Feast on the quirky charm, ancient history and tapestry of cultures in our guide to the best things to do in London, featuring all the top landmarks, our favourite local hangouts and unique London experiences.
A place where you can explore world-class museums, not just to feign being cultured (because they’re free), but also to appreciate the vast history and art. An exploration that serves as one of the many wonderful things to do in London.
Imagine plotting your next adventure in a classic London pub, or escaping to one of over 3,000 lush green spaces sprinkled across the city. Or take the opportunity to wander the grand halls of palaces deeply steeped in history, another unique London experience.
Don’t miss out on the culinary journey London provides. Dine in some of the world’s top Michelin-starred restaurants, or devour diverse street food from any one of the 270 nationalities that proudly call this capital their home.
Ah, London! A city so abundant in iconic landmarks, world-class attractions, and historical significance that it’s often condemned for being a tourist cliché. And it is, but it’s the best tourist cliché on the planet.
Enter a world where hipsters and history meet rain and rebellion in our guide to the best things to do in London.
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MAP | THINGS TO DO IN LONDON
Our map includes all the best things to do in London which we covered in this guide. To help you decide where to stay, read our guide on the best places to stay in London which includes a breakdown of all the best areas.
1 – PALACE OF WESTMINSTER & BIG BEN
Home to the British Parliament, no visit to London would be complete without witnessing the iconic Palace of Westminster and Big Ben. The architectural grandeur of this majestic complex stands proudly on the banks of the River Thames.
The palace is a stunning example of Gothic Revival architecture, with intricate details and towering spires. Taking a guided tour inside to admire the ornate decor of the House of Commons and the House of Lords is a great way to peek into the heart of British democracy.
Technically, Big Ben is the name of the huge bell inside the tower, not the tower itself. It’s been keeping time in the city since 1859.
Best Photo Spot — Walk over Westminster Bridge to capture the perfect photo of Big Ben from across the Thames.
GUIDED TOUR | PALACE OF WESTMINSTER
Guided tours offer a fascinating insight into the workings of British democracy. Tours last 90 minutes and include both the House of Lords and the House of Commons.
Tours run Tuesday to Saturday in the holidays, but only on Saturdays when parliament is sitting.
Cost – Adults £32 | Young Adults (16-25) £26 | Children £16
2 – WESTMINSTER ABBEY
Westminster Abbey has held royal coronations, weddings, and burials since its construction in the 11th century.
The stunning Gothic architecture of soaring spires, intricate stone carvings, and ornate stained-glass windows is one of the most interesting landmarks in central London.
Inside, the grandeur of the nave, with its high-vaulted ceilings and majestic columns, is grand yet surprisingly small given the world events it hosted. Few buildings in the world have such a profound connection to the past.
See the Coronation Chair, where monarchs have been crowned for centuries including Edward VIII, George IV, Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth II, and in 2023, King Charles III.
2.1 // WESTMINSTER ABBEY HIGHLIGHTS
- See the burial place of Queen Elizabeth I, and her half-sister, Queen Mary I who battled in life but now share the same tomb
- Take a moment to explore the Poets’ Corner, where legendary literary figures such as Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, Laurence Olivier, and Geoffrey Chaucer find their eternal rest.
- Stroll through the College Garden, a hidden gem at Westminster Abbey only open Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.
- Admire the stunning Lady Chapel of Henry VII, adorned with intricate pendant fan vaulting and delicate rose windows.
3 – BRITISH MUSEUM
The British Museum showcases the diversity and richness of our global heritage through an extraordinary collection of art, artifacts, and historical relics spanning thousands of years. Its permanent collection of over eight million artefacts is the largest in the world.
The vast gallery houses important discoveries from across the globe including the Rosetta Stone – the key to understanding Egyptian hieroglyphs – along with over 140 mummies and treasures from Tutankhamun.
Another impressive acquisition is the Elgin Marbles, a 2,500-year-old sculpture that used to adorn the Parthenon in Athens. There are intricate Assyrian reliefs, some of the earliest forms of writing, and an excellent collection of Anglo-Saxon treasures.
The building is supported by 43 Greek-inspired columns topped by a triangular pediment. Inside, the Great Court is one of London’s unique public spaces and the largest covered square in Europe.
Guided Tours — There’s so much to see at the British Museum, we highly recommend getting a guided tour where your guide will explain a selection of interesting artefacts.
