The Ultimate London Bucketlist
London is our favourite city in the world! You could visit it 100 times and still have things to see, so we've narrowed it down for you: From world famous museums to London landmarks, with a few hidden gems sprinkled in, here are our top 50 places that you should have on your London bucket list.
Watch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace
Possibly the most London-y thing on the list, watching the changing of the guard is very popular! Arrive early as it can get crowded, we'd recommend 10am for an 11am start. In June and July the ceremony happens every day, and from August - May it's Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. You can double check the schedule and which regiments are involved here.
The "Terracotta Palace" is a major tourist attraction in Knightsbridge. From the fabulous supercars parked up outside to the green coated doormen, a visit to Harrods feels swanky! The ground floor was transformed in 2019, and the enormous beauty department is staggering. Makeup lovers will love exploring all the brands available, each in their own beautiful boutique. Take the Egyptian Escalator (which apparently runs at the same speed as the River Nile) up through floors of designer clothes, and be sure to check out the Grade II listed food halls on the ground floor, lavishly laid out beneath Edwardian Doulton tiles and beautiful chandeliers. Many of Harrods’ chocolates are sold individually by weight, so be sure to choose one or two to try! Top tip: try and visit on a weekday morning, weekends can be bonkers!
See a West End Show
Heading to Theatreland around Leicester Square, you'll be spoilt for choice. From the top musicals to beautiful plays, children's theatre and stand up comedy, London is the theatre capital of the world! Don't miss Shakespeare's Globe (more on that below!) and the National Theatre, both on the south bank of the river.
Brunch at the Sky Garden
Book a table at the Darwin Brasserie whizz up to the 36th and enjoy your breakfast with stunning birds eye views of the Shard, the river and as far as the Thames Barrier and the Queen Elizabeth II bridge to Dartford! Even without a table you can book a free slot to visit the Sky Garden 7 days a week and enjoy the views and the gorgeous plants.
England's coronation church since 1066 and where Prince William and Kate Middleton and Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip were married. There are also 30 Kings and Queens buried there, including Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Mary I and King Charles II, along with many famous faces such as Isaac Newton, Laurence Olivier, George Frederic Handel, David Livingstone and Charles Dickens.
One of the World's best museums, the BM is famous for its Egyptian mummies! You can also see the Rosetta Stone and the Sutton Hoo burial treasures. And it's free!
Take the tube
Hopping on the London Underground is a quick and inexpensive way to explore London. You can either buy a day's travel card, or tap in and out with your Oyster card or contactless bank card (there is a daily cap so you'll never pay more than the cost of a travel card) and the 11 lines cover the whole city! It can be a bit mad at rush hour, but if you travel after 10am and before 5pm you'll have much more space.
Jack the Ripper tour
One of London's most notorious former residents, Jack the Ripper struck fear into the hearts of Whitechapel in 1888. Despite a huge investigation after he murdered (at least) five women between August and November, the serial killer has never been identified and the mystery remains unsolved to this day. There are many companies that offer guided walking tours to retrace the steps of Jack the Ripper, the history of London's desperately poor East End and the potential suspects, but our favourite is London Walks who head off at 7:30pm from Tower Hill, 7 days a week. You need to reserve your place online, then pay £15 to the guide when you meet.
St Dunstan in the East
This gorgeous church is a bit of a hidden gem, tucked away down a side street on the walk between St Paul's and the Tower of London. Badly bombed during WWII it has since been transformed into a stunning garden, with vines growing up through the ruined walls and arches. It's a lovely spot to pause and eat a sandwich, a real green oasis away from the thundering traffic nearby.
A wonderful day out for all ages, the world's oldest scientific zoo dates from 1828 and incorporated the menagerie from the Tower of London before opening to the public in 1947. Today it has an amazing collection including lions, tigers, gorillas and komodo dragons. The beautiful old aquarium, insect and reptile houses date back to the original Victorian zoo, and you'll recognise the reptile house in particular from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, where Harry speaks to a Burmese python.
Sherlock Holmes Museum
Possibly the most famous Londoner who never existed, this museum is located at the fictional detective's address of 221-B Baker Street. Set within a four storey Georgian townhouse, you can walk through recreations of Sherlock and Dr Watson's rooms, filled with authentic Victorian furniture and items from some of the super sleuth's most famous cases. Guides in period dress are available throughout to give you more information, and the giftshop is terrific!
Take a scenic cruise down the Thames on the river bus for a different view of many London landmarks. Route RB1 from the London Eye to Greenwich passes Westminster and Big Ben, the Southbank, St Paul's Cathedral, the Tower of London and passes under iconic Tower Bridge! You can use your contactless card again here to tap in and out, the same as the tube.
