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The best places to visit and things to do in London’s central area

London is a cosmopolitan and vibrant city of 9 million people. There are plenty of places to visit and things to do in London when deciding where to go and it can be almost overwhelming. Especially if it’s your first time visiting the city and only here for a short stay.

Luckily many of the places of interest are in the city’s central area. Among the top tourist attractions in Central London are Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and the British Museum but there are a lot more. The central area is still a large part of London but you can easily get around by taking the Underground trains.

If you’ve to decide where are the best places to visit and things to do in Central London, here’s the list. They are the most memorable but don’t try to do more than you can in one trip. You’d easily burn yourself out. Each visitor is different, so pick the ones that interest you the most. Then put them on your bucket list.


London’s Famous Landmarks

The city’s central area is home to many iconic landmarks and many are well-known around the world. They are symbols of London and for visitors to the city for the first time, they are among the bucket list of top places to visit in Central London. It’s a stamp to say you’ve been to this famous city.

Buckingham Palace & Changing the Guards

Queen's Guard at Buckingham Palace in London, England.
King’s Guard at Buckingham Palace | Adrian Pingstone

A visit to London wouldn’t be complete without seeing Buckingham Palace. After all, the palace has been the official home of the monarchs in London since 1837. And also a place for state occasions and royal receptions. Believe it or not, Buckingham Palace has over 700 rooms and the largest private garden in the city!

Want a peek inside the palace? The only way to get in is to buy a ticket for a guided tour of the State Rooms and Palace Gardens. There’s no dress code to get in but no photos allowed. No, you won’t get a chance to see His Majesty. You can only get to visit when the King is not residing and only for 10 weeks in July-September

You can watch Buckingham Palace from the outside if you don’t want to pay to get inside. It’s still a memorable sight and after all a symbol of the British monarchy. Don’t forget to watch the King’s Guards in their smart red tunics and bearskin hats. The guards make look ceremonial but are from regiments of infantry soldiers.

An event not to miss is Changing the Guard, a pomp military ceremony that has been going on at the palace since 1837. It’s a 45-minute event when the New Guard replaces the Old Guard – a splendid British classic. The ceremony occurs daily at 10:45 AM in June and July but four times a week the rest of the year.

Read more: Visitor’s Guide to Buckingham Palace

See the Houses of Parliament

Houses of Parliament in London, England.
Houses of Parliament | Christine Matthews

The Houses of Parliament (Palace of Westminster) is the political hub and seat of British democracy. This huge stately building is on the north bank of the River Thames in Westminster, covering 3.2 hectares (8 acres). For the best view and photo, walk across Westminster Bridge and look back towards the stately building.

The architecture is in the mid-19th century Gothic Revival. And a stunning patchwork of facades, arches, turrets and towers. There are 3 main towers. The most famous of them all is the 96-metre (316 feet) Elizabeth Tower with the Great Clock. Inside is the famous huge bell (Big Ben) that strikes every hour.

For most, admiring the Houses of Parliament from the outside is good enough. You can actually buy tickets for an inside visit. Both guided and self-guided tours are available. Tours include the Commons Chamber, Lords Chamber, the Central Lobby and Westminster Hall, erected 900 years ago and is the oldest part of the building.

Visit Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey in London, England.
Westminster Abbey | Francesco Vecchio

Westminster Abbey is about 5 minutes from the Houses of Parliament. The history of the church goes back to the crowning of William the Conqueror in 1066. The current building though is from the 13th century, built during the time of King Henry III. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a fine example of Gothic architecture.

The church is the most important religious building in the Anglican Church. Unlike others, it’s subject to the British monarch and not a bishop or archbishop. This famous church is associated with British royalty, ennobling many royal weddings and crowning ceremonies. And also the final resting place of the British monarchs.

The Gothic building is influenced by Norman architecture and is certainly a masterpiece. Most prominent are the two towers spiking 69 metres (225 feet) high. Though a working church, visitors are welcomed from Monday to Saturday. Buy a ticket and tour at your own pace. Or pay extra for a tour led by a verger who will show you the ins and outs.

The interior is a treasure of complex wall carvings, vivid ceilings, paintings, textiles and artefacts. Chapels, chambers as well as tombs of royalty and prominent people occupy the interior. Among them are William Shakespeare, Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin. Hidden within the walls is the charming College Garden that’s 10 centuries old.

Explore the Tower of London

11th century Tower of London, England.
Tower of London | Duncan

The Tower of London goes back to the 11th century during the time of William the Conqueror. Situated on the north bank of the River Thames, this imposing castle today is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The castle was built to protect London and was also used as a symbol by the Norman conquerors to oppress the locals.

Most visitors are attracted to the castle for its ghastly tortures and executions. After all, King Henry VIII imprisoned his wife, Anne Boleyn, here and then her beheaded. The castle has a more varied history. Besides a fortress, it was a royal residence, prison, arsenal, royal mint and even a royal menagerie (mini zoo) during the Middle Ages.

The centre point is the White Tower, the strongest part of the castle and where the kings once lived. Now it houses the Royal Armouries with exhibits of historic weapons and armour. The Jewel House at the Waterloo Block is the home of the famous Crown Jewels, a collection of ceremonial objects worn by British kings and queens.

Special warders called Beefeaters guard the castle. They are retired British military personnel who wear traditional uniforms going back centuries. They are also great tour guides and some can be quite funny. Tour on your own or follow a Beefeater on a guided tour. It won’t cost you an extra penny and there’s no need to book in advance.

Read more: Visitor’s Guide to the Tower of London

Stop by Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge across the River Thames in London, England.
Tower Bridge | Colin

Tower Bridge is a stunning bridge across the River Thames and a short walk from the Tower of London. The bridge is a late 19th-century marvel featuring a drawbridge and two Gothic towers (North and South Towers) rising 65 metres (213 feet). What catches the eye are the details. And possibly the most photographed bridge in the world!

