Harwich & Southampton (London), England

London is not actually a cruise port, however there are two major ports located within a reasonable driving distance of the city. Southampton, located on the southern coast of England, is the most frequently used cruise terminal. Harwich, located on England's east coast, is less frequently used. Both are the starting points for Northern Europe cruises including Baltic cruises, Western Europe cruises including the British Isles, and Mediterranean cruises. Due to the proximity of both ports to the city of London, many people spend several days in the city pre or post-cruise.  With so much to do in London, it’s tough to know where to go first, so we’ve listed five of the most popular landmarks for first-time visitors.

The Tower of London has a grim reputation as a place of torture and death, yet I’ve never known anyone to not enjoy a visit here! In fact, if you take a tour with an iconic Beefeater you will hear their bloody tales, stand where famous heads have rolled, learn the legend of the Tower's ravens, and much more! On the more pleasant side, the priceless Crown Jewels are on display here.  

St Paul's Cathedral is another popular tourist attraction in London and it’s one of the most beautiful too. It was built by Christopher Wren between 1675 and 1711 and is one of Europe's largest cathedrals; its dome is only exceeded in size by that of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Several famous people are entombed in the cathedral's crypt, most notably the Duke of Wellington, who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo and Admiral Nelson, who died at the Battle of Trafalgar.

The Houses of Parliament are located inside the Palace of Westminster. Guided tours are available and include both the Lords and Commons Chambers. Visitors may even get to hear a debate! The Clock Tower of the palace is recognizable by just about everyone. Commonly known as Big Ben, it is one of London's most photographed landmarks!

Buckingham Palace is one of several palaces owned by the British Royal family. Certain rooms can be visited when the Royal Family is not in residence, including the lavishly decorated State Rooms. However, the biggest attraction at the palace is the changing of the guard which takes place daily at 11 o'clock. The ceremony is accompanied by music played by a military band, and it always attracts lots of visitors, so arrive early to get a good viewing spot.

The British Museum is one of the most exceptional museums in the world. Because it is so large, take the time beforehand to decide what you want to see.  The Elgin Marbles, the collection of marble sculptures that were taken from the Parthenon in Athens is one of the museum's most famous attractions. Another highlight is the extensive Egyptian collection. Besides many sarcophagi and statues, the collection is home to the famous Rosetta stone, used by Jean-François Champollion to decipher hieroglyphic writing.

Of course, there are so many other things to do in the city such as strolling through the beautiful gardens, or seeing a show in the renowned theater district.  Whatever you decide, a few days in London are a wonderful prelude to a European cruise!