Sightseeing in London
It might have been knocked from its heady heights as the world’s tallest ferris wheel – you’ll have to head to Las Vegas for that – but the London Eye remains an iconic part of the London skyline. Snap-happy tourists arrive here in their droves, so be prepared to queue for one of the spacious 25-person pods. Once you’re airborne, take in those far-reaching views of the Thames and beyond. On a clear day, you might even see if the Queen’s opened the curtains at Buck House.
There are more than eight million artifacts within the British Museum’s walls, and every single one of them has a story to tell. You could easily spend hours here losing yourself in thousands of years of culture and history from the world over. Its big hitter is the Egyptian mummy, which pulls in gawping kids and adults alike. If you’d rather dodge the crowds, head to the newly re-opened Sir Joseph Hutong Gallery: a treasure trove of objects from China and South Asia.
If the city (or more likely, the tube) has left you craving some fresh air, hit up Hyde Park. It’s one of London’s largest Royal Parks, so you’ll always find a patch of green to lay down a picnic blanket, yoga mat or your boyfriend’s jumper. Whether you’re looking for a lush lunch spot or enough space to throw a frisbee, you’ll find it here. And if the sun decides to make a rare appearance, the Joy of Life fountain is good for a splash around.
This industrial power station turned powerhouse of contemporary art is awe-inspiring before you’ve even stepped foot inside. And its new partner-in-crime, the adjoining Blavatnik Building, provides plenty of people watching opportunities if you tire of the art. Not that you will – with the Turbine Hall’s rotating installations providing ample entertainment from giant slides and porcelain sunflower seeds to triple-seated swings. Yes, you might occasionally question the art but you’ll have fun doing it.
As long as you leave plenty of ticket-collecting time, your trip to the Tower of London should be a blast. It starts with a 50-minute tour led by a Beefeater where you’ll learn about the 900-year history of this imposing fortress (in short: torture, prisoners, weapons and exotic animals). Feast your eyes on the crown jewels and prisoner graffiti – you’ll even meet the raven keeper. If you want to get eyeballs-deep in London’s bloody history, then put the Tower of London on your bucket list.
Shakespeare fan? Then you’re in good hands: the Globe hosts the best productions of the Bard’s classics. Book groundling tickets and stand in the open-air pit and you can jeer, laugh and cry like the audience would have in Bill’s time. Each season (spring to early autumn) includes several Shakespeare classics, performed by a company of established and upcoming actors.
It’s the ticking heart of the capital – so why does everybody get its name wrong? The Big Ben we know and love is the nickname of the Great Bell inside Westminster’s clocktower, while the structure’s original name was the Clock Tower before it became the Elizabeth Tower in 2012. Names aside, it’s worth a visit to marvel at its elegant exterior before heading over to the nearby Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey.
With its striking blue colour and symmetrical towers, Tower Bridge is definitely one of London’s prettier bridges (just try not to walk into a selfie stick as you cross). Excitingly (for anyone remotely interested in Victorian engineering), its two halves lift up to let large boats pass underneath. Since 2014 – the bridge’s 120th year – there’s been an 11-metre glass floor in place of the upper walkway, so those with the stomach for it can gaze 42 metres down, or even people-watch while practicing your downward dog at a yoga session.
No doubt, you love London for its rich and exciting past as much as its ever-shifting architecture and evolving cultural offerings. But if it’s history you’re after, you can’t get much more ‘frozen in time’ than the truly astonishing Dennis Severs’ House. Inside, you’ll find ten rooms which have been decked out to recreate snapshots of life in Spitalfields between 1724 and 1914. Candles flicker and smells linger – almost as if the Huguenots silk-weavers never left.
For a comprehensive take on London and plenty of nerdy facts to take home to your mates, stop off at the Museum of London. The history of the capital, from prehistoric times to the present day, is told here through reconstructed interiors and street scenes, alongside displays of original artefacts found during the museum’s archaeological digs.
Do you long for a time before smartphones and devices? Then Sir John Soane’s is the place for you (and trust us, you’ll get a severe telling off if you break the no-phones rule). It’s stuffed to the rafters with art, furniture and the odd death mask collected by Sir John Soane when he wasn’t designing buildings. Basically, it’s a beautiful tribute to an obsessive hoarder and a cluttered window into the past.
Sometimes getting through this market feels more like jostling to get to the front of a gig than a flower stall, such is its popularity among locals and tourists alike. But if you turn up at 2pm – just as London’s most visually attractive market starts to wind down – then chances are you’ll get your mitts on a bargain bouquet.
Stepping into Wilton’s is a bit like stumbling into Miss Havisham’s dilapidated home. The exterior – cobbled together from five Victorian house fronts – is all peeling paint and long-extinguished gas lamps. Inside, it’s pulsing with life. You can see a theatre show here or just stop by for a drink and marvel at the faded period features. The whole place is utterly charming, even with all its crumbling imperfections, something we can aspire to in our old age.
One of London’s more unconventional offerings on the tourist trail, this spiraling red scaffolding tower (designed by the artist Anish Kapoor and structural engineer Cecil Balmond) is one of the city’s great architectural multi-taskers, having started out as a sculpture and morphed into a viewing platform, abseiling wall and super-sized slide. If you don’t fancy the 455-step climb to the top, just hop in the lift (though that’s cheating, obvs).
Culture vultures can be found swooping in and out of the Royal Albert Hall’s vast rotunda. Join them for unbeatable acoustics, plush seating and an opportunity to get dolled up. This behemoth of a venue in Kensington has to be number one on your must-visit concert list.
Venue says Join us for headline acts, classical coffee mornings, late-night jazz, and everything in between. Unforgettable experiences since 1871.
Lurking under The City of London’s Guildhall Art Gallery is a slither of London’s Roman past. Down in the basement, you'll find the scant remains of London’s 6,000-seater Roman amphitheatre, built around AD70; Tron-like figures and crowd sound effects help your imagination recreate the gory scenes of yesteryear. It packs a lot of history into a small space, which means you’ve got more of the day left to explore London’s other sights.
It might be at the pricier end of London’s tourist attractions but you should definitely set aside some time for this bombshell of a cathedral. Don’t forget to venture down to the Crypt to see the tombs of Admiral Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and its creator, Christopher Wren. If you can tear yourself away from the geometric staircases and gorgeous vaulted ceiling. Up in the Whispering Gallery, the acoustics allow you to hear conversations from right across the other side of the walkway –even when you talk softly. Perfect for nosy nellies!
Children going through the dinosaur phase (or adults who never left it) always enjoy a trip to Crsytal Palace Park, where five prehistoric beasts slink among the trees around the lake. Their anatomy might not be the most accurate, but these Grade I-listed statues should bring joy on a sunny day. And where else in London are you going to pretend you’re in ‘Jurassic Park’?
You know how Instagram makes everything look prettier in photos than IRL? Well, you don’t need to worry about that with the Queen’s pad, which is a stunner in the flesh as well as all those postcards. All year round, you can take a gander at pieces from the Royal Collection at the Queen’s Gallery, while from February to November you can check out the Queen’s horses in the Royal Mews.
If you’re interested in UK politics or just want a better understanding of it, the Houses of Parliament isn’t to be missed. Seriously – this is where laws get passed, y’know! Book an audio tour and soak up the history of this grand old nineteenth-century building and if you’re feeling flush, stay for afternoon tea overlooking the Thames.