If you haven’t been to London, might we suggest you move it to the top of your queue? It’s a city that seamlessly blends old and new—responsible for bringing us both Shakespeare and the Spice Girls; Newton’s laws of motion and, incidentally, roller skates; fish and chips and serving as the residence of the namesake of the best item on any lunch menu (thank you, John Montagu—better known as the 4th earl of Sandwich).
While it’s true you could spend a lifetime here and still not cover all the museums, landmarks, and attractions that make it a world-class destination, you needn’t get your knickers in a twist. We’ve identified the top 10 places you should visit (perhaps on one of our most popular tours?) to get the true London experience.
Built between the 1820s and 40s on the site of what was once the King’s Mews, or the equestrian stables, Trafalgar Square has served as a central meeting space and a site for political protests since it was constructed. Visit the largest of London’s squares and take your photo with one of the four lion statues resting majestically at the foot of Nelson’s Column.
You can’t tour a new city without visiting a top-tier museum! Here at the British Museum, you’ll find one of the largest collections of human history and culture. More than eight million works are on display, from the Rosetta Stone to the Parthenon Sculptures.
Et tu, Brute? Take in a show at the theater where Shakespeare’s plays were performed. This modern reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe resides just 750 feet from the original structure that burned to the ground in 1613. Like its predecessor, a crest above the main entrance bares the inscription, “Totus mundus agit histrionem,” Latin for “The whole world is a playhouse.”
Visit the oldest (and largest) occupied castle in the world. Listed as Her Majesty the Queen’s official residence, this humble abode spans 13 acres and nearly 150 people call it home. With a history spanning 1,000 years, you’ll find relics like Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House and the tombs of 10 monarchs. Makes you wonder what’s looming in your basement.
See the government in action at the Palace of Westminster—more commonly known as the Houses of Parliament. Referring to the House of Commons and the House of Lords, together they comprise more than 1,000 rooms and about three miles of corridors. One of its buildings, Westminster Hall, dates back to 1097. If those walls could talk…
The Collegiate Church of St. Peter, Westminster, better known as Westminster Abbey, is where the anointing and crowning of British monarchs take place. Since invitations to coronations are few and far between, this is your chance to tour the gothic structure. You can also pay your respects to the 3,300 people buried here, including Charles Darwin and Sir Isaac Newton.
Deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Tower of London is one of the city’s only medieval buildings still standing today. (William the Conqueror had it built in the 11th century.) Serving as a prison since 1100, it was an imposing compound of buildings set inside a defensive wall and moat. If you happen to visit on any of our most popular tours through London, you may want to prepare to commune with the dead, since legend has it that the ghosts of executed prisoners like Henry VI, Lady Jane Grey, and Anne Boleyn haunt the Tower today.
One of the most iconic symbols of London, Tower Bridge was built between 1886 and 1894, and is not to be confused with London Bridge from the popular nursery rhyme. Extending over the River Thames, views of the Tower of London are in clear site, which is where the bridge gets its name. At the time of its construction, Tower Bridge was the biggest bascule bridge ever built.
From the changing of the guards to William and Kate’s balcony kiss, Buckingham Palace is perhaps the most iconic royal residence in the Western world. This grand structure boasts 775 rooms, including 19 State rooms, 52 Royal and guest bedrooms, 188 staff bedrooms, 92 offices, and 78 bathrooms.
There’s one landmark in London that truly “takes the biscuit.” Officially renamed Elizabeth Tower in 2012 to honor Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, Big Ben is actually the nickname for the great bell of the clock—and it’s THE symbol of London. Big Ben’s face can be seen from almost every corner of the city and its chimes keep Londoners on time for tea. The world’s most famous clock is as tall as—get this—21 London buses sitting on top of each other. In 2017, Big Ben began its largest conservation initiative in history.
Editor’s note (2022): This piece has been updated for clarity, accuracy, and relevance.