“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” –Samuel Johnson
London is one of my favorite cities in the entire world. I am so in love with this city! Ever since I first visited in July 2011, I’ve been hooked. London’s got me. I’m in love. I’ve been somewhere between 10 and 20 times (honestly I’ve lost count), with visits from 1 week to just a few hours.
Despite how much I love love LOVE London, I’ve barely written about it on the blog! Only one post on how to do London on the cheap. I thought it was about time to change that—so for all the beginners out there, here you go: 25 places you can’t miss in London!
1. Tower of London
One of London’s biggest tourist attractions, the Tower of London is a sprawling castle complex that dates back to 1078 with a fascinating (and at times dark) history. There is so much to see and do here, but don’t miss the Crown Jewels, the White Tower, a Yeoman Warder’s Tour (which run every half hour, free), and the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula (which you can only access on a tour). Give yourself a bare minimum of 2 hours, with 3 hours being a more comfortable time.
Tube: Tower Hill
2. Tower Bridge
Despite “London Bridge” being so famous, Tower Bridge is actually the fancy one. You simply can’t come to London and not see it. If you want to, you can pay to take the elevator up and walk across the top at the Tower Bridge Experience—I wouldn’t really recommend it if you’re crunched on time or money. But otherwise it’s free just to walk across!
Tube: Tower Hill
3. St. Paul’s Cathedral and Millenium Bridge
This beautiful cathedral was designed and built by Christopher Wren (construction was completed in 1711) and miraculously escaped bombing during the Blitz in World War II. It is well worth the climb up to the Golden Gallery (528 steps up) for views across London. An audioguide is included in your admission price, or else you can attend one of the religious services for free. Make sure you see Millenium Bridge, a pedestrian footbridge crossing the Thames between the Tate Modern and (close to) St. Paul’s. It was the bridge that collapsed during a Death Eater attack in the Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince movie! Give yourself around 1-2 hours to do the Cathedral justice.
Tube: St. Paul’s or Mansion House
4. Westminster Abbey
Another one of my absolute favorite places in London! Westminster Abbey is one of the most beautiful religious sites I’ve been to, and is the resting place of many of Britain’s monarchs (including Elizabeth I) and national figures. It is also where the coronation of every British monarch takes place, and many weddings (most recently Will and Kate in 2011!) have taken place here. You receive an audioguide with your visit, and make sure to see the Cloisters and Chapter House. If you can, I highly recommend going to a service here—sitting in the quire and experiencing the Abbey that way was one of the highlights of all my visits.
5. Big Ben and Houses of Parliament
You can’t come to London and not see them… Big Ben (the nickname for the Elizabeth Clock Tower) is one of the biggest London icons there is. You can go inside the Houses of Parliament (at the Palace of Westminster), but you need to book in advance. You’ll also need your passport.
6. London Eye
Oh, the London Eye. One of the world’s largest observatory wheels of its kind, you get 30 minutes in a pod crammed with people trying to take the same picture as you. Overpriced? Yes. Long lines? Yes. Incredible views over London? Yes. If you can, go around sunset.
Tube: Westminster or Waterloo
7. Buckingham Palace and the Changing of the Guard
Buckingham Palace is another of London’s greatest symbols—it’s the official residence of the monarch in London, and is synonymous with Queen Elizabeth II and British royalty. Built in 1703 and spruced up during the Victorian era, today visitors can see the State Rooms in the summer months and pretend to be queen for a day. Somehow I have still never done this! However, I have seen the Changing of the Guard several times—one parade processional you can’t miss!
Tube: Green Park or St. James’ Park
8. Kensington Palace
Kensington Palace seems to have always been the home of royal women. Queen Victoria grew up here, and Princess Diana lived here. Currently, Will and Kate live here! (Although unfortunately you won’t spot them walking the halls.) It is a beautiful palace located near Hyde Park with stunning gardens to match.
