One of the most visited cities in the world, London continues to attract travelers with its royal pageantry, financial clout and avant-garde attitude.
In the Westminster area, pomp and ceremony are most evident at Buckingham Palace, the home of Queen Elizabeth and the administrative center for the royal family. The changing of the guard, a colorful ritual that has thrilled visitors for decades, still draws a crowd.
Westminster Abbey is an enormous church with an aristocratic air. Here, the British crown their monarchs and wed their royalty. Built in the 13th and 14th centuries, the church is the resting place for Queen Elizabeth I, Henry V and Mary, Queen of Scots. As you tour the abbey, stop at the memorial to Winston Churchill and the coronation chair.
You're sure to hear the world-famous Big Ben, a 13 1/2-ton bell, toll the hour as you explore Westminster. The bell is located in the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament. These neo-Gothic structures date back to the mid-19th century and serve as a meeting place for the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
From the Parliament, you can follow Whitehall, a broad boulevard lined with government buildings, to Trafalgar Square. Don't miss 10 Downing Street, just off Whitehall. This handsome Georgian house serves as the prime minister's official residence. The National Gallery, located on the square, is one of the world's best art museums, featuring more than 2,000 works by such illustrious artists as Botticelli, da Vinci, Raphael, Rembrandt and Rubens.
A few blocks east from Trafalgar Square is Covent Garden. The area centers around the Piazza, an old Victorian market building that has been converted into a gallery of boutiques, craft shops and cafés. Street entertainers congregate under the portico of St. Paul's Church, the Royal Opera House and Theatre Royal Drury Lane, two of London's oldest theaters, are close by.
Walk west from Trafalgar Square and you'll come upon Piccadilly Circus, London's famous theater district. Narrow streets are lined with cinemas, nightclubs, pubs and restaurants. It touches on Soho, London's liveliest bohemian area.
The neighboring Mayfair district is known for its elegant shopping: Savile Row, long famous for its gentlemen's tailors; Cork Street, a hub for modern and classical art; and Bond Street, home to haute couture. Further west lies London's Hyde Park. Once a royal hunting ground, it's now a 340-acre city park, with numerous bridle and bicycle paths.
To experience another side of London, visit the City. This ancient financial district has been transformed over the years into a modern center, buzzing with the latest 20th-century technology. The Bank of England, the Royal Exchange and the Stock Exchange are among the institutions that define the City's existence. Ultra-modern skyscrapers tower over 18th-century houses. Of particular interest is the headquarters of Lloyd's of London. A striking example of contemporary architecture, this innovative chrome high-rise is quite interesting.
The main attraction at the Tower of London is the Crown Jewels; however, this fortress and palace have fascinating rooms and towers worth exploring, including a history gallery, chapel and armory. The jewels can be viewed in the Duke of Wellington's Barracks.
DoverDover is one of several towns dotting England's southeast coast that was invaded and settled by both the Romans and the Normans. Its massive Dover Castle ranks as one of England's oldest, largest and most important fortresses. The castle's extensive network of tunnels, used for military moves, is an intriguing feature. England's oldest Saxon church, St. Mary-in-Castro Church, lies within the walls. Today the castle serves as a museum with displays illustrating Britain's defense history from Napoleonic times to World War II. From the castle's battlements, you can see across the Strait of Dover, and on a clear day, enjoy a breathtaking vista of France.
Great BuysLondon's shopping scene is exhilarating. Clothing runs the gamut from sartorially correct gentlemen's finery to trendy fashions by up-and-coming designers. Collectibles from antiques to fine art, as well as one-of-a-kind craft items, are plentiful in shops and galleries. London is famous for its street markets, where you can find anything from treasures to trinkets.
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