Welcome to London!
London may seem like one of the most overwhelming cities in the world to visit. With history going back for centuries in what is now a fully modern city, the sights to see are endless. But you don’t have to pressure yourself to see all the London attractions!
The best favor you can do yourself while traveling is to prioritize ahead of time. Is British royalty a top priority for you? What about war history? Going to the pub? Just wandering the streets and getting a feel for the city?
Knowing what interests you the most will help you know what London attractions are most important for you to see. When you might be short on time in a city where you could literally spend months without seeing everything, deciding ahead of time what you want to see will help so much!
We think you should see everything you want to of course. But if you are trying to narrow it down, here are the things we think are the must-dos in London, along with a few popular destinations you can skip without guilt.
Attractions to See in London
This is the iconic church of London. It’s where Will and Kate got married and where kings and queens are crowned. It’s also located right behind Parliament, which means you can take a picture with Big Ben and then stroll over to Westminster Abbey easily.
A few highlights: Poets’ Corner (where many writers are buried and memorialized) and the Royal Tombs (where Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Mary I are both buried).
You can easily spend a whole morning in Westminster Abbey, so be prepared. Be sure to buy your tickets online ahead of time, as it will help you get in quicker.
The Tower of London is another London icon. It may surprise you to learn that it’s not actually a tower, but rather a kind fortress—a castle wall that once enclosed its own small city. This is where you can see the Crown Jewels, the White Tower, and Bloody Tower (where prisoners were once kept).
The Tower of London offers guided tours if you want to take one. But the tours get crowded and it can be hard to hear the Beefeater guiding you around, so you can definitely see it without a tour. This is another one where you should buy tickets ahead of time.
This is by far one of our favorite museums in London! It’s one of the museums you have to purchase a ticket to visit, but it is so worth it. The museum is underground in Churchill’s WWII bunkers, in rooms that are still set up as they were then. There is also an absolutely captivating museum about Churchill’s life. We spent a whole afternoon here and could have stayed longer! Buy tickets ahead of time.
Free-entry museums are all over the place in London. From the National Gallery to the British Museum to the Natural History Museum, there are so many fantastic museums you can visit without spending any money.
Keep in mind that London’s free museums are easy places to pop into if you find yourself with a bit of extra time. One day when we were in London we finished lunch earlier than we expected and went into the National Gallery for a few minutes; but since we hadn’t paid for it, we didn’t feel pressure to spend more time there than we had.
Seeing where the Queen lives is a must-do in London. Most of the time, you won’t be able to tour it, but just getting a picture in front of it and admiring it is well worth your time. And it won’t take up a lot of your time either!
If the Queen is away, you can buy tickets for a tour. So check the tour schedule if you are interested in going inside.
A Pint in a Pub
Did you even go to London if you didn’t go to a pub? This is the ultimate London activity and the thing that might make you feel most like a local. With pubs on almost every corner of the city, it’s an easy one to check off your list.
If you are a literature lover, this is a must-see. In one room you will find Jane Austen’s writing desk, a copy of the Magna Carta, and drawings by Leonardo da Vinci. It is full of original work by famous artists, writers, and musicians. And The Treasure Gallery is another free place to visit. It’s a bit out of the way from most tourist destinations, but it’s easy to get to on the Tube.
What to Skip in London (Without Guilt)
10 Downing Street
It may seem important to see the Prime Minister’s house, but it’s actually a bit underwhelming. 10 Downing Street is located off the main drag of Parliament Street, but it’s set back from the street and down a gated alley. Really, you can barely see the door. If you are in the area and have time, stop by so you can say you saw it. But don’t go out of your way to make it happen.
The London Eye is one of the most popular tourist attractions in London, but one of the biggest disappointments for us. It’s amazing to see the city from such a height, but the London Eye comes with a hefty price tag and can have long lines. If you have the time, we suggest an evening visit. But there are also other ways to the see the city from buildings like the Shard.
This is certainly a beautiful cathedral to see, but if you’re short on time, we like Westminster Abbey better. While Westminster Abbey is full of kings and queens and famous figures from literature, St. Paul’s Cathedral focuses more on military history. If you have time to see it great. If not, choose Westminster Abbey instead.
Bonus tip: if you want to see both but don’t want to pay to see both, try going to an Evensong service at one of the cathedrals. You won’t have time to tour the building, but you will get to see the inside and experience an actual service.
This is an attraction we feel pretty indifferent about. It’s easy to walk by, so if it’s important to you, go see it. And if you are a Shakespeare fanatic, definitely take the tour! But it just wasn’t something that was a priority to us. We do think it would be amazing to see a performance here though!
Tower Bridge is an easy thing to see while you’re at the Tower of London. But there’s nothing particularly special about making the trek across it (unless you are heading over to Borough Market to eat, which we definitely recommend.) You can take a few minutes to see it when you exit the Tower of London without having to make it a time-consuming part of your itinerary.
London could take you weeks and months to see, so this is just the list of what we think are the most iconic sights. Honestly, even our “skip” list is full of great London attractions. But don’t fret about what you have to miss–you’ll just have to go back to London again sometime!
What more help planning your London trip? Check out our 3 Day London Itinerary!