There’s an intrinsic air of posh-ness and culture that we expect from London – perhaps due to its consistently visible monarchy. The regal and stately architecture that dominates the city certainly contribute to its image; from the Gothic masterpiece that is Westminster Abbey to the sheer scale of Buckingham Palace. But woven throughout the streets are bright pops of colors that make up culturally diverse neighborhoods, sprawling gardens and food markets.
Introducing you to the different sides of the English city, we bring you top 10 things to do in London. Get ready to discover London’s deep history, in the glittering jewels put on display and in the everyday scenes of crowd-strewn streets.
Of all the rich literature that has emerged from England, it is the magical world of Harry Potter that we can’t seem to leave behind. Perhaps we’re too ‘muggle’ to enter Hogwarts, but a well-versed guide will sort you into your house and lead you through the inspirational Borough Market, Shakespeare’s Globe and Millennium Bridge. Diagon Alley and gossip chamber Leaky Cauldron are on the list too, with plenty of trivia to complement. Depending on your tour, you’ll be taken down River Thames or into the London Underground.
If you’re more interested in the magic behind the films, there’s a tour geared towards exploring the Warner Brothers Studio. You’ll get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of sets, costumes, props, even explanations on the special effects and animatronics used. The recreated Platform 9¾ will let you pretend you’re about to board the Hogwarts Express, and the souvenir shop is a treasure chest of all the goodies.
No visit to London is complete without visiting the iconic Westminster Abbey, thousand years of history captured within its fine Gothic shell. The exquisite pillar-bones and motifs inscribed on the exterior is only a fraction of this monumental landmark; head inside for imperial halls and stunning stained glass. It’s hard to believe that the structure is still standing since its occupancy by Benedictine monks in 10th-century, but it is in fact the burial grounds of 17 monarchs. The Coronation Chair is further proof of its heritage, first used in the crowning of Kind Edward I in 1296 and thereafter. The Poets’ Corner is another unmissable section, the memorial stones and busts a fitting tribute to some of England’s greatest wordsmiths.
To condense several landmarks into a singular tour, pencil in 45 minutes to 1.5 hours for a River Thames Hop-on Hop-off Sightseeing Cruise experience. The perks are many, not in the least having live commentary to fill in those knowledge gaps. The circular route covers London’s top attractions from a unique perspective, passing by the Houses of Parliament, the Tower of London, Westminster, Millennium Bridge, Tower Bridge, St Paul’s Cathedral and Shakespeare’s Globe to name a few. This way, you can pick which sites to dedicate more time to versus painstakingly travelling to each one only to linger for a few minutes. Do book ahead of time to ensure seat availability!
Borough Market reins as one of the city’s most prolific food markets and for good reason. Free samples will lure you in; bombastic cuisine will make you stay. The fact that this London Bridge market predates to the 13th-century is just historical sprinkles on top of an already tasty cake.
As you enter the glass-and-iron roof building, you’ll see artisanal coffee houses like Monmouth Coffee and Brindisa. The Market Porter pub, which was featured in one of the Harry Potter films, opens as early as 6AM to help you welcome the day. Weave your way around the smoky duck sandwiches and stir-fried stews to pick up some picnic essentials; Neal’s Yard Dairy and Bread Ahead has all you need to make the perfect riverside picnic. Do time your visit though, as the market closes on Sundays and Mondays and Tuesdays only carry barebones. Mid-week would be your best bet.
You’re not going to want to wait to enter the gorgeous St Paul’s Cathedral – although the arresting details on its external pillars, decorative statues and gold-lettered clock may be difficult to tear away from. A symbol of celebration and architectural masterpiece, this Anglican Cathedral is best explored via tour so that you’ll get a comprehensive understanding of its art, history and religious significance. The natural light streaming in emphasizes the golden excess of its interior; mosaics and rich paintings adorn the wide dome. The chapels are a must-visit; the acoustically-designed Whispering Gallery too. For spectacular views beyond the exquisite church features, climb up to the Stone Gallery and then the highest Golden Gallery.
- Explore the alternative neighborhood of Camden (Link)
This mish-mash neighborhood of Camden is a startling contrast to the pomp and polish of heritage landmarks, but it reveals a much more grounded side to London that tourists rarely stop for. Piercing and tattoo shops front the streets, true to the alternative scene that dominates here. It’s the place to scavenge for vintage clothing, second-hand books and cozy bakeries for your afternoon tea fix. Not colorful enough? Camden Market is where all the foodies go, enticed by the international mix of street food as well as eclectic artworks and trinkets to bring home. Round off your trip with a stroll to Camden Lock and take in the waterway from Regent’s Canal to King’s Cross.
Acres and acres of garden present a new form of historical learning; the stunning Kew Gardens features a royal retreat and manicured nature within glass domes. As the largest UNESCO World Heritage Site in London, you can expect 3 art galleries, Kew Palace and a treetop walkway within the 326 acres of land. The palace has been restored to its Georgian beauty; princess rooms, dining rooms and royal kitchens are open to public.
The Palm House however, steals the show with its exotic rainforest, although the Princess of Wales Conservatory is 10 climate zones of pure natural magic. Make sure to stop by the Arboretum too, whose unique Hive structure replicates that of an actual beehive. Last but not least, the treetop walk will bring you to a neat finish.
Feast your eyes on a fortress and its treasures with a tour around the Tower of London. Standing strong since its construction in 1086, the grounds were once a fortress, royal palace then infamous prison. Intriguing tales are offered via the Yeoman Warders tour, which details the grim torture and imprisonment that happened within the castle’s walls. Execution of royal wives had taken place here; fortunately not seen in the live historical re-enactments. Today, the tower is better known as the home of the imperial Crown Jewels – comprised of some 23,578 gems, almost 3,000 of which are diamonds. It is truly a juxtaposition of historical drama and royal wealth.
- Leicester Square for film buffs (link)
The pedestrian stretch of Leicester Square is stomping grounds for film buffs, having played the stage for blockbuster premieres. Literal red carpets have been laid down for top Hollywood stars. Its entertainment history may have kick-offed in the 19th century, but crowds have swarmed the area since 1670. It’s your typical weekend hangout location with a healthy dose of cinemas, which share space with many restaurants and a chill garden in the center. We recommend it as an itinerary filler; catch a cult film or singalong screenings post-dinner! There are even marathon nights if you come across the right big screen – the key ingredient to filling up your London minutes.
The day’s theme is heritage, bringing you out of central London to the not-so-far reaches of regal Windsor Castle, mysterious Stonehenge and characterful Bath. The first stop is the home of the Royal family, occupied for nine centuries and counting. From the medieval St. George’s Chapel to the innermost chambers of the State Apartments, you’ll get an exclusive look into royal living. Then you’ll journey through the rolling greens of Wiltshire to the ancient circle of stones; Stonehenge is one of the most mysterious and key prehistoric site in England.
To combine refined beauty and ancient culture, the final stop is none other than the Georgian city of Bath – land of honey-colored architectures and the Roman baths it was named after. Pulteney Bridge, Bath Abbey, the Royal Crescent and more heritage spaces are on the itinerary. Best of all, the package comes with luxurious transport and a professional guide.
During times of Covid-19 and uncertainty of travel, don’t forget to book travel insurance. We recommend using our partner at RoamRight.