London is one of the world's most mesmerizing cities. Modern architectural marvels like the Shard line ancient laneways peppered with historic monuments, high-end shops, and award-winning theaters. The picturesque streets wind their way around renowned attractions like Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, and St. Paul's Cathedral, causing visitors to gape at their beauty and exhaust their phone's photo storage.
With so many impressive tourist attractions and captivating things to do, it's no wonder London is one of the most visited cities worldwide, receiving over 20 million tourists each year. Britain's bustling capital offers something for everyone, including shopaholics, foodies, adventurists, historians, and kids; but this can make it tough to choose what to do first.
Should you hit one of the top museums (many of which are free to enter), enjoy a picnic in one of the expansive parks, tour a royal palace, or wander around a breathtaking garden? Perhaps you'd prefer to take in a show, ride a horse through a grove, take a flight on the London Eye, or enjoy a traditional afternoon tea at Harrods.
Use our list of the best attractions and things to do in London to help decide what to see and do in this phenomenal city you'll want to visit again and again.
See also: Where to Stay in London
1. Visit Buckingham Palace and Watch the Changing of the Guard
One of Britain's most iconic buildings, Buckingham Palace is also the scene of London's most popular display of pomp and circumstance, the Changing of the Guard. Drawing crowds at 11:30am regardless of the season, this colorful and free display of precision marching and music also takes place at St. James's Palace, after which you can follow the band along The Mall as they march between sites.
Buckingham Palace was built in 1837 and has been the London residence of the Royal Family since Queen Victoria's accession. If you're wondering whether the Queen is in, look at the flagpole atop the building: if the royal standard is flying day and night, she's at home. On special state occasions, she and members of the Royal Family may even emerge on the central balcony.
When the Queen's away at her summer palace in Scotland, visitors can purchase tickets for tours of the State Rooms, the Queen's Gallery, and the Royal Mews.
2. See the Royal Jewels at The Tower of London and Walk Across Tower Bridge
From prison to palace, treasure vault to private zoo, the magnificent Tower of London has fulfilled many different roles over the centuries. One of Britain's most iconic structures, this spectacular World Heritage Site offers hours of fascination for visitors curious about the country's rich history - after all, so much of it happened here. Inside the massive White Tower, built in 1078 by William the Conqueror, is the 17th-century Line of Kings with its remarkable displays of royal armaments and armor.
Other highlights include the famous Crown Jewels exhibition, the Beefeaters, the Royal Mint, and gruesome exhibits about the executions that took place on the grounds. The Bloody Tower presents stories of ancient torture, and you can learn about the mystery of two princes who disappeared many years ago.
The adjacent Tower Bridge, its two huge towers rising 200 feet above the River Thames, is one of London's best-known landmarks (fascinating behind-the-scenes tours are available). Walk across for the best Tower views, as well as a glimpse of London Bridge (which many mistakenly believe Tower Bridge to be) in the distance farther along the Thames. At the south side of the bridge, you'll find Butler's Wharf, a funky section of town boasting multiple restaurants.
For the best use of your time, especially during the busy summer season, purchase the Tower of London Entrance Ticket Including Crown Jewels and Beefeater Tour in advance, to bypass the ticket office lines. This pass guarantees the lowest price, helps avoid the crowds, and saves time and hassle.
3. Get Cultured at the British Museum
Displaying one of the world's finest collections of antiquities, the British Museum contains more than 13 million artifacts from the ancient world. With priceless objects from Assyria, Babylonia, China, Europe, and elsewhere, it's hard to know where to begin in this expansive attraction.
Most tourists head first for the museum's most famous exhibits: the controversial Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon, the Rosetta Stone, the colossal bust of Ramesses II, the Egyptian mummies, and the spectacular hoard of 4th-century Roman silver known as the Mildenhall Treasure.
In addition to a well-stocked, on-site bookshop boasting an exhaustive array of titles on ancient history, archaeology and art history, there's a shop selling kids' games and souvenirs, along with one that sells replica sculptures and jewelry.
For those able to linger longer, the museum offers a variety of lectures and workshops, plus a restaurant and café.
Address: Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury, London
Official site: www.britishmuseum.org
4. Get Captivated by Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament
Nothing screams "London" more emphatically than the 318-foot tower housing the giant clock and its resounding bell known as Big Ben. It's as iconic a landmark as Tower Bridge, and the tolling of Big Ben is known throughout the world as the time signal of the BBC. Below it, stretching along the Thames, are the Houses of Parliament, seat of Britain's government for many centuries and once the site of the royal Westminster Palace occupied by William the Conqueror.
