As the capital and largest city in the United Kingdom, there is absolutely no shortage of things to do in London. It’s one of Europe’s great cities, and whether you’re looking for a high-end experience or to keep things low key, London will never disappoint. It’s a city I called home for five months, and today, I’m sharing all the best things to do in London.
THIS GUIDE OF LONDON THINGS TO DO IS BROKEN DOWN BY:
- Can’t-Miss Landmarks and Attractions in London
- Best Museums in London (all free!)
- Iconic Royal Parks in London
- Most Famous London Food and Drink Markets
- Culturally Significant Sights and Areas in London
- Quintessential English Experiences to have in London
Top Landmarks and Attractions in London
Buckingham Palace is famous around the world as the official London residence of the United Kingdom’s royal sovereign. You can enter and tour the iconic Palace for between £26.50 – £49.00, or you can simply admire for free from outside. Make sure to coincide your visit with the Changing of the Guard. It’s a 45-minute ceremony typically starting at 11:00am daily in the summer, and on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday the rest of the year. Check out the official site calendar for schedule updates.
Big Ben & the Palace of Westminster
You simply cannot visit London without viewing Big Ben, perhaps the most prominent symbol of the UK. Few realize that Big Ben is actually the name for just the bell, and the tower itself is named Elizabeth Tower. The tower is connected to the Palace of Westminster, which is where the two houses of the UK’s Parliament meet. Check the official sites for how to tour Parliament and tour Big Ben.
The royal church of Westminster Abbey is the location for national ceremonies like royal weddings (including William and Kate’s) and coronations. You can enter this UNESCO World Heritage site by purchasing tickets from the official site for £18.
The London Eye
The London Eye is probably the world’s most famous ferris wheel and definitely the tallest one in Europe. It sits along the River Thames, right across from Big Ben. You can step into one of the seatless pods and enjoy quintessential London views by purchasing tickets for £24.50 (or £37 for fast track) from the official site.
The Tower of London & the Tower Bridge
The Tower of London is actually not just a tower, but instead a historic castle sitting on the banks of the River Thames. In the past, it acted as a royal residence, a prison, and an execution site. Today, you can tour the Tower of London by booking tickets from the official site for £25.00. Across from the Tower of London is the iconic Tower Bridge (and no, it is not called London Bridge!). You can cross the bridge’s two glass-covered walkways for free.
New York has Times Square, and London has Piccadilly Circus. This is London’s most famous public square, located at the intersection of several busy roads. Here, you’ll find colorful flashing billboards and easy access to London’s popular Soho neighborhood.
This well-known public square is adored with two fountains and the hard-to-miss Nelson’s Column. The square often holds rallies and demonstrations.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
St. Paul’s Cathedral’s dome long dominated London’s skyline. You can enter the iconic cathedral and enjoy sweeping views over London from the dome by purchasing tickets for £17 from the official site.
Oxford Street is one of Europe’s busiest shopping streets and spans over 1 mi (1.9 km) long. On this busy and iconic street, you’ll find plenty of affordable and luxury shops alongside opens for food and drink.
Covent Garden is a lively shopping, eating, and entertainment area in London’s West End. It’s got over 20 outdoor eating options, multiple luxury brands, and ample car-free walking space.
This artistic pedestrian-only suspension bridge boasts amazing views over the River Thames, the London Eye, and Big Ben.
Top Museums to Visit in London
The National Gallery
The National Gallery is a European art museum in Trafalgar Square. As entry is free and the location is extremely convenient, visiting the National Gallery is a no brainer.
The British Museum
As a history lover, the British Museum is my favorite museum in London. The museum’s most popular exhibit is the Rosetta Stone, but it boasts artifacts from literally all over the globe. Check out the museum’s suggestion for how to spend one hour there, to get an idea of the can’t-miss things to see. Entry into the museum is free.
If you’re a contemporary art fan, there’s no doubt you’ve heard about Tate Modern. This world-famous modern art gallery is free to enter, and I’m sure you’ll leave either loving it or hating it.
The Victoria and Albert Museum
The Victoria and Albert Museum (or the V&A) calls itself the world’s leading museum of art, design, and performance. Its collections cover architecture, fashion, wallpaper designs, and much, much more. Entry into the museum is free.
The Natural History Museum
Even if you’re not into science, you’ll certainly find the Natural History Museum’s huge dinosaur and whale skeletons impressive. Entry into the museum is free.
