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Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in London

Cultured, cosmopolitan, and effortlessly cool, London is a city that needs no introduction. The British capital is not only one of the world’s most visited cities, but it’s also one of the most diverse, and there’s something to suit all tastes. Those looking to discover England’s traditional charms can stroll through Westminster Abbey, watch the Changing the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace, or take a red double-decker bus tour around the city. Art and history lovers can check off famous institutions such as the British Museum and the National Gallery, while foodies can tuck into artisan delicacies at Borough Market, indulge in afternoon tea at the Ritz, and grab dinner on Brick Lane’s Curry Mile. Those with kids in tow can ride the London Eye, pose with celebs at Madame Tussauds, and discover the magic of Harry Potter at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London. Central London boasts a roll call of iconic sights—Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, St. Paul’s Cathedral, London Bridge, the Tower of London, Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden—all within walking distance of the Thames River. Alternatively, a ride on the London Underground will take you to East London’s hip neighborhoods, the pretty waterfront district of Greenwich, or the colorful markets, music venues, and bars of Camden Town. There are also endless options for day trips, including the magnificent Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, the historic cities of Oxford, Cambridge, and Bath, Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, and even Paris.
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Old Spitalfields Market

Old Spitalfields Market

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45 Tours and Activities

This indoor market on the outskirts of the City of London has historic roots that date back to the 17th century. Today there are a variety of stalls and surrounding shops selling food, clothing and designs with different themed stalls on various days as well. With many eclectic items on display—from jewelry to retro designs and vintage clothing— the market is a trendy place for Londoners to explore.

The General Market stalls are open Monday to Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., while the Antiques and Vintage Market stalls are there on Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Fashion and Art Market is open Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday is a themed market day, open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. There are even pubs and restaurants in the surrounding area and a record fair that takes place on the first and third Friday of each month.

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Whitechapel

Whitechapel

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Located in the district of East London, this historic neighborhood was named after a tiny chapel that crumbled during World War II. And while its unassuming name may not entice the typical traveler, this London destination is filled with history and sites that make it worth a visit.

From old-school breweries like the White Heart Brew Pub, to abandoned slaughterhouses and famous foundries (including the one that cast Big Ben!), Whitechapel is as unique as UK neighborhoods come. And while these oddities make it worth a wander, it’s former residents like the notorious murder, Jack the Ripper, and the much-stories Elephant man who put this community on the map.

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Mayfair

Mayfair

46 Tours and Activities

Owing legendary status to its monopoly board incarnation – the most expensive property on the board, no less – Mayfair maintains its reputation as one of Central London’s most affluent districts – it was even the birthplace of Her Majesty the Queen. Stretching between Oxford Street, Piccadilly and Regent Street, and bounded by Hyde Park to the West, the area was named after the May Fair held there during the 17th and 18th centuries.

The district’s principal shopping streets include the world famous Bond Street, home to Balenciaga, Christian Louboutin, Jenny Packham and Marc Jacobs, among others and Saville Row, legendary for its exquisite men’s tailoring.

It’s not just shopping that draws visitors to the streets of Mayfair – there are around 20 art galleries in the area, as well as the Handel House Museum, set inside the former home of the renowned composer, and the Royal Academy of Arts lies on the cusp of Picadilly.

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Carnaby Street

Carnaby Street

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32 Tours and Activities

Earning renown as an alternative fashion Mecca during the 1960s, Carnaby Street was once the hippest place to shop, home to iconic boutiques like Mary Quant, Lord John, Marion Foale and Sally Tuffin, and frequented by music icons like The Who and the Rolling Stones. In fact, the famous shopping street has become so synonymous with Swinging London that it’s been name-checked in pop hits like The Kinks’ ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’ and TV shows like The Simpsons, and even inspired a musical of the same name.

