If you’re planning an unforgettable adventure in the capital, some things shouldn’t be missed. From retracing the steps of English kings and queens to cruising down the Thames river in a floating hot tub, Culture Trip has curated a list of things to do on an epic trip to London.
The city of London is a vibrant hub of culture teeming with things to see and do. It boasts over 170 fascinating museums (some of the best on the planet), as well as countless galleries home to a medley of world-renowned art. With so much on your doorstep, knowing where to go and what to do can be tricky, so here’s Culture Trip’s pick of the best things you can do to make the most of your time in London.
Take a historical walking tour of London
London is a mishmash of history and architecture spanning many years. Down one street, you’ll find post-war high-rise blocks, while down another, you’ll see grand, stone-coloured structures dating back to the Georgian era. However, head towards the centre, and you’ll be greeted by tall skyscrapers puncturing high above the city skyline. A historical walking tour of the city will cover every top London sight and architectural structure in just half a day, including a 1,400-year-old cathedral, the royal Buckingham Palace and Westminster, all while retracing the steps of English kings and queens.
Guided tour of the British Museum
Float down a London river in a hottub
Grab a few cans of your favourite beverage (unless you’re the designated hot-tub driver), and step onboard the floating tub. Weather isn’t an issue, as you can choose to bathe in a heated boat set at 38C (100F). Float down past the Central London Docklands, and see the city from an entirely different perspective. If you visit in the height of summer, you can opt for a barbecue boat, where you’ll get to bask in the sunshine and cook up a feast onboard.
A Jack the Ripper walking tour
Jack the Ripper terrorised the streets of London, killing and mutilating women in the most chilling of ways. To this day, the identity of this person and the motives behind their actions remain a total mystery. Take a walking tour of Whitechapel to retrace the steps of London’s most notorious serial killer, using handheld projectors help to envision how the streets looked all those many years ago in 1888, as well as receiving a detailed insight into Jack the Ripper’s exact movements.
Visit the Tower of London and the dazzling Crown Jewels
The Tower of London dates back to 1066 as a palace and a safe place of defence. It remains one of the world’s last-standing Medieval buildings and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Wander back through a rich timeline of history, and visit the grounds where many gruesome executions took place. See where the Crown Jewels are kept – estimated to be worth several billion pounds – and reimagine how life would have been all those years ago.
Take in a performance at Shakespeare’s Globe
The Globe Theatre is a beautiful Elizabethan building that provided a base for top-notch entertainment during William Shakespeare’s time. Although the original structure burnt down in 1613, the existing venue is a perfect reconstruction and even uses some of the old timbers as part of the new theatre. It’s also the only building with a thatched roof in the city – these types of roofs have been banned since the Great Fire of London swept through in 1666. Opt for an informative tour of the theatre for insight on how shows were produced, or snap up tickets to one of Shakespeare’s transformational works of art.
Soak up nature at Kew Gardens
Kew Gardens is London’s biggest UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s also home to the most diverse collection of flora on the planet. Get lost in one of the jungle-like glasshouses, showcasing a range of different plants from different climates, and retrace the steps of King George III at Kew Palace. It’s easy to forget that you’re only a stone’s throw away from Central London.
Visit the Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum is an absolute must-visit when in London. While it houses the planet’s most significant natural history collection, the museum’s architecture alone is worth a visit. See real dinosaur bones and a life-size blue whale figurine, and explore the intricate timeline of evolution.
Take a spin on the London Eye
Soar 135 metres (443 feet) above the River Thames and come face-to-face with the majestic Houses of Parliament and Big Ben in one of the world’s tallest Ferris wheels. It’s no surprise the London Eye is the city’s most popular paid tourist attraction, offering an incredible bird’s-eye view of the capital’s finest architecture, from Renzo Piano’s Shard to Sir Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s Cathedral. Head here when the sun sets for dreamy views of the capital’s skyline.
Warner Bros. Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter
Harry Potter fans are invited to leave the land of the muggles and be transported behind the scenes to explore the spellbinding film sets, props and enchanting costumes on the Warner Bros. Studio Tour. Walk in the footsteps of Harry, Hermione and Ron down the cobblestoned Diagon Alley, tour the impressive Great Hall, and hang out in the Gryffindor common room. It’s also the chance to discover the wizardry behind the special effects and animatronics – you can even have a go at riding a broomstick. The studios are just over half an hour away from Euston station, with a 20-minute train journey and 15-minute shuttle bus. There are new additions every year for those who have been before, with Discovering Hogwarts, a brand-new feature for 2023 now officially open. Other enchanting additions include 400 floating candles in the Great Hall and Professor Flitwick’s Charms Class.
Visit Buckingham Palace
Dating to the 17th century, Buckingham Palace has become one of London’s most recognisable buildings, and yet visitors rarely step inside. Take the opportunity to go beyond the golden gates during just 10 weeks of the year and explore the palatial grandeur of the royal State Rooms, where monarchs have entertained guests for centuries. Head up the sweeping grand staircase designed by John Nash and discover paintings by some of the world’s greatest artists in the Picture Gallery, from Rembrandt to Rubens.
