Typical Tourist: London, England
Typical Tourist is a series to help you figure out which of the most famous and reviewed sites in a city are actually worth visiting. Let me do the reconnaissance work for you!
When it comes to cities as large and as well-known as London, it seems like everything could qualify for a spot on my Typical Tourist list. This will be the first in a two-part series, with this list covering the most famous sites. Part 2 will cover places that are still extremely popular, but maybe less so in comparison.
The Houses of Parliament
There is no question in my mind that you should take a guided tour of the Houses of Parliament. What you probably shouldn’t do is schedule your tour time immediately after you get off an overnight flight from the United States. While I thought that the tour would distract me from my drooping eyelids, I didn’t realize that almost every room had a place to sit while the tour guide was speaking. Sitting in the MP pews in the chamber is certainly a highlight for some, but I’ll bet only a select few can say they’ve dozed off in one. Lucky me. Tours are informative, fun, and it felt unreal to be walking through such a famous and historical building.
The Tower of London
My love of British royal history, specifically the court of King Henry VII, ensured that The Tower of London was not an optional stop. Actually, it was the first thing that I scheduled into my itinerary. The compound includes multiple buildings and exhibits and there is no wrong way to visit. However, I would recommend taking one of the free Yeoman Warder tours that begin every half hour. The Yeoman are members are the armed forces, but don’t let that put you off. My Warder was well-informed, personable, and very funny – our group had a wonderful time with him. Let the tour be your introduction to the Tower and then you can head off on your own.
The London Eye
Seeing a city from an aerial view is one of my favorite touristy experiences, however, the London Eye was not my favorite. To me it seemed like an overpriced Ferris Wheel ride and, in my mind, it wasn’t worth it. As I went in January, I bought a combination ticket that also allowed me to skate on the rink at the base of the Eye. With a limited view of the surrounding area, even skating wasn’t the breathtaking experience I thought it would be. If you’re going to skip something for either time or financial reasons, I’d say this is the thing.
Even with my specific interest in churches and other places of worship, I was suspect of Westminster Abbey. I was worried that it would be packed with people and just look like a really big church. While it is, in theory, just a really big church, the amount of historical figures who have worshipped in the Abbey and/or are currently buried there gives visitors plenty to read and look at. (And I know you want to stand at the front and pretend you were the one to marry Prince Harry.) Unfortunately you can’t take pictures inside the Abbey, so you’ll have to be satisfied with this one that a fellow tourist took of me outside. (I had originally asked an Abbey staff member, but he couldn’t leave his post, so he kindly and determindly solicited a passerby to take it for me.)
I will always be indebted to one of my friends who insisted that I visit Abbey Road while I was in London. (Thanks Danielle!) She also was kind enough to mention that the famous Abbey Road crossing is not at the Abbey Road tube stop, it is at St. John’s Wood. I was worried that I wouldn’t know which crossing was the right one, but the hoard of tourists and onlookers will tip you off. (Read here about my experience making friends at Abbey Road.) This seems like a frivolous stop, but people watching makes this more than worth the tube fare to get there. You may even get a really awesome photo out of it.
Have you been to London? Do you think I missed a famous spot? Let me know in the comments!