England’s eventful history and scenic diversity render it one of the world’s most popular visitor destinations. Although only united as a single nation little over 1000 years ago, its origins go back to the dawn of civilisation, and the variety of interest it offers reflects this.
From prehistoric Stonehenge to 21st-century attractions like London’s Millennium Eye, its inhabitants have (and do) contributed much to the appeal of the UK’s largest constituent country. This is not restricted to a material legacy, either – England’s cultural mix is rich, thanks to the many invaders, settlers and immigrants who have arrived on her shores through the millennia. Countless others around the globe share aspects of customs, language and history with the English themselves.
England’s heritage, and therefore her appeal as a destination, is many faceted and deeply rooted, ranging from the literary genius of Shakespeare to ‘everyday’ pageantry in the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.
The variety and contrast in the nation’s countryside is enormous, too, and is often a source of surprise to many visitors venturing beyond the cities for the first time – as is the vast range of visitor attractions, resorts and sights to see and enjoy.
London has no obvious centre, because it grew out of two formerly distinct cities. The City of London was the site of the original Roman settlement and, later, commercial and trading centre. Meanwhile, Westminster became the seat of government after transfer of England’s administrative capital from Winchester in the 11th century. Over the centuries, they fused, and engulfed surrounding villages and hamlets. Not until ‘Green Belt’ legislation of the 1950s did expansion slow. Today, 33 London boroughs and the City of London cover an area of nearly 385 sq km (148 sq miles), but contain a great deal of open parkland, common land and even woods. A wide range of guided walking, bus and car tours is available in London.
Central London: Roughly bounded by the Underground Circle Line, this area includes the West End, Westminster and the City. The West End contains many of the principal theatres, cinemas, restaurants, cafes, hotels and nightclubs, as well as the best-known shopping areas, like Oxford, Regent and Bond Street, as well as Covent Garden.
Places of interest include Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, the British Museum, Buckingham Palace, the buildings of the Horse Guards and Downing Street in Whitehall, and the Tate Britain gallery on Millbank. The London Theatre Museum is in Russell Street.
The Royal Opera House, home of both Royal Ballet and Royal Opera, is in Covent Garden. Backstage tours are available. The London Transport Museum is also in this area, whose former fruit and vegetable market is now filled with cafes, pubs, restaurants and shops.
Rock Circus, by Piccadilly Circus, brings the story of rock and pop music to life. The Courtauld Institute paintings are on display at Somerset House (which formerly housed records of births, marriages and deaths).
A short distance to the north is Baker Street, location of Madame Tussauds, and the adjacent London Planetarium. The Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221B Baker Street contains a representation of the fictional detective’s apartment.
Further west, in Kensington and Chelsea, are several other famous shopping streets (King’s Road, Knightsbridge – site of Harrods – and Portobello Road, with its antiques market). Three of London’s largest museums (the Victoria & Albert, Science and Natural History), and the Royal Albert Hall, home of the summer Promenade Concerts, are also here. The British National Army Museum is in Chelsea’s Royal Hospital Road.
Central London also contains four parks: Hyde Park (by far the largest), St James’ Park, Green Park and, slightly further north, Regent’s Park, location of London Zoo.
See more information on the next page... (next)