Looking for things to do in London? This comprehensive guide will give you all the tools you need to make the most of your time in England’s cosmopolitan capital city.
Travel writer and past London resident Karen Worrall shares the information she’s learned living in and visiting London over the years.
London is cool, calm, and collected. It’s a joyful juxtaposition of history meeting trail-blazing innovation.
I’m going to give you my top tips on where to go, what to see and my favorite London must-do experiences that you may not have known about.
What to do in London[ez-toc]
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London buzzes. It has its own energy. It is a hub of commerce, the arts, where top people and companies come to compete. It is the home of Sherlock Holmes, Charles Dickens, and Queen Elizabeth.
Traditions and the future go hand in hand in an intoxicating mix that makes it always memorable and a place full of exciting things to do and see.
From the Tower of London to the London Eye and world-class museums, London has something for everyone.
#1 Money Saving Tip in London
The best way that you can save money and seeing all of the sites is to get yourself a London City Pass
Select your pass duration and enjoy access to over 80 attractions including the Tower of London, The Shard, and a hop-on-hop-off bus tour.
- London city pass with an app & fast-track entry on select attractions
- Choose the travel option to include an Oyster Travelcard for journeys across the London transport network
- 1-10 day passes starting at £75 Adults (£55 Children)
- Save Big on Gate Prices with the London City Pass
With only having a short amount of time this will help you get around quickly and skip the line at a bunch of places. Definitely worth it.
The Top London Attractions
1. Covent Garden
Covent Garden is my favorite place in London. It is the heart of old London town, and feels like the London of Eliza Doolittle and yet completely up to date at the same time.
Covent Garden Market is in the center, which now is home to various high-end shops such as L’Occitane.
Head down the steps to pub The Crusting Pipe where classical musicians and opera singers perform.
The Jubilee Market just across is the spot to find real London market sellers and some bargain gifts, and outside in the square is one of the best spots to watch street performers.
- Hours: The area is open 24 hours, but the shops within the market generally 9am – 6pm, and the bars and restaurant times vary.
- Price: Free to stroll.
2. The National Gallery
In my opinion, this is the finest art gallery in London.
Situated smack in the middle of Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery is the best place to see incredible works by European Masters such as Canaletto, Caravaggio, Titian, Turner, Rubens, and Van Gogh.
Some of my favorite pieces to look out for are The Execution of Lady Jane Grey, by Delaroche, The Fighting Temeraire by Turner, Sunflowers by Van Gogh, and The Basin of San Marco on Ascension Day by Canaletto.
Audio guides and guided tours are also available for a small fee.
- Hours: 10am-6pm daily, and extended to 9pm on Fridays.
- Cost: Free for permanent exhibitions.
3. Free Things to do in London – Museums
A great way to save money in London is to take advantage of its free museums.
As noted above, the National Gallery is free for permanent exhibitions and there are several more free museums in London.
- The Science Museum
- Museum of London
- The Royal Air Force Museum
- Tate Modern art
- Imperial War Museum
- British Museum – This museum is free to enter. It is famous for housing the Rosetta Stone.
Camden is a spot in London that has always been cool. From the swinging 60s to punk 80s to hipster millennials, it has always drawn an artistic crowd.
The markets of Camden are a great place to buy real London souvenirs, usually made by locals.
Camden Market is a great spot for paintings, local crafts, and items such as cushions and mugs with local art on them.
Check out Camden Lock to see the canal and the many charming pubs that line it.
Street food is available in all the markets and on the high street.
- Hours: Camden and Stable Market 10am-6pm in winter, usually extending to 8pm May-September. High street stalls open until 9pm, bars and restaurants later.
- Cost: Free to stroll.
4. Carnaby Street
Carnaby Street is the grooviest street in London. It was the place to hang out in London’s swinging 60s filled with music venues, shops, and was the place to see and be seen.
If you’ve seen the movie Austin Powers, it doesn’t really exaggerate the psychedelic fun vibe that was here.
The street is to London what Harajuku is to Japan.
You can still go there and see people all dressed up just for the fun of it.
- Hours: Street 24 hours, with shops, many restaurants and bars open from 10am until late.
- Cost: Free to stroll.
