Sick of London yet?
So far we have covered 7 free(ish) things to do and see in London, 4 iconic London museums to put on your to-do list and looked at the changing of the guard. This week we crack on with some of the paid attractions London has to offer. There are many to choose from so this is just a small selection that were tailored to things that tie in with my interest in history.
We got up nice and early to start the day. Unfortunately, everyone at our hotel had the same idea as us and we all ended up going to breakfast at the same time. It was a busy and bustling breakfast and we ended up perched on the end of someone else’s table. Small talk with our newly aquired neighbours was out of the question as we didn’t speak quite the same language.
After breakfast, we found the tubes. Luckily by now, I was a Tube Expert. The tubes are tremendously fascinating. Especially for someone who likes to observe and people watch. Most of the people on the tube looked thoroughly miserable but the man sitting across from me was rather bemused watching me take everything in with wide eyes.
We hopped off the tube and it thundered off down the line leaving nothing but a gust of wind and red lights fading into the darkness. Then everything went still and we entered the throng of people lining up for the steep escalators towards life above ground,
The dungeons were something that was high on my priority list. Is it a little morbid that the torture and gruesome side of history have always fascinated me?
We booked online for our tickets and chose the time we wanted to visit. We opted for earlier in the day so that we would have the rest of the day to explore. As we booked online we went for a deal that offered us another attraction at a discounted price and chose the London Eye. By going early we managed to miss the largest queue, though ours was still fairly long.
After having our bags checked we were let in, security is tight at almost every attraction in London and if you don’t like a stranger rummaging through your bag, you’re not going to like the city very much. I’d suggest chucking your ‘lady products’ in a side zip if you don’t want them falling out onto a table for all to see.
The dungeons were thoroughly enjoyable. I didn’t read up about them much before we went as I like to go into things with no expectations and take them as I see them. Plus I’m too lazy to do research. I had thought it would be a musuem with the instruments of torture that were used throughout history on display. I was wrong. The London dungeons use a mixture of media, including live actors, rides and loads of special effects. There is a total of 13 shows (coincidence?) for you to wander through. It was a really interactive experience. The actors were all fabulous. Wouldn’t that be a fun job? Scaring strangers, dressing up and occasionally talking smack to them.
I got chosen to deliver a letter to the next actor. I very proudly, ok, timidly, led the group through darkened tunnels nervously expecting someone to jump out at us all. Eventually, we made our way to the Guy Fawkes trial where I promptly got locked in a cage. Claustrophobia? Pah! What claustrophobia? As I made eyes across the room for Rob to step in and be my knight in shining armour another tourist was being threatened in a chair with the use of several torture devices.
Other shows included the Great Fire of London, Sweeny Todd, Jack the Ripper and a maze of mirrors where we all got perfectly disorientated and lost. At the end, you get ushered through a pub selling souvenirs where you can have a drink with more actors before being let out into the blinding sunlight slightly disorientated again.
- When the London Dungeon left its original home on Tooley St, lots of the props (severed limbs, instruments of torture etc) were sold off at a car boot sale in Pimlico. I didn’t get that memo though…
- In 2011 one of the skeletons at the original London Dungeon was discovered to be genuine human remains, believed to have been on display since the attraction first opened in 1975.
- See if you can spot model of Bob Geldof from Madame Tussauds dressed up in Victorian regalia lurking in the shadows as you exit the Sweeney Todd. I didn’t.
- The London Dungeon was never a dungeon at all. Its original location was on Tooley Street and was constructed during the middle of the nineteenth century. The location was used as a pillory for punishing the thieves over the years to imprison the arrested drunks until they had sobered up. Eventually, it moved to its present location. In effect, the present location where the Dungeon sits today has no relevant history at all.
Arrive nice and early and prepare to queue. Wear good shoes and don’t fill your handbag with heavy, unnecessary stuff as you will have to carry it the whole way around. Lesson learned the uncomfortable way. Also you can’t take photos as you are going through. But then it’s so dark you’ll probably only get blurry (see below), less than ideal photos anyway.
The London Eye was really something we should have planned for earlier in the day. By the time we got around to it after we had been to the markets and a spot of shopping the queues were horrendously long. As in so long, we questioned whether it would be actually worth the wait. Spoiler Alert. It was. You can fast-track the queue but we are cheap.
Once we finally were allowed in a capsule we spent the half an hour round trip (pun intended) hunting for landmarks, seeing how many red buses we could spot and generally just enjoying the peaceful ride. The pods don’t get too crowded even though up to 800 people can fit in the 32 capsules. The capsules are larger than they look and there was more than enough room for us all to not feel claustrophobic or trip over each other. There was even enough room to take photos without having anyone else in the shot.
The Eye definitely lives up to its name of the UK’s most popular paid attraction as it felt like every man and his dog were there. Well not literally. Dogs aren’t allowed on the Eye. At least I don’t think they are. There were none there anyway.