Tower Bridge is open to vehicle and pedestrian traffic. You’re free to walk across and get a closer view. Visit at night and it’s a striking sight of colours lighting up the bridge. The drawbridge lifts 800 times a year to let ships pass. To see the lift at the right time, visit the official Tower Bridge website for the latest schedule.

For the full bridge experience, buy a ticket to get to the top. Walk across the two glass-sided walkways connecting the two towers for eye-catching views from the top. You can see the Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral, The Shard, HMS Belfast and Canary Wharf. Also, learn about its history in the exhibition room at the South Tower.

Visit St Paul’s Cathedral

St Paul's Cathedral in London, England
St. Paul’s Cathedral | Sean MacEntee

St Paul’s Cathedral is an Anglican cathedral dedicated to Paul the Apostle. Sitting on top of Ludgate Hill, this famous cathedral is the seat of the Bishop of London. It goes back to 1711 but there was an earlier cathedral on the same site. Constructed in the 10th century, the earlier St Paul’s was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666.

St Paul’s is the second largest church in the UK after Liverpool Cathedral. At 111 metres (365 feet) tall, its huge dome makes the church a very prominent sight. Believe it or not, St Paul’s was once the tallest building in London until 1963. Though not anymore, the dome is still one of the tallest and largest in the world.

St Paul’s is a triumph by the famous English architect Sir Christopher Wren who was inspired by St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The architecture is obviously Baroque but you can see influences of Neoclassical and Gothic designs. The cathedral welcomes both worshippers and non-worshippers to visit. An there’s a good deal to see inside.

Fine paintings, monuments and sculptures adorn the interior. There are several chapels and on the bottom floor are crypts of famous British people. From the nave and looking upwards, the dome is splendidly painted and ornate. If your legs permit, walk more than 500 steps to the top for lovely views of London.

Walk Around Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square in London, England.
Trafalgar Square | Udo Schoene
  • Location: London’s West End
  • Tube station: Charing Cross (Bakerloo and Northern Lines)

Trafalgar Square is a famous public square in the heart of London. The square pays tribute to the British naval victory, under Lord Nelson, at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The focal point is the 52-metre (169 feet) Nelson Column with a statue of Lord Nelson on top. At the base are 4 bronze lions looking outwards as if guarding the column.

Besides the street performers, the square is the venue for celebrations like St Patrick’s Day and Chinese New Year. It’s also a popular starting point for sightseeing. Directly north is the National Gallery, the UK’s national collection of fine paintings. And there’s the National Portrait Gallery, home to portraits of famous people in British history.

A short walk further north is the entertainment district of Leicester Square. Northeast of Trafalgar Square is Covent Garden, a charming quarter of centuries-old buildings filled with lovely restaurants, shops, markets, theatres and museums. You’re also not far from the bustling and colourful East Asian enclave of Chinatown.

South of Trafalgar Square is The Mall, a short road leading to Buckingham Palace which is the official home of the monarchs in London. Another road going south is Parliament Stree, which leads to the Houses of Parliament, the seat of British democracy. Nearby is Westminster Abbey, a royal church built during the medieval period.

Check out hotels near Trafalgar Square – A great location if you prefer to stay near many of London’s top attractions.

Check Out Piccadilly Circus

Piccadilly Circus in London, England.
Piccadilly Circus | Derzsi Elekes Andor
  • Location: London’s West End
  • Tube station: Piccadilly Circus (Bakerloo and Piccadilly Lines)

Piccadilly Circus is a square at a busy road junction connecting Piccadilly, Regent Street, Shaftesbury Avenue, Coventry Street and Glasshouse Street. It’s a lively part of London and a popular tourist spot. From Trafalgar Square, it’s less than 10 minutes to walk here. And many hop-on hop-off buses stop at Piccadilly Circus.

At the heart of the square is the famous Shaftesbury Fountain with a statue of Anteros from Greek mythology. Giant displays of LED adverts light up the vicinity around Piccadilly Circus, earning the nickname Piccadilly Lights. To tell the truth, the area resembles a mini version of Times Square in New York City.

It’s filled with theatres, cinemas, shops, restaurants, clubs, bars and hotels. And almost party-like at night, especially at weekends. You’re a few walks away from the famous West End theatres and cinemas at Leicester Square and Shaftsbury Avenue. The nightlife of Soho and Chinatown is also a short walk.

Piccadilly Circus is on the south end of Regent Street, a busy shopping street of high-street stores and designer boutiques. That said, there are more than 70 flagship stores here. And there’s Hamleys, the world’s largest and oldest toy store. You’re also not far from Carnaby Street, in Soho, if you’re looking for British labels.

Check out hotels near Piccadilly Circus – A great location if you prefer to stay in one of the liveliest areas of London.

View London From Above

Want one of the best bird’s eye views of the London skyline? Not just any view from some hilltop in the park or the top floor of a hotel room. But exceptional panoramic views, seeing the details of this sprawling metropolis including many of the landmark attractions in Central London.

Take a Spin on the London Eye

The London Eye in London, England.
View from the London Eye | fdecomite

Take a ride on the London Eye. Opened in 2000, the London Eye is a giant 135-metre (443 feet) observation wheel. Overlooking the River Thames, this modern-day landmark has become a London tourist attraction. Get onboard the monstrous wheel and you’ll see some of the best views. Each journey or full circle lasts 30 minutes.

You can see different points of the city from the glass pod including all the major landmarks. The Tower of London, Tower Bridge, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace are some of the landmarks. And there’s the River Thames below. At the top, on a clear day, you can see as far as 30 km (20 miles) away.

