Number one on our list of the top 25 things to do in London is the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace. If truth be told it’s a very busy spectacle these days, and you’ll be confronted by a crowd of thousands (literally thousands!), but it’s one of these attractions that you simply must do.
Not only will you get a close up of Buckingham Palace, but you’ll also experience the atmosphere of an expectant crowd as they hear the drums and trumpets coming down the Mall behind them. When they finally reach the railings and wheel into the forecourt you’ll be smiling from ear to ear.
Just make sure you get there in plenty of time, because the best spots will be gone a couple of hours before it starts. Have a read of Craig’s review on his blog before you do, because he explains all you need to know about the best places to stand, where the parade route goes, and what time you need to arrive to get a decent view. Feel free to ask him some questions about it, or post a question on the forum.
Hours: Closed (middle 2 weeks of Jan); 11 AM to 6 PM (1st and 4th week of Jan, Feb-Mar, last 2 weeks of Apr, first 3 weeks of May, Sep-Nov, first 3 weeks of Dec); 10 AM to 8.30 PM (first 2 weeks of Apr, last week of May, Jun-Aug, last week of Dec) – Cost: Adults £26.00; Children £21.00 (3-15); Infants free (under-3); Family ticket £94.00
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Number two on our list of the Top 25 must dos is a ride on the London Eye. We always recommend doing this on the very first day of your holiday, because a) it’s quite an exciting thing to do on your first morning, b) you’ll get a good look at the layout of the city, and the distances involved, which will help you plan the rest of your stay.
You want your first day to be memorable, and get you excited for what’s coming next (right?), and what could be more exciting than going around a gigantic ferris wheel in a glass pod? You’ll be able to see all of the landmarks and attractions below you, from Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, to St. Paul’s and The Shard.
Hours: 9.30 AM to 7 PM (Mon-Sun, last week of Jul and Aug); 9.30 AM to 6 PM (Mon-Sun, Sep); Last entry 1¾ hours before closing – Cost: Adults £24.00; Children £13.50 (5-16); Infants free (under-5); Family ticket £61.50
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Buckingham Palace is another one of the must-see sights for our bucket list. But if you just stand outside and take a photo from the gate then you’e missing the best bit. Did you know that you can actually go inside and see all the State Rooms as well?
It only opens up during the summer, so you’ll have to get lucky with your dates, but you’ll be able to walk through the Throne Room, the Ballroom (where the Queen hands out the gongs), and see the Queen’s collection of Old Masters hanging on the walls of the Picture Gallery. You can even have a cup of Earl Grey tea in the veranda cafe overlooking the gardens!
Craig has written a review of Buckingham Palace on his blog (he’s actually written quite a few of them, because he goes every year). If you don’t mind stumping up eighty quid then you might like to read his review of an Evening Tour as well, because those ones take place during the winter.
Hours: 8.30 AM to 4.30 PM (Mon-Sat); Closed (Sun, except for services); Last entry 30 mins before closing – Cost: Adults £18.00; Children £8.00 (6-17); Infants free (under-6); Family ticket £44.00
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A trip to Whispering Gallery at St. Paul’s Cathedral is another of London’s must-do attractions.
The interior dome of Christopher Wren’s masterpiece rises 257 steps above the mosaic floor, and due to a bizarre acoustic effect anything whispered on one side of the dome can be easily understood on the other – 107-feet away! Don’t ask us how it works, because we haven’t got a clue (it must be something to do with the echo), but it’s worth going up there just for the view.
The next set of stairs will take you actually outside the dome, where you’ll have a fantastic view of London’s skyline. And if you’re super-brave then you can go up another flight of stairs to the very top of the dome (actually on the summit of it!). Our resident reviewer Craig chickened out of climbing those so we haven’t got any photos, but you should definitely read his amusing review of the cathedral, though, because he explains everything else you can see inside.
Hours: The public can attend debates on Mon-Fri, and take tours during Aug/Sep, and most Saturdays
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Did you know that you can have a tour of Parliament every Saturday? (Well… on most Saturdays – check the dates on that page first.) The inside of Parliament rivals Buckingham Palace for its beauty – and that is not an exaggeration. Just wait until you see inside the House of Lords with its plush red leather seats and golden throne. This is where the Queen sits every year in her flowing robes and crown at the State Opening of Parliament.