9. Hyde Park, St. James’ Park, Regent’s Park
One of my favorite things to do in London is explore the green areas—the number of parks still surprises me in such a vast city! You can row a boat on the Serpentine lake at Hyde Park, explore all the nooks and crannies of Regent’s Park (seriously, it’s huge), or relax and maybe catch a parade at St. James’ Park (my favorite of the three, pictured above). All the parks are free to wander!
Tube: Hyde Park Corner/Marble Arch/ Lancaster Gate/Queensway (Hyde Park), St. James’ Park, Regent’s Park
10. Trafalgar Square
One of the happening places in London where a million things are going on, Trafalgar Square is named for the Battle of Trafalgar against Napolean in 1805, with Nelson’s Column (and lion statues) in the center. There’s always something going on here (from street performers to West End concerts), but if you’re looking for more, you can pop into the National Gallery or the National Portrait Gallery—both of the art museums are free!
Tube: Charing Cross
11. Whitehall (Downing Street)
This street is one of my favorite in London—the architecture is fantastic! Located between Westminster and Trafalgar Square, it’s home to some of the most important government buildings—including No. 10 Downing Street, home of the Prime Minister. While you can’t actually go right outside of No. 10, you can see just a bit of it past the guards and might sneak a peek of someone famous! This is also the entrance to the Royal Mews, with horse guards outside that tourists LOVE to take photos with.
Tube: Westminster or Charing Cross
12. Piccadilly Circus
London’s answer to Times Square, Piccadilly Circus is another popular square where there’s always something going on. With a huge billboard, the famous statue of Eros, and lots of street performers, it’s one place you should see!
Tube: Piccadilly Circus
Speaking of street performers… the best street performers I’ve seen in London have always been on the Southbank of the Thames. Other places along that side of the Thames are the London Eye, the National Theater, Tate Modern, Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, Southwark Cathedral, and Borough Market (where part of the Harry Potter movies were filmed).
Tube: Waterloo, Southwark, London Bridge
14. Shakespeare’s Globe Theater
The original Globe Theater was constructed in 1599, burned down in a fire in 1613, was rebuilt in 1614, and demolished for good in 1644. The current Shakespeare’s Globe Theater is an accurate oak-and-thatch reconstruction of the theater as it would have looked in Shakespeare’s time, and opened to the public in 1997. You can visit the museum and take a guided tour (in the morning) to learn more about the history, but you can also see a Shakespeare show if you time your visit right in the summer! Check online for show dates and tickets.
Tube: London Bridge
15. Churchill War Rooms
One of my favorite museums in London, if you like World War II history and/or Winston Churchill, you will love this museum. There is so much information on Churchill’s fascinating life with such interesting insights. The museum is very popular, so I recommend going early in the morning, otherwise prepare to queue! It’s located in a World War II underground bunker inbetween Whitehall and Buckingham Palace.
Tube: Westminster (or St. James’ Park)
16. British Museum
The British Museum is probably one of the most notable museums in the country. You could spend an entire day just inside this museum! If you’re short on time, you absolutely can’t miss the Rosetta Stone, the Bust of Ramesses the Great, the Parthenon Sculptures, and the Lion Hunt Reliefs. The building is gorgeous, both inside and outside. Best of all, the British Museum is absolutely free!!!
Tube: Russell Square
17. Imperial War Museum
It may have taken me about 10 trips to London before I went, but the Imperial War Museum is definitely a must for any military or history buffs. The exterior of the building is beautiful (with a giant gun in front), and the World War I exhibit was one of the best exhibits I’ve ever seen in a museum (the National World War I Museum in Kansas City was a close call). This is another one of London’s free museums, so there’s no reason not to visit!
Tube: Lambeth North (or Waterloo/Elephant and Castle)
18. Bookstores on Charing Cross Road
One of my favorite things to do in London is to just get lost and wander wherever catches my eye. One of the best afternoons I’ve had was spent running in and out of all the used/second-hand bookstores on Charing Cross Road. There are a million of them, all of which seem unique and an experience to visit, and there’s a large Foyles store as well. Prepare to end up with way more books than you need!
