• Spike

Popular London Sights

Updated: Mar 27, 2021

If you're visiting the UK, no doubt you'll be visiting London. I've been lucky enough to live close to London all my life and as a result I know the city very well.

So here is a list of the most popular tourist spots in the city. Some of these are definitely worth seeing! But some of these I've either grown accustomed to as I see the sights on a regular basis, or they're simply a bit of a disappointment.

Be sure to check out my guide on lesser known sights in London, as there are some real hidden gems, many of which I'd recommend over the more popular sights listed below.



Houses of Parliament and Big Ben

Big Ben is often considered the most famous landmark in London, so this will be on the list for the majority of tourists visiting London. Side by side with the Palace of Westminster, more commonly known as the Houses of Parliament, it is certainly one of the most impressive structures in the city.

A little known fact for those outside of the UK is that "Big Ben" is not the name of the clock tower. Originally known only as the Clock Tower or Westminster Clock, it was renamed the Elizabeth Tower in 2012. Big Ben is actually the name of the largest bell inside the tower.

Unfortunately at the time of writing, they are both under refurbishment which I believe it due to last several years, so you won't get to see the impressive architecture of either for a while.



London Eye

Also known as the Millennium Wheel due to being opened in 2000 to mark the millennium. Essentially it's a large ferris wheel with great views of the city of London, however it's better to go on during a clear day to get the most out of it.

Personally I consider it overpriced for what it is, but yet it remains a very popular attraction, usually with huge queues waiting to take the 30 minute ride.

If you really want to go on the wheel, make sure you book a ticket in advance or arrive as early as possible so you're not stood in a line for hours.

During the daytime it's a bit of an eyesore, but when it's lit up at night it looks a lot more impressive.



Tower of London

One of the most historical sights to see in the capital. It's seen plenty of action over the years, having been besieged several times as well as imprisoning several historical figures, some of which were later executed here.

It'll take quite some time to get around, but is certainly a different landmark to explore. Make sure you see the Crown Jewels, which are the highlight to see here. Also beware of the ravens, they have been known to bite.



Tower Bridge

Many people confuse Tower Bridge for London Bridge. Sorry to disappoint but London bridge is not particularly stunning. On the other hand Tower Bridge is the most impressive bridge on the Thames. Situated by the Tower of London and consisting of two of it's own tower, you can actually walk up high between them via a glass walkway. If you want to see the bridge open to let large ships through you can find up to date schedules online, as these will change on a daily basis.



St Paul's Cathedral

One of the most impressive examples of architecture in the city. The cathedral dates back 1400 years, but it's current incarnation was designed by Sir Christopher Wren after being damaged in the Great Fire of London.

The dome is one of the most iconic sights along the London skyline and can be seen from various viewpoints in the city. If you want some good photos of the cathedral, I suggest visiting the nearby shopping centre "One New Change" and heading to the roof terrace there.



Nelson's Column

Located in Trafalgar Square, aptly named as the battle where he was fatally wounded just before victory, is this towering monument commemorating Horatio Nelson. At 170ft high, Nelson keeps a look out over the city of London.

Surrounding the column are the four Landseer Lions which people will often climb and sit on.

You'll also notice four plinths surrounding the square, three of which support bronze commemorative statues, the fourth however changes on a yearly basis to feature an often surreal sculpture. In the past there has been a ship in a bottle, a blue cockerel and a dollop of whipped cream.




Buckingham Palace

Home to the Queen and a major tourist hotspot because of that. Many tourists flock to see the changing of guard, which usually happens around 11:30, but check an up to date schedule as it doesn't happen every day.

In recent yeas the palace has opened to the public during the summer months, where you're able to look around the state rooms and garden.

The fountain at the front of the palace and is a monument to Queen Victoria. From here you can walk along The Mall all the way to Trafalgar Square.



The Shard

A fairly recent addition to the city and the tallest building in western Europe. Tickets are around £25 to visit the top, but it's free to enter if you plan to visit a bar or restaurant on a lower floor, which still offer some great views. But be warned the bars and restaurants are not cheap.

As an alternative, across the river is the Walkie Talkie building which houses "Sky Garden", which it completely free to enter, although you may need to book in advance. Although not as tall as "The Shard", I consider the views to be better from here.







Oxford Street

The busiest shopping street in London is Oxford Street. You'll find popular high street shops here along with some designer stores.

Visiting during a weekend can be a nightmare due to the crowds of shoppers. In more recent years the huge Primark seems to be one of the busiest shops, and no matter what time of day you visit it always seems to be overcrowded inside.



Piccadilly Circus

Famous for it's huge advertising screens which are much better seen at night time, and Eros fountain, you're bound to pass here whilst exploring central London.

There are plenty of pubs, cafes and shops nearby, but they are usually a bit more pricey around here.

As for the famous fountain which is thought by many to be Eros, this is not the case. You'll notice he has butterfly wings, which is actually the brother of Eros, Anteros. He is the god of requited love.



Leicester Square

Next to Piccadilly Circus is the famous Leicester Square. It's features many cinemas where movie premiers often occur. It's not uncommon to see a red carpet laid out and A-list celebrities attending to promote their latest movie.

There are also many casinos, bars and restaurants and it's quite a popular nightlife spot.

There are also a few shops here, one of which being the Lego store which is always busy and often queues to enter. The other big shop that seems popular here is "M&M World" which sells M&M's and featuring various fun statues to take photos with. My advice would be not to waste your money here, as the prices are ridiculous and you can buy a packet of M&M's for a quarter of the price in a supermarket.

A recent addition to the square itself are the bronze statues of famous movie characters such as Batman, Mary Poppins, Mr. Bean and Laurel and Hardy.



