In my opinion London is the best city in the world and I feel incredibly lucky to live here. It took so long for me to start writing this blog because I didn’t know where to start. London is iconic – it’s so diverse and full of history, yet ahead of the game in so many ways. I’ve lived in London for 5 years and still haven’t conquered it! There is always something to do…
Try to walk as much as possible as there’s something interesting to see around every corner. The London transport network is fairly easy to use (especially the underground). Download ‘CityMapper‘ on your phone and it will tell you the best route to your destination. If you’re staying longer than a weekend, get yourself an Oyster card to tap your way around the city. Uber is also available / jump in a black cab for a true London experience.
What to do…
1 – Buckingham Palace
Home to the Queen of England, Buckingham Palace is perhaps the most iconic sight in London. It is the centre of many state occasions with thousands of people gathered on The Mall (strip between the palace and Trafalgar Square). On certain dates during the summer you can also visit the state rooms (£25 for an adult).
You can watch the elaborate Changing of the Guard ceremony most days at around 11am which lasts around 40 minutes and is definitely worth seeing. The Horse Guards Parade is the ceremonial parade ground and also the location of the Trooping of the Colour on the Queen’s birthday.
2 – St Paul’s Cathedral
Over 1,400 years old, St Paul’s Cathedral has been built and rebuilt 5 times. The current cathedral was designed by Sir Christopher Wren in the 17th Century as part of a rebuilding programme after the Great Fire of London. It survived The Blitz during WW2 even though it was hit by bombs and required some restoration work. At 111m high it was the tallest building in London from 1967 and its dome is still among the highest in the world.
St Paul’s is open from Monday – Saturday for tourists to visit. A ticket to go inside for an adult is £18 – you can climb the dome too to enjoy views of London.
You can also visit Madison bar and restaurant at One New Change for a fantastic view of the cathedral.
3 – Big Ben, Westminster Palace & Westminster Abbey
Big Ben is perhaps the most iconic symbol in the UK. It was completed in 1859 and at that time was the biggest and most ‘accurate four-faced striking and chiming clock’ in the world. It has been an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987.
Unfortunately there are major renovation works going on at the moment until 2020!
Westminster Palace was originally built in the 11th century but much of it was destroyed – reconstruction began in 1840 and major conservation work has been carried out since. It is where the Houses of Parliament (Commons & Lords) meet and is a symbol of parliamentary democracy.
Next to the palace is Westminster Abbey, the traditional place of coronation and a burial site for monarchs. Since 1066 (the coronation of William the Conquerer), all English / British coronations have been at the Abbey. More recently, Price William married Kate Middleton there 🙂
4 – Trafalgar Square
A gorgeous public square in Central London commemorating the Battle of Trafalgar (a British naval victory). It is at the other end of The Mall to Buckingham Palace. There is a 145 foot monument guarded by Lions which is considered to mark the centre of London. There is always something going on in the square – artists / musicians / protests! The National Gallery is also located here.
5 – Tower Bridge
The most famous bridge in London, Tower Bridge was built between 1886 and 1894. You can buy tickets to walk the high-level glass floors, or simply walk across it at ground level. If you’re lucky you’ll catch the bridge lift to let a boat past (I always think of Spice World the movie!!)
6 – Tower of London
Home of the Crown Jewels, the Tower of London is a historic castle founded in 1066 by William the Conqueror after the Battle of Hastings. It was used as a prison from 1100; it held Elizabeth I (before she became queen), Sir Walter Raleigh and more recently even the Kray twins. Anne Boleyn and her five alleged lovers were executed at the tower.
Guy Fawkes who was discovered with 36 barrels of gunpowder at The House of Lords (was planning on blowing up King James I and his Protestant regime) was also taken to the tower and sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered. However, on the day of the execution Guy Fawkes jumped from the ladder of the hanging platform and broke his neck, dying instantly. We still celebrate the gunpowder plot on bonfire night on the 5th November each year.
You can get a guided tour of the tower from a Beefeater for around £23!
