London is a city steeped in tradition. The English capital was one of the world's first metropolitan cities, serving as a center of trade, theater and development since the 12th century. Today, London not only provides visitors with a glimpse into the history and culture of England, but to the world at large.
The easiest way to get around London is to take the Tube, an underground metro system which loops around the entire city. Once you have mastered the local transit, don't miss these incredible and historic experiences London has to offer.
1. walk along the river thames
Visit the River Thames to see many of the city’s signature landmarks. The Palace of Westminster sits on the North Bank and holds some of the most important debates in England. The palace complex has been home to Britain’s two Houses of Parliament since the 13th century, making this compound a historic hotbed of political activity.
Looming over the Palace of Westminster and the River Thames is London’s iconic and reliable clock tower; nicknamed "Big Ben" after the tower's commissioner, Sir Benjamin Hall, the official name is actually Elizabeth Tower.
Across the river along the Thames' south bank is the London Eye, arguably the world's most famous Ferris wheel. From 443 feet in the air, the London Eye’s clear pods provide a stunning bird’s-eye view of the entire city. Feeling romantic? Splurge on a ticket to “Cupid’s Capsule,” a private couple’s ride in the London Eye complete with champagne and chocolates.
2. tour the royal estates
England’s strong monarchial tradition has not only shaped the country’s history for ages, but also the landscape of its capital city. London is full of palaces and gardens fit for a queen, most of which are still in use today.
Buckingham Palace has served as the principal royal residence in London since 1837 and is the home of contemporary British ruler Queen Elizabeth II. The Palace is the administrative and residential center of the U.K.’s monarchy and hosts numerous special events and royal processions.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Kate, reside in Kensington Palace along with several members of the royal family. The lavish palace is famed for its surrounding gardens and was the official residence of Princess Diana. After her death, grieving mourners left an outpouring of flowers at the palace's gates.
The Gardens are now open to the public, and flow into the neighboring Hyde Park, the largest of the city's eight Royal Parks. These tranquil sites provide a welcome escape from the bustling city life of London.
All of the Royal estates are steeped in tradition. Don’t miss the Changing of the Guard, a ritual at Buckingham Palace in which a new squadron of the Queen’s Guard assumes the honor of protecting the British Sovereign. The spectacle occurs multiple times per week from January to March.
3. eat at the food markets
With London’s wide variety of cultures and ethnicities, the city’s food scene is delectably diverse. Visit the food markets to experience all that London's culinary scene has to offer. These casual marketplaces house a number of eclectic vendors, serving anything from chicken tikka masala to caramel-glazed donuts and fresh produce. Borough Market, London's oldest food market, is definitely worth a trip, but make sure not to overlook the smaller eateries, like Brixton Market.
Once known as the crown jewel of the British Empire, India has heavily influenced British culture and cuisine since its colonial days. Whether you dine at one of London's traditional Indian restaurants or pick up chicken curry at a food market, authentic Indian cuisine can be found all over the city. Brick Lane, a street in East London, is lined with curry houses that offer great Indian food.
After tasting London's diverse cultural delicacies, try a signature English staple: fish and chips. This dish is likely the most famous British food and can be found in its purest form at London’s streetside stands and food markets. The crispy battered fish and “chips,” the British word for french fries, are the perfect greasy hangover remedy. Sit down at one of London's historic pubs and chow down on this classic dish.
4. cross abbey road
Want to (literally) walk in The Beatles’ shoes? Take the tube to St. John’s Wood to wander down the notorious Abbey Road, the epicenter of the Beatles’ stardom and legacy.
The crosswalk outside Abbey Road Studios appeared on the cover of the Beatles’ 11th album, titled “Abbey Road” – the image is now an icon of the English band’s impressive career. Much to the dismay of local British drivers, tourists constantly stop in the middle of the Abbey Road crosswalk to recreate the famous Beatles pose.
5. visit westminster abbey
Don't miss this UNESCO World Heritage Site on your trip to London. Once serving as the abbey church, this site is no longer associated with the Church of England. Instead, it gained status as a "Royal Peculiar," or a church directly operated by the monarch.
