Things to Do in London
Cultured, cosmopolitan, and effortlessly cool, London is a city that needs no introduction. The British capital is not only one of the world’s most visited cities, but it’s also one of the most diverse, and there’s something to suit all tastes. Those looking to discover England’s traditional charms can stroll through Westminster Abbey, watch the Changing the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace, or take a red double-decker bus tour around the city. Art and history lovers can check off famous institutions such as the British Museum and the National Gallery, while foodies can tuck into artisan delicacies at Borough Market, indulge in afternoon tea at the Ritz, and grab dinner on Brick Lane’s Curry Mile. Those with kids in tow can ride the London Eye, pose with celebs at Madame Tussauds, and discover the magic of Harry Potter at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London. Central London boasts a roll call of iconic sights—Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, St. Paul’s Cathedral, London Bridge, the Tower of London, Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden—all within walking distance of the Thames River. Alternatively, a ride on the London Underground will take you to East London’s hip neighborhoods, the pretty waterfront district of Greenwich, or the colorful markets, music venues, and bars of Camden Town. There are also endless options for day trips, including the magnificent Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, the historic cities of Oxford, Cambridge, and Bath, Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, and even Paris.
1) Tower of London
The Tower of London is old, very old. The central White Tower was built by William the Conqueror after his invasion of England in 1066. Since 1485, the iconic red and black-uniformed Beefeaters have been guarding the Tower. Also crucial to security are the ravens. Superstition has it that if the ravens leave, the Monarchy will fall. Consequently at least six pampered ravens are kept in residence at all times.
2) Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge is one of the most iconic sights in London. It was opened in 1894, designed to echo the nearby Tower of London although the two have no association except proximity. The bridge is a bascule bridge which means the span lifts to allow ships and yachts through headed for the Pool of London, the port area just upstream of Tower Bridge. River traffic takes priority over road traffic and cars have to wait when a boat wants to come through.
The bridge has two high towers suspended by wires from the land and linked by a high-level walkway between. This was designed for pedestrians to be able to cross the river even when the bridge was open and you can still walk across it today. A common confusion is that Tower Bridge is actually called London Bridge but in fact that is the next one upstream, a much plainer bridge.
3) Thames River
The Thames is the longest river in England, the second longest in the United Kingdom. It flows from the west in the Cotswolds, passing through Oxford and London, ending at the sea at Southend-on-Sea in Essex. As far up as Teddington on the western edge of London, the river is tidal. Once the lifeline of London trade and communication, it's still busy with boats: sightseeing boats and houseboats mainly.
Once the only way across the river was to ford it, then London Bridge was built by the Romans. Nowadays many bridges criss-cross the river, the pedestrian Millennium Bridge, Tower Bridge and Albert Bridge are among the prettiest.
The Thames is home to many species of fish and birds - particularly white swans which are to this day all still owned by the Queen. The river is also used by rowers and yachtsman but not swimmers - the water is not the cleanest.
4) St. Paul's Cathedral
St Paul's Cathedral was built around 1680 after the great fire of London, but a church to St Paul has stood here since 604AD. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, the current St Paul's remains an iconic landmark in the London skyline. St Paul's is the heart of the Church of England and many royal weddings and funerals take place there, including the marriage of Charles and Diana. One of the highlights of a visit to St Paul's is the Whispering Gallery in the dome where, due to its multilayer construction, you can whisper to the wall and be heard on the opposite side of the gallery. The crypt is burial place for many important people including Sir Christopher Wren himself.
5) London Eye
Since it was officially opened on New Year's Eve 1999 (as part of the millennial celebrations), the London Eye has become one of London's most popular attractions. It has 32 sealed 'pod' capsules, fitting a total of 800 people, revolving on a huge Ferris wheel. One go-around takes half an hour with the wheel rotating at only twice the speed of a tortoise sprinting, so you can step on and off without the wheel needing to stop!
The London Eye is the fourth-tallest structure in London, so the far-reaching views over London are spectacular. On a clear day you can see as far as Windsor Castle. And the slow speed of the rotation means there's plenty of time to see everything and take lots of photos.
6) Houses of Parliament & Big Ben
Westminster Palace, home to the British Houses of Parliament, is right on the river Thames. A magnificent Neo-Gothic building dating from 1840, it's most recognizable from the clock tower at one end known as Big Ben. (In fact, Big Ben is actually the bell inside the tower.)
Parliament is made up of two houses: the House of Commons and the House of Lords and both have their meeting chambers inside here. It is possible to sit and watch from the Visitors' Gallery if you like seeing grown men taunting each other with bad jokes. Once a year, the Queen puts on her crown, sits on her Throne in the House of Lords and officially opens Parliament.
7) Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey has long been the worshipping place for kings and queens and has a rich history. Since 1066 it's been the coronation church - 38 Kings and Queens of England have been crowned here. Queen Elizabeth II was married here, Princess Diana's funeral was held here. And seventeen monarchs are buried here. The abbey is full of art and monuments to soldiers, statesmen, artists and poets including Shakespeare and Charles Dickens.
8) Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace has served as the official London residence of Britain's sovereigns since 1837. Most impressive are the State Rooms, which form the heart of the working palace. They are lavishly furnished with treasures from the Royal Collection and adorned with paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens, Vermeer and Canaletto. Also see exquisite examples of S'vres porcelain and some of the finest English and French furniture in the world. Outside, marvel at the ceremonious Changing of the Guard.
9) Trafalgar Square
Dating from the 1820s and named after Admiral Nelson's last great victory, Trafalgar Square is a hub of London life. With the National Gallery on one side, beautiful church St Martin in the Fields just across the road and the famous Nelson's Column with its guarding lions, it's London's grandest square. It's here that London celebrates moments such as Chinese New Year and winning the Olympics, as well as having a huge Christmas tree each year. It's also here that Londoners show their displeasure about things such as wars and curbs on freedom on speech.
Trafalgar Square is a wonderful place to sit and watch the world pass by. There's a common belief that if you sit here for half an hour you will see someone you know, because the whole world passes through Trafalgar Square at some point.
10) SEA LIFE® London Aquarium
The Sea Life London Aquarium has one of Europe’s largest collections of marine animals with everything from menacing Sand Tiger Sharks to adorable Gentoo Penguins living under one roof. Just across the road from the glittering London Eye, the aquarium is an eerily lit cavern, housing some 2,000,000 liters of water and swarming with hoards of eye-popping sea creatures. There’s over 500 species from all over the world and 14 themed zones to keep the kids busy, but it’s not just for the younger generation. Those seeking something a little more hair-raising can head for the popular Shark Reef Encounter, where you can get up close but not-too-personal with the terrors of the ocean - over 40 sharks including Sand Tigers, Bow Mouths, Black Tips and Grey Reefs. There’s even a Shark Walk where visitors can walk a glass catwalk with sharks swimming beneath, as well as interactive public feeding areas and touch tanks for milder entertainment.
More things to do!