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City guide to the must-see attractions of London: things to do and see in London that you can’t miss.
What are the must-see attractions of London? It’s not easy to answer this question.
There are so many things to do and see in London that it’s hard to choose one over the other.
Besides, this is something very personal. What might be a can’t-miss thing for me it might not be for someone else.
Or maybe somebody might think: “What? Is she crazy? How could she not list this place between the must-see attractions of London?”.
All I’m saying is: please don’t hate me if your favorite museum or your beloved little church is not part of this list! And all of you little places of London that are not in this post please don’t take it the wrong way! There will be some space for you maybe in the next articles!
This is a little guide to the must-see attractions of London only in my opinion.
Now if you are still reading it means that you are putting a little trust in my opinion. Thank you so much!
So let’s start!
BIG BEN AND WESTMINSTER.
How could this not be one of the must-see attractions of London?
For many people this is actually the symbol of London!
The magical Big Ben! Millions of children watched Peter Pan, Wendy and her little brothers flying over it to find Neverland!
Big Ben is a huge bell that marks the time from 1924. It’s inside the clock tower and takes its name from Benjamin Hall who oversaw its installation.
So Big Ben is actually the name of the bell, even though everyone refers to the clock tower as the Big Ben.
Big Ben is part of the Westminster complex, the meeting place of the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Westminster Palace was built in the 11th century by Edward the Confessor, the penultimate Anglo-Saxon king of England, so that he could oversee the construction of Westminster Abbey, the site of coronations and burials of most royals.
Westminster was the residence of the Kings of England until 1529 when a fire forced Henry VIII to leave Westminster for Whitehall. The palace still remained the official royal palace, but it was actually used only for the meetings of the two Houses of Parliament and as a courthouse.
Another fire destroyed Westminster again in 1834. Westminster Hall was the only remaining part. The hall witnessed many events of the British history and was used for different purposes: lying-in-state of the Royal Family members, banquet hall for coronations, the supreme court of justice of the kingdom.
Information to Visit Westminster Palace.
If you wish to visit Westminster you can attend debates for free in the House of Commons and House of Lords or pay for a guided tour in English or for audio tours.
1. Attending debates.
Check out the Parliament calendar to find out when and where the debates will take place.
You just have to turn up at the Cromwell Green entrance and wait for the assistants’ instructions.
2. Tours of Parliament.
If you want to take part in a tour you can either book online or buy the tickets at the office in front of Portcullis House on Victoria Embankment with the following timetables:
- Monday – Friday: 10:00 – 16:00
- Saturday: 8:45 – 16:45
Westminster Tour Prices:
- Audio tours: £18.50 for adults (£20.50 for tours on the same day). Children (5-15): free with each paying adult. Additional child: £7.50 (£8.50 for tours on the same day). Free entrance for all children under the age of 5 (ticket still needed).
- Guided Tour: £25.50 for adults (£28 for tours on the same day). Children (5-15): £11 (£12 for tours on the same day). Free entrance for all children under the age of 5 (guided tours are not recommended for children under the age of 5).
Information to Visit Westminster Abbey.
If you want to visit Westminster Abbey you can book the ticket online, buy the ticket at the abbey or attend a service.
1. Buy tickets online.
Click here to buy the tickets online. Choose a date and time for your visit.
Westminster Abbey Tickets Online Prices:
- Adults: £20. Children (6 – 16): £9. Children under the age of 6: Free.
2. Buy tickets at the abbey.
Click here to find out about the abbey opening hours according to the day of your visit. Westminster Abbey will close one hour after the last entry.
Westminster Abbey Prices:
- Adults: £22. Children (6 – 16): £9. Children under the age of 6: Free.
3. Assist a service.
If you choose this option you are either very religious or you want to visit the abbey for free.
I confess that this was also my choice!
Obviously no one can deny you access the abbey if you say that you want to attend a service. But please try to follow these guidelines:
- Try not to enter the church with your camera around your neck or with your amazing Lonely Planet guide in your hands.
- During the service you can’t wander around the church. You will have to wait for the end of the service to visit the abbey.
Click here for the service schedule.
Information to Visit the Clock Tower.
I left it for the end because I have some bad news.
If you are not a UK resident, you cannot visit the clock tower!
Come on don’t make that face! There is still so much for you to visit in London! Let’s move on!
2. TOWER BRIDGE.
The amazing Tower Bridge. Beautiful. Stunning.
Built in 1894, I think this is one of the most beautiful attractions of London.
If you are lucky you can see the bridge lifting for the tall vessels that sail down the Thames.
But if you don’t want to rely on luck click here for the bridge lift times.
Tower Bridge is very photogenic so do it justice with many photo shoots!
You can cross the bridge for free along the regular walking path or you can buy a ticket for the glass floor walkway.
Click here to buy the ticket online for the glass floor walkway.
You can also buy the ticket at the bridge.
Tower Bridge Glass Floor Walkway Prices:
- Adults: £9.80 (online £8.70). Children (5-15): £4.20 (online £3.80). Children under the age of 5: free.
The bridge links the two banks of Thames. From Tower Bridge walk along the South Bank until you reach Westminster Bridge.
