A few years ago, Holly and I took our first trip to Europe and made London our first stop! I was blown away by the history, the architecture, and the energy. Even as we visit more spots around the globe, I still hold a special place in my heart for this incredible and regal city. London is one of my favorite cities in the world, and I can’t wait to get back!
If you’ve never been to London, you’ll be amazed with how much there is to do and see. London is one of the world’s premier cities, and it has a little something for everybody. While there are a few “can’t miss” places to put on your itinerary, the sheer number options gets overwhelming. To help you out, I’ve created this abbreviated list of my favorite things to do in London. Enjoy!
#1) The Tower of London
Visiting the Tower of London is hands-down one of my favorite things to do in London. Famously (or maybe more “infamously”) known simply as “The Tower,” this imposing fortress has guarded the north bank of the River Thames for nearly 1,000 years. The center structure, referred to as the “White Tower,” was constructed around 1070 A.D. by William the Conqueror. This original “skyscraper” was designed to showcase the new king’s power so as to deter foreign invaders and keep the recently conquered city of London in line.
Over the centuries, the Tower of London has served as a royal residence, an armory, a mint, and – of course – a prison. The grisly history of this castle includes the suspected murder of the young “Princes in the Tower” by their uncle Richard III as well as the beheading of two of King Henry VIII’s queens – Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. Standing at Traitor’s Gate was a humbling experience, knowing how some of England’s most famous noblemen (and women) passed through these gates, never to see the outside of these walls again.
These days, the castle is still operational, but its main function is to serve as a museum. As we mention in our complete London Pass review, lines can be long, but the cost of your ticket and “fast track entry” is included with the pass. You can tour the complex yourself, or jump in on a guided tour with a “Beefeater.” The political prisoners are gone, but the dungeons are still filled with the frightening equipment once used to torture them. The Queen’s Crown Jewels are also here, so don’t miss that exhibit before you leave!
#2) Hampton Court Palace
Hampton Court Palace is located just a short train ride outside of Central London, and it’s definitely worth visiting. This palace really brings Tudor England to life. Originally belonging to King Henry VIII’s most trusted advisor, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, the king claimed the palace for himself after Wolsey’s fall from grace. Now, the palace is one of the most popular attractions in London… and for good reason.
The palace itself is filled with beautiful tapestries, historical documents, and beautiful architecture. I found the ceiling of the Great Hall to be especially impressive. Be sure to spend some time going through the Tudor Kitchens and the state apartments, as well. The grounds are also a delight to walk around, as is working your way out of the famous garden maze.
My favorite part about Hampton Court Palace is that it feels haunted, especially when you stumble upon the “characters” dressed in period costumes. We practically ran right into Henry VIII himself, which gave me goosebumps. The palace also houses one of my favorite rooms in the world, the Chapel Royal. Looking down from the Royal Pew, I could almost feel the King’s presence in this incredibly gorgeous church.
#3) Westminster Abbey
Speaking of churches, Westminster Abbey is one of the most famous churches in the world. The double towers on the abbey’s western facade are immediately recognizable from events like royal weddings (think William & Katherine) and funerals (think Princess Diana). Most importantly, Westminster Abbey has been the coronation site for every English and British monarch since 1066 A.D. King Edwards Chair, the royal throne used in every coronation since 1308 A.D., also remains here for public viewing.
While still a working church, Westminster Abbey is also a very important tourist destination. If you enjoy seeing the burial sites of famous people, you’ll definitely get your money’s worth here. The abbey serves as the final resting place for many of history’s most famous kings and queens, including Henry VII, Elizabeth I, Mary I, Edward the Confessor, and more. There’s also a section in the abbey known as “Poets’ Corner,” the burial site of many of England/Britain’s most famous writers, authors, and playwrights. I found the entire place fascinating and can’t wait to tour it again!
Like the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace, entry to Westminster Abbey is also included on the London Pass. You can find a full list of London Pass attractions here.
#4) See a Show in the West End
If you enjoy the theatre, London is a great place to go. London’s theatre scene is one of the best in the world. With huge productions and tiny studio shows alike, you’re sure to find a show that you’ll enjoy. For a relatively sure bet, check out a show in the West End. This is essentially London’s Broadway… or maybe Broadway is New York’s West End! Regardless, you’ll find some of the world’s best theatre packed into these few blocks.
As a self-professed theatre nerd, there was absolutely no way I was leaving London and not seeing a show. We booked some great seats for Les Miserables – which has been showing in London’s West End for years. It was magnificent – maybe the best show I’ve ever seen… and I’ve seen Les Mis like 6 times. Seriously, do yourself a favor and go enjoy a show!
#5) The British Museum
At one time, the British Empire covered about 3/4 of the globe. The empire was so huge, it was said that the “sun never set” upon it. That’s a ton of territory under British control, which allowed them to amass one of the greatest collections of artifacts and art throughout all of history. Lucky for us, they have stored many of these items at the famed British Museum.
Regardless of your feelings about how Britain acquired these items, the British Museum is really a “must see” site. Nowhere in the world will you find a collection like this. This gigantic museum is filled with priceless treasures from around the world – including ancient Egyptian mummies, ancient Greek sculptures, over 75,000 objects from Asia, and much more. The best part: Admission is free.
#6) Walk Around
It’s no secret that visiting London is expensive. While sightseeing passes can help you save time and money, just walking around London is a treat in itself. Plus, it’s free!
One of my favorite things to do in London is walk around and explore all the nooks and crannies. You can start almost anywhere in Central London and walk to another site in 10 to 20 minutes. Holly and I took several long walks, never quite knowing what we’d run into. During these walks, we moseyed by Buckingham Palace, slipped into Trafalgar Square, and stumbled upon London’s Chinatown. Piccadilly Circus, Soho, and Leicester Square are also fun areas to explore.
Things to Do In London: Wrapping Up
Finding things to do in London can feel overwhelming. With literally thousands of options, I realize this list isn’t even scratching the surface. By sharing some of my favorites, I hope I’ve helped relieve some of the stress of planning your visit. If you need help finding cheap hotels or airfare, you can always contact Holly at our travel coaching page.
As always, please feel free to drop any questions in the comments or shoot me an email. I’m happy to help in any way I can. Enjoy your trip to London. Until next time, happy traveling!
What are your favorite things to do in London? Let me know in the comments below!