5. See a West End Show
Going to London without sampling a West End show is just as sacrilegious as going to New York without seeing a Broadway show.
London’s theatre district has so many offerings there is always something on for every taste, from musicals to dramatic plays, and even the macabre, such as long-running, terrifying The Woman in Black.
Insider tips to Getting Tickets to London Theatres
To get the best prices for tickets, go to the actual theatre the show is on and ask about tickets available for that day.
If you don’t mind sitting alone, or a little higher up in the theatre, you can get some excellent deals.
Going to the TKTS Hut in Leicester Square or one of the many ticket shops around the square are also good places to get last-minute deals.
- Hours: Individual shows vary, but in general shows nightly except Sundays at 7.30pm, and matinees on Wednesdays, Thursdays, or Sundays, plus Saturdays at 2.30pm.
- Cost: From £10-200 depending on the show, but you can get tickets for many shows for around £30-40.
6. Buckingham Palace
The main residence of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is home to her and several other members of the British Royal family most of the year.
Buckingham Palac is one of the world’s few remaining working royal palaces. I would dare say it is one of the top London attractions.
For ten weeks during the summer while the Royal Family is on holiday, you can visit the elegant State Rooms of the palace.
Detailed audio-video guides are provided in many language choices and include messages from several royal family members including Prince Charles, Princess Margaret and
Highlights to see are the Ballroom, the Picture Room, Throne Room, and the White Drawing Room.
If you ask for your ticket to be treated as a donation to the Royal Collection Trust, it is turned into a one-year pass for no extra charge.
- Hours: Tours begin from 9.30am-5.15pm from July 20th until September 29th 2019.
- Cost: £25/22.80 concession, under-17 free. Family discount available.
7. The Houses of Parliament
The House of Commons and House of Lords make up the British Houses of Parliament.
Situated right in the heart of Westminster, next to Big Ben, it is the epicenter of British politics, so the ideal place to learn about the system as well as see the historic and architecturally impressive buildings inside.
You can tour the Houses through the Commons Chamber and Lords Chamber, following in the footsteps of the Queen at the State opening and view the stunning Westminster Hall, which is nearly a millennia-old.
There are two main ways to visit the Houses: with an audio tour (60-75 minutes) or a guided tour (90-minutes). You can even add in afternoon tea.
- Hours: Days and times available vary depending on when parliament is in session, so check the Parliament website .
- Cost: Audio tour £18.50/16 for concessions, children 5-15 one free per fee-paying adult. Guided tour £25.50/21 concessions, children aged 5-15 £11. Under-fives are free on all tours. Afternoon tea £29, £14.50 for children aged 12 and under.
If you want an exclusive behind the scenes tour Get Your Guide offers a 2-Hour Guided Tour of the Palace of Westminster, the Royal Gallery, Prince's Chamber, House of Commons and The Chamber of the House of Lords.
8. Natural History Museum at South Kensington
London has many wonderful museums – many of them free – and this is my personal favorite.
The Natural History Museum at South Kensington is a fantastic day out for the whole family.
It is divided into four zones with different themes:
- Blue has the diversity of earth
- Green shows the planet’s evolution
- Red demonstrates the earth’s forces
- Orange science and the garden.
Highlights include Hintze Hall (Green Zone) with its 75 feet blue whale skeleton.
The museum’s most famous is the incredible hall of dinosaurs in the Blue Zone.
The museum hosts many events such as talks, late-night openings, sleepovers, and silent discos, so it is worth checking out what is on when you’re in the city.
- Hours: 10am-5.50pm daily.
- Cost: Free for permanent exhibitions. Some temporary exhibitions have a fee, check their website for full info.
9. Take a Walk in the Park
The City of London has over 400 green spaces, and there are over eight million trees in Greater London.
Central London is home to five of the city’s eight Royal Parks, which are all well worth a visit.
- St. James's Park in Westminster
- Hyde Park in Knightsbridge
- Green Parks between Westminster and Belgravia
- Regents Park in Marylebone
- Kensington Gardens in Kensington
All of the parks host events throughout the year, such as concerts, art exhibits, and walking tours, so check their websites or info at the parks for what’s on when you’re there.
Taking a stroll through the parks is one of my favorite things to do in London in the morning.
- Hours: 24 hours, but recommended during daylight hours.
