1. Tower Bridge
Completed in 1894, Tower Bridge is one of the world’s most famous bascule (a French term for “see-saw”) bridges: It opens in the middle to allow tall boats on the Thames to pass through. Catch a glimpse of the bridge opening (lift times are posted on the Tower Bridge website), and walk across its high-level glass floor walkways 42 metres above the Thames!
2. Victoria and Albert Museum
Named after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, the V&A wears the crown as the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design. Its priceless collection includes sculptures, paintings, ceramics, fashion, drawings, and books from ancient times to present day. Like most of London’s museums, admission to the Victoria and Albert is free.
3. Tower of London
Home to the Crown Jewels, the iconic beefeaters, and (allegedly) several spooks, the Tower of London’s history dates back almost 1,000 years. Standing guard by Tower Bridge and the River Thames, the medieval compound has served as a royal palace, prison, and execution site.
4. The Shard
Scraping the sky at 306 metres, western Europe’s tallest building boasts a high-end hotel, restaurants and bars and London’s highest viewing platform—an unobstructed 360-degree view stretching up to 64 kilometres away.
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5. Sherlock Holmes
Fans of Sherlock Holmes have already deduced why London’s so special. Make the pilgrimage to the Sherlock Holmes Museum at 221b Baker Street (yes, it really exists!), or follow the path of the BBC’s latest version of the legendary detective with stops at St. Bart’s Hospital, Speedy’s Restaurant on North Gower Street, or Leinster Gardens.
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6. Westminster Abbey
If walls could talk, Westminster Abbey would have plenty to say! The site of every coronation since 1066, this Gothic church is the final resting place for 17 monarchs, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens, Sir Laurence Olivier, and many others. It’s also a favourite for royal weddings—in 2011 Prince William married Kate Middleton here.
7. The National Theatre
More than 10,000 actors have tread the boards at the National Theatre including Benedict Cumberbatch, Judi Dench, Laurence Olivier and Maggie Smith. See a play, indulge in one of the theatre’s delicious restaurants, or treat yourself to a backstage tour.
8. Buckingham Palace
The official London residence of Britain’s sovereigns since 1837, Buckingham Palace boasts a priceless art collection and 775 rooms—78 of which are bathrooms. Want to know if The Queen’s home? Check out the flag above the Palace: When the Royal Standard is flying, she’s there.
The famous Knightsbridge store with the iconic green awnings has been offering luxury goods to its customers for over 160 years. Across seven floors and 330 departments, shoppers will find only the best fashions, accessories and homewares. Shopped out? Toast your purchases with some bubbly at the Champagne Bar, or a box of rainbow-hued Ladurée macarons.
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10. London Transport Museum
At the London Transport Museum, you can explore the history of the iconic Underground system, and discover how horse-drawn carriages, trains, and all of those bright red double-decker buses have kept the city moving since 1800. Best of all, you can get interactive and climb on board to see for yourself!
11. St. Paul’s Cathedral
Completed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1710, St. Paul’s Cathedral stands at the highest point in the City of London. Visit the crypt, share a secret in the dome’s spectacular Whispering Gallery, and stroll down the aisle that was walked by Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer on their wedding day.
12. Tate Modern and Tate Britain
Tate Modern is a must for contemporary art lovers. Housed in the former Bankside Power Station, the vast collection includes works by Picasso, Warhol, Dalí, and Matisse. For a decidedly British take on modern art (1500 AD to the present day, that is), Tate Britain will be your cup of tea. Located up the Thames from Tate Modern (there’s a boat that ferries passengers between the two galleries every 40 minutes), Tate Britain is where you’ll find pieces by Turner, Hirst, and Bacon. Oh, and did we mention admission to both museums is free?
13. Mondrian London at Sea Containers
Staying on the South Bank? There are few hotels better situated (and certainly none more striking) than Mondrian London at Sea Containers. Designed under the creative direction of the legendary Tom Dixon, the impossibly chic digs are located just steps away from London landmarks like the National Theatre, Tate Modern and Borough Market. Even if you’re not spending the night, make it a point to pop up to the hotel’s twelfth-floor rooftop bar, the Rumpus Room. Between the stylish decor and breathtaking views of the City of London through the floor-to-ceiling windows, it’s an attraction in its own right.
14. Houses of Parliament
The Houses of Parliament—also known as the Palace of Westminster—is the seat of Britain’s political power. Completed in 1870, the Gothic-style building, and its Elizabeth Tower (housing the 13-ton bell, Big Ben) is one of the most iconic London attractions. Book a tour and get the political scoop on the House of Commons and House of Lords.
No, we’re not talking pigskin and quarterbacks. Football—known as soccer to Canadians and Americans—is one of Britain’s favourite pastimes, and in London, footy fans are spoiled for choice. Premier League teams such as Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham hit the pitch August through May, and their stadiums are also open for tours. Want to go one bigger? Head to Wembley Stadium (shown here).
