When I went to London for the first time back in 2002, I had a Rough Guide map tucked into my backpack. It turned out to be such a great map, it’s gone on every trip to London, including my 2011 sojourn. Obviously, using a nine year old map isn’t always a good idea, but it’s never lead me astray, (when I get lost, it’s either operator error or I left my compass in my other jeans). Between a durable plastic coating and including most of the little streets, this is my all-time favorite map.
Aside from laying out the whole city, my Rough Guide map includes a list of 20 can’t miss sites of London. To-do lists are irresistible, so every time I go to London I make it a point to check off at least one item from the London bucket list.
1. The National Gallery
This museum holds treasures from the likes of Da Vinci, Van Gogh, and countless other legendary artists. No matter how many times I walk through the doors, I am always in awe of the masterpieces hanging on the walls. The first time I saw a real Van Gogh, I forgot how to breathe. The best part is, the whole experience is free, (though donations are greatly appreciated).
2. London Eye
The tallest ferris wheel in the world is definitely worth the price of the ticket and long line. The views of London are truly spectacular and it moves slowly enough to allow enough time to fully take in the vistas along the Thames. Some of my most beautiful memories of London come from my ride on the London Eye as I was lucky enough to reach the apex at sunset.
3. Hampstead Heath
This is the first of yet-to-complete items on the list. There are so many parks in London and I’m gradually making my way to each one. If anything, Hampstead Heath gives me a reason to return to London (as if I need one!).
4. Shopping in Covent Garden
There is so much to see and do in Covent Garden. The shopping is a little out of my league, but it’s fun to look in the windows. However, my favorite part of Covent Garden are the street performers that populate the center court and side streets. In the course of an afternoon, there’s everything from music, magic shows, mimes, human statues, and artists. All I need is a cup of coffee and few quid to toss and I’m all set for a good bit of fun.
5. Royal Court
This is the second yet-to-complete item on the list. I walk by the theater district on every visit, but I have yet to step foot in a theater. I travel on pinched penny, so the choice to pass on taking in a play is usually made for financial reasons. One of these days, I will go and savor the thrill of London’s famed theater tradition.
6. No. 11 Bus
How about bus #43? On my last trip, I took a double-decker bus from London Bridge all the way to Muswell Hill Broadway. It took about an hour, but I saw everything from famed sites to little neighborhoods where tourists seldom go. My tired feet got a rest, the rain couldn’t get me, and I saw the city from a completely different perspective. Not bad for the price of a bus fare!
7. St. Paul’s
After a while, all churches in Europe start to look the same, but St. Paul’s really does stand out as a uniquely beautiful piece of architecture. It’s not free or cheap to go inside, but its worth the price to stand beneath distinctive dome. My jaw literally dropped and stayed that way for much longer than what would be considered polite. After the dome, take some time to admire the marble floors and columns and then climb up the second floor to see the knave from on high. The crypt down below is also worth a look, for nothing else but the chance to say, “I crept through a crypt.”
8. Walk Along the South Bank
This is one of my favorite things to do in London. Not only is the view amazing, but the South Bank is full of vendors, museums, shopping, parks, and kiosks. While a bustling place filled with people, it is also a place to relax and soak in the atmosphere. On my last trip, I strolled down the embankment at least half a dozen times. If you go, be sure to listen for the sound of the Thames lapping the shore.
9. Houses of Parliament
From the outside, Parliament is a pretty impressive building. The gothic spires and arches serve as a symbol of London and house the government machine that runs England. The real action, however, happens on the inside with spirited debates and the pageantry of tradition. On selected days, Parliament is open to the public and it’s totally free! I sat in what felt like box seats and watched representatives debate rather hotly about energy regulations in the U.K. It sounds like a boring subject, but the Brits keep it lively with witty banter.
10. Somerset House
On three previous trips, I saw Sommerset House from a distance, but never got the chance to venture close enough to see what all the fuss was about. This summer, I finally walked into the courtyard and was instantly awestruck. The central court is enormous and surrounded on three sides by the beautiful white facade of the house. In the middle is a large set of ground fountains that come alive at different intervals.
11 -20 are after the jump . . .