It's worth booking or getting tickets in advance for any major attractions - including The Tower of London - which will save you a lot of time - sometimes the queues can take hours - you can usually book online by following the links below. Tourist offices sell tickets - for example for the London Dungeon which enable you to avoid the 400 metre line of frustrated teenager. Tourist offices Tube stations sell combined tickets for travel and admission which can be good value and avoid queues, at least those at the attraction. Oyster Cards often have good offers so worth periodically checking their site, or asking at a ticket office if you can find an open one without a long queue.
We include some museums here, those that have 'events' or 'experiences' - reconstructions rather than real artifacts, or have artifacts presented in new and original ways. Most of the places featured on this page are seen from an adult perspective, visit our Kids page as well if you're bringing the family
ATTRACTION FATIGUE: London, as we tell people so often, is not a theme park, like Disneyland, or a film set, and a holiday that consists of rushing round to tick attractions off a list will prove disappointing. Especially if that list has been compiled from commercial information, hearsay and viral marketing. If you really think you can see four or five attractions a day, rushing from castle to waxworks to theme event you will soon find out that, well, you can't. You may start off with vim and vigour, but the process will take over and the attractions blur into one as your wallet bleeds. This particularly applies to multi-admission deals (see below), whether with transport included or not. You'll see four on day one, three on day two and if you can bear it, maybe only one on day three. Day four you'll spend in bed with a headache. And you'll not have saved a penny.
Planning is a good idea in London because it's huge, but try to get some variety in your diet. A walk, a church, a museum and an 'attraction' with some hanging-out works better. And have a variety of options...you never know what you'll feel like after lunch or what the weather will be doing! We've a whole page on grouping things to do, on the basis of geogriphical location. Really research whether what you thought would be a good visit when you were 5000 miles away, is as good when you're here.
A lot, and we mean a lot, of money is spent above and below the line promoting attractions in general and particular. Many brands are not really worth it... apart from the Queens Galleries, we find Buckingham Palace a bore. But the brand name is so well known, and no-one cares about what a little boy thinks of the Emporer's wardrobe. The basic rule is: if there's one like it in your hometown (or nearby city) then don't bother. If you live in the Carolinas then you have great Victorian and Georgian architecture, not bombed and over-developed. If you live in a capital city, chances are you have a waxwork horror museum. Try to seek out what you can't get on a supermarket shelf... after all you spent a lot of money getting here and hotels are expensive...
If you really think you can get around a lot of stuff (and we mean a lot) in a day you could (just) save money with a Londonpass. At £44 for a day per adult you'd only be better off if you took in 4 major attractions - which is going some, and you'd have to be capable of supersonic flight to manage to see the good ones.
The only way we see this as saving you money is if you visit The Tower, Shakespeare's Globe, HMS Belfast AND the Britain at War Experience in a day, as they are quite close by. Start as they open in the morning.
It's calculated to look more attractive than it possibly can be. Some attractions, such as the Chislehurst caves (not a major tourist attraction by any measure) or Windsor Castle (reasonable, but Hampton Court is better) are a day trip in themselves and you'd actually lose money trying to see them on a Londonpass. The card gets better value once you increase the days (and the price) but you'd really have to want to visit a LOT of what's on their rather restrictive list. Without Tussaud's or the Dungeons up there we can't see how this is anything more than a waste of money. At present we can't recommend it - and we've been offered a lucrative commission deal to endorse/sell it through our site. Remember, there's no such thing as a free lunch, especially for passing trade. .
Landmarks Cultural Entertainments Museums Changing of the Guard
Tower Bridge The London Dungeon Madame Tussauds London Eye
The London Dungeon
In the bowels of London Bridge Station
this famous waxwork museum of torture focuses on
the dark side of life. As such it can paint an
artificially grim portrait of London: Jack the
Ripper is small fry by today's serial killer
standards. Stocks, executions, torture machines,
rats, plague are the main crowd attractions. The
queues stretch right up Duke St Hill for at least
100 metres, unemployed actors in 'period' costume
and ghoulish make-up keep them amused while
A spectacular site laid out over acres in a pleasant
and wealthy London suburb, it's a great place for a
sunny afternoon - it doesn't work so well in bad
weather as the various hothouses and exhibits are
somewhat spread out over the site. Kew house, in the grounds, is
smallest of the London Royal Palaces, its 'English'
garden and the herb garden are excellent.
You can also visit TV Recordings.com which allows you to book AND print free tickets for commercial TV shows online. If tickets are available you can print them off at any time and just head off for the show, even on the day of the record. You know if you have got your tickets instantly...no waiting around to see if they turn up in the post. Some good comedy shows available.
