SW1: Trafalgar Square, Westminster, Buckingham Palace & St James; SW3:Chelsea, SW5:Earl's Court, SW7:Knightsbridge & Sth Kensington; SW9:Brixton

Trafalgar Square
UK London Trafalgar SquareFor years, Trafalgar Square has been the de-facto centre of gatherings – both political and social – for Londoners, as well as for tourists coming to revel in the grandness of the structures within and surrounding the heart of London, and the infamous pigeons, which have come to define this public square just as much as the Nelson’s Column that stands in the middle of it. 

The original layout of the square was designed by landscape architect John Nash, but he wasn’t able to follow through with his plans because he died before he could even see it in its present form.  Many of the structures within it and surrounding it came into existence years before he cleared out the square.  The famous Nelson’s Column, which stands at 43.5 metres high, came into being in 1843, to commemorate the man who led the victory in the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar.  The square is surrounded by four plinths—three of them hold permanent statues, but the fourth one is reserved for temporary contemporary installations.

South of the column, you will find the original site for Charing Cross—which is London’s kilometre zero—marked by the statue of Charles I, which is the oldest structure in Trafalgar Square, predating even the square itself.  North of the square, the newly renovated St Martin-in-the-fields Church stands proud, one of the best known non-cathedral churches in London.
Whatever the occasion, whether it’s Christmas, New Year’s Eve, or any old day, Trafalgar Square is a great place to see and meet Londoners.

UK LONDON Victoria Railway StationVictoria Station
Victoria Station is the underground station complex in the borough of Westminster in London, the busiest in the London Underground system.  It is not exactly named after the queen, but after Victoria Street, which is the nearest street to the station complex.  However, it is adorned with Queen Victoria cameos all throughout. 

St. James’s
You will spot few Londoners here at St. James’s, where the most exclusive people live (in Green Park to its west), and wine and dine, as well as shop (in Pall Mall and Jer
 myn Street).  It is the playground for the financially-l oaded, with the Ritz just standing by.  But you will need to pass through here to get to the St. James’s Park, as well as the Buckingham Palace, among other notable sights.

Institute for Contemporary Arts (12 Carlton House Terrace, +44 2079 303647, free).  Founded by an artistic collective in 1947, the ICA is an enclave for the artistically-inclined in London, housing the best of contemporary multimedia art, with galleries, a theatre, cinemas, and a bookshop.  It is a great way to soak in London’s radical arts movement.

LONDON St. James ParkSt James’s Park Once the royal hunting grounds of Henry VIII, now St. James’s Park, the oldest of the royal parks in London, is home to manicured gardens and a lake, a favourite picnic spot for many Londoners, overlooking some of the grandiose structures around St. James.
North of the park, you will see the grand

St. James’s Palace (Cleveland Row), which used to be the royal residence until Queen Victoria moved to the Buckingham Palace.  St. James’s Palace was commissioned by Henry VIII, and eventually became the royal residence when the Whitehall Palace burned down.  The palace itself is closed to the public, except for the Chapel Royal.  The nearby Clarence House is the official residence of Prince Charles and his wife Camilla.  Look out for the stationary Grenadier Guards for a fun photo-op.

UK LONDON Spencer houseSpencer House (27 St. James’s Place, +44 2075 141958, £9).  Commissioned by the 1st Earl Spencer, an ancestor of Princess Diana, in 1750, the Spencer House is the one of the earliest structures built in the neoclassical persuasion in London, ushering in a sort of obsession for the revivalism of Greek architecture in the city.  It is one of the only private palaces of its era to survive, and for ten years, has undergone major restoration.  It is open for viewing on Sundays.


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UK London WestminsterHouses of Parliament (20 Dean’s Yard).  Overlooking the Thames and basically defining people’s initial idea of London, the Houses of Parliament’s Neo-Gothic structure never fails to overwhelm.  Its actual name is the Westminster Palace, and was the 19th century replacement for the medieval palace that went down in the 1834 fire, designed by Charles Barry.  We only get an idea of what the medieval Palace looked like with the Westminster Hall, the only part to have survived the great fire, and boasting of some of the most impressive achievements in medieval craftsmanship. 

Westminster Palace is also defined greatly by the huge Clock Tower, which people commonly mistake for the Big Ben.  Big Ben is actually the bell that strikes the hour, named after a commissioner back then, Benjamin Hall. 

