Must Visit Iconic London Landmarks
Tower of London
This iconic, tourist-favourite fort has watched over the capital for hundreds of years, and though it’s expensive, crowded and not amazingly curated, there’s so much history to explore across its grounds, walls and various towers you can’t help but be won over.
Houses Of Parliament
Many tourists believe a tour of London isn’t complete without a trip to the towering centre of government for the UK, and they’d be right – whatever your political beliefs, the grand, neo-Gothic interiors are well worth seeing in person. Sadly, trips to Big Ben are quite restricted.
While its museum and glass walkways aren’t much to write home about, you really can’t beat the impact of seeing this striking Neo-Gothic bridge up close and personal (for free). Pair your visit with a walk along the river from the South Bank to really appreciate its grandness from afar, or travel across the bridge itself on a bus in true London style.
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
This may be one of the most impressive theatres you’ll ever get to see, so take a look at the calendar to pick the play that best works for you and prepare for something special, though I would recommend getting seats if you don’t want to stand for the whole show.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
While you can admire the beauty of St. Paul’s Cathedral from afar, the true majesty of the place can only be seen up close, especially the Whispering Gallery, the Stone Gallery and the rather high Golden Gallery, which offers incredible views across the city, though may take a few years off your life if you’re scared of heights.
The Best Museums You’ll Want To Visit In London
Natural History Museum
This iconic cathedral to dinosaurs, animals and a bunch of other stuff, is somewhere I’d go every week if I could, there’s just something magical about all the hidden nooks and crannies of undiscovered gems and the glorious architecture within.
This giant art space doesn’t have any of the classics that you’d expect, but the Turbine Hall offers a nice surprise with revolving exhibits which make use of its huge size and good viewing spots from the main building and the adjoining Blavatnik, though regular exhibitions can be a bit pricey.
Victoria & Albert Museum
Known for its sell-out fashion exhibitions, the V&A has a lot more historical items on offer, but they’re not particularly well arranged or laid out, meaning I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the place and I’ll only be heading there if there’s a one-off event I want to see.
This giant red-brick complex is hidden away in Kings Cross, and while it’s mostly known for its famous Reading Room where you can research away to your heart’s content, they often have really insightful exhibitions on history, literature and culture in general. Plus, the gift shop is great!
From its architecture to its vast collection, there’s something for everyone here, whether that’s Egyptian mummies, the Rosetta Stone or the Parthenon sculptures, making it a family safe choice if you can handle the crowds.
Imperial War Museum
It’s not often a museum has two giant navel guns on its doorstep, but this one does, and while I wasn’t a huge fan of some of its rather old-fashioned exhibition spaces, the newer, modern sections on World War I were surprisingly informative and compelling.
Museum of London
Attached to the brutalist Barbican, the Museum of London is a charming slice of how the capital used to be through the ages, with the recreated Victorian Streets being my favourite bit to explore.
This contemporary arts space is always at the cutting edge of London’s exhibition scene, with the latest artworks adorning its beautiful listed building in Chelsea, and the permanent exhibitions are free to view, which is also a bonus.
The lesser favoured Tate art gallery for tourists, Tate Britain houses the famous pieces like Sir John Everett Millais’s Ophelia, LS Lowry’s The Pond and David Hockney’s A Bigger Splash, though I’m a big fan of just staring at its drop-dead gorgeous spiral staircase.
While this is the place to be to catch a glimpse of paintings like Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Seurat’s Bathers at Asnières and da Vinci’s The Virgin of the Rocks, it’s way too packed all the time, with crowds literally swarming the classic art pieces, which makes for a bit of a stressful experience that I’m not a huge fan of.
National Portrait Gallery
I’ve always confused this place with the National Portrait Gallery, which is next door, and to be fair, it is rather forgettable, apart from the Photography Portrait Prize it hosts each year.
Tours To Take In London
Secret London Underground Tour
These limited tours are way too expensive, but they’re addictive as hell and one of my favourite things to do in London, offering a sneak peak into the past and depths of the city on their special guided tours.
Jack the Ripper
Tour I’ve done two Jack the Ripper Tours and I have to say, it’s cheesy, but it’s part of East London history and it’s something fun you can do in the evening. There are always discounted tickets so you don’t have to pay the full price.
Best London Viewing Points
The Coca Cola London Eye
The London Eye has been a popular London attraction since it opened in 2000, yet my two visits haven’t been great and I don’t have any reasons to go for a third time. Unless I want to test if the ‘third time’s a charm?’ Nah.
The Monument to the Great Fire of London
This 17th century giant column topped with an urn of fire commemorates the Great Fire of London, and offers a rather daunting 311 narrow and winding steps to reach its viewing platform, which though it’s rather dwarfed by the surrounding buildings at only 61m tall, is still a different perspective on the surrounding city.
The View From The Shard
If you’ve ever wanted to be nearly 250 m high to lord it over London then this might be the place for you, with 360° views allowing you to point and stare at the capital’s various landmarks, provided there’s clear skies of course and you don’t mind the very hefty price tag – which is why I’m not a huge fan myself.
