Things to do and see in London

From upper left: Buckingham Palace, St Pancras International station, The Shard, Canary Wharf, St James's Park, Palace of Westminster

London, the administrative and cultural capital of the United Kingdom, is considered as one of the best tourist destinations in the world. It has over 2,000 tourist attractions. With so many places to see and so many things to do, a visitor in London will have to select from a vast number of choices.

London is best known around the world for its rich history, revolving mostly around the royal family, which is headed by Queen Elizabeth II. The buildings and monuments are well maintained and are a treat to see for every tourist. In addition, London has produced some of the greatest artists across fields, from music to literature. It is also home to some of the best chefs in the world, like Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver. There is a lot more to experience in this royal city. The key to enjoying your London tour is to understand the weather of the city, as it rains during most months. If you do get a sunny day, try to make the best of it by staying out like the locals do, and use sunscreen. Your best days in London will be with a fully charged camera with lots of memory space, and all your relevant tickets, passes, cards and pounds with you.

Go on an Extended Sightseeing Tour

The city of London has so much to see, from the Windsor Castle, St. George’s Chapel, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower of London, Big Ben, London Eye, and Westminster Abbey, to locations associated with literary and musical stalwarts (e.g. Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, Sherlock Holmes Museum, Charles Dickens Museum, the Beatles Abbey Road Studios, and many others). London invokes a sense of royalty when you stare at the high hats of the royal guards and linger around the personal collections of the kings and queens. It regales you with its various sports venues (Wembley Stadium, Lord’s, Chelsea FC Stadium etc.) and gives you a sense of wonder with its varied museums (like Cartoon Museum, Churchill War Rooms, London Canal Museum, Natural History Museum, and Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum). There are a large number of historic and interesting buildings in London that may be in your must-see list, many of which are free, and some of which charge you for entry.

An easy way to access over 60 attractions in London is by using the London Pass. It is a savior for all budget travelers as it cuts down the sightseeing cost by allowing access to buildings requiring a fee, by simply swiping the pass through the "London Pass machine", and providing transport for free or at a discount (check out their website for current offers). The cost of the Pass is dependent on the number of days you want to go sightseeing.

If you are short on time, you can simply take one of the guided sightseeing bus tours. Many of these allow you to hop on and off the bus, and visit any attraction that you fancy. The official tourism website gives you an array of sightseeing bus tour choices.

Tour Buckingham Palace

Being the monarch’s administrative headquarters is not the only reason why the Buckingham Palace is worth visiting. This majestic palace complex allows you to delve into the lives of the royal family, from their day-to-day activities to their ceremonies; Buckingham Palace is in every way mesmerizing. Sadly, visiting Buckingham Palace cannot be determined by you. Since it is a functional building with people working round the clock, the palace is not open to the public all through the year. However, if you are visiting in August and September you will be given a guided tour around the lavish state rooms and historic picture gallery. The exterior of the Palace is just as wonderful and stately as its inside.

The biggest attraction of Buckingham Palace is the Changing the Guard ceremony, held every other day during the fall and winter months, and every day during the spring and summer months (please see the official website for current dates and times). This almost-50-minute long ceremony is in fact a must-see for each and every tourist. The élan with which the armed, red-cloaked, and high-hatted guards change their shifts is an inspiring sight.

Bike Around

Apart from buses and cabs, London can be toured by other means as well, like using boats or cruise ships, underground trains, and the most popular one – riding bicycles. Why? It’s easier, more environment friendly, and efficient way to travel in the city (provided you know how to ride a bicycle). London is an exceptionally large city and to reach from one attraction to another the main streets may seem quite long. If you have hired a bike, you can use the back-alleys (travel tip: always carry a map!). You will reach faster and you can avoid the mad rush in the streets. Plus, riding a bike gives you freedom to make your own plans and go wherever your heart takes you in this beautiful place.

If you are still unsure, you can take one of the guided bike tours. They are cheaper than the bus tours, and along with all the bike gear you get a guide who shares the facts and legends associated with each part of the city you visit with you.

Change Your Viewing Perspective: Visit The Shard

You have had enough of sightseeing and have photographed everything you’ve visited. Now, you can change your viewing perspective a little by visiting the top of the newest attraction in the London skyline – The Shard. This 1,016 feet tall building has over 70 floors or levels, making it the tallest building in Western Europe. You can take the elevator to a dizzying height of the 68th, 69th or 72nd floors and let the views take your breath away. What you see is a panoramic view of the city of London from the highest point of the city. You can take your time spotting all the iconic buildings you know or have seen in the city; no-one will ask you to leave after a certain number of hours (provided that’s before the closing time). This viewing although is paid. You can book in advance and even gift it to your friends (or ask your friend to gift you one!).

Visit the Wizarding World

Do you love Harry Potter and cannot imagine visiting London and missing out on seeing Platform Nine-and-Three-Quarters, Diagon Alley, the Leaky Cauldron, Dumbledore’s Office, Hogwarts Express and all those sites associated with the magical world created by author J.K. Rowling? If you and/or your kids share this adoration, you must take one of the many Harry Potter or Warner Bros Studio tours offered on the official London tourism website. They offer three-to-four-hour long guided bus tours giving you an insight to the making of the Harry Potter movies.