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16. Pomp and pageantry
Love a parade? Once daily from April to July (and every other day the rest of the year), visitors gather outside Buckingham Palace to watch the colourful Changing the Guard ceremony. If you’d rather wave at the Queen, June’s the month for you: Trooping the Colour is an annual celebration that marks the Monarch’s birthday with marching bands, horse guards on parade, and a fly-past by the Royal Air Force.
17. Leadenhall Market
Look familiar, Harry Potter film fans? Leadenhall Market stood in for Diagon Alley in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. When it’s not lighting up the silver screen, this covered Victorian market in the City of London hosts pubs, shops and market stalls selling flowers, meat, cheese and fresh produce.
18. London Eye
Keeping watch over the Thames since 2000, the London Eye is the world’s largest cantilevered observation wheel. Millions of visitors each year experience the Eye’s breathtaking views of London’s skyline.
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19. Hampton Court Palace
A favourite royal residence of Henry VIII, Hampton Court Palace takes you back in time to the tumultuous days of the Tudors and Stuarts. Marvel at the Great Hall, be awestruck by the Chapel Royal, and get lost in the famous garden maze.
20. National Gallery
Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Turner, Renoir and Van Gogh-a roll call of Western European masters await you at London’s National Gallery. Boasting more than 2,000 paintings from the 13th to the 19th century, the overwhelming collection is yours to discover free of charge. And if you’re hungry for more art, stop by the National Portrait Gallery next door.
21. Trafalgar Square
Go wild and climb atop one of Trafalgar Square’s enormous bronze lions. The big cats guard Nelson’s Column, a memorial to Admiral Horatio Nelson who died in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. With its glorious fountains and close proximity to the National Gallery, the square is always buzzing with activity.
22. Greenwich Royal Observatory
Span space and time! At the Greenwich Royal Observatory, you can stand on the world’s prime meridian, with one foot in the Earth’s eastern hemisphere, and the other in the western hemisphere. Discover Greenwich’s Planetarium and Astronomy Centre, and stroll through beautiful Greenwich Park. The Cutty Sark and National Maritime Museum are also nearby.
23. The British Museum
Two million years worth of artefacts, sculptures, and antiquities—including Egyptian mummies, the Elgin Marbles and the hieroglyph-busting Rosetta Stone—call the British Museum home. Don’t be surprised if your family’s history buff goes missing for several days.
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24. Covent Garden
Looking for retail therapy? Head to Covent Garden! Stroll across the piazza’s cobbles and shop to your heart’s content at the hottest chain stores, hip independent shops, and the famous covered market. Foodies will swoon over the dining options, while kids of all ages will fall under the spell of eclectic street performers and magicians.
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25. Kensington Palace
Once the home of Princess Diana (and before that, a young Queen Victoria), Kensington Palace is currently one of the residences of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge—that’s William and Kate—as well as Prince Harry. The lush gardens and the King’s and Queen’s state apartments are open to visitors year round.
26. Hyde Park
Established in 1536 by Henry VIII, Hyde Park is one of London’s largest green spaces, with more than 4,000 trees, vibrant flower gardens and a large meadow which plays host to many public concerts and celebrations. Check out the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, enjoy a bite in the royal park’s lakeside restaurants, or rent a row boat for a leisurely paddle on the Serpentine.
27. Saturday market hopping
Saturdays are made for exploring London’s thriving outdoor markets. Slip on some comfy shoes and head north to Camden Market (shown here) for vintage clothing; Broadway Market in Hackney for fresh produce, artisan foods, and crafts; and Brixton Market in south London for a culture clash of delicious street treats.
28. The Mall
Headed to Buckingham Palace? Take the scenic route along The Mall. This regal tree-lined boulevard stretches from the Admiralty Arch to the Palace, and is hugged on its south side by St. James’s Park, and Green Park on the north. During ceremonial occasions, The Mall is draped with fluttering Union Jack flags, making for an irresistible photo opp.
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29. Old Spitalfields Market
One of the few surviving Victorian Market Halls in London, Old Spitalfields Market (built in 1876) peddles antiques, food, clothing, collectable vinyl, and bric-a-brac to a bustling crowd seven days a week.
30. Hampstead Heath
Get back to nature in Hampstead Heath: an ancient woodland and wild green space in the north of London. Climb Parliament Hill, which offers a breathtaking view of the London cityscape, and explore the heath’s various nature trails and playgrounds.
Like red phone boxes and double-decker buses, pubs are everywhere in London—on main streets, in back alleys, and even in parks. Order a pint and a plate of fish and chips, and enjoy British hospitality at its best.
32. Harry Potter
No need to hop on a Quidditch broomstick—the magical world of Harry Potter is only a 20 minute train trip from London’s Euston Station. The Warner Brothers London Studio Tour gives you the opportunity to visit the original Harry Potter film sets, explore the collection of costumes and props, and even indulge in a refreshing mug of Butterbeer.
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33. Blue Plaques
I spy with my little eye something that is blue… You’ll find that many of London’s buildings sport a round blue plaque on their exterior, and each one commemorates a famous person or historical event connected with the site. With over 880 permanent plaques on display, you could spend your whole vacation hunting them all down.
