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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.
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.
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.
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.
Forget what you’ve heard about London’s falling bridges -- Tower Bridge has been standing for over a century and remains one of the city’s most famous attractions. Towering over the River Thames, its 2 magnificent towers provide the perfect vantage point to view the famed sites of Europe’s most regal city.
London’s historic skyline received a contemporary jolt when the 41-story 30 St Mary Axe, better known as The Gherkin, opened in 2004 in the financial district. Designed by renowned architect Sir Norman Foster, the eco-friendly glass tower uses just half the power of similarly sized buildings and offers some of the best 360-degree views of the city—if you’re lucky enough to gain access to them. The site’s restaurant and bar, located on the 39th and 40th floors, are open only to tenants and their guests.Designed by renowned architect Sir Norman Foster, the eco-friendly glass tower uses just half the power of similarly sized buildings and offers some of the best 360-degree views of the city—if you’re lucky enough to gain access to them. The site’s restaurant and bar, located on the 39th and 40th floors, are open only to tenants and their guests.
Even London’s Tower Bridge has Olympic fever -- the city’s iconic bridge was decked out with the Olympic rings a month ago in preparation for the games, but now that the Olympics are here, the rings continue to light up Tower Bridge and ignite London’s excitement for the competition. The 800-foot bridge was opened in 1894, and has previously been the focus of a London celebration -- it was painted red, white and blue back in 1977 for the Queen’s silver jubilee.
“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.