This guide explores 30 of the best things to do in London by a local. It offers a blend of touristy and non-touristy London things to do. I created it this way as I believe that if this is your first visit to the city, you’ll want to see a mixture of both.
In this post I break down the best things to do in London by a local.
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Living in London I pass by the city’s most iconic landmarks daily, sometimes forgetting and not appreciating that it’s the most visited city in Europe! That is mind-blowing.
It will take a family member or a friend visiting London and me, acting as their personal unpaid tour guide, showing them around the city and some of the best things to do to remind myself of how awesome London is.
If you’re looking for more on London or planning a trip to the Big Smoke then read my London travel tips.
I always start with the typical London tourist attractions that everyone one wants to see — like Big Ben (everyone wants to see Big Ben when they first visit in London), the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye.
Before they will let me take them to the lesser-known hangouts of local Londoners.
Like grabbing a hot chocolate from Dark Sugars in East London, exploring Greenwich Park in South London or Mercato Metropolitano Food Market in Elephant and Castle.
It’s playing tour guide that makes me stop and realise how stunning, vibrant and metropolitan London really is and that I’m completely spoilt for choices when it comes to cool things to do in London.
So, I thought I would play tour guide for you and fill you in on 30 of the best things to do in the city.
After reading this post, you’ll know exactly what to do in London to make the most of your time.
There is always something to do and see in London. So, grab your London City Pass or Oyster card and let’s go.
The 30 best things to do in London, England
I’ve broken this guide down into several categories. It explores the best things to do in Central London and the top free activities and attractions around the city.
I also dive into London’s amazing markets, as well as where you can find the best views in the city, and more.
Things to do in Central London
Central London is the vibrant heart of the city. It’s where the majority of the city’s action and tourist attractions can be found.
And it offers countless things to do for all kinds of travellers. Here are my top picks.
Visit Buckingham Palace – One of the best attractions in London
No one can visit London without seeing Buckingham Palace in Central London. Buckingham Palace is a grand place, and one of the main places to visit in London.
Walking up to Buckingham Palace via the Mall shows the enormity of the imposing palace and will take your breath away.
It has been home to the British Royal Family since 1837 and has 775 rooms. As well as the largest private garden in London.
Parts of the palace are open to visitors or those who take one of the walking tours of the City of London.
You’ll hear many funny stories of people trying to enter the palace undetected — a homeless man apparently got to meet the Queen face to face when he wandered through an opening at one side of the palace. Could you imagine the Queen’s face when she saw a peasant in her palace!
Many people will visit Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guard. This occurs from 10:45 am and lasts around 45 minutes, with the actual handover taking place at 11:00 am.
There are around 5 good spots to see the changing of the guard — most people will head to the palace.
However, places like Friary Court courtyard at St. James’s Palace and The Wellington Barracks on the edge of St. James’ Park on Birdcage Walk are also good places to watch from and will be less crowded.
If you are visiting London for the first time, then stopping by Buckingham Palace should be top of your list – it’s a top attraction and among the best things to see in London.
READ MORE | BEST HISTORICAL WALKING TOURS IN LONDON
See Big Ben and Houses of Parliament
The City of Westminster is home to Westminster Abbey, a Gothic abbey church and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The City of Westminster is known as the political centre of London and is home to 10 Downing Street, the Houses of Parliament, and the world-famous Big Ben.
Big Ben refers typically to both the clock and the clock tower that houses the bell.
The start of the 4-year silencing of the chimes began on 21 August 2017, during which maintenance and repair work to the clock mechanism and improvements to the clock tower building began.
Westminster Abbey is open to the public most days, and there are even tours of the Abbey where you’ll see the memorial to Nelson Mandela and the burial ground of Winston Churchill.
Big Ben and the houses of Parliament are top London attractions and a must-see for first-time visitors of the city.
Visiting Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament are amongst the top 10 things to do in London.
