Toward the end of summer, we posted an article about heading to Paris and keeping expectations high. It’s an interesting notion, because most of us would never dream of being disappointed by such a city. But that’s just the point. There’s a sort of phenomenon among travellers whereby people can occasionally feel let down if a city doesn’t match expectations. There’s enough to see and do in Paris to avoid this sort of feeling entirely, however, and I’m given to understand London is the same.
Another of the world’s most popular travel destinations, London is a place I’ve personally never had the privilege of spending much time. I’ve passed through (as many people who visit Europe likely have) but to truly experience it remains a bucket list item. Speaking to friends who have spent more time there and doing my own research, I’ve put together a fairly dynamic list of things I don’t want to miss, and I hope they’ll give you a reason to keep your London expectations justifiably high as well.
The London Eye – This actually would’ve been high on my list of places to avoid, on my own. Essentially a massive Ferris wheel that towers over the London skyline, it’s certainly striking – but actually riding in it seems a little “touristy.” As it happens, you can find a lot of very positive reviews of the experience. The ride is slow and comfortable, and the view is probably unrivaled in London (if not most of Europe). In the end, a full write-up of whether the London Eye is worth it convinced me that this should be on every London visitor’s list. It costs a little bit of money, but the view just seems like it ought not be missed.
The Tower Bridge – Located down the river from the London Eye, the Tower Bridge is one of those wonderful city attractions that doubles as a sight and an activity – at least in the sense that it’s perfectly walkable. If you’re the sort who likes to get out and experience a city intimately, I imagine walking this beautiful bridge that stretches across one of the world’s most famous rivers (the Thames) is an intoxicating experience.
A Premier League Stadium – If you follow football at all, you’re probably aware of the relative supremacy of London in the English Premier League. Home to a handful of teams, it’s rivaled only by Manchester for football activity. Just this season, local club Chelsea was listed as a favourite for the league title, and cross-town rival Arsenal was listed just outside the top four. These two clubs in particular have rich histories and tend to be competitive each season. A trip to either of their stadiums – Stamford Bridge for Chelsea and Emirates Stadium for Arsenal – would certainly seem to be part of the quintessential London experience.
Westminster Abbey – When exploring history in London, it’s tempting to single out the British Museum. Indeed, some think this is the single greatest museum in the world, and it merits a visit as well. But for a unique London experience, Westminster Abbey might almost be more unique. A stunning gothic cathedral steeped in history, it also happens to be a burial site for an extraordinary array of significant figures. The chance to walk in such a solemn place where memorials exist for everyone from Geoffrey Chaucer to Laurence Olivier is something that’s hard to pass up.
Buckingham Palace – A list of London sights could truly go on and on, but it feels wrong not to mention Buckingham Palace. The London home of Queen Elizabeth II, it’s a beautiful building, arguably friendlier than some other royal homes around Europe. And, if you go at the right time, you can see the legendary “changing of the guard” ceremony featuring the palace guards that have become so firmly attached to London’s image around the world.
London is home to historical monuments, unrivaled shopping districts, famous pubs, beautiful parks, and more. It’s for these reasons, even beyond its historical significance, that it remains such a popular destination for tourists. But the things I’ve listed above are the ones that are keeping me excited about the day when I’ll get to spend some real time exploring the city.