Spend Time in London

It is easy to walk around London just staring at the profusion of extraordinary buildings in a city that has existed since pre-Christian times, but to get a real flavour of the nation, its heritage and place in history you have to dive into some of its unique attractions.

Top of your list must be the royal palaces, and top of that list has to be William The Conqueror's watchtower, the Tower of London, out at Tower Hill in the City. The Crown Jewels may be utterly spectacular but more interesting still are the stories surrounding the Tower - Traitor's Gate, the death of the little princes - the stuff of legend.

For those keen to see more of the royal life, Kensington Palace, the late Diana, Princess of Wales' home, is one of the better attractions given that her ex-mother-in-law's house, Buckingham Palace, is closed during the winter. In many ways much more splendid is a trip out to East Molesey in Surrey to see the absolutely splendid Hampton Court Palace, originally built by Cardinal Wolsey during Henry VIII's reign. Not only is it a treasure trove of art and furniture, it has some of the finest gardens in Britain. Don't forget to lose yourself in the historic maze.

For those still with a taste for old buildings, there are two superb examples of British church architecture that have to be seen. First is St. Paul's Cathedral, which occupies an almost mythical place in British history. Built after the Great Fire of 1666, it survived the Blitz in the Second World War despite most of the area around it being burned to the ground.

Older and equally as beautiful is Westminster Abbey, which has seen the coronation of every single king and queen of England since William the Conqueror. It is a wonderfully quiet place to reflect and consider the lives of the great since many are buried here. London's museums also repay a visit many times over. Few can tour the British Museum without wanting to spend a week there, particularly the section covering ancient Egypt which has to be one of the finest collections in the world. Grouped together in Kensington, and really good for kids are the Natural History Museum, Science Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum, which specialises in the decorative arts. South of the river in Lambeth is the Imperial War Museum, aptly housed in the former madhouse of Bedlam, and packed with interactive features charting the course of war through the ages.

While south of the river, those with a horticultural bent must pay a visit to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew where more than 300 acres of gardens and glasshouses contain plant specimens collected from all over the world.

Britain's seafaring heritage is well catered for in Greenwich, home of the National Maritime Museum, which has a wide range of actual boats, models and art, and the Cutty Sark, a wonderfully preserved sailing ship which was once the fastest tea and wool clipper in the world. For those in search of more modern attractions the Thames Barrier Visitor's Centre is a fascinating look at how London is protected from flooding.

More centrally located is a famous landmark Tower Bridge, which has a visitor's centre detailing how the bridge is raised to allow tall ships up the river.

Other sites worth a visit around the capital include the world famous waxworks museum Madame Tussauds and next door the London Planetarium for stargazers of another kind. At the north end of Regent's Park is the spacious London Zoo, which offers the intriguing sight of camels and giraffes in central London.

Do not forget to check out London's art galleries, exhibitions are frequent and of world class standard. Places to look out for are the Hayward Gallery, Royal Academy of Arts, the Tate Gallery, the Whitechapel Gallery and the National Gallery.

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