London is an ancient city, and its history is built tall across its landscape. The capital is dotted with theaters, galleries, museums, towering cathedrals, and monuments to modern ingenuity. To call London a cultured city would be an understatement.
There are so many iconic places to visit, it can be a challenge to pick out the best. So we chose 10 of the must-see attractions that provide the best experience for your precious time. Make the most of the city on the Thames!
10. London Eye
At 135m high, the London Eye provides spectacular views of the city that are hard to beat. Each of the 32 capsules can accommodate up to 25 people, and each ride lasts roughly 30 minutes.
Do note that due to its popularity, queues can be quite long, though they can be jumped by purchasing fast-track tickets. Booking online in advance will be cheaper than purchasing tickets at the site.
9. Globe Theatre
Globe Theatre © Andrea Vail / flickr.com
For one of the most “English” experiences in London, a visit to Shakespeare’s Globe is highly recommended. The entire theater has been reconstructed to provide the most authentic 17th century experience possible. Wooden pegs rather than nails were used in its construction, as well as Tudor-era fired bricks, thatching and plaster containing goat hair, sand and lime.
Frequent performances of Shakespeare’s plays are held here, and there is an exhibition about the Bard’s life as well as regular tours of the building.
8. Borough Market
Borough Market © vgallova / flickr.com
One of the best places to sample London’s gastronomic offerings is the Borough Market. Located on the same site since the 11th century, the market has become a London institution, particularly since its uplift in popularity over the last decade or so.
The market specializes in fresh produce of the highest quality, and there are plenty of restaurants, stalls and shops spread throughout the area. Its officially open from Wednesday – Saturday, with Saturday being the busiest by far. There are some shops and stalls open on Monday and Tuesday too, if you only have those days to visit.
7. Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum contains some of the most fantastic exhibitions on the natural world available anywhere. The building itself is a towering Victorian-era structure that’s easily as impressive as anything within its halls. The museum is a renowned research institution and contains many exhibits collected by Charles Darwin himself.
One of the big draws, particularly for children, is the large dinosaur gallery with impressive specimens and displays. There are several other zones, like the Mineral Gallery and the Darwin Centre. There is even a Dodo bird skeleton on display. With over 80 million specimens, the Natural History Museum is certainly worth a visit, and over 5 million visitors per year agree. Queues can get long, so coming early is recommended.
Entrance to permanent exhibitions is free of cost, but temporary exhibitions require a ticket purchase.
6. St Paul’s Cathedral
Designed and built after the Great Fire of London, St Paul’s Cathedral was fully opened by 1711. Today it is one of the city’s most iconic symbols, owing in no small part to its resilience during the Blitz of World War II. At 111m in height, the cathedral’s dome is one of the highest in the world.
There is a crypt below the cathedral containing memorials to roughly 300 notable individuals, including Nelson and Wellington. No visit would be complete without a climb to the top of the dome for some incredible views of the city.
5. National Gallery
Housing around 2,300 European masterpieces from the 13th to 20th centuries, the National Gallery can be considered one of the greatest art collections in the world. Works from renowned visionaries such as Renoir, Titian, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Monet and Van Gogh are contained within the 19th century building – which is a work of art in itself.
The museum covers a vast area in Trafalgar Square, and visits will take quite a while, so be prepared! Most exhibitions are free, but some will require a ticket purchase.
It’s worth spending some time strolling around the Square itself before jumping into the Gallery. Trafalgar is one of the most well-known locations in London, and the Nelson statue at its center is a striking monolith to bygone eras.
4. Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is considered one of the most impressive incarnations of Early English Gothic architecture. Construction on the present structure started in 1245, under the order of King Henry III. The Abbey is one of the UK’s most notable religious buildings, and its famed as a place of royal coronation – every monarch since William the Conqueror was crowned here.
The Abbey is also notable for the large number of monarchs interred on its grounds. 17 monarchs from Henry III in 1272 to George II in 1760 were laid to rest in its confines.
Much of the Abbey is open to visitors at no charge.
3. Houses of Parliament / Big Ben
If there is one building that symbolizes London – perhaps even England – it’s Big Ben. No visit to the capital would be complete without seeing this iconic structure in person, though the name “Big Ben” does actually refer to the bell within the tower and not the tower itself. The bell, by the way, weighs a whopping 13.5 tonnes.
The Houses of Parliament themselves are a stunning architectural achievement, having mostly been constructed in the mid-19th century neo-Gothic style. They represent the heart of British democracy, and are open to visitors during the weekday when parliament is in recess, or on Saturdays year-round.
2. British Museum
With thousands of artifacts worldwide from prehistory to the modern era, the British Museum is the UK’s largest and finest. Some outstanding objects include the Rosetta Stone, Egyptian mummies, the controversial Lord Elgin Parthenon friezes from Athens, Assyrian Winged Bulls from Khorsabad, and relics from the Sutton Hoo burials.
The museum is absolutely massive, so visits over more than one day are highly recommended. Anyone with even a passing interest in history or the human condition will be fascinated at the rich stories contained within.
1. Tower of London
Tower of London © Garry Knight / flickr.com
The Tower of London began its life in the 1070s under the order of William the Conqueror. Today, the “Tower” is actually a castle complex composed of 22 towers that provide an astonishing view into England’s fascinating and bloody past. The site is famed as a spot for royal imprisonment and executions, as well as the current residence for the Crown Jewels.
Yeoman Warders, better known as “Beefeaters” provide entertaining tours of the complex, free of charge. Highlights include the central White Tower, where the Royal Armouries contain a large suit of armor that belonged to Henry VIII, the Bloody Tower, where the young Edward V and his little brother were kept and later murdered, and the Waterloo Barracks where the Crown Jewels are secured.
Along with the site where Henry VIII had Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard – his second and fifth wife respectively – beheaded, and the famous ravens that have long resided at the Tower, London’s most famous castle is absolutely steeped in legend and history.