Discover London’s best attractions, landmarks and sightseeing spots that you’d be mad to miss, even if you‘re a local
Whether you’re a visitor, a daytripper or a tourist in your own hometown, there are certain iconic London attractions that you simply have to visit. These museums, galleries, monuments and parks are part of the city’s fabric – to experience them is to uncover a patch of the capital’s culture and history.
But where to begin? We’ve pulled together a list of the 50 best attractions in London for you to start ticking off your bucket list. And the best news? Loads of these must-see London attractions are free, and those that aren’t, you can book below.
Still need some sightseeing inspiration? Check out our list of 101 things to do in London, and find out what’s happening in London today, this week and this weekend.
1. The View from the Shard
What is it? In 2012, Italian architect Renzo Piano transformed London’s skyline with a strange but striking structure that’s now the capital’s tallest tower. Measuring 310 metres, The Shard was built with everything in mind: offices, homes, hotels, bars, restaurants and, of course, the alluring viewing platform. From the highest point the public are allowed access (floors 69-72) you get stunning 360-degree views of the city. There’s a silent disco on selected Saturday nights and other events, such as gigs and gin tastings throughout the year.
Why go? The floor-to-ceiling windows allow exceptional views out across the capital, especially on a clear day.
2. Up at The O2
What is it? Ever wondered what London looks like from 53 metres above North Greenwich? Find out with a ticket for Up at The O2. The ultimate AAA pass gains you access to the roof, where you’ll be able to see across the capital, spotting famous sites like the Olympic Park, Thames Barrier, The Shard and Canary Wharf.
Why go? For an incredible 360-degree view – and that adorable climbing onesie.
3. ArcelorMittal Orbit and slide
What is it? This network of curly-wurly red scaffolding lords it over the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park from its position right alongside the Olympic Stadium. Designed by the artist Anish Kapoor and structural engineer Cecil Balmond, it stands 114.5m (376ft) tall – with lifts (and a 455-step staircase) up to two platforms from which you take in the interesting, if not entirely spectacular, view. There are also two of Kapoor’s entertaining distorting mirrors inside and the options to abseil or slide down to the ground.
Why go? Two things: the view and the slide. Hold on to your stomach and enjoy the speedy descent down the 12-loop corkscrew.
4. London Eye
What is it? Much like the Millenium Dome – or, as it’s known to those who don’t remember the twentieth century, the O2 Arena – the London Eye was built to celebrate the year 2000. Since then, the Eye has been a resounding success and it’s hard to picture London’s skyline without it. It rarely ever comes to a stop, so you won’t be standing on ceremony when you get on. Before you know it, you’re halfway into the sky and taking in sweeping vistas of the city.
Why go? The location. Not only does it offer a great view of the capital, but there are oodles of top attractions nearby.
5. Westminster Abbey
What is it? Like the Pantheon Crypt in Paris, where you can see the tombs and memorials to great figures from history, Westminster Abbey is a popular attraction to peruse the graves, tablets, busts and stone dedications. In fact, seventeen monarchs are buried here, along with dukes, countesses and history’s ‘celebs’ (Think Darwin, Dickens and Hardy). Founded by Benedictine monks in 960 AD, there have also been 16 royal weddings here and every single British coronation has taken place within the Abbey’s walls since 1066.
Why go? To see Gothic grandeur in all its splendour.
6. Buckingham Palace
What is it? A chance to see world-famous art, glimpse regal opulence and get inside HRH’s headquarters. Tourist and locals alike know the façade of Buckingham Palace, which stands at the end of The Mall. But it was only in 1913 that this addition was made, by King George V and Queen Mary. Before that, in 1633, the palace wasn’t even royal – it belonged to Lord Goring, who was forced to hand over ownership to the Royal Family (under King George III) due to a flaw in his contract. Poor chap.
Why go? To snoop around the most famous royal residence in the world.
7. Hampton Court Palace
What is it? A resplendent palace with plush grounds on the edge of south-west London. From the Tudor indoor tennis court to the Royal Maze, from the King’s private loo to the Magic Garden adventure playground, there’s something here for all ages. History buffs and art enthusiasts should purchase the ticket for the Palace and Gardens; those with little ones in tow will appreciate the Magic Garden and Maze ticket.
Why go? To get lost in the Royal Maze.
8. Houses of Parliament
What is it? The seat of British democracy. Take an audio tour through the House of Lords and House of Commons to bring the building to life. It takes around 90 minutes and features leading parliamentary figures such as Mr Speaker and Black Rod. Feeling fancy? Choose the tour that comes with afternoon tea beside the Thames.
Why go? For a dazzling combo of history, politics and architecture.
9. Madame Tussauds
What is it? In 1802 Marie Tussaud made her waxwork debut in the capital (32 years after she founded the show in Paris). By 1884 she decided to lay down permanent roots in Marylebone and she’s been there ever since (well, her legacy at least). Visitors to Madame Tussauds today will find some 300 lifelike models including contemporary actors such as George Clooney and historic icons like Einstein and Monroe. Elsewhere The Queen stands proudly on the Royal Balcony and stars like Zoella hang out in the YouTube zone.
Why go? To snap a selfie with all the famous faces. Instagram, incoming.
10. St Paul’s Cathedral
What is it? Iconic though St Paul’s may be, the cathedral as we know it today is in fact version six, at least. Mark five was razed to the ground by the Great Fire of London in 1666, mark three was also destroyed by fire, in 1087, and mark four fell to ruins under Henry VIII’s leadership. Thankfully Sir Christopher Wren’s design, which was completed in 1708, survived 12 monarchs and two world wars. If you’ve paid for main admission you’ll be treated to an introductory talk before being taken on a 90-minute tour.
Why go? To test your hearing in the Whispering Gallery.