London is a city filled to the brim with landmarks, museums, cathedrals, and vibrant public spaces. In a city with this much variety, there is plenty to see and much to explore.
Big Ben and Parliament
Although “Big Ben” is often used to describe the tower, the clock, and the bell, the name was actually first given to the bell itself. The tower, which is officially known as Elizabeth Tower, was completed in 1859 and stands at the north end of the Houses of Parliament. It has since become a cultural symbol of the United Kingdom and an iconic photo destination.
The Palace of Westminster, better known as the Houses of Parliament, is the oldest royal palace in London and one of most recognized buildings in the world. Built on the site of a medieval palace, and possibly a Roman temple dedicated to Apollo, this UNESCO World Heritage Site has been in continuous use since the 11th century. Though it was once the primary residence of the Kings of England, it is now the meeting place of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The palace sits on the north bank of the Thames in central London and gets its name from neighboring Westminster Abbey.
Due to their central location, Big Ben and Parliament are within walking distance of many popular London attractions. The closest Underground station is Westminster, which is served by the Jubilee, Circle, and District lines.
The British Museum
Located in the Bloomsbury area of London, the British Museum was established in 1753 and has one of the most important collections of historical artifacts in the world to date. Its permanent collection is among the largest and most comprehensive in existence and originates from all continents, illustrating and documenting the story of human culture. It can be visited for free, but with over 8 million objects, it can be difficult to navigate the labyrinth of galleries and civilizations.
The closest Underground stations to the British Museum are Tottenham Court Road (served by the Northern and Central lines) and Holborn (served by the Piccadilly and Central lines).
Home to the British Royal Family for almost 200 years, Buckingham Palace is one of the most famous buildings in the entire world and a must-see attraction for visitors to London.
Because the palace is the official London residence of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, some areas are open to the public all year round, while others only during certain months. But you can always watch the Changing of the Guard Ceremony, a tradition since 1660. Filled with pomp and pageantry, the ceremony lasts about 45 minutes and usually takes place at 11:30 a.m. daily from April to July and on alternate days for the rest of the year, weather permitting. The Palace also has it’s own royal gardens on the west side of the building, and two large parks — St. James Park on the east and Green Park on the north.
Buckingham Palace is located in the City of Westminster in the center of London and is easily accessed by several Tube stations. The closest are Green Park (served by the Jubilee, Piccadilly, and Victoria lines), Hyde Park Corner (served by the Piccadilly line), and Victoria (served by the Circle, District, and Victoria lines).
Covent Garden is a well-known and popular area of London known for its shopping, dining, and street performances.
The center of Covent Garden is entirely pedestrianized and covered in cobblestone streets, while the streets north of the piazza (the neoclassical main building) are lined with shops, bars, restaurants, and theaters. Aside from high street stores, the area is home to privately-run boutiques, offbeat shops, hidden corner stores, and one of the best cheese shops in London. Oh, and if you’re looking for the Royal Opera House or the London Transport Museum, they’re there too!
Covent Garden is located on the eastern edge of the West End between St. Martin’s Lane and Drury Lane. The closest Underground station is Covent Garden (served by the Piccadilly line) and Leicester Square (served by the Northern and Piccadilly lines), though it’s also within walking distance of Temple (served by the District and Circle lines).
Hyde Park is a massive park in Central London that spans 350 acres. It’s a beautiful place for a stroll, picnic, or nap in the sunshine. Popular areas within Hyde Park include Speaker’s Corner, which has been established as a point of free speech and debate since 1872, Marble Arch, the Serpentine, and Serpentine Galleries. Since it borders Kensington Gardens, you might as well explore the other famed Royal Park while you’re there.
There are five London Underground stations located on or near the edges of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. In clockwise order starting from the south-east, they are: Hyde Park Corner (served by the Piccadilly line), Knightsbridge (served by the Piccadilly line), Queensway (served by the Central line), Lancaster Gate (served by the Central line), and Marble Arch (served by the Central line).
Famous for showing world-premieres of films in London, Leicester Square is a central area filled with nightlife, restaurants, street art, and theaters. Clubs, bars, and restaurants are constantly popping up around the square, some of which only last a few months before being replaced with something new. In the center of Leicester Square is a small park, which showcases a statue of William Shakespeare somewhat curiously surrounded by stone dolphins. The Square is also home to TKTS, a booth that sells day-of theater tickets at about half the regular price.
The nearest Underground station is Leicester Square, which is served by the Northern and Piccadilly lines.
The London Eye
Originally built for the millennium celebrations in the year 2000, the London Eye is now a permanent fixture on the London skyline. It hosts 3.5 million visitors every year and is the most popular paid tourist attraction in the United Kingdom.
When it was first built, the Eye was the tallest Ferris wheel in the world, but now stands as the tallest Ferris wheel in Europe. At 443 ft (135 m) tall, the Eye offers a view of up to 25 miles (km?) (on a clear day). Designed by a team of seven architects, the wheel of this iconic landmark moves extremely slowly and provides visitors with a smooth, air-conditioned ride in one of its 32 capsules — one for every London borough.
The London Eye is located in Central London, within walking distance of several other London attractions, including the Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and 10 Downing Street. To get to the London Eye, take the Tube to Waterloo Station (served by the Jubilee, Northern, and Bakerloo lines). If you wish to arrive by boat, many Thames river services also stop at the London Eye Pier. Ticket counters are located in a nearby building.
One of the more affluent districts in West London, Notting Hill is best known as the cosmopolitan neighborhood that hosts the Portobello Road Market and the annual Notting Hill Carnival.
