London Drum

The Ultimate London Bucket List – Top 25 Things To Visit

Our ultimate London bucket list guide to the Top 25 things you must do during your visit

1 Have a ride on the London Eye

London EyePhoto: Craig Cross
Opening times?
11 AM to 6 PM (Mon-Sun)
Adults £36.00; Children £32.50 (3-15); Infants free (under-3)
Time required?
A typical visit takes 30-50 mins for the queue, plus 30 mins for the ride

Number two on our list is a ride on the London Eye. We always recommend doing this on the very first day of your holiday because a) it’s quite an exciting thing to do on your first morning, and b) you’ll get a good look at the layout of the city, and the distances involved, which will help you plan the rest of your stay.

You want your first day to be memorable, and what could be more exciting than going around a gigantic ferris wheel in a wobbling glass pod? You’ll be able to see lots of iconic landmarks like St. Paul’s Cathedral, Buckingham Palace and Big Ben and Parliament.

2 Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace

Changing the Guard at Buckingham PalacePhoto: Craig Cross

Number one on everyone’s bucket list is Changing the Guard at Buckingham Palace. It’s a very busy event and you’ll find yourself wedged inside a crowd of thousands for an hour or more (literally thousands!), but it’s one of these attractions that you must do.

Not only will you get a close up of Buckingham Palace, but you’ll also experience the atmosphere of an excited crowd as they hear the drums and trumpets coming down the Mall behind them. When the marching band finally reaches the railings and wheels into the forecourt you’ll be smiling from ear to ear.

Bear in mind that you need to get there in plenty of time because the best spots will be gone a couple of hours before it starts. Have a read of our review before you go because Craig explains about the best place to stand, where the parade route goes, and what time you need to arrive to secure a decent view.

3 State Rooms at Buckingham Palace

Buckingham PalacePhoto: Craig Cross
Opening times?
The State Rooms are usually open from the mid-Jul to Sep
Time required?
A typical visit takes 2-2½ hours

Buckingham Palace is another one of those must-see sights. But if you just stand outside and take a photo from the gate then you’re missing the best bit. Did you know that you can actually go inside as well?

The palace only opens up during the summer so you’ll have to get lucky with your dates, but you’ll be able to walk through the Throne Room, the Ballroom (where the Queen hands out all the knighthoods), and see the Queen’s collection of Old Masters hanging on the walls of the Picture Gallery. You can even have a cup of Earl Grey tea on the veranda overlooking the garden!

If you don’t mind stumping up double the money then you can attend an Exclusive Evening Tour as well.

4 Climb the domes at St. Paul’s Cathedral

St. Paul’s CathedralPhoto: Craig Cross
Opening times?
8.30 AM to 4.30 PM (Mon-Tue, Thu-Sat); 10 AM to 4.30 PM (Wed); Last entry 30 mins before closing; Note: On Sundays the cathedral is only open for worship
Adults £18.00; Children £7.70 (6-17); Infants free (under-6); Family ticket £43.70
Time required?
A typical visit takes 2-2½ hours

Clambering up the stairs to the Whispering Gallery at St. Paul’s Cathedral is another must-do attraction.

The interior dome of Christopher Wren’s masterpiece rises 257 steps above the cathedral floor, and due to a bizarre acoustic effect anything whispered on one side of the dome can be easily understood on the other. Don’t ask us how it works because we haven’t got a clue – it must be something to do with the echo.

The next set of stairs will take you outside the dome where you’ll have a fantastic view of the skyline. And if you’re super-brave you can climb up another flight to the very top of the dome – actually on the summit of it!

5 Houses of Parliament guided tour

Houses of ParliamentPhoto: Craig Cross
Opening times?
The public can usually attend debates from Mon-Fri, and take tours on Sat and Mon-Sun during Aug/Sep
Time required?
A typical visit takes 1½-2 hours

Did you know that you can have a Saturday tour of Parliament? (Check their website first because they don’t run every Saturday.) We think the inside of Parliament rivals Buckingham Palace for its beauty – just wait until you see inside the House of Lords with its plush red leather and golden throne. This is where the Queen sits for the State Opening of Parliament.

Craig has attended every kind of event at the Houses of Parliament (there are lots of different ones), and you might like to read his reviews of PMQs and watching a debate inside the House of Commons.

6 Stand outside No.10 Downing Street

Downing StreetPhoto: Craig Cross
Opening times?
Closed to the public
Time required?
A typical visit takes 10 mins

Every tourist who comes to London stands outside Downing Street for five minutes and tries to see the Prime Minister coming out of the front door.

The chances of you actually seeing the PM are pretty poor, of course, but you can definitely see the door – assuming you’re tall enough to see over the shoulder of the gun toting policemen guarding the gate.

7 Watch the Tower Bridge roadway open

Tower BridgePhoto: Craig Cross
Opening times?
9.30 AM to 6 PM (Mon-Sun); Last entry 1 hour before closing
Adults £11.40; Children £5.70 (5-15); Infants free (under-5); Family ticket £19.38
Time required?
A typical visit takes 45-60 mins

Standing on the riverbank by the Tower of London and watching Tower Bridge open up for a boat is one of the best photos in London. But we think you actually get a better view from the other side – try standing by Butler’s Wharf instead, because you’ll get a great shot of the bridge with the City skyscrapers behind.

The drawbridge opens three times a day on average, but they don’t publicise all of them in advance so you have to get a bit lucky to see the road rise. Most of the openings are just for boats that sail up the Thames at short notice. Here are the scheduled opening times.

8 See the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London

Tower of LondonPhoto: Craig Cross
Opening times?
9 AM to 5.30 PM (Mon-Sun, Jun-mid Sep); 10 AM to 5.30 PM (Mon & Sun, mid Sep-Oct); 9 AM to 5.30 PM (Tue-Sat, mid Sep-Oct); Last entry 1 hour before closing
Adults £32.90; Children £16.40 (5-15); Infants free (under-5); Family ticket £90.40
Time required?
A typical visit takes 3-4 hours

No London bucket list would be complete without a visit to the Tower of London to see the Crown Jewels. This World Heritage Site is also famous for its ravens, the Bloody Tower, Traitor’s Gate and Tower Green.

There’s so much to see at the Tower of London that you can easily spend three or four hours walking around it, but how about a guided tour with a Yeoman Warder (aka. Beefeaters)? Most visitors don’t realise that you can have a tour with one of those guys, who lead you round the grounds telling you lots of grisly and gruesome stories about the executions.

9 View from the top of The Shard

The ShardPhoto: Craig Cross
Opening times?
2 PM to 10 PM (Wed-Sun until 24 Jul, then Mon-Sun until 28 Aug); 1 PM to 9 PM (Mon-Sun from 29 Aug until 4 Sep, then Sat from 10 Sep to 3 Dec, then Wed & Sat-Sun from 4 Dec); 11 AM to 7 PM (Wed-Fri & Sun from 7 Sep to 2 Dec, then Thu-Fri from 8 Dec)
Adults £32.00; Family ticket £100.00
Time required?
A typical visit takes 1-1½ hours

We’ve written a big list of the best viewing platforms in London but if you just want the highest one then here it is – The Shard. This glass needle rises 1,016 feet above London and the public can ascend all the way to level 68. It’s so tall that it makes the tall things look small. We used to think that St. Paul’s Cathedral was tall, but trust us – it’s not. From up here it’s tiny!

If you want some extra thrills then try ascending the stairs to level 72. A few of the walls are open to the sky and you can feel the cold wind rushing in.

10 See some Shakespeare at the Globe Theatre

Globe TheatrePhoto: Craig Cross
Opening times?
The museum and tours operate all year round · Theatre season runs from mid-Apr to mid-Oct
Time required?
A typical visit takes 45 mins for the tour, plus 45-60 mins for the museum afterwards

No.10 on our list of the Top 25 things to do in London is watching a play at the Globe Theatre. This place is an authentic reconstruction of the Elizabethan playhouse which stood here in Tudor times, and every summer they have a season of Shakespeare plays. They perform all the biggies from Hamlet, Othello and Macbeth to King Lear and Romeo and Juliet.

What’s really great about this place is that it’s totally open-air and the actors play to the crowd like they’re part of the cast. They bound out of the back doors and storm through the pit, or lean over the balcony seats and shout to the stage, and the audience really feels part of the play. Granted, they may not understand a single word of what’s being said (this is Shakespeare, after all!) but what could be more fun than thinking you’re part of the English army during Henry V’s big speech? This is how theatre how is supposed to be!

If you can’t find time to attend a play then maybe you can try a guided tour instead.

11 View from the top of the Sky Garden

Sky GardenPhoto: Craig Cross
Opening times?
10 AM to 6 PM (Mon-Fri); 11 AM to 9 PM (Sat-Sun); Last entry 1 hour before closing
Time required?
A typical visit takes 1 hour (but more if you plan to stop and eat in the restaurant)

The Sky Garden looks just like a normal skyscraper from the outside, but when you ride the lift up to level 35 you’ll step out into a greenhouse. Imagine if they lifted the Palm House at Kew five hundred feet into the sky – that’s exactly what it’s like.

