101 things to do in London: attractions and sights
These wonderful London attractions, museums and parks are all must-sees
They’re the city’s most recognisable representatives, but don’t overlook them just because they’re the postcard perennials. These are the London attractions everyone should visit, and if even the most cynical Londoners don’t enjoy them, we’ll eat our bearskin cap.
See London's best museums, parks and days out
In galleries lined with the prized possessions of kings and the everyday trinkets of peasants, the British Museum reveals stories of life, death and glory. Get a picture of how Native American cultures lived centuries ago, seek out the sport of a lion hunt in carvings circa 645BC and explore rituals of death and remembrance reflected in the decorated casket of the ancient Egyptian mummy of Katebet.
- 44 Great Russell St, WC1B 3DG
The IWM’s brand new First World War Galleries examine the politics and legacy of the 1914-1918 conflict, but also day-to-day life in the trenches. In photographs, artefacts like tins of food, and a collection of letters (many from fighters who never came back), the museum tells a powerful and moving story.
- Lambeth Rd, SE1 6HZ
The Victoria and Albert Museum’s ceramics collection is the most extensive in the world. Grayson Perry might have revived an appreciation of the artform (see his handiwork here, alongside ornate pieces of the Medici age) but the collection shows how greatly valued ceramics have always been, from figurines crafted in Paris to soup tureens made in Chelsea.
- Cromwell Rd, SW7 2RL
For everyone from T-Rex-obsessed toddlers to budding paleontologists, the Natural History Museum remains the ultimate destination for matters pre-historic. A walk around the dinosaurs gallery, with its life-size models and skeletons, allows you to appreciate the sheer scale of these creatures, while the four animatronic displays reveal more about how they lived.
- Cromwell Road, SW7 5BD
The Science Museum’s stunning new second floor gallery provides a chance to explore the imagination and creativity of invention as captured in photography and art. See a visiting exhibition or installation then kick back and discuss it over a coffee in the café.
- Exhibition Rd, SW7 2DD
Because it’s free to visit, even if you have just ten minutes you can nip into the National Gallery and see one great masterpiece on your way to somewhere else. Try Holbein’s ‘The Ambassadors’. Laden with symbolism, the painting also features the ‘anamorphic perspective’ technique popular in Early Renaissance art; the seemingly smudged image in the foreground becomes a human skull when viewed sideways on.
- Trafalgar Square, WC2N 5DN
Can’t decide between the Picassos at Tate Modern and the Constables at Tate Britain? Do both! The Tate Boat (decorated with Damien Hirst dots) runs along the Thames between Tate Britain by Vauxhall Bridge and the Tate Modern on Bankside every 40 minutes during gallery opening hours, seven days a week (except Dec 24-26).
- Bankside, SE1 9TG
The Peter Harrison Planetarium in Greenwich Park is the only place in London where you can take your eyes on a tour of the universe. In these days of HD and 3D TV, the Planetarium has raised its game, with state-of-the-art projection technology and spectacular films revealing the latest scientific discoveries. Shows include Space Safari, which is suitable for children under eight.
- Blackheath Avenue, SE10 8XJ
Children can be seen and heard at this lively Covent Garden temple of travel. There are hands-on exhibits and visitors can clamber on board a tube train or experience what it’s like to sit behind the wheel of a bus. Sadly you can’t take one for a spin, but standing still certainly evokes the experience of London traffic.
- Covent Garden Piazza, WC2E 7BB
The Magna Carta, works of Shakespeare and Dickens, copies of The Beano – they all have a home at the British Library. However, you can also see original manuscripts handwritten by some of the world’s greatest musical talents. See early drafts by John Lennon of ‘In My Life’, ‘She Said She Said’ and ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ written on a piece of Lufthansa-headed paper.
- 96 Euston Rd, NW1 2DB
You can visit The Queen’s Gallery and the Royal Mews all year round, but if you want a glimpse of where Her Majesty entertains presidents and goes about her royal duties, you get just two months of the year, while HRH is out of town. The Summer Opening (from late July to late September) includes a tour of 19 State Rooms, a special exhibition that changes from year to year, and a walk around the palace garden.
- Buckingham Palace Rd, SW1A 1AA
The colours at Kew change throughout the year – from February’s stunning sea of two million purple and white crocuses and March’s pink blossom Cherry Walk, to the rich red poppies that bloom in August and the autumn fruit of the berberis plants. Download the free Kew Gardens app to find out what’s in bloom on any day of the year.
- Kew Rd, TW9 3AB
Originally created in the late 1600s to cultivate native and exotic plants, this walled garden to this day holds a unique collection of thousands of plants that can be eaten or used in medicine. Popular for wedding hire and perfect for a peaceful stroll, the garden is also a charming spot for afternoon tea (at the Tangerine Dream Café) before you head back out into twenty-first-century Chelsea.