The main draw for this alternative to the View from the Shard is the fact it’s free. Aside from that, it’s not very green, is way too busy and all in all reminds me of an airport waiting lounge, so it’s a no from me.
Emirates Air Cable Line
Stop trying to make Emirates Air Cable Line happen. Unless it’s part of your commute there is no reason to travel all the way out for it. Not on your second, third or tenth visit to London.
Gardens & Parks in London
One of my favourite green oases in the city, this free and stunning little gem offers brutalist architecture overgrown with a variety of plantlife, giving the impression of a post-apocalyptic paradise, as well as an arid greenhouse, water pools with fish and a cafe/restaurant offering afternoon tea.
Chelsea Physic Garden
While it might seem a bit stuffy, this large set of botanical gardens is a treat for the senses, with special areas for relaxation and mental health, as well as fruits and vegetables and lots of other plants, all topped off with a cute cafe and insightful guided tours.
Crossrail Place Roof Gardens
This may well be the best thing in Canary Wharf, and though that isn’t a difficult feat, the variety of plants, the botanical information and impressive glass ceiling make this a worthy haven from the towers of commerce surrounding it and a great location for your latest Instagram portrait.
Crystal Palace Park
If you’re happy to travel, Crystal Palace Park in South East London has a really fun (and tough) Garden Maze, Italian Terraces, a Concert Bowl and most importantly, weird Dinosaur Sculptures – not anatomically correct, but how they thought dinosaurs looked in the 1850s.
Hill Garden & Pergola
One of my favourite outdoor spots in London, the Hill Garden & Pergola, hidden in Hampstead Heath, offers an Italian-style villa garden experience that will warm the hearts of even the most hardened city dwellers.
Kew Gardens may be the capital’s premier botanical gardens, but whether you’ll enjoy it will depend on the season you visit it! Of course, the historic greenhouses are always in bloom and there’s seasonal events, but autumn and winter visits may prove a bit lacklustre, and the crowds can make it feel like you’re on a school trip in a central London park.
Nomadic Community Garden
You’ll find London’s take on Christiana near Shoreditch Station, the Nomadic Community Garden, hidden under the rail line, is fun for a quick wander if you find yourself near it and with some time to kill.
St. Dunstan in the East
If you’re ever in the area, definitely check out this superb set of overgrown church ruins which offer a peaceful respite from the surrounding City of London, provided they’re not full of photography sessions, tour groups or impromptu events.
Palaces, Castles and Historic Houses in London
Situated on Hyde Park Corner, this opulent townhouse is crammed full of history on its owner, the Duke of Wellington, on top of many classic paintings and a grand dining room, though it didn’t really catch my attention much, aside from the Jan Steen and dog paintings, so I won’t be heading back again anytime soon.
This South East London art deco holy grail has to be seen to be believed, not just for its stunning architecture (featured in many films) and gorgeous sprawling gardens, but also for the fascinating history of its owners, who I will always look up to for having decided to install their own Map Room in the house.
Situated in South West London, this grand house and grounds is a must-see for those who like their historic residences, though stick to spring/summer for the best garden experience, and definitely check out the library, which has a secret you’ll definitely want to discover.
Kenwood House Overlooking Hampstead Heath is the glorious Kenwood House, which showcases artworks including those from Vermeer and Rembrandt, but most importantly has a pink and blue library to die for, plus the fact it’s free to enter!
This tiny little slice of Gothic is hidden in Oxleas Wood in South East London, and while a small cafe has taken up residence on the ground floor, limited tours can take you up to its restored rooms and viewing platform.
Sir John Soane’s Museum
The townhouse of a renowned neoclassical architect, filled with the art of Soane’s private collection, gives you a look into the home interiors of ages past combined with some fascinating and compelling artworks, and is a hidden London museum gem that must be seen, though with crowds it can be a bit of a squeeze to explore.
Strawberry Hill House
It’s a bit of a trek from central London, but the grandeur of this place has to be seen to be believed, with Gothic-style turrets, golden art galleries and intricate stained glass, which you’ll definitely recognise from photoshoots and social media.
Markets in London
When it comes to markets Borough Market isn’t a favourite, I’m not sure what the charm of Portobello Road Market is, I do love a Saturday wander through Maltby Street Market, The Camden Markets,
Shipping crate container food and shopping complexes are everywhere now, but this little spot in South London has a bit of charm, especially for the fact that small independent businesses also use the space, giving it a nice sense of community, though I’d avoid it when it gets busy in the evenings, unless that’s your thing.
Smaller Must Visit Museums & Art Galleries in London
If you want to be close to Londonium, then get yourself to the London Mithraeum in the City, where the ruins of the 3rd Century AD temple to the Roman god Mithras can be experienced first hand, with low-lit lighting and holographic projections to take you back in time to the historical site.
If the crowds of Oxford Street are getting a bit much for you, this small arts space may be the place to hide for a bit, but though its spread across several floors, the exhibition spaces are quite small, but that is often reflected in the rather low ticket prices.
These two nearby art spots offer a small selection of contemporary art amid the greenery of Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park, one on each side of the Serpentine Lake and are worth having a look at if you’re in the area.
