The best things to do in London showcase the city’s unmistakable grandeur. England’s capital has a grand history to rival any other city in the world, and yet it’s on the cutting edge of innovation. You can spend hours in museums, watch the finest performance art, hit the clubs and pubs, or simply walk in the footsteps of history’s great and good. If you’re here for shopping, it seems every niche is covered by some market or mall, and pop-up events seem to happen every season along the river.

    As you stroll along the famous streets, it’s easy to get a sense that something important is happening around the next corner. To get a sense of what we mean, here’s our guide to what you should do in London on your first day.

    What are the best things to do in London?


    Buckingham Palace

    An iconic building and official residence of the British royal family

    Buckingham Palace has been the official residence of the UK royal family since 1837. Whether you believe in fairy tales or not, visiting one of the few remaining working royal palaces in the world will be a magical experience. The palace is open to the public for 10 weeks each summer and on certain days in winter and spring, so you’ll need to book tickets well in advance.

    On the guided tour, you can explore the dazzling State Rooms, furnished with magnificent art, furniture, and old-world treasures. Highlights include the Grand Staircase, Throne Room, and the Ballroom. The tour also includes a walk through the lush Palace Garden. Alternatively, you can buy garden-only tickets or watch the famous changing of the guards for free.

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    Location: London SW1A 1AA, UK

    Phone: +44 (0)30 3123 7300


    Big Ben and The Houses of Parliament

    Gothic landmark on the River Thames

    This stunning Gothic landmark is the seat of the British Parliament, and the clock tower – commonly known as Big Ben – has been keeping time for the rest of the world for over a century. The sound of the chimes is almost as famous as the clock tower and has been replicated throughout the world. They are enduring icons of London.

    Starting from Westminster station, you can explore the statues in Parliament Square, before crossing over Westminster Bridge to get a classic photo with the Parliament in the background. Carry on over the bridge to the South Bank for another stunning cityscape across the river.

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    Location: Westminster, London SW1A 0AA, UK


    Natural History Museum

    See real dinosaur skeletons at this important museum

    Natural History Museum is a fun, interactive experience all about the evolution of the natural world – from the time of the Tyrannosaurus Rex up to the present day. With a combination of genuine dinosaur skeletons and interactive displays, the museum captures the miracle of life on this planet. It’s hard to walk away from here without a new-found respect for the world we live in.

    Split into 4 sections, the museum has loads of cool experiences suitable for all the family, most notably an earthquake simulator. In the geology section, there’s a genuine chunk of moon rock. The building itself is more like a grand cathedral than a museum. You’ll be thrilled and surprised be many of the exhibits, and best of all, it’s free.

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    Location: Cromwell Rd, London, SW7, UK

    Open: Daily from 10 am to 5.30 pm

    Phone: +44 (0)20 7942 5000


    Covent Garden

    Start the day at this West End square

    This pedestrian-friendly public square in the West End is a great place for soaking up the vibrancy of London. Street performers entertain the crowds and restaurants spill out into the square, making Covent Garden one of the prettiest spots to be on a sunny day. Head into Covent Garden Market to find a variety of antiques, art and crafts, and fresh produce.

    The restaurants in Covent Garden are a mix of famous franchises, expensive fine diners, and tourist traps knocking out microwave meals. You’ll be spoilt for choice. Still, enjoying a leisurely drink while watching the street performers in Convent Garden is lovely. For the best vantage spot, get yourself a coveted table on the terrace of the Punch & Judy pub.

    Location: Covent Garden, London WC2E 8BE, UK


    Oxford Street

    Shop at fancy department stores and street stalls

    Oxford Street is the finest shopping street in England. You’ll find flagship stores from many of Britain’s best brands, along with fancy department stores like Selfridges and Debenhams. It’s also a good spot to pick up cheap and tacky souvenirs from street stalls.

    If you want to experience the full scope of this retail heaven, take the Tube to Tottenham Court Road station and shop all the way down to Marble Arch, at the opposite end of Oxford Street. Use Oxford Circus station as your reference point, roughly halfway down the street. For young fashion, you can’t miss a short detour to the famed Carnaby Street. Around the festive season, Oxford Street is especially pretty, with thousands of twinkling Christmas lights and imaginative window displays. 