If you're in Soho, look out for the blue plaque above the Italia Cafe in Dean Street where Logie Baird first demonstrated television. And if you're a World Service fan, Bush House is at the Aldwych, at the east end of the strand, but the public aren't admitted. The Bulgarian KGB assassinated broadcaster Gregory Markov as he left here after reading the news. They used an umbrella modified to fire a poison pellet, just like in the James Bond films.
The BBC Ticket office gives out free tickets for (free) BBC Orchestra concerts at their Maida Vale studios which are of the highest standard.
Tower Bridge Exhibition We like Tower Bridge, it's a real achievement of Victorian engineering, and looks great, especially at night when it's well illuminated. We don't think it's necessary to go inside to appreciate it, though the engines that lift the two drawbridges are a miracle. The bridge is opened on average once a week - it's timetabled and you can find out when in advance - which is quite spectacular. If there's a large yacht moored next to HMS Belfast then it's probable that it'll have to go out through the raised bridge soon - check at the ticket office or on their website.
|Tube: Liverpool Street (Central)|
The Fan museum Open in two beautiful houses in Greenwich, at the bottom of Crooms Hill, just off the centre, this is the world's biggest collection of fans. We thought it wouldn't survive, but it has and once the initial shock of the monotonous nature of the exhibits has passed, this can be fascinating - for fans only.
|Tube: Greenwich (DLR) Train: Greenwich (from Charing Cross or Waterloo)|
Fashion and Textile Museum This garish orange and pink museum in Bermondsey Street SE1 is not a historical nor in any way intellectual experience (for that visit the V & A) but a kind of Fashion Cafe without the burgers, or a Tussauds without the wax. Its appeal, as far as we can see, is to teenage girls who want to see the dresses worn by the stars: a somewhat narrow, though dedicated audience. The world of fashion is a very shallow one indeed, the Emperor's clothes lose something without having the emperor inside...
|Tube: London Bridge (Northern, Jubilee) Train: London Bridge (from Charing Cross or Waterloo) Bus: RV1 (riverside bus linking all attractions along the South Bank, or any bus to London Bridge.)|
Imperial War Museum Has transformed itself from a celebration of military achievement and different ways of killing into a museum about the experience of war. Good for kids, with excellent actors doing mini-tours in costume. The new Holocaust exhibition is quite a bold step, the Blitz gallery is atmospheric and their changing exhibitions are world-class. Housed in a former lunatic asylum, which we think just about sums up militarism. Free entry. See also the Maritime and Artillery museums on our museums page.
Shakespeare's globe exhibition. The bard, who 'reposes' in Westminster Abbey, would probably approve of Sam Wannamaker's efforts to reconstruct his stomping ground, next to Southwark Bridge, using original techniques and materials. Theatregoing in the 17thC was quite a different experience to today's, sometimes more bleak, requiring the audience's imagination as sets were either minimal as at the Globe, or infinitely more grand with theatres competing for the most lavish stage machinery - with effects to rival 'Miss Saigon'. Tickets for the shows sell out in advance as it's a very coach party thing to do, but day tickets as groundlings (standing - often there are a few free seats you can creep into) are usually available. The standard of the productions improved markedly in 2001 from a low base while Mark Rylance was directing/acting for a few years but sadly slumped after he left. He occasionally comes back, if he's playing there then grab a ticket if you can...he'll sell out
|Tube: London Bridge (Northern, Jubilee) Train: London Bridge (from Charing Cross or Waterloo)|
Cutty Sark Permanently moored on Greenwich's waterfront this is the last and most famous of the tea clippers that supplied the British with their favourite drink. It was built in 1869, and moored here since 1954. Sadly it was severely damaged in a fire in 2007 and is being refurbished.
||Tube: Cutty Sark (DLR) Train: Greenwich( from Charing Cross or Waterloo)|
Pollock's Toy Museum Somewhat eccentric small museum on the Corner of Scala Street behind Goodge Street tube, given over to a stunning collection of toys - very much a collector's corner. Its rival, the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood - out east on the central line, but linked to the Victoria and Albert Museum has much more the feel of an institution. The latter has an excellent collection of Children's books, but Bethnal Green, although an up-and-coming gay outpost, is a bit of a way out and there's little else round there, so if you're interested, Pollock's gets our vote. It's a bit Willy Wonka, in miniature. There's also a museum of mechanical toys in the basement of Covent Garden market.
||Tube: Tottenham Court Road (Central ) Goodge Street (Northern)|
Science Museum & Natural History Museum: Apart from their more academic bent there are exhibitions and 'experiences' here - focusing on readily accessible subjects such as earthquakes and dinosaurs. We've been fans since we were 8. The erudition on display is amazing. The new Wellcome wing looks good in a way, but doesn;lt really live up to the promise. The Welcome Museum in Euston is good, if a little pretentious. See our Museums page for further details.
