The Ultimate Guide: Top 20 Things to Do in London
London is one of Europe’s oldest yet most energetic and entertaining cities. Each year thousands of tourists flock to London to soak up its history, culture and of course, to have fun! Yet with so much to offer it can be difficult to squeeze the best stuff into just one trip. To help you out here is a list of the top 20 things you must do while you are in London.
- The London Eye
- Buckingham Palace
- The Changing of the Guard
- The Mall
- The Tower of London
- The Tower Bridge
- Big Ben (The Elizabeth Tower)
- Westminster Palace (Houses of the Parliament)
- Downing Street
- The British Museum
- The Natural History Museum
- Victoria and Albert Museum
- Saint Paul’s Cathedral
- The Tate Modern
- The Tate Britain
- The Imperial War Museum
- Camden Market
- Madame Tussaud
- See a West-End Show
- Hit the Town
The London Eye
The London Eye (or the Millennium Wheel) is very popular all around the world and has even won multiple international awards for tourism. The London Eye is a huge Ferris wheel located on the south bank of the River Thames that takes passengers high over the city in its spacious pods and provides exceptional panoramic views over the city – an eye over London. These pods are also available to rent in the evening for private romantic rides or a small party reception of up to 25 people with drinks and hors-d’oeuvres. Definitely one of the top ten must-dos in London.
Buckingham Palace is the London home of Queen Elizabeth II and the administrative heart of the Royal Family. It has been an official royal residence since the reign of Queen Victoria and has become one of the city’s most visited tourist attractions. Each year millions of eager tourists crowd the gates of Buckingham Palace in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the Royal Family. Visitors who book in advance are able to take tours of the palace’s State Rooms and gardens. The private living quarters, however, remain off-limits to the public.
The Changing of the Guard
The Changing of the Guard, or “Guard Mounting”, is a traditional ceremony performed by the Monarch’s personal guard since the beginning of the 17th century. Since then, it has become a popular attraction for visitors to London who is keen to experience some of the pomp and culture of British royalty. The Changing of the Guard takes place at 11.15 a.m. (each day in summer and every second day in winter) when the guards line up at Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, and Horse Guard’s Parade to be inspected by their commander. The soldier’s then march out proudly with the military band playing rousing music and the flags of their regiment waving, and at Buckingham Palace, the commanding officers solemnly exchange the keys. A fantastic morning activity for the whole family!
The Mall is a long Royal Avenue in the heart of London stretching from Buckingham Palace to Trafalgar Square and passes by many renowned London landmarks. Begin your trip at Buckingham palace and see the Queen’s home and the amazing Victoria Memorial. From there follow the Horse Guards Parade to the East, headquarters of the Queen’s mounted bodyguard, and through Admiralty Arch, a five-tiered Roman-style triumphal arch commemorating the victory of Queen Victoria. Once you pass through the arch you will arrive at Trafalgar Square in the center of the modern city, surrounded by galleries, restaurants, and shops. A fantastic way to see some of London’s best sights all together!
The Tower of London
The Tower of London is perhaps the most notorious of all Norman castles in England. Built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century, the Tower of London has loomed over the banks of the Thames for almost a thousand years. It is famous throughout history as a royal palace, as a jail and execution house for high-profile prisoners, like Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey, as the place of mysterious happenings, like the disappearance of the ‘Princes in the Tower’ and ghostly hauntings, as the home of the royal menagerie and the Crown Jewels, and much more. With so much on offer, the Tower of London is an absolute must-see!
Tower Bridge is a Victorian suspense bridge across the River Thames that has become one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions. It is a beautiful bridge with two tall, fortified towers and a pedestrian walkway high overhead connecting them. The Tower Bridge Exhibition offers visitors the chance to climb up to the walkway for unparalleled views of London. With a new glass floor, you can literally see the city move beneath your very feet! There are also historical exhibitions held inside the towers and visitors can rent out the charming Victorian rooms for weddings and other special functions.
Big Ben (The Elizabeth Tower)
Big Ben is one of the most recognizable symbols of London. This huge Victorian clock tower was built in 1859 beside the Houses of Parliament to replace the earlier London clock tower known as Great Tom. Big Ben is actually a nickname for the bell of the clock, as for years it had no official name. In commemoration of Queen Elizabeth II, the clock tower was officially named the Elizabeth Tower in 2002. Visitors to London will recognize Big Ben from Hollywood films, and just about every postcard and photograph of London, so make sure not to miss out on the chance to see in person one of London’s most iconic sights!
Westminster Palace (Houses of Parliament)
Westminster Palace was built on the banks of the Thames by Edward the Confessor in the 11th century and was for centuries the most important royal palace in England. However, today it is home to the Houses of the British Parliament. Though much of the original building was destroyed by fire in 1834, Westminster Hall, one of the largest Great Halls in Europe, remains intact and is still used for State functions today. The modern building is a stunning Gothic-revival structure featuring three impressive towers, including the celebrated Big Ben. The Palace of Westminster is one of England’s most culturally significant landmarks and is a brilliant sight not to be missed.
Downing Street is known all over the world as the home of the Prime Minister of England who has resided behind the famous Number 10 door for the last three hundred years. Downing Street is not only home to the Prime Minister, but other important members of the British government, like the Chief Whip, and many of the most important government offices are kept here. Visitors to Downing Street can catch a glimpse of the heart of British politics as well as see the notorious Number 10 which has housed some of Britain’s greatest leaders.