4 – BUCKINGHAM PALACE
The official residence of the British monarch, Buckingham Palace is an iconic landmark in London that offers a glimpse into the traditions of the British royal family.
Although the neoclassical façade is adorned with strong details, most first-time visitors to Buckingham Palace can’t help but notice that the huge building looks a little dull. It’s perhaps no surprise that royalty tend to spend most of their time at Windsor Castle.
Nonetheless, it’s hard to think of a more iconic thing to do in London than to stroll through nearby St James’s Park or Green Park, stand in front of the black and gold gates, and snap a photo of the balcony where the royal family make public appearances.
When is Buckingham Palace open to the public? — Buckingham Palace State Rooms are open for 10 weeks each summer. For 2023, the dates are: Friday 14 July to Sunday 14 September.
Changing of the Guard — The Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, where a procession of the king’s guards march up the mall to the Palace, takes place on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday at 11 am. Check the Household Division website to time your visit to hear the Grenadier Guards providing musical support – a far more evocative ceremony. You can also catch them at the annual Christmas at Royal Albert Hall.
5 – TOWER OF LONDON
The Tower of London – the imposing fortress on the banks of the River Thames – has guarded the city for over 900 years.
The formidable stone walls and looming turrets evoke the medieval power this popular tourist destination once had.
The White Tower is the oldest part of the Tower of London and the centrepiece of the complex with displays of armor, weaponry, and royal artifacts.
The highlight is the famous Crown Jewels, which has adorned British monarchs for centuries. With crowns, sceptres, and orbs, it’s the most complete collection of Royal regalia in the world.
Take a Yeoman Warders tour, also known as Beefeaters, who will regale you with tales of intrigue, royal scandals, and ghostly legends associated with the Tower.
6 – LONDON’S COOLEST MARKETS
London has a hoard of excellent markets that make shopping one of the most agreeable cultural experiences in the capital. With everything from rare delicacies to vintage crafts, here are just a few of the best markets in London.
6.1 // BOROUGH MARKET – A FOOD HAVEN
The bustling Borough Market boasts a staggering array of tantalizing treats, from artisanal cheeses and freshly baked bread to exotic spices and gourmet street food. Savour flavours from around the world and have a pint at one of the old pubs surrounding the market.
Where – 8 Southwark Street, SE1 1 TL | When – 10am to 5 pm (Mon-Fri) / 9 am to 5 pm (Sat) / 10 am to 4 pm (Sun)
6.2 // PORTOBELLO MARKET – A VINTAGE WONDERLAND
Portobello Market is a collectables paradise with antique furniture, vintage clothing, retro jewels, and quirky curiosities. Although it can get oppressively busy, especially on Saturday, it still holds on to a bohemian atmosphere, so we think it’s worth enduring the crowds. There are also plenty of other great things to do in Notting Hill while you’re in the area.
Where – Portobello Road, W11 | When – 9 am to 6 pm (Mon-Wed) / 9 am to 1 pm (Thu) / 9 am to 7 pm (Friday – Antiques) / 9 am to 7 pm (Saturday – main market) / Closed Sunday.
6.3 // CAMDEN MARKET – MUSIC & FASHION
Camden Market is a celebration of counterculture in London with a mix of music, fashion, arts, crafts, and food spread across 4 unique spaces. Explore alleys filled with punk fashion and gothic accessories, while munching down on the trendiest street food.
Where – Camden Lock Place, NW1 8AF | When – 10 am to 6 pm daily.
7 – ST PAUL’S CATHEDRAL
The dome of St Paul’s Cathedral – one of the largest in the world – has graced the London skyline since the 17th century when Sir Christopher Wren’s re-build began following the Great Fire of London.
Inside, the grand nave is scattered with monuments to the good and the great of British history, dominated by the great West Doors. The quire has intricate mosaics depicting scenes from the Old Testament above exquisitely carved stalls.
The Dome Galleries – There are 3 galleries within the dome: the Whispering Gallery, the Stone Gallery, and the Golden Gallery. It’s 528 steps to the top for a panoramic perspective of London’s landmarks.
DETAILS | ST PAUL’S CATHEDRAL
Hours – 8:30 am to 4 pm (Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri, Sat) / 10 am to 4 pm (Wed) | Cost (purchased online) – Adults £20.50 / Concessions £18.40 / Children (6-17) £9 / Family £50 | Services – It’s free to attend a service and booking ahead is not required. Check stpauls.co.uk for the calendar of services.
