It’s little wonder that London is one of the world’s top tourist destinations, with over 15 million visitors annually. Britain’s capital is a vibrant arts and entertainment hub (the theaters are always busy), and 50 years after the Beatles, the country’s music scene is still rocking.
London also offers one of the planet’s greatest concentrations of cultural attractions. From royal palaces to the people’s parliament, from museums and churches to a giant Ferris wheel for breathtaking views, you can spend endless days exploring London’s sights without ever running out of unique things to see and do. An added bonus is that many of the most popular places to visit are free.
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1 Buckingham Palace and 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 splendor, the Changing of the Guard. Drawing crowds at 11:30 in any season, this colorful and free display of precision marching and music also takes place at St. James’s Palace where you can follow the band along The Mall as they march between venues.
Buckingham Palace was built in 1837 and has been the residence of the Royal Family in London since the accession of Queen Victoria. If you’re wondering if the Queen is located, look at the flagpole on top of the building: if the royal standard flies day and night, she’s home. On special occasions, she and members of the royal family can even appear on the central balcony.
When she’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. One of the best ways to tour the palace, see the Changing of the Guards and experience a traditional afternoon tea is on a 4.5 hour Buckingham Palace Tour, which includes the Changing of the Guards Ceremony and afternoon tea. This tour is a very efficient way to see the highlights in a short amount of time and having a knowledgeable guide to explain the history makes the whole experience more fun and relevant for first time visitors.
2 De Tower of London en Tower Bridge
From prison to palace, treasury to private zoo, the magnificent Tower of London has served many different roles over the centuries. One of Britain’s most iconic buildings, this spectacular World Heritage Site offers hours of fascination for visitors curious about the country’s rich history – after all, so much has happened here. Within the massive white tower, built in 1078 by William the Conqueror, is the 17th-century line of kings with its remarkable displays of royal arms and armour. Other highlights include the famous Crown Jewelsexhibition, the Beefeaters, the Royal Mint and gruesome exhibits about the executions that took place on the grounds. The adjacent Tower Bridge, the two massive towers rising 200 feet above the River Thames, is one of London’s best-known landmarks.
For the best use of your time, especially during the busy summer season, pre-purchase the Tower of London entrance ticket including Crown Jewels and Beefeater Tour to bypass the ticket office lines. This ticket guarantees the lowest price, helps avoid the crowds and saves time and effort.
3 The British Museum
The British Museum displays one of the world’s finest collections of antiquities, containing more than 13 million ancient objects. With priceless objects from Assyria, Babylonia, China, Europe and elsewhere, it’s hard to know where to start. But most tourists flock first to the museum’s most famous exhibits: the controversial Elgin Marbles of the Parthenon, the Rosetta Stone , the colossal bust of Ramses II, the Egyptian mummies, and the spectacular hoard of 4th-century Roman silver, known as the Mildenhall Treasure .
4 Big Ben and Parliament
Nothing says “London” more emphatically than the 318-foot-tall tower with the giant bell and chiming bell known as Big Ben. It is as iconic a landmark as Tower Bridge . Big Ben’s spinning top is known worldwide as the BBC radio time signal. Below, stretching along the Thames, are the Houses of Parliament , seat of British government for many centuries and once the site of the royal Westminster Palace occupied by William the Conqueror. Guided tours of the parliament buildings provide a unique opportunity to experience real-time debates and lively political discussions. From Parliament Square, Whitehallis surrounded by so many government buildings that its name has become synonymous with the British government.
5 National Gallery
The National Gallery in London ranks among the world’s top museums, representing an almost complete survey of European painting from 1260 to 1920. The museum’s greatest assets lie in its collections of Dutch Masters and Italian Schools from the 15th and 16th centuries. Highlights include a cartoon (preliminary sketch) of Leonardo da Vinci’s Madonna and Child, Michelangelo’s The Entombment , Botticelli’s Venus and Mars , Van Gogh’s Sunflowers , and Monet’s Water-Lily Pond .
6 The Victoria and Albert Museum
The Victoria and Albert Museum (also known as the V&A) is part of a South Kensington-based group of museums, which includes the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum. Founded in 1852, the V&A spans nearly 13 acres and contains 145 galleries spanning approximately 5,000 years of art and related artifacts. Exhibits include ceramics and glass, textiles and costumes, silver and jewellery, ironwork, sculpture, prints and photographs.
