20 Generic But Essential Things To Do In London

This is your comprehensive London bucket list.

History and modernity merge to create a culture known for its famous literature and media. Home to countless settings from the magical world of Harry Potter to the historical drama of Downton Abbey, London has so many major sites it’s hard to know where to start. To make sure you don’t miss a thing, here are 20 generic but essential things to do in London.

Listen to Big Ben chime.

Westminster, London SW1A 0AA, United Kingdom

Big Ben
Big Ben. Photo by Diogo Nunes on Unsplash

Inarguably one of the most well-known clock towers in the world, Big Ben is located in the Elizabeth Tower of London’s House of Parliament. What you might not know, however, is that the name Big Ben actually refers to the bell, rather than the clock. The bell itself weighs more than 13 tons and there’s a light on top of the tower to signify when Parliament is in session. It’s easy to underestimate the tower’s height from photos, but its impressive 315 feet become quite apparent when you’re standing from below. Big Ben has been under construction since 2017 but will hopefully allow visitors again soon now that its refurbishment is nearly complete.

Watch the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace.

Buckingham Palace, London SW1A 1AA, United Kingdom

Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace. Photo by Mike Marrah on Unsplash

Normally, Buckingham Palace is the Queen’s London residence and one of the last working royal palaces in the world today. There are many guided tours with specific focuses based on your personal interests where you can see the throne room and palace garden, among other magnificent spots. Visitors can tour the state rooms displaying the royal art collection, and the Queen’s Gallery is open even when the palace is closed. It’s important to note that eating and drinking is strictly prohibited while inside the palace so make sure to grab a bite beforehand. The changing of the guards ceremony happens just outside, starting at 10:45 AM and lasts about 40 minutes. The surrounding area can get pretty crowded, so make sure to get there early if you want a good view.

Ride the London Eye.

Riverside Building, County Hall, London SE1 7PB, United Kingdom

London Eye
London Eye. Photo by Johen Redman on Unsplash

First known as the Millennium Wheel, the London Eye opened in 2000 and is now the most popular paid tourist attraction in the U.K. It’s the 4th largest Ferris wheel in the world at 443 feet high, and a ride around takes about 30 minutes. You don’t want to miss this iconic attraction with a panoramic view of London (you can even see as far as Windsor Castle from the top!). We recommend skipping the line by purchasing a fast-track ticket before you go.

Watch the Thames River churn from up on the Tower Bridge.

Tower Bridge Rd, London SE1 2UP, United Kingdom

Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge. Photo by Sung Shin on Unsplash

Completed in 1894 and one of the most famous landmarks in the city, London’s Tower Bridge is an 800-foot-long drawbridge boasting 2 neo-Gothic style towers on either side. The bridge was named after the Tower of London nearby, also worth a visit while you’re there. On the bridge, you can get a great view of the Thames and both banks. The upper walkway is home to an exhibition on the bridge’s history and a glass floor that allows you to see the bridge and river below. The exhibit isn’t free, but a great opportunity for history buffs and those who want a clear view of Thames from above.

Have a picnic in Hyde Park.

Hyde Park, Westminster, London W2 2UH, United Kingdom

Hyde Park
Hyde Park. Photo by modewoolf on Instagram 

Hyde Park is the oldest park in London, 350 acres of calming reprieve from the busy city. A walk through will reveal locals picnicking, playing sports, and even horseback riding. Don’t skip the rose garden, located in the southeast corner of the park, for a mass of breathtaking flowers and plenty of photo opportunities all year round. The park is host to many events such as concerts and local festivals throughout the year, so there’s always something exciting going on. If you like to swim, make sure to check out the Serpentine Lido, an open water swimming area available in the summer months. You can also rent a paddle boat for a different view of the park, and there are ice skating opportunities if you’re traveling in the winter. There are several cafés as well as 2 lakeside restaurants, and we highly recommend enjoying breakfast on one of the many benches facing the Serpentine for an unforgettably peaceful experience.

Shop till you drop on Oxford Street.

Oxford Street, London, W1D 2HS, United Kingdom

Oxford Street
Oxford Street. Photo by elensham on Instagram

Oxford Street is the world’s longest high street, spanning 1.5 miles of shops with about 90 flagship stores and over 500 restaurants. You can find just about anything in this bustling shoppers paradise home to prominent department stores like Selfridges and IKEA. Those who love the big city feel will thrive on Oxford Street, with countless people weaving in and out of stores. Be sure to stop by if you’re around during the holidays, as the light display is top notch. The 100 Club is also located here, where a myriad of notable acts from Louis Armstrong to The Sex Pistols have performed.

Attend a service at Westminster Abbey.

