From its free World class museums to its iconic food markets, London offers tourists a wide spectrum of amazing things to do while visiting the city. The list below consists of places and activities that I believe will best help you fully explore the landscapes of London, discover the rich local flavors, and appreciate the diverse culture of this multifaceted city.
The Red Telephone Box
Get your picture taken with this iconic symbol
One of the top things to do while in London is to take a picture with the iconic red telephone box.
The analog telephone is a thing of the past, and so are most of the telephone booths across the World. The classic red telephone box in England is a cultural icon in itself and is symbolic of generations of communications in the past.
Today, nobody uses them to make calls. But you will see a long line of tourists taking pictures. At one particular phone booth and at one particular angle, you can take a picture of the telephone box with Big Ben in the background.
See how happy I am!
Explore Centuries of Human History and Culture
The British Museum is the most iconic museum in the UK. Visit the museum to discover generations of history of mankind and explore centuries of cultures from around the World.
The place is huge, and the exhibits are extensive. I recommend allocating at least half a day to a full day to truly enjoy the visit.
Admission is free (as with most museums in the UK), which makes it one of the best things to do in London.
When your feet get tired and you need to rest, consider going to the Great Court Restaurant to indulge in a traditional afternoon tea experience.
The National Gallery
An Art Lover’s Paradise
The National Gallery is located in Trafalgar Square in Central London. It houses an extensive collection of over 2,000 paintings. The majority of the collection are dated from the mid-13th century to the late-19th century. The collection includes masterpieces by Monet, Rembrandt, Renoir, and van Gogh, just to name a few.
The extensiveness of the collection is stunning, and this place is any art lover’s dream come true. To be able to fully appreciate all the wonderful art on display, I recommend allocating at least half a day to maybe even a full day for this visit.
As with almost all museums in the UK, admission is free, but donations are welcomed.
Tower of London
A UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Tower of London was built by William the Conqueror in 1066 to demonstrate his Norman power. The White Tower was the first structure erected, and it took around 20 years to complete building the entire castle.
Today, the Tower of London is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that attracts a few million visitors a year. It sits on the north bank of the River Thames near the iconic Tower Bridge and the Tower Hill tube station.
This imposing fortress served to protect and control the city. It has also served as a luxurious palace as well as a prison for the Royal family’s rivals and enemies. You will be able to discover and explore these Monarch histories throughout your tour. An audio guide led by the Yeoman Warders and curators is also available.
Public Garden with Stunning Views
The Sky Garden is London’s highest public garden with a 360-degree panoramic view of the city. There is an outdoor terrace which is open when weather permits.
The interior has beautiful landscapes and large floor to ceiling windows offering stunning and unobstructed views.
Admission requires a free access ticket that you must obtain in advance online. Due to capacity control, these free tickets are sometimes very hard to get, especially on weekends. Visit their website for more information.
They have two upscale and elegant restaurants. Customers with a restaurant reservation do not need to have separate access tickets.
The Borough Market
A Foodie’s Paradise
The Borough Market is a vibrant food market that is every foodie’s dream come true. But really, foodie or not, if you like to eat, this is one of the best things to do in London. It is an exciting food adventure featuring a wide variety of food in numerous categories and from many cultures around the World.
Visit my Places to Eat page for more information and yummy-looking pictures.
Indulge in an Afternoon Tea Experience
A Cultural Indulgence
Afternoon tea is a lot more than just a meal or a snack. It is a culture and a custom that dates back to the 1800’s.
In the 1840’s, this custom was almost exclusively enjoyed by royalties. By the 1880’s, this daily routine soon became a fashionable social event among the upper-class elites. It took several more decades for this customary tea and snack indulgence to spread throughout Britain and became more formally known as “afternoon tea”.
Tea is traditionally served in fine china and the snacks are typically served in a three-tier platter just like the one pictured here.
The food usually consists of finger sandwiches, scones, and a variety of delicate cakes and pastries.
If you are interested in the background of afternoon tea, read my blog article The Origin of Afternoon Tea.
Visit my Places to Eat page for more ideas on where to enjoy afternoon tea in London, as well as other exciting dining options.
Tower Bridge is another one of those iconic structures that you need to take a picture with. I know it is a touristy thing to do, but if you are in London, you just have to do it!
Admissions tickets are required to enter the structure of the Tower Bridge. The tour starts with climbing up the North Tower by stairs. You will then walk across the famous “Glass Floor” to the South Tower. The tour continues down the stairs to street level and end at the Engine Room.
Take a River Cruise
Major Attraction of the City
There are many river cruises in the city and there are several operators as well. You have many options to fit into your schedule, itinerary, and budget.