Can you call yourself a Beatles fan if you haven't taken a photo on THAT zebra crossing? A short walk from St John's Wood tube station (not the DLR station in East London called Abbey Road!! Totally unrelated and very far away...) is Abbey Road studios and the famous crosswalk. Watch out for traffic as this is a public road, and while local drivers are used to stopping for tourists don't take the mick and stand in the middle of the road for ages taking photos! You can actually check out the crossing on a live camera feed here!
The studio building has hosted many other famous artists aside from the Fab Four, including Queen, Pink Floyd, Michael Jackson and Kylie Minogue. The white walls outside are covered with messages from people around the world, why not add something yourself?
Climb the o2
For a day out with a difference, you can climb to the top of the white domed o2, once called the Millennium Dome. You're harnessed on and the bouncy blue walkway is steep but easy to traverse. At the top you can unclip and enjoy the 360 degree views - we especially like doing this in the evening when London is twinkling below. Book your climb here!
One of London's most famous locations, this beautiful part of town is well worth a visit. You'll find the Royal Opera House in one corner, the historic covered market is full of little boutiques and there are usually lots of street performers around, from magicians to opera singers! The 'Actor's Church' at one end of the piazza is where Henry Higgins first encounters Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion, and Samuel Pepys writes in his diaries about the first Punch and Judy show in the UK being performed in Covent Garden.
St Paul's Cathedral
One of the great London landmarks, the huge dome of St Pauls is instantly recognisable. Stunning and massive, the Cathedral was designed by Sir Christopher Wren following the Great Fire of 1666 and took 35 years to complete! Charles and Diana were married here and Martin Luther King Jr preached from the pulpit in 1964. The funeral services of Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher were held at St Paul's and famous burials include Horatio Nelson and the Duke of Wellington, as well as Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame), J.W.M Turner, Henry Moore, scientist Alexander Fleming, Queen Elizabeth I's spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham and of course Sir Christopher Wren, the first person to be entombed in the cathedral. Tickets can be booked online (slightly cheaper than walk up rates), check before visiting to find out which days the dome is open to climb for views over London from 85m up!
Tower of London
The Tower has been a London landmark for close to 1000 years! Famous for being a notorious prison and place of execution, it was first a Norman castle and then a royal palace. From the mystery of the vanishing Princes in the Tower to the beheadings of Lady Jane Grey and two of Henry VIII's wives, Queens Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, the "Bloody Tower" certainly has stories to tell! The best way to learn them is to join one of the Yeoman Warder tours, led by the beautifully uniformed "Beefeaters" that guard the castle, who love sharing all the gory details.
Ghosts aside, the Tower of London is also the home of the Crown Jewels! Dating from the reign of Charles II (the originals were destroyed after the English Civil War), these are the crowns and ceremonial regalia used by British Kings and Queens at their coronation, at the opening of parliament and other state occasions. The collection also contains crowns belonging to Queen Consorts and the Prince of Wales, as well as Queen Victoria's famous tiny diamond coronet, designed to fit over her widow's veil following the death of her husband, Prince Albert.
The Tower of London is run by Historic Royal Palaces, tickets can be booked online.
A former stomping ground of Amy Winehouse (there is a bronze statue of Amy with her iconic beehive hairstyle in the Stables area of the market), this is a great place to come for vintage clothes, vinyl records, fashion and funky posters. It's a warren of over 1000 stalls with lots of places to eat, and close to iconic music venue the Roundhouse.
Churchill War Rooms
Tucked beneath Whitehall opposite the pelicans of St James's Park is an astonishing time capsule from a crucial period of London's history: Winston Churchill's Cabinet War Rooms. Here, during the Blitz and throughout WWII, Churchill and his cabinet planned and ran the British war effort from deep underground. Once victory was declared in 1945 and the politicians returned back above ground to the Houses of Parliament, the lights were turned off and the top secret warren of rooms and corridors were left as if in hibernation.
In 1984, the Imperial War Museum took over the site and opened it to the public, and it remains incredibly well preserved, like stepping back in time.
The childhood home of Queen Victoria, later the residence of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, and now the official home of Prince William and Kate Middleton, this red brick Jacobean palace in west London makes for a gorgeous day out. You can explore the rooms where Queen Victoria was born and raised and the sumptuous State Apartments built by William III and Mary II and later used by Kings George I and II and their wives. Book your tickets here.
