- London is an ancient city, having existed for millenia and has become one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations
- There is no shortage of historically significant locations to visit, including Hampton Court Palace and the Tower of London
- If trendy spots and nightlife are more your thing, head over to Soho or visit the Tate Modern
London has been a social hub and an important location for trade for thousands of years, long before the Romans conquered Britain in A.D. 43. Since then it’s been at the center of commerce in England and continues to be one of the most attractive tourist cities in the world.
Nicknamed “The Big Smoke” because of its high contrast to the rolling emerald green hills and rustic charm of rural England, there’s something awesome to do around every corner.
Let’s dig into the top 12 places you must visit if you’re planning a trip to London.
12. Head to Trendy Hotspot Brick Lane
Nestled away in London’s achingly cool East End, Brick Lane offers a lot of fun. Adorned with the finest street art, it features an array of cool shops, market stalls, pop-up restaurants, bars and nightlife spots. It’s one of the fastest-evolving areas in London, with new eateries and artwork showing up every week.
The closest tube station is Aldgate East, and you can easily walk to Shoreditch, Hoxton, Whitechapel and Spitalfields. It’s easy to spend the day here browsing vintage records, piecing together new fits and chowing down on mouth watering street food. No matter what age you are, you’ll love the bustling charm of this area.
11. Soak in the Sun (Or Get Soaked!) in Hyde Park
At 350 acres, Hyde Park is a sprawling respite in a city of towering high-rise buildings and rain-soaked pavements. If you’re lucky enough to visit during August, there’s a good chance you can bask in the sunshine in this stunning green space. Activities include sailing, horseback riding, cycling and tennis.
At Christmas time, the Winter Wonderland festive market takes over the park. You’ll find rides, hundreds of markets and plenty to eat and drink. All year round you can hear people lamenting modern life in Speakers Corner, visit the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain or admire the view of Serpentine Lake.
10. Hit up the Canary Wharf Shopping Center
The City of London is the financial center of the United Kingdom, but there’s not much for tourists to do beyond the famous Jack the Ripper walking tour. Canary Wharf is the overspill from The City, and there’s a lot more to do over there.
Located in the Docklands — the Isle of Dogs, to be specific — the area is home to an array of exclusive restaurants and one of the best shopping centers in London. The Museum of London Docklands is nearby, and if you’re staying in self-catered accommodation and love seafood, visiting Billingsgate Market is a must.
9. Admire St. Paul’s Cathedral
Arguably the most famous cathedral in the United Kingdom, St. Paul is an architectural masterpiece. While it’s existed in some capacity for 1,400 years, the original building was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. The current structure was designed by Sir Christopher Wren in the late 17th century.
Its famous blue dome is one of the most recognizable elements of the London skyline, and the intricate design of the inside makes it well worth a visit. The structure survived the Blitz in World War II and was the hallowed venue for Winston Churchill’s funeral and Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s wedding.
8. Soak in Some History at Hampton Court Palace
If you ask someone from England what their favorite period of history was to study at school, there’s a good chance they’ll say the Tudors. And there’s a good reason for this! The Tudors were pretty wild, which you’ll know if you’ve heard anything about the gruesomely gluttonous yet fascinating King Henry VIII and his six wives.
This opulent palace has been magnificently preserved, blending together Tudor and neoclassical architecture to glorious effect. From the maze to the intricate artwork on the walls and murals on the ceilings, it’s difficult to comprehend just how much money has been spent on this palace over the years.
7. Party the Night Away in Soho
If you’re looking for more of a party night than a family day out, get yourself to Soho ASAP. In the 1960s, Carnaby Street was the place stars and fashionistas hung out and shopped. From Jimi Hendrix and Mick Jagger to Elizabeth Taylor and Paul McCartney, it was creative superstars who made this part of town the emblem of the swinging 60s.
There are still plenty of amazing independent clothes shops and big brands alike, in addition to some of the best restaurants in London. Check out Londoner favorites Café Boheme, El Camion, Blacklock and Chotto Matte for a true taste of London’s famously diverse dining options.
6. Discover the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London
The length of the queues reflects the popularity of this tourist hotspot with people from the UK and around the world. If you’re looking to see London Beefeaters in their natural habitat, take a glimpse of the Crown Jewels or learn some of the more grisly details of British history, this is the place to go.
Fans of historical weaponry, old-fashioned coins and ghastly historic tales will love a visit to the Tower of London, which is located near Tower Hill station and the epic Tower Bridge.
5. See the Sights at Trafalgar Square
A visit to Trafalgar Square alone could take an entire day, with so much to do and see in the surrounding area. Iconic statues such as Nelson, the four guardian lions, King George IV, Sir Henry Havelock and Sir Charles James Napier stand proud here. A fourth podium hosts guest artwork, with popular examples including Hand Haacke’s Gift Horse and Yinka Shonibare’s Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle.
What’s more, two of the best art galleries in England are just around the corner. The National Gallery has stood since 1824 and houses famous works such as Van Gogh’s Wheatfield With Cypresses and Monet’s The Japanese Bridge.
4. Gaze in Wonder at the View From the Shard
Whether you simply want a panoramic view of The Big Smoke or have money to burn at the sumptuous hotels and restaurants, the Shard is a must-see. Up 72 floors (don’t worry, you can catch the elevator), the observatory deck is pure glass, providing a full 360-degree view of the capital city. There are four luxurious restaurants, 202 hotel rooms with heated floors and marble bathrooms, and majestic apartments.
The design is reason enough to visit this London Bridge landmark, echoing the mast of a ship, London’s railway lines and church spires.
3. Visit the Museums in South Kensington
It’s a shame not to give each museum its own write-up, but we wouldn’t want you to miss a single one. The Borough of South Kensington and Chelsea is one of the most exclusive areas in London (and the world), but the museums are the main reason to visit.
The National History Museum is a rite of passage for English kids, and it never gets old no matter how many times you visit. With 80 million specimens, there’s something for everyone. The Science Museum is great for kids and adults with curious minds and features tons of interactive exhibits and items showcasing the UK’s rich history of innovation.
Last but not least, pop into the V&A art museum to soak yourself in culture and historic art. With 2.3 million pieces spanning 5,000 years, it’s a truly inspirational and magical place for creative minds.
2. Glimpse the Royal Life at Buckingham Palace
One of the most enduring and fascinating elements of British culture is undeniably the royal family. Buckingham Palace doesn’t disappoint anyone going there expecting to see lavishly decorated state rooms and a stunning art collection.
Built in 1703 and located in the beautiful Belgravia area of London, Buckingham Palace is synonymous with London. Gardening fans can marvel at the grounds, while history-lovers can take a tour of Clarence House or explore the Household Cavalry Museum.
1. Marvel at Contemporary Art in the Tate Modern
Head down to the River Thames’ South Bank to check out one of the best art galleries in the world. The Tate Modern is an ex-power station and a fascinating building, built between 1947 and 1963. It’s part pyramid and part tower, with colossal curving staircases, industrial metal beams and huge white rooms that let the art installations and pieces on the walls shine.
It’s completely free to visit and there’s truly something for everyone, from curious kids to critical adults. All art pieces are from 1900 up to now, so people who like the idea of looking at old paintings can find something to delight in.
We’ve tried to cover some alternative suggestions for things to see and do in London in addition to popular choices. However, it goes without saying that you should also check out Big Ben, The London Eye and The Houses of Parliament.