Where to start when choosing the 50 best London attractions? There are so many great attractions to tick off, your city sightseeing checklist could get very long indeed. So where to begin? Whether you live and work in the capital or you're just visiting London for the day, let us be your guide with our round-up of the best London attractions that simply cannot be missed. And if you need more inspiration? Check out our list of 101 things to do in London for more ideas and go explore the best that the city has to offer.
A handful of London attractions are free, but you can buy tickets to most of them via the list below. And if you can't find exactly what you're after, check out what's happening in London today, this week and this weekend.
Discover the 50 best attractions in London
Originally built to mark the Millennium, the slowly revolving wheel that stands by the Thames continues to be one of the city’s most-loved icons and a frim tourist favourite. The 32 glass-walled pods are said to represent each of the 32 London boroughs and are designed to allow everyone (who dares) views to the north, south, east and west, making this a brilliant way to get the measure of London. And each visit now starts with a fun, 4D short film before you board.
Ever wondered what London looks like from 53 metres above North Greenwich? You can find out if you’re brave enough to strap up and embark on a 90-minute climb atop the dome’s roof. You can choose to climb during the day, at sunset or at twilight. Whatever ticket you choose, it’s the ultimate AAA pass, offering 360-degree views of the city. From there you’ll be able to see across the capital, spotting famous sites like the Olympic Park, Thames Barrier, The Shard and Canary Wharf.
The curly-wurly red scaffolding tower lords it over the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park from its position right alongside the Olympic Stadium. Designed by the artist Anish Kapoor and structural engineer Cecil Balmond, it stands 114.5m (376ft) tall and has lifts (and a 455-step staircase) up to two platforms from which you take in the spectacular view. The fun bit is getting down – you can whoosh down the 12-loop slide, designed by Belgian-born German artist Carsten Höller or abseil down – both require a head for heights and a strong stomach.
The Queen’s des-res lives up to its picture-postcard image as soon as you see it, and all year long you can get a nosey round The Queen’s Gallery, where you’ll find pieces from the Royal Collection. Plus, from February to November the Royal Mews is open for strolling along and for eyeing up the Queen’s horses and elegant carriages, and the State Rooms are open throughout August and September (as well as for one-off tours during the year when the Queen isn’t home).
Add some grandeur to your London visit with a day trip to the splendid palace and expansive gardens of Hampton Court. From the Tudor indoor tennis court to the Royal Maze, from the King’s private loo to the brand new Magic Garden adventure playground, Hampton Court Palace is several different visits in one place. If you love history and art, buy the ticket for the Palace and the Gardens, or if you have children with you who just want to run around, buy the Magic Garden and Maze ticket.
Just across the road from the Houses of Parliament is this royally-approved abbey, where Gothic grandeur is at its most glorious. Visit Westminster Abbey and see where 16 royal weddings, a lot of funerals and every coronation since 1066 have taken place. That said, due to the fact that Westminster Abbey is still a fully functioning church, the visiting times often vary. Looking for some spiritual respite after a long day sightseeing? Check out a Wednesday Late, where you dine like a monk in the ancient cellars.
Tours of the Houses of Parliament offer a unique combination of one thousand years of history, modern day politics and stunning art and architecture. A highly recommended audio tour brings this to life through the House of Lords and House of Commons and takes around 60 to 75 minutes, featuring leading Parliamentary figures such as Mr Speaker and Black Rod. If you’re feeling fancy, choose the tour that comes with afternoon tea overlooking the Thames.
Visitors to Madame Tussauds will find some 300 lifelike models that come from the worlds of music, movies, fashion, sports, royalty, politics, history and fiction. And proving they remain right on top of trends and current affairs, there’s now a section dedicated to YouTube stars Zoe and Alfie, Donald Trump in full presidential setting, an all-new Sherlock Holmes experience (tickets an extra £5) and even a 'Fashion Week' area, where you can walk down the catwalk with the likes of Kendall Jenner and Cara Delevigne or, even better, snuggle up with Tom Hardy (complete with beating heart!).
Christopher Wren’s masterpiece is an architectural marvel. There are several different tour options depending on how long you’ve got to explore. If you’ve paid for main admission you’ll be treated to an introductory talk that lasts around 15 or 20 minutes before being taken on a 90-minute guided tour (available Monday to Saturday, 10am-2pm). Those looking for a freebie will find lots to enjoy, too. Church services are run throughout the week, as do Choral Evensong sessions, both of which are free entry. But on a rare sunny day, just basking in the Cathedral’s grounds in a joy.
