Grand Prix London is just nine days away! Nick Miller served up the event overview and the sweet rewards you can get at the event. I’m here to tell you about the city beyond the GP venue (the ExCeL London) and the awesome stuff you can see and do.
Two British judges, Lucy Wyatt and Jack Doyle, have put together a guide for Grand Prix London attendees (Warning: PDF). It’s packed with useful tips and mentions tourism in London near the end.
The only proper answer to “What should I see in London?” is “What are you into?” because London pretty much has it all, from gorgeous views to venerable museums and the traditional sights that define the city in the minds of many. Here are a few of the highlights.
ExCeL London And Mass Transit
The convention center and its immediate surroundings are the most obvious place to start. The ExCeL London (a former Olympic venue, for those of you keeping score) is in the London Docklands area, where ships used to dock at the Port of London to the east of the city core. After the docks closed the area went through a rough patch, but today it’s a popular business/residential/tourist neighborhood. The ExCeL London is linked to London’s mass transit by the Emirates Air Line Cable Car and two stations on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR), Custom House for ExCeL and Prince Regent.
The Emirates Air Line Cable Car links the Emirates Royal Docks station, just a short walk away from the ExCeL London, with the Emirates Greenwich Peninsula station, just a short walk away from food/drink/entertainment district The O2. It travels 90 meters above the River Thames and offers a striking view during the journey.
The Emirates Air Line Cable Car and ExCeL London have set up a deal for Grand Prix London attendees offering substantial discounts for one-way and round-trip tickets. Just use the event code “Magic” when you make your purchase at a terminal or reception area. More details at the bottom of the GP London Location & Travel page.
The Docklands Light Railway (DLR) is the area’s metro system. It’s not part of the famous Underground (also called the “Tube”), though the two are linked at stations such as Canning Town, which also has transfers to the famous London Buses. Other convenient links are at Heron Quays (a quick walk to the Canary Wharf Tube station) and Tower Gateway (linked by pedestrian crossing to the Tower Hill Tube station). Get an Oyster smartcard to save on your trips, especially if you’ll be making several in a day.
Notable Spots With DLR Access
The official Docklands Light Railway (DLR) site has a fairly comprehensive list of things to do in the area that are accessible with just a trip on the DLR. Among the highlights:
- The O2 is the nearby entertainment district, centered on an arena with several music venues, restaurants and pubs galore, and a bowling alley nightclub that serves fried chicken. Elvis Presley’s pink Cadillac? On display. Movies and TV? Check and check. A great place to whittle away several hours.
- Royal Museums Greenwich has several museums and related attractions related to Great Britain and its history as a naval power. The National Maritime Museum is dedicated to the country’s seafaring past. The Royal Observatory houses a planetarium and the defining line of the Prime Meridian that separates the Western Hemisphere from the Eastern. The Cutty Sark, one of the fastest sailing ships of its day, is now a museum and part of the National Historic Fleet. Unfortunately the Queen’s House will be closed during Grand Prix London, but at least the outside will remain lovely to look at!
- The Shard is the tallest building in Western Europe, offering an unmatchable view from the top. It’s also easy to find – all you have to do is look up!
- Tower Bridge would like you to know that it is not “London Bridge” (that’s one bridge over), but it’s still one of the most recognizable structures on Earth. Join a tour and enjoy the view from the top walkway!
- The Tower of London has over 900 years of history. Check out the Crown Jewels, shudder at the execution site of Tower Green, and chat up a Yeoman Warder. Ask nicely and you might even get a selfie; unlike the Queen’s Guard in the tall bearskin hats, who put the “guard” in “ceremonial guard” and should not be approached (much less mocked, but you’re too smart to do that), the Yeoman Warders act as guides as well as guards and are cool with being tourist attractions in their own right. They’re also all veterans with at least 22 years of military experience.
Elsewhere In London
It’d be impossible to list every attraction in London, but here are some of the Tier One highlights:
- The British Museum – Don’t let the bland name fool you. This place has been around for a quarter-millennium and houses one of the most extensive artifact collections in the world, including the legendary Rosetta Stone.
- Buckingham Palace – The most prominent of Her Majesty the Queen’s several castles. Changing the Guard is a famous sight in all seasons, but Grand Prix London falls during the time when Buckingham Palace is open for tours, which is a lucky break for those mixing sightseeing with their Grand Prix. For those seeking full-day tourist value, the Royal Day Out also includes access to the Royal Mews, the stables for the Royal Family, and the Queen’s Gallery with an art exhibit.
- Covent Garden – This popular shopping and tourist district houses numerous attractions, including the Royal Opera House, the Theatre Royal on Drury Lane, and St Paul’s Church, popularly known as the “Actors’ Church.”
- Houses of Parliament – Fond of politics? The Parliament of the United Kingdom is in summer recess during Grand Prix London, so the Houses of Parliament are available for tours! If you want to get in a classic British afternoon tea, the Houses of Parliament offer one in combination with tours for a fee.
- London Eye – Billed as an “observation wheel” (it looks like a Ferris wheel but it takes 30 minutes to go around and is built for views rather than thrills), the London Eye is perched on the edge of the River Thames. If you’ve seen the title credits for Sherlock, you’ve seen the London Eye.
- Madame Tussauds – The original wacky wax museum, founded by a woman who fled the French Revolution, is one of the defining kitsch attractions of London. Whether you want to get your picture taken with Star Wars characters, famous actresses, or the members of boy band One Direction, Madame Tussauds can oblige.
- The National Gallery – One of the best art museums in the world. Just look at this list of collection highlights! Michelangelo, da Vinci, El Greco, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Turner, Monet, van Gogh… If you’re an art lover at all, you owe it to yourself to pay a visit. While you’re here, visit nearby Trafalgar Square, an iconic sight of London featuring the famous monument Nelson’s Column.
- National Portrait Gallery – A next-door neighbor of the National Gallery, dedicated to portraiture. What makes the NPG interesting is its focus on the subject, not the painter; the famous “Chandos” portrait of William Shakespeare is a case-in-point.
- Natural History Museum / Science Museum – These next-door neighbors showcase the natural world and human ingenuity. Of the two, the Natural History Museum skews a bit older. Part of the Museum Quarter in South Kensington, along with the Victoria and Albert Museum below.
- Royal Albert Hall – A world-famous concert venue currently hosting the BBC Proms series of classical music concerts, among the most accessible in the world with a come-as-you-are dress code and £5 standing tickets on the day of each show. If you’re curious at all about classical music, this is the good stuff for one of the best prices around.
- St Martin-in-the-Fields – Part house of worship, part concert hall, part Cafe in the Crypt, this “Church of the Ever Open Door” near Trafalgar Square is a valuable place of calm in the middle of busy London.
- St Paul’s Cathedral – Designed by legendary architect Sir Christopher Wren, this majestic cathedral with its famous dome was the tallest building in London for more than 250 years. It survived bombing and fires during World War II and still holds services daily.
- Tate Modern – The Tate Modern picks up where the National Gallery leaves off, showcasing the best in modern and contemporary art.
- Victoria and Albert Museum – Where art meets design. Explore fashion, decorative objects, the careful thought behind everyday items, and more.
- Westminster Abbey – Site of numerous royal coronations, sixteen royal weddings, and the memorials to many famous people in British history, Westminster Abbey is also a living place of worship.
Tomorrow: Ken Crocker showcases the Infinite Challenge badge and all of the events it lets you play in for one low price!