The wheel has 32 glass-walled pods, each carrying up to 25 people. It’s often a long queue if you purchase tickets at the ticket office. Sometimes longer than the ride itself, especially during the holidays and weekends. Buy a ticket online and you can skip the line at the ticket office. Also, you can book your preferred date and time.

Admire Views From Atop The Shard

The Shard in London, England.
The Shard | Tristan Surtel

At 310 metres (1,016 ft), you can’t miss The Shard, the tallest building in the UK. This towering skyscraper is 72 floors and cladded with 11,000 glass panels. And that’s equivalent to 10 soccer fields! Offices, restaurants, the 5-star Shangri-La Hotel and residential units occupy this iconic landmark.

The design is the work of Italian architect Renzo Piano. Other notable buildings by him include the Pompidou Centre in Paris and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. What makes The Shard unique is the spike-like structure. In 2014, the design won first place at the Emporis Skyscraper Awards for London’s latest icon.

Book tickets to the top. The View From The Shard spans three floors, from level 69 to level 72. This is the highest viewing point in the city and the 360-degree view from the top is spectacular. Use the touch-screen digital telescope to zoom over 200 major sights. Then treat yourself to one of the restaurants before reaching your way down.

Enjoy Free Views from the Sky Garden

Sky Garden on top of the Walkie Talkie in London, England.
The Sky Garden | Colin
  • Location: Fenchurch Building, Fenchurch Street
  • Tube stations: Bank (Central, Northern and Waterloo & City Line), Monument (Circle and District Lines)

20 Fenchurch Street is a skyscraper named after its address in the City of London. The high-rise earns the nickname “Walkie Talkie” for its peculiar design. At 165 metres (525 feet), the skyscraper is taller than the London Eye but half as tall as The Shard. At the top of the is the Sky Garden with another incredible view of the London skyline.

A standard adult ticket starts from £27 for the London Eye and £25 for the top of The Shard. But the Sky Garden on top of the Walkie Talkie won’t cost you a single penny. Yes, it’s free to go up! Space is limited though and you’d have to book a free ticket in advance from the Sky Garden website.

It’s a spectacular 360-degree view from the three-floor Sky Garden. Views include St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and even The Shard. The top is also a wonderful garden landscaped with various plants like ferns, lilies and lavender. There are also 2 classy restaurants if you’re willing to pay the price.

London’s Top-Rated Museums

London’s museums are some of the most visited tourist destinations. First of all, they are highly regarded and among the best in the world. Secondly, they are some of the best free attractions in London – at least most of them. Fees may apply for the special exhibits but you don’t pay if you don’t want to see them.

Discover Civilisations at the British Museum

The British Museum in London, England.
The British Museum | Ham
  • Location: Great Russel Street
  • Tube stations: Tottenham Court Road (Central and Northern Lines), Russel Square (Piccadilly Line)

The British Museum is the most visited museum in the UK. Each year the museum attracts over six million visitors (that is until the pandemic). If your time allows you for only one museum, then this is the one. The museum is the largest in the world devoted to human civilisation. The relics are priceless and one of the finest.

The British Museum has been on Great Russell Street since it opened to the public in 1759. The museum is massive, covering over 92,000 sq metres (990,000 sq feet). The main building is a masterpiece of Greek Revival architecture. Key features include the 14-metre (45-foot) tall Greek columns and the carved pediment.

There are more than 60 galleries to explore. You could spend a whole day and still have not seen them all. But 2-3 hours for most visitors. Each gallery is according to a period in history or location. Exhibits are from the past civilisations of Europe, Egypt, Africa, the Middle East, Asia Minor, East Asia, Oceania and the Americas.

The museum has one of the largest collections from Ancient Egypt. The mummies and coffins always draw a large crowd. Another is the Rosetta Stone which solved the mystery of Egyptian hieroglyphics. The museum also has one of the largest collections from Ancient Greece and Rome. Highlights include the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon.

Visit the Natural History Museum

Natural History Museum in London, England.
Natural History Museum | jhlau
  • Location: Cromwell Road
  • Tube station: South Kensington (Circle, District and Piccadilly Lines)

The Natural History Museum is one of the largest in the world devoted to the history of our natural world. The displays are without a doubt very impressive. The museum is in the same league as the prestigious American Museum of Natural History in New York City and the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

The museum opened in 1756 and moved to its current site on Cromwell Road in 1881. The Science Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum are also in the area – actually a short walk from each other. The museum is a colossal Gothic building with a whopping collection devoted to botany, zoology, entomology, mineralogy and palaeontology.

The Natural History Museum is split into four galleries. Each gallery is a colour zone that follows a broad theme.

  • Red Zone – About the tremendous forces that shape our planet.
  • Green Zone – The evolution of our planet through the ages.
  • Blue Zone –  The diversity of life from dinosaurs to mammals.
  • Orange Zone – See scientists at work and visit the Wildlife Garden.

The highlight of the visit is the dinosaur skeletons and fossils. You’ll find them at the Dinosaurs Gallery in the Blue Zone. Star attractions include skeletons of Tyrannosaurus rex (T.rex) Iguanodon, Scolosaurus, Mantellisaurus and the skull of Triceratops. A full-sized animatronic that brings T. rex to life is another crowd-puller.

Explore the Science Museum

Science Museum in London, England.
Science Museum | Sue Wallace
  • Location: Exhibition Road
  • Tube station: South Kensington (Circle, District and Piccadilly Lines)

The Science Museum is about the amazing world of science and technology. Not only that, the museum is one of the largest in the world devoted to science. And right next door to the Natural History Museum but on Exhibition Road. If you’re looking for a fun thing to do in London with the kids, this is the place.

The Science Museum opened in 1857 and consists of two buildings that include the main building and the Welcome Wing. Enter through the main building on Exhibition Road. The museum is huge and there are 7 floors to explore. There are more than 15,000 items related to the world of science and technology on display.

