Some of the Best Things to Do in London
Attracting 27 million visitors every year, London is the most visited city in Europe. It’s no surprise that London is top of so many people’s travel plans: the city was founded by the Romans and has thrived over the centuries. The City of London is the ancient center of London but is actually the smallest city in England. The London that we’re familiar with covers a much wider metropolitan area and is home to almost 9 million people. Split into the vibrant and distinctive areas of North, West, South and East London – as well as the commercial and tourist hub of Central London – every district has its own recognizable neighborhoods. There is always something to see and do in London. With some of the world’s best art, entertainment, shopping, dining, and history, it’s impossible to be bored in London.
British Museum. You could spend several lifetimes in the British Museum, Britain’s largest museum, without running out of artifacts to ponder. The collection is one of the largest in the world, arranged by location (Ancient Egypt, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Greece and Rome), and the list of big hitters includes the Rosetta Stone. Come early on a weekday for a less crowded experience, pick one gallery and stick to it (or go for a guided “Highlights” tour).
Tower of London. Built by William the Conqueror in 1066, this uncompromising slab of a building has been many things—including the site where Henry VIII ordered the execution of two of his wives. Now the Tower is most famous as the home of the Crown Jewels. Come, take a tour from one of the Beefeaters (offered every half hour), and gawp at the sparkling and the frightening alike.
Westminster Abbey. Westminster is considered the political hub of London and is home to the Houses of Parliament and the world-famous Big Ben. Big Ben is the name of the bell housed within the iconic clock tower, and it still chimes every hour. Here you will find Westminster Abbey, which is open to the public most days. While visiting these landmarks, be sure to rest your feet in Parliament Square which features statues of important political individuals including Nelson Mandela and Winston Churchill.
St. Paul's Cathedral. One of the most famous cathedrals in the world, St. Paul's is the masterpiece of architect Sir Christopher Wren, and its towering dome probably the definitive symbol of London after Big Ben, an architectural two fingers to the Great Fire and later, in a famous photograph, to the German bombers that tried to destroy the city.
Buckingham Palace. A trip to London is incomplete without strolling through Green Park to catch a glimpse of Buckingham Palace. The palace has been home to the British Royal Family since 1837. It features 775 rooms and the largest private garden in London. Some of the palace is open to visitors so you can see a little piece of the royal lifestyle. From outside, watch the world-famous Changing of the Guard. This procedure happens a few times every day and is a great opportunity to witness a historic tradition and the utmost discipline of the Royal Guard – who are all wearing the iconic London bearskin.
Hyde Park. At one and a half miles long and a mile or so wide, it's one of London's largest Royal Parks, originally appropriated from the monks at Westminster Abbey by Henry VIII to hunt deer. The park has much historical significance, having hosted a number of demonstrations and protests including protests by the Suffragettes. The park’s famous Speaker’s Corner is still occupied by debates, protests, and performance artists every week. The park is home to several memorial features, as well as two bodies of water, the most famous being the Serpentine. Here you can go paddle-boating, see a number of swans, and take in a breath of fresh air in the center of the city. The Diana Memorial Fountain is located here.
Tate Modern. This former oil-fired power station sits smugly in the centre of the South Bank, knowing that you’re interested in what’s going on inside. It’s filled to the rafters with paintings and sculptures by the likes of Picasso, Dali, Warhol, and Rothko, all set off perfectly by that gritty industrial interior. The collections span 1500 to the present day but are split into abstract themes rather than eras—don’t think too hard, just pick one and dive in.
National Gallery. Set in London’s busiest open space, Trafalgar Square is ideal for art lovers with so many galleries to visit, featuring the best in classic and contemporary art. This is the grandmother of galleries with more than 2,300 paintings spanning the 13th to the 19th centuries. (Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Velequez’s Rokeby Venus, and Constable’s six-foot long The Hay Wain). Download one of the myriad audio tour options and explore. Most of the city’s galleries are free to visitors, including the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. For prolific modern art, visit the Tate Modern on the Southbank.
Royal Opera House. Home to the Royal Opera and the Royal Ballet, the ROH is about as grand a stage as you'll find in the world let alone London. The theater itself, in historic Covent Garden, is one of the city's most magnificent buildings with its classical portico fronting Bow Street. Watching a performance here, be it opera or ballet, is a truly superb experience.
Hampstead Heath. One of the largest parks in London, covering a massive 790 acres. It sits atop of one of the highest points in London, offering excellent views of the city from Parliament Hill. Forget the perfect lawns of London's Royal Parks, Hampstead Heath is wonderfully overgrown in places making it the wild heart of the city and an undisputed highlight. The swimming ponds and meadows of tall grass perfect both for picnickers and couples in search of privacy and is the best place to experience nature in London with plenty of wildlife around and small woods in which to get lost.