7 – Piccadilly Circus
Famous for its bright screens, Piccadilly Circus is at the centre of a lot of action. Regent Street, Shaftesbury Avenue, Coventry Street (onto Leicester Square) all join at the Piccadilly Circus junction.
8 – Southbank
The Southbank is gorgeous to stroll along and you’ll see lots of the London landmarks as you walk. It’s home to the National Theatre as well as the BFI and the Tate Modern.
9 – Covent Garden
In the heart of the West End is Covent Garden – home to many shops and the Apple Market. You can enjoy street performers entertaining audiences by St Paul’s Church / eat in one of the many restaurants.
10 – London Eye
A popular tourist attraction in the UK, offering fantastic views of London. Located on the Southbank, you can buy standard tickets for £25 but if you haven’t booked fast-track / in advance, then be prepared to wait – there’s always a big queue.
11 – Carnaby Street
Carnaby Street is located in the heart of the West End and is home to many shops and restaurants (lovely to eat in Kingly Court). It’s close to Oxford Street, Regent Street and Piccadilly Circus! It’s known as the birthplace of Swinging London in the 1960’s… the hangout place for Mods, Punks & New Romantics… and now, tourists!
At the end of Carnaby Street is the iconic, high end department store, Liberty London.
12 – Oxford Street
The most famous shopping street in London! Shop ’til you drop 🙂
13 – Regent Street
Pretty street with many flagship stores. The buildings are gorgeous and Christmas lights are dazzling. It is full of tourists so you will have to have a little patience. The street meets Oxford Street at one end, and Piccadilly Circus at the other.
14 – The O2
Originally the Millennium Dome, the O2 arena is the ‘world’s busiest music arena’ and is located in South East London (North Greenwich). You can book to climb the O2 for around £35 / book to go to one of the many events / exhibitions held there.
15 – The City
The City is the business district and financial centre of London, also called the Square Mile.
You’ll find shops and restaurants in The City, but it does tend to be quiet during the weekend when nobody is working. It’s worth checking out for the interesting architecture. Buildings in the city which you might want to check out:
- The Shard
- The Gherkin (30 St Mary Axe)
- The Walkie Talkie (20 Fenchurch)
- The Leadenhall Building
16 – Greenwich Park & The Royal Observatory
In my opinion Greenwich offers the best view of London… especially as the sun sets behind The City and Canary Wharf. Greenwich is a lovely place to walk around with plenty of markets and restaurants.
The Royal Observatory is situated on the hill in Greenwich Park. It was founded in 1675 by King Charles II and has played a massive role in the history of astronomy and navigation. The Prime Meridian passes through the courtyard – Greenwich Mean Time is the solar time at the Observatory and Meridian marks the starting point of every Time Zone of the time zone map.
There is often a screen in the park showing big sporting games / royal weddings too. Fantastic atmosphere if you’re visiting when something is on.
17 – Other places to check out…
There is a lot you’ll stumble upon when walking around London, but I’ll briefly highlight some other famous places:
- Leicester Square – another iconic square with many street entertainers / artists drawing caricatures. It’s known for it’s red carpet premieres at the 3 cinemas in the square – Vue / ODEON & Cineworld. A lot of tourists seem to love the M&M Store and that’s in Leicester Square too. Restaurants in the square are mainly chains but always busy with tourists.
- The Royal Artillery Memorial – memorial unveiled in 1925 near to Hyde Park Corner commemorating the 49,076 Royal Artillery who lost their lives in WW1 conflict.
- Wellington Arch – it was the original entrance to Buckingham Palace and then became a ‘victory arch’ for Wellington’s defeat of Napoleon.
- Canary Wharf – another busy financial area with impressive skyscrapers.
- Harrods in Knightsbridge – very busy department store and the outside is beautifully lit all year around.
- Shoreditch / Hoxton – super ‘hip’ and ‘trendy’ area full of cool bars, restaurants and shopping!
- Brick Lane – lots always going on on this trendy street. If you’re into fashion then you’ll love the vintage shops.
- Chinatown – near to Soho with Chinese restaurants / businesses.
- Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea – beautiful white washed houses and high-end shops / restaurants.
- Notting Hill – trendy area with gorgeous, colourful houses.