- Cost: Free.
10. The Shard
To get the highest views of London, go to the 68th, 69th, and 70th floors of The Shard, London’s chic high-rise hotel.
The 360-degree vista and views of up to 40 miles make it a very popular attraction.
You can book your time on the website, choose your time. Visits are timed to enter within a 30-minute slot, but once you’re up there, you can stay as long as you like.
If you can book online at least 14 days in advance, you save 25% on the ticket price.
They even provide a weather guarantee so if the weather is bad – therefore your view is too – you can come back another day for free.
If you purchase a London Pass, the Shard is included in the price.
- Hours: 10am-9pm daily.
- Cost: Standard Package £24 (booked 14 days in advance), £27 (1-13 days in advance) or £32 on the day. 25% off for children and concessions.
11. London Nightlife
London’s nightlife is legendary.
Whatever you’re interested in, you’ll find it here. Make sure to spend at least one evening out on the town in this electric city.
A few Suggested London Nightclub highlights include:
- Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Bar in Soho for jazz
- The Ministry of Sound in Elephant & Castle is a wild night for clubbers
- G-A-Y between Soho and Covent Garden is a guaranteed epic night out if you’re LBGTQ or not.
If you’d rather have a more relaxed evening, London has character-filled pubs by the bucket-load, which you’ll find on pretty much every street.
12. Tower of London
The Tower of London has been the home to the royalty, prisoners, the crown jewels, history and intrigue for almost a thousand years.
The Tower has several sections you can visit, and is a fantastic place for anyone interested in history, the British monarchy, or plots.
Some highlights not to miss are:
- The Crown Jewels: The Royal Regalia are powerful symbols of the British Monarchy that contain over 23,000 gemstones.
- Yeoman Warder Tours: These hour-long tours that tell you the sometimes scary history of the tower, including showing the torture exhibition.
- The Ravens: Meet the Tower’s resident ravens, who are believed to be the guardians of the tower and see where they live on the South Lawn. Ravens have been guarding the tower since the 1660s on orders of Charles II who was warned that if the birds ever left the fort, it and the crown would fall.
- Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 9am-5.30pm, Sunday-Monday 10am-5.30pm.
- Cost: £24.70/19.30 concessions.
13. Tower Bridge
Not to be confused with the London Bridge, the Tower Bridge is located right at the Tower of London.
Be sure to take a walk across the bridge and go on a tour of one of the city's most iconic landmarks.
Tours are offered inside the bridge and you can walk on the glass floor for a bird's eye view of the Thames River.
You can take the high-level walkways on your own, or go on a behind-the-scenes guided tour to see it's engine rooms and other areas that are off-limits to the public.
14. London Eye
The London Eye is an icon of the city.
It isn’t a Ferris wheel but is the world’s tallest cantilevered observation wheel.
It was built as part of the Millenium Project, initially going to be a temporary structure as part of the celebrations moving into the year 2000.
Its 32 pods represent London’s 32 boroughs, it stands at 135m tall, can carry 800 people in one trip around, and moves at the leisurely pace of 26cm per second.
- Hours: Typically 10am-between 6pm and 8.30pm closing. Check online for times when you visit as they vary frequently.
- Cost: £27, 10% cheaper booking online. £30 on the day.
15. Saint Paul's Cathedral
The Saint Paul Cathedral has stood on this spot for over 1,400 years and it is one of the most popular places to visit in London.
The cathedral is open to the public and they can admire the dome, stained glass windows, and the Golden Gallery, or join a service.
Visitors can also head down into the crypts and tombs where important war leaders including the Duke of Wellington and Admiral Lord Nelson are buried.
There are guided tours, touch-screen multimedia guides, and a 270-degree immersive film experience called Oculus are available.
- Hours: Monday-Saturday 8.30am-4.30pm.
- Cost: £16/14 concession, 7 for a child, including all sightseeing amenities stated above.
16. Dennis Severs' House
For those looking for a London experience with a difference, this is the place to go, and I’d highly recommend it.
This “still-life drama” has captured the lives of the house’s Huguenot silk-weaver owners from 1724 to the start of the 20th century.
Visitors are taken back in this time through the generations of the family’s ups and downs through sights, smells, and sounds throughout ten rooms.