The British Museum
Located in the stunning Bloomsbury neighborhood of London, the British Museum is one of the first and most visited museums in Europe. It houses a vast array of spectacular historical treasures. The collections comprise over eight million artifacts, including remains from the Parthenon in ancient Greece, the Rosetta Stone and mummies from Egypt, relics of British history dating back to prehistoric times, and sculpture and art from Rome, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. With such rare artifacts on display, you would be crazy to miss out on a visit to this celebrated museum! And did we mention it is completely free?
The Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum is one of the most celebrated museums in Europe and a fantastic day out for the whole family. With amazing relics, such as the colossal skeleton of the Diplodocus carnegii dinosaur – or ‘Dippy’ to those who know him – and that of a giant blue whale, as well as artifacts dedicated to the evolution of plants and man since prehistoric times. It is no wonder the British Natural History Museum is one of the foremost museums in the world! On top of all this, the building itself is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture providing a remarkable space for viewing remarkable objects. A must-see for lovers of history and architecture – all for free!
Victoria and Albert Museum
The Victoria and Albert Museum is dedicated to the memory of Queen Victoria, whose long reign gave the name to an entire era of British history, and to her beloved husband Prince Albert. Visitors may see the furniture, paintings, clothes, ornaments, photographs, letters, and much more artifacts owned by the royal couple. Located in the museum district of South Kensington, near the British Museum and the Natural History Museum, the V&A Museum remains one of the most popular exhibits in London.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
St. Paul’s Cathedral, perched atop London’s highest point on Ludgate Hill, is one of the oldest symbols of London. As the seat of the Bishop of London, it is one of the city’s most important churches. Originally a Catholic church, the Cathedral survived the destruction of the 16th-century reformation and was remade a Protestant church. The modern building is a striking Baroque design with influences of classical Greek and Roman architecture. The stunning marble, the columned interior has hosted many grand State events, including the royal weddings of Queen Victoria and Princess Diana, as well as the funeral of Winston Churchill, and many memorials to notable British figures are kept in the Cathedral. Visitors must pay an entrance fee to see the church, but with such beautiful and interesting sights, it is well worth it!
The Tate Modern
The Tate Modern is one of the foremost modern art galleries in Europe. Each year thousands of artists, critics, admirers, and tourists visit this celebrated museum to see the unique and beautiful pieces on display. Indeed, the Tate Modern houses some of the best-loved and most interesting artwork of the last century, and its seven huge wings contain paintings, sculpture, photography, prints, and more from throughout Europe. And, once again, the museum is totally free to all comers.
The Tate Britain
The Tate Britain was the first in the Tate Group of art galleries established by Sir Henry Tate in 1897 after he donated his valuable collection of British paintings to the government on the condition that a suitable place is made available for the public to view them. The Tate Britain is a stunning building with a portico-style entrance fronting a huge domed building. Inside visitors can see a range of the best of British art, including works by greats such as William Blake, J.M. Turner, and Henry More. Visitors are also given the chance to learn all about the artists who created these British masterpieces as well as learn about the work itself. A must-visit for art and history lovers – for free!
The Imperial War Museum
The Imperial War Museum is actually a group of 5 museums dedicated to remembering the stories of British citizens during both World Wars. Three of the Imperial War Museums are located in London. The Imperial War Museum London is the first of these and aims to showcase the tales and experiences of British people during the wars, not only the soldiers but women and families, from fashion to ration. The HMS Belfast, an ex-naval warship, makes up the second museum and the Churchill War Rooms, where the British Bulldog directed the allied troops, comprise the third. All three of these museums give a fascinating insight into the lives affected by war and into the modern weaponry used to bring destruction and victory.
Camden Market is one of the busiest and best markets in all of London. Just off the Tube stop, you will find never-ending stalls selling clothes, beauty products, food, jewelry, toys, and trinkets of all sorts for a bargain. You will also see some of London’s most eccentric inhabitants, as Camden is known for its rocker and Goth population (don’t worry they don’t bite – and are actually quite quiet, nice people). Camden market is a great place to shop and more importantly to see a fresh and quirky side of the modern city. A very cool spot!
Madame Tussaud is a world-famous waxwork museum of famous faces from history, politics, sport, and popular culture, with galleries in most of the top cities in Europe, each with its own unique display. In London, visitors can see exhibits such as “The Party” with Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, Daniel Craig and Judie Dench as 007 and “M”, as well as Robert Downey Jnr’s Sherlock Holmes. And that’s not all, visitors can also take selfies with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and U.S. President Barack Obama, in addition to leading intellectual figures like Charles Dickins. All in all, a thoroughly fun day out for the whole family!
See a West-End Show
One of the best ways to soak up some culture and enjoy the best of what only London can offer is to take in a West-End show. Here you will find the world’s best musicals, dramatic theatre, and comedic performances, with some of the most talented people in the business. The odd Hollywood heavyweight will often appear in one of the newest hits or take on a Shakespearean role, so be sure to check out what’s on when you’re in town. Head to Shaftsbury Avenue and you will surely find an abundance of glittering theatres with plenty of top-quality entertainment to choose from.
Hit the Town
Of course, with all this running around and sightseeing, you need to unwind and have some old-fashioned fun – and where better to enjoy a night in the town than London! There are plenty of traditional pubs, local eateries, high-end restaurants, cocktail bars and wine bars, nightclubs, jazz clubs, live music of all sorts, comedy gigs, and art shows. London is a buzzing city, full of eclectic people and tastes, always with loads going on, where you are sure to find more than one thing to suit everyone. Take time to really get into the groove of the city, ditch the maps, and hit the town!
If you still have some days left in the UK, we have a few recommendations for you: