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Things to Do in London

Cultured, cosmopolitan, and effortlessly cool, London is a city that needs no introduction. The British capital is not only one of the world’s most visited cities, but it’s also one of the most diverse, and there’s something to suit all tastes. Those looking to discover England’s traditional charms can stroll through Westminster Abbey, watch the Changing the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace, or take a red double-decker bus tour around the city. Art and history lovers can check off famous institutions such as the British Museum and the National Gallery, while foodies can tuck into artisan delicacies at Borough Market, indulge in afternoon tea at the Ritz, and grab dinner on Brick Lane’s Curry Mile. Those with kids in tow can ride the London Eye, pose with celebs at Madame Tussauds, and discover the magic of Harry Potter at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London. Central London boasts a roll call of iconic sights—Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, St. Paul’s Cathedral, London Bridge, the Tower of London, Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden—all within walking distance of the Thames River. Alternatively, a ride on the London Underground will take you to East London’s hip neighborhoods, the pretty waterfront district of Greenwich, or the colorful markets, music venues, and bars of Camden Town. There are also endless options for day trips, including the magnificent Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, the historic cities of Oxford, Cambridge, and Bath, Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, and even Paris.
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London Eye
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Since it was officially opened on New Year's Eve 1999 (as part of the millennial celebrations), the London Eye has become one of London's most popular attractions. It has 32 sealed 'pod' capsules, fitting a total of 800 people, revolving on a huge Ferris wheel. One go-around takes half an hour with the wheel rotating at only twice the speed of a tortoise sprinting, so you can step on and off without the wheel needing to stop!

The London Eye is the fourth-tallest structure in London, so the far-reaching views over London are spectacular. On a clear day you can see as far as Windsor Castle. And the slow speed of the rotation means there's plenty of time to see everything and take lots of photos.

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Houses of Parliament & Big Ben
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Westminster Palace, home to the British Houses of Parliament, is right on the river Thames. A magnificent Neo-Gothic building dating from 1840, it's most recognizable from the clock tower at one end known as Big Ben. (In fact, Big Ben is actually the bell inside the tower.)

Parliament is made up of two houses: the House of Commons and the House of Lords and both have their meeting chambers inside here. It is possible to sit and watch from the Visitors' Gallery if you like seeing grown men taunting each other with bad jokes. Once a year, the Queen puts on her crown, sits on her Throne in the House of Lords and officially opens Parliament.

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Thames River
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The Thames is the longest river in England, the second longest in the United Kingdom. It flows from the west in the Cotswolds, passing through Oxford and London, ending at the sea at Southend-on-Sea in Essex. As far up as Teddington on the western edge of London, the river is tidal. Once the lifeline of London trade and communication, it's still busy with boats: sightseeing boats and houseboats mainly.

Once the only way across the river was to ford it, then London Bridge was built by the Romans. Nowadays many bridges criss-cross the river, the pedestrian Millennium Bridge, Tower Bridge and Albert Bridge are among the prettiest.

The Thames is home to many species of fish and birds - particularly white swans which are to this day all still owned by the Queen. The river is also used by rowers and yachtsman but not swimmers - the water is not the cleanest.

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Buckingham Palace
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Buckingham Palace has served as the official London residence of Britain's sovereigns since 1837. Most impressive are the State Rooms, which form the heart of the working palace. They are lavishly furnished with treasures from the Royal Collection and adorned with paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens, Vermeer and Canaletto. Also see exquisite examples of S'vres porcelain and some of the finest English and French furniture in the world. Outside, marvel at the ceremonious Changing of the Guard.
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Tower of London
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The Tower of London is old, very old. The central White Tower was built by William the Conqueror after his invasion of England in 1066. Since 1485, the iconic red and black-uniformed Beefeaters have been guarding the Tower. Also crucial to security are the ravens. Superstition has it that if the ravens leave, the Monarchy will fall. Consequently at least six pampered ravens are kept in residence at all times.
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Westminster Abbey
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Westminster Abbey has long been the worshipping place for kings and queens and has a rich history. Since 1066 it's been the coronation church - 38 Kings and Queens of England have been crowned here. Queen Elizabeth II was married here, Princess Diana's funeral was held here. And seventeen monarchs are buried here. The abbey is full of art and monuments to soldiers, statesmen, artists and poets including Shakespeare and Charles Dickens.
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St. Paul's Cathedral
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St Paul's Cathedral was built around 1680 after the great fire of London, but a church to St Paul has stood here since 604AD. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren, the current St Paul's remains an iconic landmark in the London skyline. St Paul's is the heart of the Church of England and many royal weddings and funerals take place there, including the marriage of Charles and Diana. One of the highlights of a visit to St Paul's is the Whispering Gallery in the dome where, due to its multilayer construction, you can whisper to the wall and be heard on the opposite side of the gallery. The crypt is burial place for many important people including Sir Christopher Wren himself.
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London Shard
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The brainchild of the Sellar Group, The Shard now holds the record for the tallest building in the E.U., with the vertical structure measuring an impressive 1,016 feet high. It’s a project some 12 years in the making, employing the skills of architectural visionary Renzo Piano (best known for creating the Pompidou centre in Paris), who not only designed the structure to appear like a gigantic ‘shard of glass’ piercing the skyline, but carefully constructed the angled glass panes to reflect and refract light, creating a prism-like exterior that changes color with the skies.

