City Spotlight: London, England

London has certainly not lost its regal beauty in its long march to modernity. Because the city is a gateway to Europe, London is known as the second most visited city in the world. There isn’t enough time of typing energy to include all of the amazing things about the city or its vast history, but here are some of my favorite things about The Square Mile. Pack your bags and report back on what your favorites are!

Let’s start with some famous sites:

Flickr: micuradu

Flickr: micuradu / Creative Commons

The Tower Bridge is one of the city’s examples of both beauty and engineering. It was built 120 years ago to ease road traffic while still maintaining access to the busy Pool of London docks. You can take tours at the bridge, visit the glass floor to view the city from a higher vantage point, and even see the Victorian Engine Rooms that house the steam engines that once powered the bridge lifts. If you visit the bridge’s website before you go, you can see what time the bridge will lift if you’re so inclined, but compared to everything else the bridge offers that seems pretty boring.  What isn’t boring is that you can have your wedding there. Talk about an exciting venue (and think of how much you’ll save on decorations!)

Flickr: trodel / Creative Commons

Flickr: trodel / Creative Commons

Probably the most famous attraction of London is the London Eye. This 400-ft Ferris wheel moves at the speed of molasses moving uphill in January, but it does mean that when you finally get to the top, you have a solid amount of time to see a birds-eye view of London. I, personally, have never been on the Ferris wheel, but my family did visit the area, which is bustling with tourists and locals alike.

Flickr: isola81 / Creative Commons

Flickr: isola81 / Creative Commons

Most cities don’t have distinct landmarks like London does. At least ones that are so full of history. The giant clocktower sits on the north end of the Palace of Westminster and is a popular site to listed to the bells chime away at the top of the hour. Speaking of bells, fun fact: “Big Ben” actually refers to the main bell, not the clock. The original bell was 16 tons and named after Sir Benjamin Hall. The clocktower, itself, is known as the “Elizabeth Tower,” dedicated to Queen Elizabeth II during her Diamond Jubilee year. The year marked 60 years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign (yes, she’s hella old.) The tower, built in 1958, has a dedication to another queen: Queen Victoria. The base of each clock dial says, “DOMINE SALVAM FAC REGINAM NOSTRAM VICTORIAM PRIMAM,” which means, “O Lord, keep safe our Queen Victoria the First.” All I have is a beautiful gold watch with a one-year battery warranty. Then again, I’m not a queen. Or 88-years-old.

Now on to an activity everyone loves: Shopping!

Flickr: mcaven / Creative Commons

Flickr: mcaven / Creative Commons

When you think London shopping, one building always comes to mind: Harrods Department Store. The store is bigger than most American malls (screw you, Mall of America!), offering over 1,000,000 sq. ft., and

over 300 separate departments, of shopping galore. It’s the culmination of every Christmas dream. Aside from being the largest department store in Europe, Harrods has literally everything: 32 restaurants, gambling machines, its famous Food Hall, and renowned Christmas department. My favorite part of the store is the puppy department (yes, that exists) and the Harrods bank, where you can buy gold bars and coins right off the shelf. Not sure why you need to do that in a department store but hey, to each their own. Before being sold to Qatar Holdings in 2010 for £1,500,000, Harrods was founded years ago (1834) by Charles Henry Harrod when he was 25-years-old. I’m 24. What am I doing with my life?!

I have one very fond memory of Harrods: when I was around 10-years-old, my family went to London over my school’s winter break. I so desperately wanted the Lego Harry Potter Hogwarts (you know, the giant one.) We couldn’t find it anywhere in the States and they had one at Harrods. My mom got it for me, regardless of the hassle of trying to get the giant box home or the ridiculous inflation in price. I don’t know what happened to my Hogwarts after all these years, but the memory of my mom getting it for me has stayed with me.

And when the sun goes down?

Flickr: homohominilupus / Creative Commons

Flickr: homohominilupus / Creative Commons

I am not going to lie, I haven’t gotten to experience the bar / club scene in London, but given how hard the Brits party, I am sure it’s amazing. What I have experienced is London’s West End (basically the Broadway of England.) At the famous Queen’s Theatre, my mom took me (I know, my mom is basically the best) to see The Lion King Musical.

She actually took me on two separate occasions. The show is amazing, I’ve seen it in the States as well, but seeing it in London with my mom, just the two of us, was amazing. We even got to meet some of the actors (in costume!!!) after. As a young kid, the event was simply incredible.

And the learning experiences?

Flickr: 762_photo / Creative Commons

Flickr: 762_photo / Creative Commons

My family is a museum family, which is probably why we’ve traveled to London a bunch of times and have never done beach vacations. The Imperial War Museum is one of our favorite stops; we go there every time. The museum is super cool and has a ton of interesting exhibits on just about every war the UK has participated in.

Me and my sister playing spies.

Me and my sister playing spies.

They also have a ton of military equipment like planes, submarines, and tanks, many of which you can climb all over. And no, you do not grow out of that. They also have changing exhibitions, so there is something new every time you go. When we were there last (I want to say 2007?) there was a really cool exhibit on war propaganda from all over the world. It was pretty cool to see how different countries used colors, posters, and dramatic slogans to speak to their people over the years. The museum even has a full-sized house replicating the experience of a British family in World War I. Again, lots of fun to play around in (and learn a thing or two.)

Flickr: belowred / Creative Commons

Flickr: belowred / Creative Commons

Obviously London has a ton of museums and I am sure all of them are great, but my personal favorite is the Victoria & Albert Museum. It is the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design and houses over 4,500,000 different objects. The museum has 145 permanent galleries that span over 5,000 years of art from cultures and locations all over the world. My favorite exhibits were always the fashion ones, which makes me want to go back to London even more because this year the museum has a special exhibition called Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty. I wasn’t always a fashionista wannabe, but the museum was always awesome. They have these blue backpacks that they give kids to basically play a huge game of I-Spy throughout the entire museum. Me and my two sisters always had a blast playing that, though I don’t think we ever completed the whole mission.

Flickr: muriaz / Creative Commons

Flickr: muriaz / Creative Commons

I am going to cap this off with my absolute favorite stop in London: The Tower of London. This is quite possibly one of my favorite places in the world, actually. You can take a variety of tours (all of them worth it) and walk in and around the grounds just like the royals did way back when. This is also said to be the best place to see some of the Crown Jewels, which are always on display (unless the Queen wants to wear them, of course.) The Tower isn’t exactly Disney-style, the place is actually quite creepy. You can even take specific tours at night that fill you in on all the spoOoOoky happenings at the Tower. You can see Traitor’s Gate, the Scaffold Site, and the Bloody Tower (not to mention the chopping block where some of King Henry VIII’s wives met their end.) The tour guide will fill you in on the royal gossip and the secrets behind the wall at the time, like what exactly happened between Richard III and the Princes in the Tower.

What do you think?