Even under normal circumstances, London is one of the world’s great vacation destinations but this year sets an exceptional standard for England‘s capital city. Not only did it just host the 2012 Olympic Games, the year also marks the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II who celebrates the 60th anniversary of her accession to the British throne upon the death of her father, King George VI in 1952. Combining the Jubilee and the Olympics, together with all the traditional attractions of the city, plus a few new ones, this year is indeed a truly extraordinary one.

Although my maiden visit to London in the 1980s wasn’t a year punctuated by special events, it didn’t matter. The city was exactly the way I had pictured it with its inimitable British atmosphere, ancient architecture, marvellous cathedrals and iconic landmarks that everlastingly define this centuries old metropolis ruled by a long line of English monarchs. The first thing I did was hop onto one of London’s double-decker buses and do a city tour which is something I recommend to any first-time visitor. This proved to be a fortuitous choice since it was from the bus driver that I learned the Queen was scheduled to do one of her periodic public walk-abouts in Covent Gardens that very evening.

I headed straight for the gates of Buckingham Palace to wait for Her Majesty and entourage to exit. It was an unusually cold day in April, a misty rain was falling and I was cold to the bone but my perseverance paid off. At shortly after 5 p.m., a small cavalcade of Royal cars carrying the Queen, Prince Phillip and almost all of their children passed within three feet of me. I was, and never have been, a dyed-in-the-wool monarchist, but I have to say this was a magical moment. Then it was off to the nearest British pub for a hot toddy and an order of England’s famous fish and chips.

During the next three days I visited every famous attraction I could manage to squeeze in: the Victoria and Albert Museum, St. Paul’s Cathedral where many Royals have been married, London Bridge, the city’s famous clock tower housing Big Ben, and the Tower of London where three among the many wives of King Henry VIII (Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey and Catherine Howard) were executed. The Tower also features a collection of more than 23,000 of the Queen’s Crown Jewels. Needless to say this exhibit is under armed guard. Visitors can get all the great and grisly tales that punctuate the Tower’s history by taking a Yeoman Warder Tour. (Yeomen, nicknamed Beefeaters, have long been a symbol of London and Britain).

Other famous attractions on the bucket list of most first-time visitors include Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Westminster Abbey and 10 Downing Street, home of several British Prime Ministers including Winston Churchill. Of course, no visit to London would be complete without witnessing the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, a tradition that amounts to a colourful display of Royal pageantry. From August through October 7, particular parts of Buckingham Palace are open to the public. Tours offer access to the State Rooms where the special exhibition, Diamonds: A Jubilee Celebration, features 10,000 diamonds set in crowns and other precious objects acquired by six monarchs over a period of 300 years. Tours also include access to the Queen’s Gallery.

With the 2012 Olympics over and the city still basking in the afterglow of the greatest sports event on the planet, until September 9th visitors can view examples of Olympic victory medals at the British Museum—the oldest national public museum in the world. The display that charts the making of this year’s medals also includes those from 1908 and 1948 together with 1960 and 1984 Paralympic Games medals. Also, there is more to the British Museum that the medals display. Visitors can view objects dating back two million years including ancient Egyptian mummies, the real Rosetta stone, the first known image of Christ, art masterpieces, sacred objects from the islands of the Pacific and historical articles from Imperial China and the ancient civilizations of the Incas and the Aztecs.

What would a trip to London be without a pub visit when traditional British pubs are an integral component of London’s special character? There are at least 4,500 of these famous drinking holes, some more traditional than others. They go by names such as the Dog and Duck, The Swan Tavern and The Magpie. Some of them are centuries old like the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub on Fleet Street that had to be rebuilt after the Great Fire of London in 1666. It has reputedly hosted historic figures such as Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Not all of London’s attractions are old. The city recently saw the opening of a fascinating exhibition in the Barbican Arts Centre called Designing 007 – Fifty Years of Bond Style. The exhibit that runs throughout the summer covers 50 years of James Bond movie making including costumes, story-boards, automobiles, and gadgets and weapons made for Bond and his notorious adversaries. This particular exhibit will especially appeal to the dedicated fans of the fictional British Secret Service agent–code name 007.


For more information about travel to London this year, plus information about the Diamond Jubilee, go online at www.visitbritain.com.
Complete Olympics details can be found at www.london2012.com.

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