Changing of The Guard
Happens at all the Royal Palaces so
you don't have to endure the crush at Buckingham
Palace. Smaller ceremonies are held at St James'
Palace and Windsor. Doesn't happen every day at
Buckingham Palace (a noticeboard out front tells you
when), and some of the guards regiments are quite
dowdy in appearance (the Gurkas for instance). But
when there's a full ceremony (details on the website
- see our Historic
section) with the regimental band marching out of
the Guards' Barracks (on Birdcage Walk to the left
of the Palace as you're facing it) and the soldiers
are dressed in red with full busbees it can be all
Pomp and Circumstance. And it's free.
However there are plenty of other pieces of pomp and ceremony, parades, gun salutes etc that go unnoticed by most people, you can escape the crush by looking HERE for the Army's own list of ceremonials. Good info on guard changing as well.
St Pauls Built on the site of a Roman Temple to Diana, this impressive part of the London skyline was raised by Sir Christopher Wren in 1697, after the previous one had been destroyed in a the Great Fire of London. Wren had submitted plans to demolish and rebuild that dangerous structure only six days before the blaze itself, but the commissioners refused to have the old Norman building pulled down. Even though St Paul's is big, the earlier Norman Cathedral was even bigger and had the tallest church spire ever built - the stone was brought from Caen in France by boat.
Wren, however, created the domed masterpiece we see today, which took 35 years, and Wren is buried in the crypt below the dome he built, alongside Lord Nelson. However it's comparatively stark inside, containing few monuments. It became a symbol of British resistance to Nazism during the blitz when it 'miraculously' suffered no war damage, due to a team of vigilantes who defused every bomb that fell in the precincts at great personal risk. This probably explains why it's a bit militaristic inside - more like the kind of glorification the Imperial War Museum is moving away from. Worth visiting the dome and whispering gallery. The sad thing is that you have to pay. Linked by an impressive modern bridge (nicknamed 'the wobbly bridge', it closed three hours after opening as users felt seasick, then spent two years being modified..) to the South Bank's Tate Modern, so you can pop across.
||Tube: St Pauls (Central) Mansion House (Circle)|
Bank of England The original 'Old Lady of Threadneedle Street' was built on the site of the ancient Roman city of Londinium. Houses a small museum. The impressive interior is closed to the public. Has its own tube station. See our City section.
|Tube: Bank (Central, Northern ) Monument (Circle)|
The British Library Competes with its Parisian rival for ugliness - before this monstrosity was born the collection was housed in the British Museum, and the reading room where Marx wrote Das Kapital was a hushed place where you could actually read without being disturbed by tourists. However the new site has brought convenience and more of its wonderful collection to the public gaze.
They've got everything you could want to see manuscript-wise (from the Magna Carta to handwritten Beatles lyrics) - several people tell us it was a highlight of their visit, but we are too phased by the architecture. Our advice is to close your eyes until you're well inside - or feast your fill on the wonderful St Pancras Station (right) with its wonderful Pre-Raphaelite interiors - as seen in the film Richard III which is now a hotel. The (original) interior decoration is breath taking. Tours can be booked online. Expensive at £20 but we think they're worth it.... you could just go and have a cup of coffee and see the main public rooms.
The ever changing exhibitions in the British Library are very worth visiting and you can roll it all into one with a trip to the Wellcome Collection nearby (see our museums page. Right is the main staircase of the St Pancras Hotel, the decoration is very similar to the Houses of Parliament. The ancient St Pancras church - probably the earliest site of christian worship in Britain, is behind the Library, but only really for the enthusiast.
|Tube: St Pancras/King's Cross (Northern, Circle, Victoria, Piccadilly)|
Bow Bells If these are the first things you heard in life then you're a cockney - from the Saxon for 'Rotten Egg'. Not really worth a detour - we provide a guide to some London churches on our City page. 'Oranges and Lemons' St Clements is nearby. Pleasant little enclave in Bow Lane off Cheapside, behind the church.