The best view can be had by crossing Westminster Bridge and looking back. Or, turn left after crossing the bridge and walk along the path towards the SEA LIFE London Aquarium (a fun spot to take kids). Gather your crew along the wall for a perfect photo with Big Ben in the background.
Tours of the parliament buildings offer a unique chance to see real-time debates and lively political discussions. From Parliament Square, Whitehall is lined by so many government buildings that its name has become synonymous with the British government.
Official site: www.parliament.uk/bigben
5. Get Creative at the National Gallery
It's almost impossible to visit London without catching a glimpse of the impressive National Gallery. This iconic, columned museum is set at the edge of Trafalgar Square, home to incredible masterpieces that make it one of the best attractions in London.
Ranking among the top art museums in the world, London's National Gallery represents an almost complete survey of European painting from 1260 until 1920. The museum's greatest strengths are in its collections of Dutch Masters and Italian Schools of the 15th and 16th centuries.
Among its highlights are a cartoon (preliminary sketch) of the Madonna and Child by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo's The Entombment, Botticelli's Venus and Mars, van Gogh's Sunflowers, and The Water-Lily Pond by Monet.
Address: Trafalgar Square, Charing Cross, London
Official site: www.nationalgallery.org.uk
6. Tour the Sculptures in the Victoria and Albert Museum
The Victoria and Albert Museum (aka the V&A) is part of a South Kensington-based group of museums that includes the Natural History Museum and Science Museum. Founded in 1852, the V&A covers close to 13 acres and contains 145 galleries spanning some 5,000 years of art and related artifacts.
Exhibits include ceramics and glass, textiles and costumes, silver and jewelry, ironwork, sculpture, prints, and photos, and are conveniently arranged into four main categories: Asia; Furniture, Textiles, and Fashion; Sculpture, Metalwork, Ceramics, and Glass; and Word and Image.
It's impossible to get around this vast museum in a single visit, so the best plan to tackle it is to decide in advance which sections you most want to see. Taking a V&A tour is highly recommended, and often free, with options including everything from daily introductory tours to specific gallery or themed tours.
The Main and Garden Cafés are more impressive than any museum eatery you've seen. The intricate detailing on everything from the floor to the columns to the ceiling make them worthy pieces of art themselves. Plus, the food is quite tasty.
Also, don't miss an opportunity to luxuriate in the John Madejski Garden, which is so beautiful and serene, you'll forget you're in the center of one of the world's largest cities.
If you're around, check into one of the fun "Friday Late" programs held on the last Friday of the month (except for March and December), popular for their food and drink experiences, along with late-night exhibition openings.
Address: Cromwell Road, Knightsbridge, London
Official site: www.vam.ac.uk
7. Wander around Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square
Two of London's best-known tourist spots, Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square lie not far apart and mark the gateways to Soho, London's lively theater and entertainment district. The walk from one to the other is truly enjoyable, lined with eclectic boutiques, tasty cafés, ice-cream shops, and winding laneways evoking a bygone era when only horses and buggies traipsed through these historic streets.
Trafalgar Square was built to commemorate Lord Horatio Nelson's victory over the French and Spanish at Trafalgar in 1805. Nelson's Column, a 183-foot granite monument, overlooks the square's fountains and bronze reliefs, which were cast from French cannons. Admiralty Arch, St. Martin-in-the-Fields, and the National Gallery surround the square.
Piccadilly Circus marks the irregular intersection of several busy streets – Piccadilly, Regent, Haymarket, and Shaftesbury Avenue – and overlooking this somewhat untidy snarl of traffic stands London's best-known sculpture, the winged Eros delicately balanced on one foot, bow poised. "It's like Piccadilly Circus" is a common expression describing a busy and confusing scene.
8. Take a Trip to the Top of the Shard
Since it opened in 2012, The Shard has taken its place as one of the most-recognizable and most-visited landmarks in London. Standing 1,016 feet tall and encompassing some 95 stories, this remarkable structure – so-named for its resemblance to a shard of glass – dominates the skyline yet, thanks to its pleasing design, doesn't seem at all out of place when seen next to neighbors such as Tower Bridge.