- 66 Royal Hospital Rd, SW3 4HS
Imagine you’ve stepped into a painting by one of the Old Masters. Walking into Dennis Severs’ House is rather like that. Restored in the style of east London’s Huguenot period, it’s open for tours throughout the year. In silence, visitors pass through its ‘still life drama’, visiting each room to see evidence of an eighteenth century silk weaver’s family life without ever meeting a soul: a dinner lies half-eaten, a fire still crackles, a chamber pot needs emptying. A unique experience.
- 18 Folgate St, Spitalfields, E1 6BX
ZSL London Zoo’s enclosure for its Sumatran tigers, Melati and Jae Jae, is especially designed to replicate the landscape of their natural habitat, with trees to climb and high feeding poles that allow them to hunt and eat as they might in the wild. If the zoo wanted to make them feel at home, it seems to have worked – visitors looking through the large glass windows can now see the couple’s triplet cubs, too.
- Outer Circle, Regent's Park, NW1 4RY
Making the city’s skyline a whole lot more spiky than it used to be, the Shard has quickly become an iconic London landmark. The tallest building in Western Europe, the tower has floor-to-ceiling windows offering amazing views. The public visiting area, The View From the Shard, allows you to look out 244 metres above ground level, as if you’re perched over the city on your own cloud.
- Joiner St, SE1 9SP
Okay, at an elegant 0.6mph, the London Eye doesn’t really spin, but the views as it wheels round to 135 metres above the ground can be pretty thrilling nonetheless. Look out over the Thames and central London (you can even see if the Queen’s opened her curtains at Buckingham Palace), or book a special package – options include romantic champagne trips and a two-trip ticket so that you can ride early in the morning and at dusk on the same day.
- Jubilee Gardens, SE1 7PB
If you’re taking a tour of this grand palace of politics you can book ahead to enjoy afternoon tea afterwards. Sadly there’s no chance of seeing the PM – teas are served on Saturdays and selected days during Parliament recess – but you can nibble on savouries and cakes in in the elegant Terrace Pavilion with views of the Thames rarely enjoyed by the public.
- Palace of Westminster, SW1A 0AA
Victorian south-east London was far more fascinating than most other parts of the capital thanks to tea trader Frederick John Horniman, who wanted to ‘bring the world to Forest Hill’. He began to collect specimens and artefacts of natural history and culture from all over the world to create his own museum in the late 1800s. The present museum opened in 1901 and the 130-year-old over-stuffed walrus is still its star attraction!
- 100 London Rd, SE23 3PQ
The Geffrye is a museum dedicated to the living room. Focusing on this heart of the British home and furnishing a series of lounges in period style from 1600 onward, it tells a fascinating story of fashion, taste and social change. The mid-century room circa 1955-1965 shows the beginnings of contemporary interior design and the Scandinavian influence. Look closely and you’ll probably see a chair or shelves your parents still own.
- Kingsland Road, E2 8EA
Medical research charity the Wellcome Trust created its free-to-visit gallery on the Euston Road to help foster a wider appreciation and understanding of medicine. Innovative exhibitions, talks and performance events reflect themes of medicine and the body in all kinds of creative ways, often through art. The permanent collections include risqué objects such as century-old porcelain fruit containing tiny models of couples enjoying an 'intimate moment.
- 183, Euston Road, NW1 2BE
Also known as the Toy Museum, this much-loved institution balances the need to protect priceless antique dolls and teddies behind glass with keeping its young visitors amused. While the adults get nostalgic over dolls house displays, children can raid the dressing-up box, play in the sandpit, do puppet shows and join craft sessions. There is also a shimmering, multi-textured ‘sensory pod’ for babies to prod and gaze at.
- Cambridge Heath Road, E2 9PA
As the last athletes from the 2012 Olympic Games packed their kit bags and left, the trucks moved in to transform the Stratford site into Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Some of the 2012 venues still host events but there is public access to the Velopark and the Aquatics Centre, plus loads of space for cycle rides, waterside picnics and games in the Tumbling Bay adventure playground.
- E20 2ST
With Docklands' shiny towers of high finance in the distance, the alpacas, cows, shire horses and sheep at Newham City Farm bask in their vast green space set in pretty King George V Park. Free to visit and open Tuesday to Sunday all year round, it’s a wonderful chance for us townies to remind ourselves what goats, chickens and ferrets look (and smell) like.