Craig has attended every kind of event at the Houses of Parliament (there are lots of different ones), and you might like to read them all to get a taste of the place. But make sure you read his review of the Saturday guided tour and the Saturday audio tour, because they’re the ones we’re recommending for this Top 25 list. He has also written a review of the Summer Opening, House of Commons and House of Lords.
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Every tourist who comes to London does this – it’s practically compulsory. If you don’t stand outside the big black iron gate at Downing Street and try and see the PM coming out the front door of No.10 then you’ve have a wasted trip.
The chances of you actually seeing the PM are pretty slim, but you can definitely see the door. If somebody walks out then you’ll have no problem seeing them – assuming that you’re tall enough to peer over the shoulder of the machine-gun policemen guarding the gate, of course!
Craig has visited Downing Street at least a million billion times in his life (probably more), but he has never once been lucky enough to see the PM. But he has written a review on his London blog if you’d like to see what the atmosphere is like standing amongst the crowd of tourists. The only time he’s seen the Prime Minister in the flesh was when he got a ticket for PMQs.
Hours: 10 AM to 6 PM (Mon-Sun, Apr-Sep); 9.30 AM to 5.30 PM (Mon-Sun, Oct-Mar); Last entry 30 mins before closing – Cost: Adults £9.80; Children £4.20 (5-15); Infants free (under-5); Family ticket £22.00
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Standing on the riverbank by the Tower of London and watching Tower Bridge open up for a boat is one of the best photos in London. But we think you actually get a better view from the other side. Try the riverfront by Butler’s Wharf instead, because you’ll get a great shot of the bridge with the City skyscrapers behind.
You have to get a bit lucky to see the bridge open, though. On average the drawbridge opens three times every day, but they only publicise a few dates each month. That’s because most of the openings are just for boats that decide to sail up the Thames at short notice. Have a look here for the Tower Bridge’s scheduled opening times.
Tower Bridge is always worth a visit anyway – especially now they’ve installed some glass floors in the walkways. You can stand on top of the glass and see the lorries thundering underneath! If truth be told it’s quite scary (read Craig’s review of Tower Bridge for some photos).
Hours: 10 AM to 5.30 PM (Sun-Mon, Mar-Oct); 9 AM to 5.30 PM (Tue-Sat, Mar-Oct); 10 AM to 4.30 PM (Sun-Mon, Nov-Feb); 9 AM to 4.30 PM (Tue-Sat, Nov-Feb); Last entry 30 mins before closing – Cost: Adults £28.00; Children £13.00 (5-15); Infants free (under-5); Family ticket £70.00
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No London bucket list would be complete without a visit to the Tower of London. This World Heritage Site is famous for its ravens, the Bloody Tower, Traitor’s Gate and Crown Jewels.
There is so much to see and do at the Tower of London that you can easily spend three or four hours walking around it, but there’s also a much easier way: how about a guided tour with a Yeoman Warder? Tourists know them better as the Beefeaters. Most visitors don’t realise that you can have an interesting tour with one of those guys, who will lead you round the grounds and tell you gruesome and grisly stories about the executions.
Hours: Timed tickets from 10 AM to 10 PM (Sun-Fri, Apr-Oct); 10 AM to 9.15 PM (Sat, Apr-Oct); 10 AM to 7 PM (Sun-Wed, Nov-Mar); 10 AM to 10 PM (Thu-Sat, Nov-Mar); Last entry 1 hour before closing – Cost: Adults £30.95; Children £24.95 (4-15); Infants free (under-4); Family ticket £79.95
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We’ve written a big list of the best viewing platforms in London, but if you want the highest one then here it is: The Shard. This glass needle rises a crazy 309.6 metres above London (1,016 feet) and the public can ascend to level 68. It’s so tall that it makes the tall things look small. We used to think St. Paul’s Cathedral was tall, but trust us: it’s not. If you think The Monument is tall then try looking at it from up here: it’s tiny!
If you want some extra thrills then try ascending the stairs to level 72. A few of the walls are open to the sky so you can feel the cold wind rushing in.
