10 Best Things To Do In London, United Kingdom
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links through which you can buy things if you like. If you decide to make a purchase, I receive a small commission at zero extra cost to you. This helps me to keep this site running.
The capital of the British Empire is the best place to feel like royalty, with rich history, and lots of culture. The streets of London have seen it all – from famous monarchies to infamous murderers, from street festivals to high-end theaters. This is why it is one of the most interesting cities that I have been to.
I visited twice in London, and I still miss it and can’t wait for the next time I’ll walk in its magical streets. All the books I have read, and all the movies I have seen, come to life when I see the architecture and the train stations, hear the accent, and absorb London’s vibes. Here are the best things to do in London:
Visit The House Of Parliament And Westminster Abbey
The House of Parliament (aka Palace of Westminster) and Big Ben are probably the most iconic landmark of London. You can’t be in London without seeing Big Ben at least once. While the tower is super impressive to look at from the outside, the House of Parliament is also impressive from the inside. Tours are available if you want to see how the parliament is working, or just to get a short peek of some of its 1100 rooms.
Across the street from the Palace of Westminster, Check out the majestic Westminster Abbey, the most famous church in London. 700 years of history are inside this beautiful Gothic-style church and I was excited to feel it as soon as I walked inside and strolled in its paths. The most recent events that took place here are the coronation of Elizabeth in 1953, and the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton in 2001.
Fly in the sky on the London Eye
Since it was built in the year 2000, The London Eye on South Bank is one of the most popular attractions in London. As such it’s also a bit pricey but seeing the entire city of London from a bird’s view is priceless.
Make sure the sky is clear on the day you are planning to take a ride and enjoy the magnificent city right under you. The Ferris wheel is the tallest in Europe (135 meters up high), and a ride in one of its 32 see-through pods takes about 30 minutes. The view is amazing, and it’s a great time to guess which of London’s landmarks you can point at from up there. You can buy skip-the-line tickets through this link and it’s worth it.
Connect With History At The Tower Of London And Tower Bridge
The Tower of London is one of the most famous historical buildings in London and my favorite site in the city because it takes you on a real journey to the past. Built almost 1000 years ago, this is where you get to see all the history of the British kingdom. All that you have learned about England in school or saw on TV come to life here. From the Yeoman Warders (also known as the Beefeaters) – the guards of the tower in their fancy uniform; to the Royal Armories, where you can see Henry VIII’s real armor; to the Crown Jewels, with the legendary Koh-i-Noor diamond on the Queen Mother’s crown. This place is fascinating and interesting for everybody.
Outside of the Tower of London, standing beautifully above the Thames, is Tower Bridge, another iconic landmark of the city. It was built only in 1894, but its medieval style always makes me think it is much older. The bridge is impressive, and if you are lucky you will see how it opens in 3 minutes to allow big ships to pass through. You can climb up one of the towers to see the London skyline from another point of view. The Engine room at the bottom of the tower is also open if you want to see what used to be state-of-the-art technology when it was created.
Cross the Millennium Bridge
Interesting facts about the Millennium bridge:
1. It was opened in the year 2000 and then closed for maintenance and re-opened in 2002.
2. It is the first bridge to be built above the Thames in 100 years
3. Despite its young age, it is already a film star, appearing in Guardians of the Galaxy, Harry Potter, and others.
However, these are not the only things that make this bridge special. The reason you want to cross it is the perfect location between two famous tourist attractions – Tate Modern on one side and St. Paul’s Cathedral on the other side.
Tate Modern, the county’s most visited gallery, used to be an old power station. Today it is one of the finest modern art museums in the world and the one that made me love modern art. The exhibits might get so bizarre that I found myself asking so many times “is this even art?”, but this is what made this place so special for me. This is not the museum to see old paintings and sculptures, but a place to open your senses to a new, radical, revolutionary yet classic work of art. Picasso, Dali, and Warhol are presented here, among many others.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
St. Paul’s Cathedral on the other side of the bridge is the contrast to Tate Modern. This is another journey to one of London’s historical icons, standing here for centuries. The present-day cathedral was built in 1697 after the old church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London. Prince Charles and Princess Dianna’s wedding was here, and if you climb to the top of the dome, you will understand why.
Feel The Royalty At The Buckingham Palace
The home of the Queen is another London landmark. This is where the royal family hosts their daily meeting and special events with international leaders. Tours inside some of the 775 rooms of the Palace are available but don’t count on seeing the royal family. From the outside, the palace is also beautiful and one of its main attractions is the Changing of the Guards ceremony. This royal and impressive ceremony takes place daily between April-July and every other day for the rest of the year. This is yet another classic British experience, one that reminds you that this is still a Monarchy.
Tip: Try to get there early to catch a good viewing point close to the fence. Otherwise, you can climb the Queen Victoria memorial monument for a far-but-high point of view. And this is the closest you get to any queen here.
Stroll Between London’s Famous Squares
Enjoying the streets of London is a unique experience, and the best way to absorb some “Londonism” is by visiting the three famous squares of the city. Piccadilly Circus is the Times Square of London, with neon lights lighting the sky and the famous red buses coming and going. Unlike its American sister, in Piccadilly Circus, you can really see the young locals here. They probably sit on the steps of the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain, mostly in the later hours of the day.
