Buckingham Palace is the official residence and workplace of the British royal family. Although it is generally closed to visitors, for a brief period during the summer when the family is away on holiday, you may view the interior State Rooms and parts of the garden. The Queen's Gallery however is open throughout the year which hosts a programme of changing exhibitions from the Royal Collection throughout the year.
The changing of the guard is one of the most popular sights for tourists, and is also the subject of the famous poem by A. A. Milne:
'They're changing the guard at Buckingham Palace, Christopher Robin went down with Alice...'
St. Paul's Cathedral
The Church of England cathedral was designed and built by Sir Christopher Wren in the late 17th Century following the Great Fire of London. Its dedication to St Paul the Apostle however, dates back to the original church, built in AD 604. The dome, framed by other Wren church spires, is one of the most famous sights of London. During the Second World War, the cathedral was repeatedly targeted during the Blitz, however it survived against all odds and it's survival was seen as a rallying point for British morale. St. Paul's Cathedral was the location of some famous services including: the funerals of Lord Nelson and Sir Winston Churchill, peace services marking the end of the First and Second World Wars, and the wedding of Lady Diana and Prince Charles.
Sir Christopher Wren is buried in the crypt alongside the words: 'Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice' (Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you).
Houses of Parliament
The Palace of Westminster, as it is officially known, is the meeting place of the House of Lords and the House of Commons, and visitors are welcome to observe the debates that take place for free. One of the highlights is the Prime Minister's Question Time at noon on Wednesdays, where the incumbent PM gets pelted with hostile questions from members of the opposition. For ceremonial purposes, the Palace retains it's style and status as a royal residence. Tours of the Palace take place most Saturdays throughout the year.
The Elizabeth Tower, more commonly known as Big Ben (the nickname of the heaviest bell), is one of the most famous landmarks of Britain and an emblem of parliamentary democracy. During the First and Second World Wars, the faces of the clock were darkened and the bells were kept still. Now, the chimes of the bells are broadcast every remembrance day. The tune itself is said to be a variation on a phrase of Handel's Messiah.
This stunningly beautiful Palladian building is home to the Household Cavalry. It is also the formal entrance to St James' Palace, although only the monarch has permission to drive through! It is guarded during the day by rather stony faced mounted soldiers- you will often see tourists taking photos in silly poses in an attempt to get a reaction from the guards. The British Army has almost as many horses as tanks, though the horses have a purely ceremonial role. Almost all the horses are Irish Draft Horses and they tend to be black in colour.
10 Downing Street
Perhaps one of the most famous addresses in the world - No.10 Downing Street is the Headquarters of Her Majesty's Government and the official residence of the Prime Minister. It is conveniently located close to Buckingham Palace as well as the Houses of Parliament. The building is actually composed of 3 houses joined together and contains around 100 rooms including living quarters, an internal courtyard and a large garden. The street was built in 1680 by a property developer, Mr Downing and is closed to the public. The street outside has become a focus for protests as well as celebrations and it is to this house that the people turn during times of crisis or celebration. Perhaps one of the most famous images is that of Winston Churchill emerging from the house holding up two fingers in the sign for victory.
There has been a resident Treasury or Downing Street cat employed as a mouser and pet since the reign of Henry VIII, the cat is given the affectionate yet official title 'Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office'.
The Royal Parks
The Royal Parks of London are lands originally owned by the Royal Family for their recreation, later becoming public. The green areas provide a great place to relax in and enjoy the summer sun, from BBQ's to festivals, taking a pedalo out on one of the lakes or feeding the ducks and swans. In winter, Hyde Park becomes home to Winter Wonderland which includes a large Christmas market and an ice skating rink.
The parks include:
Bushy Park, Green Park, Hyde Park, Regent's Park, Greenwich Park, Richmond Park, St. James Park and Kensington Gardens.
