London Things to Do
Ultimate Guide for London
One of the great cities of the world, London is one of the top 10 places to visit in the world. It should be on every travelers list of places to visit at least once. There are so many important historical things to do in London that it takes many visits to see and experience everything. We have been 5 times and still are discovering new things to do. Our Ultimate Guide to London covers the top 3 free or cheap things to do in 11 different categories giving you the best 33 things to do in London while visiting.
Of course there are many more places to see and experience in each category and that is where you get the 101 Things That You Must See in London! webpages. I find these type of pages overwhelming. I prefer to have a handful of curated places to choose from. All of the things to do on this page are in Central London and you can walk or take public transit to all of them.
Categories for London Things to Do
Top 3 Museums - London Things to Do
London is one of the top museum cities in the world. You will have to choose carefully which ones you are going to visit on your week stay as there are 170 of them. I prefer to limit myself to one museum every other day and spend 3-4 hours. For any museum it is best to get there when the museum opens for the day and avoid the afternoon crowds.
1. British Museum – free admission. The first public museum in the world opened in 1759. It has over 8 million artefacts with 50,000 on display at any time. It contains important historical artefacts such as the Rosetta Stone and the Parthenon sculptures. It has the best Egyptian display in the world. One visit we had an awesome lunch in the restaurant that is at the top of the column in the Queen Elizabeth II Great Court, the covered central quadrangle. Lunch was fabulous and a memorable experience.
2. The National Gallery – free admission. Opened in 1824, the gallery contains over 2,000 works of art by da Vinci, van Gough, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Picasso, Turner, Matisse, and Cézanne among many others. I have been here several times and never tire of it. I like to take a stance like the fellow in the picture and just gaze and stare at the portrait for a long time looking at the various details of the painting. Later I will research and read about certain portraits that piqued my interest. The nice thing with wifi is the ability to sit and bring up information about the painting. That’s what the benches are for.
Victoria and Albert Museum
3. The V&A (Victoria and Albert) Museum – free admission. The cornerstone was laid in 1899 by Queen Victoria. This preeminent museum is the largest applied, decorative arts and design museum in the world. It has 145 galleries and owns the largest post-classical statue collection in the world. The interior of the museum is spectacular and the collection is vast and varied. It is another museum that you can not see in one visit.
Top 3 Historical Buildings - London Things to Do
The top 3 historical buildings in London Things to Do are:
1. Westminster Abbey – free to worship during set times. About $25 during tourist viewing times. The Abbey is the Royal church in the centre of London with history going back a thousand years. It is a treasure trove of stained glass, paintings and priceless English artefacts. Westminster Abbey has been the location of 17 Royal weddings and many historic funerals and coronations including Queen Elizabeth II.
St. Paul's Cathedral
2. St. Paul’s Cathedral – free to worship during set times or about $20 during tourist viewing times. We went during the evensong, the free nightly worship service with full choir. It is held each evening from 5:00 – 5:45 pm. This famous cathedral was designed and built by Christopher Wren who also built 52 other London churches. He was a busy fellow.
3. Tower of London – the home of the crown jewels of England. It is also a famous jail where many historical figures have been imprisoned and executed. Every day, since the 1400s, at 9:53 pm the Ceremony of the Keys takes place as the ceremonial locking of the tower. Only a few are allowed to watch each night and you must apply up to a year in advance. Tickets are free.
Top 3 Palaces - London Things to Do
These 3 palaces are part of the 5 Historic Royal Palaces collection. Membership for the Historic Royal Palaces is about $100 a couple. This gives you free admission to the 5 palaces in the collection. It is cheaper than buying individual tickets. There are more palaces to be found in London but many are not open to the public. King Henry VIII had 55 palaces. He had a lot of money after taking over church property.
1. Buckingham Palace – the official residence of Queen Elizabeth II of England when she is in London. Part of the palace is open to the public from July to October, the admission is about $35. The daily changing of the guard in the forecourt is free to watch. Afterwards, walk down the Mall, the road that connects the royal palace to Trafalgar Square.
Hampton Court Palace
2. Hampton Court Palace – the 500 year old palace of King Henry VIII where he lived with all 6 of his wives. It was opened to the public by Queen Victoria in 1838. The grounds are stunning with 9 themed gardens. You will need a day to see it all. The next time we are in London, we hope to arrange a stay in the gardener’s quarters through The Landmark Trust. Click here to read more.
