Friday, 4 July 2014

Madame Tussauds, St Paul’s Cathedral, Big Ben and the London Eye: Touring Scotland with Ciara Ballintyne

It must be our second day in London by now. We’re leaving for York on a train around 2pm, so until then we’ll be squeezing in a few more sightseeing experiences.

Madame Tussauds

I’m undecided about this. We have one in Sydney now, although I haven’t been, and I’m still considering whether the original London wax museum really offers anything over and above the Sydney one. I’ll have to do more research. If you have an opinion, chime in!

St Paul’s Cathedral

We saw a few cathedrals in Rome, but St Paul’s seems to be offering a few features not available anywhere we’ve been previously! 

Climb the dome – you can climb up the dome to the Whispering Gallery, where a whisper can be heard clearly 100 feet away. Perhaps not the best location for clandestine meetings. A mere 271 steps will take you up to the Golden Gallery and views across London.

The crypt – once you’ve gone all the way to the top you can go down to the bottom, where lies the cathedral’s architect Sir Christopher Wren together with Admiral Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington in the cathedral's crypts.

The cathedral also offers a touchscreen tour and an immersive film experience. Feeling peckish? You can eat at ‘The Restaurant at St Paul’s’.

The London Eye

This one’s probably considered totally touristy, but this was hubby’s pick and I can’t have it all my way. I concede you do get an excellent view across London, and since we’re not going to be in town long, this probably isn’t a bad idea.

Big Ben

When I think of Big Ben, I always think of the clock tower, and although the name is apparently applied to the tower, the clock and the bell, it properly only refers to the Great Bell.

It was also news to me to learn that the clock tower is actually attached to the UK houses of Parliament. Why didn't I know this? It seems like something I should have known.

The tower in question is the Elizabeth Tower, and stands at the north end of the Houses of Parliament. You can tour the clock tower, but I'm unsure if we'll want to go that far or just see it - it may well end up being a question of time. What do you think?

Fun fact: Big Ben first tolled on 11 July 1859.

About Touring Scotland with Ciara Ballintyne

Ciara Ballintyne is visiting Scotland in 2016 - join her on a virtual tour of Scotland and other parts of Great Britain as she plans her trip. Where do you think she should visit?

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Westprog said...

Big Ben is really something you go to see from the outside. I've never known anyone to go up, and there's not a huge amount to see even when you do. St Paul's is definitely worth it. It's a different era from the great Italian cathedrals, and it's a central part of British history.

I enjoyed Madame Tussauds when I was young, but I wouldn't be particularly pushed about it now. When you can look up a thousand perfect colour pictures of your favourite celebrity online, looking at an unconvincing wax model isn't that enticing. YMMV.

I would consider the Royal Palaces. There's a one year membership which gives entry for a family for five Palaces (though not Buckingham Palace). Also Westminster Abbey - much older than St Paul's and equally important.

Other places better than Tussauds - National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, Science Museum, Natural History Museum. These are all free, but some might have queues at certain times. Others, you can just walk in.

Technicalities - you'll need Leap cards when you arrive. They work on the tube and buses, and make life a lot easier. They are stopping cash payments on buses. Once you have the card, you can just hop on and off buses and see where they lead. We got on a random bus and got off at Apsley House, which had late opening one evening. There are a lot of fun encounters like that, and a real (as opposed to virtual) holiday should take advantage.

This all based on a London holiday last year. Of course, what counts is what appeals to you.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

Thanks - this is all really fantastic information! I appreciate you taking th time to write such a long and detailed comment :-)

Simon Tall said...

The travel card for London tube and buses is called an Oyster card - you can buy these in advance online (just google Oyster card). You are very unlikely to get a tour of Big Ben, security for parliament is tight and to do a tour of the Palace of Westminster (which is parliament - House of Lords, House of Commons and Big Ben) you need to have an invite from an MP. St Paul's is great, I would recommend you walk from there to the Thames and across Millennium Bridge (footbridge across the Thames with great views) to the Tate Modern art gallery (a refurbished power station- well worth a look) then you can walk along the south bank, great views of the Thames, to arrive at the London Eye (parliament is across the river from there). The Tower of London is good, further down the river next to tower bridge. The best views of the city though are from the Shard - a new glass tower recently opened (tallest building in Western Europe). You can go to the viewing deck and see the whole city, this can be expensive (though probably worth it) but I'm told you can go to a restaurant or bar a few floors below and just get a drink for less. Again you can book this online.
Other than that I would agree with the previous poster about the palaces and museums, though some of these, like the Victoria and Albert museum or Natural History Museum are amazing but take a whole day to do them justice. I would decide what you want to see most of all, because you won't get it all done in a day or two, you have to factor in travelling about on the tube etc. - perhaps downloading a tube map might help you plan...

Simon Tall said...

P.S. I personally wouldn't bother with Madame Tussaud's...

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