There are several galleries. Energy Hall is the first when entering the main building. It’s an amazing gallery of engines including the earliest steam engines. Discover the world of space exploration and see real rockets and a model of a lunar module. Others include galleries devoted to flight, computing, bioscience, medicine and more.

Wonderlab is a paid attraction specially designed for kids. They’ll love the live science shows and interactive galleries where they can conduct experiments. The Ronson Theatre is another paid attraction. It’s an IMAX cinema using the latest technology to screen film classics, blockbusters and 3D educational films.

See Decorative Art at the Victoria and Albert Museum

Victoria and Albert Museum | Txllxt TxllxT
  • Location: Cromwell Road
  • Tube station: South Kensington (Circle, District and Piccadilly Lines)

The Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum is devoted to the world of decorative arts and design. It’s about everything beautiful and the largest of its kind in the world. Situated on Cromwell Road, the museum is a few steps away from the Natural History Museum and Science Museum. You have 3 great museums to visit in the area!

The V&A museum opened to the public in 1852 and was initially known as the Museum of Manufactures. The museum is a vast area of 5 ha (12.5 acres) that includes 145 galleries. There are over 6 million items in the collection but only a small slice is displayed at any time. The displays are some of the finest collections of human creativity.

The collection spans 5,000 years from ancient times to the present. They are not only from Europe but also from North America, Asia and North Africa. Exhibits include fashion, wedding dresses, quilts, embroidery, lace, tapestry and carpets. As well as paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, ceramics, glass, silver, metalwork and jewellery.

Outside Italy, the museum has the world’s largest collection from the Italian Renaissance. Exhibits from East Asia and the Islamic world are said to be some of the finest in the Western world. There’s a broad display of ceramics and metalworks from East Asia. Exhibits from the Islamic world span 1,400 years from Spain to Central Asia.

See Modern Art at Tate Modern

Tate Modern in London, England.
Tate Modern | Stefan Bellini
  • Location: Bankside
  • Tube stations: Blackfriars (Circle and District Lines), London Bridge (Jubilee and Northern Lines)

Tate Modern is an inspiring modern art museum. It’s one of the four Tate art museums in the UK including Tate Britain (London), Tate St. Ives (Cornwall) and Tate Liverpool. The art museum is home to one of the world’s largest collections of modern and contemporary art. And some of the finest from the 20th century to the present day.

Tate Modern is in the former Bankside Power Station in Southwark. This giant building is on the south bank of the River Thames. The former power station is now a famous landmark for modern art with a splendid collection by British and international artists. Not surprisingly, this is the most visited place in the UK to see modern art.

There are several themed areas and within each are a couple of rooms. Exhibits in each room change once so often keeping with the theme. And you’ll see an amazing mix of art styles. The oldest art started in the early 1900s. Besides paintings, there are also sculptures, installations, photos, films, performances and even live art exhibits.

Famous artists with their art here include Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol. Others include Jackson Pollock, Claude Monet, Robert Delaunay and Paul Klee. Paintings to see include Marilyn Diptych (Andy Warhol), The Three Dancers (Picasso), The Snail (Henri Matisse) and Endless Rhythm (Robert Delaunay).

The National Gallery in London, England.
National Gallery | Michael Coppins
  • Location: Trafalgar Square
  • Tube station: Charing Cross (Bakerloo and Northern Lines)

The National Gallery is the UK’s national collection of priceless European paintings. As a national collection, the art belongs to the British government on behalf of the public. The fine paintings by European masters are some of the largest in the world. You can’t miss finding this place. It’s just a few steps away from Trafalgar Square.

The art collections are from the 13th century to 1900 and there are over 2,300 paintings. And the collections include some of the greatest masterpieces of Medieval, Gothic, Renaissance, Rococo, Neoclassical and Impressionist paintings. A visit here is a moving experience for any serious lover of fine art.

You’ll see great works by famous masters like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Reubens and Renoir. Other heavyweights include Van Gogh, Botticelli, Jan van Eyck, Raphael and Caravaggio. Besides touring on your own, there’s a free 60-minute guided tour to hear about some of the most famous works.

Among the highlights is The Virgin of the Rocks (1483-1486), an elaborate work by da Vinci. The Entombment (1501) is an unfinished oil painting of the burial of Jesus by Michelangelo. Other notable paintings include Venus and Mars (1485) by Botticelli, Snow at Argenteuil (1875) by Monet and The Arnolfini Portrait (1434) by Jan van Eyck.

National Portrait Gallery | Ham
  • Location: St Martin’s Place
  • Tube station: Charing Cross (Bakerloo and Northern Lines)

The National Portrait Gallery holds portraits of important and famous people in British history. When the museum opened in 1856, it was the first of its kind with just over 60 paintings. Today, its a vast collection that spans 400 years of history. The museum is right next door to the National Gallery overlooking Trafalgar Square.

There are over 4,000 portrait paintings, sculptures and miniatures. And nearly 7,000 drawings on paper but only 300 are shown each year. On top of that, a vast collection of photos from the 1840s to the present day. Portraits include royalty, nobility, politicians, artists, musicians, film stars and other important people.

The best known of all is the Chandos painting (early 17th century), a portrait of the famous playwright William Shakespeare. Other notables in British history include Oliver Cromwell, Lord Nelson, Queen Victoria, Charles Darwin and Winston Churchill. Famous celebrities include Julie Andrews, Paul McCartney and Rowan Atkinson.

See British Art at Tate Britain

Tate Britain in London, England.
Tate Britain | Adrian Pingstone
  • Location: Millbank
  • Tube station: Pimlico (Victoria Line)

Tate Britain is on Millbank in Westminster. This is the oldest of the four Tate art museums and is devoted to works related to British art. The museum opened its doors in 1897 with just 65 paintings. Today, this cultural icon holds the national collection of some of the most splendid art from the UK. Also the most extensive in the world.

