One of the world’s most visited cities, London really does have it all, with opportunities for unadulterated fun to be found across the length and breadth of the UK capital.
Such is London’s plethora of attractions and opportunities for adventure that creating an itinerary for your stay can be a daunting task. Helpfully, the city is extremely well connected by public transport, making it easy to fit plenty into a single day. If you’re visiting the Big Smoke and would like to start narrowing down the things to see and do, we’ve picked out 20 of the most fun landmarks, activities and attractions the city has to offer.
Take a riverboat ride
Getting across London by tube or bus can get a bit crowded – particularly during rush hour. But one way of traversing the city that’s quick, comfortable and fun is by hopping onto a Thames Clipper. Running for over two decades and now operated by Uber, the Clipper offers the ultimate in on-the-move sightseeing, with great views and even an onboard bar. But the biggest benefit is that you’re able to disembark at any one of 23 piers to explore at your leisure, and then reboard whenever you fancy, too. Services depart regularly throughout the day from a number of piers.
Visit a top-class museum
Walking around certain parts of London can almost feel like being in a museum, but to really immerse yourself in the city’s long history, the Museum of London is the perfect place to head. Taking you on a journey through the capital’s turbulent past, visitors can discover prehistoric London, see how the city changed under Romans and Saxons, marvel at medieval London and examine the tumultuous years when the city was ravaged by civil wars, plague and fire. Other highlights include the Galleries of Modern London where you can walk the streets of Victorian London, take a stroll in recreated pleasure gardens and see the impressive Lord Mayor’s Coach.
West Smithfield / Mon-Sun 10am-5pm
London’s transport evolution has seen the city transition from horses and carts all the way through to supercars. Perhaps one day we’ll see flying cars cruising through the skies, but for time being there has been more than enough technological progress to fill a museum. Step forward the London Transport Museum, which chronicles how London’s modes of getting around have changed down the years, and how the city’s growth has been intertwined with its transport system, from 1800 to the present day. As well as iconic vehicles from the past, the museum also features exhibits and artefacts including advertising posters, artworks, tickets and more.
The Piazza / Mon-Sun 10am-6pm
Head to a legendary street carnival
Every August bank holiday weekend, the west London district of Notting Hill bursts into life as Europe’s biggest street festival comes to town. First held in 1966, Notting Hill Carnival celebrates the rich history of Caribbean culture in London, with the entire neighbourhood filled with Caribbean colours, music and flavours. For three days, visitors can watch elaborate floats and costumed performers wind their way through the streets, dance to the sound of steel bands and calypso music, and take their pick from mouth-watering Caribbean food stalls that line the carnival route.
Notting Hill / August bank holiday weekend each year
Scavenge for centuries-old objects
Those who relish the chance to come face-to-face with London’s past should head not to the museums, but to the foreshore of the Thames for an afternoon of mudlarking. A quintessentially British pastime, it involves scavenging in the mud to find objects of curiosity and (occasionally) value. But not all rivers are created equal, and the Thames offers particularly rich pickings because it’s both tidal and flows through the heart of an ancient city. New treasures are churned up daily and there’s something genuinely thrilling about being the first person to have touched a piece of pottery in centuries. You need a licence though, so join a guided excursion with Thames Explorer Trust. They’ll tell you the history of your stretch of the river, advise you on what to look for and help date the items in your end-of-day haul.
Go for afternoon tea in a historic hotel
There are few things as quintessentially British as afternoon tea, typically comprising of finely cut sandwiches, freshly baked scones with clotted cream, pastries and teacakes, and a selection of loose-leaf tea. And where better to partake in this nationally treasured pastime than the only hotel in the UK with its own certified Tea Master? With the hotel itself dating back to 1906, Tea at the Ritz is a nostalgia-fuelled experience, and is served in the spectacular surroundings of the hotel’s former Ballroom. Booking in advance is recommended.
