Being a melting pot of cultures dating back to 2000 years ago, it’s not surprising that London is a fascinating city that is rich with history, culture, architecture, and art spanning from ancient Roman London to the modern city of progressive music and fashion that it is today. Not surprisingly, this hotbed of culture is one of the most visited cities in the world.
Crafting a London itinerary is no easy task, to put it mildly. With so many highlights and attractions for every type of traveler, it can actually overwhelm you.
If you’re plotting a getaway to the “Big Smoke”, here is a list of things to do in London that includes the most sought-after highlights as well as a few top-notch, somewhat secret gems.
From magnificent palaces and world-renowned museums to iconic modern-day highlights, this list of the best things to do in London will have you discovering the city’s vibrant culture and magic.
#1 Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace is a top pick for anyone visiting London, especially first-timers. After all, this is the official royal residence and a very important symbol of the British monarchy.
Nestled inside the Royal Parks, Buckingham serves as the home and office for the royal family when they have business in London.
During the summer, you can book a tour and actually enter the palace and get a glimpse of how royalty lives, including the Grand Staircase, fabulous art, and the 19 State Rooms, including the Grand Hall where royal weddings have taken place.
If you’re not around during the summer when it opens its doors, you can still admire its architecture from outside, including, of course, the famed royal guards.
#2 Westminster Abbey
Located in the heart of London, Westminster Abbey is an absolute must-visit landmark, especially for history buffs and first-time visitors.
Built in 1960 AD and remodeled by Henry III in 1245, the early English Gothic-style abbey is an important piece of medieval London architecture that has seen the coronation and royal weddings.
Westminster is also the resting place of over 3,000 important people in British history, including military heroes, poets, dramatists, and monarchs from Edward the Confessor until George II.
Prominent scientists like Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin are also buried there. An added bonus is that you can listen to the famous Big Ben chiming every hour on the hour while exploring the Abbey and its beautiful grounds.
#3 Big Ben
Originally named “The Great Clock of the Palace of Westminster”, Big Ben is an iconic site in London. Located close to Westminster Abbey and steps away from the famous Trafalgar Square and Parliament, it is worth making a stop to admire its beauty and accuracy.
The name originally referred to the huge bell that chimes every hour, but today, it encompasses the clock and the tower too.
#4 Leadenhall Market
Built in the Roman London in the 1300s, Leadenhall Market is located in London’s Financial District, and up to today, it still holds a lot of remnants from different times in the past.
Besides offering great shopping opportunities, Leadenhall is home to several restaurants, cafes, wine bars, and pubs. This picturesque market is so unique that it has been used as a location for several films, such as Harry Potter & the Philosophical Stone, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.
While in the area, you can also take a look at the Leadenhall Building, which is usually dubbed The Cheesegrater. It houses the offices of important firms as well as a 30-meter-high atrium where you’ll find nice shops, cafes, and restaurants.
#5 St James’s Park
The oldest Royal Park in London, St. James’s Park is surrounded by three palaces: Buckingham, Westminster, and St James. This is a wonderful spot for getting a nature fix within the bustling city while also getting access to important monuments and landmarks located within its boundaries.
Right in front of Buckingham Palace, you’ll find the Admiralty Arch – which was built by King Edward VII to commemorate Queen Victoria’s death.
Additionally, you’ll find statues that represent the values of courage, charity, constancy, victory, truth, and motherhood. The Boy and Captain Cook statues, and the royal ducks swimming in the fountain are other favorite attractions.
#6 The British Museum
Considered one of the most important museums in the world, the British Museum opened its doors to the public in 1759. It is the world’s oldest national public museum and it’s absolutely free to visit.
The museum boasts a fabulous collection of Egyptian, Etruscan, Greek, Roman, European, and Middle Eastern galleries, you can admire art and artifact collections spanning more than two million years.
The famed Rosetta Stone, which was key to decoding many hieroglyphics, attracts many curious visitors, as do the Elgin Marbles. Other valuable items on display are the Crouching Venus, the Parthenon Sculptures, Sophilos Vase, and the Aztec Snake.
#7 Camden Town
Situated on the north side of London, Camden Town is one of the most iconic neighborhoods in the city even though it doesn’t have any important historic highlights or monuments.
What attracts tourists and locals alike to the neighborhood are the vibrant, colorful markets and the counter-culture, alternative atmosphere of Camden Town.
Contrary to many other London attractions that have been around for centuries, the market opened in 1972. A couple of artisan vendors got together there to sell their wares, summoned more vendors, and the rest is history.
Today the area attracts thousands of visitors seeking to buy goodies and have fun at alternative music venues. This is where Amy Winehouse and other alternative artists grew up in!
If you’re in for some eclectic shopping, take a peek at one or more of the six markets on the menu: Camden Lock, Stables Market, Camden Canal Market, Inverness Street, and the Electric Ballroom, Buck Street – yes, in that order, depending on how much time you want to spend here.
Then, grab a bite and refreshments in one of the street food vendors, bars, and pubs around for an authentic London experience.
#8 London Eye
The London Eye is the world’s largest observation wheel, offering the chance to take you 135 meters up in the sky to get a dizzying birds-eye vantage of the city and its surroundings.
The slow, 30-minute ride is so smooth that you tend to forget just how high up you are while searching for London’s highlights from up above.
#9 Tower of London
The Tower of London is a millenary must-see for everyone visiting London. It dates back to 1066 and up to today, it is a real fortress within the city that houses the Crown Jewels and a thousand years of history.
#11 The National Gallery
Boasting an eye-popping collection of more than 2300 works by European masters, the National Gallery offers an incredible opportunity to admire paintings from many world-acclaimed artists, including Vincent Van Gogh, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Pablo Picasso.
You could easily spend hours on end just immersing yourself in the pieces that span from the mid-1200s to the 1900s, regardless of whether you’re an art aficionado or not. Entrance is free, except for the special exhibitions that are shown on a temporary basis.
#12 The Harry Potter Studio
The Harry Potter Studio in London is an absolute must for fans of the books and films. A tour through the sets that were actually used for filming is a fascinating experience you won’t forget soon, even if you are not a declared fan of the saga.
Discover the secret behind spellbinding special effects, explore the behind-the-scenes secrets of the Harry Potter films, and simply immerse yourself in the magic of the books and movies that
#13 St. Paul’s Cathedral
One of the most stunning cathedrals in the world, St. Paul’s Cathedral is definitely a must on your London itinerary.
Besides being able to ogle at the gorgeous architecture and gorgeous vaulted ceiling of the cathedral, you can actually venture down to the Crypt and pay homage to the tombs of Admiral Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, and other prominent figures in UK history.
St. Paul’s Cathedral also hosts an incredible geometric staircase and the somewhat uncanny Whispering Gallery, where the acoustics allow you to hear conversations from right across the other side of the walkway, even if the people involved are speaking softly – yeah, better be careful what you speak inside!
#14 Hyde Park
One of London’s Royal Parks, Hyde Park is a great spot for taking a breather from the city’s hustle and bustle. Whether you’re aiming for a bit of exercise or simply want to have a picnic and relax on the lovely lawn, Hyde Park has you covered.
Don’t be surprised if you see people splashing in the Joy of Life Fountain, as this is a favorite activity for Londoners on sunny days.
Have you ever visited London? If so, what are some other amazing things to do in the city that didn’t make it to the list?
If you have any other suggestions for activities or places worth checking out, please feel free to leave your recommendations in the comment section below.