What to Miss in London
Madame Tussauds and Big Ben are just a couple places it's OK to miss if you're visiting London. Get the details about these tourist spots and more.
With so many fantastic things to see and do in London, such as St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace, you really don’t want to waste time on places that don’t live up to the hype. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of the sights mentioned below, and if you’ve been to London many times and seen everything else, then they may divert you for an hour or 2. But it’s best not to put them at the top of your itinerary -- there are better sights to see and places to visit.
You will see Big Ben, the iconic clock tower attached to the Houses of Parliament, many times during your visit -- it is impossible to miss it, as it stands out on the skyline and is particularly apparent if on London or Waterloo bridges. However, if you were hoping to actually climb the clock tower and see Big Ben itself (the name is given to the largest bell in the tower), then you will be disappointed. Only UK residents can climb the tower, and then only if they arrange the tour with their member of parliament 3-6 months in advance. If you are an overseas visitor, then you can’t arrange a visit -- so don’t waste time trying to find out.
This museum of waxworks continually features in top-10 lists of things to see in London, and this is probably why the queue for the museum often snakes several yards along the pavement. It can take you more than an hour to get to the entrance. It is expensive to buy a ticket, and the crowds don’t let up once you are in. Most people visit because they want to have their photograph taken posing next to their favorite celebrity or former president -- but that just means that at every life-size character, which bears a passable resemblance to the original, there are lots of other tourists having pictures taken and you’ll be lucky for the statue to become empty so you can jump in yourself. Only go if you have a lot of patience and don’t mind crowds.
If you are traveling with children or teenagers who like all things scary and gory, then this might make it onto your list of things to do. But for everyone else it is an obvious attraction to miss. It is expensive and always has a queue into the street, which means it can take up to an hour to get your ticket. Once in, the whole experience lasts just 90 minutes and you are rushed through with a group of other visitors who might elbow and push. The experience consists of actors hamming it up and giving bits of information about Jack the Ripper, the Great Fire of London and the Plague. It is dark and damp and the special effects are not very impressive.
The Clink Museum
This museum is built on the site of England’s oldest prison -- that means that there is nothing of the old prison there, except perhaps the floor. What you find inside is a small number of rooms displaying old torture equipment, some rather tired looking waxworks and some information boards giving you a bit of information on the history of execution and torture. However, the lighting is bad, making the information difficult to read, and there is no real atmosphere. You can see old torture equipment at Ripley’s Believe it or Not and the Tower of London, and both are a better value for the money.
Winston Churchill’s Britain at War Experience
This museum tries to capture what it was like for London during the Blitz, and starts by showing you a film about this period. You then wander into mock-ups of air-raid shelters and see artifacts from the era, such as clothes, toys and posters, to the background sound effects of dropping bombs. If you are interested in what Britain was like during World War II, you would be much better off going to the Imperial War Museum, which has no entry charge and explores the subject in much more depth. Or try Churchill's War Rooms, which will let you visit the actual bunker from where Churchill conducted his wartime decision-making.
Writer Antonia Windsor, a member of the British Guild of Travel Writers, is a regular contributor to The Guardian and Observer in Britain.
Here are a few things I learned as an American visiting London for the first time.