Over the course of five months, I visited London about a half dozen times and spent over a week non-consecutively exploring the city. I really enjoyed the time I spent there and believe everyone should try to visit it at some point in their lives because there’s something for everyone to see and enjoy. I divided the city and what I’ve seen in it based on interests in hopes that you can make the most of your next trip to London. And no, it’s not everything in London because London is huge, but this guide includes some the best sights to see along with a picture gallery at the end!

Note: Everything in blue is free to see/do!

If you want to see the major sights…

  • Big Ben and Houses of Parliament: Two of the most iconic sights of London and seat of the British government. Big Ben took my breath away the first time I saw it. Absolutely magnificent.
  • Westminster Abbey: From coronations to royal weddings, this is place a must-see. It’s a magnificent place and the Lady Chapel is stunning. It’s a bit pricey and you can’t take pictures inside, but it’s worth every penny.
  • London Eye: As a fan of aerial views and an engineer, I really enjoyed this large Ferris wheel. London is gorgeous, so it’s amazing to see it stretched out before you. I could have watched the capsules slowly spin to keep occupants upright for hours. The only sad thing? The price is a bit more than it should be, so do it once and you’re set.
  • Buckingham Palace: Home to Queen, it’s really something not to be missed. I suggest wearing your best walking shows and attending the change of the guard. I expected this ceremony to be like Arlington Cemetery in DC, but it was very different with plenty of pomp and circumstance as well as music! I was unable to do it, but there are tours of the palace in the summer.
  • Thames River: The Thames will always remind me of the opening of Heart of Darkness from AP English unfortunately, but that didn’t keep me from strolling along it several times. On the bank opposite Parliament, there’s a wonderful paved path so one can walk along the river, grab a bite to eat, and stop off at other attractions such as the Globe Theater.
  • Tower Bridge: This iconic bridge over the Thames is stunning and probably one of my favorite sights of London aside from Big Ben. Definitely try to get a picture with it!
  • Piccadilly Circus: The Times Square of London is bright and bombastic, especially at night. This is also where to go if you’re looking for good shopping or good (but expensive) food.

If you’re a history buff…

  • Tower of London: This former royal castle became one of the best prisons in history as the final home to Anne Boleyn and Richard III’s princeling nephews, along with countless other tortured prisoners. Now, it a museum to the royal family which houses the incredible crown jewels.
  • British Library Archives: My favorite attraction in London and one the best hidden secrets, the British Library is beautiful in and of itself. Its archives make it special. It’s the only place in the world you’ll find Handel’s original compositions, alongside the Magna Carta a stone’s throw from one of the oldest Codexes in the world, alongside the Beatle’s original lyrics for Yesterday written on scrap notebook paper. It’s free and everything in the archives are amazing!
  • Westminster Abbey: Every major event in the royal family can be traced to Westminster Abbey from the wedding of William and Kate to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Read more under Sights.
  • The Globe Theater: The recreation of the venue where Shakespeare’s play were performed for the Queen is must for all theater fanatics. You can even see shows in it if you’re lucky, so that you can pretend you’re back in the time of the Bard!
  • Bomber Command Memorial: A tribute to 7/7/2005 victims, this may not be the most thing in London to see, but it’s a place to see and pay your respects to innocent lives and be thankful for your freedom.

If you’re a museum goer…

  • British Museum: It contains more history than you could ever know so there’s something for everyone here from the Rosetta Stone to the ruins of a Greek temple to Egyptian mummies. As an engineer, my favorite part of the British museum is the clock room.
  • Natural History Museum: First of all, the building the Natural History Museum is housed in is stunning. Secondly, the museum itself is really interesting including dinosaurs, mammals, rocks, etc.
  • Victoria and Alpert Museum: Right next door to the Natural History Museum, this museum is also quite beautiful and has a focus on art and artifacts. It wasn’t my favorite, but there’s a really nice exhibit on iron work that I enjoyed.
  • British Library Archives: Some of the oldest, most historical, coolest books and writings you can find on the planet. Read more under History.
  • Sherlock Holmes Museum: This may be located at 221B and devoted to the famous sleuth, but you don’t need to read the books to appreciate this museum. Why? Because it’s also a great depiction of life and homes from the Victorian era. Just be sure to get there when it opens to avoid the lines!

If you enjoy artistic masterpieces…

  • National Portrait Gallery: The name says it all. I only visited briefly so I can’t tell you much beyond the fact that it has a ton of portraits, but it us quite nice.
  • Victoria and Alpert Museum: This beautiful museum houses both artifacts and rather large collection of art. Read more under Museums.

