Best Things To Do in London
No matter your reason for visiting, London has something for everyone. History buffs looking to brush up on the British narrative will delight in the Tower of London. Admirers of art or theater will praise the National Gallery and the West End Theatre District, while fans of the monarchy can't skip Buckingham Palace. Although London lives up to its reputation as one of the most expensive cities to visit, it does boast an array of attractions that are free to visit, including the Victoria and Albert Museum and Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, among others. If you're overwhelmed by the amount of things to do, consider signing up for one of the city's top tours to enjoy the guidance of a local.
Updated February 19, 2020
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The British Museum is both an architectural beauty and a trove of some of the world's most noted antiquities. In fact, many travelers it's the best museum in all of London. What's more, it's free to visit. From the Rosetta Stone to the Elgin Marbles to the Lindow Man, the British Museum is a history buff's dream containing artifacts in the millions. The immense collection can make an initial museum visit seem overwhelming: Pick the exhibits that most interest you, and plan return trips if you feel so inclined.
If you want a little help navigating the museum's 8 million objects, consider tagging along on a guided tour. Several, including the daily eye-opener tours and weekly lunchtime gallery talks and Friday evening spotlight tours are free. You can also book a highlights and special early morning tour for 14 pounds (around $20) and 30 pounds (less than $45), respectively. Audio guides, which cost 7 pounds (less than $10), are also available to rent daily.
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Although its exterior might be grim and even unimpressive (especially when compared to stately Buckingham Palace), the Tower of London's interior is always bustling with activity. The tower, which actually comprises multiple towers – 12 of which can be explored by the public – offers something for everyone. If you're enchanted with the history of the monarch, don't miss the famous crown jewels exhibition. Among the items you'll see is the Imperial State Crown – which is still worn by the queen for each State Opening of Parliament – and the Sovereign's Sceptre with Cross. If you have more than an hour to spend here, take an entertaining tour led by the Yeoman Warders (tower guards). During the hour-long excursion (included in your admission ticket), the guards will regale you with tales of the tower's bloody past. Lastly, don't forget to visit the White Tower, an iconic symbol of London's heritage and one of the world's most famous castles. Inside, you'll find the 350-year-old exhibition, "Line of Kings," along with artifacts from Henry VIII, Charles I and James II.
The majority of travelers say the Tower of London's high admission price and long lines are worth every pence. And some recent visitors strongly recommend attending the free tour put on by the Yeoman Warders.
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Buckingham Palace, the London home of Queen Elizabeth II, is open for tour (except for the queen's private quarters, of course) in the summers and select dates during the winter and spring. On the tour, you'll have access to the 19 State Rooms where the queen and members of the royal family host guests for state, ceremonial and official affairs. Opulently accented with chandeliers, candelabra, paintings by Rembrandt and Rubens, and exquisite English and French furniture, these rooms display some of the most magnificent pieces from the Royal Collection. Along with the grand interiors, the State Rooms are also a witness to history. Those who followed the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton closely will recognize the Throne Room, which served as the backdrop for the official wedding photographs of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
For tours in the summer, recent travelers suggested taking advantage of the audio guide (included with admission), so that you hear a detailed history of each room at your own pace. The palace advises you set aside at least two hours to see the State Rooms (and that you wear comfortable shoes), while recent travelers advised that you use the facilities prior to the start of the tour; there are no public restrooms available until you reach the garden. Tour tickets start at 24 pounds (about $33.50) for adults; 22 pounds (about $30.75) for seniors (older than 60) and students; 13.50 pounds (about $18.90) for kids younger than 17; children younger than 5 enter for free. You can tour the palace from 9:30 a.m. to 6 or 7 p.m. depending on the month (the palace is open from late July to late September). Visitors can also spring for the Royal Day Out Ticket, which also includes entrance to the Queen's Gallery and Royal Mews, but it will cost you. If you're only hoping to quickly pass by this English institution, consider signing up for one of London's best tours – several make stops at the palace.