Walk Across Tower Bridge
Walk across the glass floor of one of London’s most famous bridges with the Thames 42 metres below you.
This isn’t ideal for those that have a fear of heights, but it’s a real must-do in London. Tower Bridge still works even after 123 years!
The bridge underwent a transformation in 1974 from steam-powered to having an electro-hydraulic system installed.
To see the bridge in all its glory, take the Tower Bridge Experience, where you can see the old steam engines inside the bases of towers and walk along the walkways to get a spectacular view of London from above.
I’ve also seen photos of the London Marathon from Tower Bridge via the glass walkway, and it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before.
So, if you are into photography and want unique shots of London taking the Tower Bridge Experience will be a real treat.
Tower Bridge is one of the many top London attractions you can get free entry to using your London Pass.
READ MORE | BEST WALKING TOURS IN LONDON
Tower of London
London has had a scandalous history, from the gruesome beheadings to its flamboyant Kings.
All this is carefully documented for all to see in the eleventh-century fortress, that is Tower of London.
The Tower of London remains one of the capital’s best and most well-known historical attractions. And it’s certainly one of the most popular London tourist places to visit.
Located next to the iconic Tower Bridge, you won’t be able to miss this medieval spectacle.
This towering fortress goes back over 900 years, and its walls have seen everything from numerous torture, prisoners, weapons and some exotic animals because that’s how the English rolled back them.
Arrive early to get a glimpse of the infamous Crown Jewels because later in the day all the tour groups will make the queues unbearable. Visiting the Tower of London is one of those unusual things to do in London.
Tower of London is one of the many top London attractions you can get free entry to using your London Pass.
Experience the bustle of Piccadilly Circus
Piccadilly Circus is instantly recognisable in London, with its countless neon jumbo screens playing every ad conceivable and masses of people trying to cross the streets without being run over by a bus.
Piccadilly Circus is excellent if you want to see a show at the West End or visit a boujee nightclub like ‘Tiger Tiger’ — where you might see a drunk z-list celebrity.
A lot of tour groups usually use the Statue of Eros as a meeting point, and you’ll see large groups of tourists taking photos with or on the statue.
Join in and take a photo of yourself if this is your first time in London and don’t let the judging faces of grumpy Londoners put you off.
We judge all tourists, so don’t take it personally.
Catch a show in the West End
I love a good musical! I was a big fan of ‘Glee’. One of the first shows I saw in the West End of London was ‘Chicago The Musical’ swiftly followed up by ‘Wicked’.
I loved both, and I’ll watch them at least a hundred more times. I am one for the dramatics.
I’ve bought tickets for as little as £15 for a show in the West End, and if you go to the ticket booth early in the day, you might score some inexpensive tickets.
Looking for what to see in London? I recommend are ‘The Book of Mormon’ (not for the faint of hearted or the super religious), the ‘Lion King’ and ‘Wicked’.
Shows my friends have seen in the West End, and Love are ‘Thriller’ and ‘Dream Girls’. To find even more things to do in the West End read my guide on top things to do in Covent Garden.
Be Dazzled by Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square has been the site of many celebrations, like the Chinese New Year’s Celebration and the recent World Cup games. It’s also home to the National Gallery and Nelson’s Column.
Trafalgar Square is always lively with tourists everywhere and is also a meeting point for tour groups and London walking tours.
It’s within walking distance of Covent Garden, Chinatown, and Soho, and is one of London’s must-see attractions.
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Walkabout in Soho and Chinatown
Soho was once one of the main entertainment districts of London in the 19th century. And not much has changed as Soho is still one of the most popular nightlife spots in London.
With the hidden Kingly Court, old news outlets, coveted dessert shops, and tiny speakeasies everywhere. Soho is alive and ready to party — day or night.
Visiting Kingly Court is definitely one of the top things to do in London for Londoners, due to it being in Soho and the fact that it houses Triyoga. Which is one of the best yoga studios in the city.