If you’re a book lover…

  • Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour: If you like Harry Potter even the teensiest bit, you need to go. And don’t forget your camera! As a huge Harry Potter fan, I absolutely loved every single moment of it. One moment I was in the set of Dumbledore’s office, but just a couple strides took me to the Gryffindor Common Room. The tour showcases sets, objects, costumes, and special effects that made Harry Potter come to life on screen.
  • Sherlock Holmes Museum: At 221B Baker St, I was able to set foot in the room of Sherlock Holmes, John Watson and Mrs. Hudson. The sitting room is even complete with bullets in the walls and upstairs is a bundle of letters sent to the famous detective asking Sherlock to help find a poor third grader’s cat. Read more under Museums.
  • Westminster Abbey: It has a poet’s corner dedicated to famous writers including Charles Dickens, T.S. Eliot, Geoffrey Chaucer, and (of course) William Shakespeare. All of the authors buried in Westminster have quotes from their most famous novels as their epitaphs.
  • Platform 9 and 3/4 at King’s Cross: To London, King’s Cross is a train station full of commuters and travelers. To Harry Potter fans, King’s Cross is where one can find a one way ticket to Hogwarts. Or you can at least take a picture with a trolley coming out of the wall by Platform 9 and 3/4.
  • Millennium Bridge: For those who have seen Harry Potter movies way too many times, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2‘s opening sequence includes the destruction of a bridge in downtown London. The Death Eaters did not in fact blow up this bridge and if you take the time to find it, you can walk across it and reimagine this iconic scene.

If you love churches…

  • St. Paul’s Cathedral: One of the tallest buildings in London, I felt like no matter where I walked, I could always spot St. Paul’s. The outside is beautiful and the interior is stunning, though you can’t take pictures inside unfortunately. Also, since it is so tall, St. Paul’s is the best place to pay less and receive a bird’s eye view of London. I’m really sad the whisper gallery was under construction when I tried to go up.
  • Westminster Abbey: Well, I’ve talked about enough already, so I’ll just ask you this: Don’t you want to see where Prince William and Kate Middleton were married? See Sights and History for more information.

If you’re obsessed with the royal family…

  • Buckingham Palace: If you want to find out if the Queen is at home, go look to see if her flag is flying above Buckingham Palace, her beautiful London residence. See Sights for more information.
  • Kensington Palace: Located in Hyde Park, Queen Victoria and Princess Diana both called Kensington Palace home. I did not get a chance to go inside, but I did explore the gardens which are absolutely lovely.
  • Westminster Abbey: Not only did William and Kate get married here, but this also where kings and queens have been crowned for centuries. Just before exiting the church, you even get to see the coronation chair! See Sights, History and Churches to learn more.

If you love theatre…

  • West End: Famous for it’s spectacular shows, the West End is London’s version of Broadway. I saw Spamalot for the first time and it was excellent. The West End is a definite must for anyone who loves a good show.
  • The Globe Theater: The recreation of theater where Shakespeare’s plays were staged is one of the most medieval looking buildings in London. You can even attend a live performance of a Shakespearean performance! I never had the time, but I really wish I had!
  • TKTS in Leicester Square: If you’re trying to catch a West End show, stop by TKTS in Leicester Square before going. It offers discounted show tickets so that you can save your money for other London attractions like the London Eye.

If you are a tree hugger…

  • Hyde Park: It’s remarkable how large Hyde Park is when everything in London is so compact. The green space goes on forever. It contains Kensington Palace and Gardens, a large swan pond, a monument to Prince Albert, and so much more. On a nice day, dogs walking with their owners can be seen in every square meter of the park.
  • Regent’s Park: In northern part of London, this park has breathtaking flower arrangements everywhere. The best flowers are to be seen in an inner circular area called Queen Mary’s Gardens. It’s absolutely stunning and I loved exploring the park on a warm, sunny spring day. I didn’t even feel like I was in London as I walked through it.
  • St. James’s Park: A stone’s throw away from the Thames, mix up your walk through London by taking a path through this lovely park. There’s plenty of little points of interest including a tiny cottage that looked like it had come straight out of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
  • Kensington Gardens: Just in front of Kensington Palace in Hyde Park, I enjoyed strolling around these beautiful gardens. They’re not large and showy, but that’s why the gardens are so charming. I could just imagine Queen Victoria in a beautiful billowing dress walking around the fountain pool with her beloved Prince Alpert a hundred years prior.

