Below are a selection of some of London's Top Tourist Attractions:
If you think of an iconic London landmark, then it has to be Big Ben. Built in 1859 by Augustus Pugin it is the largest 'four faced' chiming clock in the world. Standing at 320 feet, it is also the world's third largest free standing clock. Sitting at the north end of the Houses of Parliament the term Big Ben is actually the name given to the 13.76 tonne bell that rings out the chimes and not the clock itself. Although nowadays, the clock itself is collectively known as Big Ben. The landmark has become a recognised symbol of the UK and London particularly, and is the main focus of attention during the New Year's eve celebrations when radio and TV stations tune in to in to hear its chimes. The four faces of the clock tower are each illuminated and each dial is 23 square feet in diameter. The minute hands are 14 feet in length and the numbers on each face are 2 feet high. The timekeeping of Big Ben is regulated by a large stack of coins which are placed on the pendulum which has in fact hardly ever stopped, even when the Houses of Parliament received a direct hit from enemy aircraft in 1940, and to this day it still continues to chime. At this present time tourists will have to admire the clock from the ground as the tower itself is not open to the general public. However strangely enough, UK residents are entitled to visit, provided they arrange it through their local MP. Foreign visitors are not permitted to tour the clock tower.
Originally built for the Earl of Buckingham and entitled Buckingham House it was built as a large town house in 1705. In 1761 it was acquired freehold by King George III as Queen Charlotte's private residence. During the 19th century it was completely restructured by architects John Nash and Edward Blore and in 1837 became Queen Victoria's official residence. It was remodelled again in 1913 by architect Sir Aston Webb to pretty much how it looks today. The palace itself has a grand total of 775 rooms and is still the official London residence of the present queen. It is used mainly to receive visitors on official, state and ceremonial business. Visitors can view the 19 state rooms some of which house some of the royal family's greatest treasures including many fine paintings and object d'art. Included in the price is a tour of the royal gardens and the lake. The palace and gardens are open to the public between the end of July and the End of September when the Queen is in summer residence at Balmoral in Scotland. The State Ballroom is the largest room in the palace and was constructed in 1856 to house a dinner to celebrate the end of the Crimean war. Visitors can see the grand horseshoe shaped table that is ornately set up for a state banquette. Also on display you can see the fantastic silver gilt from the 'Grand' service which was originally commissioned to celebrate the birthday of George III in 1811.
Built in 1936 this Royal Navy light cruiser saw active service during the second world war and was active in the sinking of the 'Schaarnhorst' a German patrol ship in the Northern Cape. It was decommissioned in 1963 and has been a museum ship since 1971.Moored in pride of place on the River Thames near Tower Bridge it offers visitors a rare glimpse into what life was like on board ship during the second world war. Most of the ship is open to the public and has been preserved and painstakingly restored to how it would have been over 70 years ago. Tourists can take a trip to the gun turret and are treated to an interactive display of what it would have been like when the ship was under attack. A visit to the operations room which is the nerve centre of the vessel makes use of exiting interactives to recreate what it was like to operate in such cramped conditions. Visitors can also take a look at the mess decks where ratings and officers lived and worked and finally you can take a glimpse at the admirals suite plus a trip down to the engine rooms of the ship. There is not much of this vessel that isn't open to the public and as a result you will need to allow 1.5 hours to fully appreciate this attraction. If you are even remotely interested in the heritage of Britain then HMS Belfast is certainly worth a visit.
The Houses of Parliament are also known as the Palace of Westminster and is the meeting place of the two parliamentary establishments, the 'House of Commons' and the 'House of Lords'.
They are situated right in the heart of the City of London and are close to other famous landmarks such as The PM's residence at Downing Street and the government buildings at Whitehall and Westminster Abbey.
In the 11th century, the first royal palace was built on the site that was to become the Houses of Parliament and remained the residence of the royals until 1512, when a fire destroyed much of the old buildings. After being rebuilt, it then served as the main parliamentary meeting place which had been holding council on the site since 1295. Fire again ravaged the complex in 1834 and it was completely rebuilt by architect Charles Barry in a gothic style.
The Houses of Parliament contains an impressive 1100 rooms which are organised around a series of courtyards. Construction started in 1840 and took over 30 years to complete, going way over the estimated budget. The iconic 'Big Ben' sits at the north end of the Houses of Parliament and together they represent everything that is British.
If you are a UK resident it is possible to arrange tours throughout the year through your local MP. It is free to tour but due to popularity you will have to book around 6 months in advance. Alternatively on Saturdays during the summer season it is possible to purchase a ticket and the tours take around 75 minutes. Foreign visitors can also purchase tickets on a Saturday during the summer season. Visitors will have access to the Lords and Commons debating chambers, Westminster Hall and the Queens robing room.
