15 best things to do in London - "How to enjoy the city" guide

Published on January 9, 2021
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Things to do in London

things to do in london

Where do I even begin? The Tower of London, The Shard, Buckingham Palace. London is packed with historical and modern landmarks.

You won’t be short of things to do in the capital, from the historic buildings, shows, exciting nightlife, and multicultural food. This historic city has seen centuries come and go but it has only grown in popularity to create a diverse and buzzing city.

A good way to see the capital is to use the Hop On Hop Off Sightseeing bus. This gives you a taste of all the major sights and might help you decide which ones you’d like to explore further. The guides give you background on the landmarks as you pass them one after another.

Before you go, it is best to plan which attractions you would like to see and pre-pay for a sightseeing pass. This could save you money if you want to pack in as many activities in London as possible.

You might also want to invest in an Oyster card. This is a payment card for public transport in London, including the tube. It can save you money per journey and is particularly useful if you are staying a little outside of the center of London to take advantage of lower cost accommodation.

Plus, the tube is as much a part of the experience of London as any of the historical landmarks. It is worth even one journey to hop from one train to the next as if you’re a real Londoner.

While you may be eager to fit in as many fun attractions in London as possible, make sure to leave time to simply stroll around the city.

Stop at Trafalgar Square and watch the water from the fountain cascade into the pool below. Wander around Camden Market to view the stalls filled with every item imaginable, the boho cobblestone streets giving a cozy atmosphere in a big city.

The feel of London is unique and while it is a must to see a lot of the sights, simply strolling through the streets lets you feel the buzz in the air.

Here are some of the main attractions in London to help you shortlist the ones you really want to see.

SEA LIFE Centre London Aquarium

sea life london

Right in the center of London is an unlikely place to be able to immerse yourself in a tropical underwater world. Don’t worry, you don’t have to jump in the icy waters of the Thames to catch a glimpse of a sea turtle, shark, or penguin (although the penguins would probably be happy enough in the Thames since it’s freezing).

SEA LIFE is located just across from the Thames and the Houses of Parliament and situated beside the London Eye. It has one of Europe’s largest collections of sea life, with over 500 species on show.

The attraction is packed with green turtles, seahorses, octopus, penguins, and rainforest animals. No need for an expensive trip scuba diving in some far-away place when you can see it all in the city.

SEA LIFE has three floors with thirteen aquarium themed zones and a rainforest section. It can take around two hours wandering between all the different sections and gazing in fascination at the many colors of marine life weaving through the water. Watch the bright green and blue seahorses with their long faces dart past and the pink-orange coral swaying lazily as fish peak from between it.

There is an underwater tunnel with glass on three sides, where the fish swim above your head, making you feel like you’re walking along the bottom of the ocean. A suspended glass platform shows many different species of sharks swimming beneath your feet.

Stick your head into one of the glass bubbles in the ice adventure attraction to get up close to the penguins, seeing the texture of their white fur and the claws on their webbed feet. Walk through the rainforest section, trees rising above your head, to see the crocodiles slink into the water and a host of insects including a bird-eating tarantula.

London Eye

london eye

One of the world’s tallest observation wheels at 135 meters high. Now an iconic feature on the London skyline along with the many historical buildings.

Inside the spacious glass capsules there are 360-degree views. The capsules rise slowly above the buildings as they begin their half an hour journey. The London Eye is a great way to relax and watch the city go about its business, away from the crowds and noise.

Look out across the undulating landscape of buildings rising and falling and try to point out as many famous landmarks as possible, from the Houses of Parliament to Buckingham Palace. Inside is an interactive guide to talk you through what you are seeing which is available in different languages.

Going on the London Eye at night offers a different kind of view. The wheel is hard to miss, illuminated in pinks and purples. While you might not be able to make out the landmarks, it is an experience to hover over the city and the thousands of lights sparkling through the darkness like fireflies.

Madame Tussauds

madame tussauds justin timberlake

With branches all over the world, this attraction is famous for its lifelike wax works. Synonymous with London as much as the historical landmarks. Opened more than 200 years ago, even back then people were fascinated by celebrity and admired these works of art.

Madame Tussauds is a fun attraction and lets you rub shoulders with famous faces. With over 250 figures from actors, sports stars, historical figures, and politicians. They have a section on the Royals, and while Meghan and Harry might have disappeared to America, their wax figures are still firmly rooted in London. Stand next to them and give your best royal wave.

You don’t have to visit a galaxy far, far away to see the Death Star. Visit the Star Wars or Sherlock Holmes experience. Dance with Beyonce and sing beside Ed Sheeran. Try to keep your hands-off Tom Hardy, Justin Timberlake or the half-clad boxer Anthony Joshua.

Travel back in time to visit Albert Einstein, Shakespeare, and several other time travelers. The London taxi will take you through 400 years of the capital’s history in the Spirit of London ride.

