Updated December 4, 2023
London is full of things to see and do. Let's face it, there's far more than you could possibly get through in a month or more.
Over the last two years I've spent about 4 months in London, and I've still hardly scratched the surface.
I've walked through the tourist craziness that is Trafalgar Square. I've wandered Notting Hill and South Kensington, seen Kensington Palace, Buckingham Palace, and the Tower of London. I've toured historic pubs, been on multiple boats, and compared the views from the London Eye, The Shard and The Sky Garden.
I've visited majestic cathedrals and tiny churches that I've stumbled upon during my wanders. I've walked the Tower Bridge and London Bridge, visited markets, and sat in the sometimes illusive London sun in Hyde Park.
But there are still plenty of things I haven’t seen. I still need to go to the National Gallery and the British Museum, and I haven't made it inside Westminster Abbey yet. I also haven't been to the Churchill War Rooms, which I really want to go to.
So I'm sure there will be a part two to this post, but for now these are the things I think should be included on your "things to see in London" list.
Please note that any reservations booked using the links in this article may generate a small commission. It doesn't affect the price you pay. My experiences were not sponsored.
1) Tour the city by boat
London is a city on the water, with the Thames flowing through some of the most historic areas of the city. Due to the river’s curves many of the “must see” sites are visible from or close to the river.
Considering how difficult it can be to get through London traffic and how spread out the city is, a boat is a great way to see the sites and learn about the history of the city.
There are multiple river cruise options, from tea and dinner cruises to high-speed boat tours and hop-on-hop-off options. There are also the Uber Boats, which are part of the transportation system and have multiple stops in the center of London.
To get an overview of the city I recommend a 24-hour hop-on-hop-off ticket. Our guide was both funny and informative, and I really enjoyed the trip. The boats make a loop, and you can choose which direction you’d like to go.
If you’re in a rush you can stick to central London, but if you have time I’d recommend going down to Canary Wharf and Greenwich and taking a look around both areas.
If you have enough time you can also head up the hill to the Greenwich Royal Observatory, where you can stand on the Prime Meridian dividing the eastern and western hemispheres. Where else can you stand in two places at once?
If you’re looking for something a bit faster paced I absolutely recommend the Thames RIB Experience. It takes you from Embankment Pier all the way to the Thames Barrier on a high speed Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB).
You get to see all the quintessential London sites like the Elizabeth Tower (home of Big Ben, which is the bell inside the tower), London Bridge, Tower Bridge, and the rest of central London.
But the experience really starts once you get past Tower Bridge and they hit the gas!
It’s an experience, skipping (and sometimes slamming!) across the waves and wakes from other boats with music blaring. The Thames Barrier isn’t that impressive, the trip there and back is really what you’re there for.
2) Take in the views from the London Eye
The London Eye is London’s top tourist
attraction for a reason. The views are amazing, and for the best experience you should book a time as close to sunset as possible.
If you want to do something really special, pay a bit more to take a flight in the Pub Pod.
For just a bit more than a fast-track ticket, this VIP experience includes a VIP lounge area and a host who will walk you to the specially decorated pub-style pod when it’s time to board. During the 30-minute ride you’ll enjoy two drinks while you take in the views. Your host is available to point out sites and answer questions during the trip.
If you’re celebrating a special occasion or wanting to propose while flying above London you can also book a private pod.
3) See Buckingham Palace and The Changing of the Guard
You can see Buckingham Palace from the outside year round, but the inside is only open for visitors for 10 weeks each year. I haven’t seen it from the inside yet, but even just seeing the outside is worth it.
While you’re in the area you can also see the Changing of the Guard, one of the most popular things to do in London. For a better experience I’d recommend a guided tour to help you find the best places to watch the ceremony.
For a truly spectacular day, how about a private visit with the guards and watching the ceremony from the parade grounds? After the ceremony you can tour the Guards Museum with one of the curators and have photos taken in the iconic coat and bearskin hat.
This is just one of the amazing, exclusive experiences I can arrange for you. If you’re interested in something truly special please reach out to schedule a consultation call.
