From palaces to parks, the lively UK capital has a plethora of things to do. Get under the skin of London with these top 10 places to visit.
The grandest tourist attractions in London are known the world over, but the true magic of the British capital is revealed through a tapestry of eclectic galleries, hip markets, hearty restaurants, and vibrant street culture. Every neighborhood is a destination in its own right.
However, as a new arrival in London, it can be tricky to know where to start. To help you out, we take a look at some of the best things to do in the UK capital. From soapbox politics to afternoon tea, here’s our list of the top 10 places to visit in London.
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1. Visit the Tates by boat
On the banks of the River Thames sit two of Europe’s most famous galleries: Tate Britain and Tate Modern. Founded by Victorian sugar magnate and philanthropist, Henry Tate (of Tate & Lyle fame), Tate Britain on Millbank is a celebration of British art. Here, you’ll find everyone from Turner and Constable to Emin and Hirst for a truly comprehensive look at the greatest British artists through the centuries.
Downstream, the Tate Modern houses contemporary pieces from the biggest names in modern art. Housed in the striking old Bankside Power Station, there are permanent and changing exhibitions, making every visit unique. At the heart of the museum, the huge Turbine Hall hosts memorable large-scale exhibitions. Make your visit to the Tate Museums even more memorable by jumping on the Tate Boat and traveling down the Thames.
2. Fill up at Borough Market
Not far from London Bridge, Borough Market is the oldest and largest food market in London – and a must for all foodies. Food has been traded in the area since the 11th century and a market has been in this location since 1756. Pick your way through the maze of stalls in the ornate Victorian building and choose from the array of exceptional foods and drinks from Britain and around the world.
Once you’ve finished sampling the delights of Borough Market, you’re just a short walk away from The Shard – Western Europe’s highest building. Ride up 300 meters for a drink, a meal, or simply to just take in the view. As well as checking out the historic City of London across the water, on a clear day, you can see out into the countryside.
3. Live like The Bard at Shakespeare’s Globe
Also located on the bustling South Bank, you’ll find the quite majestic Shakespeare’s Globe. The theater is an authentic reconstruction of the original Elizabethan playhouse of the same name, which was designed in 1598 and stood nearby. Britain’s most famous playwright William Shakespeare was one of four actors who bought a share in that original Globe. Many of his most famous plays were performed there before the theater burned down, was rebuilt, and then finally closed in 1642.
It wasn’t until 1997 that the legendary Globe theater returned to London. Today it’s one of the best venues in the world to enjoy Shakespearean drama in its original setting. The circular theatre is open to the elements with wooden benches surrounding much of the stage, with a large standing-only area in the middle called the Yard. For a truly memorable evening in London, this is definitely one of the best places to visit.
4. Let loose in Hyde Park
Any of the eight Royal Parks in London are perfect for topping up on some green therapy. However, located right in the heart of the city you won’t want to miss Hyde Park. The park covers 350 acres and has a whole host of activities for the whole family. From rowing a boat along the Serpentine, or taking in some contemporary art at the famous Serpentine Galleries, to catching one of the many festivals and concerts that take place in the park throughout the year – there’s something for everyone.
Visit Rotten Row, where the rich paraded on horseback in the 18th and 19th centuries, or head to Kensington Gardens. Here, you’ll find the Princess of Wales’ Memorial Playground and the Princess of Wales Fountain. If that wasn’t enough, you’ll see people expressing their views over at Speakers’ Corner, the traditional site for debates and public speeches since the mid-1800s. If you feel inspired, you can even get up on your own soapbox!
5. Travel through centuries in the British Museum
Hidden in the backstreets behind New Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road is the British Museum, a vast edifice that looks like a Greek temple and houses the Rosetta Stone, the controversial Elgin Marbles, the Anglo-Saxon Sutton Hoo ship-burial, numerous Egyptian Mummies, alongside about eight million other artifacts.