Check out Craig’s review of The Shard so you can see exactly what it’s like inside.
Hours: Guided tour during the theatre season (mid-Apr to mid-Oct): Every 30 mins from 9 AM to 5 PM (Mon); 9 AM to 12.30 PM (Tue-Sat); 9 AM to 11.30 AM (Sun) – Guided tour outside the theatre season (mid-Oct to mid-Apr): Every 30 mins from 9 AM to 5 PM (Mon-Sun) – Museum: 9 AM to 5 PM (Mon-Sun) – Cost: Adults £17.00; Children £10.00 (5–15); Infants free (under-5); Family ticket £46.00
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No.10 on our list of the Top 25 things to do in London is watching a play at the Globe Theatre. The Globe is an authentic reconstruction of the Elizabethan playhouse which stood here in Shakespeare’s day, and every summer they have a season of plays by William Shakespeare himself. They perform all the biggies, from Hamlet and Othello to King Lear and Romeo and Juliet.
What’s really great about this place is that it’s all open-air inside, and the actors play to the crowd like they’re part of the cast. They will bound out of the back doors and storm through the pit, or lean over the balcony seats and shout to the stage, and the audience really feels like part of the play. Granted, they may not understand a single word of what’s being said (this is Shakespeare, after all!) but what could be better than thinking you part of the English army during Henry V’s big speech? This is theatre how it’s supposed to be!
Hours: Timed tickets from 10 AM to 6 PM (Mon-Fri); 11 AM to 9 PM (Sat-Sun); Last entry 1 hour before closing – Cost: FreeTalk about the Sky Garden
The Sky Garden is one of the most surprising attractions in London because it just looks like a normal skyscraper from the outside, but when you ride the lift up to level 35 you’ll step out into a giant greenhouse. Imagine if they lifted the Palm House at Kew 500-feet into the sky – that’s exactly what it’s like. It’s full of tropical plants and palm trees.
The view from the top is the second-best in London (after The Shard), and they’s got an open-air balcony as well if you don’t mind getting buffeted about by the wind. You can have a cup of tea and something to eat in the cafe afterwards, a drink in the bar, and here’s the best news: it’s totally free! You have to remember to order a ticket on their website beforehand, and take along some ID, but it won’t cost you a single penny.
Craig has been up there a few times and taken some photos of the view. Read his review on his blog before you go.
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Piccadilly Circus is London’s equivalent of Times Square in New York – we’ve got the neon lights, the rush and buzz of the pubs and West End theatres, and thousands of tourists milling around the Eros fountain trying to decide what to do with their night.
This is where everything stretches out from: you’ve got the big cinemas in Leicester Square, all the shows and musicals down Shaftesbury Avenue, and the posh shops and hotels down Piccadilly and Regent Street.
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Getting your photo taken next to one of the giant horses at Horse Guards is another must-do for a tourist. There are two horse boxes on the Whitehall side of Horse Guards, and a couple of Foot Guards in the courtyard, and the area is pretty much packed with tourists throughout the day.
Whenever you go past on the bus there will be a hundred-or-so holidaymakers standing by the horses patiently waiting for the turn to step up and get a photo (they never stand there long, because they’re all afraid that the horses will kick them!). Sometimes you will see the tourists trying to make the soldiers smile as well (they never succeed, because the soldiers are famously stoney-faced).
Craig has written a big review of Horse Guards on his blog, and you might like to time your visit with one of the daily ceremonies as well. You can see Changing the Guard at 11 AM, and the Dismounting Ceremony at 4 PM.
Hours: 9.30 AM to 4.30 PM (Mon-Tue, Thu-Fri); 9.30 AM to 7 PM (Wed); 9.30 AM to 4.30 PM (Sat, May-Aug); 9.30 AM to 2.30 PM (Sat, Sep-Apr); Closed (Sun, except for worship); Last entry 1 hour before closing – Cost: Adults £22.00; Children £9.00 (6-16); Infants free (under-6); Family ticket £45.00
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Westminster Abbey is one of the most historic buildings in England, dating all the way back to the reign of Edward the Confessor in 1045. You can still see his tomb in the centre of the Abbey, alongside the final resting places of many of England’s most celebrated (and infamous) monarchs: Edward III, Richard II, Henry V, Elizabeth I and Charles I.
