1. Westminster > Trafalgar Square> Buckingham Palace

 

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Big Ben is great for setting your watch.

Start at Westminster tube stop

Coming out at Westminster, you are close to the Thames, so go have a look.  You will see the statue of Boadicea and her chariot, and the docks for the Thames boats cruisers.

Across Westminster Bridge is the London Eye observation wheel, London Aquarium and London Dungeon.

If you plan to go on the London Eye, it is best to prebook online or arrive when it opens in the morning.  It takes half an hour to go around once, and each capsule holds up to 22 people. I haven’t been to the dungeon or aquarium.

 

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From Westminster Bridge overlooking the London Eye.

 

Westminster Abbey and St Margaret’s church:

This iconic church sits across from Parliament.  You will also see a small church in the same courtyard, St Margaret’s Church, which is free and well worth a visit too.

To get into the abbey, there is normally a ridiculous queue and a high entry fee.  If you want to just have a look, there are two ways to do this for free.

Look for the square with the pillar to the side of the Abbey. That is the back exit, and tell the guard you would like to go in for worship.  You will be escorted to a small room inside the abbey.  They will watch to make sure you don’t go into the main part of the church, but it is a way to have a quick look.

The second way to visit free, is to go for Evensong.  Go to the exit door at around 4:30 pm or earlier high season.  You will be escorted inside and seated.  The service takes an hour and the choir sings.

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A cheeky wander through the cloisters.

My friend and I were very cheeky. It was about 4:55pm and we had had our look around, so decided to head out.  We were shown a side door, which led to the cloister.  Instead of leaving right away, we had a good look around, reading the stones and taking photos.

 

 

 

 

This Abbey is full of the who’s who of English history, and intensive audio guides are available.  If that is your thing, then get there before they open in the morning, and go in like a normal person.

Westminster Abbey main entrance

Westminster Abbey main entrance

Parliament:

There are different tours and ways of visiting the Houses of Parliament, if you prebook online.  I 1936237_156352412176_7531957_nattended a debate for free, instead.

There was a public queue outside the gates, which I just hit at the right time, so my wait time was about 15 minutes to the security check.  You write out your name and address, go through scanners and your bag is searched.  They give you a paper pass to wear around your neck. After this, you can enter Westminster Hall and St Stephen’s Hall to the main lobby.  At the end of it follow the signs to the commons public viewing area.

This leads you up stairs and you  have to check all bags and phones before being allowed into the public viewing gallery overlooking the House of Commons. I only stayed about 10 minutes, but it was well worth it to see the familiar room with a handful of politicians at work.

The building is magnificent throughout, and while waiting you see black briefcases and important, shiny people bustling about.

You will need to go online to see if they are in session, and what the times are.

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Inside the House of Parliament, with my visitor’s pass.

 

Whitehall and Parliament Street

Leave Parliament square and head down Parliament Street. You will pass all kinds of interesting things, like the guarded entrance to 10 Downing Street, where the Prime Minister lives; the Banqueting House, the cenotaph, and the Royal horse guards.  Keep going and you will be in Trafalgar Square.

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Trafalgar square is home to the Nelson column and the Lions you see in so many photos.

The large building with Greek pillars at the top end of the square, is the National Gallery.  This is one of the finest collections of artwork I have seen, and it is free entry.  It is a chronological journey through the ages.  All the big names are represented, with my favourites being the impressionists, mid 1800s to present.

Behind the gallery and around to the right, is the National Portrait Gallery. This is also free, and a great who’s who in oil paint and photographs.

The cute little church on the corner, is St Martin in the fields. Stop in and head downstairs for coffee in the crypt.  This café is all stone vaults and tombstones for flooring.  They also hold jazz concerts and other events. Go in to take photos, if nothing else.

When you are done here, look for the big arches and that is the Mall that leads to the palace  Once through the arches, walk through St James Park, with the greenery and swan pond.

At the top of the Mall, is Buckingham Palace where you can look through the gates.  If you are visiting end of June until the end of Sept, you may be able to visit the State rooms, gardens, or other combinations of royal sites.  They sell timed tickets, and the State rooms are really nice to see.

If you like palaces and have the time to go out to it, try to get a ticket to combine a visit to Windsor Castle too.  It is much bigger and very impressive.

Notice the big monument  in front with Queen Victoria.  If you want to watch the changing the guard, get there an hour before and try to get on top of it.  *see my section on the changing the guard for more detail.

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Buckingham Palace on a cool day.

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After visiting the Royal Apts. you can walk through the garden or have a cup of tea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next: 2. Green park to Leicester Square