Richard’s parents arrived in the UK and reminded us that despite all our travels, there was plenty we hadn’t yet seen in London – that’s what happens when a city becomes your home!
It was about time for us to spend a weekend exploring attractions without getting on a plane. During the first weekend of June we visited the Houses of Parliament, returned to the British Museum, and spent a thoroughly enjoyable day at Kew Gardens. These were reminders that there is more to London than the daily grind of cramped (and as summer approaches, increasingly smelly) tube journeys in rush hour.
The area of Westminster is a tourist magnet drawing crowds of sightseers that can make getting around frustrating. In general I avoid the area for that reason, but on this particular weekend we were one with the many visitors to the Palace of Westminster, also known as the Houses of Parliament. Both the House of Lords and House of Commons are based there and together they form the UK Parliament. The audio guide followed a defined path and provided an interesting commentary on the structure of parliament and the odd traditions still observed today. Most likely for security reasons, photos are only permitted in the entrance at Westminster Hall. The hall is actually the oldest part of the palace, built in 1097. It’s an expansive grand space where numerous notable political figures have spoken including Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama.
Inside the palace is an astounding archive of all the legislation passed through Parliament since its inception. Of the three million documents, the (literally) longest Act of Parliament is a taxation act passed in 1821; the scroll is 348 metres long and took a whole day to rewind. Are we surprised the longest Act in the UK is for tax?
There are three towers that are part of the Palace of Westminster; Victoria Tower, Elizabeth Tower and the less interestingly named, Central Tower. The base of Victoria Tower is where the Queen arrives whenever she opens Parliament (or on other state occasions). The entrance was a grand 15 metre high archway with ornate sculptures. The most famous tower, Elizabeth Tower, is more commonly referred to as Big Ben.
The visit was informative and interesting. Regardless of the countless extravagant structures we’ve visited, I found the Palace to be well maintained and quite beautiful. I am happy we went and would recommend it to any visitors (or visitor-residents like us!).
On our way to lunch, we passed Buckingham Palace and St James’ Park. Crowds of people made St Jamess’ the least relaxing park I have ever been to. There were some very interesting and cute birds though.
I can report that even though we have been before, the British Museum is still huge. On this particular visit we went up to see the ceramic collections from East Asia. There were a lot of tour groups around but we still got to see beautiful pieces from the Sir Percival David Collection.
We were in luck for our visit to Kew Gardens; the sun was out and the temperature delightfully warm. Upon arrival and receiving a map, we realised just how big the gardens were – 300 acres!
Since 2003, the gardens have been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site probably because of their significance in the world of horticulture. Fact: Kew Gardens is actually the world’s largest collection of living plants with more than 30,000 types. There is also a library with more than 750,000 books including 175,000 prints and drawings of plants. It’s a staggering amount of resources in one (relatively) small corner of west London. We whittled away several hours observing interesting and beautiful plants, and getting a good look at the fuzzy baby geese waddling about the grass.
A greenhouse with an assortment of tropical plants did an excellent job evoking memories of family holidays in Malaysia.
A definite highlight was the Treetop Walk. An 18 metre tall metal circuit allows you to walk amongst the rustling treetops and tap into your inner Tarzan. The platform sways and wobbles a fair bit, particularly when there are a lot of people on it, so might not be the best for people with a particularly strong aversion to heights.
From our experience I will say that attractions in London are expensive. Buying tickets in advance online can save you a little (and save you time waiting in queues!) so I would recommend that. Despite the cost, these are must-see things so do as much as you can!