Things to Do in London
The London Eye offers unparalleled views of central London's world-famous landmarks from its prime location on the Thames River waterfront, opposite Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. The gigantic, 443-foot-high observation wheel was built to mark the millennium in 2000 and quickly became one of the most popular paid attractions in the United Kingdom.
Flowing right through the heart of central London, the Thames River offers a dramatic backdrop to the city's famous skyline with landmarks lining its shores. Walk along the riverfront from Westminster to Tower Bridge and you'll pass London icons such as the London Eye, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, the Tower of London, St Paul's Cathedral, Southbank, Shakespeare's Globe, and the London Bridge.
From medieval torture to grim executions and infamous royal prisoners, the Tower of London has long found itself at the center of the city's dark history. Built by William the Conqueror in 1066, the historic castle has served as a Royal Menagerie, Her Majesty's prison, an execution site, a royal observatory, a Royal Mint, and a military storehouse over the course of its existence.
Few landmarks epitomize central London as perfectly as Big Ben, the iconic clock tower that stands at the east end of the Houses of Parliament. Heralding the location of Great Britain's political nucleus in Westminster, Big Ben—or the Elizabeth Tower, renamed in honor of the Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee—stands proud as a symbol of London and the striking centerpiece of the Thames waterfront. The Palace of Westminster, the home of the Houses of Parliament, is another historic monument, as behind the grand Gothic facade, politicians have dictated local laws since 1215, when King John's Magna Carta signified the birth of parliament in the United Kingdom.
Buckingham Palace has served as the official London residence and administrative office of the British royal family since the 19th century and is one of the few remaining working royal palaces in the world. Access for the public is limited and exclusive but worthwhile for those who arrange a visit.
With its Gothic towers and central bascule flanked by dramatic suspension bridges, Tower Bridge is both a remarkable feat of engineering and one of London’s most instantly recognizable landmarks. The famous bridge is a popular subject of London postcards, leading many to mistake it for London Bridge, which is actually the next one upstream.
An archaeological marvel, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and one of the world’s most enigmatic tourist attractions, Stonehenge draws up to 1.3 million visitors annually. The site itself—a circle of gigantic stones standing in the heart of the English countryside—is made even more impressive by its mysterious history. Although Stonehenge’s original purpose remains unknown, onlookers gather to admire the 3,500-year-old structure and ponder its astronomical, spiritual, or even supernatural meaning.
An architectural masterpiece with a magnificent dome, St. Paul's Cathedral is one of London’s most recognizable sites. The 17th-century cathedral boasts a rich history as host of the jubilee celebrations of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II, the marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, and the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill.
Windsor Castle is the largest occupied castle in the world that is still used by the monarchy. Since William the Conqueror built a wooden fortress here over 900 years ago, this has been a royal palace and residence. Despite its daily use for royal business, much of the palace is open to the public and well worth a visit.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, with a legacy dating back more than 1,000 years, Westminster Abbey is among London’s most historic landmarks. The Gothic church is best known for hosting headline-grabbing events involving the British royal family, such as the Queen’s coronation, Princess Diana's funeral, and Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding.
More Things to Do in London
Trafalgar Square—the living, breathing, and beating heart of London’s West End—plays an integral part in local life as a site of celebrations, protests, performances, parades, and public gatherings. Overlooked by grand, stately buildings such as the National Gallery and St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church, this vast square is dotted with iconic fountains and statuary. Most famous among them is the 144-foot (44-meter) Nelson’s Column, which commemorates a British naval victory over France and Spain, and is guarded by four oversized bronze lions.
Though often confused with its grandiose neighbor Tower Bridge, London Bridge is, in reality, more functional than fancy. It does, however, have a long history, with its first iteration having been erected by the Romans way back in AD 50. No visible trace remains of the original bridge, nor of the handful of structures that replaced it, including the one that became the subject of that famous nursery rhyme. Though the current 1970s-built concrete version is not quite as eye-catching, the views it offers of Tower Bridge are hard to top.