Covent Garden

A major tourist hotspot. Filled with pubs, bars, restaurants and shops. In the centre you'll find the market area, which is certainly fun to explore all the unique although expensive shops around here.

You'll no doubt come across several street performers all around this area, and there are quite often small shows in the main square.




China Town

Many large cities feature a China Town, and London is no different. Located in the heart of London, close to Leicester Square, it's home to a large East Asian community. You'll find several authentic shops a nd restaurants here, but the best times to visit are during Chinese holidays when the streets are lit up with unique decorations. Chinese New Year is a very special, although often very busy time to visit, with many tourists and locals celebrating as dragons and lions parade through the streets.



Camden

Located a little further north of the centre is Camden Town. An alternative area mostly famed for its market where you can find all sorts of bargains.

There are plenty of alternative pub and bars around here, and the shops along the main high street often feature unique shop fronts.





Red Phone Box

Tourists seem to have a love for red telephone boxes. These were at one time located in every village, town and city in the UK, however over time they have gradually been removed, so less and less remain. Walking around central London, you're sure to come across plenty of these though. There are quite a few located close to Parliament Square, or anywhere else in Westminster.

The phone boxes found in other parts of London used to regularly have prostitute calling cards pinned up inside, which I'm unsure if it's still a thing. But if it is then this is another good reason to find one in Westminster.





Hyde Park

My favourite park in London! Located right in the centre and being the largest of the Royal Parks, you’ll more than likely come across this park at some point.

There’s lots to explore here including Speakers Corner, the Rose Gardens, Serpentine Lake, the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, Peter Pan Statue and Kensington Palace. You’ll also find many statues and memorials throughout the park, and plenty of wildlife. My favourite area of the park is Kensington Gardens which is at the western side. It’s here you’ll find many colourful parakeets and squirrels, all quite tame and happy to be fed with small fruit and nuts.



Regents Park

Situated between Westminster and Camden is Regents Park. It's a beautiful park to stroll through with a boating lake, Japanese garden, rose garden and plenty of large grassed areas for sunbathing or sports and recreation.

London zoo can be found in the north of the park which is quite a popular tourist attraction in itself.




British Museum

Despite the name it’s not only British collections you’ll find inside here. It’s collection of human history and culture is one of the largest and most comprehensive in existence. Many of the items were retrieved during the era of the British Empire, which is often the topic of debate, as to if its right for the museum to still hold onto some of these artefacts.

The museum is huge and you’ll never see everything in a day, so try to pick the parts you want to see. There are exhibits dedicated to Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece and Rome, the Middle East and Africa. Entrance is free as it is with most museums and galleries in London, but you may be required to pay for special temporary exhibits.



Natural History Museum

Once the home of Dippy the Diplodocus for 112 years, he’s since been replaced by the skeleton of a blue whale.

The museum is as the name suggests dedicated to natural history. The most popular section is devoted to dinosaurs, which includes many fossils, bones and animatronics.

There are also areas devoted to the human body, zoology and botany.

One thing that separates this museum from the many others in London is the building itself. It’s a truly majestic building inside and out. If you’re lucky to enter when there are few other tourists, there is a great photo op on the large staircase.

As with many London museums and art galleries, entrance fee is free, although you may need to pay to see special exhibits.



Science Museum

A museum dedicated to science, as the name suggests. There are hundreds of thousands of items on display here, spanning such inventions as steam engines to space shuttles. There are plenty of interactive exhibits, and you’re bound to leave here having acquired knowledge about science which you may have considered too confusing before.

As with many London museums and art galleries, entrance fee is free, although you may need to pay to see special exhibits.



Victoria and Albert Museum

Named after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, it’s the world’s largest museum dedicated to decorative arts and design.

The items collected here span 5000 years of art, from ancient civilisations to the modern day.

As with many London museums and art galleries, entrance fee is free, although you may need to pay to see special exhibits.




National Gallery

This impressive building found in Trafalgar Square houses a huge collection of paintings from the 13th to 19th century.

Some of the most famous paintings featured are those of “Bacchus and Ariadne” by Titian, and “Sunflowers” by Vincent Van Gogh. You’ll also find works from the likes of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael.

Entrance is free as it is with most museums and galleries in London.



Tate Modern

The Tate Modern, as the name suggests, houses modern art.

As you enter you’ll find yourself in the huge turbine hall. There is usually a large temporary display here. In the past there has been a giant slide, a fake sun which you could sunbathe beneath and a giant ornate working fountain.

You’ll find works by Andy Warhol, Pablo Picaso, Salvador Dali and at one time hosted the notorious “My Bed” by Tracey Emin.

As with many London museums and art galleries, entrance fee is free, although you may need to pay to see special exhibits.



Tate Britain

Houses a huge collection of art from the United Kingdom dating back to Tudor times. You’ll find more traditional style art work here as opposed to the more surreal and abstract in the Tate Modern, although there are still some very different styles on display here too. Some of the works you’ll find here which are also my favourites are that of “Orphelia” by John Everett Millais, “The Lady of Shalott” by John William Waterhouse and works by William Blake.

Entrance is free as it is with most museums and galleries in London, but you may be required to pay for special temporary exhibits.



O2

Originally known as the Millennium Dome as it was built to mark the millennium. It's now an entertainment venue which holds concerts and shows, as well as having several bars, restaurants and shops inside.

One thing well worth doing here is "Up at the O2" where you can climb to the top with safety gear. Not that it seems particularly dangerous. There are some nice views once at the summit, and it feels slightly adventurous.

Also in the vicinity of the O2 is the "Emirates Air Line", a cable car that crosses to the north of the river. It's very rarely used by locals, which I believe was the intention, but if you're in the area it's worth taking a quick trip on it.



Guide to lesser known sights in London can be found here.

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