Buckingham Palace Rd, SW1A 1AA (020 7766 7300). Victoria tube/rail.
The Queen’s official residence may not be the most fairy-tale of palaces, but it remains one of the most famous in the world and justifiably so. The State Rooms (19 in all) are open to the public from late July to early October each year, and in 2011 will display the Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress. Other royal palaces worth making a beeline for are Hampton Court Palace, Eltham Palace and Kensington Palace.
Read our guide to royal events, venues and locations in London
Spend a day soaking up the atmosphere of one of London’s most lively villages. Of Camden’s various markets, the Lock Market and warren-like Stables Market are the best, selling classy arts and crafts, vintage furniture and clothes, jewellery and much else besides. After a walk along the pretty canal, why not do a celebrity-spotting all-nighter in the grungy pubs, famous clubs and music venues (such as The Barfly and Koko) and busy bars?
Read our Camden area guide
17 Gough Square, EC4A 3DE (020 7353 3745). Chancery Lane tube.
Make a pilgrimage to the house where the first ever dictionary of the English language was compiled. Dr Samuel Johnson lived in this four-storey Georgian house just off Fleet Street, feeding oysters to his spoiled cat, Hodge, as he toiled over the exhaustive tome. There’s a statue of Hodge in the small square outside the house, oyster shells lying around his paws.
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For a historic World Heritage site, there’s a lot that’s new in Greenwich at the moment. That’s partly because, outside of the Olympic Park in Stratford, this area is one of London 2012’s hottest spots. Discover Greenwich opened last year, orienting visitors to rich cultural pickings in all directions. Don’t miss the new Sammy Ofer Wing at the National Maritime Museum, the views from the Royal Observatory, the lovely market and the ales at The Old Brewery pub.
Find events, restaurants and pubs in Greenwich
Trafalgar Square, WC2N 5DN (020 7747 2885). Leicester Square tube or Charing Cross tube/rail.
Families are always leaving London for more space, but what about the cultural input they’ll miss? Try the National Gallery’s two-hour art workshops for children aged five to 11 on Sundays (11am-1pm and 2-4pm), or the gallery’s imaginative family workshops, for those with children aged six to 12, on Saturdays (2-3.30pm).
Jason's Canal Boat Trip Jason's Yard, opposite 60 Blomfield Rd, Little Venice, W9 2PD. Warwick Avenue tube.
Slow the pace right down with a tranquil trip along Regent’s Canal in a long boat. You’ll start at the exclusive watery enclave of Little Venice and wend gracefully to Camden Lock, passing through London Zoo on the way (look out for the exotic birds and warthogs visible from the banks). At Camden, there’s plenty of time for a root around the markets before returning on a later boat.
Read more about Jason's Canal Boat Trip
You’ll stumble across lots of fascinating things as you casually stroll around London, but you’ll miss out on the fascinating anecdotes and explanations behind much of what you see. Why not try viewing the city from a different perspective, on one of the capital’s many themed and esoteric tours? There are photographic tours, alternative tours of east London, cycling tours, jogging tours and (our favourite) a tour in a 1960s Mini.
Find more London tours
Also suggested by: Secret LDN, InFormed London and The Londonist
Palace of Westminster, Whitehall, SW1A 0AA (Tour bookings: 0844 847 1672). Westminster tube.
Visitors are welcome to observe the debates at the House of Lords and House of Commons. The highlight is undoubtedly Prime Minister's Question Time at noon on Wednesday, when the incumbent PM fields a barrage of hostile questions from the Opposition. That’s probably the liveliest session to witness here at the House of Commons, unless you’re a committed student of politics. Don’t forget, though, tickets must be arranged in advance through your MP or embassy.
Read more abour the Houses of Parliament
Station Rd, Waltham Cross, EN9 1AB (08456 770606). Waltham Cross rail.
Paddle for dear life at this newly opened Olympic venue, open to the public until London 2012 events begin in earnest, and again afterwards. This man-made white-water course is 300m long, can be set to various levels of ‘churn’ and even has a conveyor belt to take rafters back up to the top of the course without leaving their vessel.
Read more about Lee Valley White Water Centre
12 Holland Park Rd, W14 8LZ (020 7602 3316). Kensington tube.
The double-storey Arab Hall alone makes a visit to this unusual Victorian house near Holland Park worthwhile. Thousands of sixteenth-century Middle Eastern tiles and mosaics collected by artist Frederic Leighton (who had the house built to his exact specifications) cover the walls, and the delicate indoor pond and fountain are an exquisite touch. The more you look, the more you’ll find in this remarkable artistic Aladdin’s Cave.
Read more about Leighton House Museum
County Hall, Riverside Building, Westminster Bridge Rd, SE1 7PB (Bookings: 020 7907 7071). Westminster tube.