There's an online Cockney Museum for all things pearly - they're trying to raise the money for a real rather than a virtual one. Worth a butchers, though too many apples and pears for my plates of meat.
||Tube: St Pauls (Central) Mansion House (Circle)|
Albert Memorial This, the largest gilded statue in the world, is a memorial from Queen Victoria to her beloved Albert, who brought christmas to Britain, and gave Victoria 11 children. In our opinion it's a monstrosity of overworked Victorian decoration. However Victoria was very cut up when Albert died, much more so than Charles when Diana died, and retired to the Isle of Wight mourn him, before falling into the hands of her ghillie. Her grief gave Britain many monuments to their love. It must have been a very happy marriage : contemporary medical records (bizarrely made public) suggest that after taking advice from the top doctors Albert's 'bedroom manners' were exactly what today's women's magazines would approve of. On Kensington Gore, at the top of Exhibition Road. On the opposite side of the road is the Royal Albert Hall which you can take tours of should you wish, but better see something there, preferably a Promenade concert.
||Tube: South Kensington (Circle, Piccadilly) then take foot tunnel.|
The Old Curiosity Shop
The Old Curiosity Shop mentioned in Dickens
still exists just north of the Strand, on Portsmouth
Street, off the south-west corner of Lincoln's Inn
Fields. It's sadly overlooked by more modern
developments in this high rent quarter. As befits,
it doesn't have a website.
Bloomsbury Those on the literary trail still traipse around this once fashionable quarter in the footsteps of the Bloomsbury group - of which little remains. The Russell hotel in Russell Square has a 'Virginia Woolf Burger Bar' and much of the area is quite tacky - it's also famed for cheap hotels and coach parties. Hotels nearer King's Cross let rooms by the hour. Generally the area has lots of blue plaques but little else to see - unless you count the reading room of the British Museum where Marx wrote Das Kapital - which is a masterpiece. Sadly the British Library has moved to a new 'carbuncle' (as Prince Charles would call their horrendous building) on the Marylebone road. The main attraction here is the glorious Victorian pile of St Pancras Station which is actually just outside Bloomsbury proper (vide supra). It looks more like a chateau than a train station.
Freud Museum Devotees of the guru of the unconscious visit this shrine in Hampstead where most of the practitioners of this cult also live. However today child abuse is too real to be put down to the imagination of children and Freud is more of a historical backwater than a practical cat. His couch and most of his substitute family of Egyptian statuettes came with him when he fled Vienna. If you've spent thousands on analysis and still feel bad you can sublimate or cathect here. Not really worth a special trip. 20 Maresfield Gardens, NW3 - Tube: Hampstead (Northern line) open Wed-Sun 12:00-17:00. Website
Jeremy Bentham Was the inventor of the Panopticon, where prisoners were under the ever present eye of both their warders and God (the Tate Gallery is built on the site of a former jail run on Bentham's principles, which still govern much prison architecture in America) so it is fitting that Mr Bentham's body should have been stuffed and placed in a glass case so he could be under the eye of future generations. It was his idea.
Sadly after medical students stole his head, the latter has been kept in a safe. He's in a corridor in University College of London, Gower Street, dressed in his original clothes. Only worth a visit if you're passing, or are a fan. Beats waxworks. St Mary's Church, Garlickhythe also has a mummified body, and of course everyone who was anybody in Ancient Egypt is at the British Museum.
Revolutionary London Most people know that Karl Marx lived in London - in a house in Soho that's now a sumptuous restaurant, but not many know that Lenin and Ho Chi Minh also did. Lenin lived in Percy Circus, on the edges of Islington - just round the corner from King's Cross. The area from Percy Circus to the Angel is full of unique houses and beautiful squares - worth a peek - just triangulate between King's Cross and Saddler's wells. Or follow our 'Squares Walk' on the itinerary page. Ho Chi Minh was a waiter in a hotel which stood on the site of the New Zealand Cultural centre on Haymarket. Not something, we feel, he put on his resume when applying for that job back home.
Stalin stayed in
the building next to the Whitechapel Mosque (as did
Orwell and a host of other dossers) in the early
days of the 20th C.
You can go and see Marx's final resting place, Highgate Cemetery in Swains Lane, N6. A gothic fantasy - like the film set of Dracula. It's a bit of a walk from the tube, but worth it. Tube: Archway or Highgate on the Northern Line. It's open 1000-1700 daily in Summer (opens an hour later at weekends) 1000-1600 daily in winter. You can book a tour of the west cemetery (obligatory) on 0208 340 1834. Costs £3/7 for the East, £7 for the West Cemeteries (tour only, March-November). The tour is worth it: the cemetery is owned and managed by amateur enthusiasts.
Less famous, but free, is Nunhead Cemetery for those who like nosing around Victorian graves.