There are swimming lidos for those feeling brave enough to swim outdoors in the great British weather. For history buffs, visit Kenwood House, a historical stately home that is known for its curated art collection.
South Bank. Located between the bridges above it offers about two-miles of excellent, largely state-funded arts and entertainment venues alongside breezy, traffic-free views of a succession of city landmarks (Big Ben, St Pauls, the Tower of London) that lie on the north bank. No wonder it attracts over 14 million per year.
Borough Market. The food hound's favorite London market – and its most atmospheric – occupies a sprawling site near London Bridge, both in a large covered area and spreading into the smaller maze of streets that surround it. Records show there’s been a market here since 1276 when it apparently caused traffic jams. What’s on offer? Gourmet goodies run the gamut and you’d be hard pressed not to find something you can’t get enough of and simply spend all day stuffing your face.
The Globe Theater. In London, every building and street has history. And Shakespeare's Globe, although a reconstruction of the original Globe Theatre – where many of William Shakespeare's plays were first staged and which burned down in 1613 during a performance of 'Henry VIII' – is no exception. The theater was rebuilt not far from its original site, using construction methods and materials as close to the original as possible, and to watch a performance here is to step back in time.
The Shard. Western Europe's tallest building at 1,016 feet, high. It houses London's first Shangri-la hotel, private apartments, offices and three high-end restaurants – Aqua Shard, Hutong and Oblix. All good reasons to visit of course but arguably the main one is the viewing gallery aka The View. Located on floors 68-72, you have an unobstructed 360-degree, 40-mile view across the city.
Prime Meridian, Greenwich. Time, space, the universe and everything – it’s a little geeky but nevertheless so goddamn cool. There are of course observatories and telescopes everywhere these days but the Royal Observatory in Greenwich is the original. And standing on the Prime Meridian line (one foot east, one west) you can’t help but observe that in this exact spot the modern universe as we know it was born, watched, explored, mapped, calculated and timed.
Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon at Fortnum & Mason. This historic spot for afternoon tea has been an upper crust British favorite for centuries, since it began importing leaves from Asia in 1707. It's no wonder the beloved tearoom was reopened in 2012 by the Queen after a sensitive refit. The room retains a fittingly regal affect. There’s often a pianist tinkling away in the corner of the airy elegant room in the afternoon.
National Theatre. Officially the Royal National Theatre – is a concrete-clad, 1960s modernist building that’s home to three auditoria (the Olivier, the Lyttelton and the Dorfman), and an alternating repertory program that mostly offers a choice of three or four productions in any given week. You won’t find better venue with more accomplished casts - including regular Hollywood stars who insist on treading the boards.
Daunt Books. The flagship of nine Daunt’s bookstores, Marylebone is also the most attractive, a throwback to Edwardian times (yep, it’s that old) and redolent of an old college library. Though part of a small chain, the founder of which James Daunt, also runs mammoth book chain Waterstones, Daunt’s is primarily a travel bookshop – what’s not to love? – it’s a gorgeous place of calm on the otherwise super chi-chi Marylebone High Street.
London Eye. A trip to London isn’t complete without a visit to the iconic London Eye. Originally constructed to celebrate the millennium, the Eye is a giant ferris wheel offering gorgeous views across the city. At night, the wheel is lit up in seasonal colors and is the centerpiece of London’s annual New Year’s fireworks display. You can share one of the spacious pods with other keen visitors, or splurge on a private pod for you and someone special. Team your visit to the Eye with a trip to the adjacent London Aquarium to see aquatic creatures from around the world, including jellyfish, seahorses and crocodiles.
Thames Cruise. The Thames is the lifeblood of London, bringing industry to the city for centuries. It is England’s longest river, leading into the North Sea at its end. It has been the base for settlements since prehistoric times, and was a strategic importance to the Romans and English Kings, as well as during both World Wars. There are a number of companies in London offering cruises across the Thames. Cruises run as regularly as every 30 minutes from several key locations. The cruises pass several key sightseeing locations, including Tower Bridge, the Houses of Parliament, and the London Eye.
Some cruises run at night so you can see the sights all lit up, whilst others are served with a meal or afternoon tea. This is a lovely and unique way to view the city, traveling along the historic Thames.
Baker Street. One of the cultural staples of London is Baker Street, best known as the street that Arthur Conan Doyle’s infamous detective Sherlock Holmes lived on. Today you can find a Sherlock Holmes museum near the Underground station, especially popular after the BBC revival ‘Sherlock’. Madame Tussauds is just around the corner, the internationally-famous wax museum where you can pose with your favorite celebrities. Afterwards, escape the crowds of Baker Street in the nearby Regent’s Park, or by climbing Primrose Hill for London’s most spectacular view of the city.
