I recently traveled to London and did all the dirty work for you. In 7 days I visited 46 attractions in the hopes of seeing as much of the city as I could and today I am sharing with you my favorites.
Watch out for London Part 2 where I will be covering budget and spending. I will share with you real numbers to help plan your budget for a London vacation.
So let’s get started! First, here are the 46 places I visited. If you have any questions about any of these, please email me at Sonia@sonartravel.com
7 Days – 46 Attractions
Bomber Command Memorial
Churchill War Rooms in Whitehall
Houses of Parliament
Jack the Ripper Walking Tour
Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising
Museum of London
National Portrait Gallery
Natural History Museum
Open Air Theatre Regent's Park
Royal Albert Hall
Royal Opera House
Royal Observatory, Greenwich
Shakespeare's Globe Theatre
Sir John Soane's Museum
St. James's Park
St. Paul's Cathedral
The Courtauld Gallery
The London Eye
Tower of London
Victoria and Albert Museum
So what were my favorite attractions? Here are my top 10 places to visit in London!
1. Houses of Parliament AKA Palace of Westminster
It’s a little bit confusing because sometimes the Houses of Parliament are referred to as the Palace of Westminster. That’s because it once was a palace that was home to members of the royal family. Today it is home to the two branches of government, the House of Commons and the House of Lords. You must take a tour if you would like to visit the interior and unfortunately, a tour of The Elizabeth Tower (home to Big Ben) is only available to UK residents. Once inside, you are not allowed to take photos, sit, or use the restroom during the 90 minute tour. But those small annoyances aside, the interior and the history of the structure are amazing. You can walk down the same halls where kings and queens walked, stand in the Queen’s Robing Room where she prepares for events, and stand in the Chambers where laws have been passed for hundreds of years.
2. The London Eye
I will admit I was a little skeptical at first. With so many historical buildings and landmarks to see, why would I want to waste my time on a ferris wheel? Obviously, those reservations flew out the window after I boarded the pod and slowly climbed to the top where the most spectacular views of London were revealed! The slow ride up and around the ferris wheel provided many photo opportunities as well as time to relax and enjoy the view.
I wanted to visit The Eye on a clear night so I decided not to purchase advance tickets on line so I could go on whichever day I picked – big mistake. Of all the places I visited during my trip, this line was the longest. Around 7:00pm I spent about 30 minutes in the ticket line and another 20 minutes in line to board the wheel. You may also be surprised to learn The London Eye closes relatively early at 8:30pm so plan accordingly if you want to visit at night.
3. Royal Albert Hall
Admittedly, I love the theatre, so for me this was a great treat! You are free to walk around the exterior of the building as well as the lobby on your own but in order to visit the interior of the theatre you must take a tour. The tour was about an hour long and gave you access to some pretty neat areas! You get to see the Queen’s private box (you don’t actually get to go inside it but they do take you to the neighboring box), the gallery at the very top of the theatre for amazing views, and most impressive, the private royal waiting room. What was especially cool about this is that you can sit in the exact chairs used by the royal family! I was imagining I was Kate for just a moment =)
4. Regents Park
This park is just stunning and rivals any park in Paris. It is filled with beautiful flowers, meticulously trimmed trees, fountains, cafés, restaurants, playgrounds and the Open Air Theatre. I was here on my last day in London and it was the perfect send off. Be sure to visit Queen Mary’s Garden in the center of the park. The fragrant roses are out of this world and you can stop for a bite to eat and a glass of wine at the Garden Café.
5. The Courtauld Gallery
The Courtauld Gallery is a very small museum but packed with famous pieces. You can easily cover the entire area in under an hour but you may find yourself spending 10 minutes starring at one piece of art. Unlike other larger museums that can be quite overwhelming, I loved that I was able to see literally everything in the gallery and not leave feeling bad because I missed something. It was just the right size and with just the right assortment of art including some of my favorites Degas, Gauguin, Manet and Van Gogh.
6. Victoria and Albert Museum
The Victoria and Albert Museum of Art and Design is the coolest museum I have ever been to. Yes, a museum can be cool! The exterior of the building is beautiful, but the interior is even more spectacular. One room will feature ornate decorations gilded in gold and another feels like you’ve walked into an ancient roman structure. And it also has the best museum café I have ever been to! In particular, I loved the Club to Catwalk exhibit featuring London fashion from the 80’s, how cool is that?
7. Greenwich Market
The Prime Meridian of the world is certainly a big draw in Greenwich. It’s a lot of fun to stand with one foot in each hemisphere, but I found the Greenwich Market to be so gosh darn charming, I just had to share. The Greenwich market is filled with the most delicious smelling and looking food and, unlike some other markets, real handmade goods. Yes, there are a few booths selling purses and scarves but there were plenty of artisans on hand that created each and every item on their table. For instance, one booth will sew any design you like, your face for example, onto a piece of cloth in one single continuous line! There were also plenty of handmade lotions, kids’ toys and art, making it the perfect place to pick up an authentic and unique souvenir for friends back home or for you.
8. Museum of London
As the name would suggest, the Museum of London is all about London from the beginning of time. Each area of the museum focuses on a certain time period and is displayed in chronologically order. I really appreciated this because often times you find yourself lost or back tracking in larger museums but here you can easily and intuitively stroll through the museum without missing a beat. The displays were very interesting and featured many artifacts, not just reproductions or photos. I will admit, the costumes from the opening ceremonies of the London Olympic Games were pretty neat but it was also very interesting to learn about the various fires that consumed London over the years and how they were able to rebuild and carry on.
9. Tower of London
Diamonds. Rubies. Emerald. Sapphires. Gold. Need I say more? The Tower of London, which is a surprisingly small tower compared to the towers we’re use to in London, is most famously home to the Crown Jewels. There was no line the day I went, however, I knew it must get crowded because you may only view the jewels while standing on a moving runway. This prevents crowds from gathering and keeps lines moving. They are really some of the magnificent pieces of art/jewelry you will ever lay eyes on. A word of caution, if you really want to see Queen Elizabeth’s crown, go on a day she's not using it!
The Tower of London has also many other exhibits, towers, moats, and execution areas you can visit. A fun time for all!
10. Buckingham Palace
A top 10 list would not be complete without Buckingham palace. There are several areas you can visit that require a separate ticket. The State Rooms, which take you inside Buckingham Palace, the Royal Mews, which display carriages and horses, and the Queen’s Gallery, which exhibits art from the Royal Collection. The exhibit on display when I went was the Queen’s Coronation which chronicles Queen Elizabeth's coronation in 1953 and featured her magnificent coronation gown. With the audio guide you can go at yours pace and finish off with some tea in the garden.
Being an animal lover, I had to visit the Royal Mews. I was a little disappointed to only see a few horses but the Gold State Couch was pretty impressive too!
Every attraction I visited was special in it's own way and you should definitely explore more then just the few places I listed here. But hopefully you enjoyed learning a little about London sightseeing and you’ll visit soon! And, of course, if you need helping planning your London Itinerary, I'm (and sonartravel.com =) here to help with that too!
And here are a few more photos of other wonderful places to visit in London!
St. Paul's Cathedral
St. Paul's Cathedral
Shakespeare's Globe Theatre
Check out London Part 2 - Budget and Spending to learn more about how to budget for vacation to London!
If you liked this post and found it useful, or want to share your thoughts about London, please leave a comment!