7 Piccadilly Circus en Trafalgar Square
Two of London’s best-known tourist spots, these famous squares are close to each other and mark the gateways to Soho , London’s vibrant theater and entertainment district. 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 guns. Admiralty Arch, St Martin-in-the-Fieldsand 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 messy traffic jam stands London’s best-known statue, the winged Eros subtly balanced on one foot, poised arch. “It’s like Piccadilly Circus” is a common phrase that describes a crowded and confusing scene.
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8 The Two Tates: Tate Britain en Tate Modern
Once known collectively as the Tate Gallery, London’s two Tate galleries – Tate Britain and Tate Modern – make up one of the world’s most important art collections. Opened in 1897 as the home of a national collection of important British art, the gallery continued to make acquisitions and needed 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 beautifully transformed power station across the Thames became home to the modern art collections. Art lovers can spend an entire day seeing both sites, conveniently connected by a fast ferry.
9 Westminster Abbey
Another location with a long association with British royalty, Westminster Abbey stands on a site associated with Christianity since the early 7th century. Officially known as the Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster, Westminster Abbey was founded by Edward the Confessor in 1065 as his place of regret. From his burial in 1066 to that of George II nearly 700 years later, most sovereigns were not only crowned here, but also buried here. More recently it has become famous as the venue of choice for Royal Weddings.
10 Churchill’s War Rooms
One of London’s most fascinating and evocative sites is the immaculately preserved nerve center from where Prime Minister Winston Churchill directed Britain’s military campaigns and defense of his homeland throughout World War II. Their Spartan simplicity and cramped conditions underline England’s desperate position as the Nazi grip tightened across Europe. You’ll see the tiny cubicle Churchill slept in and the makeshift radio studio where he delivered his famous wartime speeches. Simple details, like Clementine Churchill’s knitting wool marking the front lines on a map of Europe, bring the era to life like no museum ever could.
11 Hyde Park
Hyde Park covers 350 hectares and is London’s largest open space. It has been a tourist destination since 1635. One of the park’s highlights is the Serpentine, an 18th-century artificial 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, the former home of the 1st Duke of Wellington and purchased after his famous victory at Waterloo. Now a museum, it houses wonderful collections of paintings by Wellington, 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.
12 St Paul’s Cathedral
The largest and most famous of London’s many churches – and arguably one of the most spectacular cathedrals 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-tall dome of St. Paul’s are a masterpiece of English architecture. If you wish, walk up the steps with their spectacular view of the dome’s interior, including the Whispering Gallery.
13 Covent Garden
The Covent Garden market halls are just the beginning of the district, which includes the shops and restaurants of Long Acre and other adjacent streets, those of Neal’s Yard and Seven Dials, as well as the main square with its street performers. The halls and arcades of Covent Garden Market are lined with specialty shops and kiosks selling everything from fine handicrafts to tacky souvenirs. Located in the former flower market, you will find the London Transport Museum , filled with historic buses, trolleys and trams. This area is also where you will find the Royal Opera House .
14 De London Eye
Built to celebrate London’s millennium celebrations in 2000, the London Eye is the largest Ferris wheel in Europe. The individual glass capsules provide the most spectacular views of the city as you board a tour that rises 443 feet above the Thames. The journey takes 30 minutes, often faster than the time spent in line. If you can, book your time in advance. The best option is to skip the line completely with a London Eye: skip-the-line ticket. With this advance you can take a flight at any time of the day on the day you plan to fly.
Adres: Riverside Building, County Hall, Westminster Bridge Rd, Londen
15 Hampton Court Palace
Another major Thames attraction, Hampton Court is one of Europe’s most famous palaces. The Great Hall dates back to the time of Henry VIII (two of his six wives haunt the palace) and is where Elizabeth I learned of the defeat of the Spanish Armada . Other interesting features include the Clock Court with its fascinating 1540 Astronomical Clock, the State Apartments with their Haunted Gallery, the Chapel, the King’s Apartments and the Tudor Tennis Court. The gardens are also worth a visit – especially in mid-May when they are in full bloom – and include the Privy Garden, the Pond Garden, the Elizabethan Knot Garden, the Broad Walk, an area known as the Wilderness and of course the famous palace. Maze .
