Our cruise ship docks in Dover. We are spoiled for choice. Should we spend the day in Dover and the county of Kent, combine a trip to nearby Canterbury with a visit to the cathedral or take a bus to Swinging London, 120 kilometers away?
We don't think twice. We choose Swinging London, the capital of the UK and pop culture. The bus journey takes more than two hours each way; but at the end of the day we know we've seen a lot.
New and old in a small space
The first building that we see when we arrive in London because of its height of 180 meters is the skyscraper called 30 St Mary Ax. The office tower dominates the London financial district. Great Britain's star architect Sir Norman Foster designed it. Londoners disrespectfully call the building Gherkin. Why not? We like the London headquarters of Swiss Re. Since our previous visit in 2012, more impressive skyscrapers have been added, but the visual appeal of the Gherkin has remained.
Not far from the Gherkin is the Tower of London. It is one of the most famous London attractions. The city fortress, surrounded by two rings of defense, is unparalleled. We think it is rightly on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The guards called Yeoman Warders, the guarded ravens and the traitors' gate are often photographed. The gate was used to allow members of the royal family to enter the fortress by boat. Sometimes state prisoners were transported into the castle through the traitor gate. For those accused of high treason and other serious offenses, the Traitors' Gate was in most cases a one-way street.
Near the tower, Tower Bridge spans the Thames. The bascule bridge built in 1894 is world famous. The museum housed in the upper part and the old machine house are open to the public.
WWII and Korean War Veteran
Not far from the two historic buildings is the light cruiser HMS Belfast on the south bank of the Thames. Commissioned in 1939, the Royal Navy warship took an active part in World War II and the Korean War. Since 1971 the HMS Belfast has served as a showpiece for the Imperial War Museum.
Light cruiser HMS Belfast
St Paul's Cathedral
An eye-catcher on the north bank of the Thames is St Paul's Cathedral, the episcopal church of the Church of England. The church dedicated to the patron saint of London is the fifth place of worship to be built on the site. The magnificent cathedral was often the venue for state ceremonies. This included the weddings of members of the royal family. It is also the final resting place of important personalities.
View of St Paul's Cathedral from the Millennium Bridge
A bird's-eye view of St Paul's Cathedral
Two millennium constructions
Within sight of St Paul's Cathedral, the 325-meter-long Millennium Bridge spans the Thames. The footbridge connects the City of London with the Southwark district on the south bank. There the Tate Modern Museum and the Globe Theater connect to the bridge. Norman Foster was also responsible for the design. The Thames Bridge, which opened in June 2000, hit the headlines for its original uncontrolled vibrations. The vibrations have now been eliminated.
The London Eye is an indispensable part of the cityscape. The largest Ferris wheel in Europe is nicknamed the "Millennium Wheel". Its height measures 135 meters. The 32 gondolas each hold 25 people. One rotation takes 30 minutes. The trip is a fantastic experience because of the views it offers. What was originally designed to run for five years has since become indispensable because of the unprecedented success.
Covent Garden and the Royal Opera House
Covent Garden Market in the West End is another highlight of our visiting program. Market has been held between St Martin's Lane and Drury Lane since the early 17th century. Market halls were built in 1830. They were used until the 1960s. Covent Garden Market later started a second career as a shopping mall and tourist attraction.
Covent Garden Market
The Royal Opera
Next to Covent Garden Market is the Royal Opera House. The Royal Opera and the Royal Ballet are united under one roof.
London's lively transport hub
Piccadilly Circus in the West End is also one of London's top attractions. The two main streets, Regent Street and Piccadilly, meet in the triangular square, which was laid out in 1819. A total of five streets flow into the traffic junction. A fountain adorns the square.
Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace
With the Palace of Westminster, the Houses of Parliament, Great Britain has a spectacular parliamentary location. The building, built in the neo-Gothic style, is on the UNESCO World Heritage List together with the neighboring Westminster Abbey and St Margaret's Church. The building is famous not least because of its bell tower, the Elizabeth Tower. The sound of the 13,5 ton Big Ben bell is familiar to many people around the world. The other two towers of Parliament, the Victoria Tower and the Jewel Tower, are also striking.
Palace of Westminster
Our visit ends at Buckingham Palace, the royal residence. State guests are received in the spacious palace. In front of the palace stands the 26-meter-high Victoria Memorial, crowned by a gilded goddess of victory. The changing of the guard in front of the palace is famous. If you're lucky, watch the Royal Horse Guard ride out. The Queen's Gallery and the royal fleet of vehicles are open to visitors in Buckingham Palace. The Queen's Gallery is the Queen's collection of paintings.
Although four hours should be allowed for the return journey, even with optimal traffic conditions, a trip to London is recommended. The drive to the capital of the kingdom is time well spent. After all, London is one of the top travel destinations worldwide; a visit is essential. It is even better if the cruise ship does not go to Dover, but up the Thames to Greenwich. The Thames trip is interesting and saves the bus transfer.
Update - October 2020