The art spans 500 years of British creativity from the traditional paintings of the 1500s to present-day art. They include paintings, sculptures, drawings to videos. Exhibits are organised by chronology to give a feel of how British art evolved through the centuries. There’s an exceptional display from the Tudor period (1485 to 1603).

Tate Britain has the largest collection by JMW Turner (1775-1851), the famous English Romantic artist noted for his expressive use of colours. There are over 300 of his dramatic oil paintings as well as watercolours and sketches. Other eminent artists include Stanley Spencer, William Hogarth, Francis Bacon and Paul Nash.

Visit the Imperial War Museum London

The Imperial War Museum in London, England.
Supermarine Spitfire at IWM London | Peter Trimming
  • Location: Lambeth Road
  • Tube station: Lambeth North (Bakerloo Line)

Imperial War Museum (IWM) London is housed in the former Bethlem Royal Hospital on Lambeth Road. The museum is about the two World Wars and other military events in British history. But not just about military might, weapons and war. It’s also about human sufferings, horrors, sacrifices and how the lives of people were shaped.

There are six floors of displays and all have a story to tell. Exhibits include military aircraft, tanks, artillery and light weapons. You can also see the V-1 flying bomb and V-2 rocket used by Nazi Germany during World War II. There are also uniforms, medals, badges, insignias, flags, photos and even sound recordings.

There are several themed galleries. First World War Galleries tell how the war was fought and the impact on people’s lives. Witnesses to War is a striking display of military assets used in war. The Holocaust Exhibition is about the horrors of Nazi tyranny. Curiosities of War is about unusual objects used in war.

Explore the Museum of London

Museum of London, England
Museum of London | Ethan Doyle White
  • Location: London Wall
  • Tube station: St Paul’s (Central Line)

The Museum of London is the place to go if you’re curious about the history of the city and its people. You’ll get an interesting insight from ancient times to the modern day. You’ll find the museum near the Barbican Centre and a few minutes walk from St Paul’s Cathedral. Nearby are the ruins of a Roman wall that once protected old London.

The museum is an impressive urban collection of archaeological finds, artefacts and artworks. There are also interesting models, photos, diagrams and interactive exhibits to engage you. The tour is a one-way route through several theme galleries, starting from prehistory to the present day.

The Roman London gallery is about the history of London during Roman rule 2,000 years ago. Medieval London takes you from 410 AD until the reign of Queen Elizabeth I in 1558. Expanding City explores how London developed from the 17th to the 19th century to become one of the largest cities in the world.

After touring London on foot, consider taking a boat cruise for a chance to see a different side of London. Besides, it’s a relaxing way to travel and enjoy some of the best views of the city without the traffic. There are 2 waterways in London for sightseeing on a boat, the River Thames and Regent’s Canal.

Book a Cruise on the River Thames

Thames River cruise boat in London, England.
Thames River cruise boat | Adrian Pingstone

A visit to London wouldn’t be complete without a cruise on the River Thames. There are several boarding points for the cruises, depending on the operator. Often used piers are Westminster Pier (near the Houses of Parliament), London Eye Pier (directly below the London Eye) and Tower Millennium Pier (near the Tower of London).

Basic cruises are available for £14-22. The London Eye River Cruise starts from London Eye Pier to Tower Bridge and returns 45 minutes later. City Cruises offers single cruise tickets and 24-hour hop-on hop-off river passes stopping at several piers. Uber Boat by Thames Clipper also offers 24-hour hop-on hop-off passes.

For more of your money, you can travel in style and enjoy the sights while you dine. These round-trip cruises (there are no stops during the journey) last 90 minutes to 3 hours. You have the choice of lunch, tea or dinner cruises including dinners with live music. When boarding the boats, you’ll be shown to your private table.

For the thrill seeker, take the high-speed boats that offer more than sightseeing. The boats dash up to 55 kph (35 mph) with sudden turns to give that rip-roaring rush. The experience last 40 to 80 minutes. Life jackets are provided but these speed trips are not suitable for young children, pregnant women and those with back problems.

Book a Cruise on the Regent’s Canal

London Waterbus on the Regent's Canal, England.
London Waterbus on the Regent’s Canal | Mark

Regent’s Canal is a beautiful 19th-century waterway once used by horse-drawn barges to carry goods. The towpath, where horses once treaded and pulled the barges, now attracts cyclists and walkers on a 14-km (9 miles) trek. Instead of barges, narrow canal boats now take tourists on a scenic cruise along the canal.

The leisurely cruise sails between Little Venice and Camden Lock (near Camden Market). Board at either point and a one-way trip lasts 45 minutes. London Waterbus offers one-way tickets but you can book separate tickets for a return trip. Jason’s Trip offers both single journey and return trip tickets but doesn’t operate in winter.

The canal boats pass through the backdoors of London that you normally wouldn’t see. The trip passes through Regents Park, London Zoo, Maida Hill Tunnel and charming scenes of greenery. You’ll also see historic buildings, grand mansions, landscaped gardens and the back scenes of age-old apartment blocks.

The Famous West End Theatres

Ambassadors Theatre in London, England.
Ambassadors Theatre | No Swan So Fine

London has a long history of theatre that goes back even before William Shakespeare in the 16th century. Today, theatres are a staple and there are no shortages of venues. As a matter of fact, with endless productions from musicals to plays, watching a performance is one of the most popular things to do in Central London.

London’s West End theatres are highly regarded for their quality productions, which are on par with New York City’s celebrated Broadway theatres. Altogether there are 39, most clustered in the West End theatre that includes Charing Cross, Covent Garden, Soho and Shaftesbury Avenue huddled around Leicester Square.

