With a somewhat common language, iconic public transportation system and endless cultural experiences, London is one of those rare cities that can make everyone in your crew excited for a journey across the pond. It’s the kind of engaging, mesmerizing place where turning every corner leads to something new, even when that something new is 900 hundred years old.
And no matter what your family’s interests are, London can check off all the boxes and then some, which makes it kind of daunting for first-time visitors. Well daunt no more! Here’s a run-through of the can’t-miss sights and experiences, which will keep you coming back time and time again to hear Big Ben strike his tune.
Start in Westminster
In the heart of London, Westminster is a great place to start exploring…as long as you remember to look left before crossing any streets. This bustling area is home to some of London’s most historic landmarks, including Westminster Abbey, where kings have been crowned since 1066. Take a tour to learn about the Abbey’s fascinating history and see the final resting places of 17 monarchs, as well as famous writers like Chaucer, Sir Alfred Lord Tennyson and Charles Dickens, and even Sir Isaac Newton. Surely Isaac won’t mind if you grab a quick selfie in front of his monument.
It’s All About that Rather Large Benjamin
Across the road, walk alongside the Houses of Parliament and look up at the world famous, iconic Elizabeth Tower! What…never heard of it? Perhaps you call it by the bell it holds inside, Big Ben. From the pavement, it’s hard to believe the clock faces on the tower are a whopping 23 feet across! Walk halfway across Westminster Bridge for the best view of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.
After crossing the River Thames, don’t pass up a ride on the London Eye no matter how long the line is (and it’s usually not that long). Day or night, the 30-minute ride on this giant Ferris wheel is an eye-opener as you soar 440 feet high in an enclosed capsule to see views of London’s skyline that are, if you’re a touch acrophobic, literally breathtaking.
Don’t Forget to Change Your Guards
No first trip to London is complete without seeing the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace, which occurs daily at 11:30 a.m. from April to July. There’s no tickets to buy—you just have to get there early and walk straight up to the Palace gates so that even the little ones get both an eyeful and an earful of British pageantry.
Watching a bunch of dudes in bright-red uniforms and bearskin hats march around will make you hungry. No fears—there’s a fish-and-chips stand on every corner. This is your time to act like a local and devour your lunch with malt vinegar as the condiment of choice—ketchup be darned!—preferably while relaxing by the lake in nearby St. James’s Park.
After lunch, mind the gap as you ride the rickety Tube east to climb the stairs of St. Paul’s Cathedral and explore Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece. Then wander across the Millennium Bridge, a pedestrian span opened in 2000 that Harry Potter fans will recognize from the film Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. No worries—you won’t be attacked by Death Eaters.
While in the neighborhood, be sure to lend your ears with friends, Romans and countrymen at Shakespeare’s Globe, the thatched roof, open-air theater that is a faithful reconstruction of the original that once stood just a few hundred yards away. During the warmer months, you can attend one of Shakespeare’s plays here—it may cost more than the one penny paid by groundlings in the bard’s time, but it’s still an affordable and unforgettable experience.
A Tower Above
Next, surround yourself, quite literally, with more than 900 years of British history within the walls of the Tower of London. The Beefeater Tour will captivate your entire family with fascinating stories of what really happened within its stone walls. Gaze at the Crown Jewels, view King Henry VIII’s armor, stand where historic prisoners were executed and walk the rooms where royals and prisoners (sometimes one and the same) lived hundreds of years ago.
When you escape the tower’s walls, which many of the before-mentioned prisoners failed to do, grab some Instagram-worthy street food and sit on one of the long benches overlooking the River Thames and the iconic Tower Bridge. Ah, now there’s a site to behold.