- City Farm – a cute little farm near to Brick Lane in East London.
- Kensington Palace – royal palace and gardens.
- St. Pancras Station – very impressive station.
- Millennium Bridge – the modern footbridge which wobbles a bit.
- Hampton Court Palace – royal palace in Richmond upon Thames (just outside of London) full of history if you want some more of it.
18 – Theatre / Entertainment
London is home to some of the best theatre in the world. Some of my top picks:
- Hamilton – believe the hype! It’s amazing.
- The Book of Mormon – also absolutely incredible and hilarious. I’ve seen it 14 times…
- War Horse – if musicals aren’t your thing, I’d definitely suggest War Horse. Beautiful story, beautifully done!
- Phantom of the Opera – a classic.
- Les Miserables – also a classic.
Theatre which is good for both adults and children:
- The Lion King
- The Globe – is an experience itself! You can book cheap standing tickets for a very Elizabethan experience.
- National Theatre – one of the most prominent performing arts venues in the world. There are many different plays running all year round in the various performance spaces.
- Royal Opera House – in Covent Garden and showcasing various operas throughout the year.
- Royal Albert Hall – a magnificent concert hall in Kensington and one of the most famous stages in the world. There are a mixture of events throughout the year including the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra playing famous movie soundtracks alongside the film.
19 – Parks
London is full of beautiful green spaces. Here are just a few…
– Hyde Park
Hyde Park is the largest Royal Park near to Buckingham Palace. The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain is located here and you can take a boat out on the serpentine.
You know it’s nearly Christmas when Winter Wonderland comes to play. A massive fairground in Hyde Park with food stalls, ice-skating and a massive Bavarian beer tent! I suggest you go in November to avoid the massive crowds before Christmas!
– Regent’s Park / Primrose Hill
Gorgeous views from the hill!
– St James’s Park
Lovely park between the Horse Guards Parade and Buckingham Palace.
– Green Park
Opposite St James Park and right by Hyde Park!
– Victoria Park
Gorgeous park in the East End of London – full of sunbathers / friends having a good time during the summer months.
Victoria Park village is super cute and has many nice restaurants where you can eat al fresco.
– Richmond Park
Richmond Park is a vast space and known for its deer and wildlife conservation. Some of the deer are really tame and will come up if you have food!
20 – Museums
Most museums in London are free of charge to go into – result! Here are a few…
– Natural History Museum
World famous museum exhibiting many specimens from various segments of natural history, educating on the power of nature. At the moment the main exhibit is the blue whale skeleton which replaced ‘Dippy’ the Diplodocus dinosaur.
– British Museum – houses Egyptian mummies and ancient Greek sculptures.
– Madame Tussauds – wax museum… seems to be popular with tourists. Tickets are £38 if you book online.
– Tate Modern – on the Southbank showcasing modern and contemporary art.
– Victoria & Albert Museum – the ‘world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design’.
– London Dungeon – fun thing to do on a rainy day bringing London history to life using actors and different rides. Tickets are £24.
– National Gallery
This art gallery in Trafalgar Square was founded in 1824 and has thousands of paintings from 13th – 19th centuries.
21 – Markets
London is also home to many markets. Check opening times as many of these only open on certain days…
– Columbia Road Flower Market
A street market full of colourful flowers in Bethnal Green.
– Borough Market – fantastic food and drink market. Fresh produce as well as food to eat there and then.
– Camden Market – ‘alternative’ market popular with punks. Has a quite young audience but also popular with tourists enjoying the different stalls / shops to look around, as well as the large amount of food on offer.
– Spitalfields Market – I love this market between Liverpool St. and Brick Lane. Lots of food, drinks and clothes stalls, as well as a variety of restaurants and pubs nearby.
– Portobello Road Market – antiques / collectables market in front of colourful Notting Hill houses.
– Covent Garden Flower Market
If you want to buy cheap flowers, get up early and go to the flower market where florists buy their flowers in bulk.
22 – Sport
If you’re into rugby then catch a game at Twickenham. There are also various football stadiums around London, including Wembley.
