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An all-American Independence Day in London

Image:  A statue of Abraham Lincoln looks out over London's Parliament Square
A statue of Abraham Lincoln, who led the United States through its 1851-1856 Civil War, looks out over London's Parliament Square. Lincoln's statue is one of many tributes to American heroes which pepper the British capital. Raphael G Satter / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

There are few better places to celebrate the United States and its Independence Day than London.

Whether you prefer sipping bubbly at the wood-paneled home of America's brainiest founding father, Ben Franklin, or downing an ale on the jetty where the Mayflower set off for Massachusetts, the British capital is packed with options for a patriotic week away.

"It is surprising — it's shocking — how much there really is here," said Delaina Stone, the secretary of the American Society in London.

American heroes cling to the corners of some of the British capital's greatest monuments. Abraham Lincoln keeps watch over Parliament Square, while Martin Luther King Jr. peers serenely over the camera-toting tourists thronging to Westminster Abbey. Even rebel-in-chief George Washington, whose insurgency tore the British Empire apart, has a commanding view of Trafalgar Square.

Just down the street is Benjamin Franklin House, where the bespectacled philosopher-statesman spent nearly 16 years probing the mysteries of science, tinkering with his inventions and trying, with varying degrees of success, to manage relations between Britain and her petulant colonies.

The curators of his recently restored four-story Georgian home plan a reception on Friday, July 3. Keep the kids busy with Franklin action figures (complete with kite) sold in the gift shop.

The main event — a party at the U.S. Embassy — comes a day earlier. The invitation-only bash tends to feature barbecue, although embassy spokesman Philip Breeden said mini-burgers were also a possibility.

Even if you can't finagle an invite, the embassy's Grosvenor Square address is still worth a visit. The area has been associated with the United States ever since John Adams, the first U.S. Minister to the Court of St. James, moved here in 1785. Home to Gen. Dwight Eisenhower's European headquarters during World War II, the square once known as "Little America" is the perfect place for a Fourth of July picnic.

Work up an appetite with Kim Dewdney, who is leading an Independence Day walking tour starting at 2:30 p.m. On the itinerary: The crypt of St. Martin-in-the-Fields' church, where the bodies of the king and queen of Hawaii were briefly kept after they succumbed to measles during a 1824 visit to London.

Music lovers may want to stay there all week. St. Martin's hosts a series of U.S.-themed concerts from July 2-4, including a family friendly event Saturday featuring works by Aaron Copland, George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein.

Those hoping to catch a glimpse of the rockets' red glare may be disappointed. A U.S. military base northwest of the city, which used to put on fireworks displays, has been shut down. Stone said the American Society wasn't throwing a party this year either.

None of which prevents you from celebrating in style. For those in favor of a waterborne excursion, the Independence Day Cruise down the River Thames may be just the ticket. The 5-hour jaunt features a two-course barbecue and a Dixie Swing band. The young and restless have a range of Fourth of July-themed nights to choose from — including an "American Independence Day Party" at Apt Bar in central London. Promoter Anthony Balogun said the celebrations will last until 4 a.m. His advice: Book ahead and wear red, white and blue.

Those interested in something a little more sedate should give some thought to south and east London — areas typically less troubled by tourists than St. Martin's or Trafalgar Square.

It's a healthy walk east from London Bridge to the sleepy riverside neighborhood of Rotherhithe, home to The Mayflower Pub and Restaurant. Built on the spot where the famous ship set off for Plymouth before its trip to the New World, the restaurant's wood balcony is an ideal to place to have an ale and a traditional Sunday roast while listening to the Thames gurgle gently beneath your feet.

Across the river, in London's East End, the Whitechapel Bell Foundry is intensely proud of its American links. The 16th century workshop has supplied bells to churches across the U.S., including the National Cathedral in Washington. But its most famous American export remains the Liberty Bell, whose chimes, according to tradition, summoned the citizens of Philadelphia to hear the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence.

It was in recognition of that connection that Philadelphia's Bicentennial Bell was cast here, and you'd be hard pressed to finding a more touching testament to the links between Britain and the United States than its inscription:

"For The People of The United States of America

From the People of Britain

4 July 1976

Let Freedom Ring"