Sightseeing In London

By Londonist Last edited 19 months ago
Sightseeing In London

In London for the first time? Want to tick off as many blockbuster sights as possible? Here are the absolute can't misses... and how to ensure you don't miss them.

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace and the Victoria Memorial. Photo: Andy Searle

Admire the Victoria Memorial. Hang around for Changing the Guard. Impress fellow tourists with your knowledge that the Union Flag only flies when Her Maj is out. Of course, standing outside the palace gates is one thing: if you want to go inside, book a tour for August or September.

Top tip: Changing the Guard takes place every day from April-end of July, but only on alternate days the rest of the year. Inclement weather might see it cancelled.

Learn more: 13 Secrets of Buckingham Palace

Somerset House

Somerset House. Photo: Andrea Pucci

Be wooed by the cobbled courtyard of Somerset House, then sign up for a guided tour. Otherwise, peruse its Courtauld Gallery, brimming with impressionist and post-impressionist works. In the summer, there are outdoor film screenings. In the winter months, there's an ice rink. A constantly changing, but perennial London landmark.

Learn more: 7 Secrets of Somerset House

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey. Photo: Jamie Koster

You can spend hours exploring Westminster Abbey — from the medieval tiled floor in the Chapter House, to Poets' Corner, which remembers greats from Chaucer to Larkin. We're not going to lie — it gets busy in here, book your tickets ahead of visiting. Hungry for more culture? Cross Parliament Square, to its neighbour, the Houses of Parliament...

Learn more: 5 Secrets of Westminster Abbey

The Houses of Parliament

A view of the Houses of Parliament from Westminster Bridge. Photo: David Bank

Home of British politics, the Houses of Parliament — or the Palace of Westminster if you will — is very much functioning. But just because the politicians are going about their business, doesn't mean you can't have a snoop. Guided tours and audio tours are on offer — one of them followed by a Thames-side cream tea. If you want to get up Big Ben, you'll need to write to your MP for permission way in advance.

Top tip: how to get into the Houses of Parliament for free

Shakespeare's Globe

Shakespeare's Globe. Photo: tezzer57

The Globe's had a tumultuous history. Burned to the ground in a cannon fire accident in 1613, its second incarnation was then closed down by that dullard Cromwell. The theatre rose once more from the ashes in 1997, and will hopefully remain on Bankside for centuries to come.

See Shakespeare classics performed for as little as £5. If you're here out of season, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse — a replica Jacobean theatre round the corner — provides candlelit magic.

The Tower of London

The Tower of London. Photo: Carolina

Entrance to the Tower of London isn't exactly cheap; then again, how many attractions give you a thousand years worth of history? Let the legendary Beefeaters guide you around this palimpsest of a palace/fortress. Tell them you know that the 'legend of the ravens' only dates back to the 1940s.

Fun fact: The Kray Twins were among the last people to be imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1952, for failing to report for National Service.

St Paul's Cathedral

A view of St Paul's Cathedral across Millennium Bridge. Photo: Dave Wood

A stroll across the Millennium Bridge whisks you back centuries to Wren's finest moment, St Paul's Cathedral. Introductory talks and guided tours are included in the (rather steep) ticket price. Take a friend along, to make the most out of the Whispering Gallery. Book ahead for a guaranteed visit and fast track entry.

Learn more: The Secret Rooms Of St Paul's Cathedral

The Old Royal Naval College

The Old Royal Naval College. Photo: Eric

The Old Royal Naval College is built on the site of the former Greenwich Palace, where Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and Mary I held their courts. Take in the visitor centre, National Maritime Museum, Painted Hall (where Nelson's body was laid in state) and Queen's House (all free). Consider forking out extra for the Cutty Sark (see further below). We've also found a few, less visited nooks you should seek out.

Fun fact: Many Hollywood blockbusters have been filmed here, including parts of Pirates of the Caribbean, and a fair chunk of the 2012 musical Les Misérables.

The Royal Observatory

The Royal Observatory, Greenwich. Photo: major tom

Behind the Old Royal Naval College, and across Greenwich Park, lies the Royal Observatory. Explore time and longitude, with various ingenious timepieces crafted through the ages, and don't forget to straddle the Meridian Line. If you want to watch a show in the planetarium, book ahead.

The Cutty Sark

The Cutty Sark, Greenwich. Photo: Francesco Camardo

As the world's sole surviving tea clipper — and fastest ship of her time — the Cutty Sark's history runs as deep as an ocean (probably). Walk beneath the copper hull (touching allowed), turn the ship's wheel and learn how the strange name came about. Special kids' activities are laid on during school hols.

Fun fact: The Cutty Sark DLR station has the longest station name in London: Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich.

Last Updated 06 January 2017