London is a big city, and for first-time visitors it can feel overwhelming. The city has so many neighborhoods you’ll want to explore, so many attractions you’ll want to see – it can become a tricky situation narrowing your choices down and knowing which are the best suited to your trip and your own specific interests.
In this guide we’ve tried to break everything down for you, so you can pick and choose which London attractions you definitely want to make time for. So grab a notebook and a pen, and start jotting down ideas!
IF YOU ONLY HAVE 24 HOURS…
If you’re only in the city for 24 hours – which iconic London attractions should you ensure you’ve scheduled in? This sections will highlight those famous London landmarks and London attractions that simply can’t be missed.
Perhaps the most famous bridge in the world – this is one of the most photographed landmarks in London, and a must-see for anyone visiting the city. It has everything rolled into one; great views, perfect photo opportunities and historic significance. The bridge is free to walk across, and you’ll see some great views from the nearby embankment walkways.
The home of The Queen, this beautiful central London landmark is a must-see for anyone interested in the city’s ancient and modern history. It can be crowded around the palace, but an early morning stroll would give you the best crowd-free views. It’s free to walk around the external areas, and you can pay extra for guided tours around staterooms and the famous gardens, if you really wanted to explore in depth.
Changing of The Guards
Located a short stroll from Trafalgar Square, this iconic and famous military routine happens regularly throughout the day. If you’ve never seen the British Guards before, then this is something you really won’t want to miss. It’s free to watch, just make sure you give the Guards plenty of room and are respectful to the ceremony.
Thames River Cruise
The Thames river runs right through the heart of London, and most of the city’s main attractions are viewable from the river. Actually, for many of the city’s landmarks, the river is the best place to view them from! City Cruises run regular boat tours along the river, where you can either sit on the top deck (with the wind in your hair) or below deck (where you’ll find a coffee shop and toilets). The cruise is really enjoyable and lets you enjoy the best views the city has to offer.
Hyde Park is the biggest green space in central London. On a sunny day there’s nowhere more ‘London’ than this. Take a stroll through the stunning gardens and meet Londoners and tourists alike – everyone enjoys this space. We’d recommend taking a picnic for lunch, and then enjoying a boat ride on The Serpentine River. You can’t get more ‘London’ than that.
People Watch in Covent Garden
When it comes time to find somewhere to eat, Covent Garden should be your top choice. This lively hub of activity in The West End is home to lots of street performers, designer shops, market stalls, art stalls, and (for when hunger strikes) great dining options. It’s a favourite with local Londoners, but also tourists.
Visit Big Ben and Westminster Embankment
Big Ben is perhaps the most iconic clock in the world, and it’s definitely one of London’s most famous landmarks. The clock towers above the city and you’ll definitely want to stop off and take a look. It can easily be viewed from Westminster Bridge, or the nearby embankment too. If you wanted to combine this attraction with a City Cruise, there is a pier at Westminster – and you’ll get some great shots of Big Ben as the boat departs.
HISTORICAL SIGHTS AND LANDMARKS
For history buffs, London is a city of wonder. Every turn you take has the potential to transport you back in time – and some parts of the city are over 1000 years old, which is truly astonishing. If you want to see the parts of London that made the history books, then this part of the guide is for you.
The stunning Gothic UNESCO World Heritage Site and coronation church has been standing since the 11th century, which is pretty incredible. The structure is mind-boggling and the beauty of the building never fails to impress.
This beautiful castle is located in the outskirts of London (in a small town of Windsor). It is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world (quite the accolade!) – and is the Queen’s preferred weekend residence. So you never know, you might bump into royalty if you visit.
Royal Albert Hall
This is one of the most prestigious and iconic theatres in the UK (and Europe) and is truly magnificent. For decades it has been the must-visit location for royalty and high-society – and the history of the building is evident the moment you step inside.
This imposing cathedral is one of the most visible and memorable London landmarks in the east of the central part of the city, the part known as the City of London. Famously it is where Princess Diana and Prince Charles were married, and has since been the setting for many movies and book plots. Throughout history the cathedral has played a significant role, which you can learn all about when you visit and look around.
The Tower of London is another must-visit castle – and this one is in London. Known officially as ‘Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London’ this is a historic site you can actually take a look around and explore. It’s also now home to The Crown Jewels – which hold their own intriguing history too.
The River Thames
Of course, the river Thames has been around longer than the city itself – so no trip to London would be complete without taking a cruise along the water. Lots of London’s most historic landmarks were actually build alongside the riverbanks – because the river was so central to trade and economy back then. The best way to see these landmarks? Take a Cruise along the Thames and enjoy the views of the city from a boat.
PHOTO OPPORTUNITIES AND INCREDIBLE VIEWS
If you’re an Instagram addict, or a photography enthusiast – London is a city that will keep you on your toes for hours. The city has so many amazing viewpoints and lookouts – and you’ll love getting creative and finding the best possible photo to send home to family and friends. This part of the guide will tell you top spots for getting your camera out.
The River Thames
The Thames runs right through the heart of the city, so almost all of the city’s major attractions and landmarks can be seen from the river. If you want some truly mesmerising shots, then a river cruise is the way to get them. Getting a shot of Tower Bridge as you sail under it, is sure to make your photos pop out of any Facebook feed!
