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London Travel Guide - Sights and Museums
Westminister Abbey: (Tube: Westminster) Open daily 8-7. With its twin towers and early English Gothic design, the Abbey is one of the greatest examples of architecture in the world. It is a shrine to the nation... the structure in which most rulers were crowned and many are buried... including Britain's Unknown Soldier. The abbey was founded in 1065 by King Edward, the Confessor (his tomb is here) and was completed by William the Conqueror, who was the first and last, foreign invader to be crowned here. Next to Edward's tomb stands the Coronation Chair with the ancient Scottish relic known as the Stone of Scone beneath the chair. The entire Abbey is crammed with treasures. There are some strange waxworks, showing the images of important personalities. These were carried in their funeral processions. There's a Poet's Corner with tombs or monuments of poets from Chaucer to Thackery. Most English kings and queens are buried here also. A fee is charged to enter the Royal Chapels.

Houses of Parliament: Formerly the Royal Palace of Westminster until Henry VIII moved to Whitehall. Today these buildings house the government- the houses of Commons and the Houses of Lords. Parliament frequently doubled as a courthouse. Sir Thomas More and King Charles I were tried and sentenced to death here. The 320-foot tower that houses BIG BEN was undamaged during WW2 and continued to strike its chimes. Big Ben was named for Sir Benjamin Hall, a cabinet minister distinguished only by his long-windedness. Be sure and walk to the middle of Westminster Bridge to see Parliament reflected on the Thames... and also walk around to the back for a lovely park and views of the Thames.

Number 10 Downing Street: (Tube: Westminster). Walk toward Trafalgar Square along Whitehall, which is the street of British Government... make a short detour to your left, near the Cenotaph. You'll see #10... a modest 3-story brick building which serves as the official residence for the Prime Minister. The street is no longer open to the public but you'll be able to see it from the barricade.

Tower of London: (Tube: Tower Hill). Mon-Sat 9:30-5. Sun 2-5. This tower was formerly used as a residence and coronation site for royalty, but is noted mainly as a prison and place of execution. The White Tower, begun in 1078 by William the Conqueror, is the oldest building in London. After James 1, the tower became a prison. Two of Henry VIII's wives, Anne Bolyne and Catherine Howard lost their heads here. The first Elizabeth spent one night here before she became queen. not knowing whether or not she would leave alive. Sir Walter Raleigh spent 13 years here before his execution. On the walls of Beauchamp Tower you can actually read the last messages scratched by despairing prisoners. In the Jewel House lie England's Crown Jewels, some of the most precious stones known. They are worn by each monarch at his/her coronation and then returned to this vault where they are heavily guarded. The famous Beefeaters take tour-groups through the grounds, or you can go on your own. Expect long lines and crowds.

Tower Bridge: One of London's most famous landmarks. Despite its medieval appearance it was built in 1894 and is something of an engineering marvel. The main traffic deck consists of two giant spans, which are hinged and can be hoisted up to allow ships to go by. Take the elevator to the top of one of the towers for spectacular views. The best view of the Tower Bridge is from The Tower of London.

St Paul's Cathedral: (Tube: St.Pauls). Daily 8-7. London's largest and most beautiful church. Built by Sir Christopher Wren on the spot of the Cathedral, which burned in the fire of 1666, St. Paul's represents his masterpiece. The golden cross surmounting it is 365 feet above ground. The golden ball on which it rests is 6 feet in diameter. Surrounding the interior of the dome is the Whispering Gallery an acoustical marvel where the faintest whisper can be heard on the opposite side. Buried here are the Duke of Wellington and Sir Christopher Wren. Prince Charles and Princess Diana were married here.

Buckingham Palace: In St. James Park, this is the official residence of the Queen. The palace was built originally as a red brick country house for the Duke of Buckingham in 1703. In 1762 it was purchased by George III who needed room for his 15 children. He expanded the building and faced it with Portland Stone. Bombed twice in WW2, the palace today, stands 360 feet long in a 40-acre garden and contains 600 rooms. Every summer morning at 11:30, the changing of the guard takes place. The ceremony lasts 1½ hour and is a fine example of military pageantry. The new guard, marching behind a band, comes from their barracks and takes over from the old guard in the forecourt of the palace. These guards date back to 1642. The best viewing point in across from the palace around the square of the Victoria Moument. Victoria was the first resident, and the palace has been the official residence of royalty since 1837.

Trafalgar Square: (Tube: Charing Cross) A famous square in the heart of London with a statue of Wellington in the center on top of a column. The National Gallery is on this square.