3. Kensington Palace – the official residence of His Royal Highness the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. The palace is open to the public and there are daily tours throughout the day. Kensington Gardens are one of the top gardens in England. We had a lovely High Tea in the Orangery one afternoon.
Top 3 Theatres - London Things to Do
Shakespeare's Globe Theatre
1. Shakespeares Globe Theatre – first built in 1599 the replica located on the Thames River was opened in 1997. Watch and participate in Shakespeare plays. You can stand in the pit or pay more money and get a seat on the bench. We have been to several plays. The last one was Midsummer’s Night Dream – one of my favourites.
Royal Opera House
2. Royal Opera House – is home to the Britain’s oldest National Opera and Ballet companies. It is located in Covent Garden. There is something going on at all times. One of our favourite opera houses.
Theatre Royal Drury Lane
3. Theatre Royal Drury Lane – is a grade I historic building that was built in 1663 and is the oldest theatre in London. Located in the west end of Covent Garden it is one of the 34 theatres in this area of London. A favourite theatre of Queen Victoria, she went once a week. We went to the show, 42nd Street, the last time we were in London. Our tickets were about $40 as there was a 2-for-1 deal.
Top 3 Pubs - London Things to Do
With 430 pubs in the centre of London, it is impossible to pick the top 3 pubs in London on any category but age. These are the 3 oldest pubs and I have been to them all.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
1. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese – located at 145 Fleet Street for the past 500 years. It was the favourite haunt of Charles Dickens, Alfred, Tennyson and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I tipped a few pints here on a couple of visits.
The Seven Stars
The Black Friar
3. The Black Friar – is a narrow Grade II historic building at 124 Queen Victoria Street. It has been around since the great fire. The pub is one of Nicholson’s, a chain of pubs throughout England, so the prices are great and the food is traditional English pub fare. As a budget traveler, I always look for a Nicholson’s pub wherever I am in England.
Top 3 Markets - London Things to Do
1. Borough Market – a market has been going on at this site for over a thousand years. The latest buildings were built in 1850. It is the largest food market in London and has all kinds of speciality shops. I love the cheese shops where you can sample the dozen of cheeses displayed. If you have cooking facilities, this is the market to go to for your fresh and speciality items.
3. Camden Market – with over a 1000 creative sellers it is the largest market in London. It started in 1974 and has grown from a dozen tables. The stalls are very unique and Camden has its very own look and feel. Lots of street food vendors.
Top 3 Restaurants - London Things to Do
The small independant chain of Hawksmoor is a great English food restaurant with several in London. We went for the Sunday Roast dinner at the Borough restaurant and were impressed with the entire experience. Do not order appetizers as the portions are so large that we could hardly eat it all. We were served a large piece of rump roast and gravy with a huge amount of roasted vegetables and a gigantic Yorkshire pudding. For dessert, I had the best Sticky Toffee pudding that I have ever had.
The Great Court Restaurant
Overlooking the courtyard of the British Museum, the Great Court Restaurant is a wonderful dining experience. It is open every day for lunch and throughout the day but on Friday nights it is open for dining. It is a fabulous space for dinner with the lights making a dramatic ambiance. The menu is traditional English.
Oxo Tower Restaurant, Bar and Brasserie
The OXO Tower Restaurant, Bar and Brasserie is located on the 8th floor of the iconic OXO Tower overlooking the Thames and Saint Paul’s Cathedral. When they built the tower in 1929 in Art Deco style, OXO was not allowed to put up the large neon sign with the OXO name on as skyline advertising was not allowed. So the architects designed 3 vertical windows on each side of the tower that just happen to look like an O-X-O. The view from the balcony tables is wonderful. The restaurant is run by Harvey Nicols and they change their menu seasonally.
Top 3 Squares - London Things to Do
1. Trafalgar Square – built to commemorate Admiral Horatio Nelson’s naval victory over Napolean in 1805. Nelson’s column is guarded by 4 bronze lions. A point in the square is the official centre of London. We were at the square when they announced the London Olympics back in 2005.