In addition to its office space on the lower levels, The Shard is home to a stunning Shangri-La Hotel and three superb restaurants, all boasting some of the most incredible views over London. For those not staying here, the upper-most levels consist of a choice of viewing platforms: indoor and outdoor.
Address: 32 London Bridge Street, London
Official site: https://www.the-shard.com
9. Get Inspired by The Two Tates: Tate Britain and Tate Modern
Art lovers cannot visit London without touring its most impressive art museums: the two Tates. Located on opposite sides of the Thames are Tate Britain and Tate Modern. Comprising one of the world's most important art collections, the original gallery opened in 1897 as the basis of a national collection of significant British art, and continued to make acquisitions, needing more space to properly display its collections.
The end result was the establishment of Tate Britain, in Millbank on the north side of the Thames, as home to its permanent collection of historic British paintings.
A superbly transformed power station across the Thames became home to the modern art collections. Art lovers can spend a whole day viewing both sites, conveniently connected by high-speed ferry. Better still, walk across the Millennium Bridge, a footbridge that connects the two banks of the river close to the Tate Modern. The views are spectacular.
Official site: www.tate.org.uk
10. Walk the Hallowed Halls of Westminster Abbey
Another location with a long association with British royalty, Westminster Abbey stands on a site that's been associated with Christianity since the early 7th century. Officially known as the Collegiate Church of St. Peter in Westminster, Westminster Abbey was founded by Edward the Confessor in 1065 as his place of interment.
From his burial in 1066 until that of George II almost 700 years later, most sovereigns were not only crowned here but were buried here, too. More recently, it's become famous as the preferred location for Royal Weddings.
This masterpiece of Gothic architecture not only has the highest Gothic nave in England (102 feet), it's also one of London's most popular tourist attractions, drawing well over a million visitors each year. Highlights of a visit include seeing the more than 600 memorials in the Nave, including the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior; Poet's Corner in the Transepts, with its memorials to the likes of Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Dickens; the Westminster Abbey Museum; and the attractive gardens.
Address: 20 Dean's Yard, Westminster, London
Official site: www.westminster-abbey.org
11. Head Underground, to Churchill's War Rooms
Among the most fascinating and evocative of London's historic sites is the perfectly preserved nerve-center from which Prime Minister Winston Churchill directed the British military campaigns and the defense of his homeland throughout World War II. Their Spartan simplicity and cramped conditions underline the desperate position of England as the Nazi grip tightened across Europe.
You'll see the tiny cubicle where Churchill slept and the improvised radio studio where he broadcast his famous wartime speeches. Simple details, such as Clementine Churchill's knitting wool marking the front lines on a map of Europe, bring the era to life as no other museum could possibly do. Audioguides are available (a thorough self-guided tour takes about 90 minutes), and a café and bookshop are located on the premises.
Two other related London attractions worth visiting are also operated by the Imperial War Museum. Located a short distance from the popular Southbank cultural district, the Imperial War Museum London can easily occupy the best part of a day with its fascinating exhibits and collections of military vehicles, weapons, and aircraft. The other must-see, HMS Belfast, is a well-preserved WWII-era cruiser that served during D-Day and can be explored as part of a guided or self-guided tour.
Address: Clive Steps, King Charles Street, London
Official site: www.iwm.org.uk/visits/churchill-war-rooms
12. Walk with Dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum
Established in 1754, London's spectacular Natural History Museum remains one of the most-visited such attractions on the planet. It's easy to spot for its huge Romanesque façade, and a visit is something you'll not want to rush. Arrive early as it can get quite crowded.
Many of the museum's original exhibits are still on display centuries later, and together comprise a massive collection of more than 80 million items showcasing everything from botany to zoology, plus pretty much everything in between. A highlight of a visit is seeing the preserved specimens that Charles Darwin collected on his epic journeys.
If you're not in a hurry, start your visit by joining one of the formal guided tours on offer, ranging from 30 to 50 minutes. You'll be introduced to highlights you may wish to return to at a later date to explore in greater detail. A variety of fun events are held regularly, from workshops for kids to late night openings. Shopping opportunities are located on-site, along with a number of dining options.
Address: Cromwell Road, South Kensington, London
Official site: www.nhm.ac.uk
13. Enjoy a Picnic in Hyde Park
Covering 350 acres, Hyde Park is London's largest open space and has been a destination for sightseers since 1635. One of the park's highlights is the Serpentine, an 18th-century man-made lake popular for boating and swimming. Hyde Park is also where you'll find Speakers' Corner, a traditional forum for free speech - and heckling.
