London is one of the world’s greatest cities and no doubt there are endless places to see in London, England! Close to 9 million busy people call London home and at anytime there are many tourists coming to visit giving it an incredible buzz. With all the places to see and things to do in London, it’s not to be missed on a world tour! London is one of those iconic cities which arguably must be visited if one wishes to see the world.
I was just in London on vacation with Monograms and thoroughly enjoyed the city tour we did. That inspired me to compile this list of 25+ iconic places to see in London to give you an idea of what’s waiting before you arrive. It’s easy to get overwhelmed so a little research like you’re doing now will go a long way! This list below is just a sample of the many things out there but does cover some of the most popular places to see and things to do in London.Once you’re done with this list, be sure to check out some unusual things to do in London. Enjoy and as always, safe travels!
25+ Places to See in London
Westminster Abbey is one of the most important churches in the United Kingdom. It has played a central role in the coronation of British monarchs since William the Conqueror ascended to the throne in 1066. Additionally, sixteen royal weddings have been celebrated here since the dawn of the 12th century. The first version of this church was said to have been built around 960 AD to house a community of Benedictine monks, but the current version of Westminster Abbey was started in 1245, and was completed in 1517.In recent times, it has hosted a pair of sombre observances, as the funeral masses for Princess Diana and the Queen Mother were held here in 1997 and 2002.
The London Eye
This is one of the places to see in London that’s near impossible to be missed. One giant Ferris wheel that gives riders an elevated view of London’s skyline. Situated on the south bank of the Thames, it stands over 440 feet high at its apex. This made it the world’s tallest Ferris wheel when it opened in 2000, a title it held for six years until Star of Nanchang (Nanchang, China) claimed it in 2006. Thanks to the views it allows of some of London’s most iconic structures, it is the most visited tourist attraction in the United Kingdom, with 3.75 million paying customers in 2013. The wheel holds 32 separate capsules capable of offering 360 degree views and with a capacity of 25 people each. With a speed of just shy of 1 km/h, it takes 30 minutes for each capsule to do a complete revolution, granting plenty of time for photographs.
St Paul’s Cathedral
An iconic Anglican cathedral which serves as the seat of the Bishop of London. Located in The City of London (proper), the original structure was founded in 604 AD in honour of Paul the Apostle, but it suffered irreparable damage in the Great Fire of 1666. The present structure commenced construction in 1669 and was finished in 1708 with the topping of a dome, giving it a 365-foot high prominence. This gave London a magnificent symbol just as the British Empire began its rise on the world stage.
This church was almost destroyed again during The Blitz air raids in World War II, but thanks to the heroic work of Royal Engineers, an air-dropped time delay bomb was defused before it could detonate. St Paul’s Cathedral is a fully functional place of worship, with upwards of five services being held per day. It also holds services on special occasions, the most recent being a service held as part of a series of celebrations honouring the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
A public space at the centre of a traffic circle in the West End of London famous for its neon signs and for its centrepiece fountain. Taking its name from one of the streets to which the traffic circle connects, Piccadilly Circus is close by to some of this city’s best theatres, shopping, bars and casinos. The fountain found within its centre was placed there to commemorate the charitable works of Lord Shaftesbury, a local politician who tackled a variety of social reform issues during his career. Piccadilly Circus is one of the places to see in London that you don’t want to miss. In New York there is Times Square, in Tokyo there is Shibuya Crossing and in London, it’s Piccadilly Circus.
Trafalgar Square was built in the City of Westminster to commemorate victory in the Battle of Trafalgar, which took place during the Napoleonic Wars in 1805. Completed in 1844, this stunning public space contains an obelisk called Nelson’s Column (named after Horatio Nelson, a general who died in the battle), a fountain, and various statues and sculptures.
The square is surrounded by the National Gallery, St Martin-in-the-Fields Church, and the Canadian Embassy. It is also situated close by to other top shelf attractions such as Piccadilly Circus and Buckingham Palace, making it easy to include in a busy day of sightseeing.
The primary residence of the monarch of Britain since Queen Victoria ascended to the throne in 1837. Buckingham Palace is one of the important places to see for royalists and celebrity spotters visiting London. This grand building in Central London contains 775 rooms in total, and its grounds is home to the largest private gardens in the city. Visitors hoping to tour the palace will want to plan their trip between late July and mid September, as it is during this time frame when the State Rooms are open to the general public.
They are open on select dates during the spring and fall as well, but these occasions are harder to predict.
