Virtual Tour of England - London
There was a Celtic settlement here before the Romans came in the early first century AD, but it was the Romans that turned London into a major trading centre. The old Roman walls helped define the city for over a thousand years, and today the financial district ("The City") fills much of the space between those walls.
Not far from the Tower of London is domed St Paul's Cathedral, built by Sir Christopher Wren in ebullient classical style after the previous St Paul's was destroyed in the Great Fire of London (1666).
Within St Paul's is the Whispering Gallery, so named because a whisper against one side of the dome can be heard clearly on the far side of the dome some 112 feet away. Within St Paul's are the tombs of the Duke of Wellington, poet John Donne, and Wren himself, as well as artists such as Joshua Reynolds and JMW Turner.
The elegant district of Kensington houses several more excellent museums. The Victoria and Albert (affectionately known as "The V&A") is devoted to arts, crafts, and design from around the world. The nearby Science Museum explores the marvelous world of science through hands-on exhibits and the Natural History Museum showcases Britain's natural world, with dinosaur skeletons, fossils, and exhibits on human biology.
The familiar clock tower of Big Ben (the name actually refers to the bell within the tower itself) soars above the neo-Gothic Houses of Parliament in Westminster. Just behind the Parliament buildings is Westminster Abbey, begun by Edward the Confessor in the 11th century.
Visitors willing to venture further afield than the city core have abundant choices for an enjoyable outing. To the east lies Greenwich, where you can straddle 0Â° Meridian and stand with one foot in each of the east and west hemisphere. The Old Royal Observatory at Greenwich traces the history of navigation and the measurement of time.
Near the riverbank lies the Royal Naval College, designed by Christopher Wren, and Queen's House, built by Inigo Jones for Queen Henrietta Maria. Also on display is the Cutty Sark - the last and fastest of the clipper ships which plied the tea trade in the Orient during the late 19th century.
Greenwich can be reached by regular boat service along the Thames. Boats also travel west, up the river to Hampton Court, an extravagant palace built by Cardinal Wolsey, who later found it politically prudent to give it to his master, Henry VIII. Hampton Court is famous for its hedge maze, and recreations of authentic Tudor gardens.
On the theme of gardens, don't overlook Kew Gardens, located just a few miles downriver from Hampton Court. Kew was the first botanical garden in Britain, and it houses a vast array of plants from around the world in its massive Victorian greenhouses. Across the river from Kew is Syon House, an opulent stately home designed for the Dukes of Northumberland.