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People the world over will be flocking to London this week to take in the sites prior to the Olympics. It is no wonder London is the only city to host the Olympics three times (1908, 1948, 2012); it is a city of abundant history. London is the capital of both England and the United Kingdom. It has existed since the time of the Romans, when it was called Londinium. Millenia later, it remains one of the largest and most significant European cities. London is the most populated city in the European Union and an important financial and cultural hub.
London is home to four World Heritage Sites, places deemed culturally significant and unique by the United Nations: Kew Gardens, the Tower of London, the settlement of Greenwich, and the Westminster compound (the Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey, and St. Margaret’s Church). London is home to the Tower of London, the British Parliament, Buckingham Palace, and countless museums. It may have a reputation for being grey and rainy, but London is a vibrant city, rich in history and culture.
If you are not headed to London this week, do not despair. You too can explore the wonders of London. Avoid the crowds and the heat; visit London virtually. It is a trip worth taking.
Tell Me a Story
What three objects best represent your life—your history? Historian David Cruickshank reveals how ten objects tell the story of London’s political, economic, and cultural history. Be sure to watch each of the five short videos.
Visit the British Museum for an online tour of London 1753. This exhibit shares images of 28 objects in the Museum’s collection and uses them to examine London’s place during a dynamic time for the city, nation, and world.
Wonder what historians consider the most important British treasures in the British Museum? Visit the online exhibit of top ten British treasures and learn what makes each valuable. (Hint: it is not always about the bling.)
World Heritage Sites
Kew Gardens was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003 for its unique collections, gardens, and landscape. Originally the site of a royal palace, today’s 300 acre research center and gardens first began as a botanic garden in 1759. As Britain became a colonial empire, explorers sent home botanical samples from around the world and a collection was born. Stop by Kew Palace. Choose to ‘read more’ and learn how Kew transformed from a merchant’s home to a world renowned research and preservation center, and garden. Tour the inside of Kew Palace. Visit Kew Gardens: travel on Kew’s timeline, meet the people who most inspired its development, and take a tour of its places. You may not be able to stroll in the Gardens, but you can still visit the Heritage Trees and be amazed by their size. Discover which are oldest, which are most unique, and which was uprooted by a hurricane yet thrives.
The Tower of London may evoke spooky images of a medieval prison and a mad King’s vengeful beheadings but that is not those Hollywood images are not what make the Tower of London worthy stop on your virtual tour. Read UNESCO’s reasons for recognizing the Tower of London as a World Heritage Site. View their official gallery of Tower images. Visit the Tower of London playlists to view videos of the Tower. Watch The Tower of London. You may also be interested in a Behind-the-Scenes tour of the Tower’s more gruesome history, or what it meant to Ar[m] a Knight.
Hop a virtual ride to the Westminster complex. the Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey, and St. Margaret’s Church. Westminster Abbey is most recently famous for hosting the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. The Abbey was consecrated in 1065 and its history reflects its importance since its beginning. The Abbey is famous for its architecture and art. Take a 360’ tour of the Abbey. Take your time; look at the ceiling and at the floors. There are wonders everywhere. Do you recognize any art or architectural details? Finish your visit with a UNESCO explanation of the site’s significance, and a video.
London’s sites could entertain even the most jaded tourist for days. For a peek at other popular sites, take the virtual London tour. Use the carousel to identify and to select a place to visit. Begin with the final World Heritage site in London, the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. For over three hundred years, Greenwich has been the home to British astronomers. The prime meridian, the basis for measuring longitude, passes through Greenwich. Explore the 360’ tour. Use the menu on the right to read more information. Then, return to the carousel and select another destination, perhaps: Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Big Ben, the Royal Academy of Arts, or Piccadilly Circus.