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Referring both to the famous tower that forms the north end of the Palace of Westminster, as well as the iconic clock built into its face, the Big Ben is deemed as one of the most prolific timekeeping devices of the 19th Century. This hugely exalted monument was constructed when the old Palace of Westminster was ravaged by a fire in 1834, sparking the need for a newer structure. It was then that English architect Augustus Pugin's spectacular design for the tower found fruition, an imposing Gothic Revival structure that would go on to become one of the most striking icons of the British empire. Towering over 315 feet (96 meters), the Big Ben is a brilliant blend of sand-colored Anston limestone that dominates its lower half, and a cast iron spire that pierces the city's ashen skies. Its impressive timekeeping mechanism weighs in at over 5 tons, and the pendulum, which beats once every two seconds, weighs 203 kilograms (447.53 pounds). While this imposing structure can be admired from a distance by overseas visitors, only residents are privy to the internal depths of the tower.
Covent Garden is a historic district that is famous for its street performers, shops, restaurants, bars and theaters. The most well known attraction in the area is the Royal Opera House. Before it became the capital’s premiere destination for entertainment and leisure, Covent Garden served as the largest fruit and vegetable market in England. Currently, the Apple, East Colonnade and Jubilee markets are held in the piazza area. Visitors can browse through antiques, artwork, jewelry and clothing that can be found among the market stalls.
Known as both the London Eye and the Millennium Wheel, this huge 137-meter (450-foot) Ferris wheel on the South Bank gives a fabulous bird's eye view of London. The spectacular views from the top stretch as far as 40 kilometers (25 miles) in every direction on a clear day to include views of Windsor. Its inception at the turn of the 21st Century conferred upon it the title of 'the Millennium Wheel', symbolic of the progress made thus far and the promise of a glorious future. The London Eye has since come to be an icon of the city skyline, renown as the world's tallest cantilevered observation wheel and one of the city's highest observation points. Each of the glass-encased pods of the London Eye can transport up to 25 passengers around its 120-meter(394-foot) diameter at a leisurely pace, a circuit that takes close to 30 minutes to complete. For the duration of the ride, the city and its many attractions lie sprawled all around for a glimpse of London's girth in a single sweep.
The Globe Theatre is universally known as the place where the great plays of Shakespeare came alive. Today, Shakespeare’s Globe, located on the banks of the River Thames is a reproduction of the original Globe, which burned down in 1613 after a cannon shot set fire to its roof. The theater was built near the site of the original using nearly identical methods and materials, and is believed by historians and architects alike to be very realistic. Since it opened in 1997, The New Globe has been a popular and iconic addition to London theater, and has turned from hosting only open-air summer productions into a vibrant center of Shakespearean drama, education, exhibitions, and tours. The ‘groundling’ tradition is still alive at the Globe, whereby visitors can watch world-class theater from the yard for a low price.
Enthroned on London's highest point at the summit of Ludgate Hill, St. Paul's elegant silhouette is an icon of the city skyline, its soaring dome framed by the cathedral's spires. First built in 604 but destroyed by the Great Fire of 1666, the beautiful building that stands today was designed by Sir Christopher Wren in the English Baroque style. While the marvelous facade is a stunning triumph, it does little to belay the sumptuous interiors, brimming with vivid sculptures, intricate carvings and gleaming gilded details. St Paul's has been host to many important events over the years, including the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill in 1965 and the wedding of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer in 1981. Of the cathedral's many treasures, the Whispering Gallery is worth a special mention; just a whisper against the blank circular wall can be heard 42 meters (137.7 feet) away on the opposite side. The seat of the Bishop of London, the St. Paul's remains a venerated place of worship even as droves of tourists flock to its benevolent embrace.
Designed by Sir Horace Jones and opened in 1894, Tower Bridge is one of London's most recognizable landmarks. This famous monument is built on the River Thames and overlooks the iconic Tower of London. Due to the volume of river traffic in the 19th Century, the Tower Bridge was designed to have twin bascules that could be raised. One of the most fascinating features of the bridge is the Victorian-era engine room that houses the coal-powered motors used to raise the bridge lifts. The two towers, the North Tower and South Tower, are open to visitors. There is a glass-covered enclosed walkway that runs between the two that offers a bird's-eye view of vibrant city life. Guided tours are offered on a regular basis.