This medieval complex has been many things over the centuries, a monastery, mansion, boys school and an almshouse, which still houses people today, and their private tours offer an incredible insight into a place that has truly stood the test of time.
The Museum of Brands
This small and charming museum, nestled in the upmarket neighbourhood of Notting Hill, showcases brand packaging and advertising through the centuries, is probably something for your third or fourth visit to London, when you’ve crossed all the big names off your list.
The Museum of the Order of St John
This little museum covers the rather niche history of this particular religious military order, whom you may or may not know from the Crusades and medieval Meditarreanan history, so probably one for the die-hard historians.
The Old Operating Theatre and Herb Garret
This Victorian operating theatre in the attic of an 18th century church is a must visit if you’re looking for something different to do, and the adjoining Herb Garret is a treasure trove of medical and herbal remedies, many of which are still used today, and some, which we should be glad are not!
This lesser-known attraction offers big exhibition spaces, mainly focused on medicine and health, and has a cute and cosy library hidden away upstairs; I’m a big fan of the fact its temporary exhibitions are always unique, and while they’re not always well executed, considering its free, that’s fine by me.
V&A Museum of Childhood
I visited this nostalgic treasure trove of kids’ toys and amusements through the ages before it closed for a revamp. I’ll be returning to see what it looks like next year.
This 18th century townhouse filled with paintings, sculptures and armour is a little secret I don’t want to share, but as I’m feeling generous I’ll spill the beans – it’s huge, with so much to see whether that’s looking at lovely artworks, admiring the weaponry or just staring at the pieces of furniture you’d sell your grandma for.
White Cube Gallery
This low-key small art gallery near London Bridge Station is a popular spot for modern contemporary artists, though its size means you can get through the place pretty quickly.
Charles Dickens Museum
The Charles Dickens Museum is both a historical collection of the famous author’s works, but also a look into the lives of Victorians and their houses, and well worth checking out, especially around Christmas, when they decorate everything for the season.
Dulwich Picture Gallery
While it’s nice to visit smaller galleries outside of central London, the Dulwich Picture Gallery’s permanent collection is a bit too small to recommend travelling out to, though I’d still give it a chance for a temporary exhibition as the building and gardens are rather charming.
Fashion & Textile Museum
For fashion fans this little spot near London Bridge is a definite must see, with a fascinating insight into contemporary trends, as well as regular exhibitions and talks and workshops to attend.
Guildhall Art Gallery
If you like historic exhibition spaces, giant classic paintings and the remains of London’s Roman amphitheatre in the basement, this may well be the place for you, though it didn’t particularly tickle my fancy, it’s surprisingly quiet for a central London gallery and it’s free, which is always nice.
Handel & Hendrix in London
Handel & Hendrix in London is such a weird concept that doesn’t make sense on paper – the 18th century house of famed German composer George Frideric Handel, sitting alongside that of iconic musician Jimi Hendrix, who lived next door in the late 1960s, but it works, complete with lots of exhibits and restored rooms showing exactly how it was when each of the stars lived there.
One of the main spots to get your contemporary art fix in central London, this arts space, set in the brutalist-style Southbank Centre complex, is a great place to visit if you’re after something a bit niche and thought-provoking, though prices can be a bit high.
House of Illustration
This little spot in the Granary Square complex in Kings Cross sounds great on paper, but sadly every exhibition they’ve put on that I’ve been to has been a bit of a let down, with great ideas, but not particularly great implementation or detail on the fascinating topics they’ve explored.
Other Things To Do in London
Overlooked by Tower Bridge, this Instagram worthy collection of converted riverside warehouses and cobbled pavement takes you back to another age, provided you can ignore some of the chain restaurants; you might also recognise it for being used in films including Harry Potter and Bridget Jones’s Diary.
This brutalist architectural treasure trove not only has cinemas, concert halls and exhibition spaces, but is a living, breathing part of London, home to gardens, plazas and apartments. The exhibitions they host can be on anything from future technology to James Bond, but are always worth getting tickets to.
It’s a bit out of the way and rather small, but this burial site in South East London has impressive church ruins and hidden walking paths and trails which may take your fancy.
Platform 9 3/4
This little slice of Harry Potter history is free to visit and take the obligatory photo, but the queues mean you’ll need quite a bit of patience.
Aside from offering peaceful walking paths, this 19th century site is known for its famous inhabitants, including Douglas Adams, Karl Marx, as well as its gothic-style tombs and alleged occult history; a great alternative London destination.
Sadly you can usually only visit during Open House events once a year, but the Foreign Office in Whitehall may be one of the most beautiful buildings you’re likely to see in London, with grand portraits, indoor courtyards and luxurious suites where history was in the making.
You might recognise the style of this ‘inside out’ tower from its Paris counterpart, the Centre Pompidou, and you’d be right, they both share the same architect who was a fan of putting the building’s lifts, vents and power cables on the exterior. Mainly visited by tourists on Open House weekends, private tours can also be arranged.
Two Temple Place
A fascinating late 19th century neo-Gothic mansion full to bursting with beautiful furniture, chandeliers and stained glass windows, oh and they also put on art exhibitions from time to time. Sadly they are only open when an exhibition is on, so keep your eyes peeled for those.