For some of the best restaurants in London, check out Chinatown, which is near Soho.
If you are really into street photography, then you will love London Chinatown as there are always lots of people around.
This is also where a lot of London’s Street photographers and Instagrammers hang around, waiting for their shots.
London’s Chinatown can be found around Gerrard Street, between Soho and Leicester Square. Visiting Chinatown is a popular local thing to do in London as the restaurants there are so good.
There are four red gates marking the entrance to London Chinatown. Visiting Soho and London Chinatown are two of the top places to visit in London.
Read this post if you want to know the best places and restaurants to eat in London Chinatown.
You can also do a walking tour of Soho and London Chinatown to learn more about the areas’ history and discover some off the interesting things to do there.
Take a Thames River cruise
An easy and exciting way to see London is by taking a Thames River cruise.
The Thames River Cruise is a great way to see the major landmarks in London, like the London Eye without hordes of other tourists or queues.
You can catch the Thames Clippers from either Embankment Pier and London Eye Pier, where the boat will take you passed the famous London landmarks and top London tourist attractions.
Including St. Paul’s Cathedral, The Globe Theatre, Tate Modern art gallery, London Bridge, HMS Belfast, and the Tower of London. Stopping at Greenwich Pier for the Cutty Sark and National Maritime Museum.
Taking a ride on the Thames Clipper is one of the most romantic and unique things to do in London.
Use your London Pass to get free entry on Thames River Cruise.
Take a trip to Greenwich
After the river cruise, why not visit Greenwich?
Greenwich is one of the eight Royal Boroughs in London, and this is where you’ll find the Cutty Sark, the National Maritime Museum, the Royal Observatory and the Meridian Line.
The Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) is set in Greenwich. Read this post if you want to know about things to do in Greenwich. Walking the Greenwich Meridian line is one of the famous things in London to do.
Marvel at St Paul’s Cathedral – One of the top things to see in London
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St. Paul’s Cathedral stands in the centre of London like a beacon for all to see and is even visible from as far as Greenwich Hill.
It is the masterpiece and architectural marvel of Christopher Wren and one of the most iconic landmarks in London.
After a few mishaps like the Great Fire of London in 1666, the design by Sir Christopher Wren was completed in 1708.
The cathedral has now survived 12 monarchs and two world wars, and remains one of the key places of worship.
Buried in the Crypt at St Paul’s you’ll find Admiral Lord Nelson, Sir Christopher Wren and the Duke of Wellington.
There are also various tours that are run in the cathedral. Visiting St. Paul’s Cathedral is one of the best things to do around London.
If you’re interested in getting photos of yourself with St. Paul’s Cathedral in the background, then visit the rooftop of One Exchange to get views of St. Paul’s and even the Shard.
St. Paul’s Cathedral is one of the best attractions in London and is worth the visit.
Check out the views from the Tate Modern
If you are visiting the Southbank, then take a trip inside the Tate Modern. Inside you’ll find the pieces by Picasso (they have an exhibition on about his work), Klee and Delaunay.
The gallery features stimulating temporary exhibits on every level of the building making it the perfect place for art lovers.
If you visit the cafe in the Tate Modern, from the balcony, you’ll get some fantastic views of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Millennium bridge below. A visit to the Tate Modern is one of the top 10 things to do in London.
READ MORE | BEST LONDON SIGHTSEEING BUS TOURS
Shop on Oxford Street
Oxford Street is the main shopping area of Central London, with world-famous designer shops and high street chains all seating next to each other.
My tips for surviving shopping in Oxford Street, as a shopalcoholic and someone who used to work in Harrods, Topshop and Selfridges – is to get there early.
Like 9:00 am when the shops are just opening, and everything is in its correct size and organised.
Weekdays are better if you want to avoid the crowds. Shopping on Oxford Street is one of those must-do things in London if you’re into fashion and love shopping.