The view from the top is the second-best in London after The Shard, and they’ve also got an open-air balcony if you don’t mind being buffeted about by the wind. And here’s the best news: it’s totally free!

12 See the lights at Piccadilly Circus

Piccadilly CircusPhoto: Craig Cross
Time required?
A typical visit takes 10 mins

Piccadilly Circus is London’s equivalent of Times Square in New York – we’ve got the lights, the rush and buzz of the pubs and West End theatres, and thousands of tourists milling around the Eros fountain trying to decide what to do with their night.

This is where everything stretches out from… you’ve got the big cinemas in Leicester Square, all the shows and musicals down Shaftesbury Avenue, and the posh shops down Piccadilly and Regent Street.

13 Stand outside a sentry box at Horse Guards

Sentry box at Horse GuardsPhoto: Craig Cross
Time required?
A typical visit takes 15-20 mins

Queuing up to get a selfie standing next to one of the giant horses at Horse Guards is another must-do for a tourist. There are two horse boxes on the Whitehall side of Horse Guards, plus a couple of Foot Guards in the courtyard, and the area is pretty much packed with tourists all through the day.

Whenever you drive past on the bus there will be a hundred-or-so people patiently waiting by the sentry boxes for their turn to step up and get a photo (they never stand there too long because they’re afraid the horses might kick them!). Sometimes you will see the tourists trying to make the soldiers smile as well but they never succeed, because the soldiers are famously stoney-faced under their helmets.

You might like to time your visit with one of the daily ceremonies at Horse Guards. Changing the Guard takes place at 11 AM and the Dismounting Ceremony starts every evening at 4 PM.

14 Westminster Abbey

Westminster AbbeyPhoto: Craig Cross
Opening times?
9.30 AM to 4.30 PM (Mon-Sat); Only open for services (Sun); Last entry 1 hour before closing
Adults £25.00; Children £11.00 (6-17); Infants free (under-6); Family ticket £25.00
Time required?
A typical visit takes 2 hours

Westminster Abbey is one of the most historic buildings in England, dating all the way back to the reign of Edward the Confessor in 1045. You can still see his tomb in the centre of the Abbey, alongside the resting places of many of England’s most famous (and infamous) kings and queens.

One of the most popular places for tourists is Poets’ Corner, which contains graves or memorials to literary giants like Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens. You might like to attend one of their choral Evensong services as well.

15 Watch a theatre show in the West End

West End theatrePhoto: Craig Cross

No bucket list would be complete without a night in the West End watching one of the big musicals. The longest running shows in London are the The Mousetrap, Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera.

16 Ride across the river on the cable car

Cable carPhoto: Craig Cross

Normally you’d have to go skiing to ride on a cable car, but London has one that stretches over the Thames between the O2 Arena and Excel Centre.

The IFS Cloud Cable Car is only a quick five-minute ride, but it rises up three hundred feet and gives you a great view of the Thames Barrier and Canary Wharf.

Be advised that it does shake about a bit so you’ll need some nerves to ride it, but once you actually get up to the top you’ll soon calm down and enjoy the view.

17 Take a boat trip to Greenwich

City CruisesPhoto: Craig Cross

There are a couple of companies that we recommend when getting a boat to Greenwich – City Cruises and Thames River Sightseeing (TRS).

You’ll board the boat at Westminster pier in the shadow of Big Ben and then float slowly past Cleopatra’s Needle, Globe Theatre, Tate Modern and St. Paul’s Cathedral. Then you’ll pass under Tower Bridge and past the skyscrapers at Canary Wharf before it drops you off at Greenwich by the Cutty Sark.

18 >Natural History Museum

Natural History MuseumPhoto: Craig Cross
Opening times?
10 AM to 5.50 PM (Mon-Sun); Last entry 20 mins before closing
Time required?
A typical visit takes 3 hours

There are plenty of museums we could have put on this list, but we decided to limit ourselves to just one. Lots of people would have plumped for the British Museum but we think the Natural History Museum is more fun.

This place is famous for its dinosaur bones but it also has a dead zoo with half the animals on the planet… everything from a lion, tiger and polar bear, to a giant giraffe and elephant. They also have plenty of birds, reptiles and insects, and lots of plants and rocks.