And here’s what I loved most:

  • Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour: I grew up reading Harry Potter and waiting hours for the midnight premiere of the movies. It was amazing to walk around and see the sets, props, and costumes used in the movies. I even learned new things about the movies such as Umbridge’s outfits became more pink as she gained more power. Even though the books and movies are done, the magic of Harry Potter lives on at Warner Bros. Studios. Read all about it under Books.
  • All of the parks and gardens: I love flowers, so I’m probably a little bit biased, but I thought the parks of London were incredible. My pictures don’t do them any justice. Please, if you visit London, stop by at least one park. It’s nice to enjoy serenity in one of the busiest cities in the world. See more in Trees.
  • British Library Archives: I never would have explored the archives if I hadn’t been trying to kill some time and looking back, I’m so happy I had extra time. The variety of amazing things as described under History and Museums doesn’t even cover the magnitude of amazing documents, compositions, books, and art on display.
  • Westminster Abbey: Don’t let the fact that you can’t take pictures or the cost bring you down. It’s worth every penny. There’s a little bit of everything inside of Westminister Abbey and the Lady Chapel amazed me, despite how many European churches I had seen. Read more in Sights, History, Books, Churches, and Royals.
  • Clock room in the British Museum: I’ve always loved history so it was cool to see mummies, the Rosetta Stone and a Greek temple front, but I’m ultimately an engineer. On my third visit to the British Museum while looking for mummies, I discovered the clock room and fell in love with it. It held working clocks from almost every decade for the past four hundred years ago and a large clock’s inner mechanisms so I could fully understand how a clock works. I loved it. See Museums for more information.
  • Natural History Museum: Dinosaurs and animals with a statue of Darwin in the lobby. How could I not love this museum? There’s a ton different exhibits from insects to rocks to sea creatures at the Natural History Museum. The exterior of the building itself is stunning and worth a few photos as well! Read all about it under Museums.
  • St. Paul’s Cathedral: I love churches and every time I saw St. Paul’s, I was in awe. Inside, St. Paul’s is truly beautiful. I loved pointing out its beautiful dome wherever I was in the city. See Churches for more.

And that sums it up. I can’t tell you very much about food or shopping because London is extremely expensive compared to other cities. I tried to save money by bringing a lot of my own food when I would be spending only a couple days there and I often was only traveling with a backpack so I had little room for souvenirs. Here’s a few other pieces of information on London:

  • Transportation: London is beautiful and it is best to walk around it to see the wonderful buildings. However, it’s also very large so an Underground day pass can be extremely handy when you have a lot to see and do or a time limit. It costs 7 pounds (~$10) which is expensive for public transportation. My suggestion is try to keep all of your sights for the day in one area and just walk there and back.
  • Food: Covent Garden has the best food for the best prices in my opinion if you look around enough. There’s also sometimes street performers who are quite fun!
  • Pubs: I’m convinced that everyone in London goes out for a pint immediately after work. So if you’re looking to have dinner around 5 o’clock in pub, I would not suggest it because it will be extremely busy with everyone socializing after a long day.
  • Restrooms: London isn’t as bad as some European cities, but it does have its fair share of pay toilets. If you don’t feel like paying to pee, go find the nearest free museum (London has a ton) and use their toilets. They’re usually pretty clean too!
  • Safety: I wouldn’t do anything silly like walk around at night by yourself, but overall, I found London to be one the places I felt safest in throughout Europe.
  • Navigation: I cannot promote the TripAdvisor Offline City Guide enough! It will help you find your way throughout London as well as tell you all the wonderful restaurants and attractions near you. You’ll be so happy you downloaded it. I know I am!

So that’s London in a nutshell. It’s a lot of information so I hope you find whatever you’re looking for. If you don’t, please feel free to ask! It really is a lovely city and I hope you visit it and enjoy exploring someday in the near future. Thanks for reading! Please share with fellow travelers, pin pictures of Pinterest, comment on what your favorite thing is London, etc. Have a wonderful day!

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My research program at the University of Alabama in Summer 2012 was 50% female because it targeted minorities and women in engineering.

Driving through the refinery, I notice a five bright blue port-a-potties lined up in a row. On the end, a sign is hastily pasted on the last one. It reads “Women”.

Coworkers casually discuss a boss’s maternity leave: “Maybe after her third or fourth [child], she won’t come back.”

As I walk into my first lunch with interns at the refinery, I immediately count the number of girls in the room: 3/15.

Working a refinery as an engineer, I expected a little gender bias. There are definitely more men working at it than women. The situations mentioned above are the moments that stuck out to me. The rest of my first week of work has run smoothly and enjoyably. I know male engineers notice the gender skew to a certain degree. As a girl, these moments are painfully obvious to me when my coworkers comment on an engineer being a mother, not realizing their poor phrasing. After two years, I’m used to having male dominated classes and slight undertones, but that doesn’t mean I don’t notice. That doesn’t mean that sometimes it doesn’t still irk me.

As a white girl who grew up in a middle class suburb in Ohio, it’s always strange for me to realize I’m a minority. I have nothing to complain in the grand picture. As a woman in engineering, I do not suffer the prejudice that some people suffer due to their race. I’m fortunate. People express joy when they learn I’m a girl pursuing science and it means that I shouldn’t have too much difficulty finding someone to marry (someday). There are also quite a few great scholarship opportunities and clubs to join such as the Society of Women Engineers.

Is this enough?

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My female engineer support group.