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Locals and tourists alike tend to adore Portobello Road Market. Located in the posh Notting Hill neighborhood (made famous by the Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts movie of the same name), the market stretches down the long Portobello Road, considered to be the high street (or main street) of Notting Hill. The market is filled with merchants of all kinds (more than 1,000 to be exact) selling a variety of common flea market items including antiques, art, jewelry, clothing and food. But what stands out about Portobello Market (aside from its adorably colorful location) is its collection of antiques and quintessentially English items. In just a few blocks, visitors can find a wellie shop, scores of vintage tea sets, quality London souvenirs and Banksy recreations. The market is also billed as being the largest antiques market in the world. If you have a penchant for fashion, the best sampling is found at the end of the market near the Ladbroke Grove Tube stop. There, visitors will not only find the greatest concentration of locals but a great selection of vintage attire as well.
Recent visitors loved Portobello Market for its lively atmosphere, wide selection of items and cheap food stalls. Although many lauded the quality found at the food stalls, some urged visitors to check out nearby restaurants, as many serve exceptional British and international fare. Others also advised visitors to pay close attention to their belongings. Portobello Market is not only very crowded, but concentrated on a narrow street, creating an easy opportunity for pickpockets to strike.
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This medieval church, graced by many royal weddings and coronations, offers a magnificent peek at London's far-reaching history. Westminster Abbey is pretty much always busy – and the staff keeps you moving at a pretty swift pace – so do a little research ahead of time to avoid missing your personal must-sees. For instance, if you're a bibliophile, consider a visit to the Poets' Corner. This is the final resting place of famed authors Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens and Rudyard Kipling, among others. If you're fascinated by all the intrigue surrounding the British royalty, you might like to visit the shared tomb of enemies and half-sisters Elizabeth I and Mary Tudor.
If you prefer to see the abbey at your own pace, but still want a little guidance on the history you're encountering, take advantage of the free audio guides online. Alternatively, you can take a 90-minute Verger-led tour and see the Shrine (containing the tomb of Saint Edward the Confessor), the Royal Tombs, Poets' Corner, the Cloisters and the Nave. If you decide to take this tour, there is an extra 5 pound (around $7.30) charge added to your original admission price.
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The portal to London's buzzy West End, Piccadilly Circus lives up to its name. Regularly compared to New York's Times Square, Piccadilly Circus is the meeting place of five busy roads and is the center of London's hustle and bustle. Whether it's businessmen and women on their way to work in the morning, shoppers en route to the department store-clad Oxford Street (just a few streets north) or lively club and bar hoppers passing through at night, Piccadilly is always thrumming with activity.
Recent travelers highly recommend a visit to Piccadilly Circus for its proximity to restaurants, shops and nightlife spots and the energy and excitement it exudes. For the best ambience, some suggest you visit Piccadilly at night, when the neon lights of the billboards reflect off the Edwardian-era buildings and the Eros statue. A quick disclaimer – Piccadilly Circus is not an actual circus, as some travelers have expected; rather, the name refers to the circle (circus), off which a handful of major roads spoke. Access to the area is free. Several of London's best tours include a stop at Piccadilly Circus.
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Once the recreational stomping grounds for King Henry VIII, this long swath of green stretching from Kensington Palace in the west to Oxford Street in the east is now open to the public and a must-visit for travelers looking for a relaxing moment away from the city's hustle and bustle. Among Hyde Park's meandering foot and bike paths and flourishing flora and fauna, you'll find a few standout attractions that are worth exploring. Watch the swans and boats glide over the serene Serpentine Lake (or rent a vessel yourself), visit the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain or stop by the Speakers' Corner, a site for public speeches and debates since the 19th century (previously used by Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and George Orwell). If you continue on the memorial walk you'll likely pass through Kensington Gardens where you'll find the ornate Albert Memorial, the Italian Gardens and the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Playground.
Visitors say the tranquil atmosphere of Kensington Gardens are unparalleled anywhere else in the city – and that they're beautiful no matter the weather. If you don't make a point to visit the area on your own, you'll likely visit while on a guided tour. The closest Tube stations to Kensington Gardens include Lancaster Gate and Queensway, Bayswater and High Street Kensington. Hyde Park is free to all visitors and is open year-round from 5 a.m. to midnight, while Kensington Gardens opens at 6 a.m. daily. The Tube stations that surround Hyde Park are Lancaster Gate, Marble Arch, Hyde Park Corner and Knightsbridge. To find out more about seasonal events and other parks around London, visit the Royal Parks website.
