Buckingham Palace and the Changing of the Guard
One of Britain’s most iconic buildings, Buckingham Palace is also the scene of London’s most popular display of pomp and circumstance, the Changing of the Guard. Drawing crowds at 11:30am in every season, this colorful and free display of precision marching and music also takes place at St. James’s Palace where you can follow the band along The Mall as they march between sites.
Buckingham Palace was built in 1837 and has been the London residence of the Royal Family since Queen Victoria’s accession. If you’re wondering whether the Queen is in, look at the flagpole at the top of the building: if the royal standard is flying day and night, she’s at home. On special state occasions, she and members of the Royal Family may even emerge on the central balcony.
The Tower of London and Tower Bridge
From prison to palace, treasure vault to private zoo, the magnificent Tower of London has fulfilled many different roles down the centuries. One of Britain’s most iconic structures, this spectacular World Heritage Site offers hours of fascination for visitors curious about the country’s rich history – after all, so much of it happened here. Inside the massive White Tower, built in 1078 by William the Conqueror, is the 17th-century Line of Kings with its remarkable displays of royal armaments and armor. Other highlights include the famous Crown Jewels exhibition, the Beefeaters, the Royal Mint, and gruesome exhibits about the executions that took place on the grounds. The adjacent Tower Bridge, its two huge towers rising 200 feet above the River Thames, is one of London’s best-known landmarks.
The British Museum
Displaying one of the world’s finest collections of antiquities, the British Museum contains more than 13 million artifacts from the ancient world. With priceless objects from Assyria, Babylonia, China, Europe, and elsewhere, it’s hard to know where to begin. But most tourists head first for the museum’s most famous exhibits: the controversial Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon, the Rosetta Stone, the colossal bust of Ramesses II, the Egyptian mummies, and the spectacular hoard of 4th-century Roman silver known as the Mildenhall Treasure.
Big Ben and Parliament
Nothing says “London” more emphatically than the 318-foot tower housing the giant clock and its resounding bell known as Big Ben. It’s as iconic a landmark as Tower Bridge. The tolling of Big Ben is known throughout the world as the time signal of BBC radio. Below it, stretching along the Thames, are the Houses of Parliament, seat of Britain’s government for many centuries and once the site of the royal Westminster Palace occupied by William the Conqueror. Tours of the parliament buildings offer a unique chance to see real-time debates and lively political discussions. From Parliament Square, Whitehall is lined by so many government buildings that its name has become synonymous with the British government.
Ranking among the top art museums in the world, London’s National Gallery represents an almost complete survey of European painting from 1260 until 1920. The museum’s greatest strengths are in its collections of Dutch Masters and Italian Schools of the 15th and 16th centuries. Among its highlights are a cartoon (preliminary sketch) of the Madonna and Child by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo’s The Entombment, Botticelli’s Venus and Mars, van Gogh’s Sunflowers, and The Water-Lily Pond by Monet.
The Victoria and Albert Museum
The Victoria and Albert Museum (aka the V&A) is part of a South Kensington-based group of museums that includes the Natural History Museum and Science Museum. Founded in 1852, the V&A covers close to 13 acres and contains 145 galleries spanning some 5,000 years of art and related artifacts. Exhibits include ceramics and glass, textiles and costumes, silver and jewelry, ironwork, sculpture, prints, and photos.
Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square
Two of London’s best-known tourist spots, these famous squares lie not far apart and mark the gateways to Soho, London’s lively theater and entertainment district. Trafalgar Square was built to commemorate Lord Horatio Nelson’s victory over the French and Spanish at Trafalgar in 1805. Nelson’s Column, a 183-foot granite monument, overlooks the square’s fountains and bronze reliefs, which were cast from French cannons. Admiralty Arch, St. Martin-in-the-Fields, and the National Gallery surround the square. Piccadilly Circus marks the irregular intersection of several busy streets – Piccadilly, Regent, Haymarket, and Shaftesbury Avenue – and overlooking this somewhat untidy snarl of traffic stands London’s best-known sculpture, the winged Eros delicately balanced on one foot, bow poised. “It’s like Piccadilly Circus” is a common expression describing a busy and confusing scene.
The Two Tates: Tate Britain and Tate Modern
Once collectively known as the Tate Gallery, London’s two Tate galleries – Tate Britain and Tate Modern – comprise one of the world’s most important art collections. Opened in 1897 as the basis of a national collection of significant British art, the gallery continued to make acquisitions and needed more space to properly display its collections. The end result was the establishment of Tate Britain, in Millbank on the north side of the Thames, as home to its permanent collection of historic British paintings. A superbly transformed power station across the Thames became home to the modern art collections. Art lovers can spend a whole day viewing both sites, conveniently connected by high-speed ferry.