Today, Carnaby Street is decidedly more demure, but the pedestrianized shopping district still retains its left-of-centre attitude, as well as its distinctive yellow arches and two plaques commemorating mod fashion pioneer John Stephen and The Small Faces (outside no.1 and no.52 respectively). Of course, the main reason to visit Carnaby Street is the shops and there are plenty to choose from, including many independent fashion.

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Somerset House

Somerset House

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Overlooking the Thames in central London, Somerset House was originally built at the behest of Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and lord protector of England. In its original incarnation it was a grand Tudor palace, and one of the first examples of Renaissance architecture in England. Over the years Somerset house served as residence to Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Anne of Denmark, and General Fairfax. It was even used to display Oliver Cromwell’s body after his death in 1658.

Over time the original Tudor Palace fell into disrepair, and by the mid-19th-century Somerset house had been demolished and rebuilt as a grand and imposing neo-classical “national building,” housing various public offices. Today Somerset House functions primarily as a public space and cultural hub. Inside you can find the acclaimed collection of the Courtauld Gallery, cafes and restaurants, and visitors can enjoy free historical guided tours.

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Diana Memorial Fountain

Diana Memorial Fountain

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10 Tours and Activities

Few British royals were as universally adored as Princess Diana, the affectionately nicknamed ‘People’s Princess’, and the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain is just one of the many tributes and memorials erected in her name after her untimely death back in 1997.

Opened by Her Majesty The Queen in 2004, the unique water feature is the design of Kathryn Gustafson and represents Diana’s life, quality and openness, a continuous circle of flowing water, crafted from Cornish granite and crossed by three bridges. The memorial fountain lies on the route of the Princess Diana Memorial Walk, an 11km circular trail running through five of London’s royal parks and linking sights like Kensington Palace, Buckingham Palace and the Princess Diana Memorial Playground.

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Cenotaph

Cenotaph

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The Cenotaph is a war memorial that stands on Whitehall Street in central London. It began as a temporary structure built for a peace parade at the end of World War I and in 1920 was replaced by a permanent structure made of Portland stone. It is now considered the United Kingdom’s primary war memorial, also commemorating those killed in World War II and other wars in which Britons fought and died. King George VI unveiled the memorial for the second time in November 1946 following the end of World War II. The design of the Cenotaph has been replicated elsewhere in the U.K., as well as in Australia, Canada, Bermuda, Hong Kong and New Zealand.

Standing 35 feet high and weighing 120 tons, the memorial has the words “The Glorious Dead” inscribed on it twice. It is the site of the annual National Service of Remembrance, held on Remembrance Sunday, the Sunday closest to November 11.

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London City Hall

London City Hall

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Opening its doors back in 2002, the glass-fronted, semi-spherical London City Hall marked a new dawn of London’s governance, providing a sleek, modernist façade for the London Assembly. The building alone is impressive, a geometrical masterpiece designed by architect Sir Norman Foster (who also designed the nearby Gherkin) and featuring eco-friendly natural ventilation, lighting movement sensors and solar panelling, as well as a dramatic transparent spiral stairwell that dominates the interior and climbs all ten stories.

The landmark building now not only serves as the official headquarters of the Mayor of London, but as a public exhibition and meeting space, including an open-air observation deck and free Wi-Fi to all visitors.

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London Film Museum

London Film Museum

5 Tours and Activities

The London Film Museum, tucked away in a quiet part of Covent Garden, was founded and created by Jonathan Sands in 2008 following the success of Star Wars, the Exhibition. It is entirely dedicated to the British film industry and hosts regular, big-ticket film-themed exhibitions featuring original props, costumes and sets of all kinds. Past exhibitions include Bond in Motion, Charlie Chaplin - The Great Londoner and Ray Harryhausen, Myths & Legends.

The museum was once voted the best family attraction in Britain by the Telegraph. It also features a permanent exhibition (50 percent of which is from Sands’ personal collection) which contains cinema artefacts, photography, films and multimedia tools, taking visitors on a journey through the history of the seventh art, the democratization of its techniques and the story behind today’s blockbusters.

