Best Things To Do in London
No matter your reason for visiting, London has something for everyone. History buffs looking to brush up on the British narrative will delight in the Tower of London. Admirers of art or theater will praise the National Gallery and the West End Theatre District, while fans of the monarchy can’t skip Buckingham Palace. Although London lives up to its reputation as one of the most expensive cities to visit, it does boast an array of attractions that are free to visit, including the Victoria and Albert Museum and Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, among others. If you’re overwhelmed by the amount of things to do, consider signing up for one of the city’s top tours to enjoy the guidance of a local.
1. British Museum
The British Museum is both an architectural beauty and a trove of some of the world’s most noted antiquities. In fact, many travelers it’s the best museum in all of London. What’s more, it’s free to visit. From the Rosetta Stone to the Elgin Marbles to the Lindow Man, the British Museum is a history buff’s dream containing artifacts in the millions. The immense collection can make an initial museum visit seem overwhelming: Pick the exhibits that most interest you, and plan return trips if you feel so inclined.If you want a little help navigating the museum’s 8 million objects, consider tagging along on a guided tour. Several, including the daily eye-opener tours and weekly lunchtime gallery talks and Friday evening spotlight tours are free. You can also book a highlights and special early morning tour for 14 pounds (around $20) and 30 pounds (less than $45), respectively. Audio guides, which cost 7 pounds (less than $10), are also available to rent daily.Recent travelers were in awe of the museum’s vast exhibits, advising future travelers set aside several hours to really do it justice. Even if you don’t consider yourself an amateur historian, you’ll still want to stop by – the museum truly has something for everyone, according to past visitors.
2. Tower of London
Although its exterior might be grim and even unimpressive (especially when compared to stately Buckingham Palace), the Tower of London’s interior is always bustling with activity. The tower, which actually comprises multiple towers – 12 of which can be explored by the public – offers something for everyone. If you’re enchanted with the history of the monarch, don’t miss the famous crown jewels exhibition. Among the items you’ll see is the Imperial State Crown – which is still worn by the queen for each State Opening of Parliament – and the Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross. If you have more than an hour to spend here, take an entertaining tour led by the Yeoman Warders (tower guards). During the hour-long excursion (included in your admission ticket), the guards will regale you with tales of the tower’s bloody past. Lastly, don’t forget to visit the White Tower, an iconic symbol of London’s heritage and one of the world’s most famous castles. Inside, you’ll find the 350-year-old exhibition, “Line of Kings,” along with artifacts from Henry VIII, Charles I and James II.The majority of travelers say the Tower of London’s high admission price and long lines are worth every pence. And some recent visitors strongly recommend attending the free tour put on by the Yeoman Warders.
3. Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace, the London home of Queen Elizabeth II, is open for tour (except for the queen’s private quarters, of course) in the summers and select dates during the winter and spring. On the tour, you’ll have access to the 19 State Rooms where the queen and members of the royal family host guests for state, ceremonial and official affairs. Opulently accented with chandeliers, candelabra, paintings by Rembrandt and Rubens, and exquisite English and French furniture, these rooms display some of the most magnificent pieces from the Royal Collection. Along with the grand interiors, the State Rooms are also a witness to history. Those who followed the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton closely will recognize the Throne Room, which served as the backdrop for the official wedding photographs of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.For tours in the summer, recent travelers suggested taking advantage of the audio guide (included with admission), so that you hear a detailed history of each room at your own pace. The palace advises you set aside at least two hours to see the State Rooms (and that you wear comfortable shoes), while recent travelers advised that you use the facilities prior to the start of the tour; there are no public restrooms available until you reach the garden. Tour tickets start at 24 pounds (about $33.50) for adults; 22 pounds (about $30.75) for seniors (older than 60) and students; 13.50 pounds (about $18.90) for kids younger than 17; children younger than 5 enter for free. You can tour the palace from 9:30 a.m. to 6 or 7 p.m. depending on the month (the palace is open from late July to late September). Visitors can also spring for the Royal Day Out Ticket, which also includes entrance to the Queen’s Gallery and Royal Mews, but it will cost you. If you’re only hoping to quickly pass by this English institution, consider signing up for one of London’s best tours – several make stops at the palace.
4. Portobello Road Market
Locals and tourists alike tend to adore Portobello Road Market. Located in the posh Notting Hill neighborhood (made famous by the Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts movie of the same name), the market stretches down the long Portobello Road, considered to be the high street (or main street) of Notting Hill. The market is filled with merchants of all kinds (more than 1,000 to be exact) selling a variety of common flea market items including antiques, art, jewelry, clothing and food. But what stands out about Portobello Market (aside from its adorably colorful location) is its collection of antiques and quintessentially English items. In just a few blocks, visitors can find a wellie shop, scores of vintage tea sets, quality London souvenirs and Banksy recreations. The market is also billed as being the largest antiques market in the world. If you have a penchant for fashion, the best sampling is found at the end of the market near the Ladbroke Grove Tube stop. There, visitors will not only find the greatest concentration of locals but a great selection of vintage attire as well.Recent visitors loved Portobello Market for its lively atmosphere, wide selection of items and cheap food stalls. Although many lauded the quality found at the food stalls, some urged visitors to check out nearby restaurants, as many serve exceptional British and international fare. Others also advised visitors to pay close attention to their belongings. Portobello Market is not only very crowded, but concentrated on a narrow street, creating an easy opportunity for pickpockets to strike.
5. Westminster Abbey
This medieval church, graced by many royal weddings and coronations, offers a magnificent peek at London’s far-reaching history. Westminster Abbey is pretty much always busy – and the staff keeps you moving at a pretty swift pace – so do a little research ahead of time to avoid missing your personal must-sees. For instance, if you’re a bibliophile, consider a visit to the Poets’ Corner. This is the final resting place of famed authors Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens and Rudyard Kipling, among others. If you’re fascinated by all the intrigue surrounding the British royalty, you might like to visit the shared tomb of enemies and half-sisters Elizabeth I and Mary Tudor.If you prefer to see the abbey at your own pace, but still want a little guidance on the history you’re encountering, take advantage of the free audio guides online. Alternatively, you can take a 90-minute Verger-led tour and see the Shrine (containing the tomb of Saint Edward the Confessor), the Royal Tombs, Poets’ Corner, the Cloisters and the Nave. If you decide to take this tour, there is an extra 5 pound (around $7.30) charge added to your original admission price.