Things to do in London

Founded by the Romans who called it Londinium, London has been a major settlement for two millennia.  It emerged as a great medieval trading city, and eventually went on to become a  global centre for culture, arts, industry and government. Once the world’s largest city, London still remains a global capital of food, fashion, finance, and culture. With a population of nearly eight million, there is something for everyone. Samuel Johnson once said, ‘when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford‘. There are many attractions, monuments, events and things to do in London, whether you are visiting London for the first time or just looking for new things and places to visit, we have an itinerary for you. This list is by no means exhaustive, so if you feel that there are places, events etc we should feature, drop us a comment or note!

Day One

London Eye – In a city famous for its landmarks, this attraction stands out against the English skyline. Start your day off by taking a ride in this hugely popular tourist attraction. Situated next to County Hall and across from the Ministry of Defence, the London Eye is the tallest observation wheel in the world. Offering unrivaled views of London, the Eye was conceived and designed by Mark Barfield Architects. With 32 capsules, each weighing 10 tonnes, and holding up to 25 people, a trip up is an unforgettable experience. Quick tip: Buy your tickets in advance otherwise be prepared to spend at least two hours waiting in line and going up the observation wheel.

Westminster Abbey – Next, visit the breathtaking historical Westminster Abbey. Also known as the Collegiate Church of St. Peters at Westminster, this Gothic church is located just to the west of the Palace of Westminster. Declared a UNESCO world heritage site,Westminster Abbey is a unique artistic construction representing a striking sequence of the successive phases of English Gothic art. Kings, queens, statesmen and soldiers; poets, priests, heroes and villains – the Abbey is a must-see living pageant of British history. More importantly, Westminster Abbey, where all the kings of England have been crowned since 1066, is inseparable from the parliamentary history of the kingdom. The crowning which takes place on the throne, known as King Edward’s Chair or St. Edward’s Chair is housed within the Abbey and has been used at every coronation since 1308.

Big Ben – After taking in the history and significance of Westminster Abbey, walk over to two of London’s most iconic landmarks, the clock tower commonly known as Big Ben and Houses of Parliament. Technically, Big Ben is the massive bell that resides in the clock tower, which weighs more than 13 tons. When the Palace of Westminster was destroyed by fire in 1834, it was decided that the new structures should have a tower and a clock. The bell was refashioned in Whitechapel in 1858 and the clock first rang across Westminster on 31 May 1859. Big Ben’s timekeeping is strictly regulated by a stack of coins placed on the huge pendulum. Big Ben has rarely stopped. Even after a bomb destroyed the Commons chamber during the Second World War, the clock tower survived and Big Ben continued to strike the hours. Today, the clock tower has become one of the most prominent symbols of both London and England. Unfortunately, a tour of the clock tower is not possible for overseas visitors, and UK citizens have to petition their local representatives for a tour.

Houses of Parliament – The Palace of Westminster, commonly referred to as the Houses of Parliament, is the meeting place of the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom – the House of Lords and the House of Commons. Situated on the north bank of the River Thames, this UNESCO world heritage site is recognized worldwide and is one of the most visited attractions in London. Free guided tours of the Palace are held throughout the parliamentary session for UK residents, who can apply through their MP or a member of the House of Lords. The tours last about 75 minutes and include the state rooms, the chambers of the two Houses and Westminster Hall. Paid tours are available to both UK and overseas visitors during the summer recess.

Covent Garden – In the afternoon, head over to Covent Garden for some strolling, shopping and dining. At the very heart of London, this inspirational world class cultural and retail district has everything from specialty shops, to a huge choice of bars, restaurants & cafés, the Apple craft market and entertainment from street performers, there’s an enormous amount on offer; and with everything housed in and around the iconic Market Building and Piazzas. The central piazza has a thriving café culture and is buzzing with outlandish street entertainers and fun events all day, every day. Two of London’s popular attractions, The Royal Opera House and the London Transport Museum can also be found in Covent Garden.

London’s West End – Perhaps the most famous thing about London’s West End is its theatre scene. Alongside Broadway, West End theatre represents the highest quality commercial theatre in the world. What better way to end the day than with a West End’s musical, classic play or comedy. There are around 40 theatres in London’s “Theatre-land.” Theatre performances in the West End tend to be musicals, classic plays and comedies. At the moment, you can choose from a wide range of West End shows: from musicals like Wicked, Billy Elliot, Mama Mia, and Les Miserables, to plays like War Horse, The Woman in Black, The Children’s Hour and The Mousetrap.

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6 thoughts on “Things to do in London

  1. dapperdolly says:

    The thing about Samuel Johnson’s quote though, is that that is really applies to visitors and the wealthy/upper class. Of those who reside in London but can’t afford to ‘live’ in London as opposed to ‘surviving’ and those who live ‘comfortably’ but not necessarily ‘well’, many move out in droves (those who can afford to move – catch 22) and many desire to. London has everything, literally and it costs everything, literally. Conversely, out of the many free things to do in London, museums, libraries, galleries etc – most residents barely ever get to, if at all.

