London also boasts one of the planet’s greatest concentrations of cultural attractions. From royal palaces to the people’s parliament, from Roman ruins to castles and cathedrals, you could spend endless days exploring London’s sites without ever running out of unique things to see and do.
1 Buckingham Palace and the Changing of the Guard
One of Britain’s most iconic buildings, Buckingham Palace is also the scene of London’s most popular display of pomp and circumstance, the Changing of the Guard. Drawing crowds at 11:30am in every season, this colorful and free display of precision marching and music also takes place at St James’s Palace where you can follow the band along The Mall as they march between sites.
Buckingham Palace was built in 1837 and has been the London residence of the Royal Family since Queen Victoria’s accession. If you’re wondering whether the Queen is in, look at the flagpole atop the building: if the royal standard is flying day and night, she’s at home. On special state occasions, she and members of the Royal Family may even emerge on the central balcony.
When she’s away at her summer palace in Scotland, visitors can purchase tickets for tours of the State Rooms, the Queen’s Gallery and the Royal Mews. One of the best ways to tour the palace, see the Changing of the Guard, and experience a traditional afternoon tea, is on a 4.5 hour Buckingham Palace Tour Including Changing of the Guard Ceremony and Afternoon Tea. This tour is a very efficient way of seeing the highlights in a short period of time, and having a knowledgeable guide to explain the history makes the whole experience that much more enjoyable and relevant for first time visitors.
2 The British Museum
Displaying one of the world’s finest collections of antiquities, the British Museum contains more than 13 million artifacts from the ancient world. With priceless objects from Assyria, Babylonia, China, Europe, and elsewhere, it’s hard to know where to begin. But most tourists head first for the museum’s most famous exhibits: the controversial Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon, the Rosetta Stone, the colossal bust of Rameses II, the Egyptian mummies, and the spectacular hoard of 4th-century Roman silver known as the Mildenhall Treasure.
3 The Tower of London and Tower Bridge
For the best use of your time, especially during the busy summer season, purchase the Tower of London Entrance Ticket Including Crown Jewels and Beefeater Tour in advance, to bypass the ticket office lines. This ticket guarantees the lowest price, helps avoid the crowds, and saves time and hassle.
4 Big Ben and Parliament
5. Westminster Abbey
6 Hyde Park
Covering 350 acres, Hyde Park is London’s largest open space and has been a destination for sightseers since 1635. One of the park’s highlights is the Serpentine, an 18th century man-made lake popular for boating and swimming. Hyde Park is also where you’ll find Speakers’ Corner, a traditional forum for free speech (and heckling). Another Hyde Park landmark is Apsley House, former home of the first Duke of Wellington and purchased after his famous victory at Waterloo. Now a museum, it houses Wellington’s magnificent collections of paintings, including Velázquez’s Waterseller of Seville, along with gifts presented by grateful European kings and emperors. England’s greatest hero is also commemorated at the Wellington Arch.
7 Churchill’s War Rooms
Among the most fascinating and evocative of London’s historic sites is the perfectly preserved nerve-center from which Prime Minister Winston Churchill directed the British military campaigns and the defense of his homeland throughout World War II. Their Spartan simplicity and cramped conditions underline the desperate position of England as the Nazi grip tightened across Europe. You’ll see the tiny cubicle where Churchill slept and the improvised radio studio where he broadcast his famous wartime speeches. Simple details, such as Clementine Churchill’s knitting wool marking the front lines on a map of Europe, bring the era to life as no museum could possibly do.
8 The London Eye
Built to mark London’s millennium celebrations in 2000, the London Eye is Europe’s largest observation wheel. Its individual glass capsules offer the most spectacular views of the city as you embark on a circular tour rising 443 ft above the Thames. The journey lasts 30-minutes, often quicker than the time spent queuing for your turn. If you can, reserve your time in advance. The best option is to skip the line completely with a London Eye: Skip-the-Line Ticket. This advance ticket allows you to take a flight at any time on the day you plan to visit.
Hours: Daily, 10am-8:30pm
Address: Riverside Building, County Hall, Westminster Bridge Rd, London
9 Hampton Court Palace
Another great Thames-side attraction, Hampton Court is one of Europe’s most famous palaces. Its Great Hall dates from Henry VIII’s time (two of his six wives supposedly haunt the palace), and it’s where Elizabeth I learned of the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Other interesting features include the Clock Court with its fascinating astronomical clock dating from 1540, the State Apartments with their Haunted Gallery, the Chapel, the King’s Apartments and the Tudor tennis court. The gardens are also worth visiting – especially in mid-May when in full bloom – and include the Privy Garden, the Pond Garden, the Elizabethan Knot Garden, the Broad Walk, an area known as the Wilderness and, of course, the palace’s famous Maze.
10 The Victoria and Albert Museum
The Victoria and Albert Museum (aka the V&A) is part of a South Kensington-based group of museums that includes the Natural History Museum and Science Museum. Founded in 1852, the V&A covers close to 13 acres and contains 145 galleries spanning some 5,000 years of art and related artifacts. Exhibits include ceramics and glass, textiles and costumes, silver and jewelry, ironwork, sculpture, prints and photos.