8 – LONDON’S ART GALLERIES
One of the best things about London’s art scene is that many of the galleries are completely free. And not just the more obscure art offerings. See an impressive inventory of grandmasters for absolutely nothing.
Here are some of our favourite galleries in London:
8.1 // TATE MODERN
Housed in a former power station, Tate Modern showcases an huge collection of modern and contemporary art including Picasso, Warhol, and Hockney. Don’t miss the rotation exhibition in the Turbine Hall and the city views from the Terrace Café.
Where – Bankside, SE1 9TG | When – 10 am to 6 pm (daily) | Website – tate.org.uk
8.2 // NATIONAL GALLERY
The National Gallery houses an extensive collection of European paintings from the 13th to the 19th century from Renaissance masterpieces through to Impressionist offerings. The iconic pieces include Vincent van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” and Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Virgin of the Rocks.” Out front, don’t miss Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, and the rotating sculpture on the Fourth Plinth.
Where – Trafalgar Square, WC2N 5DN | When – 10 am to 6pm (Sat-Thu) / 10 am to 9 pm (Fri) | Website – nationalgallery.org.uk
8.2 // NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY
The National Portrait Gallery celebrates British history through portraiture; vividly telling Britain’s story through its influencing faces. The gallery has recently reopened after an extensive transformation as part of the Inspiring People project.
Where – St Martin’s Place, WC2H 0HE | When – 10:30 am to 6 pm (Sun-Thu) / 10:30 am to 9 pm (Fri & Sat) | Website – npg.org.uk
9 – VIEWS OVER LONDON
London is a city of iconic skylines and there are several locations that provide panoramic vistas of the capital. Here are a few of our favourite places with incredible views of London.
9.1 // SKY GARDEN
Located at the top of the Fenchurch Building, better known as the Walkie Talkie, the Sky Garden is a lush indoor garden with floor-to-ceiling windows. This unique free public space provides 360-degree view of the city.
Where – 20 Fenchurch St, EC2M 8AF | When – 8am to 11pm (Mon-Thu & Sun) / 8 am to Midnight (Fri-Sat) | Tickets – entry is free but a timeslot must be booked in advance | Website – skygarden.london
9.2 // THE SHARD
Redefining the London skyline, The Shard is the tallest building in Western Europe, and offers a cool perspective on the city. The official viewing platform is an exorbitant £32 and has very random opening times, making it a bit of a tourist trap. We think it’s much better to book one of the bars with superb views – Aqua Shard or Sky Lounge – and put that money into a cocktail instead.
9.3 // LONDON EYE
The London Eye – a now iconic massive Ferris wheel on the South Bank – is one of the best ways to get an awesome view of London. It’s not cheap, but for first-time visitors to London, we think it’s worth it for the superb vantage point of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. Book your skip-the-line tickets.
10 – LEAKE STREET ARCHES
Leake Street Arches is a gem of urban artistry, located in 8 former railway arches beneath Waterloo Station.
Originally made famous by the street artist Banksy who organised the Cans Festival here in 2008. Since then, the Leake Street Arches have become a canvas for local and international artists who have transformed the cavernous tunnel into an explosion of murals and thought-provoking graffiti.
In addition to the art, Leake Street has some cool dive bars, a gaming café, and an excellent Polish Restaurant.
DETAILS | LEAKE STREET ARCHES
Hours – The arches are always open; bars have various opening times | Where – Leake St, SE1 7NN | Website – leakestreetarches.london
11 – KEW GARDENS
The Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew is a 300-acre horticultural paradise and UNESCO World Heritage Site of gardens, glasshouses and arboretums.
The highlight at Kew Gardens is the Palm House, an extraordinary Victorian glasshouse with a diverse collection of plants. Inside, towering palms and exotic blooms fill the space with tropical vibes.
Waterlily House nurtures aquatic plants creating a serene ambiance, and the Japanese Landscape is a meticulously designed garden featuring traditional elements such as pagodas, bridges, and bonsai trees.
One of the highlights at Kew is to take in the gardens from above on the Xstrata Treetop Walk.
Over the festive period the gardens and buildings are bedecked in lights creating one of the best things to do in London at Christmas.