The futuristic skyscraper takes the place of the Southwark Towers, overtaking it’s predecessor with 72 floors to its 24, and as one of few tall buildings conceived in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks, is designed with stability, durability and shock-absorption in mind.

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Trafalgar Square
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Dating from the 1820s and named after Admiral Nelson's last great victory, Trafalgar Square is a hub of London life. With the National Gallery on one side, beautiful church St Martin in the Fields just across the road and the famous Nelson's Column with its guarding lions, it's London's grandest square. It's here that London celebrates moments such as Chinese New Year and winning the Olympics, as well as having a huge Christmas tree each year. It's also here that Londoners show their displeasure about things such as wars and curbs on freedom on speech.

Trafalgar Square is a wonderful place to sit and watch the world pass by. There's a common belief that if you sit here for half an hour you will see someone you know, because the whole world passes through Trafalgar Square at some point.

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Soho
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Soho is one of London's most famous areas. Bounded by Charing Cross Road, Oxford Street, Regent Street and Shaftesbury Avenue, it's a close-knit tangle of busy streets with some of London's best cafes (Bar Italia), music venues (Ronnie Scott's), pubs (the French House), shops, nightclubs and history. Once famed as a seedy red-light area, now it's a cultural hub, full of actors, artists, musicians, and the center of London's gay scene.

In summer, people flock to lovely Soho Square to loll on the lawn. In winter, stroll Carnaby Street and famous Liberty department store for fashion, or eat decadent cakes at Princi in Wardour Street. Sit outside Bar Italia and celebrity spot, especially before and after theater shows on the nearby Shaftesbury Avenue.

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More Things to Do in London

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge

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Tower Bridge is one of the most iconic sights in London. It was opened in 1894, designed to echo the nearby Tower of London although the two have no association except proximity. The bridge is a bascule bridge which means the span lifts to allow ships and yachts through headed for the Pool of London, the port area just upstream of Tower Bridge. River traffic takes priority over road traffic and cars have to wait when a boat wants to come through.

The bridge has two high towers suspended by wires from the land and linked by a high-level walkway between. This was designed for pedestrians to be able to cross the river even when the bridge was open and you can still walk across it today. A common confusion is that Tower Bridge is actually called London Bridge but in fact that is the next one upstream, a much plainer bridge.

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London Bridge

London Bridge

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London Bridge is the oldest bridge over the River Thames. While the current incarnation of the bridge dates from the 1970s, there has been a bridge in this place since around 50 AD, when the Romans drove some wooden piles into the river's mud. Since then there has always been a bridge here, and for a long time it was the only one. (Nowadays there are many bridges crisscrossing the Thames.)

Sadly, London Bridge is not one of the prettiest of the Thames bridges, although its name might be the most famous. Expecting the name to conjure up something special, people often mistakenly call Tower Bridge London Bridge. This leads to the story that an American bought London Bridge in 1968, thinking he'd bought Tower Bridge: what he did buy now spans a lake in Arizona.

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Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

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The grounds that once hosted athletes from all over the world has since then been turned into the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Though obviously constructed for the games, the site has expanded beyond the stadium and now serves as a major component of East London; the area is now open to the public and includes new shops, restaurants, trails, galleries and venues. The Olympic Park has been designed to host Londoners and visitors long after the completion of the games in summer 2012.

