- Travel and Places
Top 10 Things To Do In London
Top 10 London Attractions & Activities
London is one of the world's great cities. For thousands of years, this great city in Europe has made history and continues to do so today. Here you will find museums, historical sites, friendly people, and yes, even great food.
So come along as I highlight my Top 10 Favorite London England activities and attractions for the first time or seasoned visitor to the city of London.
#1) Hop On/Off Double Decker Bus Tour
If the weather cooperates, this is my recommended activity for the first day (or two, if you have time) when making your first visit to London. The city is known for its double-decker buses, and they have special ones run by tour companies that visit all the highlights of the city. If it's spring or summer and warm enough, choose a bus with an open top and sit upstairs for a much better view and experience. These buses typically come by every 15 minutes and allow you to get on and off whenever you choose. Keep in mind that there are often several "loops" to different areas of the city, so make sure you know which line you are on and where the interchange points are.
Riding these buses will give you a great firsthand feel for the layout of London, and also get you to the different visitors spots with no hassle and no driving (as a side note, I don't recommend renting a car to drive in London under any circumstance, especially as a tourist. Take a taxi or the convenient metro, known as the tube). The hop on/off buses normally also have a guide pointing out information in English as you go along, and/or headsets to get information in other languages.
Here are a few tips to make your bus tour more enjoyable:
- Get a two day pass, as it will take you at least that long to make the full circuit, assuming you get off the bus at some of the sites you want to see.
- Make sure to keep your ticket to show the driver each time you board
- Remember which tour company you are using as there are several operators, some with the same color bus
- Pay attention to where you got off the bus, as you are likely to be getting back on there again when you are done with your current visit. When in doubt, look for the tour bus signs, or just keep an eye out for another tourist bus and see where it stops.
- Plan on which sites you want to visit ahead of time, and get off at the stops in order, and re-board where you got off. This will insure you see everything along the route, and keep you from having to ride the same loop more than once, thus saving time.
#2) Buckingham Palace
Many people go to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard. It's fun to watch the impassive soldiers in their perfectly pressed red uniforms and giant fuzzy hats standing at attention. Be sure to check with your local hotel or tour guide on the schedule for when the change happens, as it is normally once a day in the summer and every other day the rest of the year. There are typically large crowds so you will want to allow yourself plenty of time to see the changing happen. If you cannot witness the changing of the guard, it is still worth walking by to see the guards themselves.
The best thing about Buckingham Palace though is it is open to the public! You can buy tickets right outside the gate that will allow you to tour the grounds and inside of the palace itself. Not all rooms are open of course, but you'll get to see plenty. It has some of the fanciest rooms I've ever seen, and I gave up wondering how much all of it cost because I couldn't even begin to fathom the wealth. Still, it was neat to see. Again, check with your local guide on openings, because it is sometimes closed for Royal events.
Did You Know?
When the Queen is in residence at Buckingham Palace, the Royal Standard flag is flown, and at all other times the Union Jack is flown.
Learn More About London with Amazon
#3) The London Eye
Officially opened to the public in 2000, the London Eye has become a huge hit with tourists. The Eye is basically a giant ferris wheel, except you ride in a large plexiglass pod, which holds about a dozen people easily. It stands 443 feet tall, making it the largest ferris wheel in Europe. It's strategic location across the famed Thames river from many of the major buildings means you get a great unobstructed view of the city, including Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, St. Paul's Cathedral and more. The ride lasts about 30 minutes and is a great way to start your visit to help you get your bearings and appreciate the size of London. For the 2012 Summer Olympics, there are plans to attach the emblem to the wheel. There was a brief period of controversy back in 2005, with the possibility the wheel might close in a few years. That has been worked out however, so it should still be standing and ready to entertain for your next visit.
Tip - London Eye
The weather in London is notoriously unpredictable, but if you have a clear day, make the London Eye your first priority since the view is much better then. The lines can get quite long, so it's best to go first thing in the morning or late in the day.
London Eye Videos
#4) Tower of London / Tower Bridge
The Tower of London dates all the way back to 1078 when William, the Duke of Normandy, invaded England, and later became known as William the Conqueror. The complex has since been expanded upon, and many historical and bloody events occurred here over the years. The tower is where Henry VIII had several of his wives beheaded.
The Tower is also the home of a long held tradition / superstition. Legend has it that if the black Ravens ever leave the tower, Britain and the monarchy will fall. Of course, nowadays, they keep that from happening by clipping the wings of the Ravens, but it was still a sight to see these giant black birds on the grounds during our tour.
