There is so much to do in London that it’s hard to know where to start. Most ‘What to do in London’ lists cannot even narrow things down, leaving tourists with a list of 25 ‘must see’ attractions to cram into three days – not even taking into consideration the queues and opening times, that’s pretty much impossible! To help you make sense of the London tourist network, we’ve decided to publish a list of the 10 London attractions actually worth the hype. Forget trying to cram in 25 attractions, most of which require a fee; instead, visit the best of the best and leave time to spare to wander around or become familiar with pub culture!
10 London Tourist Attractions Worth a Visit
Many of our friends who visit London ask us for off the beaten path recommendations so they can avoid costs and queues. We’re always happy to rattle off our favourite restaurants and pretty mews, but we do think that some of the top tourist attractions in London are actually worth a visit! While it’s great to go off the beaten path, it’s also great to get to know a destination for what it’s known for. In our opinion, these are the 10 London tourist attractions worth the hype (the ones we’re actually happy to go to with our friends when they visit):
NOTE: All prices below are for adult tickets bought at the gate. There are often discounts available when purchased online or through another provider, such as the Big Bus Tours.
1. Kensington Palace
I would visit Kensington Palace over and over again solely to learn about Victoria and Albert’s love story, but there is also always a really cool fashion exhibit on. Until February 2019, it’s all about Princess Diana’s famous outfits in Diana: Her Fashion Story. Also, with a prime location in Hyde Park, Kensington Palace is the perfect place to stop off for a bit of a break after wandering around checking out the many statues and memorials in the park. We highly recommend The Orangery for afternoon tea, and a walk around the palace garden after. Admission into Kensington Palace is £23.
READ NEXT: How to spend a day in South Kensington
2. Tower of London
The Crown Jewels are the main attraction at the Tower of London and they are worth the price of the ticket alone. They’re so cool to see up close and learn about what each item is used for and who it was used by. However, it’s really just incredible to be in the Tower of London, a place with so much history. Each part of the tower has hundreds of years of stories to go along with it. There are tours every 30 minutes (led by yeoman warders), but there is also a ton of information plastered around if you choose not to do a tour. Keep an eye out for the resident ravens – rumor has it that the Tower will fall if the ravens leave!
For the best experience, aim to visit the Tower of London first thing in the morning. That way you can take your time and the crowds won’t be so bad. We also recommend visiting the Crown Jewels first, so you aren’t stuck at the end of the day if the queue is too long to get in before it closes. Admission into Tower of London is £28.
3. Westminster Abbey
So much history lies within the walls of Westminster Abbey – literally. It’s a beautiful building on the outside and inside, with some of the most magnificent detail. And nothing beats the feeling of walking where so many others have walked before. Charles Darwin & Sir Isaac Newton are buried on site, as well as famous royals including Henry VII and Mary, Queen of Scots and famous authors including Charles Dickens and William Wordsworth. If time permits, attend a worship service to really experience the magic of Westminster Abbey. Admission is £22; worship services are free and open to all.
IN THE AREA: Westminster & The Churchill War Rooms Walking Tour
4. The British Museum
One word: Mummies. One more word: Design. Okay, fine – one final word: FREE. The architecture of the British Museum is a great mix between new and old, with the Greek-style facade and modern Great Court. The exhibits house an incredible collection of artifacts and art documenting human culture over time. It’s the perfect place to spend a rainy day in London. Admission is free; special exhibitions require a ticket.
5. Covent Garden
Street performers make Covent Garden one of the coolest spots in London for people to just be. There are shops and restaurants, but it’s more about walking around and soaking up the atmosphere, taking in a street show at the same time. I love the market hall setup of Covent Garden as it reminds me of Faneuil Hall and my days in Boston. Pay a visit to both the Apple Market and the Jubilee Market for some unique finds. No admission – Covent Garden is a public space.
6. Portobello Road Market
For an even more unique shopping experience, head to Portobello Road to scour the street stalls for antiques. You can find just about anything along Portobello Road, including antique jewellery, old cameras, and really cool art. Take your time to find the gems! When you’re finished shopping, the area is filled with trendy cafes and bars. If gin is your thing, consider a tasting at Portobello Star. Portobello Road is a commercial and residential road. There is no admission fee.
7. Boat trip to Greenwich
There’s no better way to get a look at londons sights than with a trip down the Thames. Take a river cruise from X all the way to Greenwich and you’ll see all the good stuff. Stop off for a wander in Greenwich – it’s one of londons greenest areas and offers attractions such as the Prime Meridien and the Royal Naval Museum. You can take the DLR back into London or hop back on a river boat for a glimpse of Tower Bridge at sunset. Return sightseeing cruises are bookable with CityCruises for £16.75/Adult. Or you can upgrade to a dinner cruise and take in the sights at night. Alternatively, DIY and pay with your Oyster card on TFL’s River Bus services.
8. Carnaby Street
It’s not often that you find a carless spot in London, which is perhaps what makes Carnaby Street so lovely. The area is particularly wonderful in the winter when they have their magical Christmas display up; however, year round, you can find plenty of shops and restaurants, events going on, and a “quiet” escape from Oxford Street. I say “quiet” because it is still full of loud people, but there won’t be a car in sight! Consider having lunch in Kingly Court, where you’ll really feel you stepped away from it all! Carnaby Street is a public space. There is no admission fee.