150 Piccadilly, St. James’s
Step into Britain’s WWII nerve centre
Hidden beneath the streets of Westminster a network of subterranean rooms that played a key role in the Allied victory of WWII. Known as Churchill’s War Rooms, they served as the underground operations centre from which the British government directed the war effort. Visitors get to soak up the atmosphere in the Cabinet Room where Churchill and his key ministers met with heads of the British Armed Forces to make decisions that influenced the course of the war. Original exhibits including books, maps, calendars, and recorded extracts from Churchill’s rousing wartime speeches add to the experience.
Clive Steps, King Charles Street / Mon-Sun 9.30-6pm
Take an after-dark open top bus tour
There’s something magical about seeing a great urban metropolis by night, with its glistening glass office blocks empty but illuminated and the streets humming with nocturnal activity. One of the most fun ways to do so in London is by joining an after-dark open-top bus tour. Among those on offer is a 1.5-hour tour that takes you on a panoramic evening journey, passing by some of London’s most famous landmarks, including Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, Parliament Square, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, and more. As you cruise the streets with the wind in your hair, a live English-speaking guide will regale you with stories and facts about the city.
Step aboard a 19th-century sailing ship
Built in 1869 to carry tea back from China, Cutty Sark remains one of Britain’s most iconic sailing ships. Maritime fans keen to learn more about the vessel’s history can do so by heading to charming Greenwich and hopping aboard to explore interactive displays that evoke the sights, smells and sounds of life at sea. Visitors can follow in the footsteps of those who sailed her, walk directly underneath the ship’s gleaming hull, and play captain by taking the helm at the ship’s wheel, all while savouring the sweeping views over the Thames river.
King William Walk / Mon-Sun 10am-5pm
Test your sporting prowess at an Olympic Park
Built for the 2012 London Olympic Games, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in East London draws large numbers of visitors every year, many of whom take the opportunity to swim in the slipstream, or cycle in the dust, of Olympic greats. They can do so because the Aquatics Centre and VeloPark – both used for competition during the Games – are open to the public with advanced bookings. As well as such prestigious sporting arenas, the park is also home to parklands, waterways, playgrounds and cafés.
Go wild swimming in a public pond
One of London’s finest public parks, Hampstead Heath is also a popular spot for intrepid swimmers. As well as a 60-metre Lido, the park is home to three natural bathing ponds where brave souls can routinely be seen getting back to nature and traversing the chlorine-free waters. With temperatures ranging from around 2 degrees on average in winter to 20 degrees in summer, swimming in the Hampstead Heath ponds is not for the faint-hearted, though it is one of the great joys of the area for many regulars.
Indulge in some upscale retail therapy
The ultra high-end shopping emporium of Harrods in fashionable West London is packed full of opulent goods that – sadly – few of us will ever be able to afford. But that harsh reality need not prevent us from taking a look around, even if it’s just to peruse, rather than purchase, the lavish items on display. Saying that, the exceptional food court is a great place to stop for lunch and won’t break the band – as long as you give the champagne and lobster bar a wide berth.
87-135 Brompton Road
Walk in the footsteps of a serial killer
Take a chilling tour of London’s historic Whitechapel district, the site of a horrific killing spree in the autumn of 1888. During the two-hour Jack the Ripper walking tour, you’ll learn all about how a series of terrible murders gripped the East End of London as your guide provides historical background to the infamous events. Walking the streets of Victorian London, you’ll visit many of the sites thought to have been menaced by the notorious murderer, and examine how public perception of these gruesome but gripping crimes has been shaped down the years.
You can book tickets for the above tour at GetYourGuide. Tours start at 7pm with participants asked to meet inside the west entrance of Altab Ali Park on Whitechapel Road, opposite the entrance to Aldgate East Tube Station.
Browse a kaleidoscopic market
One of London’s most vibrant and colourful districts, at the heart of Camden Town is its perpetually busy market. Located in a historic former stables next to a scenic canal, Camden Market is famed for its bohemian atmosphere, vintage fashion, handmade jewellery, unusual gifts and eye-catching accessories. A new addition to the market in recent times has been Babylon Park, an alien-themed subterranean theme park complete with rides and games.
