There is so much to see in London but for newcomers, (and for Londoners like myself who have never done it), my suggestion would be to visit the myriad of attractions that surround the Tower of London. This suggested day out requires both stamina and good walking shoes!
Coming in via Tower Hill Underground and heading for the underpass, you might do a double take as I did when you notice a Roman statue staring at you. This is not just any Roman centurion – it’s actually a statue of Emperor Trajan and he stands proudly in front of one of the largest parts of the Roman wall still in existence. The London Wall (as its now known) used to surround the Roman city of Londinium. (When you have time, a walk around the London Wall is another great “to do”, taking around two hours to complete and you can download a PDF of the route via the Museum of London.)
Anyway – keep heading onwards, following the crowds and in front of you, will loom the fortress of the Tower of London – a palace and a prison where many a terrified citizen has entered and never exited … alive. It was built to awe and subjugate Londoners and the key building (and the one I headed to immediately) is the White Tower. What really amazed me when I entered however was the pure scale of the site. It really is enormous and there is so much to see and so many batiments to walk that you can spend a good few hours here.
Just inside the entrance, you come across a water gate. This is the infamous Traitor’s Gate - trust me, you don’t want to enter the Tower of London this way – the clue is in the name. Bad news.
Did you know the Tower of London used to house a Royal Menagerie (AKA zoo) around the time of King John too? These rather good wire statues give an idea of the other “prisoner” inhabitants of the Tower.
What I really liked? The costumed actors who inter-acted in perfect character with the public as you walked around. These children are entranced. I also liked all the cafes and restaurants scattered around the complex – all are good, well priced and ideal for quick re-fuelling.
Refreshed and revived, from here, it’s but a short walk to the nearby Tower Bridge. I’ve always had a fascination with this particular London attraction as my god-father used to be Bridge Master here.
Shame he never did get to take me on a private tour but the friendly peeps here make everyone feel at home. You ride up the lifts to see the walkways (little tip – take photos only from the tiny windows that open above the displays) - descending and walking across the bridge to go downstairs to see the engine rooms. Just brilliant.
Now walking alongside the River Thames, my next suggested pit-stop is HMS Belfast – a tethered warship just steps from (and photographed from) Tower Bridge. A World War II cruiser, she saw service from 1939 – 1963 when she retired.
HMS Belfast opened to the public on Trafalgar Day, 1971 under the auspices of the Imperial War Museum. Today she is the last remaining vessel of her type – one of the largest and most powerful light cruisers ever built.
There’s lots to see on board so a good tip is to leave around 90 minutes for your visit – I highly recommend it and kiddies in particular adore it.
OK, onwards and upwards again just along from HMS Belfast and you come across these amazing public artworks along the footpath. I couldn’t see the artist’s name for this one – as you can see, it was otherwise engaged – but they are certainly both thought-provoking or amusing – depending on your point of view.
Trundling along the path, I next suggest a quick visit to Shakespeare’s Globe - the recreation of one of London’s famous Elizabethan theatres just a few feet along from where it originally stood.
We have American political refugee, Sam Wanamaker, to thank for this amazing building – without him, it surely would never have happened. Thanks Sam.
Enjoy one of the many plays enacted on this famous stage (did you see it in Shakespeare in Love?) or just come for a tour of the building. Quick tip – bring a comfy cushion along or hire one at the Globe if you come to a play – they are wooden seats and the plays can be long in duration. Enough said.
You will hear all about the South Bank of London and its history – renowned for frivolity and excesses of all kinds and kept at arm’s length from the more serious-minded citizens of The City of London who forbade the operation of such “palaces of debauchery” within its square mile. Tsk, Tsk.
On for another culture boost and just in the shadow of the Globe lies Tate Modern. One of the UK’s top three tourist attractions, Tate Modern is housed inside the former Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s Bankside Power Station. Imaginatively converted by Swiss architects Herzog & De Meuron, the views from the top floor restaurant are some of London’s best. Reservations recommended.
After this day of heroic activity, crawl back home or head for the nearest bar ….. and relax. Job well done.