Make no mistake, London is one of my favorite cities in the world!
The sites are magnificent. The history is incredible. The energy is contagious.
I absolutely love it.
While relatively easy to get around, the city is also huge. There are hundreds of things to do in London, so – if this is your first time there – how do you even start to choose?
Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered.
Below, we’ve listed our top 10 things to do in London for first-time visitors. Some of them you’ve heard of, some of them you haven’t, and some of them are free. Enjoy!
London Sightseeing Cards
Before we get to the list, let’s take a minute to talk about two London sightseeing passes that can save you time and money.
The London Pass is one of my favorite sightseeing passes in any city, anywhere in the world. This pass gives you entry into over 80 of London’s best attractions, all for a discount of up to 55% off regular admission prices. You also get “fast track entry” to the city’s busiest sites. If sightseeing is your main plan for your trip, I highly recommend getting this pass. Follow the link above to read our review or order the London Pass here.
The London Explorer Pass is another good option, especially if you only want to visit a few sites. With this pass, you get to select up to 7 of London’s top attractions. It even offers access to a few attractions that the London Pass doesn’t, but it also leaves out some of the most important sites.
Personally, I think the best way to do it is to get a 3-attraction Explorer pass and combine it with a 3-day London Pass. That way, you get the best of both worlds. Again, you can read our full review by following the link above or order the London Explorer Pass here.
10 Things to Do in London First Timers Can’t Miss
#1) Tower of London
The Tower of London is one of my favorite historical sites in the entire world. The original structure, known as the White Tower, was built by William the Conqueror nearly 1,000 years ago. Since then, this castle has served as a royal residence, a fortress, a treasury, a prison, and much more. Some of the most famous events in England’s history happened here, including the beheading of two of Henry VIII’s wives and the suspected murder of the “Princes in the Tower.” Additionally, the Tower is home to the Queen’s Crown Jewels. I’d recommend taking a tour of the grounds with one of the Yeoman Warders (aka – Beefeaters) which start every 30 minutes and are included with admission.
#2) Westminster Abbey
Few places around the world are more famous than the twin towers of Westminster Abbey. The coronation of every English and British monarch has been held here since 1066 A.D. It’s also been the site of numerous royal weddings and funerals – including the wedding of William and Katherine and the funeral of Princess Diana. Westminster Abbey is also the burial site of numerous kings and queens, including Elizabeth I, Henry VII, Edward I, Mary Queen of Scots, and more.
#3) Hampton Court Palace
Originally owned by King Henry VIII’s closest adviser, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, this sprawling palace is one place you can’t miss. Located just a short train ride from the city center, I absolutely adore this palace. After Wolsey fell from grace, Henry VIII made this palace his own. Personally, I love the Great Hall, the Tudor kitchens, and the Chapel. You may even run into actors dressed in period costume while you’re there! (Running into “Henry VIII” will make the hair on your neck stand up, I swear!) The gardens and the renovation in the back of the palace – started by William & Mary – are also quite interesting.
#4) The British Museum
With over 8 million permanent works in its collection, the British Museum is absolutely gigantic. It’s also free to enter. My favorite collections are those from Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece, but the museum boasts works from all around the world. While you’re there, don’t miss the Rosetta Stone and the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus.
#5) Wander Through Central London
Walking the streets of Central London is a hoot. Get lost wandering through the historic winding streets and just enjoy the city. Take a stroll through Trafalgar and Leicester Squares before grabbing dinner and drinks in the hip Soho neighborhood. Check out London’s Chinatown and soak up the energy in Piccadilly Circus. Wind your way closer to the Thames to get a look at the Churchill War Rooms and 10 Downing Street. Seeing London on foot is a great way to spend your time; it’s also easy on the wallet.
#6) Check Out Big Ben
While you’re wandering about the city, be sure to check out the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. Located right around the corner from Westminster Abbey, you can’t come to London without grabbing a selfie in front of this iconic clock tower. (Actually, the clock tower is named after Queen Elizabeth II. Big Ben is the nickname of the largest bell…but who’s counting?) I’d recommend seeing it twice – once during the day and again when it is lit up at night. Of course, admiring the buildings from the outside is completely free. Tours inside the bell tower are not available to overseas visitors, so – if you definitely want to take a tour – opt for touring the Houses of Parliament instead.
#7) Changing of the Guard
Head over to Buckingham Palace to witness the famous changing of the guard. Practically every tourist in the city shows up for this event, so you’ll need to arrive early if you want to be able to see! During the summer, this happens (almost) every day at 11:00 A.M. If you’re visiting during the off-season, you’ll likely be able to witness it on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and both days of the weekend. Be sure to check the schedule before you go as dates and times are subject to change.
#8) St. Paul’s Cathedral
St. Paul’s Cathedral is one of the most iconic buildings in the city. Although the first version was started in 604 A.D., the cathedral has burned to the ground several times. Today’s structure was designed by the famous architect Christopher Wren and built in the late 1600s. Even though a gigantic bomb was dropped right next to the cathedral during the Nazi air raids of World War II, amazingly, the structure made it through unscathed. St. Paul’s has also played host to many famous weddings and funerals, including the funerals of Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, and the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana.
#9) Day Trip to Stonehenge
Sure, you’ve seen photos. Yes, you may think that these are just a bunch of rocks. But, it’s hard to understand how gigantic these things are without seeing them in person. The largest stones stand about 13 feet high and weigh around 25 tons. Whoever built Stonehenge didn’t just get their materials from the surrounding area either. Nope. They hauled these massive stones to the site, some from over 160 miles away. And, since it was built somewhere around 3,000 B.C., they didn’t have giant trucks or forklifts to move them either. Once you’re there, you’ll understand why it’s so amazing. I promise.
#10) Ride a Bus
Some of London’s most iconic images are the double-decker tour buses scooting around the city. Give one a shot! Bus tours are a great way to cover a lot of ground in a short time. Personally, I think it’s a good idea to do this on your first day there. They’re an easy way to get your bearings, helping you to navigate the city throughout the rest of your trip. So, give into your inner tourist instincts and enjoy a London city tour by bus.
Thanks for reading and enjoy London! Happy traveling!
Have you been to London? Are there any sites you’d add to our list? Let us know in the comments!