I absolutely loved London and felt right at home while “minding the gap” on the tube, sipping afternoon tea, and exploring by foot. The locals are welcoming, and even if you’ve got your tourist googles on and are in their way, they’ll probably shout a friendly “Cheers!” over their shoulder as they pass you. In addition to hearing Big Ben ring, hopping in a phone booth, and setting foot on one of the red double decker buses, there is so much more to do in London. See below for my favorite experiences to attain a more in depth view of this great city.
1.) Changing of the Guard
There is no shortage of pomp and circumstance during the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. This tradition is filled with pageantry, but it also serves a purpose as one regiment takes over for the other – a highly decorated shift change! It occurs daily at 11:30 am from about April to July, and every other day from about August to March (weather dependent). The entire spectacle takes about 45 minutes and it is jam-packed with marching, drumming, yelling, and music. If you want a good spot to watch, get there about 30 minutes early and stand by the elevated Victoria Memorial.
2.) British Museum
Specializing in world cultures, the British Museum was established in 1753. Its collection contains over 8 million works, including the Rosetta Stone and Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon. Upon entering, visitors are led into the bright and open Great Court, staring straight at the Reading Room. This room used to be part of the British Library, and has been used by Karl Marx, Mahatma Gandhi, George Orwell, and Mark Twain to name a few.
3.) Tower of London
Throughout history, the Tower of London was home to kings, prisoners and exotic animals. It is a fortress that was built from the 10th to 14th centuries and is famously known as the place where Anne Boleyn was executed, where the Yeoman Warders (or Beefeaters) live, and where the astounding crown jewels are housed. Get there as soon as it opens to avoid the biggest crowds, view the crown jewels first, take a tour with the Yeoman Warders, and then visit White Tower to make the most of your time.
4.) Parliament/Big Ben
Parliament, the legislative body for the United Kingdom, meets in the iconic Palace of Westminster. The structure was built in the late 19th century, and visitors can see the government at work by visiting either the House of Commons or House of Lords. The House of Commons has more lively debates, and the House of Lords sits in a lavishly decorated room. Outside, the famous 150 year old bell, Big Ben, chimes from Elizabeth Tower every quarter hour.
5.) St. Paul’s Cathedral
The first St. Paul’s was established in 604, and since then, a total of 5 churches have been built on this site. After Old St. Paul’s was destroyed by the Great Fire of 1666, the current cathedral was completed in 1711. It was the tallest building in London until the mid-1900’s, and is easily recognizable by its dome that is 365 feet tall. The interior is absolutely stunning, and if you’re not afraid of heights, I highly recommend climbing the 528 dizzying spiral stairs to visit the Whispering Gallery and catch a view of the city from the observation tower.
6.) WB Studio
Book the Warner Brothers Studio tour in advance if you like the Harry Potter books and/or movies in the slightest. It’s worth the short train ride to Leavesden to tour the studio where this major franchise was filmed. You can walk through fully erected sets like the Great Hall and Diagon Alley, drink a butterbeer, and gape for hours at all of the original props.
7.) Westminster Abbey
This beautiful Gothic church has seen each Coronation since 1066, 16 royal weddings, and the funerals of many famous Brits. Services are still held here today, but once inside this beautiful Gothic church, it feels more like a memorial to famous Brits than a church as the walls and chapels are packed with over 400 fascinating tombs and monuments. It’s an honor to be buried here, and in addition to British royalty, this is the final resting place for influential citizens like Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, and Jeffrey Chaucer.
8.) British Library
A library typically isn’t a tourist attraction, but the British Library is definitely worth a visit. It’s currently the largest library in the world based on the number of items in its collection, and there is an excellent exhibit where they display some of their more notable works. These include the world’s oldest printed book from 868, some of the oldest Bibles in existence, an original Magna Carta, an original DaVinci notebook, and original lyrics written by The Beatles.
9.) Hyde Park
This public park is the largest in London and is a popular place for locals and tourists to escape the city. It’s been a popular spot for demonstrations in recent history, and today you can still see citizens speaking to the public and debating at Speaker’s Corner near Marble Arch in the Northeast corner of the park. Walk along the many trails and definitely stop to admire the picturesque view along the Serpentine.
10.) British Fare
A major part of London’s culture is the food. Order a full English fry up for breakfast. It will include ham, baked beans, grilled tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms, toast, and an egg. This hearty meal will most likely tide you over until afternoon tea, where you can choose from tea and a scone with clotted cream and jam or tea with sandwiches and cakes. This delightful Victorian tradition should not be missed.
It was difficult to whittle down my list to only 10 items because there are truly many more things to see and do in London. Each sight will leave you craving more, so you will need more than a couple of days to explore this city. See my 5 Days in London itinerary for everything I did on my visit, but sadly this amount of time still wasn’t enough. I’m sure that once you’ve visited London you will feel the same as me and want to return again and again.
Would you put a different experience on your London top 10 list? Let me know in the comments. Cheers!
Read Next: 5 Days in London Itinerary