London/The Best of London
London is a massively diverse city, with a long and rich history. As such, the number of attractions is constantly in flux, although there are a few that stand out as a fairly constant presence.
Buckingham Palace is the official residence of the monarch of the United Kingdom, and has been serving British sovereigns since 1837. Originally a townhouse owned by the Dukes of Buckingham, it has evolved into the stately building seen today.
Trafalgar Square, situated in the heart of the city, was laid out in 1829 to commemorate Nelson's victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The 17 foot high statue of Nelson resides atop Nelson's Column, a 185 foot structure that dominates the centre of the Square.
London's West End is famous for its theatres, bars and restaurants. It is home to many top shows including the long-running Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables as well as the newly opened show by the Blue Men Group. There are so many theaters in this busy part of London offering such a variety of entertainment that you are bound to find something you enjoy.
Tickets for these shows can be bought a number of ways. You can buy direct from the theater, from a ticketing agency, discount ticket booth or as part of a package. Buying your ticket directly from the theater or from an official ticketing agency is the best way to get a ticket if you want to see a specific show, particularly if the show is popular. Tourist information centers and most hotels can give you a program that lists all west end shows or even book tickets for you, just ask. There are also several other options if you are after a cheaper ticket. Travel agents can sell you a discounted "show and stay" package that includes tickets many shows and a large range hotel accommodation. You can even book packages that include pre or post-show meals or drinks and behind the scenes tours of some shows. Most British travel agents can arrange a package that suits you. You can save even more money by going to a discount ticket booth, but will have to choose from a smaller list of discounted performances.
The official discount ticket booth, Half-Tix, in Leicester Square sells half price tickets for selected shows on the day of performance. You cannot book tickets in advance and may have to line up in long queues to purchase tickets. You will find tickets for some shows are unavailable, sold out or only available for some performances (such as matinees). More tickets are available on Mondays and Tuesdays, as there is more pre-show sales for late-week and weekend shows. If you have a valid concession, and don't mind sitting in the front row, it may be cheaper to buy a concession ticket from the theater. The staff at the Half-Tix can tell you if a concession ticket is available. There are many other discount ticket sellers around the West End. The London Theater Society advises tourists to take caution when buying discount tickets from sellers other than Half-Tix, as some con-men have been known to sell fakes. In reality, this is not a big concern as, in my experience, all the permanent booths are legitimate ticket agents and will sell you a valid ticket.
The "City" is the original centre of London - there were two cities, Westminster and London originally, separated by fields. The Museum of London and Barbican arts complex (home to the Royal Shakespeare Company and London Symphony Orchestra) are both located in the City.
South of the Thames
Most of the major attractions of London are to the north of the river. However, there are a few on the south side:
- Wimbledon (for the tennis championships)
- Greenwich (Park and the Observatory)
- IMAX cinema next to Waterloo Station
- Royal Festival Hall and the South Bank (including the London Eye)
- Borough Market - a covered market in Southwark.