With plenty of venues to explore, you’ll be swamped with billboards, posters and neon lights in the theatre district. Shows include musicals, dance, comedies and plays. Among the most celebrated venues are the Apollo Victoria Theatre, London Palladium, Dominion Theatre and Lyceum Theatre with seating for more than 2,000.

A trip to the West End wouldn’t be complete without seeing some of the best shows in the world. You could buy a ticket at the theatre’s box office but better to book online for West End shows. You can take your time reviewing what’s on at the many venues, decide on the date, select your preferred seat and book for the best price.

For cheap last-minute tickets, you could try your luck at the theatre’s box office. A better option is the TKTS booth at Leicester Square. It’s the official booth for selling tickets on behalf of the West End theatres. You can book up to a week in advance or look for various shows offering last-minute tickets at big discounts.

Scenic Parks & Green Spaces

You’d expected a populated city like London would be short of green space. As a matter of fact, London is one of the greenest cities and there’s no shortage of gorgeous green spaces in the city’s central area. Parks make a welcome relief after a busy day and you’re never far from one. Here are the top picks.

Relax at Scenic Hyde Park

Hyde Park in London, England.
Hyde Park | WFan
  • Location: Westminster
  • Tube stations: Hyde Park Corner (Piccadilly Line), Marble Arch (Central Line)

Hyde Park is one of the larger parks though not the largest. It’s the most heard-about park among tourists and expectedly the most visited. It’s a lovely 142-ha (350 acres) green oasis in Central London, equivalent to Central Park in New York City but half the size. In the west, Hyde Park merges with Kensington Gardens.

There’s no excuse not to visit Hyde Park. After all, this is the city’s most famous park and one of those places to say you’ve visited London. The park’s central location makes it convenient for any visitor. And very accessible from Marble Arch, Lancaster Gate, Queensway and Knightsbridge Underground Stations.

The centre point of this beloved green lung is the large Serpentine Lake. From March to October, you can hire a boat and paddle across the lake. From June to early September, you can actually swim in the lake. Beyond the lake are areas of shady trees, grassy lawns, pretty flower gardens and playgrounds for kids.

Visit Speakers’ Corner on a Sunday afternoon. Here, orators speak about anything from politics and religion to even the hilarious. Summers are popular for picnics and lazing under the sun. You can also expect free open-air concerts. BST Hyde Park is a paid music festival. On two weekends a year, you can watch some of the biggest names in music.

Visit Charming Kensington Gardens

Kensington Gardens in London, England.
Kensington Gardens | Jack1956
  • Location: Westminster
  • Tube station: Lancaster Gate (Central Line)

Kensington Gardens was once a private garden of Kensington Palace owned by the monarchs. Today, this charming park is for the public to enjoy. Kensington Gardens cover 107 ha (265 acres) and is next to Hyde Park. The two are side by side, and many assume Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park are one and the same.

Unlike Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens resembles a formal garden rather than a public park. It’s a beautiful landscape of manicured lawns, mature trees, colourful flowerbeds and tree-planted formal avenues. Kensington Gardens shares the Serpentine Lake with Hyde Park but its portion is known as the Long Water.

The Italian Gardens is in the northwest corner. The garden is stunning and has a romantic feel with its fountains, ponds, sculptures and flowerbeds. There’s the Italian Garden Cafe for some tasty snacks and drinks. And a memorial dedicated to the late Princess Diana, which is also a playground that young kids will love.

Unwind at St James’s Park

St James Park in London, England.
St. James’s Park | GillyBerlin
  • Location: Westminster
  • Tube stations: St James’s Park (Circle and District Lines), Green Park (Jubilee, Piccadilly and Victoria Lines)

St James’s Park is a small park but nonetheless a beautiful 23-ha (57 acres) green landscape. It’s very close to Buckingham Palace and adjacent to Green Park, another small park. After watching the pomp Changing the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace, head to St James’s Park for your next destination.

St James’s Park offers a deserved break from a busy day of sightseeing. Within this small park is a picturesque scene of wooded areas, shrubbery, a large lake and beautiful flower gardens. So enjoy a scenic walk through this green oasis. And if you’re with young kids, there are two playgrounds for them to release their hidden energy.

The focal point is St James’s Park Lake, a pleasant lake with two little islands named West Island and Duck Island. The lake is home to various waterfowl including ducks, swans, geese and pelicans. Walk across the Blue Bridge over the lake and get a spectacular tree-framed view of Buckingham Palace in the distance.

Other Attractions in Central London

There are other major tourist attractions in Central London that are worth mentioning. Of course, enjoying any of these visits depend on your interest for the price of a ticket. For many visitors, the visits are interesting and certainly worth the time and ticket price. Here they are and let’s explore them.

See the Wax Models at Madame Tussauds

Madame Tussauds in London, England
Madame Tussauds | Cezary

Madame Tussauds wax museum has been fascinating visitors since 1835. At any time, there are over 400 life-like wax models of some of the world’s most famous people. There are chains of Madame Tussauds museums all over the world. But this one in London is the most famous. It’s the first wax museum and the largest of them all.

There are wax models of royalty as well as famous people in history and politics. There are also famous people in sports, film and television stars and even the infamous. You won’t find any ropes around the wax models to stop you from getting close. Great, if you want to get close for a selfie to show folks back home.

A tour of the museum for most is 1-2 hours. Past and present models at the wax museum include Queen Elizabeth II, President Obama, Nelson Mandela, Donald Trump, Brad Pitt, Elvis Presley and Muhammad Ali. Also, meet heroes and villains in scenes from Star Wars. Not to mention celebrated Super Heroes from the Marvel films.