Another Hyde Park landmark is Apsley House, former home of the first Duke of Wellington and purchased after his famous victory at Waterloo. Now a museum, it houses Wellington's magnificent collections of paintings, including Velázquez's The Waterseller of Seville, along with gifts presented by grateful European kings and emperors. England's greatest hero is also commemorated at the Wellington Arch.
Another lovely London green space to explore is Regent's Park. Just a short walk away from Westminster, this 410-acre attraction is a delight to stroll around.
If you're traveling with kids, be sure to visit London Zoo, located within the grounds of the park and one of the most popular things to do for families visiting the city.
- Read More: Top-Rated Attractions around Hyde Park
14. Climb the Dome of St. Paul's Cathedral
The largest and most famous of London's many churches - and undoubtedly one of the most spectacular cathedral's in the world - St. Paul's Cathedral sits atop the site of a Roman temple. The previous church structure was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, and Sir Christopher Wren designed the rebuild.
Today, the twin Baroque towers and magnificent 365-foot dome of St. Paul's are a masterpiece of English architecture. If you're up to it, be sure to walk the stairs with their spectacular views of the dome's interior, including the Whispering Gallery – undoubtedly one of the top things to do in London.
15. Shop at London's Best Markets
Whether you're a fan of food, flowers, art, or clothes, you'll find something to love in London's best markets. While most open only on weekends (Fridays included), some of the most eclectic venues, like the vibrant Camden Market (in North London), welcome shoppers daily.
Camden Market is home to over 100 stalls, shops, and eateries offering everything from gluten-free goodies to hand-made jewels to bohemian clothing. If you're looking for a distinct urban feel, you'll find it here.
Borough Market is a must-visit for foodies in central London. This popular venue, which is situated near London Bridge, is so busy on weekends, you'll have to fight your way through crowds to nab the best produce or mouthwateringly good sample of giant paella. Arrive early (we'd suggest no later than 10) to enjoy a little more elbow room. The line for coffee can extend for blocks, so head there first. While some stalls are open during the week, most don't unveil their goods until Friday morning.
Old Spitalfields Market is another beloved spot offering some of the city's most gorgeous flowers, interesting antiques, art, jewelry, and more. Built in 1876, this is one of the best examples of a Victorian Market Hall.
Other popular markets include, Maltby Street Market, Brick Lane Market, and Portobello Road.
16. Get Entertained by Buskers at Covent Garden
The market halls of Covent Garden are only the beginning of the neighborhood, which encompasses the shops and restaurants of Long Acre and other adjacent streets, those of Neal's Yard and Seven Dials, as well as the Central Square with its incredibly talented, and unique, street performers.
The halls and arcades of Covent Garden Market are lined with specialty shops and kiosks selling everything from teas to fine handcrafts to tacky souvenirs. A few restaurants are sprinkled in as well, some offering patios for you to enjoy a tasty treat while people-watching.
Housed in the former flower market, you'll find the London Transport Museum, a kid-centric haven for those who love all things vehicular. Filled with historic buses, trolleys, and trams, children and adults alike will love this interactive transportation hub. "Drive" a London bus, pilot a tube train, or sit on an ancient trolley. This area is also where you'll find the Royal Opera House.
17. Take a Flight on the London Eye
Built to mark London's millennium celebrations in 2000, the London Eye (officially the Coca-Cola London Eye) is Europe's largest observation wheel. Its individual glass capsules offer the most spectacular views of the city as you embark on a circular tour rising 443 feet above the Thames. The journey lasts close to 30 minutes, often quicker than the time spent lining up for your turn. If you can, reserve your time in advance.
The best option is to skip the line completely with a London Eye: Skip-the-Line Ticket. This advance ticket allows you to take a flight at any time on the day you plan to visit. If you can afford it, rent one of the private capsules and share the experience with friends and family!
Another fun way to view London for above is aboard the Emirates Air Line, a cable car system that crosses the Thames between Greenwich and the Royal Victoria Dock. The journey travels one kilometer and lasts 10 minutes, long enough to enjoy spectacular views and grab a few memorable selfies.
Official site: www.londoneye.com
18. Meet Henry VIII at Hampton Court Palace
Another great Thames-side attraction, Hampton Court is one of Europe's most famous palaces, and a truly remarkable place to visit in London. Its Great Hall dates from Henry VIII's time (two of his six wives supposedly haunt the palace), and it's where Elizabeth I learned of the defeat of the Spanish Armada.