Climb the Shard
Top off a trip to the capital with a visit to Renzo Piano’s momentous skyscraper. Being the tallest building in the city at a staggering 309.6 metres (1,016 feet) means this glittering giant also boasts the best views. Head up to the 72nd floor and you’ll be able to see for 40 miles in every direction; follow your eye along the snaking River Thames and you can even catch a glimpse of the rolling hills beyond the city.
Day trip to Stonehenge
If you think your activities in and around the city have to be confined to the city, then think again. Various tours to the ancient ruins of Stonehenge will head west early in the morning from central London and some even take in the spa town of Bath and Royal Windsor.
Black cab tour of London
Jumping in a black cab and getting shown around by a local is something of a quaint activity nowadays in the age of Uber but a dedicated tour like this is very special. Officially all ‘cabbies’ have to learn every inch of road in London to get a permit and as such they really do have the knowledge to get you around town.
Walk on the wild side at London Zoo
More than 750 species from around the globe live in London Zoo. It’s the world’s oldest scientific zoo, with the menagerie previously living at the Tower of London being transferred to the zoo’s collection back in the 19th century. Self-guided safari tours include discussions about the animals, while the zoo’s Theatre of Life performances provide a pleasurable insight into the animals’ behaviour.
Slide down ArcelorMittal Orbit
This eye-catching structure designed by Anish Kapoor was built in 2012 to mark the Olympics, which took place mostly in East London. The ArcelorMittal Orbit sculpture and observation tower sits in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford and is the UK’s tallest sculpture. It’s also now the world’s longest and tallest tunnel slide, thanks to the slide’s addition in 2016 – and, all in all, it’s a great spot to see a sweeping panorama of the city.
Pose with the stars at Madame Tussauds
The global museum chain for life-size replicas of celebrities and historical icons, London’s Madame Tussauds waxwork museum is one of the most popular on the planet – possibly because of the quick rate it gets new celebs up and posing. You can have your picture taken with the King, meet Meghan Markle or take a selfie with Benedict Cumberbatch.
Enjoy art and architecture at Tate Modern
Tate Modern is a shining star in London’s incredible creative art scene. With groundbreaking installations and an ever-changing programme of exhibitions all housed in a breathtaking building, no trip to the capital would be complete without a visit here.
Find out why Tower Bridge is London’s ‘real’ bridge
Tower Bridge is a cherished symbol of London that’s recognised all over the world, but the initial reception here was negative. Tower Bridge was built between 1886 and 1894 to ease congestion on the roads, while the bascules ensured that ships could still access London’s docks farther upriver. Red, white and blue paint were added to the bridge for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations in 1977, but during the 2010 restoration of the bridge, only blue and white paint were used.
Visit Sea Life London Aquarium
Right next door to the London Eye is the Sea Life London Aquarium, home to one of Europe’s largest collections of global marine life. Great for kids, the large tanks and varied species ranging from sharks to penguins will keep everyone amused, especially on a rainy London day. It even boasts the UK’s largest jellyfish experience – sting free, of course.
Imperial War Museum
Over at Lambeth North, you’ll find the Imperial War Museum, dedicated to recounting the trauma and history of not just the two World Wars, but also other, lesser-known conflicts. Find tanks, planes and rockets alongside stirring photography exhibitions that change every few months.
Experience the Royal Albert Hall
London’s premier concert venue, the Royal Albert Hall is a gorgeous example of the investment in arts made in Victorian London. Since 1871 it has hosted some of the biggest names in classical and modern music, as well as the BRIT Awards. The annual Proms concerts have also been held here since 1941.
Discover the home of punk in Soho
Soho conjures up romantic thoughts of the Swinging Sixties, seedy nights out and progressive music. It might be a cleaner version of its former self, but the small quadrant in the heart of the city is still a destination you have to experience for yourself. This tour take you there and takes you back to the thrilling era of the Sex Pistols and punk rock.
Admire the best street art in London
The East End is like a living art gallery, which means you should take of a couple of hours to pound the pavements in search of the best street art in Shoreditch. Head to Rivington Street to see an original Banksy or Shoreditch High Street to see the sculptured faces of Gregos Art. Better yet, forge your own path and see what you can discover.
Go on a historical pub crawl
All the best nights out in London involve a pub crawl of some description. These drinking establishments have been a part of the city for centuries and if you want to learn more about why they play an important part in British culture, and sink a few pints too, then join one of these impressive excursions.
Cruise the Thames
Like all great cities, London has a river coursing through it. The Thames might not be as important to the lives of locals as it once was, but its still a big part in what shapes the city. There are multiple ways of crossing it and Londoners will undoubtably have an opinion on which side is best, but you can avoid that conversation by simply taking a cruise through the middle.