The intention is that the visitor feels like they have “passed through the surface of a painting” to experience this world.
Everything is conducted in silence, and there are also Silent Night tours in the evening, to add even more atmosphere. Reserve places for evening visits.
- Hours: Sunday 12pm-4pm, Monday 12pm-2pm. Silent Night, Monday, Wednesday and Friday 5pm-9pm. Each tour lasts approximately 45 minutes.
- Cost: £15 Silent Night, £10/5 for concessions for daytime visits.
17. The V&A
The Victoria and Albert, named after Queen Victoria and her husband Albert – or simply the V & A, is a state-of-the-art world-leading Art & Design Museum.
Five millennia of human creativity is showcased here.
Some of the country’s greatest resources for studying photography, Asian art, sculpture, painting, and textiles are here.
It appeals to many age and taste demographics.
Late openings on Fridays often involve special events so check their website for the dates you are in the city in case you want to attend one.
- Hours: Daily 10am-5.45pm, extended to 10pm on Fridays.
- Cost: Free for main exhibitions, charge for some temporary ones.
18. London Dungeon
London has a lot of macabre history, and one fun the most fun things to do in London is to visit the London Dungeon.
Visitors go through a series of rooms, chambers, venues, and experiences to meet with some of the most sordid characters of the city’s past, such as Jack the Ripper and Sweeney Todd.
One of Britain’s scariest Dungeon experiences, this is a good place to come for those seeking the dark side of The Great Wen.
- Hours: Daily 11am-5pm.
- Cost: £24 online in advance to save 20%, £30 on the day.
19. Tate Modern
London’s premier modern art gallery, Tate Modern is fittingly housed in the former Bankside Power Station.
Home to a huge international and national collection of modern art, the pieces are dramatic, and always provoke opinions.
Some of the most famous paintings from 1900 onwards by modern artists such as Picasso, Dali, Rothko, Warhol, and Pollock are here.
It also houses large-scale installation works.
Tate Modern Late hosts evening events at weekends, such as openings of new exhibits, DJ nights, live performance art and talks.
- Hours: Daily 10am-6pm, extended to 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
- Cost: Free for main collections.
20. SEA LIFE London Aquarium
Experience sea life from around the UK and around the world in London’s premier aquarium, situated on the South Bank.
Explore the various underwater zones of the Atlantic Coasts, Shark Walk, ray lagoon, rock pool, ocean tunnel seahorse kingdom, rain forest section and penguin point to learn about and meet many fascinating creatures.
The Polar Adventure taking you through the paw-steps of an augmented reality polar bear opens in April 2019.
- Hours: Daily 10am-6pm, extended to 7pm on Saturdays.
- Cost: £27 online, £30 at the door. Family tickets available.
London’s most elite department store has been delighting the rich and chic with its wares since 1849 and wowed Victorians with England’s first escalator in 1898.
Even if you aren’t going on a shopping spree, the building is very beautiful and well worth a visit.
Make sure to check out the Egyptian Room, and Food Hall. Or stop in the delicious bakery and treat yourself to a pastry and coffee.
But make sure you are dressed decently to enter, as the dress code set in 1989 – no excess skin showing, no offensive pictures or writing on clothes – still applies.
- Hours: Monday-Saturday 10am-9pm, Sunday 11.30am-6pm.
- Cost: Free to stroll, but not cheap for any purchases.
22. Visit Greenwich
Dave and I wanted to add our visit to Greenwich.
Standing on the Prime Meridan with a leg in the eastern and western hemisphere at the Royal Observatory is a very cool experience.
But there are a lot of other things to see and do in the area.
We took a stroll through the Royal Naval College and marveled at the Painted Hall – a masterpiece dating back to the 18th century.
Greenwich Park is also a place to wander around with views of London and the Thames.
Getting There: We took the boat along the Thames to Greenwich Pier and it offered us incredible views of the city. It was an outstanding way to see the sites of London on a budget. You can also get there by the Tube, train, DLR and bus.
Hours: Royal Observatory, Maritime Museum, Meridian Line, Planetarium, Queen's House, Cutty Shark and Library all open from 10 am to 5 pm. (last admissions 4:30 pm)
23. Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey is 1100 years old and all coronations have taken place here since William the Conquerer in 1066.