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Sitting in Trafalgar Square, London's National Gallery features a labyrinth interior so large that it requires a color-coded map to navigate. The museum features paintings in the Western European tradition from the 13th to 19th centuries, including Italian Renaissance masterpieces and French Impressionist works. Among its 2,300 in-house pieces, visitors will find famed paintings, such as Botticelli's "Venus and Mars" and Van Gogh's "Sunflowers."
Recent visitors loved the variety of paintings at the National Gallery, saying that travelers may need more than a day to get a glimpse at all the masterpieces that grace its never-ending halls. They also commend the gallery's cafe. If reading placard after placard isn't necessarily your thing, you can take a free, hour-long tour, which is offered daily at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. And if you're worried about keeping the kids entertained while you take in the collections, the National Gallery provides audio tours and maps designed especially for children, some of which come with a small extra fee.
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Catching a show in London's West End theater district is just as necessary as watching a play on Broadway during a trip to New York City. The quality is some of the best in the U.K., and the constant mix of new and classic productions with local and world-renowned (think Andrew Lloyd Webber, Benedict Cumberbatch) talent excites both visitors and locals alike. Even if you don't consider yourself much of a theater devotee, recent travelers said the atmosphere, specifically near the lively Leicester Square, where many of the theaters are concentrated, is worth a late-night wander.
To find ticket deals, head to the official discount booth (TKTS) in Leicester Square. Keep in mind that you'll need to visit the booth the day of the performance. But if you're not picky about what to see or have a more relaxed schedule, the TKTS booths run different deals every day, meaning you could land a great price for a wonderful performance. Booths are open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Access to the area is free. You can reach the area via a variety of Tube stations, including Leicester Square and Charing Cross.
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Along with Parliament and Big Ben, Tower Bridge is London's next must-see architectural marvel, not to mention the most famous bridge that crosses the Thames. Construction on the bridge started in 1886, which means it's practically modern by London standards, but Tower Bridge stands out for its stunning detail and moveable roadways that lift up when large ships need to pass through. The views from the bridge are an added bonus. From the elevated sidewalks visitors get a prime view of the Tower of London, St. Paul's Cathedral's iconic dome and one of the newest additions to London's skyline, The Shard.
If you're interested in viewing the city from a higher vantage point (about 137 feet), consider a tour of the Tower Bridge Exhibition. This exhibit will take you to the top of the bridge, equipped with a glass floor, as well as to the bottom to the bridge's engine rooms. However, recent visitors say that those who are afraid of heights might want to forgo the tour because of the glass floor. Adults pay 9.80 pounds (about $13.75), youths ages 5 to 15 pay 4.20 pounds (about $6), while children younger than 5 get in for free. If you have a London Pass, entry to the exhibition is included. Check the website for opening times. Keep in mind, most recent travelers recommend only doing this if you have time to kill or are extremely interested; a walk across the bridge is free and nearly as impressive. Or, for a different approach, consider a bike tour across the bridge. Hop off the Tube at Tower Hill to stroll across the Tower Bridge. You can also take bus routes nos. 15, 42, 78,100 and RV1.
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Located on the South Bank along the Thames, the Tate Modern is part of a group of four museums (all named Tate) that house the 70,000 artworks that comprise the national collection of British art. As its name suggest, this Tate holds the more contemporary-style pieces than its three other counterparts, making it more of a hit or miss among travelers. Dalí and Picasso, among many British artists, are represented inside this repurposed power plant – but you'll find the works are scattered. Art is grouped by theme rather than by artist.
Recent visitors said if you're a fan of contemporary and modern art, you'll enjoy the Tate Modern. If you're partial to antiquities or the more traditional works of art, you'll probably be better served at the British Museum or the National Gallery. Other visitors suggested downloading the Tate App for your smartphone to get a deeper understanding of the works. Art aside, the eateries located within the museum may be enough of a reason for travelers to visit. Both the level 1 Cafe and level 6 Restaurant at Tate Modern afford stunning views of St. Paul's Cathedral, which is situated on the other side of the river.
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The Churchill War Rooms are the underground bunker that Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his war cabinet used to shelter from bomb raids and plot their steps during World War II. The maze-like corridors tell the story of this volatile time period, centering on the larger-than-life leader that Churchill was.