There is also a hop-on-hop-off cruise that stops at the Tower Pier as well. For this cruise, you’ll purchase a one-day unlimited pass and it is best to combine this cruise with attractions along its route.
Given that you are in England, there has to be an afternoon tea cruise, right? Sure! And you can indulge in this rich British tradition while soaking in the beautiful view. For those who want to indulge even a bit more, go for the dinner cruise.
Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A)
Leading Museum in Art, Design, and Performance
The Victoria and Albert Museum (aka V&A) is one of the World’s leading museums in art, design, and performance.
Its vast collection of over two million items showcases human creativity and achievements in paintings, sculpture, fashion, theatre, photography, among many other areas.
When your feet need some rest or your stomach needs a refill, the Main café offers both hot and cold entrees. The Garden Café is open for traditional afternoon tea on selected days and times. Reservations are required for afternoon tea.
This is one of my favorite things to do in London on bad weather days because you can walk from the South Kensington tube stations to the museum completely underground and away from rain or snow. In fact, the tunnel connects all three museums – V&A, Natural History Museum, and the Science Museum completely underground.
Bustling Neighborhood in the West End
Covent Garden is a massive and bustling neighborhood spanning across nine streets and one historic Piazza. There are plenty of bars – from the trendy gastropubs to the simple neighborhood pubs. There are literally numerous restaurants, many of which offer fine dining, such as Frenchie from Paris.
Covent Garden is also a shopper’s paradise if you are looking for upscale and name brand merchandise, such as Tiffany or Chanel.
At night, this place is lively and vibrant, and sometimes completely packed, especially on weekends. A few times when I was there, it was so crowded that I couldn’t even get on the tube. It’s a great place to wine and dine or just to hang out while you are in London. At the same time, you also get to soak in all the atmosphere and culture of the neighborhood.
One of the Largest and cleanest Chinatowns
Visiting Chinatown here is one of the best things to do to explore Chinese culture and history. It is also one of the best places to get Authentic Hong Kong style Chinese food outside of Asia.
London’s Chinatown impresses upon me that it is one of the cleanest, tidiest, and well-built Chinatowns that I have visited around the World. It is also one of the largest. Chinatown is bordered on the west side by the theatre district, and it stretches eastward almost to Covent Garden. Nearby Tube stations are Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus.
For dim sum, I recommend Wan Chai Corner for some har gow (shrimp dumpling), siu mai (pork dumpling topped with roe) and cheung fun (rice noodles). For a higher-end experience, check out Golden Phoenix. There are many other restaurants featuring various regional cuisines from China. On top of that, you’ll find plenty of dessert places, bakeries, and delicacies.
Be sure to go there hungry!
Enjoy a West End Show
Renowned World Class Productions
The West End of London is somewhat similar to the Broadway in New York where you can find some of the best shows, musicals, and opera in the World. Les Misérables, one of London’s longest running shows, now has a brand-new rendition and is playing at the Sondheim Theatre (previously Queen’s Theatre) through October 2022. Other popular crowd pleasers include Cirque du Soleil, Moulin Rouge, and Mama Mia. There are more than 40 shows to choose from so there has to be one that you and your family will enjoy.
Where Tourists and Locals Rub Elbow
The Soho District has transformed from a somewhat seedy “night-life” place decades ago to one of the most vibrant shopping, dining, and entertainment centers in London. Every time I go there, I can’t help but associating it with places like Lan Kwai Fong in Hong Kong.
The number of restaurants, pubs, bar, and clubs are close to numerous, and you will definitely find something that you like. The place is packed at night, especially on weekends. Most of the popular restaurants require advance reservations.
While you are there, be sure to check out Carnaby Street (pictured above). Although its iconic place in the 1960’s culture has mostly faded away, some remnants of the indie spots of the past still remain. Back in the good old days, this is where music legends Jimi Hendrix and Paul McCartney used to hang out.
Fun Things to Do for the Holidays
The Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park is the ultimate Christmas Extravaganza. It is almost like a mini theme park. They are usually open from mid-November through the New Year. Whenever I visit London in winter, I always time my trip to make sure I’m there when they are open.
Activities include rides and games, spectacular shows, and an ice skating rink. Don’t miss the Magical Ice Kingdom, the Christmas Circus, and the thriller Cirque Berserk.
There is no shortage of bars and food stalls in every corner. You can do some of your holiday shopping in their charming Christmas Market as well.
The London Eye
View from High Above
The London Eye gives you a completely different perspective of the iconic London skyline from high above. On a clear day you can get a spectacular view of the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace.
The pods may seem tiny if seen from a distance. But once you are in it, it is actually quite spacious even for 8 – 10 people. The entire ride lasts about 30 minutes. Advanced tickets are recommended during peak seasons, especially around the very popular sunset times.