16 Greenwich and Docklands
For centuries the center of Britain’s maritime power, Greenwich has been best known to tourists as the home of Cutty Sark , the last of the 19th century tea cruising vessels to sail between Britain and China. The ship is adjacent to the Discover Greenwich Visitor Centre , with its exhibits covering over 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. One of the most unusual things to do in London is standing with one foot in each hemisphere, astride the Meridian Linein the Meridian Building at the Royal Observatory.
The revitalized Docklands across the river has been transformed into an international place of business and leisure, filled with some of London’s brightest new restaurants. The excellent Museum of London Docklands , in the old Georgian warehouses, brings the river, harbor and people to life from Roman times to the present through hands-on displays that are of particular interest to children.
16 Kew Gardens
Kew Gardens – officially called the Royal Botanic Gardens – is located in southwest London on the south bank of the Thames and is a wonderful place to spend time enjoying the many plants grown amidst its 300 acres. The gardens were established in 1759 and became government property in 1841. In 1897 Queen Victoria added Queen’s Cottage and the adjacent woodland. A variety of tours are free with admission, and many musical and cultural events are held here throughout the year.
Where to Stay in London for Sightseeing
London’s major tourist attractions are spread across different parts of the city. If you want to spend time sightseeing, it’s a good idea to base yourself in a central location and use the city’s excellent public transport system to travel between sites. Here are some highly rated hotels in central London:
- Luxury accommodation: When it comes to posh hotels, the grande dames still grace the list of London’s best. Guests have been pampered by guests for over a century, The Goring, a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace, while The Langham, in the heart of the West End, has been hosting for over 150 years. A stone’s throw from Trafalgar Square, Corinthia Hotel London offers a rooftop terrace and luxurious afternoon teas. Also known for tea, The Ritz London is convenient to Mayfair’s posh shops.
- Mid-Range Accommodation: The Fielding Hotel, a popular boutique hotel, is located near Covent Garden, one of the city’s most touristy areas. The Grosvenor Hotel is convenient for travelers arriving by train from Heathrow or Gatwick airports. It is right opposite Victoria Station. Once the literary hub of London, Bloomsbury is now home to one of the city’s top attractions, the British Museum, as well as highly rated mid-range hotels such as The Montague on the Gardens and about a 15-minute stroll from Covent Garden. The Bloomsbury Hotel London. Both are also a short walk from Oxford Street shops.
- Cheap Accommodation: If you’re watching your wallet, the Premier Inn London Kensington is an affordable option minutes from museums and Earls Court Tube station. You could also head north and try the Alhambra Hotel or Jesmond Dene Hotel, both near the busy King’s Cross tube station, a major transport hub.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to London
- Seeing the Sights . One of the best ways to see London’s sights is on a traditional double-decker Hop-On Hop-Off London Sightseeing Tour. This has been the classic sightseeing tour for years and it’s popular for a reason: it’s easy, convenient, informative and ensures you see the main attractions. The tickets are flexible, with open dates and are valid for 24 hours. Even if you’re in London for a few days, this is a great way to spend a day getting your bearings, especially if you’re in the city for the first time.
Days out . Beyond the city there are some excellent sights that can be easily visited on a day trip from London. The Stonehenge, Windsor Castle and Bath Day Trip from London is an 11-hour guided trip that takes visitors to these must-see destinations. It’s a great way to see the area without the hassle of driving, navigating and parking.
- Harry Potter Experience . Fans of Harry Potter will definitely want to take the Warner Brother’s Studio Tour – The Making of Harry Potter for a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film and a walk through the incredible sets in which the film was made. Visitors can explore the site on their own, see the costumes and props, wander the Great Hall, and learn about the whole experience of filming. The tour includes transport to and from the studios from central London and an entry ticket.
More Must-See Destinations near London
While it has the highest number of the country’s most popular attractions, London is also a good starting point to see more of England. Several highlights of interest suffice for day trips: Stonehenge and the cathedral city of Salisbury, Windsor and the spectacular Windsor Castle and Canterbury with its magnificent cathedral are all within a two hour radius. The Roman and Georgian city of Bath and the seaside resort of Brighton are within easy reach by train, as are the university towns of Oxford and Cambridge. You will need longer to cross into Wales and the capital of Cardiff.