DETAILS | KEW GARDENS
Hours – 10 am to 7 pm (Mon-Fri) / 10 am to 8 pm (Sat-Sun) | Cost – various prices starting from £13 for an advanced, off-peak ticket purchased online.
12 – THE PAINTED HALL, OLD ROYAL NAVAL COLLEGE GREENWICH
The Old Royal Naval College is a magnificent landmark on the banks of the River Thames in Greenwich. The building was originally the birthplace of Tudor monarch Henry VIII and his daughters Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth I. It was later redesigned by Sir Christopher Wren.
Celebrating 300 years of British history, it’s one of the most impressive UNESCO World Heritage sites in London.
The centrepiece is the stunning Painted Hall, a magnificent baroque masterpiece adorned with intricately painted murals.
Adjacent to the Painted Hall, the Chapel of St Peter and St Paul is almost as impressive with stained glass windows and intricate woodwork.
Quick Walking Tour — After the Painted Hall, stroll through the riverside grounds of the Old Royal Naval College to the Queen’s House for a stunning view of the Canary Wharf skyline, then potter through Greenwich Market and have a pint in a traditional old pub.
DETAILS | OLD ROYAL NAVAL COLLEGE
Painted Hall Hours – 10 am to 5 pm daily (last entry – 4:30 pm) | Grounds Hours – 8 am to 11 pm | Cost – Adults £15 / Concessions £8.50 / Children free
13 – COVENT GARDEN
Covent Garden is a dining and entertainment hub in the West End of London that weaves together history, culture, and retail in a lively piazza.
Surrounded by boutiques, market stalls, and street performers, Covent Garden has a vibrant tourist-friendly atmosphere. There are big brand stores, street performers and several interesting cultural activities.
Christmas at Covent Garden transforms the square into a winter wonderland.
13.1 // WHAT TO DO IN COVENT GARDEN
- Shop in the historic Jubilee Market for quirky gifts.
- Book a night out at the Royal Opera House.
- Visit Neal’s Yard for esoteric remedies.
- Eat at Din Tai Fun, an excellent Taiwanese restaurant.
- Have lunch at Petersham Nurseries
- Try the cocktails and the seductive speakeasy, Cache Cache.
14 – DEPARTMENT STORES
London’s iconic department stores are a grand way to drain your wallet. It’s a great city for shopping – here are some retail heavyweights to check out:
14.1 // HARRODS
The British icon is stacked with rare items, luxury fashion brands, homewares, and technology in a sprawling space with over 300 departments. The food hall in the Grade-II listed building is the perfect place to pick up some tasty morsels.
14.2 // SELFRIDGES
One of the most exclusive department stores in London with a bright modern feel and high-end designer brands, Selfridges is an unmissable thing to do in London. After picking up some gifts, catch the latest release in their in-house cinema.
14.3 // LIBERTY
Liberty is an exclusive London department store in the West End. It’s stocked with designer items, top-end homewares, high fashion, and much more. Even if you don’t want to shop, the mock-Tudor building is reason enough to visit.
15 – SEE A WEST END SHOW
There are 39 theatres in the West End of London hosting performances from famous screen actors through to unknown rising stars. The oldest theatre is the Theatre Royal, Dury Lane which was designed by Sir Christopher Wren.
No visit to London would be complete without strolling past the iconic marquees of the theatre district and finding a world-class performance.
You’ll generally want to pick a show that you’re interested in seeing, however, there are a few theatres we recommend visiting.
Shakespeare Globe // The reconstructed Globe Theatre on the South Bank is an Elizabethan playhouse that staged Shakespeare’s plays. It’s uncomfortable, authentic, and well worth visiting.
Donmar Warehouse // The Donmar is an intimate theatre in Covent Garden where you can see world-class performances by A-listers just a few feet away.
Sadler’s Wells // Sadler’s Wells is a contemporary theatre in Clerkenwell with year-round performances from one of the world’s leading dance organisations.
Royal National Theatre // The National Theatre is the primary publicly funded arts venue in the country who stage performances across all types of theatre.
BOOK YOUR WEST END SHOW
Ticketmaster is our preferred ticket supplier for London’s West End Shows. They have the widest selection of seats, no fees, and great prices.
16 – VICTORIA & ALBERT MUSEUM
The Victoria & Albert Museum is a celebration of human creativity and one of the unmissable things to do in London. A vast collection spanning 5,000 years offers a captivating journey through fashion, sculpture, ceramics, photography, and performance.