Sports reign supreme here, as they should in an area where world records were once broken. The state of the art Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre comes equipped with 10 court and two hockey pitches available for public use year-round. There’s also the one-of-a-kind VeloPark open for all sorts of two-wheeled fun, from track cycling and road racing to BMX and mountain biking.

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SEA LIFE® London Aquarium

SEA LIFE® London Aquarium

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The Sea Life London Aquarium has one of Europe’s largest collections of marine animals with everything from menacing Sand Tiger Sharks to adorable Gentoo Penguins living under one roof. Just across the road from the glittering London Eye, the aquarium is an eerily lit cavern, housing some 2,000,000 liters of water and swarming with hoards of eye-popping sea creatures. There’s over 500 species from all over the world and 14 themed zones to keep the kids busy, but it’s not just for the younger generation. Those seeking something a little more hair-raising can head for the popular Shark Reef Encounter, where you can get up close but not-too-personal with the terrors of the ocean - over 40 sharks including Sand Tigers, Bow Mouths, Black Tips and Grey Reefs. There’s even a Shark Walk where visitors can walk a glass catwalk with sharks swimming beneath, as well as interactive public feeding areas and touch tanks for milder entertainment.
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Shakespeare's Globe

Shakespeare's Globe

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Theatrically inclined visitors to London will delight in the relatively recently reconstructed replica of the Globe Theatre, with which the Bard was famously associated. Guided tours of the facility offer an unparalleled glimpse into the theatrical craft, culture and community that thrived during Shakespeare's day (and in response to the author's mighty quill).

Originally constructed in 1599 by Shakespeare's playing company (the so-called Lord Chamberlain's Men), the structure was decimated by a fire 14 years later. A second structure was promptly erected, only to be closed in 1642, a mere 26 years after its founder's death.

A faithful replica of the structure (dubbed “Shakespeare's Globe”) was opened to the public in 1997, just 750 feet from the site of its predecessors. It offers the world's largest exhibition dedicated to the greatest scribbler in the English language, complete with actors, recordings and interactive displays.

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Tate Modern

Tate Modern

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The Tate Modern is one of London's best and most-loved art galleries. Located in an old power station on the south bank of the Thames, the huge turbine hall makes an imposing entrance and wonderful art space for innovative and playful artworks - kids especially love it. The other gallery spaces show a range of the world's most significant modern art in changing exhibitions around various themes.

Tate Modern has an excellent shop and its cafe, overlooking the Thames River and St Paul's Cathedral, is a great place to rest your feet and mind with one of the best views in London. The Tate Modern is one of four museums: Tate Britain (just down the river), Tate St Ives (Cornwall) and Tate Liverpool. Tate Modern and Tate Britain are connected by riverboat so it's easy to move from the modern art at the Tate Modern to the British art of the Tate Britain.

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Greenwich

Greenwich

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Greenwich is a quaint village area of London just downriver from central London. It is most famous for its maritime history and as home to the Royal Observatory. Located at zero degrees of longitude, all the world's time zones begin here with Greenwich Mean Time. Greenwich was also once a fashionable 17th century retreat from London and there is much grand architecture to be seen including the magnificent Observatory, the Queen's House and the National Maritime Museum.

A 15th-century royal palace, at one time home to Henry VIII and birthplace of Elizabeth I, it was rebuilt in the 18th century and is now the Old Royal Naval College. Don't miss the Painted Hall which took 19 years to complete.

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Hyde Park

Hyde Park

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London is full of huge parks which the locals refer to as the lungs of the city. Hyde Park is one of the biggest and best known. Another of Henry VIII's hunting grounds, it is now a place of concerts, art and horse-riding. The famous Peter Pan sculpture is in the park, as is the Princess Diana memorial fountain.

You can row boats on the Serpentine lake, sit on The Lido in the summer or even swim if you are brave enough. Head to Speakers Corner, the home of free speech. In winter, the park has an ice rink for skating. But most people just bring a picnic and a football or a book, and while away the day in fresh air surrounded by rolling lawns and majestic trees.

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Oxford Street

Oxford Street

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The busiest shopping street in Europe, London’s Oxford Street is home to over 300 stores—from the capital’s flagship Primark to the country’s second-biggest department store—art deco showstopper Selfridges.