There are lots of fascinating smaller museums in London, too. See where 19th-century surgeons could slice off a leg within a minute – and without anesthetic – at the Old Operating Theatre near London Bridge. Head to the Freud Museum – which was once the physiologist’s home in Hampstead – and ponder your relationship with your mother as you view Sigmund Freud’s writing desk and the famous Berggasse psychoanalytic couch.
6. Explore time, space, and the sea in Royal Greenwich
If you’re looking for a leafy corner of London that’s steeped in history, you need to visit Greenwich. This quiet village-like area is one of the favorite places to visit in London for both locals and visitors alike. Walk up the beautiful Greenwich Park for exceptional views out over London and to visit the Royal Observatory. Here, you’ll find the Greenwich Meridian (longitude 0°), meaning you can stand with one foot in the Western and Eastern hemispheres.
On the riverfront, you’ll find the Old Naval College, a Baroque masterpiece with columns, domes, and a spectacular painted hall inside. It was once a naval hospital and built on the site of Greenwich Palace (birthplace of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I). More recently, it appeared in Les Miserables, and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. If that wasn’t enough, nearby is also the 19th-century tea clipper Cutty Sark, the National Maritime Museum, and the funky stalls of Greenwich Market. You’ll never want to leave!
7. Lose your head at the Tower
Dating from the days of William the Conqueror, the Tower of London is undoubtedly one of the best places to visit in London. Through the centuries, the castle has been used as a royal palace, armory, prison, treasury, and menagerie. Even queens have lost their heads within the imposing Tower of London. However, these days it’s one of the UK’s most spellbinding attractions.
Today you’ll see the Yeoman of the Guard (‘Beefeaters’) on duty, guarding the Crown Jewels which are housed in the Tower. You’ll only notice a few ravens on your visit. Legend has it that if the birds ever leave the Tower, the fortress and the Kingdom will fall. Beside the castle is the iconic Tower Bridge. Walks across or climb up the towers to enjoy the view from the glass-bottomed walkways high over the Thames.
8. Hang out with the hipsters in Hoxton and Shoreditch
Hoxton and Shoreditch, just a stone’s throw from the City in London’s East End, is where you’ll find the coolest bars, nightclubs, restaurants, independent shops, and galleries in London. Head for Hoxton Square and wander around. You’ll soon find something to grab your interest. Brick Lane Market and Old Spitalfields Market are in the area. For the latest what’s on, see London’s listing guide TimeOut.
This part of the city is also one of the best places for a lazy weekend. There are plenty of eateries serving up traditional British food, such as a full English breakfast or Sunday roast. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, why not try a few East End delicacies? Pie, mash, and liquor is a great dish to sample a taste of the area. However, if you really want to eat like a traditional EastEnder, you’ll need to tuck into some jellied eels.
9. Take tea at the Ritz
Afternoon tea is one of the quintessential English experiences and London has a number of places that offer the whole unforgettable experience. However, what better place to enjoy it than in the posh Palm Court of the Ritz Hotel on London’s glamorous Piccadilly. The Palm Court is an extravagant, glass-roofed room filled with ornate gilded mirrors, chandeliers, golden statues, and flower displays. Oh, and afternoon tea.
Sit back and relax as impeccable waiters serve you a choice of 16 varieties of tea, served from a silver tea service. A selection of delicate sandwiches (crusts cut off, of course) will follow, along with freshly baked scones, jam, clotted cream, and other pastries. As you enjoy your feast, a pianist plays gently in the background. What are you waiting for? Just remember to meet the dress code!
10. Get political in Westminster
Along the banks of the Thames, you’ll find Westminster, one of the most influential neighborhoods in London! Take a tour around the ornate Palace of Westminster – otherwise known as the Houses of Parliament. Inside is where the House of Commons and the House of Lords meet. When Parliament is sitting, you can watch debates in the House of Commons. The weekly Prime Minister’s Questions is the liveliest session. However, you’ll have to queue for tickets.
Outside, take a photo of the Elizabeth Tower – home to the famous bell, Big Ben – which has recently been renovated. Across the road, sits the medieval Westminster Abbey. The abbey has played host to some of the most important moments in British history. In recent years, this includes Princess Diana’s funeral and the wedding of her son, Prince William.