Things to Do in London
Discover a national symbol and gain insight into England’s history at the UNESCO World Heritage–listed Canterbury Cathedral. Dating back to 597, the site has held religious significance for centuries, drawing pilgrims to the location of Thomas Becket’s murder and visitors interested in its medieval towers, chapels, and stained-glass windows.
The London Eye offers unparalleled views of central London's world-famous landmarks from its prime location on the Thames River waterfront, opposite Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. The gigantic, 443-foot-high observation wheel was built to mark the millennium in 2000 and quickly became one of the most popular paid attractions in the United Kingdom.
The 12th-century Leeds Castle is among Europe’s best preserved medieval landmarks, with more than nine centuries of history represented in the building and grounds. Sprawled over 500 acres (202 hectares) and surrounded by a regal moat, the stone castle and its gardens offer a peek into the past as well as a variety of present-day, quintessentially English events and activities.
A neo-Gothic masterpiece, Highclere Castle is best known for doubling as Downton Abbey in the much-loved TV series of the same name. The turreted, sandstone mansion was created by Sir Charles Barry, the architect behind England’s Houses of Parliament. The site upon which it stands has been in the hands of the Carnarvon family since the 17th century, and the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon now welcome the public to explore the lavishly decorated interior, the Egyptian Exhibition, and the 1,000-acre (405-hectare) Capability Brown–designed grounds.
Flowing right through the heart of central London, the Thames River offers a dramatic backdrop to the city's famous skyline with landmarks lining its shores. Walk along the riverfront from Westminster to Tower Bridge and you'll pass London icons such as the London Eye, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, the Tower of London, St Paul's Cathedral, Southbank, Shakespeare's Globe, and the London Bridge.
From medieval torture to grim executions and infamous royal prisoners, the Tower of London has long found itself at the center of the city's dark history. Built by William the Conqueror in 1066, the historic castle has served as a Royal Menagerie, Her Majesty's prison, an execution site, a royal observatory, a Royal Mint, and a military storehouse over the course of its existence.
Dating from between 2900 and 2600 BC, Avebury is the world’s largest Neolithic stone circle. Originally composed of three stone circles—the largest of which comprised 98 standing stones (though only 27 now remain)—Avebury is truly immense. Though the function of Avebury is not fully understood, it was likely used for pagan ceremonies.
An archaeological marvel, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and one of the world’s most enigmatic tourist attractions, Stonehenge draws up to 1.3 million visitors annually. The site itself—a circle of gigantic stones standing in the heart of the English countryside—is made even more impressive by its mysterious history. Although Stonehenge’s original purpose remains unknown, onlookers gather to admire the 3,500-year-old structure and ponder its astronomical, spiritual, or even supernatural meaning.
With its Gothic towers and central bascule flanked by dramatic suspension bridges, Tower Bridge is both a remarkable feat of engineering and one of London’s most instantly recognizable landmarks. The famous bridge is a popular subject of London postcards, leading many to mistake it for London Bridge, which is actually the next one upstream.
Few landmarks epitomize central London as perfectly as Big Ben, the iconic clock tower of the Houses of Parliament that's officially known as Elizabeth Tower after Queen Elizabeth II. Heralding Great Britain's political nucleus in Westminster, Big Ben stands as the striking centerpiece of the Thames waterfront and is backed by the historic Palace of Westminster, home to the Houses of Parliament.
More Things to Do in London
Buckingham Palace has served as the official London residence and administrative office of the British royal family since the 19th century and is one of the few remaining working royal palaces in the world. Access for the public is limited and exclusive but worthwhile for those who arrange a visit.
An architectural masterpiece with a magnificent dome, St. Paul's Cathedral is one of London’s most recognizable sites. The 17th-century cathedral boasts a rich history as host of the jubilee celebrations of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II, the marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, and the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill.
Windsor Castle is the largest occupied castle in the world that is still used by the monarchy. Since William the Conqueror built a wooden fortress here over 900 years ago, this has been a royal palace and residence. Despite its daily use for royal business, much of the palace is open to the public and well worth a visit.
Built in the early 18th century, this stately home is one of Britain’s grandest historical estates. It was gifted by Queen Anne to the Duke of Marlborough, General John Churchill, for his role in defeating the French at the 1704 Battle of Blenheim, and Britain’s beloved wartime leader Sir Winston Churchill was born here in 1874.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, with a legacy dating back more than 1,000 years, Westminster Abbey is among London’s most historic landmarks. The Gothic church is best known for hosting headline-grabbing events involving the British royal family, such as the Queen’s coronation, Princess Diana's funeral, and Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding.
Trafalgar Square—the living, breathing, and beating heart of London’s West End—plays an integral part in local life as a site of celebrations, protests, performances, parades, and public gatherings. Overlooked by grand, stately buildings such as the National Gallery and St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church, this vast square is dotted with iconic fountains and statuary. Most famous among them is the 144-foot (44-meter) Nelson’s Column, which commemorates a British naval victory over France and Spain, and is guarded by four oversized bronze lions.
Meticulously constructed using period-appropriate materials to resemble the original Elizabethan Globe Theatre, which stood at a site just 656 feet (200 meters) away, Shakespeare’s Globe brings the theatergoing experience of yore to life. Plays—not exclusively Shakespeare’s, though the bard’s works do dominate the schedule—are staged in the atmospheric, circular, open-air auditorium.
The World War II warshipHMS Belfast, moored on the south bank of the Thames, is an iconic symbol of British history. Discover interactive displays and preserved spaces across the vessel’s nine decks and learn about life on the naval ship, as well as its role in D-Day, the Arctic Convoys, and the Battle of North Cape.
Though often confused with its grandiose neighbor Tower Bridge, London Bridge is, in reality, more functional than fancy. It does, however, have a long history, with its first iteration having been erected by the Romans way back in AD 50. No visible trace remains of the original bridge, nor of the handful of structures that replaced it, including the one that became the subject of that famous nursery rhyme. Though the current 1970s-built concrete version is not quite as eye-catching, the views it offers of Tower Bridge are hard to top.
Piercing the sky like a gigantic shard of glass, the London Shard is every bit as spectacular as it sounds. This architectural wonder, designed by Renzo Piano, is not only one of the city’s most iconic structures—it also boasts the highest observation deck in London.
Located in a colonnade-fronted, early 20th-century County Hall building (the former headquarters for the Greater London Council), the SEA LIFE® London Aquarium is one of Europe’s aquatic museums with 14 themed zones. Marine-life displays include walk-over glass shark tanks, transparent tunnels where sea turtles swim overhead, and kaleidoscopic coral reefs. Visitors also love the penguin exhibit, where it’s possible to observe adorable orange-beaked gentoo penguins waddling on land and swimming gracefully underwater.
In the heart of London’s West End, Covent Garden is one of the city’s most popular dining and entertainment hubs. Home to the Royal Opera House; several top theaters, including the Lyceum and the Donmar Warehouse; world-class restaurants; and many major brand-name stores, most travelers to London plan to explore this area while visiting.
At the heart of London’s historic Docklands, the waterfront district of Canary Wharf has transformed itself into a financial powerhouse in recent years. This area has become—along with the nearby City of London—one of the capital’s most important business centers.
Crammed full of artisan foods, homemade goodies, delicious street dishes and fresh produce, Borough Market is the go-to destination for in-the-know London foodies. With a history dating back over 1,000 years, Borough Market is the city's oldest and most famous food market, and—in case you need any more convincing—regular customers include celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay.
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