London – an exquisite mix of ancient and modern

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The beautiful London skyline BECKONS

I took the most exhilarating cycle tour of London recently. Going by the name of Classic Tour, it is one of the most popular tours of London organized by a company called London Bicycle. It was founded in 1991 and to this day remains the best cycle tour operator in London, boasting of the largest fleet of privately-owned bikes.

Buckingham Palace – the official London residence of UK’s royalty

London life delicately blends ancient with modern. The city is pulsating with the fast and busy lives of people, coming in and out of antediluvian grand buildings that have withstood the test of time. On the one hand, you see imposing architectural edifices and, on the other, you find a fast-paced vitality that mellifluously seeps through the entire city and its people.

Queen Victoria Memorial – buzzing with tourists on a Sunday

Our Classic Tour (which had a group of around 11 people) took us through some of the most vibrant parts of London, with a new vista unveiling at each turn. I can’t imagine a better way to explore London. The tour is called ‘Classic’ because it covers all the classic sights of London’s skyline, including the swanky London Eye, the Gothic-styled Westminster Palace, Parliament Square, the royal residence Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, and so on.

London’s Westminster Palace and Abbey situated on the South Bank

We started our 14 km long journey at Lambeth and cycled our way to the South Bank of River Thames, where our guide gave us the history of Westminster Palace and Westminster Abbey overlooking the river. We cycled further down around the river towards the north end of the Westminster Palace, which houses the clock tower, more famously known as Big Ben (and now as the Elizabeth Tower). I took breaks to take pictures and absorb the sheer beauty of the river and the quietly noisy life of the city and Londoners. Since it was a Sunday morning, it was quieter than usual on the streets. It was drizzling (and later rained heavily), adding to the glamour of this dazzling metropolis, which is the world center to many industries and renowned for its cultural diversity.

Statue of Winston Churchill at Parliament Square

Our guide kept us delightfully engaged with a narration of the famous historic buildings we crossed on the way – recounting interesting facts like City of London being founded by the Romans, who originally called it Londinium. He was well-versed with the city’s history, its culture, and its architecture (which mainly has Victorian and Gothic influences). As I clicked pictures of the London Eye on the South Bank, our guide told us that it was the world’s largest Ferris wheel at the time it was built in 2000. He acquainted us with another fascinating fact about this giant wheel – that each of its 32 passenger capsules represented the 32 Boroughs of London.

The London eye – marking the city’s skyline
The cobbled streets of Covent Garden in London, known for gourmet restaurants

I don’t know what was more beautiful and exciting – the narration of the city’s history, or cycling in the gentle morning showers, or the picture-perfect sights at each corner of this mesmerizing journey. What certainly kept me spellbound was the remarkable mélange of a faintly overcast sky and the tall and awe-inspiring Victorian structures. After riding around the Buckingham Palace and the Queen Victoria Memorial, we went to Trafalgar Square, before heading to the cobbled streets of Covent Garden, which is well-known for its gourmet restaurants.

Trafalgar Square in London
Statue of Mahatma Gandhi at Parliament Street in London

We stopped on the way at the Parliament Square, where I took pictures of the statues of Winston Churchill and some of the Commonwealth leaders like Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi. After this, we passed through Whitehall and 10 Downing Street, which are the prominent headquarters of the UK government. Our guide also took us through the Leake Street underneath the platform and tracks of Waterloo station, an area that is painted with street art and graffiti by various artists. Next, we pedaled our way to the magnificent St Paul’s Cathedral, which has the second-largest dome in the world, after St Peter’s in Rome. The cathedral is by far one of the most famous and recognizable sights in London.

St Paul’s Cathedral in London with the second-largest dome in the world

Alternating between sheer awe and amazement at history built over centuries, I took breaks to capture glimpses of the magnificent buildings and sights on my camera. We also stopped for coffee at a typical English café serving scones, croissants, and sandwiches. It was great exercise, plenty of fresh air, and an unforgettable way of exploring the charming vibrancy of London. When you are in London next, do look up London Bicycle and book a tour with them. The company operates private tours for families as well. It holds tours in six different languages and has special tours for school groups from other countries like France, the Netherlands, Germany, the US, and Latin America.

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