My first memory of London was my grandmother singing me the nursery rhyme, “London Bridge is Falling Down.” I had no idea what it meant or where it was, but all my childhood I knew there was a London Bridge out there somewhere. Over the years I learned about the history of England—not only in school but also from pop culture and movies. When I finally visited London with my wife, Deb, we couldn’t wait to tour the city’s landmarks!
We started with London Bridge. Contrary to popular belief, London Bridge is not the striking bridge that we all think it is; instead it is a rather plain bridge that spans the River Thames. The next bridge over the river is the true beauty—Tower Bridge is an elaborate suspension bridge comprising two Victorian Gothic towers that reach a height of 213 feet. Tourists can visit the bridge and walk across the span between the two towers. The experience offers a panoramic view of the city.
Tower of London
Not far from the Tower Bridge is the Tower of London, which also is known as Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress. No visit to London would be complete without a visit to this castle. Dating back to 1066, the Tower has been a palace, a fortress, a mint, and a treasury. It’s probably best known as a prison. Who hasn’t heard stories of royalty locked high up in the tower? Many royals faced bloody deaths at the hands of the Tower executioner. Even Queen Elizabeth I spent a short time detained behind its walls (but she was released after a few months).
Viewfinder Tip: Use public transportation to get around London. An Oyster Card is the most affordable way to travel, giving you discounted access to the tube, tram, bus, and rail.
Big Ben is one of London’s most iconic landmarks. Its official name is Elizabeth Tower, and it is located at the north end of the Parliament Buildings (which also is known as The Palace of Westminster). Make sure to walk across the Westminster Bridge to the opposite side of the River Thames for a perfect view of the massive complex. As we gazed upon it from this spot, I remembered many of the movies showcasing this massive building. During our visit, Westminster Bridge was jam-packed with tourists, but wouldn’t you love to walk across it alone like Cillian Murphy did in the film, 28 Days Later? (Sans the zombie apocalypse of course.) James Bond movies, Sherlock Holmes flicks and V for Vendetta all have displayed Big Ben and Parliament prominently, and it seems that more and more movies want to show off the beauty of downtown London.
The London Eye
Now that you already have crossed Westminster Bridge, take a walk on the south side of the Thames to see the impressive London Eye. Built in 1999, it was at one point the tallest Observation Wheel in the world. It’s no longer No. 1 (that distinction is now held by The High Roller, in Las Vegas), but the Eye still tops out at 443 feet, making it a great way to witness London from above. Each pod, or capsule, holds 25 people and one complete revolution is 30 minutes long. The London Eye is Britain’s answer to the Eiffel Tower. It’s a modern steel structure in a city filled with history and buildings made of bricks.
We joined the throngs of tourists at Buckingham Palace to watch the Changing of the Guard. Making the mistake of arriving mere minutes before the ceremony, we spent our time jockeying for position to see the festivities. The event itself was crowded and difficult to see, but, afterward, the walk along The Mall toward Trafalgar Square was worth the time spent at the palace. It’s a beautiful stroll through history, past iconic spots such as the Victoria Memorial, St. James Park, and Clarence House, the residence of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall (a.k.a., Prince Charles and Camilla).
Elsewhere in the city, back near the Tower of London, stands The Monument to the Great Fire of London. This structure, which locals call “The Monument,” is 202 feet tall, and it was built to commemorate the fire of 1666 that devastated the city. If you dare, you can walk up the narrow 311 steps for a good view of the city and river. If you aren’t up for the walk, do as we did and head across the street to enjoy any number of modern-day representations of another famous London monument, the English Pub.
What monuments would you like to see in London?