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Things to do in London

Meander through local haunts like a Londoner.

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London skyline with Tower Bridge and skyscrapers

London’s one city that refuses to stay still. It doesn’t matter whether you arrive in the heat of European summer or dead of January: There’s always a festival running, gig to attend, event to entertain you or tourist attraction to experience.

Take a step back in time at public museums and historical walks, or even have a royal close encounter. Just make sure you tick these landmarks off your London list when in town.


Top London landmarks and attractions

buckingham palace with union jack flags

Tour Buckingham Palace

No trip to London would be complete without visiting the Queen herself — or at least her palace. While at Buckingham Palace, wave like the Queen, check out her guards in their black bearskin hats, witness the changing of the guards and tour her state rooms and art collections.

Book a Buckingham Palace tour
London Eye at night

Ride the London Eye

Enjoy incredible views on Europe’s tallest observation wheel. To avoid the crowds, we recommend booking your spot online before you arrive, or get there early in the morning. Weekends and evenings are usually the busiest times to ride, so try to plan your travels around peak times.

Ride the London Eye
Big Ben and Westminster Abbey

See Big Ben and Westminster Abbey

Catching a glimpse of Big Ben and Westminster Abbey is easy to do when you’re spinning around on the London Eye. If you forgo riding the Eye, you can easily see Big Ben from the banks of the River Thames.

You can also tour Westminster Abbey a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the site of every royal coronation in the country. But the Abbey sometimes closes to the public on short notice for special ceremonies and events, so check its website before you visit to make sure it’s open.

Tour Westminster and Big Ben
Tower of London and Tower Bridge

Visit the Tower of London and Tower Bridge

A trip to London is complete with a view of its famous Tower Bridge, a beautiful construction of sandy brick and baby-blue trimmings. Walk across it to the Tower of London, which houses the crown jewels and execution sites of three Queens of England: Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Lady Jane Grey.

Keep in mind that the Tower Bridge is still operational and opens five or six times per day in the summer. Check the official website for details about when it might be open and closed if you plan to take a stroll across it. You might catch it open for a passing ship!

Book a guided tour
couple taking selfie double decker bus london

Ride a double decker bus

Hop on one of London’s iconic red buses to get around the city, or book a vintage double decker bus tour in advance for a unique view of the city.

London’s buses don’t accept cash, so you’ll need an Oyster card or Travel card. You can buy Oyster cards at most train and Tube stations, visitor centers and Oyster ticket stops. And if you live in the UK, you can purchase Oyster cards online.

Book a vintage double decker bus tour
warner bros studio tour harry potter

Take the ultimate Harry Potter tour

Potterheads can spend days exploring Harry Potter’s London. Go on a walking or bus tour, or take a trip to Warner Bros. Studio where the films were made for the ultimate experience.

On a tight budget? Conduct your own Harry Potter tour and visit Platform 9 ¾ at Kings Cross Station for free.

Take the Harry Potter studio tour
stage door entrance sign

Watch a play in the West End

Much like Broadway in New York City, the best shows performed by A-list actors take place in the West End. As a bonus, many of the small theaters in the area were built in the 1800s and still have the beautiful original architecture. With that in mind, leg room in these theaters can be a bit cramped and tickets sell out quickly, so book in advance to ensure you catch a show.

View West End show tickets
royal botanic gardens

Take a walk in a park

Did you know that 47% of London is green space? So it isn’t hard at all to find a park to enjoy an afternoon outside. Famous city parks include St. James’s Park, Hyde Park, Green Park and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Visit the Royal Botanic Gardens
colorful produce borough market

Stop at the markets

London is well-known for its fabulous markets: stop in Borough Market for produce, Portobello for antiques, Camden for original fashion items from emerging artists and Spitalfields Market for food and antiques.

While larger markets like Camden and the Borough open daily, many smaller ones only open on weekends.

Go on a Borough Market tour
oxford street lined with union jack flags

Shop Oxford Street

If you came to shop till you drop, be sure to hit up Oxford Street. With around 300 stores, it’s Europe’s largest shopping street. But lace up your walking shoes — traffic here is restricted to buses and taxis from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. except on Sundays.