Along with Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace, Madam Tussauds is up there with the most recognisable attractions in London. It has been wowing visitors since 1835 and moved to its present home in Marylebone road in 1884. The waxwork figures themselves are painstakingly made from sittings and measurements with the original person and take days or weeks to complete. The result is a truly lifelike sculpture. If you really want to get up close and personal with your political, sporting or musical heroes then Madam Tussauds is the place to be. Contained within the museum are various zones such as 'A' list party where you can meet up with famous people such as Will Smith, J-Lo, Brad and Angelina, George Clooney, Leonardo Di-Caprio et al. Or how about the sports zone where you can mingle with your favourite sports stars, Christiano Ronaldo, Johnny Wilkinson, Lewis Hamilton, Pele and Muhammed Ali to name but a few. If you fancy a fright, then there is the ever popular 'scream' zone where you are locked in a large chamber with lifelike models of some very scary looking people. Dim the lights and anything can happen.Madam Tussauds is open every day of the year except Christmas day and you can pay on the door, although it is 10% cheaper to book online. If you do decide to pay at the door, be prepared to queue or get there early as it does get very busy, particularly in the peak season. You will need to allow around 2 hours to see everything that the museum has to offer and there is also a gift shop and coffee shop.
When you think of the Royal Greenwich Observatory you think of the prime meridian, or Greenwich mean time, the official starting place of every new day from which the world follows on. It is also home to London's only planetarium and the UK's largest refracting telescope.The original observatory was commissioned by King Charles II for the purpose of studying the stars and the planets in order that navigation be made easier. He created the role of 'astronomer royal' and the appointed person was John Flamsteed who was to serve as the director of the observatory. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, the observatory was built at a cost of 520 GBP and was the first scientific purpose built building in the UK.This original observatory is now known as Flamsteed House and is home to the meridian courtyard. This is where the Longitude of 0º is represented by what was once a brass strip, but is now a strip of aluminium, running through the centre of the courtyard. Every place on earth is represented by the distance or longitude that it is away from the meridian line and the line itself divides the eastern and western hemispheres of the earth. Other features of interest include the 28 inch refracting telescope, which is the largest telescope in the UK and the 7th largest in the world. Built in 1893 it was designed as the latest technology that would keep Britain at the forefront of astrological research. It was put into retirement in the 1960's but still continues to act as an excellent visual aid to night sky observations. During the winter months tourists can come and view the night sky through the telescope.The Peter Harrison planetarium also puts on a series of daily shows using state of the art digital projection screens against a 360 degree backdrop that will wow audiences and will give them a chance to explore space as they have never done before.
When you think of London you immediately think of Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and of course Tower Bridge. It is an iconic landmark that has visitors flocking to it in their droves. In the latter part of the 19th century, increased industrialisation meant that there was a demand for a new river crossing down stream of London Bridge. A fixed bridge simply couldn't be built because it would cut off the access of the tall ships that sailed in and out of the river Thames. The idea that was eventually chosen was a combined bascule and suspension bridge submitted by Sir Horace Jones. Work started in 1886 and took 8 years to complete. It cost £1,184.000, which is the rough equivalent to £100 million in today's money and was finally opened in 1894 by the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII).Visitors to Tower Bridge can experience stunning views from the high level walkway platforms that look straight out over the Thames and most of London. Afterwards it's a journey down to the Victorian engine rooms where you can see how the mighty bridge was lifted. The walkways were originally open to the public soon after the bridge was completed and soon gained a reputation as a haunt for pickpockets and prostitutes and as a result were closed in 1910. 380,00 people visit Tower Bridge every year and the exhibition uses a combination of interactive displays, films and photos to explain how and why the bridge was built. It is possible to buy on the door but to avoid queues it is advisable to pre book online.
Situated on the north bank of the river Thames the 'White Tower' was commissioned in the reign of William the Conqueror in 1066 and was completed in the year 1079. It is an imposing structure and the nine hundred plus years that it has stood is a testament to Norman architecture. Over the next few centuries a fortress known as the Tower of London was built around this original tower. It was, and still is an imposing building and one that was to show people the power and wealth that Britain had. Over the years the Tower has been the scene of some of the most famous and indeed infamous events in British history. The internments and subsequent executions of Edward V and his younger brother in the 15th century and the executions of 3 of the wives of Henry VIII, Lady Jane Gray, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard all of which gruesomely took place on tower green. Guy Fawkes, one of the leaders of the foiled 'gun powder plot' was also beheaded here. Apart from the history, one of the main reasons that people visit the Tower is to see the collection of crown jewels which are stored here and the collection includes one of the world's most expensive and largest diamonds. The protectors of the jewels are the 'Yeomanry of the Guard' more commonly known as 'Beefeaters' who to this day guard the famous jewels, although nowadays they are more likely to be conducting tours and giving talks. Other exhibits to see is the armour of Henry VIII and the instruments of torture in the Wakefield tower and traitors gate. There is a lot to see and do here and is well worth the money to visit.
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