If you’re coming to London it’s really hard not to be a tourist for at least a day or two. Even after spending months and months living there, I still enjoyed putting on my tourist hat and venturing to different tourists shops and attractions from time to time. However, London is absolutely full of tourist attractions. I had the luxury of time on my side when it came to trying out these attractions but if you only have one or two weeks then it can be a littler harder to narrow down your choices. Hopefully this list of MY top 17 tourist attractions in London can help you plan a little better, especially if you’re into the broad range of interests like myself.
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17. Hyde Park (Free-£)
Hyde Park, one of the largest parks in London, is a great place to go for a nice walk and get a little relaxation from the city life for a bit. Together with Kensington Gardens it encompasses 253 hectares (625 acres) and while a bit smaller than Central Park in New York, it’s still pretty easy to find some solitude in this park, at least momentarily. If you’re in the mood to expend a little bit of energy then consider renting pedal boats for about £10 on the Serpentine for an hour or so and enjoy the scenery from the lake. Check the events calendar to see if anything interesting is coming up and consider stopping by Speakers’ Corner, a traditional site of public speeches and protests since the mid 1800s.
16. The National Gallery (Free)
The National Gallery in London is one of the best places in Europe to see tons of renowned art work. Come here to see Van Gogh’s famous Sunflowers (the most famous of the bunch he painted) and some other works of his as well. There’s also tons of Rembrandt and works from countless other famous artists like Johannes Vermeer and Titian. Apart from the art, the building’s architecture, both inside and out, is also a site worthy of a visit on its own.
15. Big Ben and Westminster Palace (Free)
If there’s one thing you’ve got to see while you’re vacationing in London its Big Ben, right? Make your way to the Westminster Tube Station and step on out and bam! Big Ben is right in your face! Take a stroll across the River Thames on Westminster Bridge as you listen to the bell’s echo from inside the clock tower and feel like you’ve officially made it to London. This area is usually filled to the brim with tourists about 99% of the time so be prepared for swarms of people. However, I’ve found it to be relatively calm to visit it at night when far fewer people are around so consider an evening visit for a less stressful experience.
14. The British Library (Free)
The British Library might not be at the top of your list but it should definitely be a strong contender for a place to see in London, especially if you’re even remotely interested in history. It’s free to get in and the place is full of fascinating documents like the Magna Carta, original Shakespeare print books, original music sheets from greats like Mozart and Bach, works from the Beatles, and even Leonardo da Vinci’s notebook. That’s just a small fraction of what there is to see there and if you catch an exhibit at the right time, you can see a lot of other cool stuff (we saw Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Declaration of Independence alongside an original copy of the Bill of Rights).
13. Take a double-decker bus (£)
When you think of London these big red busses are probably one of the first things that spring to your mind. While you’re in the city you might as well take advantage of a great (and cheap) way to take in the scenery. (Go straight up to the second deck and try to sit in the front row for the best views.) Sure, you can always go for the hop-on-hop-off busses but taking one of the official red busses will allow you to get up close with some real Londoners and it’s a great way to people watch as you navigate through the busy streets of London. The bus fare is only £1.50 and they accept Oyster Cards, contactless payments, and even Apple Pay making it very convenient for tourists.
12. Watch a West End Show (££-£££)
London’s great theatre scene is one of the best in the world. There are numerous theaters available for you to choose from and countless plays to see like Wicked, Stomp, The Phantom of the Opera, and my favorite, The Lion King. I’ve actually seen the Lion King in both New York and London and I think that both are equally spectacular. West End shows are going to cost you a pretty penny usually but in some cases you can find reasonable rates for the tickets, all depending on where you want to sit of course.
11. Tower Bridge (Free-£)
To many, Tower Bridge is the most famous bridge in the world. It’s one of the many iconic sites around the city and is always a great place to take a few memorable photos. Built in the late 1800s, it was originally considered an eye sore to many locals but as time went on, the love for the bridge began to grow. Today, you can go inside the bridge and walk across the glass floor walkway for only about £8 — it’s an interesting experience and offers you a slightly dizzying view of the River Thames below and panoramic views of the London skyline. If you’re not interested in going inside the bridge, then try to plan your visit for a time when the bridge will be opening for ships to pass through, it only happens a few times a week so witnessing it is a pretty cool feat.
10. Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio (££)
So if you’re not a Harry Potter fan then this option may not excite you much and there’s nothing I can really do for you. However, if you are a Harry Potter fan then you really can’t turn down the option of going to see the Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour because it will blow your mind. This “studio” is more of a Harry Potter museum to me and it’s chock-full of thousands of props, amazing sets like Diagon Alley, and full of a bunch of inside info on the Harry Potter movies. Make sure to get you some butterbeer and maybe a chocolate frog or two before you leave but be weary of overpriced gift shop at the end! Tickets start at £25-33 for children/adults.
9. The London Eye (£)
There are a number of options for you to get a great view of the city of London. You’ve got the Shard, Tower Bridge, The London Eye, and a great deal of other options around the city. While the “Coca-Cola” London Eye is about as touristy as it gets, I still give it the nod because of the great shots you’re afforded of Big Ben and Westminster Palace — I’m not aware of any other easily accessible views as good as this one, though they may be out there. A full rotation on the Eye takes about 30 minutes so you have more than plenty of time to take in and photograph your views, and if you’re feeling the need to splurge on champagne or chocolate, there are plenty of options for you to do so here. But if you just want to keep it simple, tickets start at about £20.
