‘London is a roost for every bird, ’ observed Benjamin Disraeli, the UK prime minister in the 19th century. Since then, London has – if anything – become even more cosmopolitan. More than 14 million overseas visitors chose to spend time in the UK capital during 2010, helping contribute over £8.6 billion to the country’s economy. Little surprise then that tourism is at the city’s heart, with ever more attractions and enticements set out to lure foreign visitors. Here are seven of the very best…
Step into the past
The British Museum is the most popular tourist attraction in the UK. In 2010, more than 5.8 million people visited the museum, which has one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of artefacts in existence.
The museum is a magnet for foreign visitors, who make use of the audio guides to view objects collected from every corner of the globe in a space equivalent to nine football pitches. Perhaps most importantly of all in a city notorious for its money-draining ability, the museum costs nothing to visit.
Taste of the modern
The Tate Modern is London’s second most popular tourist attraction – and it’s not hard to see why. The gallery is free to enter and holds the national collection of British art from 1500 to the present day, as well as both modern and contemporary art. The gallery also holds regular exhibitions from renowned international artists – however, these are not free to get into. Taken as a whole, the artwork found in Tate Modern can communicate a great deal about London.
Home to more than 2, 300 paintings and costing nothing to enter, the ever-popular National Gallery was the UK’s third most-visited attraction in 2010. The gallery’s collection includes works dating from the mid-13th century up until the 1900, and includes iconic images such as van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’, Monet’s ‘The Water Lily Pond’ and Constable’s ‘The Hay Wain’.
A date with royalty
For many foreign visitors, the royal family help define not just London, but the entire country. With this in mind, a visit to the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace is a must for visitors, whether they’re just over for a couple of weeks or taking language courses in the capital. Here you can find more information about London and language courses.
A sacred space
Much of London’s charm is in its history. For those seeking a little temporary immersion in the London of old, the 1, 000-year-old Westminster Abbey is a good place to start. Since Benedictine monks first arrived at the site in the middle of the tenth century, the abbey has been the final resting place of seventeen monarchs. The building itself is one of the UK’s most important Gothic buildings.
St Paul’s Cathedral
Whether it’s used as a meeting point by ESL Languages students or as a place of worship, St Paul’s Cathedral is one of London’s most impressive buildings. For the ultimate in panoramic views, climb the 271 steps to the very top of the dome.
Away from the city
When the hustle and bustle of London gets too much, some much-needed respite can be found in the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew. The gardens comprise 121 hectares of gardens and botanical glasshouses. There are a variety of guided tours available in a number of different languages, or visitors are free to wander at their own pace.