Cool off in London's top pools and parks.
“In Flanders fields the poppies blow/Between the crosses, row on row.” During WWI, only the blood-red poppy could be seen blooming up from the grave-covered, barren landscape of northern France. An image immortalized by John McCrae in his poem In Flanders Fields, the poppies went on to symbolize the country’s staggering loss of life. Ceramic artist Paul Cummins paid tribute to this sentiment with his art installation piece Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, filling the Tower of London’s moat with 888,246 ceramic poppies, each one representing a British military fatality.
Play “Eye Spy” on an entirely new level. At 135m high (the same height as 64 stacked red telephone boxes), the London Eye promises a 360 view of London’s South Bank and beyond, including the neighboring Salvador Dali statue. Even if you’re afraid of heights, whatever you do, don’t look away.
What better place to spend New Year’s than in the city that had the greatest year? The Olympics, Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee and the announcement of a new royal baby made 2012 the year of the Brits. So there’s no question that London will ring in 2013 with more style than ever. The city’s official fireworks display begins at midnight off the South Bank right by the London Eye, and with 250,000 spectators gathering as soon as 3 hours before the event it’s clear this is the place to be New Year’s Eve.
When Her Majesty the Queen of England isn’t parachuting from helicopters into Olympic venues, she is most likely in her official residence at Windsor Castle. The Royal Standard flag flies from the castle’s Round Tower when she’s in and a Union Jack flies when she’s not. Walk in her footsteps through the lavishly decorated Semi-State Rooms where she entertains world leaders and the State Apartments that have slept 39 monarchs since the 1600s.
With all due respect to Big Ben, Trafalgar Square is arguably London’s most iconic attraction. Anchored by Nelson’s Column in the center with statues and fountains scattered throughout, this public space – erected in 1854 to commemorate the Battle of Trafalgar – has lent itself to countless political demonstrations and New Year’s Eve celebrations. And though efforts have been made to limit the flocks of pigeons for which the square is known, they persist in staying -- they know a good thing, too, when they see it.
For a bit of dramatic flair, head to Shaftesbury Avenue in central London. Take your pick of theatrical productions: Les Miserables at Queen’s Theatre, Anthony and Long Day’s Journey Into Night at the Apollo Theatre, to name a few. The avenue was also a film location for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows -- film buffs will recall Hermione Granger saying that her parents often took her to one of the avenue’s famed theaters in her youth.
Which makes for a more rewarding London cultural experience: Observing a good old debate in the Houses of Parliament on one side of the River Thames, or viewing this history-drenched city from the top of the London Eye on the other? Public opinion would favor the London Eye, now the biggest tourist attraction in the United Kingdom and Europe’s largest Ferris wheel. Built to honor the last turn of the century, this “cantilevered observation wheel” -- as its operators fondly call it -- offers much to observe. Cries of “There’s Big Ben!” and “There’s Buckingham Palace!” are even more delightful than the shouts and grumbles in the House of Lords nearby.
Few buildings and monuments symbolize an entire nation quite like London’s Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster. Westminster has housed the British Parliament for nearly 1,000 years. Royals, including Prince William, have historically wed in the Abbey. The clock tower, nicknamed Big Ben for its massive bell, has been keeping time with its 9-foot-long hour and 14-foot-long minute hands since 1859.
The official London residence of the British Monarch, Buckingham Palace is steeped in history. Feel like the ambassador to your own personal kingdom when you ogle the ornate décor of one of the 19 State Rooms where the monarchy entertains visiting dignitaries. Or witness the pomp and pageantry of the Changing of the Guard, the 45-minute ceremony in which one regiment replaces another’s palace watch. No trip to Buckingham Palace is complete without attempting to make the guards flinch -- just don’t land yourself in a British jail.