Meticulously constructed using period-appropriate materials to resemble the original Elizabethan Globe Theatre, which stood at a site just 656 feet (200 meters) away, Shakespeare’s Globe brings the theatergoing experience of yore to life. Plays—not exclusively Shakespeare’s, though the bard’s works do dominate the schedule—are staged in the atmospheric, circular, open-air auditorium.
The World War II warshipHMS Belfast, moored on the south bank of the Thames, is an iconic symbol of British history. Discover interactive displays and preserved spaces across the vessel’s nine decks and learn about life on the naval ship, as well as its role in D-Day, the Arctic Convoys, and the Battle of North Cape.
Piercing the sky like a gigantic shard of glass, the London Shard is every bit as spectacular as it sounds. This architectural wonder, designed by Renzo Piano, is not only one of the city’s most iconic structures—it also boasts the highest observation deck in London.
Located in a colonnade-fronted, early 20th-century County Hall building (the former headquarters for the Greater London Council), the SEA LIFE® London Aquarium is one of Europe’s aquatic museums with 14 themed zones. Marine-life displays include walk-over glass shark tanks, transparent tunnels where sea turtles swim overhead, and kaleidoscopic coral reefs. Visitors also love the penguin exhibit, where it’s possible to observe adorable orange-beaked gentoo penguins waddling on land and swimming gracefully underwater.
One of London’s most famous addresses, 10 Downing Street is the official residence of the British prime minister. The chancellor of the exchequer, responsible for the UK’s money and economy, lives next door at number 11. On any given day, you can see streams of important politicians walking through the doors of these two iconic addresses.
At the heart of London’s historic Docklands, the waterfront district of Canary Wharf has transformed itself into a financial powerhouse in recent years. This area has become—along with the nearby City of London—one of the capital’s most important business centers.
Piccadilly Circus is the meeting place of many of London's most famous roads. Here beautiful Regent Street (shopping heaven), famous Piccadilly (Fortnum and Mason's, The Ritz, the Royal Academy of Art), and cultural Shaftsbury Avenue (theaters, Chinatown) intersect. In the middle of it all is the famous 1893 statue of Eros, the winged messenger of love, which commemorates Lord Shaftesbury.
The circus was originally created as part of a plan to connect Carlton House, the home of the Prince Regent who became King George IV in 1820, to Regent's Park. When Shaftesbury Avenue was created in 1885, the area became busy with traffic and advertisers saw the potential for advertising; in 1895 London's first illuminated billboards were put up in Piccadilly Circus. For the next century it was London's version of Times Square but now only one building carries billboards. For history buffs, the name Piccadilly dates from the 17th century and comes from piccadill, a type of collar or ruff.
Crammed full of artisan foods, homemade goodies, delicious street dishes and fresh produce, Borough Market is the go-to destination for in-the-know London foodies. With a history dating back over 1,000 years, Borough Market is the city's oldest and most famous food market, and—in case you need any more convincing—regular customers include celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay.
One of London’s eight Royal Parks, St. James’s Park is a verdant jewel located right in the center of town. Flanked by Buckingham Palace, Green Park, and St. James’s Palace, the green space stretches across almost 57 acres (23 hectares). It’s renowned for its pretty lake, vibrant flower beds, and for hosting several regal events.
Perched on the banks of River Thames, Tate Modern is the epicenter of London’s contemporary art scene. It’s a culture lover’s paradise and one of the world’s largest modern art museums, complete with cutting edge works, thought-provoking installations, and dramatic think pieces.
The Changing of the Guard is a centuries-old tradition that marks the official shift change of the Household Regiment—the Queen's guards stationed at Buckingham Palace. One of the world's most famous ceremonies and a top London experience, this ceremony gives visitors the chance to witness the grandeur of a royal march. Dressed in their iconic red suits and bearskin hats, the guards exemplify classic British pomp in a showing that's not to be missed.
In the heart of London’s West End, Covent Garden is one of the city’s most popular dining and entertainment hubs. Home to the Royal Opera House; several top theaters, including the Lyceum and the Donmar Warehouse; world-class restaurants; and many major brand-name stores, most travelers to London plan to explore this area while visiting.
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