Highlights of England: London
An Antipodean travel company serving world travellers since 1983
Highlights of London
London is many things: the capital and largest city of England and the United Kingdom, the most-visited city in the world, home to almost 9 million people of 270 nationalities who speak over 300 different languages and the first city to host three Summer Olympic games. London is all this and so much more. It is difficult to encapsulate the dynamism, history and vibrancy of one of the world’s most important global cities. A trip to London can encompass everything from exploring Gothic architecture and majestic palaces to eating street food and people-watching by the River Thames or visiting suburban pubs.
Its history stretches back to the Romans, who founded the ancient settlement of Londinium in 43 AD. The Romans’ London Wall was a defensive wall built around the city and which defined its boundaries until the late Middle Ages. Though the wall was dismantled around the 1700s, sections of it are still visible, snaking through private and public establishments in the city of London. Left largely abandoned after the fall of the Roman Empire, the city later grew and became increasingly prosperous until London itself became the seat of a vast empire that reached its peak during Queen Victoria’s reign. The growth of industry ushered in the Industrial Revolution, which led to Britain accounting for nearly a quarter of global industrial production in the 19th century, with British workers becoming the richest men and women in Europe. But the mass migration of people from the countryside to the city also resulted in overcrowded housing, pollution, and unsanitary, disease-ridden living conditions. By the mid-18th century, London was a city of 750,000 people, filled with factories that burned coal and blanketed its buildings with soot. Working and living conditions improved with new government regulations, and the city, surviving widespread damage brought by two world wars, remains an important cultural and commercial centre in the world.
What to See and Do in London
There is no shortage of things to do or see in London. It is a city full of inimitable landmarks, dazzling museums, impressive restaurants and beautiful parks. Like New York City, it is a city that never sleeps and there is constantly an event on, a restaurant open, an exhibition happening or something else equally exciting going on.
London is home to four UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Tower of London, Kew Gardens, the site making up Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey, and St Margaret’s Church, and the historic settlement in Greenwich. This is where the Royal Observatory defines the Prime Meridian and Greenwich Mean Time. The Tower of London is one of the city’s most iconic structure and provides an insight into London and England’s rich history. From prison to palace, the Tower is full of stories as well as being home to the glittering Crown Jewels.
Kew Gardens is officially known as the Royal Botanic Gardens and was first laid out in 1759. During her reign, Queen Victoria added the adjoining woodland and Queen’s Cottage. Today the gardens house the largest and most diverse botanical and mycological collections in the world and are an amazing place to visit.
Westminster Palace, rebuilt from the year 1840 on the site of important medieval remains, is a breathtaking and emphatic example of neo-Gothic architecture. The site, which also comprises the small medieval Church of Saint Margaret and Westminster Abbey, where all the sovereigns since the 11th century have been crowned, is of great historic significance and has come to symbolise monarchy, religion and power in England. Today, the Palace of Westminster is the meeting place of Parliament and is open Monday to Saturday for visitors to attend debates, committee hearings and events, or to take a tour around one of the world’s most iconic buildings.
Other Sights of London
However, London’s UNESCO sites are not the only iconic landmarks worth visiting in London. There are many other famous sights and lesser-known hidden gems that are also likely to enchant, surprise and interest you.
St Paul’s Cathedral is one of the most spectacular cathedrals in the world and its 365-foot dome is considered to be a masterpiece of English architecture. Other places worth visiting include Buckingham Palace where you can witness the regal changing of the guards; Trafalgar Square, which was built as a national tribute, and Tower Bridge, potentially the most famous bridge in the city.
Stroll through the beautiful buildings of the city or hope on a boat for a Thames cruise. Get lost in hidden alleys, admire street art, watch buskers and tourists and workers flock through the city or hop on a double-decker bus and get lost in the mystique and charm of London. Our tours of London will introduce a new side of the city and you will be able to live what you have read about and gain added insight from a local guide.
Odyssey Tours to London
The majority of Odyssey Traveller’s tours of England pass through London and many spend a few days there exploring the treasure trove of sights and attractions. A trip to England is not complete without visiting the country’s most important city and it is hard to get a sense of both England’s national identity and colourful history without visiting its beating heart. Odyssey Traveller’s Queen Victoria’s Great Britain tour spends four nights in London and visits some incredible attractions including the Victoria & Albert Museum, Charles Darwin’s house and Sir John Soane’s Museum. Similarly, the Gardens of Britain tour spends four nights in London where travellers will get to visit some of the most beautiful locations including Hever Castle and Sissinghurst Castle. If you take part in one of our other tours of England and wish to spend more time in London, you may be interested in our London Short Tour, which can be added at the beginning or end of another tour and offers four full days exploring London with an experienced and knowledgeable guide.