South Bank offers a great view of the city!
3. LONDON EYE.
Some people don’t even list it between the must-see attractions of London.
You either love it or hate it. Me, I love it!
You would normally go on top of the tallest building to have a good view of the city from above. But then that building will be… out of view!
You could use a drone then. But don’t even get me started with that! I hate them so freaking much! So I would just say we skip this option.
A giant Ferris wheel like London eye allows you to have a great view of the whole skyline!
How could anyone hate something like this?
Since 2000 London Eye has been offering a great view of London from a height of 135 meters. If the sky conditions are good (and this is a big IF in London’s everyday reality) visibility is about 40 kilometers!
Opening hours for London Eye’s capsules might vary so first take a look at the official website. Usually it opens at 10:00 and closes between 18:00 and 20:30.
The ticket costs £28 if you buy it at London Eye or £25.20 if you buy it online.
Honestly since it’s only £2.80 more I would recommend you to buy it once you get there.
London’s weather is unpredictable! Some days there is very low visibility and your ticket might be booked for one of those days! And trust me in London chances are pretty high!
So as soon as you catch a sunny day, run to London Eye and line up to buy your ticket!
A free alternative to London Eye is for sure the Sky Garden.
It’s a garden located on the 35th floor of 20 Fenchurch Street, a skyscraper also known as Walkie Talkie for its remarkable shape.
Click here to book your free visit to the garden. Each Monday they make the following week available for bookings. So on that Monday go to the website and hurry up to book your visit especially if you want to go at sunset.
Obviously here too we should take into account the unpredictable weather of London but at least you haven’t spent a dime!
4. TOWER OF LONDON.
How many stories the Tower of London can tell you!
Royal residence, prison, place of executions, the treasury of the Crown Jewels, observatory, fortress, armory, a house for the Ravens.
The castle was built in 1066 during the reign of William the Conqueror and witnessed many historical events, including the execution of Anne Boleyn. It is also a place full of legends and superstitions.
The Tower of London is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The visit of the tower would take you approximately half day.
Tower of London Prices:
- Adults: £26.80 (online £22.50). Children (5-15): £12.70 (online £10.75). Children under the age of 5: free.
Click here to book online.
Tower of London Opening Hours:
- Tuesday – Saturday: 9:00 – 16:30. Last entry: 16:00.
- Monday and Sunday: 10:00 – 16:30. Last entry: 16:00.
Once you got the ticket, you can meet the Beefeaters near the entrance.
The Beefeaters used to guard the jewels of the Tower of London. Today they guide visitors around the castle for free in their traditional uniform.
We don’t know exactly the origin of their name. One of the theories is that their wage included chunks of beef.
5. BUCKINGHAM PALACE.
Buckingham Palace has been the London residence of the Royal Family since 1837, when Queen Victoria took the throne.
When the queen “is home” the flag with the Royal Standard is up.
The queen is resident of the Buckingham Palace for 10 months a year. In these months it’s not possible to visit the palace.
The answer to your question is yes! You can only visit Buckingham Palace 2 months a year, during the summer openings.
Click here to book your visit.
On the other hand, it’s possible to watch the changing of the guard throughout the year.
The changing of the guard ceremony takes place every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday at 11:00.
However dates can change so you should always check here for updates or cancellations.
It goes without saying that the crowd is huge! Some people stick to the main gate for hours to save their spot!
Your Majesty please forgive me but I find the changing of the guard so tacky! Last time I watched it the band was playing Rihanna and Indiana Jones theme song!
But the parade of the guards with their big black furry hats is for sure one of the most traditional things to see in London.
So if you want my advice, pass by Buckingham Palace during the changing of the guard but don’t worry about getting there hours ahead to find the best spot. You are not going to a Pink Floyd concert!
And don’t feel bad if you don’t stay until the end. We made it for 10 minutes!
6. THE ROYAL PARKS (GREEN PARK, ST. JAMES PARK, HYDE PARK AND KENSINGTON GARDENS).
I can’t not include the Royal Parks in the must-see attractions of London!
Since I love running, for me a visit to London is not complete if I don’t go for a run in one of these beautiful green areas.
Green Park, St. James Park, Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens are just some of the Royal Parks of London.
The Royal Parks were originally owned by the monarchy of the United Kingdom and used for their recreational activities and as a hunting ground. Now they are under public ownership.
Green Park was created by Henry VIII and used to be a dueling ground. Its name derives from the fact that here no flowers have been planted.
Some people say that King Charles II’s wife ordered to remove all the flowers because she caught him picking flowers for another woman!
ST. JAMES PARK.
St. James Park is a beautiful green area with a cute lake populated with swans, ducks, gooses and other water birds.
The park is famous especially for its bridge that offers a great view of Buckingham Palace and London Eye.
Hyde Park is my favorite park. It was originally used as a hunting ground by the Royal Family and now is a large green area where to hang out on a sunny day.
Many squirrels live here in this place full of paths for walking or running around the park and along Serpentine Lake.
The highlights of the park are Princess Diana Memorial Fountain and Speakers’ Corner, an area used by common people to express their free thought.