Nowadays, the biggest attraction inside the complex are the Crown Jewels. They are kept in the Waterloo Barracks building, and are quite a site to behold. Some of them were so big I would think they'd be too heavy to even wear!
The other fun part of visiting the palace is the beefeaters (officially known as the Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London). These are special guards in charge of tower, and if you take a guided tour, one of the beefeaters will be your guide. It's a fun way to see the grounds and also get some of the history.
Just outside the tower is the most famous bridge in London, the landmark Tower Bridge.
Location of the Crown Jewels
Did You Know?
The official name for the Tower of London is Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress.
Tower of London Video
#5) Westminster Abbey
This large gothic church sits right across the street from the Parliament building. The building itself is beautiful, but it's also the location where many famous events have occurred. This is because it is the traditional coronation and burial site for British monarchs. Starting with King Harold and William the Conqueror in 1066, only a handful of British rulers and kings have not had their coronation here. Among the famous people buried here are kings & queens (Henry III, Elizabeth I, Richard II, etc.), authors and Poets (Chaucer, Wordsworth, Milton, T.S. Eliot, Keats, Shelley, etc.), famous scientists (Darwin, Newton) and other famous English citizens (William Wilberforce, Laurence Olivier), and more. In more recent history, it was also the location of Princess Diana's funeral on September 6, 1997. Aside from the famous events, the building itself is beautiful and worth seeing on both the inside and outside.
Westminster Abbey Videos
#6) British Museum
It was once said that "The Sun Never Sets on the British Empire." This was a testament to the magnitude of the world that was once under British rule. During this global expansion, Britain brought back millions of ancient artifacts from the areas they ruled. Much of what was taken is on display at the British Museum, which is an absolute treasure trove of fascinating ancient artifacts. For example, the actual Rosetta Stone can be found here, as can pieces of the Parthenon in Athens. The list of things to see is too long to list, but it's a must visit when in London. Best of all, it's free!
British Museum Videos
#7) St. Paul's Cathedral
This masterpiece sits on the edge of "The City", which is the oldest part of London. It was completed way back on October 20, 1708, which also happened to be the birthday of the architect, Sir Christopher Wren. Talk about a unique and memorable birthday gift! The inside is massive and you really have to go inside to appreciate the scale and beauty of the design, especially the altar. You can even climb to the top of the dome and go outside for a magnificent view of the city. And don't forget to go downstairs into the crypt to see some of the famous people buried below.
St. Paul's Cathedral Video
#8) Parliament Building
This famous gothic masterpiece along the Thames is another London icon that you've probably seen hundreds of times on TV or in photographs, so it seems almost surreal when you witness it for the first time. The best view is from the river side. You'll also recognize the clock tower on one end, commonly known as "Big Ben." The clock tower is the world's largest four-faced chiming clock, standing about 316 feet tall.
You can also tour the inside of the Parliament Building, which I highly encourage you to do. It is also sometimes called the Palace of Westminster, because it was originally built as a royal residence. The tour covers both the House of Commoners and House of Lords chambers, and includes some fascinating history about events that have occurred there. Inside you will find a statue of Winston Churchill, whose one shoe tip is shiny from all people who have rubbed it for good luck before speaking in the chambers.
Parliament Building / Big Ben
#9) Trafalgar Square / National Gallery
Art Lovers will want to be sure and make a stop at the National Gallery. Its specialty art paintings, and they have plenty of them worth seeing, including works by Van Gogh, Da Vinci, Monet, Rembrandt, Cezanne, and more.
The gallery is located at Trafalgar Square, which itself is a great site to see. It features the famous Nelson's Column, with four lions below, built to honor Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, who died at the battle of Trafalgar. Spend a few minutes strolling around the square, and just sitting down to watch the people and the city.
Trafalgar Square Video
#10) The London Zoo
With over 650 species and 12,000 animals, The London Zoo makes for one of my favorite activities with kids. The zoo was founded way back in 1828 and they have some of the bigger animals such as giraffes on display. Kids can talk with the animal keepers and watch them feed the animals (they even get a few volunteers to help).
In 2010, the zoo added a rainforest area with animals like marmosets and a nocturnal animals section with things like bats. For more details, visit the The London Pass website.
London Honeymoon & Wedding Resources
Whether you are getting married in London or traveling there for your honeymoon, check out these resources for your big day.