And if you happen to be visiting for Christmas, you can watch the annual switching on of the lights in mid- to late-November. The lights usually stay on until January 6th, or Twelfth Night.

While Oxford Street is undoubtedly the most renowned shopping hub in London, nearby Regent and Bond streets are other hot contenders for finding high-end brands. There are also Westfield centers in Shepherd’s Bush and Stratford City.

Take an Oxford Street tour
tate modern museum millenium bridge

Museum hop

London has a wealth of museums that are not only exceptional, but free to enter with the option to donate. Some of the best include the British Museum, National Art Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Tate Modern, Victoria and Albert Museum, Natural History Museum and Science Museum.

Get tickets to London museums
windsor castle

Visit a castle

The UK is filled with castles, and many popular ones like Windsor, Warwick and Leeds are in London. At Windsor Castle, you can witness the famous changing of the guards at 11 a.m. every day except Sundays in the spring and summer. In the fall and winter, it takes place every other day.

Some Windsor Castle tours also include a trip to prehistoric Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England, a couple hours’ drive from the city. During the summer and winter solstices, druids and revelers gather around the stones to celebrate the season’s change.

Book a Windsor castle tour
oxford university

Take a day trip to Oxford or Cambridge

These university towns are known the world over for their academic achievements and historical architecture. Both are accessible by train from London or by organized tour.

Visit the University of Oxford
st pauls cathedral

Visit St. Paul’s Cathedral

An iconic piece of architecture dating back to the late 17th-century, St. Paul’s Cathedral sits atop Ludgate Hill, the highest point in the city. It was the site of Princess Diana and Prince Charles’ famous wedding.

Get tickets to St. Paul's Cathedral
shakespeare globe theatre

See a play at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

Tours operate daily at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, located on the bank of the River Thames. Performances include both modern and Shakespearean plays.

After you catch a show, sit down at the Swan Café, a two-floor bar and restaurant overlooking the Thames and St. Paul’s Cathedral. Locally-sourced produce is served along with views.

Book a guided tour of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre
tourists posing on abbey road

Follow in the Beatles’ footsteps

Head to Abbey Road to try your hand at recreating the Beatles’ aptly-titled Abbey Road album cover photo. But look both ways before crossing — the road is open to traffic!

Beatles fans can also tour Abbey Road Studios, visit the Beatles Story museum in their hometown of Liverpool or take a Beatles walking tour of the city.

Book an Abbey Road tour

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Best events to attend throughout the year:

Spring

  • London Marathon. Every April, more than half a million visitors flock to cheer on professional and amateur runners alike. The marathon’s three starting points are always Greenwich Park, St. John’s Park and Shooter’s Hill Road.
  • Chelsea Flower Show. Head to this five-day festival on the Chelsea Hospital grounds to see flowers, herbs, trees and other plants from around the world. The royal family is known to attend the opening day of this event, which kicks off in late May.

Summer

  • Glastonbury. The unofficial Woodstock of the UK takes place in late June. You can book a tipi or take your own tent and enjoy the indie-cool vibe. The lineup is A-list spectacular, and many of the festival’s headline acts are UK-born and bred.
  • Wimbledon. Marked by its distinct all-white clothes policy, Wimbledon is one of the four Grand Slam world tennis events, and a must for any fan. Catch this event in early to mid July.

Fall

  • London Open House. Enjoy free access to more than 800 of London’s most spectacular buildings, walks and tours over one weekend in late September. The list of participating buildings is usually released in late August.
  • BFI London Film Festival. Catch over 300 films screened at the London Film Festival — the largest event of its kind in the UK. The two-week-long festival takes place in early October and features classes, lectures and Q&A sessions with celebrities.

Winter

  • Guy Fawkes Night. “Remember, remember the 5th of November.” A night of bonfires and fireworks commemorates the fact that Guy Fawkes and fellow conspirators failed in their infamous Gunpowder Plot to assassinate King James I in 1605.
  • New Year’s Day Parade. Say goodbye to yesteryear along with millions of visitors. Parade starts at the Ritz Hotel and ends in Parliament Square.

Bottom line

Full of world-renowned architecture, historical landmarks and pop culture events and attractions, London is an exciting city to visit any time of year.

Once you’ve put together your list of must-sees, take a look at our guide to help you get around London with ease.

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