Head up the O2
The O2 Arena, formerly known as The Millennium Dome, was one of the projects that was initially ridiculed by Londoners. The large structure hosted the turn-of-the-century celebrations in the UK but once the dignitaries left all that was left was a pretty unremarkable museum and exhibition space. Skip forward 20 years and the location is now a world-class music venue, top quality shopping area and best of all a haven for thrill-seekers who can climb over the top of the dome to get a unique view of the city.
Enjoy a walking street food tour
Make sure you have an empty stomach and your walking boots on as the street food in London is up there with some of the best in the world. What makes it standout is that you can sample almost any time of cuisine imaginable from Indian rotis to Caribbean goat curries. Eating out is a big part of the culture here, and you’ll never go hungry in London.
Experience a unique dining experience
There are classic theatre shows you can enjoy in London, and we certainly recommend those too, but the immersive theatre scene here is thriving at the moment. The Faulty Towers Dining Experience takes a quintessentially British sitcom from the 1970s and turns it into a raucous dinner which has has audiences in stitches.
Take in a West End show
Of course, you might be in the mood for something more classical, and that’s where a trip to the West End comes in. Theatreland is in central London and similar to New York’s Broadway houses some of the best productions in a tightly packed area. Book in advance for the big shows and plan for the rush for dinner beforehand… Brits like to eat much earlier than other parts of the world.
Sightseeing bus tour
Yes, it is very obvious and you will feel like a typical tourist, but hopping on a double decker bus and braving the elements is a tradition for all visitors here. Once you get used to London, you can take a regular bus and sit on the top deck on your own to see other parts of the city, but for starters stick to one of these guided tours.
See the Thames Barrier
This one is more of a personal choice, but if you really want to see what Londoners did for entertainment in the 1980s then head to the London Barrier. This gargantuan structure is designed to protect the city from the raising tides that flow through the Thames and is an exhibit we all visited when we were younger.
Afternoon Tea at a Royal Palace
There are hundreds of afternoon tea experiences in the city. Brits love to break up their afternoons with a quick bite and ‘cuppa’ between lunch and dinner. You don’t have to get fancy, but every now and then we do like to treat ourselves. Just remember its jam first on scones… or is it cream first?
London E-Bike Tours
Cycling has gone from a niche fad to a very serious affair in London in recent years. Dedicated bike lanes and countless scenic routes have popped up all over the city and its now a joy to ride around for leisure or as part of your daily commute. Join thousands of Londoners and take on the city on two wheels, and why not experience it all on an e-bike for extra comfort?
Feel the power at the Houses of Parliament
The Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey emerged as the main seat of power in the UK following turbulent years of jostling between religious leaders, politicians and royals. All the laws of the land are approved here and the big decisions come from Westminster. You’ll also see Big Ben right here, so we’re sure it was already part of your travel plans.
Explore Winston Churchill’s London
A big part of everything the UK did in the last century, Winston Churchill led the Allied Forces against Germany in WWII. The reputation of the man has been revised in recent years, but his achievements are undeniable. There are statues, state rooms and exhibitions to discover across the city and the iconic figure is still visible everywhere today.
The Best of Maritime Greenwich
Greenwich is an overlooked part of London with a remarkable heritage. The Cutty Sark, a preserved clipper sailing vessel, is one of the best examples of a sailing ship from the days when the British ruled the seas. You can visit it and other great points of interest in the neighbourhood just south of the Thames. This was the naval hub of all sailing operations and is the point where Greenwich Meantime Time (GMT) was standardised.
Explore the East End
The stomping ground of legendary gangsters like The Krays and Tommy ‘The Bear’ Brown, the East End has undergone a massive transformation in recent years. The area has always been the most multicultural part of London, from early Jewish immigrants to current areas like Brick Lane which has a large Bangladeshi population, and is steeped in history. Visit Spitafields market, Whitechapel and the famous Bow Bells.
Race around London in Minis
Alright, not so much ‘race’ as obediently observe the speed limits of the city of London and see some of the best landmarks from the comfort of your won vehicle, but its still a treat. To be fair, the Mini Cooper is as much a British icon as red telephone boxes and Paddington Bear so you can’t complain too much if you take a leisurely drive with a guide around town. Sit back and enjoy!
Discover the secret gardens of the city
London actually has a lot of green space for a capital city. The Royal Parks are vast and are packed with locals and tourists whenever the sun comes out. There are lesser known areas too, however, a guide will take you to hidden churchyards, secret ruins and other spots only those in the know talk about. This is a great way to discover more about the history of the city too, as all of these spaces were created for a reason.
Take an elementary tour
Sherlock Holmes once cut a dashing figure in the pages of Sir Author Conan Doyle’s detective novels. Aided by the erstwhile Doctor Watson, the sleuth covered many parts of the city in search of hoodlums and lost treasure. Interestingly enough, many of the places mentioned in the books, from Sherlock’s home in Baker Street to the famous Langham Hotel off Oxford Circus, are all real places. You can visit them, and many more besides on this investigative tour.
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