Notting Hill is a vibrant, trendy area set apart by its colorful terraces, large Victorian townhouses, scrunched alleyways, stylish shops, antique vendors, and high-end shopping and dining (particularly around Westbourne Grove and Clarendon Cross). Celebrated as much for its idyllic streetscapes as it is for its café lifestyle and ephemeral fancies, it’s easy to understand why so many films are set in its streets.
Notting Hill is located north of Kensington within the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Its main Underground station is Notting Hill Gate (served by the Central, District, and Circle lines), but Portobello Road can also be accessed by Westbourne Park or Ladbroke Grove (served by the Hammersmith, City, and Circle lines).
Running from Marble Arch to Tottenham Court Road via Oxford Circus, Oxford Street is a major road in the City of Westminster in London’s West End — it also happens to be Europe’s busiest shopping street.
The road was originally constructed when London was a Roman city, and it was known as Tyburn Road throughout the Middle Ages. It became known as Oxford Road (and then Oxford Street) in the 18th century, and began to commercialize in the late 19th century. Unlike other nearby shopping streets, Oxford Street has retained an element of downmarket street-trading alongside more prestigious retail stores, though it remains a popular tourist stop.
Oxford Street can be accessed by Oxford Circus Underground Station, which is served by the Bakerloo, Victoria, and Central lines.
Although many travelers are confused by its name, Piccadilly Circus is a popular destination in London’s West End. “Piccadilly” comes from the word “piccadills,” a fancy type of neck collar, and “circus” comes from the Latin word for circle — which is quite fitting, as it’s a round, open space at a intricate street junction in the heart of England’s capital city. Famously surrounded by video displays and neon signs, the Statue of Eros, and notable buildings such as the London Pavilion and Criterion Theatre, Piccadilly Circus is swarming with traffic, pedestrians, and tourists. It’s often joked that if a person stays there long enough, they will eventually bump into everyone they know.
Piccadilly Circus is located in the City of Westminster near the Piccadilly Circus Underground Station, which is served by the Bakerloo and Piccadilly lines. Due to its central location, Piccadilly Circus is also located near other major London attractions, such as Trafalgar Square, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Gallery, St. Martin-in-the-Fields church, and Leicester Square.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
It is often said that the very heart of London lies in St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Designed in English-Baroque style by Sir Christopher Wren after its predecessor was destroyed in the Great Fire, St. Paul’s is the second-largest church building with nested domes in the United Kingdom. Although the present cathedral dedicated to Paul the Apostle is at least the fourth to have stood on the site, St Paul’s has dominated the London skyline for centuries.
Experience the unique ethereal acoustics of the Whispering Gallery — the first dome you’ll reach — as well as the panoramic views of London from the Golden Gallery around the highest point of the outer dome. Don’t forget to check out the crypts below.
St. Paul’s Cathedral is located within the City of London and can be reached by various London Underground stations as well as bus lines. The nearest Tube station is St. Paul’s (served by the Central line).
A tourist attraction and public space, Trafalgar Square is often thought of as “London’s common room.” Named after the Battle of Trafalgar, the square has occupied the heart of Westminster since the 1800s and has been used as a site for celebrations, protests, events, and art ever since. The square is seen as an iconic London location, and meeting place for visitors from all over the world.
Trafalgar Square is located in the heart of London between Covent Garden and Buckingham Palace. The closest Underground station is Charing Cross Station, however you can also reach Trafalgar Square easily from the Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, or Embankment stations.
Along with Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster, Tower Bridge is an unmistakable icon of London. Constructed in 1894, this Victorian suspension bridge is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that provides a roadway across the Thames for over 40,000 people every day. Not only is this beautiful structure extremely photogenic, the bridge also offers a convenient path across the river as well as a wonderful view of London.
Tower Bridge is located on the Thames River between the City of London and Southwark, near the Tower of London, London Bridge, the Monument, and City Hall. You can reach Tower Bridge via the London Underground stations at Tower Hill (served by the Circle and District lines) or London Bridge (served by the Jubilee and Northern lines).
The Tower of London
With nearly 1,000 years of history, the Tower of London is at the top of almost everybody’s list when they visit the British capital city. However the landmark is actually a series of buildings, towers, turrets, and walls.
Originally built by William the Conqueror in 1078, the Tower of London has been an armory, royal residence, royal mint, prison, and zoo — just to name a few. Many kings added to the Tower, expanding it over the centuries to form the massive complex that stands today.
The Tower grounds also include the former site of royal coronation processions, the most famous execution site in the world (remember all of Henry VIII’s wives?), the scene of England’s famed murder-mystery the “Princes in the Tower”, the setting for Shakespeare’s Richard III, and, of course, the secured home of the Crown Jewels — one of the world’s largest collections of royal regalia. There’s a lot to see.
When visiting the Tower you can explore on your own, with an audio guide, or by joining a tour led by the world-famous Yeomen Warders (Beefeaters).The nearest Underground Station to the Tower of London is Tower Hill on the District and Circle Lines.
Westminster Abbey has seen over 16 royal weddings, held globally-watched coronations and events (including the funeral of Princess Diana), and is the burial site of 17 monarchs and the United Kingdom’s Tomb of the Unknown Warrior. One of the jewels in London’s metaphorical crown, Westminster Abbey is a must for history lovers and anyone who is fascinated by royalty.
The large, Gothic abbey is located in the City of Westminster, to the west of the Palace of Westminster, and can be accessed by the Westminster Underground Station via the Jubilee, Circle, and District lines.