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Welcome to The Big Bus tour and travel guide. If you’re travelling to London and only have limited time to get to know the city, then this Big Five City Guide can help. Here we give you a key culture, history, food, shopping and relaxation highlight that you shouldn’t miss during your visit.
Top things to see and do in London
Wrapping visitors in an intoxicating embrace of culture, cuisine, history and art, London has never diminished in its capacity as one of the most iconic ‘rite of passage’ destinations for young travellers.
Many arrive for a few weeks’ holiday, only to be deliciously sucked into the city’s slipstream for years. Seductive, exciting, and always surprising – resistance is useless at any age.
Here’s a city guide to the top things to see and do in London.
As one of the most culturally rich cities in the world, there’s no end to London’s artistic diversity. For cultural things to see and do in London, visit the mainstays of the British art world – the National Gallery, Portrait Gallery, Tate Modern, Tate Britain, and the Victoria & Albert (all of which are free of charge for the permanent collections). You should also explore contemporary spaces like White Cube.
There’s also an exciting ‘underground’ arts scene, with an eclectic array of permanent and pop up performance and art venues in off-the-beaten-track places like hip and happening Hackney and Bermondsey.
If you had a year to eat your way around the city you might get a decent overview of the culinary kaleidoscope that is the UK capital. For delicious and inexpensive things to see and do in London, the aromatic curry houses of Brick Lane and the global melee of Borough Market are a good place to start.
For those impressed by celebrity there’s no shortage of posh nosh on offer. Try the perennial Ivy or the ‘selfie’ establishments of Gordon Ramsay, Marco Pierre White and Jamie Oliver.
For cocktails, dreams, and jaw dropping views, frock up and head to the OXO Tower Bar and Brasserie – but be warned, you’ll pay for the privilege.
If you’re on a budget but still want a taste of the high life, visit the amazing Harrods Food Hall to create a do-it-yourself couture culinary experience.
From the Stone Age to the Romans, Normans and Anglo-Saxons, London has been part of the bedrock of world history. Take a stroll back in time at the British Museum which holds such priceless treasures as the Rosetta Stone, and, painting an even bigger picture, the Natural History Museum hosts a mind-boggling collection spanning 4.5 billion years.
Covent Garden can reveal much about London’s storied past (keep an eye out for the blue plaques that denote buildings of historical importance).
Listen to a podcast of our tips for top things to see and do in London:
But for a one-stop London history shop, head for the Tower of London – one of the city’s highest profile landmarks. Aside from ogling the crown jewels and making friends with the ravens (or not), you’ll get the chance to meet everyone’s favourite prison guards – the Beefeaters.
From budget boho to classic couture, London is the style capital of the world. For offbeat fashion you’ll love Camden Markets, or Carnaby Street for fabulous vintage finds, and for high street shopping heaven, head for Oxford and Regent Streets.
For antiques, jewellery and knick-knacks, the jumble of stalls at Portobello Road Markets in Notting Hill more than live up to their reputation, and Neals Yard in Covent Garden is famous for its organic food and alternative shops.
For top end retail therapy, Harrods heads the list, but spread the love (and the cash) to other places like Harvey Nichols or the luxury-lined Bond Street. And don’t worry, window shoppers are welcome, so go for the experience even if you have to leave empty-handed!
Despite the hustle and bustle, there are plenty of relaxing things to see and do in London.
Walking is where it’s at in this city, and you’ll see so much on a slow stroll along the Embankment, stopping for a whirl in the 135 metre high London Eye to enjoy fabulous bird’s-eye views over Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament before you visit them in person.
You absolutely cannot visit London without experiencing a West End show. With plenty of half price tickets available, you don’t have to break the bank to see shows like the Lion King, Stomp, Mamma Mia, Matilda, Wicked and Les Mis.
London also has a surprising number of green spaces. Hyde Park and Hampstead Heath are probably the most famous, but you should also visit beautiful Richmond Park and Kew Gardens – both havens of nature within easy reach.
If you have the energy and want to explore a little further, book a half day tour with a company such as the Merry Peddler and cycle around places like Windsor Castle, Hampton Court Palace or Royal Deer Park.
Do you have any tips for top things to see and do in London? We would love to hear from you. Please leave us a comment.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Julietta Henderson is a travel and feature writer. Originally planning to visit London for six months, she ended up staying 10 years and now divides her time between her home in Australia and several months of the year in the UK, Italy and France. She has travelled extensively through Europe, North America, Indonesia, New Zealand, Australia and Russia, and believes the keys to a great travel experience are an open heart, an open mind and an open-ended ticket. Apart from travel, she writes on subjects as diverse as photography, business, and well-being, and is halfway through her first novel. An avid lover of cold weather, Julietta’s master travel plan of never having to sweat again has somehow slipped out of synch and she’s currently on her third consecutive year of non-stop summer.