Located just west of Heathrow Airport, the nearly 1,000 year old ramparts of Windsor Castle is not just one of Britain’s most famous historic landmarks, but it also remains a Royal Residence in the present day. While Queen Elizabeth II spends the majority of her time living and working at Buckingham Palace, she frequently chooses to spend weekends relaxing at Windsor Castle. The beauty of this place is evident, from the Long Walk to the lavishness of the Crimson Drawing Room. While it is possible to tour the building throughout the year, periodic closures can occur on short notice due to its use by the Royal Family.
Harrods Department Store
A luxury department store which opened in 1824 in the district of Knightsbridge, Harrods is a retail institution in Greater London. Occupying over one million square feet of retail space and with 330 different departments within its walls, those looking for the finest goods in the UK will find them here. Harrods is quite unlike any store you’ve ever visited: within, you’ll find no less than 32 restaurants, a tailor, a wine steward, bespoke services which put together everything from gourmet picnic hampers to custom fragrances, and so much more. There’s even a bank which sells gold bars off the shelf, so if you have money to burn, stop by Harrods and browse for a bit.
Hampton Court Palace
A royal palace situated more than 18 kilometres southwest of the centre of London. Hampton Court Palace was originally built in 1515 for Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, though it was later seized by King Henry VIII in 1529 after he was unable to annul the King’s marriage so he could wed Anne Boleyn. A massive expansion project initiated by Henry VIII left the palace looking rather peculiar, as the build was in a completely different style (Baroque) than the original structure (Tudor).
Within, visitors will be able to enjoy a number of paintings donated from the Royal Collection, as well as decorative touches which include intensely vivid stained glass windows. Outside, the gardens of Hampton Court Palace, a sizable hedge maze, Real Tennis courts (the ancient game from which the modern game was derived), and the world’s largest grape vine since 2005 will keep you busy for hours. Despite its distant location relative to other major London attractions, it is well-connected by train (Waterloo to Hampton Court Station) and bus (lines 111, 216, 411 and R68).
The largest of the four royal parks within London, Hyde Park offers a relaxing respite from its frenetic pace of life. Established in 1536 by King Henry VIII to be his own personal hunting ground, it was opened to the public a century later. In time, it became a popular place for protests and demonstrations, from May Day parades to suffragettes and countless anti-war demonstrations. Speaker’s Corner (established in 1872) continues to attract the opinionated to Hyde Park, as it gives them a platform to share their views, irrespective of their position on the political spectrum.
Another of the royal parks of London, Green Park is best known for its proximity to Buckingham Palace. A green space which lacks the attractions that parks nearby boast (lakes, large monuments, etc), it is less visited by locals and tourists, making it a relaxing place to go if you are seeking peace and quiet. A few minor points of interest do exist within the bounds of Green Park: Canada Memorial, which is dedicated to Canadian soldiers who died in both world wars is a powerful one, as is the RAF Bomber Command Memorial, which honours the pilots who took to the skies to defend the UK in World War II.
A major royal residence in London, Kensington Palace is home to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, otherwise known by the public as Will and Kate. It was also the home of Prince William’s late mother, Princess Diana prior to her untimely death in 1997. The palace was closed for much of the opening years of the 21st century as a $19 million USD renovation was completed. It re-opened for visitation in 2012, just in time for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Throughout, there are extensive modern displays, antique furniture, and art which detail the life and times of royals such as William and Mary, George I and II, Victoria, and Queen Elizabeth II.
A lively entertainment and cultural district found in Central London, Covent Garden offers plenty of things to see and do. By day, watch street performers do everything from juggle razor-sharp swords to play exquisite music, and shop in a variety of boutiques which run the gamut from luxury brands like Burberry to consumer favourites like Apple. By night, its many narrow streets and alleyways are lined with countless restaurants and pubs, the latter of which have poured pints for hundreds of years.
If you can’t decide which one to visit, stop in at the Lamb & Flag, London’s oldest continually operating drinking establishment. Serving its first drink in 1688, it was a favoured haunt of Charles Dickens, and the venue of many bare knuckled fist fights over the years.
“The City” of London
If you are new to London, know that there are two concepts of the place: the term which refers to the Old City of London exclusively, and the one which includes the much larger City of Westminster and the surrounding boroughs within the M25 ring motorway. The former is of particular interest of visitors, as this one square mile plot of land within Greater London is where some of its best known attractions are located.
St. Paul’s Cathedral, remnants of the London City Wall, Leadenhall Market, and the Monument to the Great Fire of London are just a few of the sights worth seeing here. ‘The City’ is also home to the London’s financial district. As such, there is a mix of shiny glass and steel skyscrapers which have sprung up amidst the centuries old buildings here, making for an appealing dynamic photographers will love.
