Seeing most of London’s Major Sites (without the queues)
By Cindy-Lou Dale
Senior Travel Writer
Despite jokes about accents and what, exactly, a chip is, London remains a popular destination for American travelers, which has no shortage of tourist staples: Buckingham Palace, Piccadilly Circus, Tower Bridge, Big Ben, the House of Parliament, but London’s appeal doesn’t lie only in its architectural and cultural treasures.
It’s the jaw-dropping views across the city, taking in most of the Big Five landmarks, which are most memorable.
It’s only a credit to the capital that there are simply too many galleries, museums and cultural attractions in London that are worth visiting but don’t try and do it all.
Should this be your first visit, take in the views from above, experience the River Thames and pick one or two landmarks to visit, then save the rest for another time – otherwise you’ll spend your weekend queuing.
Start off with The Shard, Western Europe’s tallest building. The distinctive Shard skyscraper is the only place to take in over 1,000 years of London’s history. The panoramic views, from the observation deck on the 72nd floor, stretch across the city for some 40-miles. Prebook at £25.95. www.theviewfromtheshard.com
For panoramic views of London’s skyline book a journey on the Emirates Air Line, the UK’s first urban cable car, which soars across the River Thames and connects Greenwich with the Royal Docks and two world-class venues – the North Greenwich Arena and ExCeL.
It’s located just five minutes from the O2, adjacent to the North Greenwich Tube station. Cabins arrive every 30 seconds and cable car flights are approximately 10 minutes each way. Prices start from £4.40. www.emiratesairline.co.uk
Gracefully rotating over the River Thames, opposite the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, is Europe’s tallest Ferris wheel, the Coca-Cola London Eye. The £22.50 price tag is worth every penny of its half-hour spin, just for the breathtaking 360-degree views of the capital and its famous landmarks.
Once you’ve boarded your glass capsule (holds 25 people) you’ll creep along at an excruciatingly slow 0.6mph, but from the top of the 135-m wheel, you’ll be rewarded with gloriously unimpeded vistas across London. At night, take one of the special ‘champagne flights’ and find yourself in one of the capital’s best bars. Prebooking is advisable
Avoid buses and underground trains, instead see the city’s historic landmarks from onboard the MBNA Thames Clippers — a London River Bus service that carries passengers along the River Thames.
There’s a River Bus every 20-minutes from Putney to Woolwich and includes stops at North Greenwich for The O2, Greenwich, Canary Wharf, Tower, London Bridge, Embankment, and London Eye for Waterloo, as well as several residential piers.
Passengers are guaranteed a seat and can enjoy a coffee or something a little stronger from the on-board café and bar. Tickets cost £6.50 per person for a single journey from central London to The O2 (using Oyster pay-as-you-go) or £14.70 for a hop-on-hop-off River Roamers day ticket. It’s one of the best way to get around and a great way of seeing London’s landmarks. www.thamesclippers.com
Visiting the Queen
No trip to London would be complete without a visit to Buckingham Palace, the official London residence of the HRH Queen Elizabeth II. During the Queen’s annual visit to Balmoral in Scotland (from August to September) the lavish State Rooms at Buckingham Palace are open to visitors and are laid out as they would be during state visits.
The State Rooms hold some of the greatest treasures from the Royal Collection and include masterpieces by Rembrandt and Rubens, sculpture by Canova and Chantrey, exquisite examples of Sèvres porcelain as well as some of the finest English and French furniture in the world. To end the day on a high note, take tea and strawberry and cream scones on the terrace of the Garden Café, overlooking the palace’s famous lawns and lake. A typical visit takes around 2 hours. Prebook for £21.50. www.royalcollection.org.uk
Let’s be honest, it would be an impossible task to see all of London in just 48-hours and you’d be a fool to stay for only a weekend. But sometimes visits have to be fleeting – and you’re certain to return soon for even more selfie opps.
The newest kid on the block (launched January 2016) and by far one of the city’s best riverside hotels, is the 18-story InterContinental 02. It’s new and shiny but more importantly, it’s spacious – a claim few London hotels can make.
It has all the bits and bobs required of large hotels like a luxury spa, conference facilities and a massive ballroom, but something you seldom find in a chain is truly attentive staff who greet you by name each time you show your face.
Then there’s the food. Oh boy, the food! The Market Brasserie, which is inspired by the original Greenwich trading markets, has floor-to-ceiling windows and views across the River Thames to the city. It has an open plan kitchen, with displays of breads and pastries made daily, British cured meats and sides of smoked salmon.
The Clipper Bar, with its impressive marble bar and 270-degree views across London’s skyline, serves signature cocktails created by world-class mixologists. The pièce de résistance is the stylish rooftop SkyBar, Eighteen, with their glittering backdrop of Canary Wharf, the City of London and the Royal Borough of Greenwich. There were other hotel eateries and private dining options available.
InterContinental Hotel 02, 1 Waterview Drive, Greenwich Peninsula, London, SE10 0TW has 453 guest rooms, 59 suites and a luxury Presidential Suite. B&B Room rates start at £196. www.iclondon-theo2.com
Some London tips
- If you plan to use a London bus you need to buy an Oyster Card (or if you have the gizmo on your bank card, go ‘contactless’).For some bizarre reason, you can’t board a London bus without having an Oyster card – cash is no longer accepted.
- Don’t go anywhere near Oxford Street if it’s a weekend. There is nothing you can find there that you can’t also find anywhere else in London. The same goes for Piccadilly Circus and Westfield Shopping Centre.
- If you want to get out of the city after seeing these sites, rent a car. Be sure to request an automatic (the majority of cars in the UK are manual) and don’t forget to pack your driver’s license.
For further inspiration and great ideas about things to see and do in London visit www.visitlondon.com