Best Parks to Visit in London
Hyde Park is a royal park and the largest park in central London. It boasts a large lake, fountains, temples, statues, and more. You could seriously spend hours walking around this thing without repeating the same path!
They were once the private gardens of Kensington Palace (William and Kate’s current official London residence), but now they are a public Royal Park. The gardens sit directly across Hyde Park’s western end.
Best Markets to Visit in London
London is known for its several food and drink markets scattered all around the city, and Borough Market is the most famous one. It’s also probably the most conveniently located one for the typical tourist route, as it’s not too far from Tower Bridge. It’s closed on Sundays, and you can check opening hours at the official site.
Camden Market is another famous London market. It’s got over 1000 stalls (yep, you read that right!) selling international foods, drinks, and other shopping items. It’s open daily, and you can check opening hours at the official site.
Portobello Road Market
Although it’s less touristy than the previous two markets, that’s what gives Portobello Road Market it’s charm. Here, you’ll find loads of yummy baked goods, international dishes, clothing items, and trinkets. You definitely want to visit Portobello Road Market on Saturday, the market’s main day. The market is closed on Sundays, and you can check out details for the rest of the week at the official site.
Shoreditch is an area of London known for its eclectic and artsy vibes. It offers two popular markets for food, drink, clothing, and more; Brick Lane Market and Spitalfields Market. Brick Lane Market is open on Sundays, and you can check daily hours for Spitalfields Market on the official site.
Iconic London Areas & Cultural Sights
Kings Cross Station
If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you’ll absolutely want to visit the real life Kings Cross Station, locate platform 9 ¾, and snap your pics running through the wall. If you’re not an HP fan,
what’s wrong with you? there’s no real need to stop by this rather beautiful train station building (unless of course taking a train).
Seeing as I’m from nearby to San Francisco, which has the world’s largest Chinatown outside of Asia, I’ve been seriously disappointed by every other Chinatown outside of Asia that I’ve visited. That is, except for London’s! It absolutely does not compare to San Francisco’s, but London’s is the only other one I’ve visited that felt like a Chinatown and not just a Chinastreet… or something. Foodies will definitely not want to miss a stop here while in London.
The Shard & The Gherkin
The Shard and the Gherkin (technically named 30 St Mary Axe) are two of London’s most iconic skyscrapers. They are both uniquely shaped – the Shard like… well, a shard of glass, and the Gherkin like an elongated egg – and they set London’s skyline apart in the world. Try to keep an eye out for these two buildings as you explore London. The Shard is located between Tower Bridge and Borough Market, and the Gherkin sits in London’s financial district.
It’s the name of a Beatles album, and it’s also the name of the road they cross in that same album’s photo cover. You can visit the exact zebra crossing and recreate your own version of the iconic cover.
Best London Experiences
Have Afternoon Tea
Is there anything more quintessentially British than afternoon tea? Contrary to what the name suggests, there’s more to having tea than just the tea itself. You’ll also enjoy an aesthetically pleasing assortment of finger sandwiches, snacks, and baked goodies like scones and pastries. I honestly enjoyed my tea experience more than I expected. My only complaint was that I wanted more food!
Catch a Football Match
Since England is the birthplace of the beautiful game, otherwise known as football or soccer, what’s more English than catching a football game? While you can catch an English Premier League game in several cities around England, London alone is home to several EPL teams, so you have plenty of options!
Visit a Pub
England is known worldwide for its pub culture, so definitely stop by some on your visit to London. Even if you have no desire for a pub crawl, you can simply grab a meal (like the famous Sunday roast) or time your visit with a game of football. It’s a great way to get more of a sense for English culture!
Snap a Photo by a Red Phone Booth
While the advertisements plastered inside the iconic red phone booths are questionable, these still make for a great photo op! I recommend the one near the corner of Parliament Street and George Street, so that you can get Big Ben in your photo background.
There are so many things to do in London, from major landmarks, to famous parks, to lively markets and more. From my time living there, I can honestly say this list just scratches the surface of things to do in London (which is saying a lot, because it’s a pretty long list!). For a first time visit of just a couple days, you likely will not be able to enter or see all of the above.
So if you are short on time, I recommend you plan your London itinerary as follows:
- Try to at least view each of the main landmarks from outside.
- Get tickets to enter any of those landmarks that truly interest you (whether it be for the history, the photo opportunity, etc).
- Sprinkle in whatever markets, museums, fun sights, and experiences interest you most.
Have any questions before your visit to London? Or have you already been but have some things to do in London that I missed? Let me know in the comments below!