London is the most visited city in Europe and its delights are almost endless from royal palaces to cutting-edge culture. Here, we pick the 25 things every visitor must see.
1 Visit Buckingham Palace
One of the most famous addresses in the world, a visit to HM the Queen’s official residence is a must. Buckingham Palace is one of the world’s few remaining working royal palaces and, during the summer months, the the lavishly furnished State Rooms, containing some of the greatest treasures from the Royal Collection, are open to the public. There’s also the spectacle of the Changing of the Guards, which takes place every day from April to July, and on alternate days from August to March, weather permitting. And don’t miss the chance to admire the beauty of the surrounding Royal Parks.
2 Take in a West End show
No visit to London is complete without a visit to a spectacular West End show. From razzle-dazzle musicals to serious drama, the finest acting talent can be found treading the boards of the city’s wealth of theatres. Visit Official London Theatre to find out what’s on and grab the best deals or decide on the hoof by getting in line at the Leicester Square ticket booth to get great same-day deals.
3 Marvel at St Paul’s Cathedral
With its famous great dome, Sir Christopher Wren’s Baroque masterpiece, St Paul’s Cathedral, has reinvented itself time after time and now stands as a true icon of the London skyline. Views are spectacular from across the river, but inside the cathedral’s interior is awe-inspiring interior. There’s touchscreen multimedia guide or join a guided tour and head down to the crypt and discover the tombs and memorials of some of the nation’s greatest heroes such as Admiral Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington.
Visitors can try out the acoustic quirks of the Whispering Gallery and continue their climb to the Golden Gallery to enjoy breathtaking panoramic views across London.
4 Get locked up in the Tower of London
The Tower of London is one of Britain’s most iconic and versatile buildings. Founded in 1066 by William the Conqueror and expanded upon by successive monarchs, it has remained at the heart of British life for nearly a millennia and a home to the Crown Jewels for centuries and the iconic Beefeaters. Open from Tuesday to Saturday from 9am to 5.30pm, it’s an unmissable stop-off for any visitor.
5 Wonder at Westminster Abbey
The remarkable Gothic structure of Westminster Abbey, just a stone’s throw from the Palace of Westminster – or the Houses of Parliament, by which name it is better known – is like a huge temple to one of our most pious Anglo-Saxon kings, Edward the Confessor, whose actual shrine lies in the middle of the church. The scene of royal weddings and coronations for centuries, and the final resting place for many of the great and good from British history, best ways to see the cathedral is on a verger-led tour, which will take you to parts of the abbey that other tours don’t, such as Edward’s Chapel, where the man who built the original abbey now lies.
6 Rule over the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben
The Palace of Westminster is one of the most recognised buildings in the world. Gothic jewel on the Thames is the home of British democracy. With its elaborately carved sandy-coloured façade and famous clock tower, it’s perhaps better known as the Houses of Parliament. Millions have admired its architecture from viewpoints both north and south of the river but you can also explore its interior, rooms that echo with the history of centuries of British rule and chambers in which politicians debate decisions that can alter the direction of the nation, on one of variety of tours.
7 Walk across Tower Bridge
One of the world’s most iconic bridges, Tower Bridge took eight years to construct, before being finally unveiled in June 1894, as the largest and most sophisticated bascule bridge ever completed. Over 11,000 tons of steel provided the framework for the towers and walkways, which were then clad in Cornish granite and Portland stone. And there’s a new glass walkway offering a new visitor experience and stunning view of the Thames and the Tower of London.
8 Explore history at the British Museum
Located in the heart of Bloomsbury, the British Museum was the first national public museum in the world and is the UK’s most visited attraction, and it’s not hard to see why. The museum is now home to over eight million different objects and treasures from different cultures throughout the world. Two highlights include the world-renowned Rosetta Stone, which was acquired in 1802, and the Elgin Marbles, which became part of the collection in 1816.
9 Get an art attack at Tate Modern & Tate Britain
Britain’s national museum of modern and contemporary art from around the world is housed in the former Bankside Power Station on the banks of the Thames. The awe-inspiring Turbine Hall runs the length of the entire building and you can see amazing work for free by artists such as Cézanne, Bonnard, Matisse, Picasso, Rothko, Dalí, Pollock, Warhol and Bourgeois. Head across the river to Tate Britain, which holds the largest collection of British art in the world from 1500 to the present day.
10 Take a stroll in the Royal Parks
Millions of Londoners and tourists visit the eight Royal Parks – Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, Richmond Park, Bushy Park, St James’s Park, the Green Park, the Regent’s Park and Primrose Hill and Greenwich Park – for free each year to enjoy their immaculately tended lawns, lakes and leisure facilities away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The 5,000 acres of historic parkland provide unparalleled opportunities for enjoyment, exploration and healthy living in the heart of the capital.