Before lining up to watch the houses in action, you should walk across the road from the palace and have a look at the exhibition in the Jewel Tower, which gives you a glimpse of the parliament’s history.The parliament is divided into two houses—the House of Commons, which is the lower house, and the House of Lords, which was historically composed of mainly royalty but which now, includes appointees.  Whatever they debate upon is subject to the Queen’s approval.  You can see all these in action in the November Opening of Parliament, which is when the Queen joins them in the House of Lords. 

To watch the proceedings, visitors are allowed into the House of Commons or House of Lords Visitors’ Gallery, and you can line up just outside St. Stephen’s Gate.  As to be expected, there’s quite a queue, especially during Question Time, which happens at the beginning of the day’s session.  During recesses in Christmas, Easter and summer, the palace is open to visitors, but there are different considerations for UK visitors and overseas ones.  UK visitors can join free tours of the palace and can climb the Clock Tower, so long as they request for a spot from their MP months in advance.  For overseas visitors, the Clock Tower is not available for tours, but they can tour the palace for a fee (£15).

To get to Parliament Square from Trafalgar Square, you will pass through the wide avenue connecting the two squares—Whitehall.  Named after the palace that formerly occupied the very spot, Whitehall used to be home for the royalty, during the 1700.  Nowadays, it’s a grand avenue filled with government offices, with remnants of its royal past scattered about.

Banqueting House (+44 2031 666000, £4.80).  Whitehall Palace, which is no longer around, used to be the London seat of the Archbishop of York, until Henry VIII made him evacuate the palace after the Westminster fire.  The Banqueting House, a pioneer in the world of English Neoclassical architecture, is the only remaining part of post-expansion Whitehall Palace, after the rest of the structure went down during the 1698 fire.  The banqueting house was designed by Inigo Jones, with ceilings painted by Rubens and commissioned by Charles I.  During its time it was a hall for many grandiose celebrations, and though none of the original furnishings of the hall remain, its celebrated architectural details are a must-see.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office (King Charles Street).  Designed by George Gilbert Scott, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office or FCO is one of the many magnificently sturdy structures flanking Whitehall.  It is built in the Italianate style, and has been restored after it experienced years of being overlooked and overcrowded with different government agencies.  It takes part in the London Open House Weekend, which happens over a weekend in September every year.

Cabinet War Rooms (Clive Steps, King Charles Street, +44 2079 306961, £15.95).  During the World War II, the basements of many civil service buildings on King Charles Street became the ad-hoc headquarters from which Winston Churchill led the country.  Nowadays, the Cabinet War Rooms offer a great glimpse into how it was during the war.  Some areas of the underground headquarters have been restored faithfully, including Churchill’s own room.  The Churchill Museum is a great multimedia experience, exclusively about Churchill, his life story told in a very three-dimensional way. 

Edward the Confessor stamped Westminster, three miles west of the City of London, as the centre of England’s political power over a millennium ago, and until now, it is the political heart of the city.  Its skyline defines London for most people, as it has a large concentration of the city’s best and timeless attractions.

UK London Westminster AbbeyWestminster Abbey (20 Dean’s Yard, +44 2072 225152, £16).  The stone slabs and memorials that you will find inside Westminster Abbey are like a dummy’s guide in the who’s who in English history.  It is perhaps the best place to get an introduction into the history of this city and the country.  Westminster Abbey, the “royal peculiar”, may have the most number of burials and memorials for popular and historical figures in English history, and since the time of William the Conqueror, it has been the site for coronation of all royal figures in the United Kingdom.  It is a great example of Early English Gothic architecture, and though it was a cathedral for only a brief period, it is one of the most important churches in the country.  Its construction was started in the 11th century by Edward the Confessor, and then picked up by Henry III.  Over the next hundred years, it has been added to, which resulted in its diverse array architectural styles.

You will enter the abbey through the north transept, wherein you will pass through the Statesmen’s Aisle, an aisle dedicated solely to monuments to England’s political figures.  From here you will see the Coronation Chair, which has sat many a royal figure since 1300s.  It’s not as imposing as its name might suggest, so you have to keep a lookout for it.


Nearby, you will also see the Lady’s Chapel, built by Henry VII in 1503, perhaps one of the last structures built in the English Perpendicular style.  This intricate chapel was built by the king solely for the purpose of being his last resting place.  More people seem to be more interested in the Poets’ Corner though, because it holds memorials to more familiar names, such as Dickens, Austen, and Chaucer. 