After a £5 million makeover in 2009, this sprawling waterworld on the South Bank has become a big draw for families and fish fans alike. Among the new additions are a family of jumpy gentoo penguins and some laid-back Cuban crocs. But the main event is the Shark Walk, which lets visitors stroll on a Perspex platform as giant predators patrol beneath their feet – including Jaws-alike sand tiger sharks and 4.5m nurse sharks. The piranhas, meanwhile, are best seen at feeding time.
Read more about the London Aquarium
South Bank, SE1 7PB (0870 990 8883, bookings 08445 79194). Waterloo tube.
The majestic white wheel presiding over the Thames at Waterloo is a globally recognised London landmark. So it’s strange to think the Eye was originally supposed to come down after five years following its erection as part of the capital’s millennium celebrations. From inside one of its pods, you get flabbergasting views over London. Peek into the Queen’s back garden, marvel at the Shard skyscraper or just follow the snaking line of the glittering river...
Read more about the London Eye
Queen Elizabeth's Walk, SW13 9WT (020 8409 4400). Hammersmith tube then 283 bus.
You don’t need to be a birdspotter to enjoy the huge variety of avian life on show in this lovely, 104-acre wildlife park – one of London’s best-kept secrets. Our favourite residents are the cute white-faced whistling ducks that reply if you whistle in the right tone. There’s also a rain garden, a giant chess set and regular guided tours. Also suggested by: Secret LDN
Read more about the London Wetland Centre
Outer Circle, Regent's Park, NW1 4RY (020 7722 3333, bookings 020 7907 7071). Camden Town/ Baker Street tube, then 274 bus.
Lions and tigers and bears are all present and correct, but the enclosure to head for is the new pool at Penguin Beach. It’s the largest in England and gives much better views than before, with glass sides that fully display the penguins’ transformation from comic waddlers to graceful underwater swimmers. Don’t miss the daily ‘Animals in Action’ show and artist-engineer Tim Hunkin’s unusual clock outside the Blackburn Pavilion, which springs into life on the half hour.
Read more about London Zoo
Monument St, London, EC3R 8AH (020 7626 2717). Monument tube.
Climb 311 steps to the top of the tallest freestanding stone column in the world, and you’ll find the views over London are spectacular. What’s more, you get a certificate for your trouble. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren as a monument to the Great Fire of London – and taking six years to build before it was completed in 1677 – it stands 61m high. Its height, incidentally, marks the distance of the Monument from the spot where the fire started, in a baker's shop on Pudding Lane. Also suggested by: London Is Cool
Read more about Monument
South Bank, SE1 9PX (020 7452 3000). Temple tube or Waterloo tube/rail.
See how the magic is created on a behind-the-scenes tour of the enormous backstage areas that enable the National’s repertory system to work. You’ll see the huge platform stages on wheels, the revolving stage at the Olivier, the fly tower and – perhaps most intriguing of all – the prop and set-building workshops, where sculptors, carpenters, smiths and painters are creating anything from silicone rashers of bacon to polystyrene rubble.
Read more about the National Theatre
There are so many ways to enjoy London’s mighty river. Walk along the Thames Path for fantastic views or plunge into the water on a Duck Tour, in an amphibious vehicle. Thames Clippers run regular services between Millbank Pier and Royal Arsenal Woolwich, but the fastest river ride is a London RIB Voyage. The distinctive metal fins of the Thames Barrier are worth seeing, and for something different, why not try walking underneath the river in the Greenwich foot tunnel. Also suggested by: The Londonist
Find things to do on and around the river Thames
17-19 Cockspur St, SW1Y 5BL (020 7389 5040, bookings 08445 791940). Charing Cross tube/rail or Piccadilly Circus tube.
It may sound cheesy, but the Original London Sightseeing Tour is a brilliant way to see central London. The informative commentary comes in seven languages and the tour is hop-on, hop-off, so you can stop for breaks anywhere that takes your fancy. The ticket price also includes two walking tours and a river tour. Comprehensive? We think so. Good alternative bus tours include Ghost Bus Tours, Harrods Vintage Bus Tour and the Big Bus Tour. Also suggested by: London Is Cool
Read more about the Original London Sightseeing Tour
Ride in the ‘driver’s seat’ on the DLR
Grown adults like riding in the front seat of a Docklands Light Railway train just as much as children. Why? Because the trains run automatically, so there’s no driver, no driving cab and nothing to stop you pushing on an invisible throttle as the train pulls out of the station. The tracks are elevated as they weave between the skyscrapers on the Isle of Dogs, which makes the whole experience a little bit city-of-the-future, and a little bit like you’re riding the slowest roller coaster on earth.
Blackheath Avenue, SE10 8XJ (020 8858 4422). Greenwich or Maze Hill rail or Cutty Sark DLR.
Go star-spotting inside the observatory’s fabulous planetarium under the guidance of an astronomer. The journey takes in black holes, clouds of glowing gas, comets and shooting stars, as well as taking a close look at the planets. See Jupiter’s moons and Saturn’s rings before you wander off to inspect the rest of the observatory’s delights, which include the largest refracting telescope in the UK.