Watch a debate in Parliament
Something few people realise they can do is visit is the Houses of Parliament. Although it's currently suspended due to the pandemic, if you're reading this is a fabulous Covid-19 free future then you can exercise your democratic right to sit in the public galleries of the House of Commons and the House of Lords absolutely free, any time Parliament is in session. All you do is head round to the Cromwell Green entrance and speak to one of the employees in gold and blue, who will let you know if the Houses are in session and what the wait is like. You can also check www.Parliament.uk.
In order to go in, you will need to pass through airport style security and issued with a pass. Bags are scanned so don’t bring any sharps or aerosols. You will also have to leave all personal belongings such as cameras, phones and bags in the Doorkeeper's pigeonholes as these are not allowed in the gallery.
Wednesday mornings can be very busy, as this is when the Prime Minister addresses the House of Commons, and this is accessible to ticket holders only- you can write to your MP to apply for this. Otherwise it’s best to avoid parliament on Wednesdays. MPs can sometimes end up working late into the night, so if you see a bright lantern illuminated right at the top of Big Ben's tower, it might be with popping over to the entrance to see if a debate is in session that you can attend.
The Globe Theatre
"This wooden O" is how Shakespeare refers to his beloved theatre in Henry V. See if you can grab a £5 standing ticket (or book a seat here) and take a selfie with a giant rainbow mural of the Bard's face on nearby Clink Street. Just round the corner from the mural on Park Street, is a set of information boards by a fenced off row of tall white Georgian townhouses. Viewable through the fence, a paved semi-circle and a few darker stones mark out the archaeological remains of the original Globe Theatre. The theatre burned down in 1613, and was finally closed down by the puritans and demolished in 1644. This small section of the foundations was discovered by the Museum of London Archaeology (then the Department of Greater London Archaeology) in 1989, but maddeningly the rest of the theatre lies beneath Anchor Terrace, and because these Georgian houses are listed, no further digging could take place.
Natural History Museum
Walk with the dinosaurs! This stunning museum is famous for its fossils and dino skeletons, a colossal mammals gallery and displays on Earthquakes and Volcanoes. escalator up through a planet and chunks of moon rock. They even have a dodo skeleton! The museum has a butterfly house open in spring/summer and an ice skating rink in winter (tickets required, additional fee)
Walk the Southbank
One of our favourite things to do in London! Following the river from Westminster Bridge to Southwark Bridge, you'll pass famous sites such as the London Eye, the National Theatre, Shakespeare's Globe and the Tate Modern.
Painting Paradise! So much more than a wet weather plan, it's a who's who of artists. Reubens, Cezanne, Seurat, Monet, Titian, Van Dyke, Van Gogh, Turner, Constable, Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Botticelli, to name but a few. Free to enter, some exhibitions may require a ticket.
This huge observation wheel was originally supposed to be a temporary fixture, built to celebrate the new millennium, but in 2002 Lambeth Council approved an application for permanent status. Apparently the London Eye is the post popular paid tourist attraction in the UK! At 135m high it offers spectacular views across London. Buy tickets online here!
Like a Victorian Christmas card, ice skating is very popular in London during winter months, and there are several gorgeous locations to choose from. Pop up ice rinks can usually be found at the Natural History Museum, Somerset House, Alexandra Palace, the Tower of London, as well as a huge one in Hyde Park's Winter Wonderland!
Tour the State Rooms of Buckingham Palace
Between the months of July and October while the Royal Family are up in Balmoral, Scotland, Buckingham Palace throws open its doors and welcomes the public to explore the magnificent State Rooms. Tickets are allocated in 15 minute timeslots, so we would recommend pre booking online at least 24 hours in advance – otherwise on busy days you might find yourself waiting a long time until the next available slot.
Hear Big Ben chime
Not just a London landmark, this famous clock tower at Westminster palace is recognised internationally as a UK icon! While purists will remind you that the tower itself is called the Elizabeth Tower (renamed for the Queen's jubilee in 2012) and that Big Ben is the great bell itself, locals and tourists alike use the name to refer to the clock. Every year millions watch the clock strike midnight and the chimes ring out on New Year's Eve. Since 2017 the tower has been undergoing a facelift, delayed by Covid-19, and so isn't currently chiming apart from New Year's, but conservation work should be finished next year.
Ride a red bus
Another British cultural icon is the right red double decker bus. An inexpensive way to travel around London, it's also much more scenic than heading underground on the tube! Here are some of our favourite routes for a cheap sightseeing tour:
38: Head down Angel's bustling Upper Street past the famous Sadler's Wells Theatre, pass close by the British Museum, enjoy the lights of Soho and Theatreland as you sail down Shaftsbury Avenue, and admire the posh hotels on Piccadilly. You'll go through Piccadilly Circus, past Fortnum and Mason, the Wolseley and the Ritz. Hop off at Green Park, or stay on to finish at Green Park!