- Stansfeld Road, E6 5LT
Tucked into a little dry dock in bustling Bankside, the full-sized replica of the Golden Hinde galleon looks like it’s just dropped out of the sky, ‘Time Bandits’-style, from another century. As well as daily tours and pirate fun days, there’s the Family Overnight Living History Experience: dress as Tudor sailors, learn about life on a ship then bunk down on the Gun Deck after supper.
- St Mary Overie Dock, Clink St, SE1 9DG
Almost every one of London’s top museums is free to visit, leaving you no excuse to plead ignorance in matters of natural history, science, fashion or world culture. It also leaves you with spare cash for the excellent special exhibitions at the V&A, the British Museum and the Natural History Museum, and for dynamic live shows and 3D films at the Science Museum.
- Various London venues
A weekend institution in east London, the Sunday flower market that lines Columbia Road is the hippest and one of the best places to buy flowers, bedding plants and even a banana tree if you’ve got the patio space at home. It goes on until 3pm in all weathers, but for the best buys you need to get there for 8am.
- Columbia Road, E2 7RG
There are stalls selling veg and new goods through the week, but on Saturdays Portobello Market is at its best. At the Chepstow Villas end of the road you’ll find the antiques and bric-a-brac stalls. Don’t be fooled by the fold-out tables, this isn’t cheap tat, there are some serious treasures here. For secondhand goodies, head further along the road, beyond the Westway.
- Portobello Road, W10
In late June leafy south-west London becomes the focus of the world’s greatest lawn tennis championship. Top tickets must be applied for by ballot (UK applications start the August before) but there are also tickets available each day during the tournament for those prepared to queue. The action is also broadcast for free on a big screen just outside the grounds, on Aorangi Terrace.
- All England Lawn Tennis Club, Church Rd, SW19 5AE
The stunning centrepiece of Greenwich’s maritime heritage, the Cutty Sark spent the end of the nineteenth century keeping London supplied with one of its favourite commodities: tea. The ship was nearly destroyed by fire in 2007, but reopened to the public in 2012 looking more handsome than ever. The £30 million restoration has seen the ship elevated three metres above its dry dock, allowing visitors to get closer than ever to its 65-metre-long gilded hull.
- King William Walk, SE10 9HT
Both inside and out, Sir Christopher Wren’s baroque beast is a marvel to look at, but it also sounds pretty awesome, too. Up in the Whispering Gallery (the indoor balcony at the base of the dome), the acoustics of the cathedral’s architecture create a bizarre aural phenomenon: stand on the exact opposite side of the dome as a friend, whisper something (‘I’m watching you’ works rather nicely) and they’ll hear you loud and clear, despite being over 100 feet away. Spooky.
- St Paul's Churchyard, EC4M 8AD
It’s far from the most vertiginous landmark in London these days, but the Monument still offers a darn fine view of the City. Tower Bridge, City Hall and the various skyscrapers of the financial district can all be seen from the top of the Christopher Wren-designed column, which was built between 1671 and 1677 to commemorate the Great Fire of London. There’s a certificate for everyone who completes the 60-metre climb to the top, while those unable to make the ascent can check out a live stream of the view via a screen at the entrance.
- Monument St, EC3R 8AH
Part tourist attraction, part overly ostentatious public transport, it’s fair to say the Emirates Air Line (as the cable car that runs from Greenwich Peninsula to Royal Docks is officially known) has proven itself a bit of a white elephant since opening in 2012. Oddly enough, not many Londoners are factoring it into their daily commute. Still, the flipside to its lack of popularity is that, unlike pretty much every other attraction offering a grand view of the city, you shouldn’t have to queue to have a go. Nor will you have to part with much cash – using an Oyster card, a 20-minute round trip costs just £6.40. Bargain.
- 27 Western Gateway, E16 4FA
If you’re looking for the most appropriately named room in all of London, this could be it. Having just emerged from a major renovation, Kenwood House – an eighteenth-century stately home located on Hampstead Heath – is looking smarter than ever, with special care shown to its most opulent bits, such as its sprawling library or ‘Great Room’. Visiting is free, as are the official Kenwood House iPhone and Android apps, with which visitors can take their own audio tour.
- Hampstead Lane, NW3 7JR
A stroll through a graveyard may seem like a fairly macabre way to spend an afternoon, but then again the chaotically overgrown Highgate Cemetery really is something special. While a visit to the West Cemetery requires booking in advance, entrance to the East Cemetery costs just £3 on the gate. It’s here you’ll find the final resting places of, among others, ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide’ author Douglas Adams, artist Patrick Caulfield (whose headstone spells out the word ‘DEAD’ in big letters) and father of socialism Karl Marx, whose tomb is modestly topped with a massive sculpture of his head.