Join a gin masterclass
In many ways gin is the spirit that has come to define the Great British Empire – and visitors to London can delve into this long-standing history by joining a gin masterclass. Nestled Just behind historic Bow Lane, Merchant House is one of the city’s finest gin bars, stocking over 250 bottles of gin in all shapes and sizes. During the class, tutors will share their expertise by regaling you with stories about the origins of gin and its evolution to the present day. Guests will also get to sample tastings of five different styles of European gin, before the piece de resistance; a nip of Vintage gin bottled from as early as 1950.
Merchant House of Bow Lane. You can book this masterclass at Trulyexperiences.com. Classes are for 2-8 people.
Soak up the scenery at a botanic garden
Anyone visiting London with an interest in horticulture may well want to include a trip to the Royal Botanic Gardens – aka Kew Gardens – during their stay. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the magnificent 362-acre gardens are home to what’s thought to be the biggest and most diverse botanical and mycological collections anywhere in the world. Visitors can explore acres of gardens under glass, stroll along a walkway high up in the treetops, experience an exotic rainforest, step inside a royal palace, discover galleries of botanical art, and soak up 250 years of royal history.
Richmond / Mon-Sun 10am-6pm. You can book entry tickets for Kew Gardens at GetYourGuide. Tickets are valid for one day.
Catch a gig at a legendary music venue
From up-and-coming performers to established acts, London has a buzzing music scene and you can quite easily find a gig to attend every single night of the week if you so wished. One of the city’s most famous live music venues is Brixton Academy, which retains something of a mythical status among music lovers. The internationally renowned venue is housed within a Grade II listed building and as well as live gigs also hosts club nights, comedy shows and more.
Savour Michelin-star dining
London’s food scene has gone from strength to strength in the last decade or two, with everything from casual street food to the finest in fine dining available to hungry punters. If you’re keen to sample some of the city’s best gourmet cuisine in a historic setting, then The Goring certainly fits the bill. Situated in the upscale neighbourhood of Belgravia in London’s last family-owned luxury hotel, the restaurant boasts a coveted Michelin start thanks to its exceptional British fare. It also enjoys a beautifully elegant setting, bathed in natural light by day and aglow with Swarovski chandeliers by night. As for the food, signature dishes include cured sea trout, Aylesbury duck leg, and single origin chocolate cremeux.
The Goring Hotel, 15 Beeston Place. You can book a special offer at this restaurant at Trulyexperiences.com. The offer is valid for redemption within 6 months from the date of issue.
Abseil down the UK’s largest sculpture
Built within the Olympic Park as a permanent legacy of London’s hosting of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, the 114-metre ArcelorMittal Orbit is Britain’s largest piece of public art. But as impressive as it is from the bottom, the views from the top are more than a match, and can be experienced during a thrilling ArcelorMittal Orbit abseil tour. After being transported by lift to the top of the sculpture, you’ll be attached two at a time to a rigging system before being guided through the abseiling technique. Then, it’s all down to you as you lean back and begin your dramatic descent. As you lower yourself down, be sure to soak up the incredible views across the city.
Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, 5 Thornton Street, Stratford / Mon-Fri 11am-3pm Sat-Sun 11am-5pm. You can book tickets for the above experience at Viator. Tickets include free entry to the sculpture’s viewing platform.
Let your hair down on a pub crawl
London’s pub scene is one of its most cherished features, with some of the city’s watering holes dating back centuries. One of the best ways to experience London pub culture is by joining a guided pub crawl. Starting early evening in bustling Camden, you’ll join a group of like-minded travellers looking for good beer and good company alike. Over the course of the night, you’ll discover some of the district’s best drinking dens, where you’ll enjoy free shots, reduced price drinks and fast-track entry to select venues. A photographer will be on hand to capture the moments that you may well struggle to remember the next morning.
You can book tickets for the above tour at Viator. Tours start at 7.30pm and last for 4-5 hours.