1. Tower of London
Tower of London
Take a tour with one of the Yeoman Warders around the Tower of London, one of the world’s most famous buildings. Discover its 900-year history as a royal palace, prison and place of execution, arsenal, jewel house and zoo! Gaze up at the White Tower, tiptoe through a medieval king’s bedchamber and marvel at the Crown Jewels.
The Tower of London is an absolutely must-see part of every itinerary. It has been a royal palace, a prison, a zoo, a museum, a site of execution, and a jewel house. Because of such a history over a thousand years, the stories are almost unending. Let me suggest, in the strongest terms, to take the tour with the Beef Eaters who gather groups at the entrance and walk you through the Tower, telling you stories with all their gruesome detail. You will roar with laughter, you will stand amazed at the beautiful architecture, you will see jewels—the Crown Jewels—that will dazzle your eyes.
2. Eat your way around Borough Market
What is it? One of the city’s largest and oldest food markets. It heaves with both tourists and locals gaping at a dizzying array of gastronomic delights and scoffing free samples.
Why go? This mega market in London Bridge has a history that goes back to the thirteenth century, and it’s livelier than ever: Borough Market is packed with artisan traders such as Brindi and Monmouth Coffee. It’s also home to some of the best restaurants and bars in the city. Take a seat beneath the glass-and-iron roof and watch the traders pack up after another day.
Don’t miss: The Market Porter pub. It opens at 6am for those working the graveyard shift, perfect if you’re in for a very early (or late) one. It also appeared in ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ as a bookshop next door to The Leaky Cauldron.
3. Buckingham Palace and the Changing of the Guard.
One of Britain’s most iconic buildings, Buckingham Palace is also the scene of London’s most popular display of pomp and circumstance, the Changing of the Guard. Drawing crowds at 11:30am in every season, this colorful and free display of precision marching and music also takes place at St. James’s Palace where you can follow the band along The Mall as they march between sites. Buckingham Palace was built in 1837 and has been the London residence of the Royal Family since Queen Victoria’s accession. If you’re wondering whether the Queen is in, look at the flagpole atop the building: if the royal standard is flying day and night, she’s at home. On special state occasions, she and members of the Royal Family may even emerge on the central balcony.
4. London Zoo
More than 750 species from around the globe have made London Zoo their home. It’s the world’s oldest scientific zoo, with the menagerie of animals previously living at the Tower of London being transferred to the zoo’s collection back in the 19th century. Self-guided safari tours include discussions about the animals, while the zoo’s Theatre of Life performances provide a pleasurable insight into the animals’ behaviour. The World Food Market ensures guests are well fed with an array of delightful dishes.
5. The National Theatre.
More than 10,000 actors have tread the boards at the National Theatre including Benedict Cumberbatch, Judi Dench, Laurence Olivier and Maggie Smith. (If you’re a fan of Smith, you’ll love this collection of Downton Abbey quotes.) See a play, indulge in one of the theatre’s delicious restaurants, or treat yourself to a backstage tour. Believe it or not, these everyday phrases were invented by Shakespeare!
6. Browse cool brands on Carnaby Street.
What is it? A buzzy shopping mecca tucked away behind Oxford and Regent Streets and full of independent brands, quirky flagship stores and some of the city’s best places to eat and drink.
Why go? This pedestrianised street is one of London’s best shopping destinations. Creative Carnaby is known for being at the heart of the swinging ’60s in London, when the likes of Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Elizabeth Taylor were all regular visitors. Nowadays the area is home to shops like Monki and The Kooples as well as dining and drinking destinations Dishoom, Cahoots, Pizza Pilgrims, Le Bab and Breddos. Don’t miss: Carnaby’s Christmas lights. Carnaby Street’s annual winter display is always much anticipated and never disappoints. This year’s version is ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’-themed, and switched on by Queen band members Brian May and Roger Taylor.
7. Hampton Court Palace
Is one of the capital’s most loved palaces and was once the home of King Henry VIII. A sprawling and impressive building, Hampton Court Palace boasts stunning gardens, a world famous hedge maze and the only surviving royal chocolate kitchen dating back to the 17th century. If you’re a big fan of the TV show The Tudors which revolves around King Henry VIII, some of the show’s scenes recreates the glory of this gorgeous palace – unfortunately, they had to settle for filming at a different location.
8. Taste Your Way Through Chinatown
London’s Chinatown runs south of Shaftsbury Avenue and parallel to it, along Gerrard Street and Lisle Street. It is small but intense, packing in every kind of Chinese food available—Cantonese, spicy hot Szechwan and Hunan, complex and sophisticated Hong Kong-style, and even a few French-influenced Vietnamese places. The area is particularly good for dim sum and snacks at all hours. We like Haozhan on Gerrard Street, also known for its roast and lacquered duck; and Opium, a 1920s Shanghai-themed cocktail and dim sum bar behind a secret jade door at the other end of Gerrard Street.
9. The Houses of Parliament
After your London Eye ride, walk or boat ride (whichever you opt for!), you’ll want to pop across the river to take in the Houses of Parliament, home to the English lawmakers and the bell known as Big Ben. This is one attraction that is easy to see from the outside, but not many people know that you can also drop inside if you want to, and go on a guided tour.
Tours aren’t quite “turn up and go in”, as they only run on certain days, but with a bit of research and forward planning (and by visiting this site), you should be able to visit the English home of power and authority without too much trouble. If it is too much trouble though, fear not. The building is very impressive from the outside, and you can sate your thirst for history quite easily by popping to Westminster Abbey, which happens to be just behind the Houses of Parliament.
10. Hyde Park & Kensington Gardens
Hyde Park is the largest park in London; it covers the area from Park Lane on the east end to Kensington Palace on the west end. This very beautiful central London park contains formal gardens, a boating lake, and large spaces of lawn, filled with daffodils in the early spring. In the early morning, those who walk or run find Hyde Park the ideal location for their early activity. Later in the day, horses will be spotted on the famous horse path called Rotten Row, or individuals who are learning to ride horses will be seen exercising their horses while understanding the skills needed for this equ estrian sport.