These works of art not only are a lot of fun but the work that goes into them is fascinating. Each line on the faces detailed, each piece of hair in place. You can go behind the scenes to see how the figures are created from beginning to end.

Harry Potter Warner Bros. Studio

harry potter warner bros

We all wanted to get a letter from Hogwarts revealing we were secretly a witch or wizard (no matter what age we were). Unfortunately, none of us are that lucky so the only way we can get close to the wizard world is at Warner Brothers Studio.

It takes around four hours to wander through the different sets and see the costumes, props, and special effects. Stand in the steps of Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger as you wait on the platform for the Hogwarts Express. The huge red and black steam train, now an icon. Hop aboard to stroll through the carriages, pretending you’re on your way to the magical school of Hogwarts.

Walk through the quaint cobblestone street of Diagon Alley, glancing in through the windows of Ollivander’s Wand Shop with the boxes of wands stacked high. Visit Gringotts’s bank, do you dare visit Bellatrix Lestrange’s vault?

Walk through the eerie forbidden forest, with the trees casting foreboding shadows. See props like Harry’s Nimbus 2000 broom and his Quidditch kit.

You can see how the special effects and magical creatures were created. Do you dare touch the head of the basilisk or the giant spider Aragog? Even though we are only muggles, for a few hours we can pretend we are part of this magical world.

View from The Shard

the shard

The Shard is an impressive 72-storey glass skyscraper that has reimagined the London skyline. Named The Shard because its glass exterior rises narrowing the higher it gets until it ends in two points, like a shard of glass. The glass exterior has a blue hue as it reflects the sky and grey-tinged clouds.

The viewing platform is one of western Europe’s highest at 800 feet. Stay safely inside or venture outside, with the wind whipping through your hair. Look far below to see the mix of modern and historical buildings packed together, up to 40 miles away.

The Thames weaving through the buildings, boats in all sizes floating on its murky waters. The Shard has multimedia exhibits detailing the history of London and a champagne bar if you’re feeling fancy.

West End Historic Pub Experience

pub crawl london

If someone says, ‘West End’, you know exactly where they are talking about. Encompassing an area on the North Bank of the Thames, including Chinatown, Trafalgar Square, and Covent Garden. Famous for its Broadway shows, it is a lively area in the center of London.

A pub crawl is great fun and a way to see the area and learn about its history. Stopping at four pubs along the way, you can buy authentic English ales and beers.

Visit the pub where Jimi Hendrix played his first and last gigs in London. Call in to the club where Marilyn Monroe and Lawrence Olivier visited. Have a drink at John Lennon’s favorite pub or where George Orwell wrote his famous novel, 1984.

A historic pub experience lets you have fun while learning about the city’s history and passes some of its most historic and famous landmarks.

Buckingham Palace: The Queens Gallery

buckingham palace

Situated in the grounds of Buckingham Palace is the Queens Gallery. You can combine this attraction with visiting Buckingham Palace itself, the official residence of the Queen. Open for several months during the year, you can view the throne room, the grand staircase, the ballroom, and several other rooms that might already be familiar to you if you watch The Crown.

The Queens Gallery was built in 1831 as a private chapel but later destroyed in an air raid in 1940. In 1962 the building was reconstructed into a gallery for the royal collection of art.

Built like a Greek or Roman temple, the four columns at the front hold up the triangular roof. There are around 450 works of art including paintings, photographs, and rare furniture. With artists including Vermeer and Rembrandt featured.

It is a peaceful place to contemplate these works of art. Gaze at the figures in the paintings, with their historical clothing, made up of many brush strokes. Capturing expressions are sometimes hard to interpret. Or the ships sailing on a stormy ocean, making you imagine you can hear the sea roaring.

The rooms are painted in bold greens and reds, making the gold frames of the artwork stand out. White statues of shapely women draped over plinths are placed around the room and antique furniture scattered throughout.

Tate Modern

tate modern museum

Incredibly this museum is free of charge. Not many things in London are free so it is best to take advantage of it when it is offered. Tickets need to be booked in advance, especially at the moment to ensure safety for visitors.

The Tate Modern houses over 100 years of art, from paintings to sculptures, installations, and videos. The white expanse of space is flooded with light from the sky lights, ensuring the art is highlighted.

There is a varied collection and regular exhibitions. The collection is so varied from modernism, to pop art with images in bright blues and yellows to classic oil paintings.

Tower of London

tower bridge london

This 1,000-year-old stone fortress stands intimidatingly by the Thames. Its battlements hint at its violent past. First built by the Normans to show who was boss when they first invaded England, it was added to over the years. A wall was built to surround it, making it an even more domineering feature on the landscape.

It was once a place for the King to store clothes in the ‘Wardrobe Tower’ and provided refuge for Kings and Queens during revolts. However, while it may look impenetrable, a few times the rebellious mobs invaded and managed to trail said kings and queens out.

It later became a menagerie to wild animals, such as tigers and polar bears. A place for the kings to store these poor animals to show how superior they were having such exotic and majestic beasts.