The Shard Viewing Platform
The Shard is London’s newest big attraction, and is the tallest building in the city. Form the viewing platform you’ll be able to see the whole city, and the views are truly breathtaking. For the best possible photos, try booking your tickets for a clear day – as the higher you go – the cloudier it can get.
One New Change
One New Change is actually a shopping centre in The City, but hidden away on the top floor is a roof terrace. This roof terrace has some of the most beautiful views around, and it’s completely free to explore. You’ll be treated with up-close views of St Paul’s Cathedral, as well as big panoramic vistas of the city.
If you feel up to it – walking to the top of Monument will offer up some of the most beautiful views around. It’s a steep climb (311 steps to be precise) so make sure you take some water! The views overlook the surrounding city, and The Thames too.
If you want to capture some great shots of Big Ben and The London Eye, then a stroll along Embankment will definitely give you some inspiration. You’ll be able to get the river in the foreground too, which adds wonderful depth to the photos.
The Sky Garden
Located at the top of one of London’s newest skyscrapers, this indoor garden is an incredible lookout point for the Thames and The Shard. It’s free to go up there, but you do need to register for tickets in advance, as it’s so popular.
If you don’t mind jumping on the tube (and changing onto a light railway), then a day trip to Greenwich (one of the nicest London suburbs) is a fabulous idea. The local park there is on a hill, and offers up some of the most incredible city views of London. Boat companies offer trips to Greenwich and City Cruises’ boats offer great views on the way as well.
FREE THINGS TO DO
London can be an expensive city to visit, so any chance you get to save money is always good. This part of the guide will talk you through some of the best things to do in London that won’t cost a penny. So you can save money for dining out, or perhaps shopping! The choice is yours!
One of the biggest squares in London, this is a haven for tourists and people-watching. The beautiful buildings that surround it will have you awe-inspired, and the fountains are great fun to watch too. If you’re feeling brave you could even try and climb on one of the famous Lion statues for a perfect photo-opportunity.
There are loads of street performers that perform every day in Covent Garden, and it’s great fun if you fancy soaking in a bit of culture and watching lots of fun actors and performers do their thing. It’s totally free to stroll around and watch, however a donation is recommended (just a £1 will do!) if you stop and watch some of the longer performances.
Natural History Museum
One of London’s biggest museums, and certainly one of the most famous. This great museum is amazing for kids of all ages (and adults too!) and will keep you busy all day long. You may have to queue at weekends (as it can get pretty busy) – but it’s definitely worth the wait and you’re sure to learn a thing or two inside.
National Portrait Gallery
If art is your thing, then a trip to the National Portrait Gallery certainly won’t disappoint. There is artwork spanning centuries inside, and you can walk around at your leisure and enjoy each painting piece by piece. They also offer audio guides and in-person guides, if you fancy digging a little deeper and learning a little more.
Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross
This famous fictional landmark is now a real landmark, thanks to some creative minds and a bit of space in King’s Cross Station. Hunt it out and have your photo taken vanishing into the magical realm.
This bustling area of London is known as the city’s version of Times Square. It’s much smaller of course, but it’s just as dazzling, and it makes a great spot of people-watching and grabbing lunch.
If you a fan of British music, then this iconic spot in London should ring a bell! Made famous by The Beatles, this is a classic photo-opportunity that’s hard to turn down!
London is an amazing place for shopping, and there are some beautiful shops and shopping districts in the city you definitely won’t want to miss out on. Here are our top picks!
Harrods is one of the most luxurious and iconic shops in London, and you could spend hours looking around and exploring inside. We suggest you do just that! It doesn’t cost a penny to enter, and you’re free to look around and enjoy the shop at your own leisure – with no pressure to buy anything. Window shopping can be just as much fun as normal shopping sometimes!
Another shopping experience – but this time in a market setting and for mainly food produce. Borough Market is a bustling, fun, exciting market that sells all kinds of fresh food and veg, as well as food vendors selling incredible recipes and ready-made concoctions. If you need a cheap lunch, Borough Market is great (a lot of the food vendor prices start around £4) and there’s plenty of places to sit and enjoy your food nearby.
Hamleys Toy Store
Another iconic shop in London, but this is one for the kids! Hamleys is perhaps one of the most magical toy shops around, and almost feels like Santa’s workshop! The shops is set across multiple floors, each floor having a different theme, and different toys to explore. Expect live toy demonstrations, cuddly characters to interact with, and all sorts of magical decorations hanging from ceilings and walls. It is truly a wonderland for the imagination.
This quirky market is located in North London and is famous for offering an alternative shopping experience. The markets are home to all kinds of vintage, quirky, independent shops – and you’ll love discovering all kinds of treasures there. Camden has grown lots in recent years too, so there are now some more mainstream shops available, as well as loads of food stalls too.
If designer shopping is your thing, then a trip to Sloane Square might be just your cup of tea. This area of London (known as Chelsea) is where many celebrities like to do their shopping – and even The Princess Kate has been known to shop there occasionally.
We couldn’t have a shopping section without mentioning Oxford Street. Probably the best known shopping district in London, this street is full of the huge flagship stores for most major brands. Expect it to be busy, and expect crowds!
If you love antique shopping, then we think you’ll adore Notting Hill. Made famous by the movie of the same name, this little area in West London has a world-famous antique market every week. It’s always busy – but the atmosphere is really fun, and the shops certainly won’t disappoint.