Where better to put a massive observation gallery than at the top of Western Europe’s tallest tower? Set across three floors, with floor-to-ceiling windows and an open-air terrace for the bravest among you, the View from the Shard has ‘tell-scopes’ so you can find out more about the landscape you’re looking at. For added dramatic effect, soak up those panoramic views while listening to your favourite tracks at one of Time Out’s regular silent discos held at the top of the Shard.
This is proper costume drama territory. Enjoy finely cut sandwiches, dainty cakes and the tinkling of dazzlingly shiny silver teapots while you enjoy a luxurious afternoon indulgence in the gold and white splendor of the Ritz Hotel’s Palm Court. It’s so popular that you can book sittings from 11.30am to 7.30pm – not strictly afternoon, but all accompanied by the delicate sounds of a pianist, harpist or string quartet. They don’t let you take a doggie bag home so arrive hungry and pace your cake-eating.
Tower Bridge is a must-do that you can enjoy from a distance and right up close. Check the website in advance and visit when there’s a planned ‘bridge lift’ (that’s when the two halves of the road lift up so that bigger boats can pass below). Now you can get a pigeon’s view of the action thanks the 42-metre high glass walkway. Plus, there are lots of tours so you can see the engine rooms, hear about its history or join a Tots at Tower Bridge family storytelling session.
It’s not just because this elegant palace is located in Kensington Gardens, on the trendiest fringes of west London, that this royal residence has a certain chic style. It played host to the most fashionable salons in Georgian times, plus it was home to Queen Victoria in her youth, then to sassy Princess Margaret and then to classy Princess Diana. Now William and Kate live in apartments at the rear, while the main palace is a pretty visitor attraction, with tranquil gardens to wander. Brunch-time talks include a bucks fizz. Now, that’s a history lesson we can get on board with.
Big Ben is actually the nickname of the Great Bell inside Westminster’s iconic clock tower, but even locals think ‘Big Ben’ when they see the Elizabeth Tower. No matter, it looks great whatever you call it. You can’t get inside for a tour until 2020 due to maintenance work, (the last time the whole thing was covered in scaffolding was the mid-1980s so Big Ben is definitely due a little tlc) but you’re a minute away from the river, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey here, so it’s an easy visit.
It may look different to how it was when England won the World Cup (most of London does, given that was 50 years ago), but Wembley still has a magic about it, even when you don’t have a ticket for a match or a rock concert. Take the tour and you’ll get to walk down the players’ tunnel and climb the 107 Trophy Winner’s steps, plus, with the use of 360-degree video, experience the electric atmosphere at some of the stadium’s biggest events.
Tucked behind Downing Street and Parliament Square, the War Rooms were a secret, secure bunker where Churchill and his cabinet could monitor how World War II was going, receive intelligence and give orders. It’s the little details that give the biggest impression, from a daily-updated weather noticeboard to the scratch marks on Churchill’s chair (caused by his ring on a stressed day). Perfect for history lovers, the rooms can be seen just as they were left after 1945. You get an evocative sense of what working here, day and night during the war, must have been like.
It’s free, it’s right on Trafalgar Square and you’re welcome to simply swing by and stand before artistic greatness whenever you like. Perfect, whether you’ve got ten minutes in your lunchbreak to check out Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ or time to wander the entire, glorious collection of Western European paintings from the thirteenth to the nineteenth centuries. Check out the Friday Lates for after-hours access to exhibitions, creative workshops and life drawing salons.
Forget the river buses. If you want some excitement on the Thames – the kind that 007 himself would encourage – step aboard the RIB. This ‘rigid inflatable boat’ will have you hurtling up and down the river in no time with 740 horse power behind you and ‘V8’ twin turbo thrust. No, we don’t know what that means either, but we do know that the RIB can do speeds of up to 30 knots (roughly 35 mph). It’s a pure adrenaline experience and the most thrilling way to take in the sights.