Read more about the Royal Observatory
Buckingham Palace Rd, SW1A 1AA (020 7766 7300). Victoria tube/rail.
The Royal Family is fashionable again thanks to Kate and Wills, so it’s more than okay to indulge in a bit of monarchical pageantry. The Changing of the Guard takes place every day from May to July at 11.30am in the Buckingham Palace forecourt and every other day the rest of the year. For a better view, head to Horse Guards Parade at 11am where you’ll get the same show without the crowds. Afterwards, try on a bearskin hat and a tunic at the Guards Museum.
Read our guide to royal events, venues and locations in London
Hampstead Heath, East Heath Rd, NW3 2SY. Hampstead Heath Overground.
This famous little hillock rises steeply from the bottom of Hampstead Heath and offers one of the best views over central London to be found anywhere in the capital. Benches at the top provide a perch as you tick off the Shard, the BT Tower, the Gherkin and Canary Wharf Tower. Turn 180 degrees and you can enjoy the antics of the kite flyers, who are always here making the most of the breeze.
Read more about Parliament Hill
21 New Globe Walk, SE1 9DT (020 7401 9919). London Bridge tube/rail.
This faithful reconstruction of the Bard’s own theatre is one of Bankside’s most iconic buildings. You may think standing up for an entire play is a bit much, but seeing any Shakespeare performance as a groundling is an involving and doubly dramatic experience. Tours of the building include exhibitions all about Elizabethan theatre and Shakespearean London.
Read more about Shakespeare's Globe
Southbank Centre, Belvedere Rd, SE1 8XX. Embankment tube or Waterloo tube/rail.
Quite simply, a brilliant day out. In summer, free outdoor performances, imaginative artworks and Jeppe Hein’s ‘Appearing Rooms’ fountain installation amuse visitors – but there’s always something going on around the terraces in front of the Royal Festival Hall, the BFI cinema and the National Theatre, whatever the time of year. The addition of restaurants and cafés along the riverside has helped create a buzzy atmosphere, though favourite pastimes still include the classics – watching the skateboarders under the Queen Elizabeth Hall and browsing at the second-hand book stalls under Waterloo Bridge.
Read our guide to the South Bank
Lord's Cricket Ground, St John's Wood Rd, London NW8 8QN (020 7616 8595/6). St John's Wood tube | Wembley Stadium, Empire Way, HA9 0WS (0844 800 2755). Wembley Park tube.
Be knocked for six by tour of Lord’s Cricket Ground and visit the oldest sporting museum in the world – the MCC Museum. The tour takes in the pavilion, the Long Room, the home and away dressing rooms, the media centre and the grandstand, while the museum is a treasure trove of artifacts including the original Ashes urn. For football fans be sure to seek out tours of the home of English football, Wembley Stadium, where you can see, among other things, the 1966 crossbar and the Jules Rimet World Cup trophy, and hold aloft a replica FA Cup.
See more sports ground tours
Tower Bridge, SE1 2UP (bookings 08445 791940). Tower Hill tube or London Bridge tube/rail.
Tower Bridge is being repainted, but don’t worry, it’s still the same iconic light blue. Check the website for dates the mighty bascules will next be raised, but that’s not the only reason to come. An entertaining exhibition in the old steam rooms, and up on the west walkway, tell the history of the bridge. The views are spectacular, and interactive kiosks have just been added to tell you more about significant buildings on the skyline.
Read more about Tower Bridge
Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly, W1J OBD (020 7300 8000). Piccadilly Circus tube.
Under the decorative arches of the Royal Academy of Arts is the prototype for the red telephone box. Before 1924, few will now remember, telephone boxes were white. Everyone’s got a mobile phone these days, but there’s still something charming about Giles Gilbert Scott’s design classic, and its evocation of a vanished era of pips, rummaging for change and ‘blue’ calling cards wedged into windowpanes. Also suggested by: Secret LDN
Merton Abbey Mills, Merantun Way, SW19 2RD (020 8647 0076 Mon-Fri; 020 8543 6656 Sat, Sun). Colliers Wood or South Wimbledone tube.
There are few more meditative and absorbing activities than being at the helm of a potters’ wheel, with a lump of wet clay under your hands. Classes take place on Saturdays at the Wheelhouse in south-west London craft centre Merton Abbey Mills, and anyone from six to 60 is welcome. Prices start at £15 and each proto-potter is allocated their own wheel for the session.
Read more about the Wheelhouse Pottery
32/34 Whitechapel Rd, E1 1DY (020 7247 2599). Whitechapel tube/Overground.
This East End bell-making institution has dropped a few clangers in its time – Big Ben and Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell probably being the most famous. But the Whitechapel Bell Foundry is significant not just for its bells – it’s possibly Britain’s oldest manufacturing company, trading since 1570. Fascinating 90-minute tours take place on Wednesdays and Saturdays, though you have to book well in advance. So why not give them a bell?
Read more about Whitechapel Bell Foundry