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Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum

Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum

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Known to many as the home of the most famous tennis tournament in the world, the Wimbledon grounds also house the world’s largest tennis museum. Numerous onsite galleries and exhibitions allow visitors to experience the evolution of the famous sport.

The collection of tennis memorabilia contains artifacts dating back to 1555, as well as interactive multimedia such as touch screens, a 3D cinema and a holographic John McEnroe. Items on display include championship trophies, film and video footage, championship player mementos and the Wimbledon library. An interactive gallery called CentreCourt360 presents visitors with a viewing experience of Centre Court.

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ArcelorMittal Orbit

ArcelorMittal Orbit

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A spiraling red steel tower looming 114 meters over the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, the ArcelorMittal Orbit’s bold design has polarized opinions since its conception. There’s no denying, however, that it’s an impressive feat of structural engineering and well on its way to becoming one of London’s most iconic landmarks. Erected in honor of the 2012 Olympic Games, the unique creation was a collaborative effort between artist Anish Kapoor, designer Cecil Balmond and steel-and-mining company ArcelorMittal, built using about 2,000 tons of steel, more than half of which was recycled.

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Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

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The grounds that once hosted athletes from all over the world has since then been turned into the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Though obviously constructed for the games, the site has expanded beyond the stadium and now serves as a major component of East London; the area is now open to the public and includes new shops, restaurants, trails, galleries and venues. The Olympic Park has been designed to host Londoners and visitors long after the completion of the games in summer 2012.

Sports reign supreme here, as they should in an area where world records were once broken. The state of the art Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre comes equipped with 10 court and two hockey pitches available for public use year-round. There’s also the one-of-a-kind VeloPark open for all sorts of two-wheeled fun, from track cycling and road racing to BMX and mountain biking.

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West End Theater District

West End Theater District

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Equally as renowned as New York’s Broadway Theater District, London’s West End is widely acclaimed for its award-winning theater productions and vast variety of shows and musicals. Seeing a ‘West End Show’ is a popular pastime for tourists and locals alike, with regular performances of a number of world renowned titles like Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats, The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, Blood Brothers and many award-winning film actors from both England and the United States choosing to take to the West End stages. Recent hits like The Lion King, Mamma Mia! and We Will Rock You, have helped increase West End visitors to over 13 million annual show-watchers.

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Brick Lane

Brick Lane

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So infamous is the East London Street of Brick Lane that there was even an award winning novel and movie penned with the same name. The street, running from Bethnal Green to Whitechapel via the equally famous Spitalfields, has a rich multicultural history, first as home to a sizable Jewish population and more recently, as a settlement for many of London’s Bangladeshi immigrants. These days, Brick Lane and its surroundings are renowned for showcasing the eclectic and retro arts and fashions of the East End, as well as the being the destination of choice for curry lovers.

Brick Lane has earned itself a reputation as the go-to destination for sourcing vintage threads, with its annual Alternative Fashion Week cementing its status as an innovative and fashion-forward region of up and coming designers. Vintage stores and retro boutiques are dotted along the street, alongside a growing population of young, local designers, but the real draw cards are the weekly markets.

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East End

East End

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Renowned throughout Victorian times as the home of the working class, the birthplace of Cockney Rhyming Slang and the stomping ground of the notorious Jack the Ripper, London’s East End has long been associated with the grittier side of the capital. But despite its rough-around-the-edges image, the East End remains one of Londoners’ favorite haunts and its high population of young and immigrant residents has made it one of the city’s most cosmopolitan and ever-evolving districts, teeming with fashion-forward nightclubs, vintage emporiums and modern art galleries.

Since the Olympic Games took over the city in 2012, East London has undergone a 21st-century makeover, with the vast Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park now sprawling over Stratford and a cluster of glitzy shopping malls and chic eateries springing up around it.

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