148: Pick up the 148 just off Oxford Street, close to Marble Arch. This route heads down the side of Hyde Park (gorgeous after dark in December when Winter Wonderland is all lit up!) past magnificent Westminster Cathedral to Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament and over Westminster Bridge to the Southbank. You'll get great views of the London Eye as you cross! Hop off on the other side at St Thomas' Hospital to explore the Southbank, or stay on a bit further for the Imperial War Museum.
12: Begin at Oxford Circus and head down Regent Street past Hamleys toy shop to bustling Piccadily Circus. Whizz through Trafalgar Square, past Nelson's Column and the National Gallery, then up Whitehall. Keep looking right to see the mounted Horse guards, and just before the Cenotaph, the black gates of 10 Downing Street, home to the Prime Minister. The 12 then follows the route of the 148 through Parliament Square, past Westminster Abbey and Big Ben and over the bridge to the Southbank.
NB London buses no longer take cash, so you'll need a contactless bank card or Oyster card. Top tip - if you need to change buses, you can ride as many as you like within an hour for a single fare! Just keep tapping your card on each new ride and you won't be charged again until the hour is up!
Another freebie! Challenge your perceptions of what art is at the one of the largest galleries of modern art in the world, featuring works by Dali, Picasso and Warhol, and avant garde video installations.
Columbia Road Flower Market
Every Sunday near Bethnal Green! Brace yourself for crowds, this short street, lines by stalls selling everything from cut flowers to cacti, huge house plants to hanging baskets, is always rammed. As you shuffle down the centre with everyone else, the colours and sheer variety of stunning blooms is jaw dropping. Apart from the signs letting you know that most stall holders take card payment, the sellers’ raucous barrow boy banter and the terraced worker’s houses on Columbia Road hearken back to the East End of long ago.
Often mistaken for much less snazzy London Bridge, Tower Bridge is iconic. To see it open check the online schedule , and you can visit a museum inside to see the original Victorian engine rooms and walk over a glass floor 42 metres up!
Horatio Nelson keeps watch more than 50m over Trafalgar Square on top of his column, above two huge fountains featuring mermaids, tritons and dolphins. The National Gallery runs along the back of the square and the fourth statue plinth in the back left corner rotates different public art commissions.
Lovingly restored and dating from 1869, the Cutty Sark is one of a kind – the only surviving tea clipper in the world! Famous for being the fastest ship of its time, Cutty Sark’s tall rigging soaring into London’s blue sky is a marked contrast with the financial skyline in the distance.
Hampton Court Palace
An easy trip out of Central London (trains from from Waterloo twice an hour), Hampton Court Palace was famously home to King Henry VIII, and is an intriguing mix of red Tudor brickwork and baroque Georgian architecture. There is so much history: all six of Henry VIII's wives lived here. It is where Jane Seymour died, a few days after giving birth to Henry’s longed for son and heir, and Catherine Howard was arrested for treason – it is said that her ghost still runs screaming along the corridors. The Great Kitchen evokes King Henry’s love for feasting, and the magnificent Chapel Royal still has the Tudor vaulted ceiling, from the 1530s, painted blue with gold stars. In 1603, William Shakespeare’s ‘King’s Men’ first performed Hamlet and Macbeth for the new King James I, and his son King Charles I was held here under house arrest after the Civil War. The Georgian exhibition, exploring the beautiful bedrooms and living quarters of Kings George I and II and their families. George II was the last monarch to live in the palace, and Queen Victoria opened it to the public in 1938 shortly after coming to the throne. Book tickets online here!
Best to visit on Wednesday to Friday when all the stalls are open but without the weekend crush, this eclectic mix of restaurants, takeaways and purveyors of all things edible is nestled amongst the railway arches from London Bridge. For a nearby filming location, tucked under the overground tracks, is the Globe Tavern. Is black front door was used for all of the exterior shots for Bridget Jones’ flat, 8 Bedale Street, located above the pub. While you’re here, Bedales Wine Merchant at number 5 was the location of the Greek restaurant where Colin Firth and Hugh Grant scrap it out in the Bridget Jones’s Diary.
Have a posh afternoon tea
Is there anything more British than afternoon tea? Tiny sandwiches, a nice selection of cakes and endless cups of tea! Treat yourself with a relaxing afternoon at the Wolseley, the Ritz or the Savoy!