Just around the corner from the National Gallery, this is the home of a stunning collection of portraits, from paintings to photography, capturing the essence of notable royalty, celebrities and our enduring fascination with the human face. From Elizabeth I and Nelson to Arthur Scargill and Darcey Bussell, the permanent collection is free to visit, with ticketed special exhibitions. The National Portrait Gallery also hosts ‘Late Shifts’ every Thursday and Friday, with guest DJs, drop-in drawing sessions and more.
It’s over 50 years since Laurence Olivier was the first director of the National Theatre Company, and 40 years since it moved into its permanent home on the South Bank, but the calibre of directing and performing continues to hold its own. There are three theatres to choose from, plus bars and restaurants to complete your night out. From classics to new writing, championing rising talents alongside big-name stars, the programme always dazzles, and Travelex 15 ensures there are hundreds of seats for every performance from just £15.
Venue says: “Join us for headline acts, classical coffee mornings, late-night jazz, and everything in between. Unforgettable experiences since 1871.”
Built by Queen Victoria for the purposes of entertainment and enlightenment and named in honour of her dear husband, the RAH still has an awe-inspiring magic to it, and not just when the whole place shakes to a Proms chorus of ‘Land Of Hope and Glory’. Look out for the film programme, which brings your favourite flicks to life with a live orchestral accompaniment.The plush curtains and balconies retain Victorian opulence and swiveling seats mean you get a great view of the stage wherever you sit.
A thousand years of history that’s still standing, the Tower of London is a must-see. Although it’s best known for beheadings and the Crown Jewels, there’s also William the Conqueror’s White Tower to visit, the ravens to meet (beware, they’re pecky) and plenty of gruesome stories to hear, while costumed displays and hands-on activities bring history to life. It also has an awesome ice rink in its moat during the festive period.
You don’t have to be super rich to see world-class opera and ballet at Covent Garden’s grand old ROH; there are reductions for students, senior citizens and those on credits, plus the weekly Friday Rush (at 1pm) is a chance to get cheap tickets for the main stage performance the next day. Alternatively, just get a sense of the drama on a backstage tour, where you can sometimes spot the Royal Ballet practicing their moves.
Much more than a day out for keen gardeners, Kew’s meadows, treetop walkway and hothouses offer colourful wonder for anyone interested in the natural world. The landscape is dotted with sculptures, too, and there’s a play area designed with oversized, plant-shaped, wooden climbing-frames so kids can wriggle around like bugs inside them. A particular highlight of Kew’s calendar is the spectacular annual flower party, the Orchids Festival.
Don’t pass up the chance to see theatre like Londoners in Tudor times did, in what at the time was London’s home of dodgy ‘entertainment’, Bankside. The Globe has been carefully recreated to show the kind of setting Shakespeare would have written all his plays for. If you’ve never been, book groundling tickets and stand in the open-air pit like you’re at a rock festival. It makes the Bard’s poetry seem a lot less like homework and a lot more like first-rate drama. Apparently, there was no Time Out in Jacobean London, so a big flag told people what was on.
On the north side of Waterloo Bridge, sitting on Aldwych, this elegant eighteenth-century landmark and cultural hub hosts several art exhibitions and events at a time, incorporating the Courtauld Gallery and temporary exhibitions in the Embankment Galleries. Hell, even the courtyard (once an Inland Revenue car park) makes itself useful, with the ice rink in winter, fountains in summer and alfresco cinema and live music seasons too.
Londoners should feel proud that, since it opened in 2000, this converted power station has become one of the world’s most esteemed art galleries. It’s a cathedral to international modern and contemporary art, now with the added Switch House tower for rooftop views and extra gallery space. It’s still free to explore, with anticipation always mounting over what the Turbine Hall’s expansive space will host next, the ticketed exhibitions rarely disappoint.
The favoured residence of George III and his family, Kew Palace is an often forgotten treasure that looks more like a massive, ornate biscuit tin than the glittering home of a royal, but in the gardens there is a wonderful little cottage built for Queen Charlotte that most definitely trumps any normal garden shed. You can only visit the Palace via Kew Gardens (it’s free with entry to Kew), from March to October, so grab your chance when you can. Make a day of it and dine in the Grade I listed splendor of the Orangery restaurant.
In Victorian times the Cutty Sark was the fastest ship carrying goods from the Far East to London – a tea clipper of great repute. Hence its prime location in retirement: in a dry dock at Greenwich, overlooking the Thames. In recent years it’s had a massive refurbishment and now you can explore the decks, clamber into a sailor’s bunk (don’t worry, the sailor’s long gone) and hear talks by costumed characters explaining what life was like onboard. The Cutty Sark also makes for an atmospheric venue, hosting family workshops, live music and theatre within its bowels.