20 Deans Yd, London SW1P 3PA, United Kingdom

Westminster Abbey
Westminster AbbeyWestminster Abbey. Photo by ziggystardust_0110 on Instagram

Founded as a Benedictine monastery in 960 AD, Westminster Abbey is the official coronation church and it’s been the setting for many other royal ceremonies, including the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton and Princess Diana’s funeral. English Gothic architecture and a history that spans over 1,000 years has made Westminster Abbey a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most famous religious buildings in the world. Many monarchs have been buried here, as well as quite a few influential writers from Shakespeare to Jane Austen. There’s a library with a large collection of historic texts and manuscripts, which anyone can use for research upon appointment. The church is open to visitors Mondays through Saturdays and you can book tickets up to 2 months in advance on the website. It’s also open on Sundays just for services, which you don’t need tickets for. Don’t forget to hit up the 2 gift shops on the premises if you want a souvenir to remember your trip by.

People watch in Piccadilly Circus.

Piccadilly Circus, Westminster, London W1J 9LL, United Kingdom

Piccadilly Circus
Piccadilly Circus. Photo by philipp_pley on Instagram

Sometimes referred to as “the Time Square of London,” Piccadilly Circus was built in 1819 as a conjunction of Regent Street and Piccadilly Street. The name might sound silly, but it actually comes from the word piccadills, the frilly neck collars worn in the 17th century. Piccadilly Circus a very centralized spot, and locals often use the well-known Eros statue as a meeting place. Stop by at night to see the famous billboard screens that light up the square in all their glory and hit up the various bars and clubs nearby. With around half a million people passing through every day, Piccadilly Circus is perhaps the best place to people watch in London.

Walk through history at the British Museum.

Great Russell St, London WC1B 3DG, United Kingdom

British Museum
British Museum. Photo by britishmuseum on Instagram

With thousands of objects spanning over 2 million years of human history, it’s no wonder the British Museum gets about 6 million visitors every year. Here you can see the Rosetta Stone, inarguably one of the most famous rocks in the world. This is the inscribed slab that helped linguists decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics, unravelling secrets of the ancient society we’re still learning about today. Whether you’re a history fanatic or just need a roof to escape from the rain, the British Museum isn’t to be overlooked.

Explore an exhibition at Tate Modern.

Bankside, London SE1 9TG, United Kingdom

tate modern
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Tate Modern opened in 1897 as a museum of modern and contemporary art from all over the world. It’s located inside the former Bankside Power Station and is one of the biggest museums in England. Collections are separated into abstract themes instead of eras, with art dating back to 1900. Countless famous artists from Matisse to Warhol are represented here and new exhibitions are presented frequently. Don’t miss out on the 8 free guided tours offered every day, lasting about 45 minutes each for an inside look into the world of modern art.

See a show on the West End.

West End, London W1C, United Kingdom

West End
West End. Photo by garrettbarry70 on Instagram

London’s theatre district is the perfect place to grab a bite and shop around before seeing an evening performance. The West End boasts a great nightlife scene as well, with plenty of bars and clubs to hit up after your show. There are a total of 38 theaters here, some with permanent shows and some that switch out every few months. Among the most popular permanent shows are Les Miserables and The Mousetrap. The city’s New Year’s parade also takes place here every year, quite the party spot come December 31st.

Stroll and browse through Camden Market.

Camden Market, London NW1 8AF, United Kingdom

Loaded fries from Funky Chips
Loaded fries from Funky Chips. Photo by camdenmarketldn on Instagram

Camden Market is actually comprised of 6 different markets blended together to create a wonderland of shopping with over 1,000 shops, stalls, bars, and cafés. There’s something for everyone here, from vintage clothes and accessories to handmade jewelry, décor, and much more. Camden Lock Village is the most popular of the 6 markets, with affordable food stalls featuring every cuisine imaginable. The markets open at 10 AM daily and it’s important to note that they’re busier on weekends, so you may want to get there early if you prefer to beat the crowds.

Dance the night away at a gay bar in Soho.

Soho, London W1, United Kingdom

Soho
Soho. Photo by ari55 on Instagram

Located in the West End, Soho is London’s entertainment district known for its nightlife and celebration of diversity. Chinatown is right next door, and the neighborhood is a pillar of the city’s LGBTQ+ community, so there are a lot of gay bars in the area. This is also where many Pride celebrations take place throughout the year. Check out G-A-Y Bar, featuring 3 floors of never-ending pop music and cheap drinks or stop by She Soho, the only lesbian bar in the district, with top notch entertainment like stand-up comedy and drag king nights every week.

Pick up a bouquet at Columbia Road flower market.