Westminster Abbey is the traditional coronation site of the British monarchs and, up until the 14th century, housed the crown jewels. It has also hosted many royal weddings, including the union of Prince William and Duchess Catherine.
6. discover the fictional world
Just as the Beatles made Abbey Road famous, the legacy of fictional detective Sherlock Holmes is concentrated on London’s Baker Street. The sleuthing, crime-solving character of Sherlock Holmes was created by author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and first appeared in print in 1887. Today, Holmes remains an icon of British nationalism and identity. Numerous actors and producers have attempted to reinvent the captivating character of Sherlock Holmes in modern media, including Benedict Cumberbatch in the BBC drama series "Sherlock."
Dive into Holmes’s mysteries on Baker Street, where you can channel your inner detective at the Sherlock Holmes Museum. The museum occupies Holmes and Watson's supposed apartment, 221B Baker Street, and the rooms have been designed in Victorian Style according to the books' descriptions.
No trip to London is complete without a visit to Platform 9 3/4, the famous gateway to the fictional world of Hogwarts in J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" series. Inside London's busiest transportation hub, King's Cross Station, a special platform has been set aside to commemorate the cult-favorite books. Fans can catch the Hogwarts Express or pose with the disappearing luggage cart at Platform 9 3/4.
7. explore camden town
From the waterways to the food markets, Camden Town is London's epicenter for punk culture. Walk around the hipster area of Camden Lock, London's old wharf on the Regent's Canal. The canal dates back to 1812 and, although once used for commercial traffic, it is now a popular spot for leisurely boating.
Stop by the colorful Camden Market for an array of crafts, clothing and unique souvenirs. The crowded complex attracts over 100,000 visitors each weekend.
After a morning of shopping, indulge in Camden Town's vibrant music and arts scenes. Attend a concert at one of Camden Town's established music venues or participate in one of the "Street Moves" classes, a free workout series held in the North Yard.
8. tour tower hill
The Tower of London was founded in 1066 and is one of the richest historic destinations in London. Over its long history, the castle has been used for a variety of purposes, functioning as a prison, a royal residence, an armory, a treasury, and much more. The neighboring open space of Tower Hill was once a popular spot for public executions. Ex-servicemen wearing distinctive Tudor uniforms, known as "beefeaters," guide tourists through the Tower and provide a glimpse into the complex history of the city of London.
Not able to see the Queen during your time in London? Not to worry, you can still see the next best thing: the crown jewels. The Queen's finest gems, including her extravagant crown, are housed in the Tower of London. But be careful not to touch anything – this set of jewels is worth a whopping three to five billion pounds.
The famous Tower Bridge, often confused for the London Bridge, connects London's north and south banks. It is one of the city's most iconic architectural structures and has been functioning since the 19th century.
9. experience the theater
London was the world's first center of theater, staging many of the classic masterworks that are still performed and studied to this day. How did England, a country formerly deficient in the arts, become the world's theatrical hub? In the 16th century, a group of reformers sought to develop and modernize the British education system. Instead of focusing primarily on theology, the new English curriculum placed an emphasis on literature and oratory. These systematic changes cultivated a generation of immensely talented writers and actors, including the famous playwright William Shakespeare.
Shakespeare founded his own theatre troupe called "The Lord Chamberlain's Men" who debuted Shakespeare's first plays on London's stage. Shakespeare's company built The Globe, one of London's first permanent theaters, in 1599 on the south bank of the River Thames.
10. it's teatime!
Although it may seem slightly stereotypical, teatime truly is a staple part of almost every Briton’s daily routine. Tea shops can be found on practically every corner, and certain hotels have gained notoriety for their afternoon tea offerings. The practice of having afternoon tea was popularized in the early 19th century; since most Britons only ate two meals a day, tea served as a light afternoon snack.
The Ritz in London has been offering afternoon tea since its opening day in 1906. This high-class hotel is the perfect place to indulge in the traditional British ritual of sipping on afternoon tea. Most hotels and tea shops also provide a selection of pastries or finger sandwiches to complement the flavorful tea.
For a supremely elegant experience, reserve a table at Claridge's, a luxury hotel that has been the master of afternoon tea for over 150 years. Pro tip: Pair your tea with a scone with clotted cream.