Visit the Famous Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London, England.
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre | Jack1956

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is an amazing replica of the original 16th-century Globe Theatre once used by William Shakespeare. The replica is in Southwark, not far from the site of the original theatre. The replica is a faithful reconstruction that will take you back to the days of William Shakespeare staging his plays.

Just like the original, the replica is a large round open venue. The frame is oak and reeds make up the thatched roofs. The stage juts out into an open yard. The standing area surrounding the stage is open-air. No umbrellas are allowed if it rains while you stand watching a performance! And the seating area is backless hard wooden benches.

The theatre presents both Shakespearean and non-Shakespeare plays. Performances are only from April to October though. Bring something soft to sit on if watching from the seating area. If you don’t plan on a performance but are curious, take a guided tour including visits to the exhibition, tracing the history of William Shakespeare.

Explore Sea Life London Aquarium

Sea Life London Aquarium in London, England.
Sea Life London Aquarium | gailf548

Sea Life London Aquarium is another top London attraction for families. It’s the largest of its kind in London and one of the largest in Europe. There’s an impressive display of over 350 species from all over the world and a great introduction to life in the underwater world. The aquarium is a short distance from the London Eye.

The aquarium is very popular with young kids. In fact, the place is quite entertaining as well as educational. Sea creatures include sharks, rays, eels, octopuses, jellyfish and starfish. There are also creatures from the tropical rainforest like crocodiles, poison dart frogs, snapping turtles, giant catfish and even flesh-eating piranhas.

There are several themed zones. The highlight of any visit is the Ocean Tunnel. A walk through the underwater glass tunnel offers terrific views of exotic fishes from the tropics. Then walk over a glass floor at the Shark Walk and view these amazing creatures below your feet. And Ocean Invaders is an amazing display of jellyfish.

How to Save Money on Tickets

Hop-on hop-off tour bus in London, England.
Hop-on hop-off bus | shrinkin’violet

Luckily, many of the top things to do in London are free. Then again, there are places that’ll charge you a ticket and prices can be as much as £30-40. That’s a lot of money for several tickets, especially on a trip with the family. If planning to visit several ticketed attractions, a pass offers significant savings. Here are 2 popular passes.

The London Pass Offers Unlimited Visits

The London Pass offers more than 80 attractions and you can visit as many as you want within the validity period. You can select a pass valid for 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 or 10 consecutive days. The price of the pass depends on the number of days selected. The more attractions you visit, the more value you can potentially get from the pass.

To make the most of the London Pass, you may feel compelled to visit as many attractions as possible within the validity period. This can lead to a rushed itinerary and potentially limit your time to fully explore each place. So plan accordingly and consider the number of attractions you can realistically within the validity period.

Here’s an example of the saving for a 1-day adult-priced London Pass. The hop-on hop-off bus tours are a great way to see the city. These tours stop near many major attractions including the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and Westminster Abbey. In the evening, you can watch a film show at the Curzon Cinema Soho.

Ticket (£)
Hop-on hop-off bus tour36.90
Tower of London29.90
Tower Bridge11.40
Westminster Abbey27.00
Curzon Cinema Soho17.50
Total for separate tickets122.70
1-day London Pass79.00
You save43.70

Here’s another example with a 3-day adult-priced London Pass. On day 1, board the hop-on hop-off bus tours to visit the attractions. On day 2, take the Uber Boats sailing on the River Thames to visit the attraction in Greenwich. On day 3, take a trip to visit London Zoo and in the evening watch a film show at the Curzon Cinema Soho.

Ticket (£)
Day 1
Hop-on hop-off bus tour36.90
Tower of London29.90
Tower Bridge11.40
Westminster Abbey27.00
Day 2
Uber Boat by Thames Clipper28.00
Old Royal Naval College13.50
Royal Observatory16.00
Cutty Shark16.00
Day 3
London Zoo38.00
Curzon Cinema Soho17.50
Total for separate tickets234.20
3-day London Pass122.00
You save112.20

Check out the London Pass – You’ll save a lot of money with the pass compared to buying several tickets separately.

The London Explorer Pass Offers Flexibility

The London Explorer Pass lets you select 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7 attractions from a list of over 70. Unlike the London Pass, the price of the Explorer Pass depends on the number of attractions selected. With the pass, you have the flexibility to visit anytime you like within 60 days after the first visit.

Here’s an example of how much you’d save for 3 attractions with an adult-priced Explorer Pass compared to a normal ticket. You could do or visit them all in a day, within a couple of days or even spread out over a month. Take your time, there’s no rush since you can visit anytime within 60 days.

Ticket (£)
Hop-on hop-off bus tour36.90
Tower of London29.90
Westminster Abbey27.00
Total for separate tickets93.80
Explorer Pass (3 attractions)64.00
You save29.80

Here’s another example of how much you’d save for 7 attractions with an adult-priced Explorer Pass. You could do the same or even more with a 3-day London Pass for more or less the same price. But the Explorer Pass gives you the flexibility to visit anytime within 60 days and the savings are still significant.

Ticket (£)
Hop-on hop-off bus tour36.90
Tower of London29.90
Westminster Abbey27.00
London Bicycle Tour38.95
London Zoo38.00
London Transport Museum21.00
Curzon Cinema Soho17.50
Total for separate tickets209.25
Explorer Pass (7 attractions)122.00
You save87.25

Check out the Go City Explorer Pass – Besides the savings, you can visit anytime you want up to 60 days after the first visit.

Where to Stay in Central London

The Goring Hotel in London, England
The Goring Hotel | Matt Brown

There are plenty of great locations in London for visitors to stay. Then again, London is a big city and you’d want to stay in the central area where most of the places to visit and things to do for tourists are located. Here are some suggestions in the city’s central area from the budget-priced accommodations to luxury.

