well tell you of her famous discovery of an ichthyosaur (a Mesozoic age reptile) at the age of 15. It is open daily throughout the year except for December 25 and 26. Entry is free except for special exhibits, wow.
The House of Parliament (proper name is Palace of Westminster) was a former home to kings. It was originally built for “Edward the Confessor” in the eleventh century. The building is enormous with 1,200 rooms and 100 stairways. During parliament’s summer recess, the building is open for tours daily except Sundays and Bank Holidays. Your guide will give you a British constitution overview, which has been in existence since 1300. Portraits of monarchs grace the walls as well as two battles of the Napoleonic War.
Camden Market is one of London’s famous street markets. The shops and stalls with funky clothes and one-of-a-kind gifts draw 100,000 visitors each weekend. There are restaurants and even a hopping night life at the Camden pubs. You will need cash for this market, but don’t carry more than you plan on spending. Be wary, the pickpockets you read about in Charles Dickens books are still around. For fun, get your palm read.
Kensington Palace is a popular royal home. Princess Diana kept an apartment there from 1981 to 1997. You are likely to view the new exhibit, a timeline of Diana’s fashion and style. Princess Margaret lived at the palace until her death in 2002. Her private apartment can now be toured by the public. Queen Victoria was born at the palace. Her can visit her both her bedroom and the room where she was born. Rooms you may see include the King’s State Apartment, the Cupola Room, the King’s Drawing Room, the King’s Gallery, the Queens State Apartments, Queen Mary’s Dining Room and Queen Mary’s Gallery. Kensington Palace may be toured March through October and November through February (closed December 24-26).
London Eye or Millennium Wheel has become an icon of London. It is an observation wheel located on the banks of the River Thames that will give you a view of London like no other. The tallest Ferris wheel in the world has played the role of scenery to many popular movies and TV programs. It carries 32 air conditioned capsules, each holding 25 people. It takes 30 minutes to make a complete rotation and does not stop to take on passengers unless they are handicapped. It moves so slowly that those without disabilities can walk right on and off. It is visited by 10,000 people a day, on average.