Travelers describe the Churchill War Rooms as fascinating, and more than one traveler calls it a favorite London attraction. Some say that the attraction is much bigger than they had imagined and that people tend to spend a lot of time soaking in the exhibits and information. Others say that the lines at the museum cafe can be long. For all these reasons, most recommend that visitors get to the Churchill War Rooms early to avoid a long wait.
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Londoners and out-of-towners alike enjoy spending a morning (or afternoon) at the Camden Market. Camden Market is actually multiple markets spread out in the neighborhood of Camden. Open daily starting at 10 a.m., it sprawls with about 200 stalls carrying close to everything, from furniture to food and lots of fashion. Looking for cheap graphic T-shirts and dresses? Head over to the first set of Camden Market stalls located closest to the Tube station, on the right of the high street. If you're looking for more of a mix of items, walk over the bridge to the lock market, situated on the peaceful Camden Lock. To the right of the high street, you'll find stalls filled with ethnic cuisine, fashion and souvenirs, to name a few. But head to the left and you'll find a wider variety of food stalls, selling a range of delicacies from pressed juice to Portuguese desserts, and even hot dogs. This area gives way to the long and winding stables market, consisting of vendors selling vintage home decor, leather goods and clothing.
It's easy to get lost in this market, but with all it has to offer, including cool restaurants and bars tucked between nooks and crannies, visitors agree it's also very fun. The only grievance travelers had were the massive crowds that form during the weekend. If you don't want to be shopping amidst wall-to-wall people, consider visiting during the week. Some reviewers also advised staying away from vendors situated closest to the Tube stop, as some said the sellers were pushy. Much of what is sold in that market can also be found in the lock and stables market. And if you're not one to spend hours shopping, the beautiful Regent's Park and Primrose Hill are both about a 15-minute walk away. You can find the Camden Market off of the Camden Town, Chalk Farm or Camden Road Tube stops. The market is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. For more information about the vendors at the market, visit its official website.
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The palatial Victoria & Albert Museum, named in honor of the 19th-century royal couple, is known more commonly in its shortened form – the V&A. Located in South Kensington, this free museum is a compendium of applied art across a number of genres, disciplines and time periods. The collections are arranged by categories, such as architecture, textiles, furniture, drawings, jewelry, and so on, making it slightly easier to navigate this mammoth museum. Among the permanent collections, the V&A also offers diverse temporary exhibitions and free guided tours, along with free weekly public lectures.
Recent travelers praised the variety and sheer enormity of the art offered here, and were especially impressed with a recent special exhibit on Winnie the Pooh, but others were just as enthralled with its permanent collection, which many described as surprise around every corner. If you've only set aside a few hours to tour the museum, consider printing off a building map before you go, or buy one at the information desk upon arrival. Recent travelers attest a map will help you plan a route of the collections you'd like to see and maximize your visit.
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Located in Kensington, this museum brims with more than 70 million different specimens and exhibits, from dinosaur bones to a simulated earthquake. The Natural History Museum is also a favorite among families, so you'll find it crawling with kids. To help you better navigate the museum's various exhibits, consider downloading the free Natural History Museum App for your smartphone. Along with interactive maps of the museum's interior, it also features audio guides, as well as behind-the-scenes info on its vast collections.
Recent travelers praised the museum for its free admission and near endless exhibits. However, because of its popularity, visitors also mentioned the museum can get overwhelmingly crowded. Prepare for long lines, especially on the weekends. Some recommended stopping by just to see the museum's incredible architecture.
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The Houses of Parliament, composed of the House of Lords and the House of Commons, fill the massive Palace of Westminster. Guided and self-guided tours (which come highly recommended by recent travelers) take visitors through multiple areas of the building, including Westminster Hall (the oldest building on the Parliamentary estate), the House of Commons Chamber and the Royal Gallery, to name a few. If you're not interested in perusing the halls that make up the U.K.'s governing body, many travelers say that simply admiring the iconic structure's impressive exterior is enough, and an absolute must-do for anyone visiting London.
If you're one of many looking to snap your own photo of one of the most photographed buildings in the world, the best vantage point is from Westminster Bridge. But if you want a truly smashing shot, head on over to Lambeth Bridge or the Golden Jubilee Bridges on the South Bank for a view of Parliament and the London Eye together. Keep in mind that Westminster Bridge connects the city's two biggest attractions (London Eye to Parliament) together, and as a result is almost always very crowded. It's also important to know that merchants and (rather shady) gamblers set up along the bridge, so keep your personal belongings close and walk along the left side, as a higher number tend to concentrate on the right.
