8 essential attractions for first-time visitors to London

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For first-time visitors to London, prioritising what to see and do on a short break in the city can be a daunting prospect – the UK capital, after all, is such a huge, thriving metropolis that it’s home to more than eight million inhabitants and brimming with world-class parks, theatres, museums, and restaurants. So what to single out for your few days in London town? Well, these suggestions may help…

London Eye

See the city from on high on the London Eye

One of – if not the foremost – attraction in London today, the Eye is a gigantic wheel on the wonderfully tourist-friendly South Bank (just across the River Thames from the Houses of Parliament), which affords people a panoramic view of the capital from a height of 135 metres in each of its many enclosed ovoid capsules. Indeed, planned as a temporary structure at first, since its opening in 2000 it’s been so successful it’s now the most visited attraction in the UK. It’s the perfect way to kick-off your London break – especially if you’re a first-time visitor, not least as the attraction also offers specialist river cruises and a 4D cinema experience.

Buckingham Palace

Get your royal fix at Buckingham Palace

Having thrown open its doors to the public during the summer of 2009, Her Majesty The Queen’s official London residence has been a top visitor attraction ever since – with its galleries drawing on the Royal Collection to showcase priceless artworks, decorous furniture and beautiful frocks proving a particularly big draw.Be mindful, however, that if you pay this most impressive and world-famous of palaces a visit, you’re highly unlikely to spot the Queen herself or anyone royal – not least as she spends most of her time outside of London at Windsor Castle.

Walk around Westminster Abbey

Originally a Benedictine monastery and completed in 960 AD, Westminster Abbey has come a long way since then, given for many centuries it’s been the site on which every British monarch is traditionally crowned and where many Royal weddings take place (such as that between the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge). A beautiful and gigantic Gothic structure, visitors are strongly advised to check out highlights such as the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, Poets’ Corner and, of course, the coronation chair itself.

Oxford Street London

Seek retail therapy on Oxford Street

The UK’s primary shopping thoroughfare, Oxford Street is home to the flagship stores of many major high-street retailers including the likes of Selfridges, John Lewis,House of Fraser, Debenhams and HMV. Located in the absolute heart of London, it’s extremely accessible by London Underground (Tube) or bus and, lest we forget, its traditional shopping experience – one of the essential London attractions – spills over into similarly iconic streets around it, such as Tottenham Court Road, Regent Street, Bond Street and Carnaby Street.

Visit the Tower

Officially, ‘Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress’, the Tower of London might intrigue many as it’s supposed to be among the most haunted places in the city. Others, however, will be entranced by the history it contains – The White Tower at its centre, for instance, was built in 1078 by William the Conqueror and since then has been a fortress, a palace and a prison, among other things. With royal bedchambers, armour collections and the Crown Jewels, it’s a must on any visitor’s list, not least thanks to the marvellous tours held by the Yeoman Warders who live on the site. And, if you’re staying at one of the top nearby hotels like The Montcalm hotel at the Brewery London City, it makes for an ideal day out.

Indulge your artistic side at the Royal Opera House

The home of the Royal Ballet as well as the Royal Opera, Bow Street’s Royal Opera House(which borders Covent Garden) is an international institution, renowned for delivering the best quality high art for nearly 70 years. If your wallet will allow it, there’s nothing like dressing up to the nines and catching a ballet or opera performance at this vast, beautiful venue.

Covent Garden Market

Get entertained for free in Covent Garden

Bustling with acrobatic performers, comic acts, mimes and classical musicians among all the milling tourists and restaurant goers, Covent Garden itself was first a convent site and then a major vegetable market before, in recent decades, becoming an enormously popular, elegant, bright and lively tourist trap. With its unique boutiques, stylish restaurants and bars and, yes, street performers, the piazza is just as famous for featuring insignificant literature – namely George Bernard Shaw’s Edwardian play Pygmalion and its hit musical adaptation My Fair Lady.

Covent Garden in London

Tour the British Museum

A venerable yet awesome institution, the British Museum boasts around eight million objects from throughout the globe in its permanent collection. Its mission is to document the story of mankind, and the vast majority of its offerings are entirely free to view. The Elgin Marbles, the Rosetta Stone, mummies from Egypt, helmets worn by Anglo-Saxons, tools from the Paleolithic age and drawings by Leonardo da Vinci; you name it, the British Museum has it.