Even though as a female engineer I’m not exposed to hatred and/or racism, underlying sexism is a problem. The US does not have enough science and engineering graduates. The US government and colleges are having a lot of trouble recruiting girls to study science, math, technology and engineering. How will they be encouraged to continue studying STEM when people unknowingly discourage them? In order to not simply recruit women in engineering but to maintain their presence in it, underlying sexism needs to be ended. It’s not easy, but it is necessary. By actively protesting it, we create a better world for female engineers to come.

Disclaimer: This post is made to reflect on my experience as a female engineer as outlined in my welcome page and not on my employer. Thank you!

Personal note: Hello! I’m alive, back in the US and already in Texas for a summer internship. It’s been a while, huh? I must apologize for absence. Between traveling through Scotland and Ireland, returning to my hometown in Ohio and then moving to Houston, my life has been too crazy to do much of anything. Now my life is returning to a normal, less crazy schedule as I start work so I’ll be back to (hopefully) weekly posts. Even though I’m back in America, I will continue posting study abroad stuff about adjusting back to the US and its education system throughout the next several months along with a few special posts about London, Scotland and Ireland.

I spent less than a week at home before moving to Texas.

A lot of people have been asking me if I’ve been in culture shock because I came back to the US and immediately moved to Texas. When I was home, I spent most of my days running errands (personal and work related) where I would leave at 9 am and come home at 5 pm. Then I would do something with my family like watch my brother play baseball (he’s a phenomenal pitcher!) and afterwards meet up with a friend from high school to catch up. I successfully closed down two ice cream stands and one restaurant while I was home. I was so busy running around that there was nothing to adjust to. I had a list of things to do everyday and I made sure I completed them.

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Houston feels like another city to explore on my trip around the world.

That may sound a little rash, but I am living in a new place. If the radio stations can be judged, a large chunk of the population prefer Spanish to English. There’s also a fair amount of history in Houston and little places to see, along with a few kept secrets like the red button on Preston Bridge. I’m still close to the ocean so Houston could be Swansea… except the temperature is twice as hot and there are Southern, not British, accents.

So what am I doing in Houston?

Well, I had my first day of work today at LyondellBasell’s Houston oil refinery. I planned on starting on Monday, but was unable. I’m interning on a port, so I’m required to have a US port clearance called a TWIC card from TSA (yes, TSA of the airport security fame, my favorite government officials) in order to work. A word of advice to engineers who plan on studying abroad: If you have a job lined up after coming back to the US, find out if you need a TWIC card before you leaving. I had to wait two days without pay for my TWIC card, but it could delayed my start date by up to two weeks. One poor co-op has been unable to start work since May 20 because he is still waiting on his TWIC card after over a month.

LyondellBasell’s Houston oil refinery at night.

TWIC cards are a standard need for any employee in a port whether it be Toledo, Ohio or Houston, Texas. However, as interns, students cannot afford to live without pay waiting on the US government to send a special card. It is important to issue clearances for people to work on ports because they are vital part of the US’s economy and security. I think there is a better way to do this than what is currently in place. Both visits to the TWIC offices took only 15 minutes, but when I called to schedule an appointment to pick up my TWIC card, I was initially told I could not activate it until July. This would have been impossible and I was prepared to hold a stakeout in the TWIC office to get my card. It turned out the appointment center didn’t know what they were talking about and I activated my card without a problem. I have a number of suggestions for how to improve this process that I might send to the US government, but this is an engineering education blog, so I’m not going to talk about that now. Instead I’ll say this:

Colleges (and even high schools) should educate students on different standards they need to meet in order to be employed so that students are aware of their existence, even if they don’t need to meet all of them.

I barely know anything about the FE or PE. I’m not even sure if I’m correct using those acronyms. I’m pretty sure you need to pass one to become an engineer and then another one is a good idea to get after working as an engineer. I think my classes will talk more about this senior year, but I’d rather I actually was instructed in this if it’s relevant to my future.

So what am I doing in Houston exactly?

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Me on the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland. I’ll miss study abroad, but I’m excited for all that Houston has to offer!

I guess I never fully answered this. My internship at Lyondell’s Houston refinery is with the unit engineers group. In a plant, there are lots of different machines that do different jobs. These machines are called units. The oil we receive on the port is a mix of everything from jet fuel to diesel to automotive lubricant to gasoline to things I didn’t even know existed. My unit is the crude unit so it separates everything in the oil into the different parts as best it can. After this the gasoline isn’t quite ready for your car yet though and every part of the oil is run through more units. But you get the idea. I’m not sure what the actual project I’ll be doing yet is, but I’m still learning quite a bit.

Working with oil makes the treehugger in me kind of sad. But I know that this is going to be an amazing learning opportunity. I want to use this industrial experience to see how engineering education should change in order to properly train engineers for their future careers and I’m going to do it all day, everyday for the whole summer. I can’t wait.

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