The tower then became a prison, which it is most famous for. It housed many famous prisoners, including Anne Boleyn before her very kind husband Henry VIII had her beheaded. Another victim from inside its walls was a king. Henry VI was found dead in the tower, in the chapel of all places, and it is highly likely that his successor had him murdered.

Famous also for the disappearing princes. In 1483 King Edward IV died, leaving his brother Richard to protect his two sons, one the heir to the throne. The children were sent to the tower for ‘protection’ and were never seen again.

Bones of two children were since found during construction work on the grounds and were buried in Westminster Abbey, believing them to be the two princes.

A fascinating and dark history, the Tower of London offers recorded audio tours where you can walk in the footsteps of many historic figures. You can view the Crown Jewels, the medieval palace, the Bloody Tower, and various other places inside the walls.

Houses of Parliament Guided Tour

houses of parliament london

An iconic building beside the Thames where numerous famous moments in history have taken place. Like Guy Fawkes and the gunpowder plot. Still celebrated in Britain on 4th November by lighting bonfires with the effigy of Guy Fawkes on top. Currently the Houses of Parliament is closed to the public, but they offer virtual tours online.

When it is open there are audio guide tours or with a tour guide which lasts around 75 minutes. The tour allows you to view the Queen’s Robing Room, Royal Gallery, Lords Chamber, Member’s Lobby, Commons Chamber, and Westminster Hall. The history that has taken place inside is interesting but the building itself is a spectacle.

As soon as you step through its doors, you are transported to centuries long gone. The rows of windows rising high up the walls, the arching ceilings, statues lined in alcoves like a roman temple.

Gold ceilings intricately carved and doorways decorated with designs of flowers climbing around the doorframe in shining gold too. Stained glass windows turn the light that filters through a range of colors. The iconic green leather benches of the Commons Chamber and the red of the Lords Chamber.

Natural History Museum

natural history museum london

Standing like a church, with turrets either side of its arching doorway. The Natural History Museum has information on everything from wildlife, to dinosaurs, human evolution, oceans, and space. And surprisingly it’s one of the free things to do in London, definitely a must see.

It has many priceless artifacts like a rare edition of The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin and the 13,000-year-old skeleton of a mastodon - a distant relative of the elephant with its giant tusks curving upwards.

There are huge skeletons of marine animals, like the blue whale, hanging from the ceiling, as if swimming through the air. Or visit the human evolution section where you can see skulls from different species of humans. You could spend hours here wondering around and looking at everything they have on show.

It is one of three museums along Exhibition Road, along with the Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

RAF Museum

RAF museum

Showing history from 100 years of the RAF, the stories, and the planes. It has also free admission for this museum. With three galleries, hangars, and a 4D theatre.

The RAF museum has interactive exhibits, an outdoor play area, and restaurant, plus they have a program of events throughout the year.

For anyone interested in military history, or even if you’re not, the planes are a magnificent sight. There is a bright yellow rescue helicopter, another adorned with a shark’s face, the point of the plane as its nose and painted sharp white teeth grinning at you from above.

There is a collection from the Battle of Britain, and they show several features in the 4D theatre, like the Red Arrow film. Sit in the cockpit of a red arrow and maneuver through the sky, with red, blue, or white smoke trailing behind in the wind.

River Thames Speed boat Ride

The Thames is a great place to see the city. One of the fun activities in London is a 50-minute private boat tour which starts at the London eye and sails you down the winding Thames river.

Watch out for historical landmarks like the Cutty Sark or the more modern O2 Arena. Be sure to bring a jumper as the boat travels 35 miles per hour, you’re sure to have the wind in your hair.

Sunday Lunch Cruise on the Thames

thames river cruise dinner

Enjoy a 3-course meal while you float along the Thames. The meal comes with a half-bottle of house wine while a live band plays jazz.

The interior is just like a quaint bistro, with white tablecloths, greenery, and glass walls to view the sights. Sit back and watch the city slowly pass by as smooth jazz floats through the air.

London by Night: Luxury Dinner Cruise

If you’re looking for things to do in London at night, you must sign up for a dinner cruise experience. The city by night is a different place. The darkness lit up with the thousands of lights from all the buildings changed the atmosphere of the city.

The almost 3-hour river cruise offers a 3-course meal with live entertainment. The food is modern British cuisine, featuring dishes like goat’s cheese choux, smoked duck breast, and paprika spiced hake with carrot and cumin mousse.

It is hard to fit everything you want into a stay in London. Pick a handful of attractions to visit and spend the rest of the time lazing at one of the squares or sipping coffee in Covent Garden to take in the buzz of the city. Try the multi-cultural food and take a ride on the tube. A trip to London is a must to soak up the atmosphere in this historic and cosmopolitan city.

To read more city guides head to the Cities section.

About the Author
I’m a blogger, Londoner, self-confessed travel junkie, and lover of all good things. I help you to travel like a local so you can live the real experience and learn something new and unique everywhere around the globe.

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