11 Get designs on the V &A
The Victoria and Albert Museum is the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design, housing a permanent collection of over 4.5 million objects. It was founded in 1852 and named after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. It’s packed with ceramics, furniture, fashion, glass, jewellery, metalwork, photographs, sculpture, textiles and paintings in a fabulous building.
12 Reign over Kensington Palace
Surrounded by beautifully landscaped gardens and sprawling parkland in the centre of London, Kensington Palace is an extraordinary treasure house brimming with royal history. A royal residence set in Kensington Gardens, it has been home to British royalty since the 17th century.
13 Explore Churchill War Rooms
Visit the secret Second World War bunker and museum that tells the story of Winston Churchill’s life and legacy hidden beneath the streets of Westminster in the historic Cabinet War Rooms.
14 Visit the historic markets
London markets are ideal shopping destinations, selling everything from food to flowers, modern art to antiques, clothes to curios. Large, sprawling markets such as Spitalfields, Camden Market or Portobello Road are ideal if you want to spend a day wandering about, while Borough Market is a great place to hang out and enjoy the food and vibes.
15 Discover Royal Greenwich
The Royal Borough of Greenwich is the most elegant area of south-east London, straddling the world’s hemispheres with glorious architecture, green open space and must-see gems, such as the Cutty Sark, Old Royal Naval College – designed by Sir Christopher Wren, in 1706, the newly reopened and renovated Queen’s House, Old Royal Observatory and Greenwich Market.
16 Play at the Shakespeare’s Globe
Shakespeare’s Globe is a faithful reconstruction of the open-air playhouse designed in 1599 where many of Shakespeare’s plays were performed. Get a taste of how the bard’s plays would have been experienced in Tudor London and radically reimagined versions of his masterpieces for a modern-day audiences. With tickets from £5, it is top choice for travellers with a taste for the theatrical.
17 Hit the historic shops
Established in 1849 as a humble grocery store, today Harrods is a London institution with seven floors and 330 departments dedicated to the finest products in food, fashion, homeware, technology and more, plus 20 restaurants and specialist services. Once you’ve visited there, head off to Harvey Nichols, Selfridges to Liberty, too.
18 Discover the Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum offers exciting, interactive exhibits in one of London’s most beautiful landmark buildings. Highlights include the popular dinosaurs gallery, mammals display with the unforgettable model blue whale and the spectacular Central Hall, home to the museum’s iconic diplodocus skeleton.
19 Take tea at the Ritz
Taking tea at the Ritz is a world-famous institution. The hotel is still considered to be one of the finest in the world, and this rare and wonderful tradition that has stood the test of time. It’s served in the spectacular Palm Court, flanked by high walls of gleaming mirrors and intricate gilded trellis, romantic birdcage chandeliers, where a striking stone fountain inhabited by large gilded statues and at the centre of the room a soaring, vibrant floral display.
20 Get a taste of Notting Hill
Famous from many films, a visit to Notting Hill’s pretty multi-coloured streets is on many visitors’ wishlist. Best known as host to the world’s second biggest carnival and home to the famous Portobello Road markets, Notting Hill is also a serious destination for those who want to experience the vibrant cultural mix of the city away from its centre.
21 Shopping in style at Covent Garden
There’s so much to do in Covent Garden – shopping, iconic architecture and culture – it’s no surprise the atmosphere is buzzing, especially around Christmas. Don’t miss the Royal Opera House, the shopping Mecca of the old market itself and just enjoy the elegant ambience of the surrounding streets.
22 Relax on Hampstead Heath
Hampstead is London’s sophisticated gorgeous hilltop hideaway and its heath is a stunning, 791-acre expanse featuring of woodland, playing fields, swimming ponds and meadows. With its mix of picturesque countryside, historical buildings and cosmopolitan shops and restaurants, Hampstead Heath is a breath of fresh air.
23 Explore streetlife in Soho
At the heart of the West End, Soho’s historically risque reputation means it still retains an air of raffish, off-kilter joie de vivre. The nightlife and streetlife is second to none. Head to Soho to go the cinema or theatre, and to have a drink or a bite to eat in the bars, cafés and restaurants and soak up the unconventional spirit.
24 Delve into history at the Museum of London
Located close to the city’s original London wall, and forms part of the striking Barbican complex of buildings created in the 1960s and 1970s as an innovative approach to redevelopment within a bomb-damaged area of the City of London. The museum documents the history of London from prehistoric to modern times in a variety of display and exhibition spaces from the small Show Space that responds rapidly to current London issues to the Linbury Gallery that houses major exhibitions.
25 Rise above the city at The Shard
London’s highest and best view is situated at the top of The Shard, on floors 68, 69 and 72. At almost twice the height of any other viewing platform in the capital, it offers visitors unparalleled 360-degree views for up to 40 miles.
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