When you first move to London, you’re likely to be unemployed and excited to get to know your new city, which is the perfect combination for exploring all the tourist attractions that London has to offer.
Let’s be honest – you’ll probably never see most of these places once you’re settled down in London, unless your friends/family/great aunts, her neighbours and their dog come to visit and you are forced into doing the routine tourist check list.
To save you the trouble, I’ve collated a list of the top things to see and do, separating them into three categories: Things to do right away, things not to rush into but tick off the list at some point, and things to avoid.
5 Tourist attractions to get out of the way early
- Buckingham Palace – Go on, go marvel at the size of the palace, time it with the Changing of the Guards, and if you’re in London during August – Sept, you can even take a little wander through the State Rooms, which are open for just 8 weeks of the year.
- Southbank / London Eye – Take a walk along London’s south bank – check out the nice views from the impressive Tower Bridge all the way up to Westminster. It’s a lovely walk and there’s a lot of things to see along the way. Grab some lunch from Borough market, pop into Tate Modern, and go for a spin with a view at the London Eye. Oh, and don’t forget to take your tourist photos along the way, you know, to send back to mum and all that.
- The Shard – Go and view London’s beautiful skyline from 800ft up on the 72nd floor of the (sort of) new Shard building, and do it quickly, before you realise how much £25 entry fee actually is, relative to your suddenly smaller income.
- Westminster – Some very impressive buildings clustered together in one spot let’s you tick a few tourist boxes in one go. Get a photo in front of the iconic Big Ben, then make it your profile pic to prove to all your friends that you made it to London! Visit the Houses of Parliament and marvel at the architecture, and don’t forget Westminster Abbey over the road, where you can pay a somewhat hefty £15 to go inside and reminisce over THAT royal wedding (don’t pretend that you didn’t watch it). You also have the National Gallery, Tate Britain and the Cabinet War Rooms nearby too – make a cultural day of it!
- Tower of London – I am yet to visit (perfect example of why you should go early) but I’ve heard only good things. Let one of the Beefeaters (guardians of the Tower of London – with cute outfits) take you on a tour of over 900 years worth of history. I’ve heard the Crown Jewels are particularly impressive so take a camera!
- Hyde Park – Save it for those sunny summer days with friends, some wine and good picnic food
- London Zoo – If you’re a little animal-crazy like me, it won’t be long until you miss your pets back home, or just being around animals in general. Save the trip to the Zoo for days like these, when you need to get a good animal dose!
- Hampstead Heath – It’s like stepping out of London and into a huge, magical forest in the deep countryside. Perfect for summer, where you can swim in the lakes, or sit on top of Parliament Hill and marvel at the beautiful views of London
- Galleries – London has one of the best collection of galleries in the world! During the long winters and cold or wet weather, visiting galleries, museums and exhibitions is a real treat, so save it for a boring weekend and discover them all one by one – you’ll appreciate them more when you don’t see them all at once (overload!)
- Markets – If there’s one thing London is amazing for, it’s the markets. Camden, Borough, Old Spitafields, Broadway, Portobello Road, Brick Lane and Columbia Road Flower market – Make an effort to visit these at least once and I guarantee that you’ll keep coming back
- Leicester Square – Unless you’re planning on seeing a musical or you’re a really big fan of M&M’s, this is just a big square full of tourists that get in your way and ask you to take their photo
- Oxford Street – If you absolutely must go shopping here, please go as early as possible, unless you want to risk getting trampled to death by the swarms of tourists. I would head towards Soho and Seven Dials for your shopping needs
- London Bridge – Most tourists think that London Bridge is actually Tower Bridge, and are very underwhelmed when they get there. Just save yourself the disappointment and head straight to Tower Bridge
- Number 10 – If you manage to bob your head up over the masses of tourists who also came to get a glimpse of Number 10 (and it’s resident cat named Larry), you can’t see much over the tall iron gates anyway, so I say don’t bother. In saying that, I was lucky enough to visit Number 10 for a work meeting – if you ever get this opportunity, then DEFINITELY go for it!!
- Madame Tussauds – No explanation required here
Most importantly, remember to enjoy London at every opportunity you get, and make the most of this unique city!