8. The Natural History Museum (Free)
The Natural History Museum is a perfect destination to bring the family to. But even if you don’t have kids, it’s still a great place to entertain yourself for a few hours as you discover fully assembled dinosaur remains, massive whales skeletons suspended from the ceiling, intricate displays of birds and creepy-crawlies, and get a taste of what a real-life earthquake feels like while standing in a quivering mini-market. And the best part is: the museum is free. The museum is home to over 80 million items so you don’t need me to tell you that there’s a lot to see here. Try to allocate between 2-3 hours if you really want to see a lot of it, though if you’re a science lover you might still need more time than that.
7. Westminster Abbey (Free-£)
This iconic building is one of the most beautiful structures in the entire city of London. The history of the site dates all the way back to the 11th century when Edward the Confessor founded it in 1065. Everything about the place has an almost scared feel to it. It’s been home to every Coronation since 1066, 16 royal weddings, and it’s where thousands of prominent British figures have been buried, including 17 monarchs. There’s a lot to see inside including St. George’s Chapel, the portrait of Richard II (the oldest surviving portrait of a British Monarch, the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, plenty of other memorial sites, along with the stunning Gothic architecture. Tickets for tours will run you £20 for adults and you can book online.
6. Day trip to Stonehenge (£)
If you’re coming to London for a week or so and you’re interested in doing a day trip there are more than plenty of options. There’s Oxford, Bath, and any number of small towns and villages you can check out only about an hour or two away. If you’re into “wonders of the world” type attractions then consider giving Stonehenge a visit. I’ve got some tips for visiting Stonehenge but the best word of advice I have is to do your best to read up on the history of the site and try to get yourself excited about seeing such a mysterious and legendary structure. Otherwise, you may fall victim to the “it’s just a bunch of rocks” mindset. Also, try to book an inner-circle private tour if you can spare the extra £ because your experience will be much more intimate with the “Henge.” Standard tickets start at about £15.
5. Fish-n-chips/Pubs (£)
This one is a given but you’ve got to try to make sure that you give yourself the opportunity to try some good ole fashion British fish and chips while you’re here. I tried at least a handful of places over the year’s time that I was in England and just about any pub I tried them at in London left me pretty satisfied (the meat pies are always a solid option as well).
In addition to feasting on fish and chips do your best to try to experience one of the over 7,000 pubs in the London area. The pub culture is really something that sets London/Britain apart from many other places in the world and is a major part of London’s charm. You may notice that people are always at the pub, especially from about 4-7 when many of the pubs have lads lining the exterior of the pub because there isn’t any room inside. That’s how dedicated Britons are to their pubs. Try your luck by just hopping into the nearest pub or check out some of the top pubs in London.
4. Catch a game at Wembley Stadium (££-£££)
Wembley Stadium is a brilliant stadium and one of the coolest venues I’ve ever watched a sporting event at. I didn’t manage to catch a soccer (football) game there but I did catch an NFL game and it was a really cool experience. Fans from all the different teams showed up and it created a unique sporting atmosphere. We were there to see the Dallas Cowboys take on the Jacksonville Jaguars but a lot of people were there just to rep their team (in full game-day attire). If you’re visiting in the fall and you’re an NFL fan, then I highly recommend you attending one of these games! (Just try to get your seats a little early because the prices can get a little high.)
3. Buckingham Palace (Free-££)
Checking out Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guard may be one of the most quintessential London things there is to do (for tourists, that is). When you visit the Palace, take a look to see if the flag is flying on top of the palace — if it is that means the Queen is home. If the Queen happens to be out and about then you can actually arrange a tour of the state rooms and the Queen’s Gallery for about £35. Not looking to drop the extra quid on a tour? Then take the free option and check out which days you can witness the changing of the guard ceremony, always starting at 11:30 am.
2. The British Museum (Free)
The British Museum is one of the finest museums in the world and one of my all time favorites. And once again, it’s yet another free attraction in London! The highlights of my trip to the British Museum were seeing the Greek Parthenon marbles, the Rosetta Stone, and the Easter Island statue. Of course, there were hundreds of other remarkable exhibits including Egyptian, Roman, and Asian artifacts so whatever your appetite is for history it will likely be appeased here. This place is very busy during the day and on weekends, though, so try to plan your visit for early in the morning if you want to a little bit of time to enjoy the exhibits in peace.
1. The Tower of London (£)
The Tower of London is a must-see destination for anyone coming to London, even if you’re not into touristy destinations. That’s because there’s so much history in these walls that it’s hard to imagine not stopping by it for at least some time. If you pay to go in (about £20) you’ll have the chance to follow along on an official Beefeater tour as they take you by Traitor’s Gate and old execution sites. You’ll also get a chance to see the astonishing display of the Crown Jewels, which is a brilliant collection of crowns, sceptres, and spoons (Coronation spoons — they’re kind of a big deal). In addition to that, it’s a great feeling to just walk along the castle walls like people have done for hundreds of years and ponder all the rich history of this site that dates back to the 11th century. If you’re planning way ahead, then look into booking a slot at the Ceremony of the Keys, a nightly ceremony that’s been going on every night for over 700 years! Not many tourists find out about the ceremony until it’s too late for them to book, so be sure to get on it if you’re interested.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC. Read my bio.