Moored close to Tower Bridge, this grey warship with its guns tilted high might look a little out of place, but these days it’s a museum. Open daily, with scenes set to show you what life was like on board a working WWII warship, HMS Belfast is a lively visitor space where you can scoot around the lower levels, exploring the engine room, the kitchens, the dentist’s office and the action stations up on deck. Bring your sea legs.
You don’t have to be a local to know that Londoners are obsessed with travel. At the LTM happily, there’s always a bus or a train to hop on, in a vast museum full of real relics of the bygone ages of London transport. Find out why tube stations were used as wartime shelters, see decades of beautiful poster artwork and find out how the latest technology will run our services in the future. The LTM hosts always hosts a fabulous Friday Late themed around its newest exhibition.
This Regent’s Park landmark has come a long way since the days when zoos were full of homesick wildlife. ZSL does a lot of world-class animal welfare work and the carefully designed settings in which beautiful creatures from gorillas to lizards, penguins to tigers now reside give you a chance to experience nature on a happier day trip. There’s a dedicated area for small kids and daily shows for the curious of all ages. Take your zoo experience to the next level by becoming a keeper for the day or having a sleepover right next to the lion enclosure. Roarsome stuff.
Also known as the Warner Bros. Studio Tour, this is a short trek north of London, but it’s worth the trip to set foot inside the Great Hall, Forbidden Forest and Diagon Alley. See film sets, costumes, props and exhibits that take you behind the scenes of the Harry Potter films. Changing exhibitions are included in the ticket and you get the chance to discover the secrets of the movies’ special effects. Plus, you’ll soon be able to explore filming secrets behind The Goblet of Fire and the Dark Arts.
For centuries, Greenwich has been the location for the scientific study of the stars and of timekeeping – originally for the benefit of efficient and safer sea navigation. As a result, this is where you’ll see the Greenwich Meridian line marked out, from which point the world’s time zones are measured. You can also see the incredible instruments with which astronomers made significant discoveries about our universe, long before the digital age, or settle in for some stargazing at a planetarium show.
Give the whole family a giggle on a whirlwind trip to Far, Far Away. This interactive tour starts with a breathtaking 4D ride through the sky before you crash-land near a certain ogre’s swamp and find yourself having to flee from the wicked Rumpelstiltskin. You’ll encounter a few favourite Shrek characters as you rush from place to place on your mission, including a baffling maze and some scary spills along the way. While kidults are welcome, the adventure is most suited to 6-12-year-olds.
You don’t have to be by the seaside to immerse yourself in the life aquatic. The London Aquarium is home to sea creatures from all over the world, from Pacific nurse sharks to Antarctic penguins (with a glimpse of what’s swimming past you in the Thames, too). It can get busy, but go off peak and meet the crocs or attend a sea-life late, where you can enjoy a glass of bubbly while you watch the behind-glass bubbles.
Once upon a time, London turned its back on the stinky river Thames. Nowadays the South Bank is a buzzing open space and cultural nucleus of the Capital, lined with some of the city’s most exciting galleries, theatres and attractions. Start at the Southbank Centre, for free art and live shows, lunch at one of the many restaurants and to watch the skateboarders. Then wander east past the artists’ enclave at Gabriel’s Wharf, and onto Tate Modern and the Globe, just beyond Blackfriars Bridge.
No ghosts or ghouls, just gory stories retold with humour, gooey props and gruesomely costumed actors as you tour through London’s nastiest historical moments. From boarding a traitor’s boat ride to the Tower of London, to a dash through the recreated streets of Whitechapel in pursuit of Jack the Ripper, to a glimpse at stinking Plague London, it’s a romp and a scream, but definitely not for the fainthearted. Gore-seekers can now ride a recreation of The Death Express, a line which carried the deceased to their final resting place in Surrey.
A working resource for printed and sound archives, the British Library is a place for studious research, yes, but also open to all, so if you just want to nip into the free Entrance Hall exhibitions during your lunch hour you might get to see a scribbled page of Beatles songwriting or a Leonardo da Vinci notebook. There are some stunning illuminated scripts and landmark-scientific items too, including very early photographs. Don’t expect silence to be enforced when a Late at the Library event kicks off.
