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Whether you fly into London’s Heathrow or Gatwick airports, you’ll have easy access to many of London’s top attractions. Even with just 48 hours, you can take in quite a bit, thanks to the city’s outstanding transportation system. While you may not be able to tackle this entire list, you’ll have plenty to choose from, providing a fabulous sample of this British city.
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You may want to kick off your explorations of the city with a spin around the London Eye, a great way to get a perspective of its layout. The tallest Ferris wheel in Europe, it sits on the South Bank of the River Thames as an iconic 443-foot tall structure on London’s skyline. Constructed as part of the city’s millennium celebrations it offers some of the best views around, including 55 of the most famous landmarks in London during the 30-minute ride.
The Tower of London was built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century and has served many different roles during its history, including a castle in wartime, a monarch’s residence during times of peace and a prison for rebels. A variety of tours are available making it easy to explore in a relatively short period, offering the opportunity to view the crown jewels which includes First Star of Africa, the largest flawless cut diamond at an astounding 530 carats, as well as executioner’s block which beheaded a couple of Henry VIII’s wives and problematic heirs to the throne.
When you want to stretch your legs, take a walk through Hyde Park. It’s home to a spectacular rose garden with blooms peaking in early summer, as well as providing unique habitat in the heart of the city for a diverse variety of species of flora and fauna. There are all sorts of statues, memorials and mountains, like the Joy of Life fountain, which depicts two bronze figures holding hands while appearing to dance above the water, while four bronze children emerging from the pool. The Holocaust Memorial is a garden of boulders that are surrounded by white-stemmed birch trees, the first memorial to the victims of the Holocaust in all of Britain.
Consider the greatest church in the English-speaking world, Westminster Abbey was the setting for Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding. It’s also the spot where England’s kings and queens have been crowned and buried since 1066. This breathtaking building is truly a must-see as a living pageant of the nation’s history with 3,000 tombs, the remains of 29 kings and queens, and hundreds of memorials lying within its walls and under its stone slabs. Visitors can also attend services which are open to the public and can be attended by those of any religious denomination.
Buckingham Palace is Queen Elizabeth II’s London home, but during the summer months it’s open to the public while she’s on holiday. If you’re here during this season, you can marvel at remarkable pieces from the Royal Collection, like the stunning French and English furnishings, elegant chandeliers and works of art by Canaletto and Van Dyck. You can also see the Throne Room which was used as the backdrop for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s official wedding photos.
If you can be here by 11:30 a.m. during the summer, you may be able to watch the daily Changing of the Guard, a time-honored tradition that includes a 45-minute ceremony.
If you’re in London on a Saturday or Sunday, check out the Maltby Street Market. Easily accessible, it sits beneath the railway arches near London Bridge station. A foodie’s delight, it’s a true gem that visitors often miss, showcasing an impressive array of street food sellers that line up along the Ropewalk. Some of the top spots are St. John Bakery with its famous custard cream-filled doughnuts, the sandwiches at Monty’s Deli and the gin cocktails at Little Bird.
A wide variety of Thames River cruises are offered too, including City Cruises. These hop-on, hop-off cruises run from Westminster, Waterloo, Tower and Greenwich Piers, which means you can get on or offboard at any one of them, with the River Red Rover pass offering unlimited access for 24 hours. You’ll be able to check out highlights like the London Eye, National Theatre, OXO Tower, London Bridge, Tower of London, the Tower Bridge, enjoying a more tranquil experience from the water, whether you can to feel the wind in your hair on the open-air upper deck or from a covered saloon.
Shop Famous Oxford Street and More
One of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities, your shopping choices in London are practically endless, from iconic department stores like Harrods to Fortnum & Mason and Selfridges, along with multi-cultural markets. Spend a little time picking up souvenirs, or the entire day shopping. Oxford Street is considered the heart of London shopping, featuring 300 shops, designer outlets and landmark stores, while Regent Street is home to fashion retailers selling clothing at mid-range prices, along with some of the city’s most famous and oldest stores.
One of the city’s top free attractions, the British Museum is a world-renowned history and culture museum as well as being an architectural standout and treasure trove with some of the most noted antiquities on the planet. Check out everything from the Rosetta Stone and Babylonian stonework to a famous Egyptian collection, artifacts from the Roman Empire and the Lindow “Bog Man.” This vast collection includes works of man from prehistoric to modern times from across the globe.
While London is home to countless hopping nightclubs and bars, if you’d rather not spend a night out drinking, consider catching a show at the Globe Theatre. It’s a replica of the original building that housed Shakespeare’s theater and is made entirely from English oak. The open-air playhouse sits along the banks of the Thames River and serves as an exhibition space that’s dedicated to Shakespeare, while it also includes the Swan at the Globe Bar and Brasserie. Performances are engineered to duplicate the original environment during the playwright’s time, which means you won’t find any spotlights. While plays are staged during daylight hours they’re also scheduled in the evening thanks to the help of interior floodlights. All music is performed live just as it was centuries ago, without microphones, speakers or amplification.