From ancient Egyptian artifacts to contemporary installations, the V&A presents an eclectic mix of exhibits housed in a truly remarkable building.
16.1 // V&A HIGHLIGHTS
- The Raphael Cartoons – The 7 huge paintings by Raphael were designs for tapestries to hang in the Sistine Chapel.
- Fashion Gallery – See the evolution of fashion in an impressive collection of over 75,000 items.
- Tipoo’s Tiger – A sculpture of a tiger mauling a soldier which also contains an organ that can be operated by turning a handle.
- Glass Chandelier – The huge chandelier by Dale Chihuly makes a grand statement in the Cromwell Road entrance.
- Cast Courts – Housed in a 25-metre-high hall these incredible plaster and electrotype reproductions include a copy of David’s Michelangelo and Trajan’s Column, which needed to be cut in half to fit.
DETAILS | V&A MUSEUM
Hours – 10 am to 5:45 pm (Sat-Thu) / 10 am to 10 pm (Fri) | Cost – Free. Some temporary exhibitions are charged, check vam.ac.uk to see what’s on for your visit.
17 – BRICK LANE
Brick Lane was originally a path through open countryside on the outskirts of the City of London. Existing throughout most of its history as one of the most deprived parts of London, it welcomed immigrant groups who started to embed the street with the cultural diversity it is known for today.
At the end of the Second World war, Bengalis from the Sylhet district of what is now Bangladesh came to London and opened the curry houses for which the street is now famous.
Today Brick Lane and the surrounding Spitalfields and Shoreditch areas combine to form one of the most vibrant neighbourhoods in the capital.
17.1 // WHAT TO DO AROUND BRICK LANE
- Shop vintage in the Brick Lane Vintage Market in the Truman Brewery.
- Have a pizza and cocktail at Apples & Pears
- Go on a street art tour to see some hidden gems plus a few notable Banksys.
- Pick up some vinyl at Rough Trade East.
- Try a bagel from Beigel Bake, a 24-hour institution.
18 – NOTTING HILL
Notting Hill is a picturesque neighbourhood in London known for its busy market, street carnival, and cultural heritage.
Rows of colourful houses and sweeping crescents of Victorian villas sit side by side with independent boutiques, stylish cafes, and cozy pubs.
Notting Hill is most famous for the Portobello Road Market (see above) and the Notting Hill Carnival, an annual celebration of Caribbean culture that fills the streets with music, dance, and vibrant costumes.
18.1 // WHAT TO DO AROUND NOTTING HILL
19 – SOUTH BANK WALK
One of the best ways to collect some of the iconic sights of London is to walk along the South Bank from Westminster Bridge to Tower Bridge.
Starting at Westminster Bridge opposite the houses of Parliament, photograph Big Ben from across the water.
Continue along the river past the South Bank Centre, a hub of performance and art. The forecourt has one of the best Christmas markets in London.
Proceed on to Tate Modern, visiting the market stalls along the way, keeping an eye out for the perfect shot of St Pauls from across the Millennium Bridge.
Next stroll through Borough Market, then continue towards Tower Bridge.
Walking slowly and taking in the sights takes about 2 hours. The walk can be lengthened by starting at Battersea. More details can be found on our best walks near London guide.
20 – WATCH A FOOTBALL MATCH
The English Premier League is the wealthiest football league in the world and one of Britain’s greatest exports. Home to several top-tier clubs, seeing a football game is a great thing to do in London.
The Premier League season runs from August to May, but if you can’t get to a match, several of the biggest stadiums in London provide interesting tours of these cultural landmarks that are very important to Londoners.
Here are the details for our pick of the best stadium tours in London –
Emirates Stadium (Arsenal) – Located in North London, the Emirates Stadium has a capacity of 60,000 fans with modern architecture and state-of-the-art facilities.
Stamford Bridge (Chelsea) – Situated in West London, Stamford Bridge is the legendary home ground of Chelsea Football Club that allows you to feel the intensity of the game up close.
Tottenham Hotspur Stadium (Tottenham Hotspur) – Located in North London, the newly built Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is a world-class venue that offers a fantastic matchday experience. It’s the largest stadium in London with a capacity of 62,850.
Wembley Stadium (England) – Known as the Home of Football, Wembley is the largest stadium in the UK with 90,000 seats. It’s home ground for England international games.
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