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Besides Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's Cathedral is arguably the second must-see church in London. With its imposing dome, one of the largest in the world, St. Paul's forms a predominant spot along London's skyline. It's also a survivor: Although an older incarnation burnt during the Great Fire of London, Sir Christopher Wren's dome (completed in 1711) survived numerous World War II bombings.
Though some reviewers are put off by the pricey admission, most recent travelers agreed that a peek inside is well worth the extra coin. To make the most of your visit, reviewers highly recommended climbing to the top of the dome to the Golden Gallery. You'll have to hike up 528 steps, but after catching your breath you'll enjoy far-reaching views of the River Thames, the Tate Modern, and Shakespeare's Globe theater. And once you've seen the top, head below ground to the crypt (the largest in Europe), which now houses a restaurant and cafe.
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The London Eye (the giant Ferris wheel found in many London panoramas) located on the River Thames is meant to deliver great views – not a thrilling ride. It circles around slowly, offering an unbeatable bird's-eye perspective of London's South Bank. However, those with a fear of heights should beware: When you're more than 400 feet high, the 360-degree views can be a bit disconcerting.
While some travelers say the London Eye is an absolute must-do, others found the experience to be overrated. Some recent travelers said the lines were too long (upward of a couple hours) and the ticket prices too high. However, many others were amazed by the views, especially Parliament and Buckingham Palace. Visitors were keen to note that this ride is not a fast one, with the average rotation of the wheel at least 30 minutes long. You can also combine a ride on the London Eye with a guided tour.
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The unsolved crimes of London's infamous Jack the Ripper have captivated generations of both Londoners and visitors alike. How the story of a local serial killer, who brutally murdered and mutilated at least five women in the late 1800s, has remained a story of intrigue hundreds of years later, can be just as much of a mystery. But those who fancy themselves novice detectives can join the Jack the Ripper Tour with Ripper Vision to figure out not only why he did it (the killer has never been identified and the motive never solved) but how he got away with it.
Though there are a variety of Jack the Ripper Tours in London, this is one of the most popular. This tour differs in that guides come equipped with hand-held projectors that transmit 5-foot-tall photos onto the walls of buildings that line the very same path in Whitechapel that Jack the Ripper is believed to have walked. The tour is guided by Jack the Ripper story experts who are also part of a local theatrical performance team, so expect your tour to be quite lively. And if you're taking a tour at night, expect it to be extra spooky.
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Going to a pub is essential for properly experiencing British culture. Not going to a pub while in England is equivalent to not having pasta in Italy; pubs are ingrained in the country's culture. If you want to experience pub culture beyond simply grabbing a drink, consider a tour with London's Liquid History Tours. Liquid History Tours takes visitors to some of the city's most notable pub and ale houses, adding a bit of history and fun facts about the pub and area along the way. Stops include the Ye Old Cheshire Cheese, which has hosted the likes of Charles Dickens, and the Old Bank of England, which acted as the former law courts of the Bank of England.
Past travelers loved visiting the chosen pubs and hearing the stories behind them, giving major kudos to the guides for keeping the tours so engaging throughout.
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If you're a foodie, you'd be remiss not to book a food tour while in London – one of the world's undisputed culinary capitals. Yes, you can go to a chippy (fish and chip shop) or have tea at Harrods, but to really dig deep into London's eclectic culinary scene, a tour is the only way to go. Luckily, the city offers plenty. One of the most popular tour outfitters is London Food Tours, which promises participants a taste of local life thanks to its neighborhood-themed tours, including the East End Food Tour and Twilight Soho Food Tour.
London Food Lovers also specializes in making travelers feel like locals on their tours. Get acquainted with classic British fare on the company's Modern Taste of Britain Food Tour, or learn a bit of local lore on the Jack the Ripper Happy Hour Tasting Tour. For an introduction into the vast variety of nationalities (more than 250) that call London home, sign up for the Soho International Tour. Secret Food Tours London also offers several specialized experiences, with a London Bridge Food Tour covering the city's famed Borough Market, as well as an Indian Food Tour through the lively Brick Lane thoroughfare. What's more, Secret Food Tours London also offer a craft brew tour of the city.
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