HIGH IN THE SKY – THE SHARD, LONDON EYE and SKYGARDEN
The best way to see London is from the sky and there are plenty of places to enjoy spectacular views depending on your taste and budget. The most popular is the London Eye. It’s 450 feet high, and on a clear day you can see 20 miles in every direction. Tickets cost £21.50 on the day, but if you book online at least 24 hours in advance it is £19.35, and print at home tickets mean you can avoid the queues. (There are no student discount, this is the adult price.) This will pay for a 3o minute revolution. Book tickets at www.londoneye.com
If you want to get even higher, then you might prefer going up to the observation deck of the Shard, western Europe’s highest building at 1014 feet. Tickets in advance cost £19.95 for a student and £24.95 for an adult (on the day tickets cost £5.00 more per person). Located on top of London Bridge Rail Station, the views from here, especially of Tower Bridge and the Tower of London are second to none. Your ticket pays for your ride in the lift, and then once you are on top you can stay up there as long as you like. Chose a sunny day, or one with changeable weather as watching the weather from there is an experience in itself. With views 50-60 miles in every direction you can see sun parting the clouds, rain clouds and rainbows all at once as they swirl above your head in the open air viewing deck on floor 72. Or stay under cover on floor 69 where computerised screens give hints to all the sites that lay beneath you.
If this all sounds a bit pricey, we have the perfect answer. The Sky Garden on top of the Walkie Talkie (20 Fenchurch Street) at 525 feet is absolutely free to ascend – but requires advance booking. Book your free tickets at https://skygardentickets.com/skygardenpublic_ui/events/ Just remember to bring a photo ID or they won’t let you up in the lift. Once on top, there is a phenomenal roof garden which stretches over 3 floors with balconies and plenty of indoor plants that make you feel like you on earth and flying at the same time. There is a bar in the middle that serves coffee and other bevvies and snacks, all at very reasonable prices – especially given the view. Coffee is £2.90 for a Latte and alcoholic beverages are about £5.00 each. Lounge for hours and whatever level as you enjoy views of the Gherkin and the Shard – and go as many times as you like! After all it’s free!
BUCKINGHAM PALACE AND THE CHANGING OF THE GUARD
The queen’s London home is not usually open to the public, so unless you are here late August to early September you will have to wave to the queen from outside. But if you want to make your visit something special, time your visit with the Changing of the Guard Ceremony. This happens every day in the summer and every other day in the winter weather permitting. A lot of people make the mistake of watching from right up against the gates of the palace, but if you do this the view you will have is mostly the tops of other people’s heads! Instead, find a space in the triangle of grass located across from the palace (on the corner or Spur Road, where it starts to curve around the palace, just to the southeast of the Palace). From there you will see yesterday’s guard come up the Mall at about 11:15 and then new guard coming from Wellington Barracks up Spur Road at about 11:25am. Finally, stick around for another 15 minutes and you will catch the Horseguards going around the Victoria statue and before they walk up Constitution Hill.
TOWER OF LONDON
For history lovers, this is absolutely the most important place to visit in all of London. Built by William the Conqueror after his invasion in 1066, this castle is impenetrable! Climb the walls for great views of Tower Bridge, see the place where Henry VIII’s 2nd wife (Ann Boleyn) and 5th wife (Catherine Howard) were executed, and see the world famous, priceless Crown Jewels. And that is just the beginning. You will also learn about the legend of the ravens, hear the tale of two princes that were murdered by their uncle, Richard III and see the eye popping collection of armour in the White Tower. Ticket prices for students, book in advance online are £17.60 (Gate prices is slightly more.) For more information on visiting the Tower of London (or other Historic Palaces in London) visit http://www.hrp.org.uk/
Greenwich, on the east side of London is another stunner. For the best experience take a boat from Tower Hill or all the way from Westminster (City Cruises offers a regular service. For timetable and prices visit http://www.citycruises.com/city-cruises-sightseeing-prices-timetable.aspx) Once there, make sure you visit the Painted Hall – every inch is painted! Then walk up the hill to the Observatory, where you can straddle the Prime Meridian and be in the east and west hemisphere at one time. (They don’t call in Greenwich Meant Time for nothing.) Then go back down to town to visit Greenwich Market where you will find lots of artsy craftsy unique souvenirs and some of the tastiest street food London has to offer. Best day to visit is Saturday when the market is really buzzing.
The iconic picture of the four most talented musicians in the world walking across Abbey Road is something that everyone who visits London should experience themselves…especially if you are a Beatles fan! Make sure to bring a 5th Beatle to take the picture, when you recreate it with your friends. There are lots of Abbey Roads in London so be sure to go to the one in NW1 – it is just 5 minutes walk from St John’s Wood Tube Station.
CYCLE THROUGH HYDE PARK
On a sunny day in London, one of the best days you can have out is exploring Hyde Park by renting a Santander bike (aka Boris bike). Take a break by the Serpentine and have an ice cream, and then go west towards Kensington Palace. Who knows you might even run into Will and Kate as they take their little ‘uns out for a walk in the park.
For something a little bit different…
TOUR THE BBC
Book a tour to see the inner workings of the most popular news organization in the world, the BBC. In the heart of Oxford Circus, this tour provides you and your group with an inside look at the BBC’s news floor, weather studio, BBC one studio, as well as their theatre radio program studio.
CHURCHILL WAR ROOMS
These rooms are exactly how Churchill left them after WWII. It is a surreal experience to be in the exact room where Churchill directed the war, as well as where he and his crew sought shelter during the Blitz. There is no other place where you can feel the past with such immediacy.