- Swain's Lane, N6 6PJ
Though London’s cycle hire scheme was the idea of ex-London Mayor Ken Livingstone, the bulky blue steeds will forever be known as ‘Boris Bikes’ after current Mayor Boris Johnson (himself an evangelist of two-wheeled travel), under whom the scheme was implemented in 2010. Access to the bikes costs £2 per day and, as long as you re-dock yours within 30 minutes (time enough to get from Shoreditch to the West End), that’s all you’ll be charged. Download the scheme’s mobile app to check the status of your nearest dock and to plot a cycle-friendly route through town.
- Various London locations
While other London clubs ditch their old grounds in search of more futuristic lodgings, at Stamford Bridge there’s heritage and history in every last brick. Between matches, Chelsea FC’s Premier League battleground operates tours, which see fans take in home and away dressing rooms, the players’ tunnel and plenty more. Tours last an hour and start at £17 (£11 for kids), or you can check out the dedicated Chelsea museum for £11.
- Stamford Bridge, SW6 1HS
Greenwich Park and Richmond Park have deer, Clissold Park has goats and Holland Park has peacocks. In St James’s, the crowd-pulling wildlife is, believe it or not, pelicans. The baggy-beaked birds were first given to the park in 1664 as a gift from the Russian Ambassador (pelicans being the seventeenth-century equivalent of a bottle of Jacob’s Creek and some Ferrero Rocher, presumably), and can be seen chowing down on fish (and the odd pigeon) by the park’s central lake.
- The Mall/Birdcage Walk/Horse Guards Parade, SW1A 2BJ
See that big white thing held up by yellow sticks by the Thames in Greenwich? It was originally called the Millennium Dome, and Londoners hated it. But it’s enjoyed a new lease of life since being repurposed as a live music venue, and even if there’s no international megastar playing a gig, there’s still plenty to do. The latest attraction is Up at the O2 – a 52-metre climb up and over the venue’s roof. Book a dusk slot and look westward for one of the most spectacular city views going.
- The O2, Peninsula Square, SE10 0DX
Londoners’ nostrils have a pretty hard time of it, what with the traffic, the bin lorries and the lack of public loos. On balance, though, we really can’t complain, especially considering that we’ve got free and unticketed access to one of the country’s largest collection of roses in Regent’s Park. Queen Mary’s Gardens are home to around 12,000 roses of more than 85 varieties, including the unique Royal Parks rose. The fragrance is fantastic throughout the year, but visit in early June to see the blooms at their best.
- Chester Rd, NW1 4NR
Fans of fairytales and folk art would do well to seek out this one-of-a-kind tree stump, located next to the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Playground. Nearly a millennium old, the stump has elves, fairies and other diminutive characters carved and painted on its surface. In the late ’90s, famous fan of the oak Spike Milligan raised funds for its restoration, which saw it secure Grade II-listed status. There can surely be few garden gnomes that command such respect.
- W2 2UH
After just shy of a century at the old Highbury Stadium, Arsenal FC moved into the Emirates Stadium in 2006. This impressive 60,000-seater arena is open to tours throughout the week (aside from match days, obviously), during which visitors can check out the dressing rooms, dugout, pressroom and more. For diehard gooners, there’s the ‘Legends tour’, which costs £37.50 and is led by a former Arsenal hero. There’s also a dedicated Arsenal museum on site, which costs £7.50 on the door.
- Drayton Park, N5 1BU
Although most visitors to the capital won’t get further than the common pigeon, there’s a whole lot more to birdlife in London than the feathery pests of Trafalgar Square. Venture out to leafy Barnes in the south-west and, as well as a picturesque landscape, there’s the opportunity to spot kites, sandpipers, kingfishers and more at London Wetland Centre. Over 200 species of bird have been spotted in total, along with various reptiles, amphibians, butterflies and – eep! – bats.
- Queen Elizabeth's Walk, SW13 9WT
Sir John Soane’s Museum in Holborn takes its name from the architect whose sprawling art collection it houses (he built the Bank of England, so wasn’t short of a few bob). Among the museum’s biggest crowd-pullers is a series by fellow Londoner William Hogarth entitled ‘A Rake’s Progress’, which, in eight scenes, charts the downfall of a young man who inherits and squanders a fortune.
- 13 Lincoln's Inn Fields, WC2A 3BP
If you somehow plan your visit to miss the many exhibitions, art shows, gigs and film screenings that take place at Somerset House, there’s still plenty to do at this peaceful West End enclave. Top of the list should be enjoying a cold drink in the Edmond J Safra Fountain Court and – if it’s warm enough – having a splash amid its array of graceful jets. In December and January, a huge Christmas tree and ice-rink pop up, with mulled wine stalls completing the festive romance.
- Strand, WC2R 1LA
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