34. Borough Market
A popular food market has existed on Borough High Street near London Bridge since the 13th century. Today, London’s oldest fruit and veg market boasts a Blue Plaque and over 100 individual stalls. Feast your eyes—and taste buds—on fresh cheese, meat, baked goods, seasonal produce and seafood.
35. Churchill War Rooms
Did you know that during the Second World War, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill ran his nation’s war effort from a secret underground bunker? Tucked away beneath busy Whitehall, you can turn back the clock and experience these historic rooms as they were left in 1945.
36. Admiralty Arch
Look up, look waaaaay up! If you’re traveling between The Mall and Trafalgar Square, that’s Admiralty Arch stretching elegantly overhead. Completed in 1911 to commemorate the reign of Queen Victoria, the Portland stone structure is more than an arch—it’s actually a functional building.
37. Seven Dials
Looking for that village feel in the middle of London? Check out Seven Dials. Named after a large pillar affixed with six sundials (the seventh sundial is the pillar itself), the popular area is marked by seven short streets that converge at the dial’s foot. Independent shops and small chain stores rub shoulders with cafés, bars, and theatres.
38. Pride in London
Everyone’s welcome, everyone belongs. Every June, London’s awash in rainbow flags to celebrate the Pride Festival, and the city’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. The week-long event culminates in the Pride Parade, when participants march through London raising awareness for LGBT+ issues.
39. Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum and Tour
The Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum is a grand slam winner. Go behind-the-scenes to visit Centre Court, see the gleaming trophies, and test your backhand. Enjoy interactive displays, mementos of stars past and present, and get an inside look at Wimbledon traditions—strawberries and cream, anyone?
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40. Portobello Road Market
Vintage bargain hunters swear by the eclectic finds at Notting Hill’s colourful Portobello Road Market. The world’s largest antiques market is in full swing every Saturday with more than 1,000 dealers of secondhand goods and forgotten treasures.
41. Shakespeare’s Globe
This period-perfect reconstruction of the original Globe Theatre allows you to experience Shakespeare’s classics the way they would’ve been performed in the 16th century. Not into the Bard? The playbill also includes works by acclaimed contemporary playrights.
42. Somerset House
London is populated with plenty of see-worthy buildings, but the neo-classical Somerset House is a true standout. Built in the late 1770s, it’s home to art exhibitions, open-air concerts, and 55 sparking fountains. It’s worth a visit in the winter, too: the courtyard hosts a spectacular skating rink.
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43. River Thames Cruises
Much of London’s history and culture is tied to the Thames, and a cruise down this world-famous waterway offers a new perspective on your favourite London landmarks. See the Houses of Parliament, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Shakespeare’s Globe and the Tower of London as you’ve never seen them before.
44. Imperial War Museum
Housed inside the former Royal Bethlem Hospital (known as “Bedlam”), the Imperial War Museum offers visitors a unique and engaging look at conflict since World War I. Photographs, artifacts (such as a Spitfire plane and Harrier jet suspended from the ceiling of the atrium), and extensive exhibits convey the great losses, sacrifices and experiences faced in times of war.
45. Walking Tours
London is a city best explored on foot, and themed walking tours cater to to every conceivable interest. Want to see the seedy side of Victorian London? Try a Jack the Ripper tour. Beatles fanatic? There’s a walk for that as well. It’s a great way of focusing in on a slice of the city that you find particularly fascinating.
46. The West End
Welcome to London’s playground. By day, shopping, tourist attractions, and cafés hold court, but by night the West End sheds its inhibitions and dons its heels and party frock. Restaurants, theatres and bars in Soho and Covent Garden guarantee a fun-filled night out.
47. Fortnum & Mason
Want to shop where The Queen shops? Spend a few quid at Fortnum & Mason, purveyor of fine foods since 1707. Famous for its indulgent hampers, delicious teas, and decadent food hall, Fortnum & Mason holds a royal warrant signifying that the household of Her Majesty The Queen is a customer.
48. Brick Lane
Fancy a spicy curry? Brick Lane in London’s East End is the go-to destination for authentic Bangladeshi cuisine. Work up your appetite beforehand at Brick Lane’s weekend flea market, where you can browse the stalls for vintage clothes, handmade jewellery and music.
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49. Notting Hill Carnival
Dance your heart out at Europe’s biggest street festival. Since 1964, the Notting Hill Carnival has brought Londoners together on the August Bank Holiday weekend to celebrate Caribbean culture through delicious food, steel bands, and Calypso tunes.
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50. Piccadilly Circus
More charming than New York City’s Times Square, tourists love the bright flashing advertisements adorning Piccadilly Circus. Sit at the feet of the Eros statue, and watch London whisk by. It’s a popular meeting point, and is within a few steps of Regent Street, Leicester Square, and Soho.
51. Oxford Street
A 2.4-kilometre stretch of department stores, popular chains, and independent retailers makes Oxford Street London’s prime shopping destination. Selfridges, John Lewis, Marks & Spencer and Topshop call this famous street home. If you can deal with the crowds at Christmas time, you’ll be well-rewarded: the street is decked with thousands of dazzling holiday lights. (Check out the world’s most festive Christmas cities here!)