London and it's Attractions
The official residence of Queen Elizabeth II, Buckingham Palace has been opening its doors to visitors for the last few summers. Originally acquired by King George III for his wife Queen Charlotte, Buckingham House was increasingly known as the \'Queen\'s House\' and 14 of George III\'s children were born there. On his accession to the throne, George IV decided to convert the house into a palace and employed John Nash to help him. Nash doubled the size of the house with the addition of a new wing in the French Neo-classical style favoured by George IV. Marble Arch was also constructed in celebration of the victories at Trafalgar and Waterloo. However, by 1829, the cost of reconstruction had escalated to nearly half a million pounds and Nash lost his job.
Queen Victoria was the first sovereign to live in Buckingham Palace (from 1837) but found it lacked sufficient bedrooms, so Marble Arch was moved to its current location and a fourth wing was added. The present forecourt (where the changing of the guard takes place) was constructed in 1911 as part of the Victoria Memorial scheme. Work on Buckingham Palace was completed just before the outbreak of World War One.
Visitors are permitted access to the State Rooms which are still used by the Royal family to receive and entertain guests on state and ceremonial occasions. Decorated in lavish fashion, they include paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens and Canaletto, Sévres porcelain and some of the finest English and French furniture in the world.
Tower of London:
The Tower is one of London\'s most popular visitor attractions and forms a stunning backdrop to the river. The Tower of London came into existence following the Norman conquest (1066) and the need to colonise and defend England. Since then it has been used as a prison, palace, place of execution and a showcase for the Crown Jewels.
After King Henry VIII\'s break with the Catholic Church it housed religious prisoners including two of Henry VIII\'s six wives - Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, both of whom were beheaded on the scaffolds at Tower Green. Visitors can also see the Crown Jewels which are still used by the Royal family today, the Yeoman Warders (\'Beefeaters\') who have been protecting the tower since the fourteenth-century and the infamous ravens. Legend has it that Charles II was told that if the ravens left the Tower then the monarchy would fall.
When the Millennium Commission announced their intention to build a Ferris wheel that would tower 50 metres above Big Ben, people were understandably cynical. But the British Air London Eye turned out to be the finest new attraction in London since Queen Victoria's Great Exhibition. On busy summer days around 15,000 visitors take a \'flight\'.
On a clear day, from the top of its 140 metre arc, you can see 25 miles in each direction. Take in the capital's greatest landmarks and sweeping panoramas safely ensconced in a perfectly designed pod.
Many Londoners have become regular users, reveling in this unique perspective of their city. Weddings, business meetings, birthdays and family outings are regularly played out in the pods.
For tourists it is an essential port of call: relaxing, fascinating and inspiring, the Eye has become a definitive part of the London experience.
Houses of Parliament:
Now more commonly known as the Houses of Parliament, the Palace of Westminster began life as a royal residence in 1042 under Edward the Confessor. The major structure to survive various fires, Westminster Hall, was built between 1087-1100 and is one of the largest medieval halls in Europe with an unsupported hammerbeam roof. During the fourteenth-century the hall housed shops and stalls selling wigs, pens and other legal equipment and the courts of law met there. Thomas More, Charles I and those accused of trying to blow up parliament (1605) were all tried in Westminster Hall.
Following a fire in 1512, Henry VIII decided to abandon the palace and from this moment onwards it became home to the two seats of parliament - the Commons and the Lords. However, it was to suffer from another disastrous fire in 1834 and everything was lost except Westminster Hall and the Jewel Tower. A competition was launched to redevelop the whole site. Sir Charles Barry was responsible for the mock gothic building that has become such a familiar landmark today; including the Clock Tower that houses Big Ben, the bell that chimes on the hour, and is home to the largest clock face in the country.
Members of the public can watch debates when parliament is in session. You don\'t need tickets in advance, but may have to queue. For the chance to watch Prime Minister\'s Question Time, you will need to obtain tickets in advance from a member of parliament (British citizen) or from your consulate or High Commission.