Meet Henry VIII himself or have a chat with Anne Boleyn, both of whom wander the grounds and involve guests in their interesting antics at random points throughout the day. Depending on the time and date you visit, you may even be asked to participate in a session in court.
Grab an audio guide upon your arrival and choose a velvet cloak to wear as you tour the grounds, if you're hoping to feel a bit more authentic. Get lost in the palace's famous Maze, or grab a bite in the on-site café,
Other interesting features include the Clock Court with its fascinating astronomical clock dating from 1540, the State Apartments with their Haunted Gallery, the Chapel, the King's Apartments, and the Tudor tennis court. Don't miss the Tudor Kitchens and their massive fireplaces.
The gardens are also worth visiting – especially in mid-May when in full bloom – and include the Privy Garden, the Pond Garden, the Elizabethan Knot Garden, the Broad Walk, and an area known as the Wilderness.
Although a little farther outside the city center, Hampton Court is a must-do sightseeing trip when visiting London. It's a bit of a haul on the tube, but taking a taxi, renting a car, or even grabbing a car service will make this trip more than worthwhile.
19. Straddle the Meridian Line at Greenwich and Eat at Docklands
For centuries the hub of Britain's naval power, Greenwich is best known to tourists as the home of the Cutty Sark, the last of the 19th-century tea clippers to sail between Britain and China. The ship is located adjacent to the Discover Greenwich Visitor Centre with its exhibits showcasing more than 500 years of maritime history, and the Palladian mansion known as Queen's House.
The impressive collections of the National Maritime Museum, the largest of its kind in the world, illustrate the history of the Royal Navy. And one of the most unusual things to do in London is standing with one foot in each hemisphere, astride the Meridian Line in the Meridian Building in the Royal Observatory.
The revitalized Docklands across the river has been transformed into an international place of business and recreation, filled with some of London's smartest new restaurants. The excellent Museum of London Docklands, in the old Georgian warehouses, brings to life the river, port, and its people from Roman times to the present through hands-on displays that are especially interesting for children.
20. Ride a Horse through Richmond Park
It's hard to believe you're in London (well, technically just outside London) when on a visit to Richmond Park. One of the most captivating of the eight Royal Parks, this lavish natural wonderland has everything you'd look for in an English park: winding paths, verdant woodland, sparkling lakes, horse stables and trails, bike lanes, and multiple picnic spots.
Enjoy unparalleled views of St. Paul's Cathedral from King Henry's Mound, a picturesque hilltop surrounded by wild deer. Luxuriate in a warm tea and traditional scones at the Pembroke Lodge Tea Room, or rent a bike and cycle through this spectacular 2,500-acre nature reserve.
If visiting during spring (particularly late April or early May), make your way to the Isabella Plantation, a remarkable Victorian woodland garden set within the park. Its vibrant 40 acres are filled with colorful rhododendrons, azaleas, and camellias so resplendent, you'll think you're walking through a fairy tale.
Official site: https://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/richmond-park
21. Ogle the Flora and Fauna at Kew Gardens
Spending at day at Kew Gardens is one of the best things to do in London. A UNESCO Heritage Site, this phenomenal spot is home to over 50,000 living plants and some of the most majestically manicured gardens in England.
Officially called the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is situated in southwest London on the south bank of the Thames and offers visitors a serene escape from the hustle and bustle of central London, and a welcome breath of fresh air. Located on a flight path, you'll spot multiple jumbo jets, but these add to the allure for little ones.
Also family-friendly is the expansive indoor and outdoor playground, which comes complete with a zipline.
Visit on a sunny day, and you should prepare to jostle for a picnic spot on the lush lawns, as this is a popular spot for families to enjoy a lunch out. Didn't pack snacks? Visit one of the on-site restaurants for a tasty treat-they even offer dairy and gluten-free options.
Laid out in 1759, the gardens became government property in 1841. In 1897, Queen Victoria added Queen's Cottage and the adjoining woodland. A variety of tours are available free with admission, and many musical and cultural events are held here throughout the year.
Don't miss the towering Pagoda; Japanese gardens; Treetop Walkway; and the remarkable Palm House, an indoor rainforest with an aquarium in the basement. The impressive Rhododendron Dell is a breathtaking treat popping with vibrant blooms during spring.