Trace thousands of years of culture and history through artefacts gathered from all over the world. From the everyday to the ceremonial, priceless treasures fill the galleries here, and, thanks to the modern Great Court and its glass-domed ceiling, it’s a lively space, not a mausoleum. If you’re looking to dodge the crowds, make a beeline for the newly re-opened Sir Joseph Hutong Gallery, a treasure trove of objects from China and South Asia. There are free daily tours and object-handling activities, and even the youngest visitors are fascinated by the Egyptian mummy.
Don’t just drive or take a bus round it, wander into Hyde Park’s green vastness and eventually you get to the Serpentine lake, where you can swim, go boating, board a solar-powered ferry (in summer) or sit and eat pizza whilst watching other people messing about on the water. It’s easy to take for granted this massive central London park, but life’s more fun if you stop for a stroll, a bike ride or a picnic. You can also take guided tours of the gardens and little known pet cemetery.
A day out a cemetery may not seem like everyone’s cup of tea, but for Highgate Cemetery, you might want to make an exception. Wander through its overgrown paths and you’ll encounter several Grade II-listed catacombs and a number of famous remains, including poet Christina Rossetti, architect Sir Lawrence Weaver and philosopher Karl Marx. On a sunny day, it even feels a little less morbid.
Located in the lower levels of the vast concrete complex at Barbican, the Museum of London traces history from the capital’s beginnings to the present day – you can even see some of the original Roman Wall from the museum’s windows. Find out what life was like in Londinium, sense the drama of the Great Fire of London, walk through a Victorian shopping arcade and see the stunning London 2012 Olympic Cauldron. And those with a strong stomach can now get an eyeful of part of the fatberg, that was found lurking in a Whitechapel sewer.
Budding paleontologists step this way. Feel tiny next to the dinosaur skeletons, discover the weird and wonderful habits of exotic creatures great and small, see incredible fossils, meet the experts who work behind the scenes at the Darwin Centre’s Cocoon, and find out about our planet’s evolution by understanding more about creepy crawlies. Although Dippy the dinosaur has taken a break from the spotlight, a diving Blue Whale skeleton has been put in his place.
Five minutes’ brisk walk north of Oxford Circus takes you to the pretty rose garden of Regent’s Park. Venture further and you’ll find the elegant Open Air Theatre (from spring until September), the tree-lined avenues for jogging and, on a weekend, plenty of amateurs trying to rediscover their five-a-side football skills. Grab a coffee and sit out with the dog walkers.
Many of London’s best museums are free to visit, making what they show just that little bit more awesome – but also very busy. Go off peak and try the hands-on experiments to understand more about the scientific world (there are specially dedicated zones to suit children of different age groups) or simply gaze on examples of incredible technology, from early computers to space hardware.
London’s oldest royal park and, essentially, Buckingham Palace’s front garden, St James’ Park runs alongside The Mall and offers an easy escape from the traffic noise of Trafalgar Square. The two islands in its lake are home to wildlife (see the pelicans, which were introduced to the park more than 400 years ago, being fed at 2.30pm daily) and there’s a Princess Diana Memorial Walk to follow if you fancy some gentle exercise.
Salute Nelson atop his massive column, pose for photos by the fountains (no paddling, please) and check out the latest modern art installation adorning the Fourth Plinth, as London’s red buses circle the busy roads around you. Don’t feed the pigeons (it’s illegal) and do check the website before you go – there are often free live events happening here, too, including the odd rally, when the mood takes us.
Any self-respecting fashionista knows that what goes around comes around, so browsing centuries of textiles and design at the Victoria & Albert museum is an education in style that is still very relevant today. After the landmark ‘David Bowie is...’ exhibition, a new crowd has appreciated the depth of the V&A’s collection. It continues to fire creative minds with collections of clothes, china, jewellery, glass, photography, architectural drawings and art. Its Friday Late is always a hotbed of lively debate, cutting edge performances and fun workshops.
You don’t need to be a sports fan to enjoy the newly sculpted greenery surrounding the Olympic Park, (officially known as the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park). If you fancy a break from the West Field shopping center crowds, you’re welcome to wander around the waterways and immaculate parklands or take a dip at Zaha Hadid-designed Aquatics Centre and give the VeloPark a spin.