Watch a Play or a Musical

London has one of the oldest, prestigious and the most alive theater scenes in the world. It is also one of the best few places where you can see a live production in a pub! The famous London pubs like The Finborough, Old Red Lion, and Etcetera ‘serve’ lively plays, hilarious stand-up comedy nights, and entertaining musicals over pints of your favorite alcoholic (or non-alcoholic) beverage. What’s more, they are low cost as compared to extravagant theaters.

Speaking of extravagant theaters, London’s professional mainstream theater scene (popularly known as the West End Theater) has a special place in the world, similar to that of Broadway in New York. Watching a West End play or musical is in fact a must-do for every tourist visiting London. Famous theaters here include Prince of Wales, London Palladium, and Adelphi. The architecture of many of the theaters is worth observing, like the Royal Albert Hall. Another important London theater attraction includes the Shakespeare Globe Theater. It will take you back to the Elizabethan period when Shakespeare used to perform his plays himself. Not to miss, the Royal Opera House showcases some of the best ballet performances. You can catch some of them if you like.

If you are traveling with kids, it is a great idea to show them a children’s play or puppet show. London has a large number of dedicated children’s theaters flecked all around the city. You can visit one nearby or any of the following: Arts Depot, Jackson’s Lane, Little Angel Theater, Unicorn Theater, Lyric Hammersmith, etc.

Eat out

The food scene in London is considered among the best in the world, with celebrity chefs’ restaurants, the English special breakfast, fish & chips and afternoon teas, rooftop bars, underground eating joints, and a rather fine selection of restaurants having cuisines from all over the globe, including French, American, Italian, Mexican, Egyptian, Scandinavian, Mediterranean, Japanese, Indian, Chinese, and even Cambodian. This global city is truly a foodie’s paradise. Famous eating hotspots include Covent Garden, East End, and Notting Hill.

If you are looking for cheap eats in London, you can find many options around. London has some of the best British foods in bars and pubs, which include steaks, eggs, sausages, bread, baked beans, and mushrooms. There are numerous sandwich shops in the city that serve a variety of pre-packaged wholesome meals. Another traditional English favorite that every tourist wants to taste is a plate of Fish and Chips! Poppies, The Golden Hind, Rock & Sole Plaice and Sea Shell of Lisson Grove are famous fish & chips joints. Apart from these, kebabs and Chinese meals are considered cheaper than other meal options in London.

If you want to make your Afternoon Tea special, tea connoisseurs can try some famous tea blends in the Fortnum and Mason departmental store, which is renowned to provide the tea requirements of the royal family.

Take the Tube

The Underground or the Tube, as London’s subway is better known, is renowned for more reasons than being just a means of transport. The tube stations display a variety of paintings on the tiled-walls, complete with lighting and themes. For example, the Arsenal Tube Station shows murals related to the football club, and the Oval Tube Station makes you feel like you are in a cricket museum! In many of the stations the decorations are regularly changed, keeping the commuters’ interests alive. These decorative murals are famously called Art on the Underground. This art program is funded by the London Underground administration.

Enjoy a Sunny Day

In London, a sunny day is very hard to come by. If you are blessed with a day with no rain, you will be committing a major mistake if you stay indoors or visit closed spaces like museums! The best way to enjoy a sunny day in London is by having a picnic in a park. London is world-renowned for its large parks. When the sun comes out you can find a stream of locals coming out of their homes, and picnicking, playing, boating in the park ponds, and having a pretty good time walking around or sunbathing in these parks. These parks include Hyde Park (most popular for its size and views; it is renowned for hosting events and shows all round the year), St. James Park (close to Buckingham Palace; associated with some interesting stories about royalty coming here), Victoria Park (a favorite kids park in East London), and Greenwich Park (which has some great museums nearby).

Another favorite sunny day activity is to visit the Zoo and the Kew Gardens. The London Zoo is among the largest in the world, and has animals from all around the planet. Spread across over 300 acres, the varied vegetation and structures in the Kew Gardens chronicles its 250 years of existence.

In addition to parks and open spaces, you can also walk down the streets and alleys. Something or the other will definitely catch your interest – a street performer, a magician, or even an interesting graffiti. Graffiti Art is an integral part of the culture in London. North and East London are particularly famous for such street art exhibitions. You can also enjoy a cruise in the Thames River on a sunny day.

Be a Londoner

It is fun to experience the local lifestyle. This way you can also learn more about their lives and appreciate their ways. If you have a friend living in London, there is no better way to experience the life of a Londoner. If there isn’t anyone you know, you can do stuff that will make you feel like one. For instance, you can start your day with an authentic English breakfast with scone, jam, buttered toast, bacon, eggs, and sausages at a café. You can then hire a cycle and bike through cycling paths and alleys of the city. You can also check out the current events happening in London, like in Trafalgar Square or Hyde Park. At night you can gorge on curry, which has become a staple in London in the past few decades.

Image Credit : David Iliff , ColinMario Riberto Duran Ortiz

You may also interested in England major attractionsStonehenge, British Museum, Big Ben London, Buckingham Palace, The London Eye, Millennium Bridge, Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, London Zoo, Trafalgar Square, Palace of Westminster, Kensington Palace, Lost Gardens of Heligan, Nelson’s Column, Wellington Arch.

Published On: Thursday, December 26th, 2013