Everyone is welcome to join the church service (no charge, of course) on Sundays, but if you’re going on a weekday, make sure to check at which times there will be services. 

UK Westminster CathedralWestminster Cathedral (Victoria Street, +44 2077 989055).  The Westminster Cathedral is most likely one of the more curious-looking churches you will see in London.  The once-suppressed Roman Catholic denomination in England considers the cathedral its mother church.  Built in 1895, it distinguishes itself from many of the neo-classical and neo-Gothic structures that rose in the Victorian age by being ornately neo-Byzantine.  Its terracotta-red-and-white façade is truly unique.  The 274-feet campanile can be climbed by a lift and offers great sweeping views of London. 

The interior of the cathedral is still very much a work in progress, and sections of the great church are done when funds allow.   Look out for the many beautiful neo-Byzantine mosaics adoring parts of the cathedral.  You can also see the 1918 Stations of the Cross crafted in stone by Eric Gill.  The side chapels that surround the main cathedral are finished, and will somewhat give an idea into the future look of the main cathedral.  There are several of them, including one dedicated to saints of Scotland, and another to saints of Ireland, and one holding the remains of English martyrs.


UK London Buckingham PalaceBuckingham Palace (Buckingham Palace Road, +44 2077 667300, £17.50).  With so many overwhelmingly beautiful and grandiose buildings in London, it is truly a wonder why Queen Victoria and the rest who followed chose to stay in the Buckingham Palace, which has been the official residence of the British monarchy since Victoria’s time.  It started out as a townhouse of the Duke of Buckingham, before eventually being acquired by George III, and then enlarged and revamped by John Nash in later years. 

UK London Changing of the GuardsThough the palace is open to the public for a couple of months, you can only view nineteen of the 600-plus rooms that the palace has, and the rooms themselves don’t really give justice to the grandiosity and vivacity people would expect of royalty.  For the rest of the year, the royal standard flailing in the wind will give you an idea if the Queen is home.

Changing of the Guards
Perhaps a quintessential part of any first trip to London, watching the Changing of the Guards, which happens daily from the months of May to July, and on alternate days for the rest of the year if it doesn’t rain, is a grand tradition of the Queen’s Foot Guards.  On November, during the opening of the Parliament, the procession leaves the premises of the Buckingham Palace, and is a grand sight to behold.

Buckingham Palace Royal CollectionQueen’s Gallery (Buckingham Palace Road, +44 2077 667301, £9).  The Royal Collection is multiple times more massive than the collection displayed at the National Gallery, but you can’t see them all at once in the Queen’s Gallery, just south of the UK London Royal MewsBuckingham Palace, standing on the site of a John Nash conservatory.  The Queen’s Gallery displays change regularly, so each visit to the gallery may be vastly different from your last.  It holds pieces by Michaelangelo, Gainsborough, Van Dyck and Rembrandt, as well as photographic exhibitions.

Royal Mews
(Buckingham Palace Road, +44 2077 667302, £8).  There’s nothing quite as royal (and frankly, fairy-tale-like) as having a gold-encrusted carriage.  The royal carriages and automobiles in the Royal Mews are the things that legends are made of, only they’re completely real, and on display enclosed in a glass canopy.







Blake 'Oberon, Titania and Puck'Tate Britain (Milbank, +44 2078 878888, free), the oldest of the four Tate galleries in England, was founded in 1897, commissioned by Henry Tate who made his fortunes inventing the sugar cube.  The whole gallery pays homage to British art, particularly those conceived from 1500s to the present.  If you need an introduction to British art, this is the place to start with.  Crowded with the biggest names in local art, such as Gainsborough, Constable, Blake, and Hogarth, as well as up-and-coming ones displayed from October to January during the Turner prize season, Tate Britain is an absorbing art gallery.  The gallery also boasts of the great Turner collection, which dominates the Clore Gallery.    The Turner Prize, hosted and sponsored by Tate Britain annually, was set up in 1984, to honour a British artist under fifty.  The prize has always been deemed controversial, despite its prestige, much like the artist it was named after, JMW Turner.

Before the founding of Tate Modern, Tate Britain included the contemporary collections housed in the new gallery.  Nowadays, Tate Britain is connected to Tate Modern via a high-speed boat that traverses the River Thames.  The boat itself is a work of art, adorned with what looks like a painting based on a Damien Hirst piece.