  • Covent Garden – mostly 4 and 5-star hotels and a few 3-star
  • Soho – mostly 4 and 5-star hotels and a few 3-star
  • Mayfair – mostly 4 and 5-star hotels and luxury apartments
  • Marylebone – mostly 3-5 stars and a few budget hotels
  • Fitzrovia – mostly 3 to 5-star and a few budget hotels
  • Kensington & Chelsea – mostly 4 and 5-star and a few high-priced 3 stars
  • Pimlico – a mix of budget, 3-star and cheaper 4-star hotels
  • Knightsbridge – mostly 4 and 5-star hotels and luxury apartments
  • Paddington – a mix of budget, 3-star and cheaper 4 and 5-star hotels
  • Bayswater – a mix of budget and cheaper 3 to 5-star hotels
  • City of London – Mostly 3 to 5-star hotels
  • Southwark – a mix of budget, 3-star and cheaper 4 and 5-star hotels
  • Lambeth – a mix of budget, 3-star and cheaper 4 and 5-star hotels

Still, wondering where to stay? Here are some suggested places in London’s central area. It includes a mix of budget (1 and 2 stars), mid-range (3 stars) and upmarket (4 and 5 stars) hotels to meet any travel budget and style.

Budget Accommodations (1 & 2 ⭐)

Smart Hyde Park Inn

Smart Hyde Park Inn – The hostel is a short walk from Kensington Gardens and Queensway Underground Station, serving the Central Line. Dormitories have beds with curtains for privacy and secured lockers. Private rooms are also available. Facilities include a shared kitchen, laundry area and free WiFi.

The Phoenix Hostel

The Phoenix Hostel – This backpacker hostel is nearby Regent’s Park and Marylebone Underground Station, serving the Bakerloo Line. Accommodations include dormitories with private lockers and cosy private rooms. Hostel facilities include a lounge area, luggage storage service and free WiFi.

Classic Hostel

Classic Hotel – The hotel is set in a traditional townhouse in Paddington. It’s a few minutes walk from Hyde Park and Lancaster Gate Underground Stations. All the rooms have a private bathroom, tea/coffee maker, hairdryer, TV and free WiFi. Continental breakfasts is served daily in the dining room.

Lancaster Court Hotel

Lancaster Court Hotel – The property is near Hyde Park and Lancaster Gate Underground Station. Single rooms only have showers and use shared toilets. But twin, double and triple rooms are fully en-suite. Rooms have a TV, electric kettle and free WiFi. The hotel has an onsite restaurant serving continental breakfast.

Mid-Range Hotels (3 ⭐)

Marble Arch Flat

Marble Arch Flat – This self-catering apartment is within walking distance from Edgware Road Underground Station, serving the Bakerloo Line. Units are modern with a living area, kitchen, dining area and private bathroom. Kitchens are equipped with a stove, oven, microwave and washing machine

Kensington & Chelsea Apartment

Kensington & Chelsea Apartment – The apartment is in an exclusive area and a few minutes walk from Kensington Gardens. The units include studios, 1 bedroom and 3 bedroom apartments. Apartments have a dining area and kitchenette with an electric kettle, toaster, microwave and refrigerator.

The Wellington Hotel

The Wellington Hotel – The property occupies a historic building. It’s near the London Eye, Royal National Theatre and Tate Modern. Rooms are modern with private showers and equipped with electric kettle, TV and laptop safe. Rates include breakfast. Note that there are no lifts in this historic building.

St Giles London

St Giles London – This hotel is in the heart of London’s West End. It’s a few minutes walk from many attractions including Oxford Street, Soho and the British Museum. The renovated rooms are cosy and modern with comfortable furnishing. There are 2 restaurants, a café and vending machines on selected floors.

The Villa Kensington

The Villa Kensington – The hotel is housed in a beautiful historic building located in a chic and quiet area. It’s a few minutes walk from the Natural History Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum and the Science Museum. Rooms are clean, comfortable and equipped with a range of amenities including free WiFi.

Premier Inn Leicester Square

Mermaid Suite Hotel

Mermaid Suite Hotel – A small charming hotel in the upmarket Mayfair area. The property is nearby Oxford Street, Bond Street and Soho. The rooms are comfortable and complete with private bathrooms, tea/coffee maker, TV and free WiFi. The hotel’s Pizzaiolo restaurant is on the ground floor.

Upscale Hotels (4 & 5 ⭐)

Hilton London Hyde Park

Hilton London Hyde Park – The hotel is housed in a historic Edwardian building. It’s near Kensington Gardens and Queensway Underground Station, serving the Central Line. Rooms are spacious, bright and contemporary with a classic touch. The restaurant serves buffet breakfast and French cuisine.

Hard Rock Hotel London

Hard Rock Hotel London – The property is across the street from Hyde Park and a few minutes walk from Marble Arch Underground Station, serving the Central Line. Rooms are stylish with modern furnishing and equipped with a full range of amenities. Dining options include the famous Hard Rock Café.

Chesterfield Mayfair

Chesterfield Mayfair – This elegant hotel is in the prestigious Mayfair area. It’s within walking distance from Hyde Park, Oxford Street and Buckingham Palace. Accommodations include deluxe rooms and luxury suites. All are designed with traditional English furnishing. The hotel offers a fine dining experience.

Thistle Trafalgar Square

London Hilton on Park Lane

London Hilton on Park Lane – This premier 5-star property is in a prestigious area near Hyde Park and Buckingham Palace. Accommodations include standard, executive and suites. The rooms are modern and spacious with a homely feel. The hotel also offers its chic restaurants, fitness centre and spa.

Conrad London St James

Conrad London St James – Located in Westminster and within walking distance from Buckingham Palace, Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. This premier hotel offers large stylish rooms with luxury bedding and sophisticated amenities. The hotel has a fine dining restaurant and fitness centre.