Tower of London
A castle sitting on the north bank of the Thames in Central London, the Tower of London has served many purposes over its history. Completed in 1078 after being commissioned by William the Conqueror, it has been viewed by many residents as a symbol of oppression, as it was built by the Normans who had conquered them just a decade earlier.
Its most notorious use was as a prison from 1100 to 1952. It has counted Elizabeth I, Sir Walter Raleigh, and prisoners of war during both World Wars among its many inmates. In addition to this, it has also been used as a royal residence, a treasury, an armory, and the home of the Crown Jewels during its history.
Houses of Parliament
The heart of British democracy, the Houses of Parliament are where laws are debated and passed in the United Kingdom. Known formally as the Palace of Westminster, the first building on this site served as primary royal residence of the monarch of England until 1512.
After a fire destroyed the palace in that year, it was rebuilt and designated as the meeting location of the House of Lords and the House of Commons. Further renovations were carried out in the 19th century, with architect Charles Berry redoing the structure in the Gothic Revival and English Perpendicular Gothic style.
This building is also home to the world famous clock tower Big Ben. However, it is presently undergoing a major renovation, making 2017 and much of 2018 a bad time to get a photo of this iconic part of the Houses of Parliament.
The fourth most visited institution of its type in the world, visiting the British Museum is a must do for anyone wishing to learn about the history, art, and culture of humanity. There are eight million pieces in its collection, with representation from virtually every civilization that has ever existed on this planet.
As you move through its 94 galleries, you’ll see displays which show off antiquities and artifacts from Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Persian, Indian, Chinese, European, African, Polynesian, and Pre-Colombian civilizations, to mention but a few. Best of all, there is no admission fee to visit this treasure trove – funding for the British Museum comes from the government, although donations are graciously accepted.
Located on the north end of Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery is among the most beloved art museums in the world. Only three art-focused institutions are visited more – The Louvre, the aforementioned British Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. The main collection of the National Gallery is free of charge, as it is a publicly-funded institution.
With over 2,300 paintings dating back as far as the 13th century, the National Gallery may lack the quantity of other museums, but its collection spans a variety of styles and periods, and it contains works from some of humanity’s greatest visual artists. From Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Virgin of the Rocks to Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers, this institution has few (if any) weak points, making it a highlight for art lovers.
A food-focused public space situated on the south bank of the Thames near The Shard, Borough Market is a mandatory attraction for foodies visiting London. While it was first mentioned in print in 1276, it claims to have been founded in 1014. Starting off as an open air affair near where the London Bridge terminated, it moved into its own building in 1851.
The Borough Market is open to the public from Wednesday to Saturday (hours vary by day) and to restauranteurs and grocers between 2 to 8 am on weekdays. It sells a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, breads, and pastries from across the UK, as well as selling imported products from the European continent. If you’re spending the day exploring London, this is your best bet for lunch.
Traveling on a budget, but still looking for a killer view of the London skyline? Take to the London Underground, and ride a Northern Line train to Chalk Farm station. After taking a short walk down Regent’s Park Road, you’ll arrive at the crest of Primrose Hill.
From here, you’ll be privy to an all encompassing view of London’s downtown core. Nearly every skyscraper, church, and tower of note can be seen from here, including standouts such as The Shard and St. Paul’s Cathedral. If you have an extended zoom lens for your camera, be sure to bring it with you.
Central London does not have a monopoly on cool neighbourhoods in the metropolitan area. Outside the core, you will find boroughs which can take up the lion’s share of your day with their unique character, shops, and attractions. Camden Town is one of these places, as its alternative vibe has given its shops, restaurants, and a look which stands apart from much of the rest of the city.
Limited in the amount of time you can spend here? Head straight for Camden Market. A series of outdoor retail spaces offering everything from local crafts to gourmet fast food, you’ll be able to get souvenir shopping done and get a great meal all in one place.
While you are wandering around, be sure not to miss Cyberdog, a clothing and apparel store geared towards ravers. Designed with an industrial look with a hint of cyberpunk, its loud rhythmic music, dancers, and unique products will make this shop an unlikely highlight of your time at Camden Market.
One of the world’s most iconic bridges, the Tower Bridge is another can’t miss attraction in London. True to its name, its two centre spires are shaped like towers. With a peak height of 213 feet above the River Thames, it is a breathtaking sight for travelers of all persuasions. Finished in 1894, it has captured the imagination of the world with its Victorian Gothic design.
Great views can be had from nearby London Bridge, as well as from the north bank of the Thames. Tower Bridge is free to cross on its pedestrian deck, but those wishing to ascend its central spires to the observation deck will be required to pay an admission fee. Within the spires, you’ll also be able to view the Victorian-era engines which still open the drawbridge when tall-masted ships approach.