    In regards to the plays – which ones did you see? I enjoyed Wicked the most out of that list, but as a long term Christie fan I was most excited to see The Mousetrap though was disappointed with the theatre maintenance and that, even though in her books (excluding some of the later ones) she loved to twist and twist and twist for sake of twisting and making the culprit and motive elusive to the information presented, the play was very mediocre and the culprit obvious from the start. It was still an experience though, seeing as it’s the oldest currently playing production. Out of all in the list I was most impressed with The Woman in Black – not that incessant scream – but the acting; carrying the show like needs a lot of skill. The choreography in Les Miserables though is noteworthy, no dance obviously, but the movement especially in the fighting scene for example when the characters are injured, fall and die, ironically enough to the setting and manner in which they die, the did so, so elegantly. Plus, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house when I saw that.

  2. Frasers Hospitality says:

    Hi dapperdolly, thank you for your insightful comments! Are you currently living in London? It is interesting that you should say that, it has often been claimed that Samuel Johnson grew up in poverty as his father, a bookseller was deeply in debt therefore it stands to reason that perhaps given the context of his quote, ‘living’ in London back then was much more affordable. Of course that was during the 1700s, taking into account modernization and capitalism (which are essentially the same thing), the price of ‘living’ in this city has sky rocketed. I reckon in this case, it would have to depend on what one’s definition of ‘living’ is. I believe that with regards to the issue of many people moving out of London, it is actually something that almost every major city in the world faces. New York, Tokyo, Beijing, etc. Often the epicenter of finance, arts, culture and tourism, these cities have many things in common; overcrowding, exorbitant prices of living, supply>demand and a huge disparity of income standards. Attracted by the bright lights and promises of opportunities, many flock in droves to the cities displacing the residents. In my personal opinion, I feel that there is a ‘there’s always time’ mentality that besieges many of the people that are fortunate enough to live in cities like London, myself included. The reason that I don’t go to the free museums, libraries, galleries etc is that I think that there’s always time to get around to it. However that always almost never happens, we get caught up with work, school, hanging out with friends etc. These places are always there but sadly we never seem to be able to make time to visit them.

    Like you, I enjoyed Wicked the most. This West End classic is a delight to watch, no matter if you are watching it for the first time or for the umpteenth time. The performances of the cast never fails to delight, and it is obvious to see why this musical is always highly recommended. I wasn’t terribly impressed with The Mousetrap, I feel that over the years the standard of the performance has dropped significantly and is no longer the ‘must-see’ play in the West End. Other than the fact that it is the oldest current playing production, it is really hard to justify paying those prices to watch such a mediocre play. Do you have any suggestions or recommendations on things to do in London?

    • dapperdolly says:

      Yes, I live in London and agree with your explanation of the change in context of his famous quote. I also agree that it’s an issue many major cities are now facing and the point about residents not getting round to the free venues due to the belief that will be time later; I think that additionally residents may see those places as ‘touristy’ and not hence not see the value.

      As for recommendations… I’ve been to pretty much all of the tourist and well known attractions but the ones I enjoyed the most are probably the ones that aren’t as popular but still acclaimed like The Movium (London Film Museum), The Sherlock Holmes Museum, Sarastros restaurant, Lush flagship store in Covent Garden, Neal’s Yard, The British Library and SOAS, panto at the Hackney Empire, The Lotus Floating Restaurant at South Quays ( I actually prefer looking out over the South Quays/Crossharbour much more than Canary Wharf), markets like East Street Market or Walthamstow market, Camden of course and shopping areas like Dalston/Stoke Newington over the West End. I think my favourite will always be the libraries though, so many libraries and in some interesting locations, from old fashioned to modern and chic – it’s a shame so many are getting closed down. I also like the variety of parks. Another interesting place are the underground caves via Chiselhurst although so much of them is closed off that it’s a bit dull.

      Out of the well known places I’d recommend The British Museum (or the Museum of World History as I call it), Kew Gardens, Camden again, Covent Garden in general, walking along the Embankment (both sides), even down Chancery Lane or The Strand is very interesting up to St Pauls and along Bank down to Moorgate has some interesting places in between. Trafalgar Square and The National Gallery which has an interesting crypt nearby and easy access to a number of bridges to the Embankment. Chessington is ok for half a day since it’s not that big and Ripley’s Believe It or Not is also interesting to take youngsters. Greenwich is lovely – not sure when The Cutty Sark’s restoration is aimed for but the overall area is still very attractive.

      I wouldn’t recommend The Coliseum theatre, it’s pretty to look at but the English National Opera always disappoint me, not vocally, but the sets/staging, costume and acting can be pretty dire. I’ve always wanted to go the The Royal Opera House but it’s too expensive. Leicester Sq is overrated (incl. Trocadero) , as is China Town though there are a few interesting shops and their bun bakeries are really nice, but it’s lacking something magical. Elephant and Castle is advertised as a place to see but will not live up to expectations of tourists thinking it might be glamourous and then realise that it’s rundown, the same goes for Brixton though personally I like both areas shopping wise. The Science Museum is a let down with a lot of emptiness after the initial foyer, I’m also continually unimpressed with The Tate Modern, I have literally seen empty canvases and photographs there and their paid exhibitions are usually cramped and unexciting but with a few gems. Madame Tussauds is now a major hassle and usually packed to the square inch, expect to be knocked down by wild school children, put up with foul mouths of older college teens, the pushy parents and will get snapshots with half of the waxworks if you’re lucky. When visiting that place; the earlier the better is the motto to live by and even then… they’ve also degraded the former Planetarium.

      Those are all what initially come to mind but there are plenty of places to visit and not to vist.

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