- You can see up to 40 kilometres in all directions (that’s as far as Windsor Castle on a clear day)
- Despite there only being 32 capsules (one for every borough in London), for superstitious reasons they are numbered 1 to 33: for good luck, there is no capsule numbered 13.
- The London Eye had a predecessor – The Great Wheel – which was in working order from 1895 – 1906
- The capsules travel at 26cm per second, which is twice as fast as a tortoise sprinting. Also twice as fast as me sprinting
- The Eye is lit up in different colours to mark various special occasions. It was lit red, white and blue for Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding, and pink in 2005 to celebrate the legalising of gay civil partnerships
If you don’t like queuing (let’s face it, who does?) then it pays to get a fast track ticket. We had to queue for well over an hour between lining up to collect our tickets and lining up in the queue to actually get on the London Eye.
The Tower of London
The Tower of London is a must see if you are interested in Royal history or history in general. Torture, Anne Boleyn, King Henry VIII, raids, Crown Jewels, what an amazing history the Tower of London has indeed.
We started with the tour. Our guide was exceptionally captivating and a Fountain of Tower Knowledge. As we made our way around the grounds he pointed out places of interest and a wee bit o’bout the history. We passed by the spot where Anne Boleyn got executed and strode the same paths that many figures of history also strode. It was all rather mind-boggling.
After our tour ended we were on our own so joined another crowd to watch some reenactments of past battles in the Tower. I lost interest in this fairly quickly and wandered off to snap some pics and line up for the Crown Jewels.
Obviously, we had to see the jewels, I pretended I was a super spy and was imagining how I was going to steal them. Unfortunately, there are far too many security guards hanging around for that carry on. However, I did hear afterwards that if you touch the glass big metal doors come down and close off the jewels. I kind of wish I knew beforehand. That would have been a fun theory to test out.
We still wanted to explore a bit more after the jewels but they were closing the gates to the public so we politely got ushered out into the streets (the English usher politely. It is not the done thing to be pushy).
- There are 911 World Heritage Sites worldwide. The Tower of London is included as it is one of the very few intact medieval buildings.
- At least 6 ravens are kept at the Tower of London at all time for superstitious reasons. It is believed that if the ravens ever leave the Tower the Kingdom will fall. Each raven has a wing clipped to make sure they don’t fly too far from home. Isn’t that cheating though?
- 22 executions took place within the Tower of London, the last in 1941.
- There was once a zoo in the Tower, it closed in 1835 and held animals such as polar bears, lions, kangaroos and elephants. Today there are still animals there but they are the stone type. Much more ethical and easier to feed.
- The ghost of a grizzly bear that used to reside in the Tower has refused to leave home and it’s rumoured he still hangs around.
Get there much earlier than we did. We arrived probably a couple of hours before kick out time and still didn’t manage to see all of it. The line to the Crown Jewels is very long. Take advantage of the guided tour that’s available throughout the day if you can.
The Tower Bridge was a last minute decision, we were just walking along the bridge and saw the sign. We figured if we had enough time after the Tower of London we would give it a bash. Since the Tower of London closed earlier than we thought it would we had the time. We made our way to the queue (sigh), but luckily for us it was just before the cut-off time for entry. The elevator sat waiting patiently for us and up to the top walkway we went.
The sun was disappearing into the horizon and an orange glow settled upon the city as we peered out the windows. It was so very peaceful standing above the city watching it conclude the day and get ready for the night.
Now I’m not scared of heights. However, I don’t like standing on glass floors (can they really hold all that weight?) or even manholes (you never know when they are going to give up) and little did I know there were glass floors along the walkways. Rob took great delight in pulling me across them much to the amusement of those looking on.
Once again we got politely ushered out (obviously through a convenient souvenir shop) as time was ticking by. But not before we had a walk through the Victorian Engine rooms. The bascules (openey bits of the bridge, FYI) were operated by hydraulics, using steam and giant pumping engines. The bridges still operate by hydraulics, but oil and electricity replaced steam in 1976.
- Before the Tower Bridge opened, those wishing to cross the river here would have used the Tower Subway – a 410-metre tunnel. Once used by one million people a year (each paid half a penny to do so), it closed to pedestrians in 1898 and is now used for water mains.
- The high-level, open-air walkways between the two towers were once a haunt for prostitutes and pickpockets and closed in 1910. They reopened in 1982 with an admission fee.
- In 1952, the bridge began to open while a double-decker bus was still on it. The number 78, which was being driven by Albert Gunton, had to accelerate and jumped a small, three-foot gap. He was awarded £10 for his bravery. The original Speed.
- A replica of Tower Bridge can be found in the Chinese city of Suzhou. It has a cafe inside offering “English-style coffee”. Really they should be serving tea. The English like their tea.
Watch out for the glass floors.
So there we have it. Four very fun attractions to visit when you go to London.
Let me know in the comments if you have ever been to any of these attractions. What did you think of them? If you haven’t what should I put on my to-do list?