London is a city that has a history and heritage that fills volumes and architecture that has borne silent witness to world-changing events. The other side of London is the young, vibrant city that showcases as many of the latest trends in fashion and the arts that it originates.
24 hours in London is barely enough time to scrape its surface but an excellent way to discover how much more there is to one of the world’s most influential cities and perhaps lay the foundation for a more leisurely visit in the future. Fortunately, many of London’s most visit-worthy sites are quite close together.
Trafalgar Square, the largest square in the city and home to Nelson’s Column, iconic stone lions and innumerable pigeons is sometimes considered the heart of London. The central fountain area affords a sweeping vista of the marvelous architecture around the square, including the National Gallery which is worth a visit itself, and is one of the most recognizable scenes in the city.
Another universally recognizable London setting is Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s official residence in London and her administrative center here. The Changing of the Guard is not to be missed and the guards in red tunics and tall bearskin hats are a sight in themselves. The East front incorporates the balcony from which the royal family greets crowds on special days. In 2011, the palace was seen by billions of people around the world after the marriage ceremony of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
The royal couple were married at Westminster Abbey, a short walk away. A mostly Gothic structure, it has also been the coronation site for British monarchs for centuries. Its intricate stone work is a source of wonder for architecture enthusiasts and laypersons alike. Royalty, aristocrats and scientists, including Isaac newton and Charles Darwin are interred at Westminster Abbey.
A stone’s throw from Westminster Abbey are the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, sometimes the very epitome of this grand old city. The Tower of London, where the Crown jewels have been kept for almost a millennium, and Tower Bridge across the Thames are worth a visit and many photographs.
Across on the East of the River Thames sits what is arguably London’s most iconic modern landmark, the London Eye. 135 meters tall and offering a view of 25 miles in every direction in clear weather, this giant Ferris wheel makes one complete revolution every 30 minutes and is an excellent way to familiarize yourself with London landmarks through the interactive interface inside each capsule.
The evening might be a great time to take in a play at London’s famed West End. Or, for a macabre twist, you can take a Jack the Ripper tour around Whitechapel. Another great nighttime adventure is a trek across the top of the famous O2 stadium for an excellent view of the evening skyline.
One of the things to keep in mind is that cab fares can be excessive in London; the hour-long ride from Heathrow airport to the city will set you back between $70 and $100. For sightseeing, hop-on, hop-off buses cost around $45 for a day and are the much better option. A cruise along the Thames is also a good idea to see the sights of the city.