READ MORE | THINGS TO DO ALONE IN LONDON
Experience Brick Lane
Brick Lane in East London is the heart of London’s Bangladeshi community and known for its abundance of curry houses.
If you talk part in Eating London East London food tour of Brick Lane, you’ll learn why Brick Lane has road signs in both English and Bengali and where the best curries houses are in the area including the best curry house in London.
You can also pick up something sweet from the many South Asian desserts on Brick Lane.
There are always cool shops popping up on Brick Lane every month. However, there are established shops like – the quirky Cereal Killer Cafe and the Chocolate Mecca Dark Sugars that make visiting Brick Lane amongst the fun things to do in London.
There is also the Brick Lane Market which is one of the few Sunday markets in London.
On Sundays, the streets are lined with people selling everything and their kitchen sink. Some stuff (by usual standards are actual rubbish) that people are trying to sell, but the London art students call it ‘vintage’ darlings. I told you Brick Lane is only for the super cool kids.
You can even do a Brick Lane and Shoreditch walking tour that explores the vibrant street art of East London – Check Ticket Prices Here
Free Things to do in London
One of the cheapest things you can do in London visit the many free museums around the city.
When in a city like London where most of the museums are free, it would be a shame not visit one museum while here.
Visiting a museum is top of the list of cheap things you can do in London if you are travelling on a budget.
Many of the museums in London are in South Kensington on Exhibition Road and are close together.
Visit a Royal Park in London
I highly recommend visiting Hyde Park. It is one of the most famous parks in London and one of the largest of the eight Royal Parks in London.
If you are visiting Hyde Park for the first time, figure out where you are going beforehand as you can get lost in this park because it’s so big. Trust me because I have gotten lost in this park more than once and I live here!
One of the most famous aspects of the park is its renowned Speaker’s Corner, where people of different groups come to debate and protest their causes every week.
The park is home to several memorial features like the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain. The most famous being the Serpentine.
A few things I think you should do in Hyde Park is go paddle-boating (this is great to do on a beautiful summer day and can be romantic if you’re on a date).
I’ve done a few races in Hyde Park, so if you are a keen runner and want to stay fit while visiting London, then take a run in Hyde Park. Do a race or go along to the weekly Hyde Parkrun group (it’s free) held on Saturdays.
Another one of the top things to do in London, England is to visit the other royals parks – Green Park, Greenwich Park, Richmond Park, Kensington Gardens, Bushy Park, St. James’s Park, Regent’s Park and Primrose Hill.
Ok, Shoreditch isn’t strictly in Central London, but it’s easily accessible on the tube. And it would be a real shame not to include it.
I am a bit biased because I love the area; it’s the hipsterville of London. Shoreditch is filled with trendy independent coffee shops like Grind, clothing shops, and jewellery shops like Astrid and Miyu.
You’ll also find some of the best street food in London at Shoreditch Boxpark.
Some of the best places to eat in Shoreditch are Voodoo Rays for a tasty, overpriced slice of pizza and Shoreditch Dishoom for curry.
Try Dark Sugars for London’s best chocolate (chocolate heaven), or Blues Kitchen for 2 for 1 cocktails and American style ribs.
Ace Hotel in Shoreditch is also a cool place for cocktails before you hit the clubs. Shoreditch is one of the coolest places to visit in London, so don’t miss out on visiting it while you’re in town.
READ MORE | 5 DAYS IN LONDON ITINERARY
Best Markets in London
London is home to a great number of amazing markets, selling everything from sensational street food to vintage clothes, antiques, artwork and much more. The following are the best the city has to offer.
Visit Camden Market in Camden
Camden is a well-known, eclectic neighbourhood in north London. Known for its tattoo and piercing shops and welcoming anyone who likes an alternative lifestyle like yogis, goths, punks, rockabillies.
Camden Market is eclectic and diverse, featuring some of London’s best street food in the stables and lots of stalls selling trinkets and unique artwork to take home.