Tube: Charing Cross, Leicester Square, Tottenham Court Road
19. King’s Cross Station (Platform 9 ¾)
If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you absolutely can’t miss a stop to King’s Cross Station to see Platform 9 ¾. Due to the mass popularity of this pilgrimage site, the train station added it’s very own platform that you can take pictures with (along with a House scarf of your choosing!) and a gift shop selling all things HP.
Tube: King’s Cross
20. Leadenhall Market
This is one of my favorite “hidden” places in London—tucked away off the busy streets, in the business-centered financial district, is the charming Leandenhall Market. It’s a fun place to wander around, but more importantly, it was used as Diagon Alley in filming Harry Potter! Each time I’ve visited, I went very early (before 9:00am) on a Saturday/Sunday morning. The entire neighborhood (which is bustling during the workweek) was silent—I felt like the only one there and encountered just a few other people visiting the market. While the market originally dates from the 14th century, the beautiful roof and cobbled floors date from 1881. It’s free to wander around.
21. Portobello Road Market
This market is one of the most popular in London, and with good reason: it’s the largest antiques market in the world! If you want to do some shopping or even just browsing for vintage clothes, bric-a-brac, food, and everything in between, this is where you should go. The main day of the market is on Saturday—come very early in the day (when it opens) to beat the crowds! Visiting the market is free.
Tube: Notting Hill Gate (or Ladsbroke Grove)
22. Primrose Hill
This beautiful park gets a spot on this list for the view over London and the River Thames. The view is phenomenal both during the day and at night, so don’t miss it! It’s on the northern side of Regent’s Park and the trees are kept specifically low as to not obscure the view.
Tube: St. John’s Wood
23. Camden Town
This neighborhood is located just a bit north of central London—while it can still be a bit gritty at times (someone tried to sell me weed less than 2 minutes after I got off the Tube) and is kind of the home to the “alternative” crowd of punks and hippies, it’s a fun place to explore. Camden Market is a good place to start for finding unique gifts, and the Regent’s Canal runs through Camden Lock with regular waterbus service. Also don’t miss the awesome shopfronts!
Tube: Camden Town
24. Hampton Court Palace
Okay okay, this isn’t technically in London. But it’s one of my favorite places in the damn country, so I’m putting it on this list! This spectacular palace is one of the best to see, and makes for a perfect daytrip (or half-day trip) from London. Built in 1515, King Henry VIII took it from his former favorite, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, and was a royal residence under the Tudors, Stuarts, and Georgians. All of these different eras can be seen in the palace, but you absolutely can’t miss the Great Hall (one of the best remaining examples of its kind from the Tudor era) and the Chapel Royal with its stunning ceiling (check online in advance that there are no services taking place, as the chapel will be closed). The gardens are magnificent, and the maze is fun as well! Give yourself a minimum of 2 to 3 hours to enjoy it.
Tube: While Hampton Court Palace doesn’t have a Tube station, it is easily accessed by the Overground train from Waterloo (to Hampton Court station). It’s in Zone 6 and can be visited with Oyster cards or Travelcards.
25. Harry Potter Warner Bros. Studio Tour
Okay, this also isn’t technically in London. But visiting was one of the most magical days of my life and you absolutely can’t miss it on a visit to London! Located in Leavesden, the studio tour brings the magic to life as you can walk through all the sets and see all the props used in the Harry Potter movies! They have a real replica of Diagon Alley you can walk through, the Backlot with the Knight Bus and Privet Drive, and a beautiful and detailed Hogwarts Castle model at the very end. The gift shop is also on point. It is the place of dreams for all Harry Potter fans! You will need at least 2.5-3 hours.
Tube: You can take the Overground train from London Euston station to Watford Junction (Zone 8). From there, they run a shuttle to the Studio Tour for £2.50 (return).
Have you ever been to London?! Where are your can’t-miss places? Share you thoughts in the comments below!