9. Gordon’s Wine Bar
Gordon’s manages to land itself in just about every London guide book or list of recommendations, and there’s a reason for that. It’s extremely popular, but still manages to feel super intimate. As London’s oldest wine bar, Gordon’s attracts its visitors more for the atmosphere than for the wine itself – the bar is underground in a cave, where you can feel the trains rustling by on the other side. There is also a ton of year-round outdoor seating if you can’t get a spot inside (which is almost always). The wine list is massive, the food is perfectly simple (charcuterie and cheeses), and the experience will definitely be memorable! Wine prices vary and are available by the glass or by the bottle.
10. The Globe Theatre
Enjoy Shakespeare as it was meant to be enjoyed – out in the open air at The Globe. While you can no longer throw tomatoes at bad actors (at least I don’t think…), the experience is very much real, and very much how I imagine it was when The Globe first opened. Visit their website to see what’s on now and book yourself some tickets. The atmosphere is great when The Yard (standing area) is filled on a dry summer night, whether you’re standing there too or observing from a seat. Standing tickets start at £5, but tiered seating is available as well.
London Attractions We’re Not So Sure About
1. Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace
By the time you get there early to secure your spot, wait for the changing of the guard, and deal with the mob of people as you’re trying to leave the area after, it takes up about two hours of time to see a pretty short ceremony. When you’re in London for only a short period of time, there are much better ways to spend two hours.
Instead, watch the ceremony somewhere else:
The changing of the guard is a really cool thing to see, especially if you are a royals fanatic. There are two alternative places to watch the changing of the guard ceremony: Horse Guards Parade and Windsor Castle. Horse Guards Parade is actually just down the road from Buckingham Palace and the ceremony takes place on horseback; Windsor Castle is a lovely day trip from London if you have extra time. These ceremonies are similar to the one at Buckingham Palace, but not nearly as overcrowded.
2. London Eye
The views from the London Eye are great, especially if you manage to get into a pod around sunset. However, a standard ticket is £23.45 when bought online, for a 30 minute experience. The views aren’t that great – and they’re actually quite limited. Plus, the pods are usually full, which means other people are trying to get the same photo and the same view as you, so sometimes it is hard to see. There are much better ways to see London!
Instead, admire London from the sky…with a drink in hand:
Countless ‘sky bars’ have opened in London over the past couple of years, and each one offers a unique perspective of the London skyline. Book in advance to head up to the Sky Garden, either for a drink or just to wander around (admission is free but needs to be pre-booked); alternatively, if you want dinner or drinks, consider a restaurant in the Shard, or at Madison’s, which overlooks St. Paul’s Cathedral.
It’s true that Harrod’s is one of a kind, but it’s always packed with tourists. And I’ll admit – the Egyptian stair case is really cool. However, I find that Harrod’s just isn’t worth the effort and stress associated with navigating around a bunch of people who do not know where they are going. For the grandeur, I’d much rather go to the V&A Museum or one of London’s swanky hotels; for the shopping, I’d much rather go pretty much anywhere else.
Instead, visit one of these shops:
If you are looking for the department store/restaurants/spa concept, consider a visit to Selfridge’s. Sean and I are a huge fan of their rooftop restaurant, which changes concept from time to time. If it’s all about the shopping, Liberty is the place to go. Their flower shop is beautiful, I often want to buy everything in their stationary shop, and the store itself is just beautiful. For a really unique experience, pay a visit to the fabric section, where you’ll find lots of Liberty’s famous prints.
4. London Bridge
Contrary to popular belief, London Bridge is, well, just a bridge. It’s nothing special. In fact, it’s probably one of the ugliest Thames crossings in all of London. Many people come to London and think that London Bridge is this magical thing (it’s often confused with Tower Bridge), but it’s really not an attraction at all. While many London Bridges did actually ‘fall down’ in some way or another, the most recent one to fall was actually moved to Arizona after surveys showed that the bridge was sinking slightly. The Wikipedia article on London Bridge is actually much more entertaining than the bridge itself. If you’re passing by London Bridge, feel free to sing “London Bridge is Falling Down” in your head and snap a picture just to say you did; otherwise, don’t go!
Instead, check out some of London’s coolest structures:
For architecture lovers, head to the City, where almost every building is a different concept and new mixes so wonderfully with old. Get off at Bank station and just wander around, taking in all the design and architecture. If you’re actually really passionate about bridges, head west! While each crossing over the Thames is unique, the combination of Hammersmith Bridge, Albert Bridge, and Chelsea Bridge makes crossing the Thames in south west London quite special. Alternatively, if you’re short on time, take a stroll across Millennium Bridge.
We’re pretty obsessed with London and think it’s the greatest place to live. However, we know it can be extremely overwhelming as a tourist (after all, Kelly was once a tourist here many years ago!). Consider a visit to some of the ten London tourist attractions that are actually worth the hype above, but also take some time to experience London like a local. Neighborhoods such as Clapham and Hampstead are filled with pubs and cafes and offer lovely days out; alternatively, sample beer along the Bermondsey Beer Mile or browse the selections at neighborhood car boot sales. You can’t really get to know London just by visiting the tourist attractions. There’s a whole other side to this city reserved especially for those who make the effort to get to know it personally.
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