You’ll find a ton of overpriced shops on Camden High Street, which you should avoid like the black plague. Visiting Camden market is one of the cool, fun things to do in London on a Sunday.
You can even do a walking tour of Camden – Check Ticket Prices Here
Taste your way through Borough Market – The Best Food Market in London
No visit to London is complete without visiting the food mecca that is Borough Market. One of the oldest food markets in London.
Visit Borough Market on an empty belly and with an open appetite. The market highlights British produce as a well of a variety of global traders.
This goes for the street-food trader too — you can enjoy salty French confit duck sandwiches, fragrant Ethiopian stir-fried stews and Jamaican curries, all under one roof.
READ MORE | BEST LONDON FOOD MARKETS
Borough Market is one of the top sites in London, and it’s right next to the Shard and London Bridge Station.
Being London’s best and most famous food market, Borough Market gets busy, with people buying street food from the 100 plus food stalls.
Arrive early to avoid the overwhelming crowd.
If the crowd is too much to handle, then take your food and bits to the nearby street where you can find refuge in the Neal’s Yard Dairy and Bread Ahead.
You can then walk down to Southbank for a riverside picnic or to visit the Tate Modern.
To learn more about the history and taste some of the delicious food at Borough Market, I recommend that you do a food tour of the market.
Free Things to do in London – The Best London Tourist Attractions for Budget Travel
One of the cheapest things you can do in London is to visit the many free museums around the city.
When in a city like London where most of the museums are free, it would be a shame not to visit any of them.
Visiting a museum is top of the list of cheap things to do in London if you are travelling on a budget.
Many of the museums in London are in South Kensington on Exhibition Road and are close together.
READ MORE | 3 DAYS IN LONDON ITINERARY
The following museums are the best in London – and they’re all completely free.
Visit the Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum is just one of those museums you have seen in London. Even if it’s just for a photo with the infamous Diplodocus skeleton in the main hall.
This is one of the top things to see in London, and you will not be disappointed once you see it. It’s majestic!
In the museum, you’ll find a replica of the dodo (like the one in the Oxford Natural History Museum) and fossils.
Check out the Victoria and Albert Museum
If you are into fashion and culture, this is the Museum to go to. I have been there to see a few exhibitions like the Exhibition for Grace Kelly and their most recent one on Frida Khola: Making up of herself.
It’s one of the best attractions in London and for a good reason. The exhibitions are always thoughtful and beautifully curated.
Explore the British Museum
You will enjoy the British Museum if you are into architecture and history—The Egyptian room is my favourite. It’s one of the most famous places in London.
To get the perfect Instagram shot of the building’s architecture, go to the small balcony in the cafe upstairs. Use a wide-angle lens to get the whole building interior and for the best results.
You can read my guide on the best travel camera here.
Best Views in London
Ready for some incredible views? These vantage points around London offer the best you’ll find in the city.
Experience the scenery at Hampstead Heath
Hampstead Heath is another park in London you should visit because of the spectacular view over London that you get from Parliament Hill. This is one of the highest points in London.
I’ve run in Hampstead Heath park before, and if you move far enough into the wooded area, you will feel like you are in an isolated forest just don’t get lost (as the phone signal there is not the best).
I know these are slightly unusual things to do in London, but if you enjoy running as a way of exploring a city when you are travelling and like being in nature, then you’ll love running in Hampstead Heath.
Hampstead Heath also has three large ponds you can practice doing open water for swimming.
I have friends who have swum in the Hampstead Heath Ponds and Lido and loved it. They go there every summer when it gets warmer. I would not risk it during winter.
Soar with the Emirates Airline Cable Cars
Taking the Emirates Airline cable cars for me is one of the top 10 things to do in London.
You can see London from above for only £7 by taking the Emirates Airline. It’s also the only cable car in London and is one of the few interesting things to do in London.
The Emirates Airline crosses the River Thames between the Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks in about 10 minutes.