Covent Garden Square, or Piazza, was the first modern square in London. A small market started on one side of the square, and eventually the present neo-classical market hall was built in 1830. The flower, fruit and vegetable market outgrew it's location and traffic caused by delivery vans threatened redevelopment of the building, but in the end the market was moved to a new site in Battersea.
The areas around the market hall are very popular with street performers who have to audition in front of the site's owners before being granted a spot. You can see anything, from a man juggling a running chainsaw, to singers, magicians and comedy acts. In fact the first mention of a Punch and Judy Show in Great Britain was in Covent Garden (mentioned in Samuel Pepys' diary).
Heart of legal London
LSE is located in the heart of legal London - flanked on one side by the Royal Courts of Justice, it is also within walking distance of the four Inns of Court - Middle Temple, Gray's Inn, Lincoln's Inn and Inner Temple as well as many other Barrister's chambers. A little further along Fleet Street is the Central Criminal Court (or Old Bailey) where trials are open to the public.
Atop the Old Bailey is a statue of Lady Justice with a double edged sword in her right hand, symbolizing the power of Reason and Justice, which may be wielded either for or against any party; and the scales of justice in her left hand upon which she measures the strengths of a case's support and opposition.
Tower of London
The Tower of London is a historic castle, founded in 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest of England. The White Tower was built by William the Conqueror and was a symbol of oppression to the common Londoners of the ruling elite. It was initially built as a Royal Palace behind two rings of defensive walls and a moat, however it is perhaps more famous for being a prison.
The phrase 'sent to the tower' has its roots in the fact that many people who were out of favour were held within the walls, including Queen Elizabeth, before she became Queen, Anne Boleyn, Walter Raleigh, Lady Jane Gray and the Princes of the Tower, Edward V of England and Richard Shrewsbury. Although the Tower is famous for being a place of torture and execution, the majority of the executions were actually held on the nearby Tower Hill. The 16th and 17th centuries saw the most usage as a prison, however during the First and Second World Wars, it was used again to imprison spies.
The Tower was also home to the Royal Menagerie for quite some time, which included a polar bear (that went fishing in the Thames, much to the surprise of Londoners), elephants, lions and leopards. In the 18th Century, admission was open to the public at three and half pence or the supply of a cat or dog to feed to the lions. The menagerie was closed in 1835 after one of the lions bit a soldier.
Tower of London is located next to Tower Bridge - another popular London sight.
The Gothic church is located alongside the Houses of Parliament and is the traditional place of coronation and burial of the British monarchs. The Abbey is perhaps most famous though, for the number of celebrated figured that have been buried or commemorated at the Abbey. One area in the South Transept became known as the 'Poet's Corner'. Burials include: Chaucer, Tennyson, Robert Browning, Samuel Johnson, Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling and Thomas Hardy
Memorials have also been placed to those buried elsewhere: Shakespeare, Byron, Milton, Wordsworth, Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Robert Burns, William Blake. T.S. Eliot, Samuel Butler, Jane Austen, Sir Walter Scott, The Bronte Sisters, Henry James and Sir John Betjeman.
Not all those who lie here are poets or writers however, as other notable figures such as Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, William Wilberforce and of particular interest to LSE students, both Beatrice and Sidney Webb are also buried in the Abbey.
Westminster Cathedral is the seat of the Roman Catholic church in England and Wales. The building is a stunning vision of Neo-Byzantine architecture in red brick - in a way appropriate as it is devoted to the Most Precious Blood of Jesus Christ.
Westminster has a very distinguished choral tradition and they are particularly renowned for their Gregorian Chant. Today, Westminster Cathedral Choir is the only professional Catholic choir in the world to sing daily Mass and Vespers.
The Cathedral was featured prominently in Alfred Hitchcock's film Foreign Correspondent when the bodyguard/assassin plummets to his death from the top of the campanile tower. Hitchcock himself was Catholic, and following his death in 1980, a Memorial Mass was held for him at Westminster Cathedral.