London is almost too iconic.
Major landmarks like Big Ben and Tower Bridge lure sightseers like moths to a flame, warping the most well-intentioned itineraries into a whirlwind highlights tour. Visitors so often leave seeing so much but feeling so little. The sprawling British capital deserves more time.
Modern London is a paradoxical adventure; international yet unabashedly British; ancient but aggressively modern; bustling yet charming underneath. Its storied history plays out along the River Thames, while its ever-evolving skyline fuses sooty Victorian chimney tops with grand cathedrals and skyscrapers.
The Old Smoke’s never smelt sweeter. Take a deep breath and come on in.
This is London.
5 things you can’t miss in London
Check off the landmark list
Just because there’s more to London doesn’t mean the big-ticket items aren’t worth a look. Especially if it’s your first visit, make sure you take some time to check out the city’s world-renowned landmarks.
Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, Tower Bridge, Trafalgar Square, the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, and of course, St Paul’s Cathedral are all must-see sights in the city. Depending on your level of interest, some will be worth further investigation. Do your research beforehand to know which ones you want to learn more about.
The Tower of London should definitely be at the top of that list. Its museum and exhibits are an excellent glimpse into London life. Plus, you can check out the Crown Jewels.
Jumping on a hop-on-hop-off bus could be the perfect way to see them all in a day and the perfect first activity to help get to grips with London. If you don’t want to splash on the tour bus, you can go super-budget with your oyster card. Public buses 24, 11, and 9 pass by the different landmarks. At £1.50 a ride, you’re saving plenty of money for the pub later.
Explore the British Museum
The British Museum’s collection of artifacts charting human civilization is one of the most extensive in the world and features the likes of the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles. You’ll need a few hours to explore every exhibit, but for those with historical inclinations, there are few museums better in the world. It was the first public museum on the planet, after all.
Unfortunately, the museum does drag some controversy along with it. The bulk of its collection was acquired over centuries of British colonization around the globe, prompting many to suggest that the artifacts presented in the museum should be returned to the country they were taken from. Wherever you stand on the subject, there is no denying how impressive the museum is.
Step off the bus
If you have the time to catch your breath between museums, the Queen’s house, and pubs, take a stroll through some of London’s neighborhoods and get a taste of something special.
If you find yourself in the West End, London’s answer to Broadway, grab a last-minute ticket to some of the best stage performances on the planet.
Notting Hill, although now popular with tourists (thanks Hugh Grant), is a delight to the senses. Its Saturday Portobello Market can fill hours with its endless stalls selling everything from boutique fashion, to fruit, to any bric-a-brac you can imagine.
Camden Town is home to its own amazing market, as well as an unbelievable selection of independent coffee shops, bars, and restaurants, all waiting for your business. At night, it turns into a lively corner of the city where any genre of live music can be scouted out from inside old-school pubs and high-end jazz bars.
Walk London’s bridges
Many bridges connect the two sides of the famous River Thames. You could spend all day meandering the iconic bridges but there’s a few you don’t want to miss.
You might recognize the Millennium Bridge from the Harry Potter or Guardians of the Galaxy films. We recommend starting at this infamously wobbly footbridge and then making your way over to the Tower Bridge. If you time it right, you can see the drawbridge lifting as well.
The best part: walking the bridges is completely free. So enjoy the incredible architecture of London while saving a dime, or rather, a pound.
Get your adrenaline fix
At only 10 years old, the ArcelorMittal Orbit might not be the most recognizable London landmark, but it’s definitely unforgettable.
The shisha pipe shaped sculpture is the the UK’s tallest structure and features the world’s longest tunnel slide.
If you can stomach it, you’ll be able to enjoy some of the best views of London between screams for only 5 pounds.