So you love England and you’re planning a trip to London, the capital city? You may have every place planned out and every little thing you want to see or you may have no idea what should be first on the list. Well, dear readers, we here at Londontopia have compiled a list of “must see” attractions that you absolutely have to visit while you’re in the city. From the historical to the modern, each one touches on a special aspect of Britishness and culture that will make you long to stay in Britain forever.
The Tower of London
It doesn’t get more historical than this. Built by William the Conqueror and completed in 1072, for centuries it was the seat of royal power in England. This historical castle has also served as a prison, a zoo, the Royal Mint, and the holder of the Crown Jewels. From the Ceremony of the Keys to the ghosts of prisoners to the Tower ravens, there is always something to see and experience within the walls of the Tower of London.
The British Museum
A natural history museum like no other on Earth, imagine one place being the repository of an empire’s history, dating back to pre-Roman times and including artifacts from every corner of the globe. The Great Court at the center of the museum is itself an architectural marvel, enclosing a space that includes the original reading room. Many important pieces of history have been displayed here in their time, including the Rosetta Stone, Lord Elgin’s Marbles from the Parthenon, and the Treasures of Tutankhamun.
George IV commissioned the public space in tribute to Lord Nelson’s famous naval victory against Napoleon. Lord Nelson’s column is a central feature of the square and is dedicated to his memory, and is guarded by four lion statues. Several other statues dot the area dedicated to other important Britons such as King George IV, Major-General Sir Henry Havelock, and General Sir Charles James Napier. The square is also a regular gathering place for Londoners and one of regular political demonstrations. And the National Gallery is always worth a visit.
A Local (Pub)
Sure, there are plenty of more touristy pubs out there, ones that certainly cater to giving foreigners a taste of what England looks like in their minds, but for a real feel of the city, you have to go to a smaller pub. A quick google search can help you find some of the best, or if you’re just wandering the streets of London, you should happen on one every block or so. Don’t be afraid to go inside and order a pint, just be mindful that this is a place where people from the neighbourhood gather and prefer respectful patrons to loud, noisy tourists. Just sit down and order a local pint and some food to get a real taste of London.
One of the oldest and greatest department stores in the world, it’s hard to find many like it in modern times. From clothes to toys to groceries, you can find a little bit of everything at Harrod’s. If you happen to find yourself a bit peckish (or hungry, as it were), there are several restaurants in the store from the more elegant establishments, cafes, and even a Krispy Kreme donut station. The store famously has two memorials dedicated to the late Princess Diana and Dodi Al-Fayed, installed by Mohamed Al-Fayed (though some say it’s tacky, we leave that judgement to you).
Not just a means of transportation in London, the Underground (or “Tube” as it’s also called) is a major part of the city. An average of 2.7 million people use it to get around every day, with the busiest station being Victoria with 76.5 million passengers moving through it every year. Buying a day travel card or an Oyster Card (for longer stays) will get you anywhere you need to go. The Tube oozes with history and it’s a great way to see London’s living history.
The Globe Theatre
An icon in the world of theatre and literature, the current Globe sits near to the original, which was destroyed by fire in 1613. Known as “Shakespeare’s Globe”, it is not just a historical monument to the Bard and his plays, but continues to serve as a performing venue. As such, photos are normally permitted of the stage, except when actors are rehearsing for a show. The current Globe was built to resemble its predecessor and is so accurate that it was used as a filming location for both “Shakespeare in Love” and the Doctor Who episode “The Shakespeare Code”.
The London Eye
Also known as the Millennium Wheel, the Eye is a great Ferris wheel situated on the Thames across from the Palace of Westminster. It is approximately 443 feet tall and the wheel has a diameter of 394 feet. It is not only Europe’s tallest Ferris wheel, but also the most popular tourist attraction in the UK, clocking over 3.5 million visitors annually. For a greater cost, you can also reserve one of the capsules for a private ride. The views of London are magnificent.
The West End
Many tourist locations are in this part of central London, but the real reason you should go is because it is home to the theatre district. Much like New York’s Broadway, the West End represents some of the best theatres in the English-speaking world and many top shows can be found there. Also referred to as “Theatreland”, there are some 40 venues within the district, presenting visitors with many opportunities to see a great show and perhaps a television or film celebrity.