Columbia Rd, London E2 7RG, United Kingdom

Columbia Road flower market
Columbia Road flower market. Photo by sandra_sang97 on Instagram

Operating since 1869, the Columbia Road Flower Market sells all things greenery from freshly cut flowers to ready-to-plant shrubs in breathtaking displays representing all colors of the rainbow. You’ll also find homemade breads, gardening accessories, and handmade soaps among the many stalls. A lot of the sellers here are regulars, some who have been selling at the market for over 20 years, continuously bringing their expertise to the gardening world. The market is open every Sunday from 8 AM to 2 PM, and vendors tend to reduce prices towards the late afternoon in an effort to sell everything before closing time.

Enjoy brunch in Shoreditch.

Shoreditch, London EC1, United Kingdom

Shoreditch street art
Shoreditch street art. Photo by tonpotdemoutarde on Instagram

Shoreditch has become quite the hipster hotspot with its eccentric artistic energy and countless boutiques and vintage shops to discover. Make sure to keep an eye out for street art while you’re here (you might even spot an original Banksy!) Don’t be fooled by the façade, as many restaurants and bars in the area are located inside old warehouses and repurposed buildings. Head to Bounce Ping Pong for competitive bottomless brunch, or stop by The Book Club if a full English breakfast is on your food bucket list.

Have retail therapy at Liberty.

Regent St., Carnaby, London W1B 5AH, United Kingdom

Liberty
Liberty. Photo by libertylondon on Instagram

Established in 1875 and spanning 6 floors of high-end fashion and décor, Liberty is a designer department store inside an iconic Tudor revival style building. The brand has its own fabric line, featuring classic floral prints, and there’s a section of the store dedicated just to the scarves they’re well known for. Stop by during Christmastime for a special treat, as the top floor has a holiday décor section that even Scrooge would enjoy.

Devour a sumptuous meal in Convent Garden.

Covent Garden, London WC2, United Kingdom

Covent Garden Apple Market
Covent Garden Apple Market. Photo by coventgardenldn on Instagram

Covent Garden is a great spot to be in when you start getting hungry for dinner, as there are countless good restaurants like Frog by Adam Handling for some real local grub made with fresh seasonal ingredients. The Royal Opera House is nearby, definitely worth checking out if ballets or operas are your thing. The London Transport Museum is located here as well, featuring interactive galleries teaching about the history of London transportation from 1800 to today. Covent Garden’s Apple Market is open Tuesdays through Sundays, where people sell handmade crafts in an outdoor mall-like area. Walk along Neal Street and pop in a few of its quirky shops – you might even see some street performers along your stroll.

Grab coffee along Regent’s Canal.

Regent’s Canal, London NW1 8XP, United Kingdom

Waterside Café
Waterside Café. Photo by 0616nanae on Instagram

The length of Regent’s Canal is a tranquil and iconic landmark-filled 9-mile walk perfect for getting a much needed break from the busy city vibe. Start the hike in Little Venice, aptly named for its colorful boats and picturesque houses up against the canal. Stop for a coffee at Waterside Café, a floating café that’s been around since 1995, offering a range of teas, coffees, and light bites to sustain you through your journey. Camley Street Natural Park is just across the way, 2 acres of greenery acting as a nature reserve for London’s native wildlife. Pass by markets, gardens, and even the London Zoo and King’s Cross Station as you sip your drink and take in the beauty of the great outdoors. You might even spot the famous floating bookstore, Word on the Water, on the canal if you keep your eyes peeled!

Attend a pub quiz night.

Pub Quiz
Pub Quiz. Photo by Victor Clime on Unsplash

We hope you’re traveling with your brainiest friends, because pub quiz nights are extremely popular among London locals and a great way to experience the city authentically. There are pubs all over the city that host weekly quiz nights, with themes covering every subject from music to math. Prizes such as paid bar tabs are often awarded to the winners, but quiz nights are always a good time no matter who gets the highest score. Grab a pint and settle in for a night of trivia à la London locals.

Tour the Globe Theatre.

21 New Globe Walk, London SE1 9DT, United Kingdom

Globe Theatre
Globe Theatre. Photo by the_globe on Instagram

Shakespeare’s famous Globe Theatre first opened in 1594 and went on to be rebuilt several times throughout the years. Shakespeare’s acting company used the theater for its shows, making it a cultural landmark not to be missed. This multi-level open-air theater stands to be the only thatched roof building in London today. The theatre offers guided tours, teaching about the history behind it and giving visitors access to a Shakespeare exhibition where you can learn all about the genius playwright. If you fancy a show, check the website to see what’s playing while you’re there for day full of Shakespearean entertainment.