Following the old Roman road to Oxford for a mile and a half, Oxford Street runs from Marble Arch in the west end to Tottenham Court Road in the east end, and some of the other flagship stores you’ll find include Debenhams, House of Fraser, John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, and the world’s biggest Topshop — it covers five floors, 90,000 square feet of retail space, and sees a whopping 28,000 visitors a day. It hasn’t always been glitz and glamour for Oxford Street, though. The road was once notorious as the route prisoners would have to take from Newgate Prison to reach the gallows near Marble Arch. You wouldn’t know that today, especially in winter when the whole street sparkles as it gets decked in Christmas lights.

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Mayfair

Mayfair

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Owing legendary status to its monopoly board incarnation – the most expensive property on the board, no less – Mayfair maintains its reputation as one of Central London’s most affluent districts – it was even the birthplace of Her Majesty the Queen. Stretching between Oxford Street, Piccadilly and Regent Street, and bounded by Hyde Park to the West, the area was named after the May Fair held there during the 17th and 18th centuries.

The district’s principal shopping streets include the world famous Bond Street, home to Balenciaga, Christian Louboutin, Jenny Packham and Marc Jacobs, among others and Saville Row, legendary for its exquisite men’s tailoring.

It’s not just shopping that draws visitors to the streets of Mayfair – there are around 20 art galleries in the area, as well as the Handel House Museum, set inside the former home of the renowned composer, and the Royal Academy of Arts lies on the cusp of Picadilly.

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Regent Street

Regent Street

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Lined with grand Victorian buildings and big-name shopping boutiques, Regent Street was London's first dedicated shopping block, dating back to the early 19th century. Running for just over a mile (2 km) between Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Circus, the historic boulevard is now both a major traffic thoroughfare and one of London's busiest streets, welcoming more than 7.5 million annual visitors.

Regent Street is well-established as a shopping Mecca, with over 75 flagship stores including Liberty department store, Hamley’s Toy Store and one of the world’s largest Apple stores, plus designers like Burberry, J.Crew, Anthropologie and COS. Above the dazzling shopfronts, the street is also home to an impressive array of Grade II listed buildings, including the All Souls Church, built by acclaimed architect John Nash, and an eye-catching collection of contemporary street art.

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HMS Belfast

HMS Belfast

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An impressively preserved World War II warship, the HMS Belfast served as a battleship throughout the war, supporting allied troops on D-Day and escorting arctic convoys to the Soviet Union, as well as later being brought back into service during the Korean War. Since retiring from action in 1971, the vessel has been moored on the South side of the Thames, where its relics have been turned into a division of the Capital’s Imperial War Museums, relaying the battle stories of those who served on board.

Visitors can explore the ship’s nine decks where the restored living and working quarters (including a sick bay and a dental surgery) and a series of interactive exhibits provide a full sensory experience of life on board during World War II. Climb the ladders between decks; walk in the footsteps of the ship’s 950-strong crew, discover the inner workings of the engine room and visit the interactive Operation room.

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Mansion House

Mansion House

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A striking example of Palladian architecture with its imposing Corinthian columns and regal façade, the Mansion House makes a fitting residence for the Lord Mayor of London. The official residence and head office of the Lord Mayor since 1752, the house remains an important political center, hosting numerous civic meetings, fundraising events, receptions and dinners throughout the year.

The Mansion House is open to the public for guided tours (weekly or by appointment), allowing visitors to admire the opulent drawing rooms, peek into the Old Ballroom and marvel over the Egyptian Hall, actually designed in a classical Roman style. Highlights of a visit include the 18th-century Hallkeeper's Chair; the glittering crystal chandeliers in the Salon; and the Harold Samuel art collection, which features notable paintings and sculptures by 17th-century Dutch and Flemish artists.

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Westminster

Westminster

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The political, historical and cultural heart of London, the central district of Westminster is one of the capital’s busiest areas and home to so many of the city’s top attractions that many tourists never venture far outside its boundaries. Most visitors start their tour along the Thames River waterfront, where highlights include the Houses of Parliament, the Gothic Westminster Abbey and Westminster Palace, home to the iconic Big Ben clock tower, while the famous London Eye looms on the opposite riverbank. Close by is the grand central boulevard of Whitehall, which leads to Parliament Square and the Prime Minister's official residence at 10 Downing Street; Trafalgar Square, home to Nelson’s Column and the National Gallery; the Tate Britain and, to the north, the vibrant West End Theater district. Another star attraction of Westminster is Buckingham Palace, the official home of Her Majesty the Queen, linked to the city by St James Park, The Mall and the Horse Guards Parade.

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