The cable cars are a five minutes’ walk from the O2 by North Greenwich tube station.
Taking the Emirates Air Line is fun, and it’s cheap compared to the prices of other observational decks around London.
Admire the incredible Sky Garden
The Sky Garden is a public garden in the sky that gives you 360 degrees view of the London skyline.
You must book the Sky Garden in advance and pass through what seems like airport security. However, the view is worth it. You can book here
Visit the Shard
The Shard is the highest building of West-Europe and the highest viewpoint in London. The Shard is a glass-clad pyramidal tower with 72 floors, restaurants and the famous observation deck, the View from The Shard. You can get tickets here
I visited the observation deck when it was first open and was underwhelmed, and things haven’t gotten better.
My friends have been to the Aqua restaurant for cocktails and have said going to one of the restaurants in the Shard and getting a table by the ‘window’ is better than just going to the viewing deck.
A little tip if you want to see the Shard in all its glory walk towards the building from Borough Market, instead of just going straight inside the building from the underground.
Ride The London Eye
The London Eye is both loved and hated by Londoners. Mainly due to the 1000s of tourists always queuing around it, but during New Year’s Eve, it’s all lit up with fireworks and is beautiful.
The London Eye is considered one of the best attractions in London and those 1000s of tourists can’t be lying.
A trip to London isn’t complete without a visit to the iconic London Eye. It was constructed to celebrate the millennium and is a giant Ferris wheel offering 360 degrees view of the London skyline.
I’ve ridden the London Eye and got bored after 15 minutes (the ride is 30 minutes). But in the London Eyes defence, it was a grey day with no visibility due to dense fog.
However, I already booked the tickets, and we didn’t want to lose out on that much money.
I can see that on a beautiful bright summer’s day a ride on the London Eye can be an incredible experience but if you are visiting London on a grey, cloudy day give the London eye a miss. Read this post for the best sightseeing bus tours in London.
Top things to do in London for Harry Potter Fans
Admittedly, this is quite a niche category. But London offers some incredible experiences for Harry Potter fans – it would be a shame to miss them out.
See Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross Station
I can’t tell you the countless times I’ve been rushing through Kings Cross Station to catch my train only to be greeted by a line of people queuing up to get their photos taken on Platform 9 ¾ pushing a trolley through the wall.
You too can join the queue and continue to annoy commuting Londoners with your photo taking antics. I kid, I kid — it’s fun watching grown adults make a fool of themselves taking pictures at Platform 9 ¾.
In the books, Harry Potter uses Platform 9 ¾ to journey to Hogwarts.
The station pays tribute to the book by creating Platform 9 ¾ in real life, where fans of the book can come and take photos.
READ MORE | THINGS TO DO IN LONDON AT NIGHT
Try a Harry Potter Studio Tour
Why stop at just a picture? I have friends that have done the Warner Bros Studio: Making of Harry Potter tour more than once!
These are fully formed adults with jobs that have done this tour at least 3/4 times and will tell anyone that will listen that they should go too.
They are Harry Potter superfans.
With the tour, you can now go behind the scenes of the Harry Potter movies. See where all eight Harry Potter movies were made, board the Hogwarts Express, walk down Diagon Alley, drink butterbeer and step into Hogwarts.
On tour, you’ll learn behind-the-scenes trickery: the special effects, animatronics and how they brought the characters to life.
The tour is an all-day event and is not based in Central London, but you can get a tour bus that takes you to the studio. The studio is one of the top sites in London to visit.
Buses depart from Victoria Coach Station to the studios where you can look around for yourself. The return trip is also included.
Final Words on the Best things to do in London
This is a Londoner’s guide to the 30 best things to do in London. I was sure to cater to all kinds of travellers – whether you’re an art lover, a foodie, a history fanatic, a cultural connoisseur, or passionate sightseer.
This guide will make your visit to this fantastic city even more fabulous than you imagine.
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