National Gallery: (Tube: Charing Cross) Mon-Sat 10-6. Sun 2-6. Free. This neoclassical building contains a marvelous collection of paintings covering every great Art Movement for 7 centuries (all but the 20th century). Outstanding are the Rembrandt's (Two self-portraits), a gallery of Rubens, da Vinci's Virgin of the Rocks, and works by Titian, Bellini, Van Eyck, Botticelli, Michelangelo, El Greco, Velasquez, Vermeer, Degas, Renoir, Cezanne, and Monet. At the entrance to the museum is a statue of George Washington.

National Portrait Gallery: Behind the national Gallery on St. Martin's Place. Daily 10-5. Sun 2-6. An interesting short stop to see who was who. There are paintings of everyone from the 15th century on. Exceptional works by Holbein, Gains borough, and Reynolds.

The British Museum: (Tube: Russell Sq or Tottenham Ct Rd) On Great Russell Street. Daily 10-5. Sun 2:30-6. Free. This immense museum alone is well worth the trip to London. It grew out of a private collection of manuscripts in 1753. Today it is one of the largest museums in the world and contains millions of objects. Do see the Egyptian rooms, which contain the famous Rosetta Stone, which led to the deciphering of hieroglyphics. See the Duveen Gallery which houses the Elgin Marbles, a priceless series of marble sculpture that Lord Elgin helped himself to. They were the frieze from Athens's Parthenon. The Assyrian Transept has the legendary Black Obelisk dating from 860 BC. You'll also see Egyptian mummies, 2000-year-old costumes, weapons, tools, historical papers (including the original Magna Carta), and papers signed by everyone related to England's history.

Courtauld Institute Gallery: (Tube: Temple) Located within Somerset House off the Strand. Daily 10-5. Sun 2-5. Masterpieces by Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cezanne (8), Van Gogh, and Gauguin, plus a collection of old master drawings. This museum is now in new quarters. The paintings are well worth the effort it takes to find the museum.

Wallace Collection: (Tube: Bond St. or Baker St). Daily 10-5, Sun 2-5. Free. Located on Manchester Square. Gathered in a palatial setting is an array of French artists... Watteau, Boucher, Fragonard, as well as Halls famous Laughing Cavalier, and a great Rembrandt self portrait. Interesting building and collection. Doesn't take long.

Hyde Park and the Mall: (Tube: Marble Arch and others) One of the largest parks in the world, covering 636 acres. At the southern tip, near Marble Arch is the Speaker's Corner, where anyone can get up and talk about anything in the world. Hyde Park was once the hunting grounds for Henry VIII. A beautiful lake... horse trails... people!

Albert Memorial: (Tube: So Kensignton) A rather over-done memorial built by Victoria to honor her beloved Albert. In Hyde Park across from Albert Hall, where concerts are held.

Victoria and Albert Museum: (Tube: So Kensignton) Open daily 10-5. Sun 2-5. Free but a donation is requested. Named after the queen and her consort, this very lively museum is devoted mainly to the decorative arts... galleries of clocks... costumes... decorative metal works... jewelry... etc. But there are also the cartoons by Raphael... a room devoted to his very large designs, which became tapestries. Interesting museum with a very nice tea room/restaurant.

Kensington Palace: (Tube Queensway or High St Kensington) Walk from Hyde Park or from Kensington Gardens. Daily Mon-Sat 9-5. Sun 1-5. See the State Apartments, which were used by Queen Victoria (and where she was born), and especially the room housing gifts presented to her... also a very interesting wing devoted to costumes. Prince Charles and Diana lived in a separate wing of Kensington until their divorce. Diana continued to live here until her death. This palace became the main pilgrimage-spot prior to her funeral.

Harrod's Department Store: (Tube: Knightsbridge) On Brompton Road, Knightsbridge. This is a famous sightseeing attraction. The sheer range and variety of merchandising is dazzling. Have a look.

Madam Tussaud's Wax Museum: (Tube: Baker Street). Daily 10-6:30. Madam Tussaud learned her art in France... attended the court of Versailles and personally took the death masks from the guillotined heads of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. The masks are on display here. She moved her museum to London in 1802. Here are displayed a legion of famous-personalities. The best-known portion is the Chamber of Horrors, which contains many authentic "props" for famous murders. There's also a Planetarium Show and the Battle of Trafalgar.

Tate Gallery: (Tube: Pimlico) Daily Mon-Sat 10-6. Sun 2-6. Free. This museum houses the National collection of British art from the 16th century to the present... plus an international array of moderns, including Picasso, Braque, Dali, Chagall. But, one usually goes here to study Turner and Blake in depth. The largest Turner collection anywhere.