19 National Gallery

National GalleryPhoto: Craig Cross
Opening times?
10 AM to 6 PM (Mon-Thu, Sat-Sun); 10 AM to 9 PM (Fri)
Time required?
A typical visit takes 2-2½ hours

The most popular gallery in London is the Tate Modern, but modern art has a very polarising effect on people – you either love it or hate it. So we’re going for something much more traditional – the National Gallery.

The collection includes some of the most famous names in art: Botticelli, Constable, Monet, Rembrandt, Renoir, Titian, Turner and Van Gogh. Or how about Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci? Or Michelangelo, Van Dyck and Vermeer? That’s the quality of art we’re talking about.

20 Madame Tussauds

Madame TussaudsPhoto: Craig Cross
Opening times?
10 AM to 3 PM (Mon-Sun); Last entry 1 hour before closing
Adults £37.00; Children £33.50 (3-15); Infants free (under-3)
Time required?
A typical visit takes 2 hours

You might want to skip this one if you haven’t got kids, but we couldn’t write a London bucket list and fail to mention Madame Tussauds.

People queue outside this attraction all day and you should definitely buy your tickets in advance if you don’t want to be stuck outside for thirty minutes. Once inside you can take some selfies with famous film stars, pop stars, sports stars, politicians and historical figures.

21 Straddle the Meridian Line at the Royal Observatory

Royal ObservatoryPhoto: Craig Cross
Opening times?
10 AM to 5 PM (Mon-Sun); Last entry 30 mins before closing
Adults £16.00; Children £8.00 (4-15); Infants free (under-4)
Time required?
A typical visit takes 2 hours for the observatory, plus 1 hour for a planetarium show

Every city likes to think it’s the centre of the world but London really is (sort of) – because Greenwich is where you’ll find the meridian line. That’s the imaginary line that stretches from Pole to Pole to mark longitude zero.

If you clamber up Greenwich Hill then you’ll find the Royal Observatory on the top. While you’re there you can watch one of their star shows in the planetarium.

22 Rise an open-top sightseeing bus

Tootbus TourPhoto: Craig Cross

One of the most popular attractions in London is an open-top sightseeing bus. It’s usually one of the first things that a tourist wants to do. But take our advice: if you’re going to ride one then do it on your very first morning because the whole point of catching a sightseeing bus is that it gives you a quick look at the most famous landmarks, and there’s nothing worse than seeing a great place for the very first time at the end of your stay, and then realising you haven’t got any time left to visit.

The most popular bus companies in London are the Tootbus Tour, Big Bus Tour and Golden Tours.

23 Do some shopping at Harrods

HarrodsPhoto: Craig Cross
Opening times?
10 AM to 9 PM (Mon-Sat); 11.30 AM to 6 PM (Sun)
Time required?
A typical visit takes 45-60 mins

Every tourist has to do some shopping at some point (you want to buy some souvenirs, right?), and the best shop in London is Harrods. Unfortunately it’s also the most expensive, because this is the world’s most luxurious department store where you can easily blow a few grand on a new pair of shoes.

24 Have a ride on the London Underground

London Underground trainPhoto: Craig Cross

When you come to London you need to get the full Londoner experience, so that’s why we’ve included a ride on the London Underground.

What you need to do is enter the bowels of the underground down one of the long escalators, or pick one of the original ones that are still lined with art-deco tiles (somewhere like Baker Street), and then wait for the cold rush of wind as the train lights come roaring round the bend. The tube train will clatter along the platform and empty out its busy businessmen and suitcases and suits, and on you’ll get, holding onto one of the poles as it goes rumbling through the tunnel.

This is what London is all about – this is how it’s been for a hundred years. If you ride around on one of these then you can call yourself a Londoner!

25 Have lunch at Covent Garden

Covent GardenPhoto: Craig Cross
Time required?
A typical visit takes 45-60 mins (but more if you plan to stop and eat)

There’s a reason why people love having lunch at Covent Garden – the buskers. The best place to find them is in the big courtyard opposite St. Paul’s Church. That’s where they have all the acrobats, magicians, fire-eaters, stilt walkers and contortionists. They’ve got a few restaurants with open-air tables out the front as well.

But the best area is downstairs in the Piazza where you can sometimes listen to a string quartet playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, or some opera singers belting out some Verdi.

London Squire bookThe owns and has spent the last decade reviewing the capital’s landmarks, attractions and hotels. His guidebook is available from Amazon

Your comments and questions

Stephen Jones The Wallace collection Coffee upstairs at The Royal Opera House Covent Garden Roast Beef at Simpsons London Zoo Regent park inner circle in June when the roses are in bloom

andrewilliam Kew Gardens is always a favourite when I have visitors in town!

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