Natural History Museum
With over 80 million artifacts and specimen, the Natural History Museum is an attraction with no shortage of amazing geological, zoological, and botanical specimens. Another one of Britain’s taxpayer institutions, there is no admission to enter, making it ideal for families and those traveling on a budget.
Highlights within include a full skeleton of a blue whale, various dinosaur fossils, an outdoor wildlife garden which profiles the various plants of the United Kingdom, and a fully-preserved giant squid in a glass tank. Situated down the street from the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National History Museum is a great place to go after touring the former institution in the morning.
Also known as Shakespeare’s Globe, the Globe Theatre is a reproduction of the playhouse where many of William Shakespeare’s classics were acted out for adoring audiences in the 17th century. While it originally met the wrecking ball in 1644, it was rebuilt by enthusiasts of The Bard in the 20th century using original building materials and techniques.
Holding up to 1,400 theatregoers at a time within walls made of English Oak, this performing arts space is open for plays during the summer months, so if you can’t get out to Stratford upon Avon during your visit to the UK, take in a show here.
The View From The Shard
Standing out due to its height and ultra-modern design, The Shard has become one of the most noteworthy fixtures in London’s skyline since its completion in 2012. Standing over 1,000 feet and 95 stories high, it is the tallest building in the United Kingdom and fourth highest in Europe, making it the perfect place to capture an excellent view of the Greater London area.
The View from The Shard gives you a chance to do just that. An observation deck situated on levels 69 and 72, the vistas from here are world class, but on the way up, you’ll also be treated to a visual presentation in the elevator. Using mirrors and display screens, you’ll ascend virtually through the roofs of less lofty structures in the London skyline during your minute-long ride to The View observation deck. This is one of the places to see in London if you really want a bird’s-eye view of the city.
London isn’t all about palaces and 800 year old buildings. If you are a fan of modern skyscrapers, business districts, and all the high-end restaurants, bars, and shopping that go with them, you’ll want to spend a few hours walking the streets of Canary Wharf.
While you’ll probably be drawn here by the attractions mentioned above, there is a cultural attraction worth your time here: the Museum of London Docklands. Focusing on the backstory of the port of London from Roman times up to the closure of the Docklands as an industrial site in the 1970s, those into this type of history will really dig this place.
Despite its less than attractive name, the East London district of Shoreditch has become one of the hippest neighbourhoods in the city. Originally a working class area, low rents made it an attractive place for creatives, beginning a cycle of gentrification which eventually led to tech companies moving in alongside the art galleries.
The infusion of money hasn’t completed erased this place’s gritty edge. Indie shops and walls plastered in graffiti are still a common sight for those walking its rougher looking streets. Recommendations include: This Shop Rocks, a shop filled with gorgeous antiques; the Brick Lane Beigel Bake, which serves a bagel sandwich stuffed with salt beef; and the Queen of Hoxton, a nightspot favoured by millennials, as it contains arcade machines and ping pong tables along with the usual bar attractions.
Victoria and Albert Museum
Named after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, the Victoria and Albert Museum is dedicated to design and the decorative arts. Within these walls, you’ll find the world’s biggest collection of sculptures crafted after the classical period.
Over its 12.5 acres and 145 galleries, you’ll find artistic pieces made of ceramic, glass, textile, silver, and countless other materials. With the largest collection of Italian Renaissance pieces outside Italy, the best collection of East Asian pieces in Europe, and the most comprehensive collection of Islamic pieces in the Western World, lovers of beautiful objets d’art will lose track of the hours they spend here.
Want to lie in the Western and Eastern Hemisphere at the same time? Ride the Tube (North Greenwich, Jubilee Line) to Greenwich, home of zero degrees longitude, otherwise known as the Prime Meridian. This place is more than just a geographical curiosity, however: those interested in Britain’s seafaring history will want to check out the National Maritime Museum.
One of the biggest institutions of its kind in the world, this place houses artifacts which chronicles the oceangoing exploits of one of the greatest empires the world has ever known. With nautical art, hand drawn maps made by on-board cartographers, and authentic navigational instruments, lovers of maritime history will be at home here.
This list has a few things to do and places to see in London, yes? Believe it or not, this is just the tip of the iceberg to get you started! One could spend a lifetime exploring London with so many places to see and still feel like they’ve missed so much. I hope this list gives you some ideas for your next trip or vacation to London. If you feel anything was left out, please let us know!
Big thanks to my friends at Monograms and iambassador for arranging this experience. I toured with Monograms for 12 days and had an incredible time on the #MonogramsInsider campaign. That said, all opinions are my own as they always have been and most certainly always will be.