London's Best "Bird's-Eye" Views
The London Eye is the most obvious of the attractions offering a "bird's eye" view of the capital, but it's by no means the only vantage point. For centuries before the Eye was built, St. Paul's Cathedral has been letting Londoners willing to climb its 500 plus steps gaze out over their city, spread out before them like a 3-D map. Worthy, albeit slightly less elevated, panoramas are also offered from the top of Westminster Cathedral, the Monument, the National Portrait Gallery restaurant, and the Oxo Tower -- this last one is particularly recommended, because it's free.
The number of views is set to increase in the future as London is currently witnessing the development of a glut of skyscrapers, some of which have promised to operate viewing galleries.
London Bridge is Staying Put
London Bridge is the direct successor of the very first river crossing erected by the Romans almost 2,000 years ago as they marched their way up the country. For the first thousand years of its existence, it was a wooden structure, regularly repaired and replaced.
The first stone crossing was erected in 1209, and remained the capital's only permanent river crossing until the completion of Westminster Bridge in 1750. Lined on both sides by houses and shops, medieval London Bridge was apparently so crowded that it was quicker to cross the river using one of the various ferry services than to attempt it on foot. Indeed, it was largely the lobbying of the ferryboat men, keen to preserve their livelihoods, that prevented the building of any new bridges until the 18th century. When walking along the South Bank, keep an eye out for the Real Greek restaurant, just west of Southwark Bridge -- a small stone seat, where a medieval ferryman used to wait for custom, is embedded in its side wall.
The erection of the new bridge seemed to prompt the decay of the old, and London Bridge fell into disrepair. It was eventually destroyed in 1831, and replaced with a much more sober, suitably Victorian affair -- two of the original stone arches can be seen in Victoria Park in East London. This lasted until the 1960s when it was sold for more than $2 million to an American investor, who dismantled it and moved it to Arizona. It was replaced by the dull, featureless span of concrete you see today, which seems to have been deliberately devised as an ironic comment on the great slice of madness and mayhem that constituted the medieval version.
At the London Bridge Experience and London Tombs, 2-4 Tooley St., SE1 (tel. 0800/0434-666; www.thelondonbridgeexperience.com; Tube: London Bridge). you can find out about the bridge's long history and experience a bit of London Dungeon-style gore (heads on spikes, animatronic prisoners, costumed actors playing the roles of Boudicca and William Wallace, and so forth). It bills itself as a "scare attraction" and is big on family fun, if not quite so heavy on intellectual rigor. Admission costs £23 adults; £21 students, seniors, and children aged 15-17; and £17 children aged 5-14; it's £74 for a family ticket. Hours are Monday to Friday 10am to 5pm, Saturday and Sunday 10am until 6pm.
A new museum dedicated to the bridge is due to open by 2012 (visit www.oldlondonbridge.com for the latest news).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.