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    Location: Oxford St, London, UK


    photo by Tony Webster (CC BY 2.0) modified


    Borough Market

    Check out one of London's busiest food markets

    You should visit this amazing food market around meal times to sample the range of artisanal treats. Sausages, roasted and cured meats, shellfish, freshly baked bread, and every type of English cheese you might name (and plenty of European ones too) are all here. It’s easy to find next to London Bridge station.

    Considering this is a market, prices are a little on the high side. If you’re cheeky enough, you could fill up on free samples alone… but we don’t recommend it.

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    Location: 8 Southwark St, London SE1 1TL, UK

    Open: Saturday from 8 am to 5 pm, Sunday–Friday from 10 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +44 (0)20 7407 1002


    Take a river bus from Westminster to Tower Bridge

    Enjoy scenic views of London along the River Thames

    The London Underground is probably the most famous way to get around the city, but taking a river bus is by far the most scenic. The air is cleaner, too. Known as Thames Clippers, the public river buses run on 5 routes along the Thames. They lack the commentary found on tourist boats, but the tickets are cheaper, and it just feels more authentic.

    If you’re looking for the best sights lining the riverbanks, we recommend you board at Westminster and cruise down to Tower Bridge. If you have an Oyster travel card (you should definitely get one), you can use it for discount journeys.

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    Location: Victoria Embankment, London SW1A 2JH, UK


    Tower Bridge

    An iconic bridge over the River Thames

    Tower Bridge spans the River Thames and links the Tower of London to City Hall. It is a bascule bridge, which means that its centre sections can swing upwards to allow taller river traffic to pass through. The bridge is open to road and pedestrian traffic. It also features a museum where you can learn how the bridge operates and tour its Victorian engine rooms.

    Tower Bridge is completely free. Don’t leave without taking a stroll along its high-level walkways, located more than 40 metres above the water. The view from up here is one of the finest anywhere in the capital – it’s easily among the best things to do in London.

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    Location: Tower Bridge Rd, London SE1 2UP, UK

    Open: Daily from 9.30 am to 6 pm

    Phone: +44 (0)20 7403 3761


    Spitalfields Market

    Shop for the latest fashion and vintage items

    Spitalfields Market is renowned for its cutting-edge fashion boutiques, vintage traders and generally cool atmosphere. It’s open every day, but on weekends you’ll find the best selection of handcrafted items from some of London’s finest independent designers. We’ve seen everything from women’s trench coats covered in Manga designs to African-inspired hats. It’s walking distance from Liverpool Street station in London’s East End.

    As well as incredible shopping, you can buy some fresh food from the wet market or grab a bite from a variety of franchise restaurants. If you want to show off your cool new clothes, take a short walk to Brick Lane and trendy Shoreditch.

    Location: Brushfield Street, London, E1 6EW

    Open: Daily from 11 am to 7 pm

    Phone: +44 (0)20 7247 8556


    The Shard

    Enjoy dinner and drinks with expansive views of London

    Over 1,000 ft tall, entirely glass fronted, and shaped like a momentous icicle, you can’t fail to notice The Shard from any borough of London. It’s even more impressive when you’re on top of the building looking down, and if you aren’t lucky enough to be staying at the Shangri-La (the hotel occupies the 34th to 52nd floors), then dinner and drinks is a memorable way to start your evening in London.

    Among the exquisite collection of swanky restaurants and cocktail lounges, the contemporary British cuisine served at Aqua Shard is our pick for dinner. For a nightcap with a view, head up to the Gong bar on the 52nd floor.

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    Location: 32 London Bridge St, London SE1 9SG, UK

    Phone: +44 (0)344 499 7222


    West End

    Watch a play in Central London's theatre district

    London’s West End is a byword for live theatre – musicals, in particular. From enduring classics like Les Misérables to the latest blockbusters, and plenty of fringe theatre written by up-and-coming artists, this is one of the world’s finest spots for performance art.

    The cost of premium seats for many of London’s most in-demand plays is often over £100, but you can find cheap, last-minute tickets online if you’re flexible with your dates and times. Choosing a weekday matinee performance is a savvy way to grab the best seats in the house.

    Paul Smith | Compulsive Traveller

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