Tate Modern: (Tube: Blackfriars... walk across bridge to Bankside) Daily Mon-Sat 10-6. Sun 2-6. Free. The new Tate Modern, housed in the former Bankside Power Station, opened in 2002 to great critical acclaim. Collection from 1900: Picasso up to the present.

Covent Garden: (Tube:Covent Gard) This is England's historic market place, and St. Paul's Covent Garden, a small church, is the opening setting for G.B. Shaw's Pygmalion (My Fair Lady). Today, the Garden has been re-done, and contains many shops.

Piccadilly Circus: (Tube: Piccadilly) A large square which typifies "swinging London". Lots of neon and fancy signs.

Sir John Sloane's Museum: (Tube: Chancery Lane or Holborn) ... at 13 Lincoln in Fields. Tue-Sat 10-5. Former home of man who rebuilt the Bank of England. See Hogarth's famous series of paintings The Rake's Progress.

Wellington Museum (Apsley House): (Tube: Hyde Park Corner) ... at #149 Piccadilly. Tu/W/Th/Sat 10-6, Sun 2:30-6. The former home of the Duke of Wellington. See Canova's STATUE OF NAPOLEON, 3 fine Velasquez's, and Correggio's Agony in the Garden. Wellington Arch is nearby and is now open to the public.

Museum of London: (Tube: St. Paul's) ... at #150 London Wall. This museum traces the history of London from pre-history to the present.

London Dungeon: (Tube: London Bridge) Located under the arches of London Bridge Station... simulates an atmosphere to chill the blood. The museum faithfully reproduces the conditions of the Middle Ages with a series of tableaux, depicting life in Old London. The rumble of trains overhead, and tolling bells adds to the horror. Daily 10-6.

Imperial War Museum - Cabinet War Rooms: On Lambeth Rd. (Tube: Lambeth North or Elephant & Castle). These rooms were used by Churchill from the outbreak of WW2 until the Japanese surrendered in 1945.

Royal Academy of Arts: (Tube: Piccadilly or Green Park). Major exhibitions throughout the year. Daily 10-18.

The Saatchi Collection: (#98 Boundary Road. Nearest tube: St. John's Woods, and then a 10-minute walk). An outstanding private collection of MODERN ART, housed in a very contemporary building. Very few people know about this museum. Friday and Saturday only... 12-6. Also: Top Floor, 30 Underwood Street.

London Zoo: (Tube: Baker Street or Camden Tower) ... and then bus #74... or walk. Open daily 9-dusk. One of the greatest zoo's in the world... 2 pandas. There are also canals around the zoo... similar to Amsterdam... where you can travel via boat.

The London Palladium: (Tube: Oxford Circus) ... on Argyll Street. This famous theatre opened in 1910. It's the English equivalent of New York's Palace.

Kew Gardens: (Tube: Kew Gardens) ... Located in Richmond... out of London. Lovely Botanical Gardens... great place to spend a relaxing few hours.

Greenwich: Take the train from Charring Cross Station... or more interestingly, take a Thames River Boat from Charring Cross Pier... every 20 minutes. Trip takes 50 minutes. This famous river port is where Greenwich Mean Time is established... also where you'll find the Royal Naval College, the Maritime Museum, and the famous clipper ship, the Cutty Sark.

The London Eye: Jubilee Gardens, South Bank. (Tube: Waterloo) Every 30 minutes from 9:30. This is the world's largest observation wheel which soars 450 feet above the river and gives spectacular views of London.

Chiswick House: (Tube: Turnham Green) One of England's finest Palladian villas. The interiors are lavishly decorated, while outside you'll find the Italianiate gardens filled with statures, obelisks and a winding road.

The Monument: (Tube: Monument) This 202 foot high Doric Column, designed by Christopher Wren, commemorates the Great Fire of London in 1666. It is the tallest isolated stone column in the world and is located near the spot where the fire began.

Dr. Johnson's House: (Tube: Chancery Lane) Exhibits include a first edition of the dictionary, prints, portraits and furniture.

Dickens' House Musuem: (Tube: Russell Square) Dickens lived here from 1837 to 1839. It was here that he wrote The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, and Nicholas Nickleby.

Dali Universe: (Tube: Waterloo) County Hall, Riverside Building. Daily 10-6PM. Dali's sculptures, drawings, and paintings, furniture, and jewelry. Including "Mae West Lips Sofa".
About the Author
Author of this article is Gene Gill. For more information visit his website: Gene Gill Miniatures.
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