Perhaps one of the newest London landmarks, the Shard eclipsed the London Eye for having the tallest view of the city. The 87 story building is approximately 1,004 feet high and is the tallest building in the European Union. Advanced booking is recommended to enjoy the view from floors 68, 69, and 72, but it is well worth it for the best look at London. Just don’t try to ride an anti-grav Triumph motorcycle up the side.
What attractions would you recommend for a first time visitor to London? Let us know in the comments!
St. Paul’s Cathedral
Keith Sorenson says
Heather, I agree with your choices! Westminster Abby would be the first thing I’d recommend someone to see.
Also, are we talking only zone 1? Because Hampton Court Palace is absolutely amazing.
You took the words right out of my mouth, so to speak.
Westminster should be at the top of the list.
Hands down, the Museum of London. It is a definite don’t miss. Also the changing of the guards at thenHorseguards parade ground is much better than Buckingham Palace.
The punishment parade at Horse Guards every afternoon. May be at 4p but check it out
Linda Balfour says
St. Paul’s Cathedral
Cindy Skinner says
The British Libray is AMAZING something for everyone from the Magna Carta to original lyrics from the Beatles. And it is free.
Javier Lorenzo says
…. plus…. Camden Town, Picaddilly Circus, Covent Garden, Regent’s Street, Greenwich, Westminster, South Bank, Abbey Road, Madamme Tussauds wax museum
Debra Murray says
At my first time Abbey Road was on the top of my list! The walking tours were amazing and Baker Street also!
Barbara Baker says
In addition to what others have mentioned, I recommend the Museum of the Moving Image, Hyde Park, Kensington Palace, and Kew Gardens (a bit away from London, but an easy Tube ride). For a unique experience, try the Temple Church tucked away in the Inns of Court and St. Martin’s in the Field (at Trafalgar Square–it is an active church but they also have free concerts there) and maybe one of the smaller Christopher Wren churches in the City of London (in addition to St. Paul’s).
Any of the City churches. Many have lunchtime concerts. Most are free or just give a donation. All Hallows by the Tower has great American connections. Also try The Monument on a clear day. Worth the climb and they do a combined ticket with Tower Bridge
Also Pepys’ church round the corner from the Tower
Fiona Frazer says
Churchill’s war rooms – fascinating look at how he ran things during the war (WWII)
Faith Renn says
Tower of London, Westminister Abbey, St Paul’s, Covent Garden and Shopping on Oxford Street are some of my favorites.
Brian Morgan says
My First Time: Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery; Buckingham Palace and the Changing of guard at Horse Guards or B. Palace; Hyde Park and Speakers Corner; Tower Bridge (the essence of London;; the Tower of London; Big Ben; Westminster Abbey
….plus Kew Gardens, Notting Hill.
Stephanie Zavras says
I prefer Selfridges to Harrod’s. I just about got gassed into a migraine headache just by walking through Harrod’s perfume department. “Mr.Selfridge” is currently a PBS TV show in America and it’s marvelous.
Museum of London, Victoria & Albert Museum, Camden Market, Spitalfields Market and Brick Lane, Buckingham Palace Mews, Covent Garden, London Transport Museum 🙂
Terry K says
Phyl Wright says
Churchill’s War Cabinet Rooms, St. Paul’s (London Symphony was rehearsing the day I was there… extra special)
Karen Milliorn says
Imperial War Museum, Hamley’s Toy Store, Victoria & Albert Museum, Tower Bridge, Camden Market
Harrod’s? Please! Give it a miss.
I used to love Harrods but I’ve fallen out of love with it. Before it had this classy Englishness to it and even if you weren’t rich, you could still shop there. But nowadays, the store really only caters to rich oligarchs and it’s not really a store you can shop in anymore. I can see designers goods in the mall at home – I don’t need to see them in Harrods.
You cannot leave out St. Paul’s, Westminster Abbey or walking through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. The Shard is fine but not ahead of these marvelous icons. A first time visitor just has to realize that to really see London he/she must return many times. I’m looking forward to my 17th visit and I still have not seen everything. Also the V&A. The Museum of London is now updated and wonderful as well. I could go on and on.