2. Piccadilly Circus – found at the centre of London, Picadilly Circus is one of the most popular spots for meeting up with friends. There are many bars and restaurants in the this area and it is a major public transit junction. The famous intersection is surrounded by large digital signage like Time Square in New York City.
Top 3 Parks - London Things to Do
Hyde Park is the largest park located in Central London. It was created in 1536 by King Henry VIII who took the land from Westminster Abbey to use as his hunting preserve. The park was used for the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the site of the Crystal Palace.
Speakers’ Corner was established here in 1871 for Free Speech. People stand on their soap box and make their speeches about things that they are passionate about. Anyone that I have listened to there is most certainly on the fringe. We were at Hyde Park for the Live 8 Concert and listened to Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones, Queen and Paul McCartney.
St. James Park
St. James Park is bounded by Buckingham Palace and the Mall. It is 57 acres and has a small lake with 2 islands. It was initially created by King Henry VIII in 1532 when he purchased the land from Eton College.
Regent Park was created by the Prince Regent who later became King George IV. The royal park is 410 acres in size and contains the London Zoo and an open air theatre. It is mostly open parkland with an outer and inner road. The park is widely used by walkers. Queen Mary’s Garden within the park has over 12,000 roses.
Top 3 Department Stores - London Things to Do
Harrod’s began as a grocery store in 1849. By 1880, Charles Henry Harrod had expanded the store to become a department store. The 1,000,000 sq. ft. store today was built between 1901 and 1905. Sitting on over 5 acres, it is the largest department store in the world with 330 departments. It is simply amazing and is one of the biggest tourist draws to the UK. It receives over 100,000 customers a day. There is an unbelievable food court with a number of restaurants that cater to a variety of tastes and budgets. The store is currently owned by the government of Qatar through its sovereign wealth fund.
Selfridge’s was opened to the world in 1909 by American Harry Gordon and is the 2nd largest shop in London. It was built to hold 100 departments. Selfridge’s has been named the best department store in the world on 2 occasions; 2010 and 2012. The rooftop restaurant is a wonderful experience with a view of Bond Street. It is now owned by Galen Weston and family from Canada. It is a very popular and busy place.
Harvey Nichols begun in 1831 when Benjamin Harvey opened a linen shop. In 1841 James Nichols began working at the store. He married Harvey’s niece and when Benjamin Harvey died, his wife Anne went into partnership with Nichols. The building today was built from 1889 to 1894. Harvey Nichols is a premier luxury fashion retail store in Knightsbridge and is now owned by a Hong Kong luxury goods company.
Top 3 Shopping Areas - London Things to Do
Oxford Street stretches for a 1.5 miles from Hyde Park to Tottenham Court Road. The home of Mark & Spencer, Selfridges, John Lewis, Primark and many others. They say if you can’t find what you are looking for on Oxford Street, it isn’t made.
Located in the heart of elegant Mayfair, Bond Street is full of stores carrying luxury brands, designer fashions, jewellery, and art. These include Cartier, Chanel, DeBeers, Dior, Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, and dozens more.
Located behind Oxford Street, Carnaby Street was built in 1682. It was the epicentre of the 60s swinger fashions, the 80s Punk fashions and today a variety of shops and restaurants in the 14 streets that make up this shopping area.
Top 3 Places to Stay in London
The Lanesborough Hotel - Luxury
The Lanesborough Hotel is the highest rated luxury 5 star hotel in London. Located at Hyde Park it is just a few minutes walk to luxury shopping at Knightsbridge. Each room has a 24 hour dedicated butler service and they will pick you up at the airport in the Rolls Royce. The Lanesborough is home to the Michelin-starred Céleste restaurant. Rooms begin at $800 up to $24,000 a night.
Strand Palace Hotel - Moderate
The Strand Palace Hotel was built in 1909. The hotel’s original Art Deco lobby is so unique that it is now housed in the V & A Museum. Located on the Strand, the street that connects Westminster to the City of London, it is the power street of London. Rooms starting about $150 off season.
Blakemore Hyde Park - Budget
The Blakemore Hyde Park Hotel is located in elegant Bayswater and a 5 minute walk to Hyde Park, this stylish hotel has free wifi and 4 Star bedrooms. It has a conservatory restaurant, fitness centre, and is close to subway stations and shopping. Rooms start about $125 per night off season.
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