Hutong at the Shard
If you’re looking for a really special lunch date, celebration meal, or somewhere fabulous to take your family, then we have the place for you. Loftily perched on the 33rd floor of the Shard, this restaurant combines exceptional Chinese cuisine with jaw dropping floor to ceiling panoramic views of London. The open kitchen at the far end of the dining room is a whirl of activity, with roasted ducks hanging and white hatted chefs whirling. Atmospheric with glossy dark wood tables and screens, red lanterns and silk curtains, this place feels luxurious.
Take in a show at the Barbican centre, or get lost in a concrete jungle at the Barbican Conservatory, a a gorgeous green space hidden in Brutalist architecture. The looming concrete towers, built in the 60s and 70s on an area devastated by the Blitz, was opened by the Queen in 1982 and has always divided opinions. Once voted London’s ugliest building, the whole estate is now Grade II Listed and is a highly desirable address. Flats sell for millions of pounds, and the estate is home to both the prestigious Guildhall School of Music and Drama and the London Symphony Orchestra, and the RSC’s London theatre. Across a raised walkway is St Giles-without-Cripplegate. One of the few Medieval Churches left in the City of London, it survived the Great Fire, and Oliver Cromwell was married there in 1620!
Royal Greenwich Observatory and Meridian Line
Marvel at the vast historic telescopes (don’t miss an amazing one upstairs in the Observatory dome, the Great Equatorial Telescope, reached via a staircase in the gift shop) and stand astride the Meridian Line out in the courtyard. Be sure to check out the nifty Camera Obscura! Once you draw the curtains of the little dark room, the lens reflects the outside world onto a table: cars going past, people playing frisbee on the hill, whatever is going on down there, you can see it! Very clever.
See the pelicans at James' Park
There have been pelicans here since Charles II was gifted some by his Russian Ambassador! The big white birds are free to roam throughout the lake area and are fed between 2:30pm and 3:00pm every day, next to Duck Island Cottage.
This world famous Royal Botanic Garden has been delighting plant lovers since 1840, and as well as its curated collection of everything from cacti to giant waterlilies, Kew Gardens is also a wonderful place to see wild spring flowers. Visit in March to see bluebells and Kew's glorious "crocus carpet", and in April for cherry blossom. Don't miss the enormous Victorian palm house, home to the oldest pot plant in the world and Kew also holds an amazing Orchid festival every year in February.
Crystal Palace dinosaurs
Dating from Victorian times, these life size Grade I listed monuments are now known to be woefully inaccurate, they were the first statues of dinosaurs in the world. See how many you can spot lurking amongst the undergrowth and in ponds across three islands.
Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Walk (or run!) around the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford. The 2012 London Olympics was a tremendous success, and many of the Olympic and Paralympic venues, including London Stadium, the Aquatics Centre, the Copper Box Arena and Velo Park, can be seen amongst gardens, play areas and waterways.
Eat like a Cockney
Warm your cockles with traditional Cockney pie and mash at Manzes, Tower Bridge Road, the oldest (and in our opinion, best) pie and mash shop in town. Still run by the grandchildren of the original Mr Manze, the pie recipe hasn’t changed since 1902 and is the most hearty and warming lunch you could wish for on a cold rainy London day! For the full effect, order pie and mash with traditional ‘liquor’ sauce and a cup of tea. Jellied eels optional!!
Stroll the canals of Little Venice and admire the painted narrow boats. You can even have lunch on one, the Waterside Café. In summer weather you can take a canal boat all the way to London Zoo!
Window shop the art and antiques of Portobello road market, and photograph the colourful terraced houses. It's best to visit on a Friday or Saturday when the most street stalls are out on Portobello Road. On Saturdays the antique arcades are also open, but bear in mind that the area will be much busier than on Friday! Make a detour to the Notting Hill bookshop at 13 Blenheim Crescent - its travel section in the back is called The Travel Book Co in honour of the Notting Hill film that made the shop so famous. Another filming location is one street further down – turn left at the Castle pub onto Westbourne Park Road and at number 282 is the column framed blue front door that was used as Hugh Grant’s Notting Hill flat. The columns are now painted white, as opposed to blue like in the film, but it’s still easily recognisable.
Have a curry on Brick Lane
Stuffing yourself silly on incredible Indian food on Brick Lane is a right of passage, and you'll be spoilt for choice! Many of the restaurants on this street are Banglasdeshi or Pakistani and they often have set menus or other deals.
Get a photo with a red phone box
Have you even been to London if you haven't got this touristy snap? They're all over the city but there are some particularly photogenic ones in Parliament Square where you can get Big Ben in the background, and another good one near St Paul's Cathedral.
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