Kensington Gardens are gorgeous gardens separated from Hyde Park by Serpentine Lake.
In this park you can see the statue of Peter Pan, Albert Memorial (dedicated to Queen Victoria’s husband), the beautiful Italian Gardens and Kensington Palace, famous for being the residence of Diana after her divorce from Prince Charles.
Near the entrance by Knightsbridge is Harrods, the famous department store.
Very elegant store to some, the ultimate version of kitsch to me! Inside you can even find an Egyptian hall with hieroglyphics and sphinxes! Next to the Egyptian escalator there is a fountain dedicated to Dodi and Diana.
7. TRAFALGAR SQUARE AND NATIONAL GALLERY.
Trafalgar Square is one of the main squares of London.
The National Gallery dominates the square. Another tourist attraction of the square is Nelson’s Column dedicated to the great British Admiral.
The National Gallery is one of the free museums of London.
It seems incredible that a place of such great artistic value is free but English people strongly believe that culture has to be available for everyone. And this is one of the things that make London so extraordinary!
The National Gallery is huge. You can spend whole days in there, go back on different days or dedicate your visit to the main artworks of the museum.
But here we have a problem again. Who gets to decide which pieces of art are the main ones and which are the ones to leave out? What does a Caravaggio have that a Raffaello hasn’t got? We could seriously upset someone here!
Obviously in this case we are dealing again with personal taste.
So here are the artworks of the National Gallery that in my opinion cannot be missed.
- SUNFLOWERS. Vincent Van Gogh. Location: Second Floor. Room 41. Dates 1700 – 1930.
- WATER-LILY POND. Claude Monet. Location: Second Floor. Room 41. Dates 1700 – 1930.
- SUPPER AT EMMAUS. Caravaggio. Location: Second Floor. Room 31. Dates 1600 – 1700.
- BOY BITTEN BY A LIZARD. Caravaggio. Location: Second Floor. Room 31. Dates 1600 – 1700.
- ARNOLFINI PORTRAIT. Jan Van Eyck. Location: Second Floor. Room 63. Dates 1200 – 1500.
- VIRGIN OF THE ROCKS (second version). Leonardo Da Vinci. The first version is in the Louvre in Paris. Read Visit Paris in 3 Days for more information. Location: Second Floor. Room 66. Dates 1200 – 1500.
- THE ENTOMBMENT. Michelangelo Buonarroti. Location: Second Floor. Room 8. Dates 1500 – 1600.
National Gallery Opening Hours:
- Everyday (except Fridays): 10:00 – 18:00
- Fridays: 10:00 – 21:00
- Closing Days: December 24, 25, 26, January 1
Trafalgar Square is a few steps from Piccadilly Circus, one of the main intersections of London. It’s cool especially at night when its neon signs make it look like Times Square in New York!
8. BRITISH MUSEUM.
And since we are talking about museums, how can I forget to mention the British Museum between the must-see attractions of London?
And this great museum is free too!
Well I need to be passionate here because the British Museum is my favorite museum!
The museum holds collections from all over the world and its rooms are divided into geographical areas.
The most famous item of the museum is Rosetta Stone (Room 4 – Ground Floor), the stone that allowed us to translate the Egyptian hieroglyphs thanks to its inscriptions in 3 languages.
The collection from Ancient Egypt is extraordinary and includes mummies and statues.
One single visit is not enough to explore the whole museum. So go back on different days if you have the time or dedicate your visit to what interests you more.
British Museum Opening Hours:
- Everyday (except Fridays): 10:00 – 17:30
- Friday: 10:00 – 20:30
- Closing Days: December 24, 25, 26, January 1
9. ST. PAUL’S CATHEDRAL.
St. Paul’s Cathedral is one of the buildings that define London skyline.
This amazing cathedral was built in 1666 and its dome is the largest one in the city.
St. Paul’s Cathedral was used for the funeral of Winston Churchill, the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana and for a memorial service for the victims of September 11.
The iconic Millennium Bridge links the church to Tate Modern, the most famous museum of international modern art, on the opposite bank.
Just as for Westminster Abbey, you can visit the cathedral by attending a service or buying a ticket.
St. Paul’s Cathedral Visiting Hours:
- Monday – Saturday: 8:30 – 16:30
St. Paul’s Cathedral Prices:
- Adults: £18 (online £16). Children (6-17): £8 (online £6). Children under the age of 6: Free.
Click here to book the ticket online.
Click here for the service schedule.
10. COVENT GARDEN.
Covent Garden is probably one of the most popular districts of London.
It’s named after a convent garden that used to be in this area in the 12th century.
Now it’s famous for its shops and market stalls, restaurants and theaters including Royal Opera House.
Wow I made it! I listed the must-see attractions of London in only 10 bullet points! It was hard but I did it!
Ok, all kidding aside, I made this little guide to the must-see attractions of London just to give you some inspiration to plan your itinerary in this amazing city.
If you are visiting London for the first time and staying for a few days, this could be then your first approach to the city.
I’m pretty sure that you will love the city so much that you will be back again to make your next trip to London a new personal adventure with new things to do and see!