My Favorite Destinations…London

by Diana Hechler

(July 10, 2003) What’s the best way to get acquainted with this venerable city? Try the hop-on, hop-off bus tours run by The Big Bus (red) or The Original Tour (brown). Both companies operate open-air, double-decker buses throughout the day that visit every major tourist site in the city. Ticket holders can get on and off all day long at their convenience. Since some of the most popular sites are a long walk from public transportation (especially those across the Thames), the bus services really do make sense. There’s a modest fee.

guardOnce you’ve seen the Changing of the Guard and Westminster Abbey, you’re ready for the rest of this wonderful city. If you visit during July and August, be prepared for lines at the major tourist sites.

If you’d like to start with a bird’s-eye view of the city, set off for the British Air London Eye, a slow-moving giant ferris wheel along the Thames River that will give you a wonderful overview. You can buy tickets on-line in advance or get them through your hotel’s concierge. Tickets are sold for a specific time on a specific date. The only disadvantage to purchasing in advance is that if the weather is bad on your day and time, the view will be limited.

Did you know that you could visit Parliament? Watching men in wigs debate a proposed law is downright memorable.

If you’d rather hear from the people, make your way to Hyde Park on Sunday mornings at 10 am for Speakers’ Corner. Anyone can bring a soapbox and pontificate on any subject imaginable – and they do. Heckling is a part of the show and you might catch the next Karl Marx (or Groucho) before he’s famous!"

And speaking of famous, be sure to keep your eyes open as you wander about the city. Plaques abound on buildings, marking everything from the discovery of penicillin to Sherlock Holmes’ fictional residence. You never know what you’ll discover.

Even Sherlock Holmes, however, might have failed to unmask Jack the Ripper. If you dare, screw up your courage for a Jack the Ripper walking tour, a nocturnal journey to his favorite stalking grounds. (Think carefully before bringing young children; it is dramatic and creepy.) If you’re lucky, fog will roll in and give you the full effect.

For history buffs, don’t overlook a visit to the Cabinet War Rooms of Winston Churchill, recently reopened after renovation. Faithful to their appearance during WWII, the chambers are infused with Churchill’s spirit and personality. (Not the same as the Imperial War Museum).

If You Have Children With You: Try the maze in the formal gardens at Hampton Court Palace (30 minutes by train from London). You might want to bring a thread along in case you get stuck. I’m not kidding!

Diana M. Hechler, D. Tours Travel

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