7 stops to Historic London – a Seasonal Trip across London
Guest blog post by Fiona Maclean at London Unattached – part of the Festive Tube Map series
It’s all too easy at Christmas to get overwhelmed by shopping for food and presents. But London’s historic landmarks are particularly special at this time of year, spruced up with Christmas lights and perhaps just a little quieter than during the Summer holiday season. So I’m taking time out across the City with Attractiontix to help me make the most of my journey.
1. Greenwich and the start of time
I’m starting in Greenwich. One of those fascinating places on the edge of London that can easily be overlooked. I’m starting my journey through historic London here because this is where time began. Well, not in the Biblical sense of course, but it IS home to The Royal Observatory, the home of Greenwich Mean Time and the Prime Meridian line. Founded by Charles II in 1675 it is, by international decree, the official starting point for each new day, year and millennium.
Of course there’s more in Greenwich than the Royal Observatory. I walk through the Christmas Market (and get a bit diverted by the mulled wine on offer) over to take a look at Cutty Sark – Built on the Clyde in 1869 she was one of the last tea clippers to be built and one of the fastest, coming at the end of a long period of design development which halted as sailing ships gave way to steam. Now fully restored and open to the public since April 2012, she sits on the banks of the Thames – a real testament to Maritime Britain.
2. The Historical River Thames and the Tower of London
In keeping with my maritime adventure I’ve booked a Riverboat Cruise for my journey today. It lets me hop on and off the riverboat all the way across London and gives me a wonderful view of many of the great sights including all the buildings dressed up with lights for Christmas.
As I reach Tower Bridge I get ready to disembark again. I’ve already got my ticket for the Tower of London and I’m really looking forward to seeing the Crown Jewels, a few Beefeaters and ravens and exploring one of London’s oldest sites. Founded in 1066 after the Norman Conquest, the Tower of London has played a part in so many of London’s historic events, as a prison, a royal residence and as home to the Royal Mint. Right now there’s one of London’s Christmas ice-rinks. Very seasonal, but exhausting to look at! Plus, I always fall over if I as much as look at a pair of ice skates.
3. A Visual Feast at the Banqueting House
Back on the riverboat, I take a welcome rest as we journey along the Thames to Embankment. I’m stopping off here to find out a bit about the Banqueting House. I’ve already got my entry ticket organised from Attractiontix and I’m keen to see the place where Charles I was executed. The Banqueting House is the sort of place you really do need to visit in person, no photographs will ever prepare you for the magnificence of the interior.
4. Westminster and Carols
My next stop is Westminster pier – minutes from the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral. These are all landmarks of Historic London so I stroll around admiring the wonderful architecture and reminding myself of some of the VERY special places in London. Over Christmas it’s worth timing a visit to coincide with choral evensong at the Abbey or Cathedral. Where else will you hear such wonderful music completely free of charge.
5. Princess for an Hour at Buckingham Palace
A bit further upstream I reach Victoria pier. It’s a short walk up to Buckingham Palace. Now, apart from pretending to be a Princess (doesn’t EVERYONE do that when they visit a palace?), I’m really enjoying the fact I’ve already got my entry ticket for the Queens Gallery. I love the idea that the Queen holds a collection of great works of Art for the State and shows them to the public, and the current exhibition of Tudor and Stuart Fashion is right up my street.
6. Tea and Mince Pies by Royal Appointment
From here I’m going to walk (don’t blink), up to Fortnum and Mason’s for my pre-booked afternoon tea. It’s one of London’s oldest shops, founded in 1707 and full of tradition and charm. Around this time of year, Fortnum and Mason’s is one of the prettiest stores in London, packed with wonderful Christmas goodies. And afternoon tea, that quintessentially British event is a great treat.
7. The Best Christmas Thank-you in Town
Full of tea, mince-pies and sandwiches, I wander up Piccadilly and across to Trafalgar Square. The Christmas tree is an annual gift from Norway in thanks for the support given by the Allies to Norway during the Second World War. The tree is specially selected, the ‘Queen of the Forest’ and is usually some 20m or more high and at least fifty years old. It’s spectacular, decorated with streams of lights and sited right in front of the National Gallery.
Throughout December carol singers perform by the tree, collecting for various charities and really bringing home the spirit of Christmas. For me it’s a perfect way to end my seasonal trip around historic London.
About the author
Fiona Maclean is an award winning freelance marketing consultant and writer. She currently writes for a number of publications including HomeAway, MyChicCity The Cultural Voyager, About my Generation, Yahoo and Strutt and Parker &London magazine. Her London lifestyle blog London Unattached covers food, travel, London restaurants, events, theatre and select product reviews