London City Guide

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If you visit only two or three cities of the world in your lifetime, make one of them London. Stroll its streets, visit its museums, photograph its landmarks, and patronize its pubs. While it may not be the most beautiful or the most romantic city in the world, its one of the most fascinating.

Laid out like a great wheel with Piccadilly Circus at its hub, Europe's largest city at first may seem daunting. Dozens of communities branch out from its center, each with its own attractions, lifestyle, hotels and restaurants. While most visitors spend much of their time in the West End and London's historic district, called "The City" by locals, there's so much more to see.

Before striking out on your own, you may want to take one of London Transport's non-stop double-decker guided tours, departing from Victoria Station. They're a great way to get to know the city at a glance. The driver points out he major sights and gives a rolling commentary as he drives through the historic district and beyond. You'll want to make a note of the sights you want to investigate further on the map you're given at the start of the tour.

You'll soon discover that while you can walk within any of the city's districts, getting from one to another requires public transportation, either surface bus or the Underground, known affectionately as The Tube. It can get expensive if you purchase individual rides, so spring for a London Transport One-Day Off-Peak Travel Card instead. You can also purchase a Visitor Travelcard, good for unlimited travel for a specific number of days, before you leave home.

Begin your sightseeing at Westminster Abbey in the Westminster/Whitehall district. From there walk over to see Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, then take in the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. At some point, visit the Tower of London to see the Crown Jewels — its best to go when it first opens to avoid the crowds.

You should spend at least a half day if not longer exploring the British Museum. Afterwards, wander around Bloomsbury and perhaps browse the shops in Covent Garden and later take in a theater performance.

On one of your days in London, head over to St. Paul's Cathedral in The City. Take a walking tour of the area to see some of the city's oldest buildings, as well as the financial district. Stop into a local pub for lunch to eat with bankers and stockbrokers. After lunch, visit the nearby Museum of London to get a glimpse at the city's Roman past.

Depending on how much you like museums, you might also take in the National Gallery, with its impressive collection of Western paintings, on Trafalgar Square, the Tate Gallery, with its collection of modern art, or the Victoria and Albert Museum, with its collection of decorative arts.

When you've had enough of history, visit the London Zoo, one of the world's greatest, in Regent's Park or perhaps spend some time in Hampstead Heath, London's largest park, which contains facilities for just about every known form of outdoor amusement.

As a city, London is too big to take it all in on one visit. Choose what to see and do based on your interests, not on what you think you should see. Doing so will make your London experience one to remember for a long time.