Brixton’s Electric Avenue. The first market street in London to be lit by electricity. It spawned the #1 song by Eddy Grant and has been the center of some parts of London history, including the Brixton race riots in 1981. Today, Electric Avenue is home to Brixton Market, a diverse and eclectic food market. Afterwards, check out the rest of the neighborhood. Brixton features a multitude of small businesses selling unique, quirky and handmade items. This is one of the most diverse areas of London and an excellent spot to do some shopping or catch some live music.
Piccadilly Circus. Instantly recognizable filled with bright lights and big electronic screens. Piccadilly Circus has been a busy London spot since the 17th century when it was a commercial hub. Today it is still the heart of the West End, with easy access from Piccadilly Circus to some of London’s biggest theaters and nightclubs, including the Criterion Theatre. The Statue of Eros in the center of the circus is itself a popular meeting point and tourist destination. Pay a visit to Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum at Piccadilly Circus to learn some new facts and see the world’s weirdest things.
Oxford Street. London’s top spot for shopping and Europe’s busiest shopping street. It has 300 shops and receives over 500,000 visitors every day. Shop ‘til you drop in designer stores and internationally-famous department stores like Debenhams and House of Fraser. Selfridges features intricate and beautiful window displays that change with the seasons. These frequently feature interactive windows and work by acclaimed artists. Around Christmas, the Oxford Street Christmas lights illuminate your shopping sprees and add some glitter to the evenings.
Bond Street. Bond Street differs to Oxford Street in its selection of stores, with a much greater focus on the exclusive and the designer. Bond Street is one of the most expensive shopping streets in London and is worth visiting for a taste of the indulgent. Doormen stand patiently outside many shop entrances. Diamonds glitter in the windows of watchmakers, jeweler’s, and even handbag stores. On this street you will find Tiffany’s, as well as the flagship stores for Cartier and Ralph Lauren. After a spot of window shopping – or flashing the cash – pose with the ‘Allies’ statue of Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt sitting on a bench. Finish your trip to Bond Street by seeking out London’s oldest outdoor sculpture above the entrance to Sotheby’s. This sculpture is from Ancient Egypt and is over 3,000 years old.
Harrods. One of London’s most famous department stores, known particularly for serving the elite and the super-rich. Since opening in 1824, Harrods’ patrons have included Oscar Wilde, Laurence Olivier and the Royal Family. The luxury is spread across a number of floors, laid out in style through Harrods’ themed halls. The food hall sells indulgent delicacies from fresh meat and cheese to superior marmalades and pates. The Egyptian hall sells fashion in opulent style to make you feel like a pharaoh as you pass through. At Christmas, Harrods puts together a number of luxury Christmas hampers filled with goodies to make the festivities even more special. Explore the building and get lost while shopping for lavish perfumes, children’s toys, and even pets in London’s most exclusive department store.
Platform 9 ¾. King’s Cross is one of the city’s busiest locations with a train station that has been open since 1852 serving much of the country. Recent renovations have given a sleek, modern look to the station – try to find the hidden tunnel with walls that light up with art. But for many people around the world, King’s Cross is known best for something else: the station that Harry Potter uses to journey to Hogwarts. Now you can visit Platform 9 ¾ in real life, in King’s Cross railway station. Pose besides a luggage trolley disappearing magically into the wall and have your photo taken to commemorate your wizarding journey forever!
Natural History Museum. London is one of the best cities in the world for culture with a number of free museums to enjoy. On Exhibition Road in South Kensington, you can find many museums close together.
Start with the Natural History Museum and pose for a photo with the infamous Diplodocus skeleton in the main hall. Explore the museum and find ancient fossils and stuffed animals including a dodo replica.
Afterwards, go to the Science Museum next door for hands-on activities and to investigate scientific progress throughout the ages. A short stroll to the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) will shift focus to cultural history. The V&A Museum has artwork on show alongside fashion and living tools from around the world. Here you will find art students diligently sketching the classical statues and ironwork.
London Nightlife. London is a vibrant metropolis both during the day and throughout the night. There is always something happening even after dark, from one-off events to club nights. As the sun sets, London’s lights switch on providing the city with a magical illumination. There are free walking tours that explore the city at night or hop on a night tour bus. See St Paul’s Cathedral lit up after dark or visit the Gothic architecture of Big Ben and Westminster Cathedral. Go to Soho and the West End for buzzing nightlife amongst the big neon signs. Travel a little further out to Hampstead Heath for a spot of stargazing or see Hyde Park at night where bats are frequently sighted. Finally, after a long day and night exploring one of the best cities in the world, visit Polo Bar at Liverpool Street for 24/7 greasy spoon dining.
What is your favorite London attraction?