Many a royal wedding has taken place at Westminster Abbey including William and Kate, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Everyone is welcome to attend daily services at this church that is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Things to Do in London Resources
Getting Around London
Skip the Lines and get Free Entrance to most London Attractions with the London Citypass
Public transport in London is widely available and pretty easy to navigate.
But transport is expensive in London, so it is worth weighing the cost of transport before booking accommodation.
Buying an Oyster card for £3: is a worthwhile investment to get the discount on each trip if you’re there for a week or more, or if you are planning on hopping about the zones a lot.
You can find locations to buy an Oyster Card and places to top it up on this website
Day Pass: If you are planning on visiting several areas in a day, getting a day pass, weekend pass or week pass for the Tube, or bus system is a smart move.
- Single tickets on the bus start from £1.80 and the tube from £2.90.
Tickets for the Tube work within certain zones, so check which zone your final destination is in before boarding.
If you are planning on traveling a lot around London in one day or week, or month even, it is worth getting a London Travel Card.
- Tube transport up to zones 1-4 cost £12 per day using it at any time, and across all public transport using the tube, bus or tram systems.
- A weekly tube pass starts from £32.10 for zones 1-2
Check full details and prices for the travel card here http://www.londontravelpass.com/prices.html
What Time of Year Should I visit London?
London is a busy city year-round and there is no bad time to visit London, but there are better times for weather and crowds.
You can expect rain any time of year when visiting London, but the rainiest season is January and Feb.
High Season is between June and September and then again in December. Expect more crowds and higher prices.
Shoulder season – March to May is a good time to visit as the weather is mild and you will find better deals.
Since London is a huge metropolis with things going on year round, there is really no bad time to visit the city if you are dressed for it and prepared for rain.
Where to stay in London
Karen gave an in-depth breakdown of all the Neighborhoods in London.
To find the best Place to Stay in London by Neighbourhood, click on the links below.
- Covent Garden and The Strand – if you want to be in the heart of old fashioned Eliza Doolittle’s London and enjoy its charms.
- Westminster – The political capital of the city.
- Soho & Trafalgar Square – Hip nightlife and restaurants meet museum culture in this ever-trendy area.
- Victoria – Great transport links, decent theatre and general lower priced hotels make this a good base.
- Camden – The once weird and wacky, now simply a cool hang place with one of the best markets around
What to Pack for London
It is important to have an umbrella at all times when traveling to London. A lightweight travel umbrella is a good option.
Waterproof shoes are boots will save your feet from getting soggy. You are in a city, so you want to look urban but you still will be doing a lot of walking. These Keen shoes are still stylish, yet functional and come in a range of colors.
A raincoat with a hood is recommended. I'm a fan of th three-quarter length of Arc'teryx raincoat.
The UK is on the 3 pin, flat pronged outlets and it is different than the two-pronged system in Europe. We recommend a universal power adapter.
Recommended Tours in London
Make sure to plan ahead and don’t miss out on all the incredible experiences that London has to offer – find the best things to do and book them easily via GetYourGuide
Harry Potter fans will love the Harry Potter Tour of London where you'll visit Platform 9 3/4 and DiagonAlley.
You may also want to check out the Warner Bros Studio Tour from King's Cross for die-hard fans.
3 Hour Private Walking Tour of London – Get to know all the history with a knowledgeable local guide dishing you all the dirt on the area over the years.
London Hop On Hop Off Tour – If you don’t have a long time in London, this is a great way to get an overview of the city, with stops right by Covent Garden and at both ends of The Strand.
London Transport Museum – This is the place to learn about the intricate history of London’s public transport systems. With interactive exhibitions, exhibitions for families as well as adults, it is an interesting place to see.
London never stops. It is always reinventing itself and is always fresh as well as reliably full of history and character.
Whether you’re going for the bustle, the art, music, food, museums, galleries or just the buzz of it all, you can have a different experience every time.
So when are you going to visit London?
Did you enjoy what to see in London? Why not save it for future reference to plan your next visit.
Karen Worrall is a freelance writer and travel blogger. Based in Edinburgh, Scotland, she has lived in six countries, including London in England, and sailed the seven seas entertaining on cruise ships for 13 years.