The Shard, a modern glass tower in the heart of London next to the River Thames, is the new symbol of that great city, but anyone who has visited London will know that most of its great tourist attractions are older. In many cases, much older. As huge as the city may be, you can still see many of the sights on foot, and the Tube comes in handy to get around underground if need be. Here’s a summation of the sights I enjoyed while in London. Perhaps your best bet, if you are planning on a trip to London, is to contact your local travel expert. You can find them at your local Flight Centre. They are pleased to discuss your travel plans, because that’s their job.
Myself, I stayed with friends in suburban Croyden, took the train to the city, switched to the Tube, and popped out into the open near the Globe Theatre, just south of the Thames between the new Millennium Bridge and Southwark Bridge. The reason for this is simple. That Tube stop was the closest to the Tate Modern Museum, and my wife is an ardent fan or all museums. Normally I am not, but London is not your average city either. Its history that makes London one of the worlds great cities.
The Tate, to my mind, was a disappointment. The building has been converted from its former use as a factory or warehouse or some such utilitarian structure and it’s not a pretty building. Since I know little about art, I can’t vouch for what is found inside. However, it is only steps from the Millennium Bridge, which offers fabulous views of the river. No doubt about it, the Thames IS London, its vital beating heart. Ships and boats of all descriptions dart about. The week we were there may have been the hottest in history. Since there is little or no air conditioning, office workers were out in droves, lounging in the parks, sipping teas and trying to cool off. (Note: It is seldom hot in London.)
Crossing the Thames, you approach St. Paul’s Cathedral, a must see. It’s necessary to admit the British built great architecture for many centuries. You are in the heart of the city now. You can walk where you want or ride the Tube to such great attractions as Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, the British Museum (we went; a must see), Big Ben and the Parliament buildings, Hyde Park, Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery, and a host of many minor museums well worth exploring.
We took a side trip to Soanes Museum, the personal home of Victorian era squire Sir John Soanes, which turned out to be hoarder’s dream. It seems unlikely that Sir John ever threw out anything from any of his trips. It’s an excellent and exceptional collection of famous artworks, sculptures, furniture and artefacts. The house has a canopy dome that brings light right down to the crypt, a colonnade filled with statuary and a picture gallery where paintings are stowed behind each other on folding wooden panes. Among Soane’s more unusual acquisitions are an Egyptian hieroglyphic sarcophagus, a mock-up of a monk’s cell and slaves’ chains. Best of all, it’s free.
After awhile I lost count of all the museums we visited, but I won’t forget popping into Harrod’s department store for a quick visit. You could spend all day in there. By all means you must visit the food court. While most shopping malls in North America have a food court, they are usually cheap and efficient, with plastic chairs and lineups for fast food. Not at Harrod’s, deerie. You feel like you have stumbled across Buckingham Place by mistake. Stained glass, marble and granite are the main building materials, with gorgeous racks of cheese, meats, seafoods and assorted edibles on display. It’s a world unto itself.
I was determined to get a glimpse of #10 Downing Street, where the Prime Minister lives. I knew it was just an ordinary brick building, not ostentatious, but I must have been fooling myself if I thought I could just walk by and take a photo. The entire street is blocked off by wrought iron gates, and lots of armed security was quite visible. This is where a zoom lens on your camera comes in handy.
The downtown core of the city was dotted with pubs and cfaes for a leisurely lunch. We walked by a pub that advertisied itself as the oldest in the city, where hundreds of stockbrokers in suits stood outside in the sun with their pints of beer. It was so crowded we didn’t go in, but found a seat at a café in the sun and watched the world go by. If you are lucky, it will be sunny when you go on your own rambles. You’ll need a week just to scratch the surface. Anyway, be sure to plan well ahead. Talk to your travel rep at Flight Centre and see what they have to say. London is a really big city.