UK LONDON Typical Apartments Building in West LondonKnightsbridge is one of the most up-market areas of London. Despite its strings of posh boutiques, expensive restaurants and cafes, and antiques dealers, the area is undeniably pretty with many old, well maintained buildings and leafy streets. 

Harrods [87-135 Brompton Road, +44 20 77301234, www.harrods.com] is a British institution that can't be missed. Compete with the hordes of tourists from all over the world for a glimpse of London's gloriously tacky luxury department store.

South Kensington        
This affluent and attractive area of London is also the site of many museums and institutions of learning. Many tourists come to visit the V&A, the Natural History Museum, and the Science Museum.

Victoria & Albert Museum  
UK LONDON victoria and albert museum The Victoria and Albert Museum [Cromwell Road, +44 20 79422000, www.vam.ac.uk, free enry to permanent exhibitions] is Britain's - and the world's – premier museum of art and design. The V&A began as the South Kensington Museum in 1857, which itself grew out of the Great Exhibition of 1851. There are exhibitions about fashion, jewellery, home furnishings, architecture, ceramics, prints, photographs, and glass with objects gathered from all across the world. Like the British Museum, this is a bewildering and extensive collection and it is best appreciated across a few visits. With well over 6.5 million objects, only a small part of the entire collection is ever on display. Still, it is difficult to list a few highlights as it's easy to get lost in just about any of the beautiful galleries for hours: certainly, don't miss the array of objects and designs by William Morris, the fashion exhibits, or the superb East Asian collection. 

Natural History Museum  
UK LONDON Natural History MuseumThere's only plenty to see inside the Natural History Museum [Cromwell Road, +44 20 79425000, www.nhm.ac.uk, free entry to permanent collections] but outside too. Designed by Alfred Waterhouse, both the interior and the exterior of the building feature animals carved in stone and dotted throughout the facade. The collection comprises of over 70 million specimens but it began much more modestly in 1753 when Sir Hans Sloane bequeathed his collection number 80,000 to the nation. Now, it includes fossils, models of animals, birds, fish, and reptiles, rocks and minerals, and plant specimens. All of these tell the history of the earth. Don't miss the large animatronic T-Rex which is sensitive to sound and movement – its load roars can be heard as you approach.

Science Museum      
The Science Museum [Exhibition Road, +44 20 79424000, www.sciencemuseum.org.uk, free entry to permanent exhibitions] grew out of the South Kensington Museum which opened in 1857. The permanent galleries cover themes such as Who Am I?, The Making of the Modern World, Flight, Mathemathics, Telecommunications, and many more. Some highlights include a Polynesian Sailing Chart – a 3D model of currents and the location of isands using twigs and seashells, the Acupuncture Sculpture from 17th century China, and the very cool automatic tea-making machine, which is like something out of Wallace and Gromit.

Chelsea with an extensive embankment zone UK LONDON chelsea bridgealong the Thames is a chic and expensive area of London that was once home to artists, musicians, and Swinging Sixties. The Chelsea Physic Garden and Royal Hospital Chelsea are in the area.

Chelsea Physic Garden       
Founded in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London, the Chelsea Physic Garden [66 Royal Holloway Road, +44 20 73525646, www.chelseaphysicgarden.co.uk, Adults £8] was established to train apprenctice apothecaries and further the science of identifying and using plants. Very quickly, the society established an international seed exchange which allowed their collection to grow.  There are regular activities and event at the garden, many of which aim to teach the public about using plants.

Royal Hospital Chelsea       
After the English Civil War, it became necessary to set up an effective means to provide for old and disabled soldiers. In 1681 King Charles II established the Royal Hospital Chelsea [Royal Hospital Road, +44 20 78815200, www.chelsea-pensioners.org.uk, free entry]. The building was completed in 1692, designed by the famous architect of London Sir Christopher Wren. It is home to hundreds of veteran soldiers, affectionately called the Chelsea Pensioners. There's a museum with a large collection of war medals.

Earl’s Court           
From the 1960s to the 90s, low rent attracted thousands of Australians and New Zealanders to this area of London, earning it the nickname ‘Kangaroo Valley’ or 'Kangaroo Court'.


UK LONDON brixtonBrixton               
Brixton is known more for its social problems now than for anything else. There have been riots, ethnic tensions, and a significant amount of crime and any traveller to the area should be aware of that. However, it is a colourful part of London with a fantastic mix of cultures. There is a good variety of bars, restaurants, and shops.