It’s no wonder that London, England is one of the world’s top tourist destinations, attracting over 20 million visitors from around the world each year. Britain’s capital is a vibrant arts and entertainment center (its theaters are still busy), and The Beatles, the country’s music scene is still very vibrant even after 50 years.
London also offers one of the greatest concentrations of cultural attractions on the planet. You could spend endless days exploring London’s top sights from royal palaces to the People’s Parliament, museums and cathedrals to driving a giant Ferris wheel for breathtaking views of the Thames. And, as an added bonus, most of the best places to visit are free.
To help you get the most out of your London travel itinerary, be sure to refer often to our list of top London tourist attractions.
1. Buckingham Palace and Changing of the Guard
One of the most iconic buildings of Britain is Buckingham Palace which is also the scene of London’s most popular display of pomp and circumstance. Drawing crowds at 11:30 a.m. regardless of the season, this colorful, free exhibit of parades and precision music also takes place at St. James’s Palace, after which you can follow the group along the Mall as they walk between the sites.
In 1837, Buckingham Palace was built and has been the London residence of the Royal Family since Queen Victoria’s accession. If you are wondering if the Queen is inside, look at the mast at the top of the building: if the royal standard flies day and night, she is at home. On special state occasions, she and members of the Royal Family can even emerge on the central balcony.
One of the best ways to tour the palace, watch the Changing of the Guard, and sample a traditional afternoon tea is on a 4.5-hour Buckingham Palace tour that includes the ceremony changing of the guard and afternoon tea. This tour is a very effective way to see the highlights in a short period of time, and for first-time visitors having a knowledgeable guide to explain the history makes the whole experience much more enjoyable.
2. The Tower of London and Tower Bridge
From prison to palace, from treasure chest to private zoo, the magnificent Tower of London has fulfilled many roles over the centuries. Inside the massive white tower, built in 1078 by William the Conqueror, is the 17th-century lineage of kings with their remarkable royal armaments and armor.
Other highlights include the famous Beefeaters, Exhibition of Crown Jewel, the Royal Mint, and gruesome displays of the executions that took place on the grounds. The adjacent Tower Bridge, its two towering towers soaring 200 feet above the Thames, is one of London’s best-known landmarks (fascinating behind-the-scenes tours are available).
To make the best use of your time, especially during peak summer season, pre-purchase the Tower of London entrance ticket, including the Crown Jewels and Beefeater Tour, to bypass the queues at the ticket office. This ticket guarantees the lowest price, avoids crowds, and saves time and hassle.
3. The British Museum
Presenting one of the finest collections of antiques in the world, the British Museum contains over 13 million artifacts from the ancient world. It’s hard to know where to start with priceless artefacts from Assyria, Babylonia, China, Europe, and elsewhere. But most tourists head to the museum’s most famous exhibits first: the colossal bust of Ramses II, the controversial Elgin Marbles of the Parthenon, the Rosetta Stone, the Egyptian mummies and the spectacular silver treasure. 4th century Roman known as the Mildenhall Treasure. .
In addition to a well-stocked on-site bookstore with a comprehensive range of titles on ancient history, archeology, and art history, there is a shop selling children’s games and memorabilia, as well as ‘one that sells replicas of sculptures and jewelry. For those who can linger longer, the museum offers a variety of lectures and workshops, as well as a café and restaurant.
Address: Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury, London
4. Big Ben and Parliament
Nothing screams “London” more clearly than the 318-foot tower housing the giant clock and its ringing bell known as Big Ben. It’s as iconic a landmark as Tower Bridge, and the Big Ben tollgate is known around the world as the BBC’s time signal. Below, stretching along the River Thames, are the Houses of Parliament, seat of British government for many centuries and once the site of the Royal Palace of Westminster occupied by William the Conqueror.
A unique chance is offered by the Parliament Buildings tours to see real-time debates and lively political discussions. From Parliament Square, Whitehall is lined with so many government buildings that it has synonymous name with the British government.
5. National Gallery
Ranked among the best art museums in the world, the National Gallery in London represents an almost comprehensive overview of European painting from 1260 to 1920. The museum’s greatest strengths lie in its collections of Dutch masters and Italian schools of the 15th and 16th centuries. Among its highlights are a cartoon (preliminary sketch) of the Madonna and Child by Leonardo da Vinci, Sunflowers by van Gogh, The Entombment by Michelangelo, the Monet’s water lily pond and Venus and Mars by Botticelli.
Address: Trafalgar Square, Charing Cross, London