23 – Where to eat / drink
I’m only going to include a handful of places here… I’ve written an entire on blog on where to eat / go for drinks in London – click here to read!
Aqua Argyll Street
There is an Aqua Kyoto (Japanese food) and an Aqua Nueva (Spanish food) on Argyll Street near Oxford Circus! Gorgeous restaurants with great roof terraces. There is also an Aqua at the Shard which has incredible views but make sure you book in advance.
My favourite place to go for drinks in London. Sophisticated cocktail bar in the heart of the Westend with Westend standard performers entertaining you through the night. SUCH a good place to go for a night out!
A very Instagrammable restaurant, it’s part of the London Edition which is a gorgeous and very cool hotel near to Tottenham Court Road station. Very upmarket and absolutely delicious British cuisine in a stunning setting.
Incredible views of the city from this restaurant and rooftop cocktail bar in Canary Wharf! Food was great but quite expensive (although not ridiculous).
A 1940’s bar in Soho, Cahoots if famous for it’s newspaper menu and extensive, fun cocktails. Great atmosphere with staff in character as and dressed in 40’s attire. Kingly Court is right outside which is always lovely to eat / drink in too.
French restaurant by Covent Garden, voted the most romantic restaurant in the world!!! My boyfriend took me here on one of our first dates. Apparently a table in the conservatory is like gold dust, so book in advance and make sure you request one as it really is stunning (and romantic :P).
My absolute favourite – believe the hype and wait in the queue! I absolutely LOVE Dishoom (‘Irani cafes that were once part of the fabric of life in Bombay’) and there’s one right by my office so I’m able to get a cheeky takeaway every now and then. All the food is good! They will suggest you share a few dishes between 2, but I am a chicken ruby addict so always go for that! It will not disappoint. They have restaurants in: Carnaby, Shoreditch, King’s Cross, Covent Garden & Kensington!
Duck & Waffle
Restaurant by Liverpool Street station with incredible views.
Like pizza? Want a quick, cheap and yummy lunch / dinner? Try Homeslice! They do massive sharing pizzas (with 2 toppings) for £20 OR you can buy pizza by the slice for £4 per slice! Sooooo delicious!!! (Recommend the ricotta, mushroom & pine nut topping)
Hutong (at the Shard)
A Northern Chinese restaurant in the Shard with amazing views of London. They do fantastic lunch deals, but otherwise it’s quite expensive. The food is soooo delicious – we had a few dishes shared between 3. Nearest tube is London Bridge!
Bar, lounge and restaurant with amazing views of St Paul’s! It’s a very popular after work hangout, so be prepared to queue to go in during the summer. It’s lively and has an amazing atmosphere.
This is my favourite place for sushi – in my opinion, far better than any of the fancy, popular sushi restaurants. The interior of the restaurants are very basic and sterile, but the food is UNREAL!!!! Make sure you order about 10 portions of the ‘crunchy tuna rolls’ – you won’t regret it. Truffle salmon rolls, soft shell crab rolls and the shrimp tempura are great too. Restaurants near Liverpool St / Moorgate / Farringdon!
San Carlo Cicchetti
Amazing restaurant just off Piccadilly Circus specialising in the ‘Venetian culinary custom of cicchetti – delicious small plate dishes to share or eat alone, enjoyed with a beer or glass of wine’! Food was mouth-watering. You should definitely go but book in advance as it gets busy.
Searcys at the Gherkin
Amazing views and food from literally the top of the Gherkin!! My boyfriend luckily got us a window table, but make sure you confirm it on the booking.
You can book a trip to Sky Garden for free 2 weeks in advance of the date you plan to go.
The views are absolutely amazing. On a Friday / Saturday they have a band playing too. There is a restaurant, but it’s pricey and you have to book in advance!
Sushi Samba (right by Liverpool Street station) boasts absolutely incredible views of London! I’ve not actually eaten here, but I’ve been for drinks a fair few times. Expectedly, it’s pricey as you’re paying for the view.
The Big London Bake
Basically the Great British Bake Off for the average person! A really fun thing to do with a group of friends.
I could go on and on and I’m sure I will add to this as and when I discover more areas. This should get you started… 🙂