Hampton Court Palace is a magnificent blend of Tudor and Baroque architecture, sprawling over two hectares (six acres) on the banks of the River Thames. After taking over from Cardinal Wolsey, King Henry VIII lived here with some of his many wives. The palace is famed for its verdant gardens, where music and flower shows take place in the summer. The maze is a very popular attraction, as well as tours of the grounds, complete with costumed guides. To get to here, hail the river launch from Westminster, Richmond or Kingston for a scenic trip up the river. Alternatively, a train departs every thirty minutes from Waterloo to Hampton Court Station. Hours vary by season.
900 years of history is enshrined within the thick, turreted walls of the Tower of London. Originally built as a stronghold by William the Conqueror in 1066, the Tower of London was expanded over the years by various monarchs. Its most distinctive feature is also its oldest, the White Tower built in 1078 by William the Conqueror as a symbol of the Norman supremacy. Although variously used as a royal residence, armory and mint, the Tower of London is best known for its stint as a prison and the site of numerous executions, most notably of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. Elizabeth I, Sir Walter Raleigh and Prince Edward V are a few of the other famous personalities who were imprisoned here. Stories of treason, conspiracy and espionage are rife amid these historic walls, with countless secrets just waiting to be uncovered. Another curious feature are the ravens here, that are said to safeguard the British Crown. Today, the Tower of London is a museum and the home of the fabulous Crown Jewels. Tours of the castle are led by the Yeomen Warders, also popularly known as the Beefeaters.
This symbol of royalty resides in the heart of Kensington Gardens. Revered for centuries, this grandiose abode has served as a royal residence since the 17th Century. Surrounded by emerald lawns, and sparkling ponds, the Jacobean Kensington Palace is endowed with courtly interiors. Across the span of centuries, the palace has been variously altered by resident monarchs who sought to furnish the palace in accordance with their own tastes. One of the most dramatic additions is the Cupola Room, designed and decorated by William Kent. The ornate Orangery and Winter Café are replete with English flair, while the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection, complete with ceremonial garb dating as far back as the 18th Century, offers insight into the historic cultural nuances of England.
For many years, Piccadilly Circus, at the junction of five busy streets, has been a major London landmark, seen by many as the capital's center. In the heart of Piccadilly is a fountain topped with the aluminum statue of an archer. Although affectionately known as Eros by Londoners, it's actually the Angel of Christian Charity by Sir Alfred Gilbert, and it was so unpopular when first unveiled that he opted for self-imposed exile. Today, the statue is one of London's most famous sites and a popular spot for tourists and romantic couples alike. In the daytime Piccadilly Circus is a bustling area filled with shoppers, business people and visitors. But in the evening the area really comes alive, with its illuminated signs and heady mix of clubbers and couples heading for a big evening out. This is truly the gateway to the West End.
To the west of the Palace of Westminster, this superbly striking piece of Early English Gothic architecture enthralls one and all with its 700-year-old history and its immediate association with British Royalty. First built by King Edward the Confessor between 1042 and 1052 as St Peter's Abbey, the church was meant to serve as a royal burial site for himself, and all regal heirs that followed. Quickly, this originally Romanesque church also became the site where coronations and royal weddings took place, thus going on to become one of the most significant religious buildings for British monarchs. While the abbey held the status of a cathedral for several years in the 16th Century, it was soon designated the title of a 'royal peculiar', or a church that is directly governed by the crown, in the later years. The abbey, with its majestic ivory turrets that aim for the sky, dramatic buttresses that line the southern facade, and the Norman-style nave that sits between the two towers, stands as one of London's most astonishing royal landmarks today.
30 St Mary Axe is an architectural marvel that doubles as a commercial skyscraper in London. Standing at 41 stories, the massive structure is visible from most places in the city and often referred to as 'The Gherkin' given its unusual appearance. The distinctive glass building was designed by Foster and Partners, a British architectural firm known for its glass and steel buildings, and completed in 2003. On its 40th floor is a bar that offers a magnificent 360-degree view of the city below. It also has restaurants on the 39th floor and private dining rooms on the 38th floor, which can be rented out for special occasions. Whether you head inside or admire it from afar, this icon of the London skyline is hard to miss when traveling around the city.