Five Things You Have to See If You’re In London

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As a traveler, approaching London can be a daunting prospect. There’s just so much to see, and so many place to go, and so many miles of territory to cover. Where to start? Here are the top five London attractions you shouldn’t miss.

5 The Tube

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The Tube isn’t just a form of transportation. It’s inspired books and films, such as Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. Its subterranean tunnels provided shelter for Londoners during the Blitz in World War II. When you ride the Tube, you’re experiencing over 100 years of history, so take it all in. Keep your eyes peeled for the numerous ghost stations that are scattered across the tube map.Learn More >>

4 Harrod’s

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Harrod’s is likely to be a lot more interesting than that department store in the mall back home, even if you hate shopping. Much of Harrod’s appeal revolves around food: most guides will tell you to check out the Food Halls — a marketplace set in original tiled Victorian rooms — even if you don’t have time for anything else. The numerous restaurants offer everything from fine dining to pizza, there is a Godiva chocolate café, there’s a tea room, and if you’re really desperate for American cuisine there’s even a diner that serves burgers and fries. Food is likely to be the only thing you can afford to buy, if you’re on a budget, too. The rest of the store is well worth your time: from the memorial to Princess Diana and Dodi Al-Fayed by the escalator to the walls of high end clothes and shoes, there’s bound to be something of interest.Learn More >>

3 Royal Observatory, Greenwich

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Western Hemisphere! Eastern Hemisphere! Go on, join the scores of other tourists who are jumping back and forth in the courtyard of the Royal Observatory, bopping from Eastern Hemisphere to West and back again by crossing the steel line that marks the location of the Prime Meridian. Get a certificate from the machine. You know you want to. The Observatory is located in Greenwich, so you’ll need to take a train or the Docklands Light Railway to get there. It’s worth it to explore the historic observatory buildings and their exhibit, check out the new planetarium, and of course, do that Hemisphere Hop. Learn More >>

2 The National Gallery

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Leonardo da Vinci? Check. Michelangelo? Yup. Titian? Jan Van Eyck? Vincent Van Gogh? Sandro Botticelli? Raphael? Caravaggio? Paul Gauguin? Peter Paul Rubens? Henri Rousseau? All present and accounted for. The National Gallery is an astoundingly extensive collection of art. As the roll call might indicate, European masters have the spotlight. Works of note include Rousseau’s Surprise!, Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne, one of da Vinci’s two versions of Virgin of the Rocks and sketches for the painting and Michelangelo’s unfinished Entombment. The British painters on display include Sir Joshua Reynolds, William Hogarth, J.M.W. Turner, Thomas Gainsborough and Sir Thomas Lawrence. Particularly fascinating is Hogarth’s 1743 six-painting series Marriage a la Mode, which depicts scenes from a marriage marred by partying, infidelity, STDs, murder, abuse, prostitution and suicide. Learn More >>

1 Tower of London

The Tower of London is actually a collection of towers, arranged around a green, flanked by an ancient Roman wall and the River Thames. It’s easy to get lost for a day here: there are medieval ramparts to stroll along, ravens to greet (not up close, please. They will take you out) and tours to take with the Yeoman Warders who guard the Towers. Much of the Towers’ history is gruesome: although it was not a conventional jail, high ranking prisoners were held here until the mid-20th century, the young “Princes in the Tower” were said to be murdered here by Richard III, and several executions, including those of Lady Jane Grey and two of Henry VIII’s wives, took place on the Tower Green. There’s far more to the Tower of London than violence, though, and other sights include the Crown Jewels. The Tower’s congress of ravens has its own brochure; each raven is named and can be recognized by the color of its leg band. Learn More >>

There’s a lot to explore in London. Get to it.

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