A Short walk from Piccadilly circus takes you to Leicester square. This is the heart of London’s West End, with restaurants, theaters, and Casinos. The square is busy during the day as well as during the night. if you are lucky you might catch a film premiere or a street festival. For me, this was the starting point of most night-outs in the area.
The Third square you don’t want to miss is Trafalgar square. Nelson’s Column and the lions around it is another landmark of the city. This is a wide-open square, where protests take place, as well as New Year’s Eve celebrations. If you are interested in classic art, don’t miss the National Gallery on the north side of Trafalgar square.
Tour Covent Garden
What used to be a fruit and vegetable market is now the place for shopping, eating, and enjoying London vibes. It is fun to stroll between the shops, sit in a cafe or watch a street performance. A few interesting places to visit are the London Transport Museum, London Film Museum, and the Royal Opera House. At night, the streets surrounding the main piazza are vibrant with pubs and restaurants, replacing the old brothels and gambling dens of the past.
Tip: Lyceum Theater in Covent Garden is the home of the British Lion King, which is one of the best classic musicals I have watched. Watching a musical is of the fun things to do in London at night.
Explore Camden Market
A short ride in the tube takes you to Camden Town, an eclectic mix of markets and world cuisines. It used to be the home of Punk and Goth subcultures, and they are still part of the vibes you get here. Today it is very popular for both locals and tourists who enjoy strolling along Camden High street.
There are few markets that altogether make this place a cultural experience. The Stable market used to be a hospital for horses and offers household items, antiques, alternative clothing, and food. Camden Lock Market is for crafts, books, clothing, jewelry, and fast food. Vegan food is also available here, including some of the best vegan restaurants in London.
From antiques and secondhand clothing to designer’s shops, from restaurants to street food, from old vinyl records to live music shows at the Electric Room – Camden Market is different, refreshing, and fun.
Shop On Oxford Street
England’s most famous shopping street is also the busiest one in Europe. Oxford street is the place to walk between massive stores – from department stores to high fashion. Don’t be surprised to see Rolls-Royces and luxury cars on the same street with two Primark stores – that’s the magic. Plan to spend a few hours, or even a full day, walking around from store to store.
Tip: On the west side, the street ends at the northeast corner of Hyde Park. This is where the beautiful Marble Arch is standing and the people who want their voices to be heard are speaking to the crowd at Speakers’ Corner.
Visit Portobello Road Market
Another street market that I loved in London is the one on Portobello Road in Notting Hill. This is an open market that reaches its best on Saturdays. It is open on most days of the week with some clothing and Bric-a-brac stalls. On Saturday it becomes the world’s largest antique market with 1000 dealers selling every kind of antique and collectible, alongside fashion and food. The houses on the streets are classic and colorful, which adds more color to the entire experience.
Scary adventure – London has many good stories from its past, and also some bad ones. From the Great Fire in the 17th century to Jack the Ripper, a fun way to connect with these parts of history is a scary experience. I have been to two – The London Dungeon and The London Bridge Experience and both are fun, entertaining, and scary in a way that I could deal with (and usually I cannot). Try it!
The Medieval Banquet Experience is a fun way to spend an evening one of the unique things to do in London. You are going to be feasting like in the old days, together with Henry the 8th and his royal banquet. This experience takes you back in time to the days of kings, queens, knights, acrobats, and jesters, for a night I still can’t forget.
Harry Potter sites in London – Harry Potter fans cannot visit London without visiting at least King’s Cross station’s 9 ¾ platform. The savvier fans can take a tour at WB’s The Making of Harry Potter studio or watch Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at the Palace Theater. A guided walking tour is also available by Get Yout Guide.
There are some destinations around London that are great for day trips or even a few days. One of them is the ancient city of Bath – check out my post Top 10 Sites In The Old City Of Bath, England for more information about this interesting city.
If you are planning to visit many of the sites and attractions of London, you should consider getting the London Pass. It allows cash-free entry to 100+ iconic attractions, including most of the museums on this list, for up to 10 days. In some places, it gives skip-the-line privileges, and it’s easy to use from your mobile device.
Accommodation in London can be very expensive. The hotel I stayed in Holiday Inn London – Kensington High St. It is not in central London, where the main sites are, but it’s close to a tube station that will take you where you need to go. It is also within a walking distance of the Natural History Museum in South Kensington (20 minutes), the Kensington Palace (10 minutes), and the Design Museum and Holland Park (10-15 minutes).
London is full of sites and attractions, which makes it one of the best cities in the world for travelers. It is not cheap, but everywhere you go you find an interesting thing to see or do. I recommend at least a week for first-time visitors, who want to enjoy the city without rushing. Each visit to a museum or street market can take a few hours, so plan your time accordingly. Even though I have been there twice, I know I still have lots to explore so I am looking forward to my next visit.
If you want to get updates about new posts from The Top Ten Traveler, subscribe to my newsletter below, and also get the ultimate packing list for free.