One of the most popular places is Poets’ Corner, which contains the graves or memorials for literary greats like Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens. You’ll also find the graves of famous actors, musicians, scientists and politicians. Read Craig’s review of the Abbey before you go. You might like to read his review of an Evensong service as well.
The West End is London’s equivalent of Broadway, and no bucket list would be complete without a night watching one of the big musicals. The longest running ones are Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre and Les Miserables at Queen’s Theatre.
Hours: 7 AM to 11 PM (Mon-Fri, Apr-Sep); 8 AM to 11 PM (Sat, Apr-Sep); 9 AM to 11 PM (Sun, Apr-Sep); 7 AM to 9 PM (Mon-Thu, Oct-Mar); 7 AM to 11 PM (Fri, Oct-Mar); 8 AM to 11 PM (Sat, Oct-Mar); 9 AM to 9 PM (Sun, Oct-Mar); Note: The ride closes during heavy winds and thunderstorms – Cost: Adults £4.50; Children £2.30 (5-15); Infants free (under-5)Talk about the cable car
Normally you’d have to go skiing to ride on a cable car, but London has one that stretches over the Thames between the O2 Arena and Excel Centre.
The Emirates Air Line is only a quick five-minute ride each way, but the 1km ride will take you up to 300-feet and give you fantastic views of the Thames Barrier and Canary Wharf skyscrapers… but it’s the view down onto the Millennium Dome that will really knock your socks off.
Be advised that it does shake about a bit, so you’ll need a strong nerve to ride it, but once you actually get up to the top it you’ll soon calm down an enjoy it. Have a read of Craig’s review before you go, so you can get an idea what it’s like. He’s also included some photos of the view.
Here’s another one of the best things to do in London: a boat ride from Big Ben to Greenwich, passing under Tower Bridge. There are a couple of companies that we recommend: City Cruises and Thames River Services (TRS), but they both follow exactly the same route, so it doesn’t really matter which one you pick.
You’ll board the boat in the shadow of Big Ben, and then float slowly past Cleopatra’s Needle, the Globe Theatre, Tate Modern and St. Paul’s Cathedral. Then you’ll sweep majestically under Tower Bridge and past the skyscrapers at Canary Wharf. It will then drop you off at Greenwich, a short walk from the Cutty Sark and National Maritime Museum.
Hours: 10 AM to 5.50 PM (Mon-Sun); Last entry 20 mins before closing – Cost: Free
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There are plenty of museums we could have put on this list, but we’ve decided to limit ourselves to just one. Lots of people woul suggest the British Museum, but we’re going for the Natural History Museum instead – because it’s more fun!
This place is mainly famous for its dinosaur bones but it also has a dead zoo of half the animals on the planet… everything from a lion, tiger and polar bear, to a giant giraffe and elephant. They also have fish, birds, reptiles and insects… plus a lot of plants and rocks. Read Craig’s review of the museum on his blog.
Hours: 10 AM to 6 PM (Sat-Thu); 10 AM to 9 PM (Fri) – Cost: Free
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The most popular gallery in London (and one of the most popular attractions in the city) is the Tate Modern, but modern art has a very polarising effect on people. So we’re going to give one that’s a bit more traditional: the National Gallery.
Their collection includes some of the famous names in the history of art: Botticelli, Cézanne, Constable, Monet, Rembrandt, Renoir, Titian, Turner and Van Gogh. Or how about Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci? Or Michelangelo, Van Dyck and Vermeer? That’s the quality of artworks we’re talking about – and it’s all completely free!
Hours: Usually 10 AM to 4 PM (Mon-Thu, Jan-Apr & Sep-Oct); 10 to 5 PM (Fri-Sun, Jan-Apr & Sep-Oct); 10 AM to 5 PM (Sun-Fri, May-Jul); 9 AM to 5 PM (Sat, May-Jul); 9 AM to 5 PM (Mon-Fri, Aug); 9 AM to 6 PM (Sat-Sun, Aug); 10 AM to 4 PM (Mon-Fri, Nov-Dec); 10 AM to 5 PM (Sat-Sun, Nov-Dec); Last entry 1 hour before closing – Cost: Adults £35.00; Children £30.00 (3-15); Infants free (under-3); Family ticket £130.00
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You might want to skip this one if you haven’t got kids, but we couldn’t write a Top 25 list and fail to mention Madame Tussauds, because it’s one of the most places to visit in London.