4) Tour St. Paul’s Cathedral
Much of central London was destroyed in the Fire of London in 1666. After the fire Sir Christopher Wren was chosen to rebuild many of the city’s iconic buildings, including St. Paul’s Cathedral.
You need to purchase an entrance ticket, but once inside you can take a free tour of the cathedral from one of their guides. The tour can take up to a couple of hours, so make sure to allow plenty of time.
I found the tour to be informative and interesting, and it allows you to see parts of the building that you can’t normally see. One of those sites is the Geometric Staircase, which Harry Potter fans will recognize as the staircase to the divination classroom in the Harry Potter movies.
5) Watch the sun go down from the Sky Garden or The Shard
London has several buildings where you can take in great sunset views. Two of my favorites are The Shard and the Sky Garden.
If you’re visiting The Shard you have a few options. One is to stay at the Shangri-La hotel, which I definitely recommend.
If you’re looking for a visit that doesn’t include an overnight stay you can take in The Views from The Shard, the observation deck located on the 72nd floor. To skip the lines you can book a ticket in advance so you can go straight up once you arrive.
The third option is to make a dinner reservation at one of the restaurants in The Shard. Choose from Oblix, Ting, Hutong, or Aqua Shard for flavors ranging from Asian to modern British. I've been to Oblix twice and really enjoyed it, the others are on my list to try.
If cocktails are more your style, Gong is the highest hotel bar in Europe located on the 52nd floor. Regardless of what you choose, reservations are a must to avoid disappointment.
The Sky Garden is also a lot of fun, and is free to visit until 6pm. You will want to reserve a time slot online before your visit.
If you’d like to visit after 6pm to see the sunset you’ll need to make a reservation at one of the bars or restaurants. They have a small number of walk-in spaces available, but if possible you’ll want to make a reservation in advance.
6) Have a drink in a historic pub
I’ve wanted to do a pub tour for a while, so I finally did one in London.
But not just any pub tour.
London is full of historic pubs. There are pubs that were built for workers rebuilding the city after the 1666 fire. There are opulent Victorian gin palaces. There are pubs where famous authors, like Dickens and Shakespeare, often pulled up a stool to have a pint while working on a new manuscript.
But you need to know where to find them and why they’re important.
That’s where a historic pub tour comes in.
The tour I took visited five different pubs and tried five different beers and gin concoctions. If you’re going to do a tour you’ll want to pace yourself a bit. I found it perfect that pubs will pour a half-pint since there was no way I could drink five pints on a two hour tour.
My tour was with a great company called Liquid History Tours. Their guides are knowledgeable and entertaining, and it made for a great afternoon learning about the oldest pubs in London and the neighborhoods they’re located in.
Their tour has just been rated as one of the top 5 tours in all of England for 2022, so you know it will be good!
7) See the Crown Jewels and the Tower of London
Before I visited I thought the Tower of London was just one building that holds the Crown Jewels.
It’s so much more.
It’s a fortress, a palace and a prison that has stood for nearly 1,000 years. It’s also been a royal mint, a menagerie, and more. To really explore it you’ll want a full day.
I recommend getting there when they open and seeing the Crown Jewels first. That way you avoid the lines and can take your time seeing the rest of the site.
You can take a tour given by one of the Yeoman Warders, see the Tower’s famous ravens, and climb up the White Tower to experience the history of the site.
For an unforgettable experience you can reserve a ticket for the Ceremony of the Keys, the evening locking up of the tower that has been done the same way for over 700 years. The ceremony is very popular and time slots fill up quickly, so you’ll want to make a reservation well in advance.
Bonus: Looking for more things to do in London? Explore a market or two!
London is full of great markets, the most famous being Borough Market in the London Bridge area. If you’re looking for lots of great food this is the place for you!
Take some time to explore the stalls, taste the food, and take in the atmosphere. Borough Market is one of my favorite places to get lunch, and with lots of options you’ll be able to find something for everyone.
Other markets worth a stop include Covent Garden Market, Greenwich Market, and Old Spitalfields Market.
The Bottom Line
There’s enough to see and do in London to fill several trips. To discover more things to do in England check out all of our England travel blog posts.