Houses of Parliament
Home to one of the world's oldest bodies of government, the Parliament building sits on the shores of the Thames River in London's Westminster neighborhood. This building, known commonly as the Houses of Parliament, is actually the Palace of Westminster. Beginning around 1016, monarchs throughout the centuries built the palace section by section. Although most of the original Palace of Westminster was destroyed by a fire in the first half of the 1800s, some parts of the ancient palace still exist. Most of these areas, along with almost all of Parliament, are open to the public. Visitors are welcome to tour the buildings or even watch government at work in debates and committee hearings.
Famous for its reliability, the clock tower that stands beside the Houses of Parliament, commonly known as Big Ben, has kept nearly perfect time since its construction. Big Ben was not Parliament's first or even second clock tower, the latter of which was torn down in 1707. The tower that has become so emblematic of the British government was added to the plans for rebuilding Parliament after the fire of 1834. Rising nearly 915 feet, the construction of the tower lasted from 1843 to 1859. British citizens can make appointments to climb the 334 steps inside the tower, but Big Ben is not open to non-British visitors.
Founded in 960 by Benedictine monks, Westminster Abbey has been the coronation cite of the British monarchy since 1066. The building that exists today across from the Houses of Parliament was built by Henry III in 1245. The Abbey is home to Britain's largest collection of monumental sculpture since hundreds of Britain's leaders, heroes, and artists are buried or commemorated here, including 17 monarchs. The Abbey still holds regular services, and most areas are open to the public, welcoming more than one million visitors a year to explore the history hidden in each alcove.
Buckingham Palace is the London home and administrative offices of the British monarchy, and has been since 1837. Used for state functions and royal ceremonies, Buckingham Palace has welcomed presidents, prime ministers, kings, queens and dignitaries from around the world. Many of these events take place in the Ballroom, the largest of the Palace's 775 rooms built by Queen Victoria in the mid-1800s. Guided tours of the State Rooms and the Queen's Gallery are available to the visiting public. In front of the Palace, the public is welcome to observe, free of charge, the famous Changing of the Guards at 11:30 daily from May to July. This ceremony draws visitors from around the world as they watch Britain's finest soldiers performing their duty in protecting the Sovereign.
The British Museum
The British Museum welcomes over six millions visitors each year. Opened in 1759, the Museum is home to some of the greatest antiquities the world has ever known, including the Rosetta Stone, sculptures from the Parthenon, and depictions of ancient deities from around the world. Located in the Bloomsbury neighborhood of London, the Museum is free of charge and invites the public to wander its exhibits and explore the relics of human history.
Covent Garden District
Covent Garden is a one-stop destination for the best that London has to offer. Within this district lies both the Royal Opera House and the Royal Ballet. Theaters and museums line the streets along with designer stores, busy night-spots, local pubs, and countless restaurants. For anyone looking to take in what today's London has to offer, Covent Garden is a can't-miss.