People queue outside this attraction all day, all down the street (read Craig’s review if you don’t believe us!), and you should definitely buy your tickets online if you don’t want to be stuck outside for thirty minutes. Once inside you can take your photo with famous Hollywood stars, pop stars, sports stars, politicians and historical characters from Albert Einstein to Henry VIII.
Hours: 10 AM to 5 PM (Mon-Sun); Last entry 30 mins before closing – Cost: Adults £10.00; Children £6.50 (4-15); Infants free (under-4)
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Every city likes to think it’s the centre of the world, but London really is (sort of) – because Greenwich is where you’ll find the meridian line. That’s the imaginary line that stretches from Pole to Pole to mark longitude zero. Every city on the Earth is measured in terms of its angle east or west of this meridian line.
If you clamber up Greenwich Hill (which is no mean feat – it’s quite steep!) then you’ll find the historic Royal Observatory in Flamsteed House. Outside on the courtyard is where you’ll find the line, and if you stand with a foot on either side then technically you’ll have one leg in a different hemisphere.
One of the most popular things to do in London is an open-top sightseeing bus. It’s usually one of the first things that a tourist wants to do. But take our advice: if you’re going to ride a bus then do it on your very first morning. Don’t save it for the end, because that’s a complete waste of time.
The whole point of catching a sightseeing bus is that it gives you a quick look at the landmarks and attractions, and there’s nothing worse than seeing a great place for the very first time, and then realising you can’t fit it into your itinerary! You’re bound to see some things that you never even considered, so treat it as a taster, like a pick-n-mix menu, and use it to decide what you want to see later in the week.
The two most popular bus companies in London are the Original Bus Tour and Big Bus Tour, and Craig has reviewed them both. Read his review of the Original Bus Tour and review of the Big Bus Tour before you go, to get an idea of how long they take, and what you’ll see (and whether they’re worth the money!).
Hours: 10 AM to 9 PM (Mon-Sat); 11.30 AM to 6 PM (Sun)
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Our list of the Top 25 attractions in London continues with some shopping at Harrods. Every tourist has to do some shopping at some point (you want to buy some souvenirs, right?), and the best shop in London is Harrods. Unfortunately it’s also the most expensive! This is the world’s most luxurious department store, and you can easily blow a few grand just on a new pair of shoes.
When you come to London you need to get the full experience, so that’s why we’ve included a ride on the London Underground in a Top 25 list of things to do. You wouldn’t come to London and not ride around on a double-decker bus, would you? Or miss Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace? So you can’t miss this either!
What you need to do is enter the bowels of the underground down one of the long escalators, or pick one of the original ones that are still lined with art-deco tiles (somewhere like Baker Street).
Then stand on the platform and wait for the cold rush of wind as the lights come roaring round the bend. Then the tube train will clatter along the platform and empty out its busy businessmen and suitcases and suits, and on you’ll get, holding onto one of the poles as it goes rumbling through the tunnel. This is what London is all about – this is how it’s been for a hundred years. If you ride around on one of these then you can call a Londoner!
A tip: Oyster cards are the cheapest train tickets (or contactless cards), but tourists might prefer getting a Visitor Oyster card instead. Just have a read through those pages and you’ll understand how to use them. And then have a read about Craig’s tube journey on his blog, to give you a taste what it’s like onboard.
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There’s a reason why people love going to Covent Garden: the buskers. The best place to find them is in the big courtyard opposite St. Paul’s Church. That’s where they have the acrobats, magicians, a few fire-eaters, stilt walkers and contortionists. They’ve got a few restaurants with open-air tables out the front.
But our favourite area is downstairs in the Piazza where you’ll sometimes find a string quartet playing Vivaldi and Handel, or some opera ladies belting out some Puccini or Verdi.
Have you created an itinerary yet?