Another location with a long association with British royalty, Westminster Abbey stands on a site that’s been associated with Christianity since the early 7th century. Officially known as the Collegiate Church of St. Peter in Westminster, Westminster Abbey was founded by Edward the Confessor in 1065 as his place of interment. From his burial in 1066 until that of George II almost 700 years later, most sovereigns were not only crowned here but they were buried here, too. More recently, it’s become famous as the preferred location for Royal Weddings.
Churchill’s War Rooms
Among the most fascinating and evocative of London’s historic sites is the perfectly preserved nerve-center from which Prime Minister Winston Churchill directed the British military campaigns and the defense of his homeland throughout World War II. Their Spartan simplicity and cramped conditions underline the desperate position of England as the Nazi grip tightened across Europe. You’ll see the tiny cubicle where Churchill slept and the improvised radio studio where he broadcast his famous wartime speeches. Simple details, such as Clementine Churchill’s knitting wool marking the front lines on a map of Europe, bring the era to life as no museum could possibly do.
This is a city whose diners are adventurous to a fault, spawning all kinds of niche pop-ups and fleeting, Insta-fueled trends. Beyond the gimmicks, though, there’s a growing appreciation for ingredients and craft, whether it’s hand-rolled pasta at Padella or fiery clay-pot cooking at Kiln. Our list runs from Michelin-starred dining rooms to tiny neighborhood joints, serving exquisite tasting menus (see Pidgin) or terrific, offal-laced flatbreads with a side of Metallica (Lee Tiernan’s Black Axe Mangal, a cult address among chefs). Be prepared to book ahead—and where you can’t, to queue—but rest assured, it’s going to be worth it. Read on for our picks for where to eat when you’re in London.
Darkly atmospheric, thanks to the row of flickering votive candles and eccentric decorative touches, 108 Garage is the perfect spot to impress a date. Chef Chis Denney’s five-course tasting menu is furiously inventive, and the wine list offers a dozen options by the glass to pair with it. (Plus giant, inventively garnished gin and tonics.) The vibe is upscale but relaxed, and the dining experience is like no other—from the house sourdough all the way to dessert: a classic chocolate crémaux, audaciously twinned with artichoke ice-cream.
40 Maltby Street
It’s all about the natural wines and the serious talent in the kitchen at 40 Maltby Street, where trains rumble overhead and the decor’s strictly DIY (a tiny kitchen, home-made tables, and wine festival posters on the walls). You’ll find a scribbled blackboard by the bar, listing the menu—it changes daily. The wines are all sourced from small-scale producers, and there are half-a-dozen options by the glass and eight pages of bottles. Come here for a wine-fueled weekend lunch, with the Maltby market in full swing outside.
The constantly changing menu at Aulis—expect around 15 courses—is a chance for the chefs to let loose, experimenting with the best ingredients money can buy. It’s as much immersive theater as fine dining, with chefs cooking just across the counter. Come for a seamless succession of wildly inventive dishes that both look and taste exquisite, with a pairing of unusual but reliably delicious wine with each course.
At Bao Fitzrovia you’ll walk into an airy, stripped-back space, with stools around a U-shaped bar, where waiters will hand you a tick-box menu and a pencil. Our advice? Don’t panic and try to order all at once: you can—and should—add more dishes later. Naturally, you should start with a plump, pillowy bao or two, but don’t neglect the small plates or the larger main dishes (one should be enough for two people). Drop by for a quick dinner with friends, or a solo lunch at the bar.
Every dish has earned its place on the menu at Barrafina, a cult tapas bar with an ever-present queue, from the crisp-skinned chicken in Romesco sauce to the molten, magnificent tortilla. The best way to order it is to watch the chefs at work, and get whatever’s looking good. The convivial vibe makes solo dining an extra attractive prospect, but it’s also a great place to take a date (so you can share more plates).
Black Axe Mangal
Black Axe is a tiny, low-lit joint with a serious heavy metal habit. The vibe is “dive bar meets Chinese takeaway,” with black and gold walls, waving lucky cats, and floral plastic tablecloths, and there’s serious talent in the (small) kitchen. Come for a dinner big on flavors, spices, and offal, with every component slow-cooked, crafted, or smoked in house, or a more kid-friendly brunch of cinnamon-banana flatbreads. Service is fast, friendly, and suitably rock ‘n’ roll.
Claude Bosi at Bibendum
This is is just the place for a blow-out meal: one that starts with champagne and witty amuse-bouches, and ends with a show-stopping cheese trolley. Tables get booked up weeks ahead, and there’s a tangible air of expectation for the seven-course tasting menu that blends beautifully elaborate dishes with rustic French cooking. Service is smooth and formal, the sommelier is very helpful, and the meal is unforgettable. Even the set lunch menu feels gratifyingly grand.
Below, you’ll find historic corners of London, hidden-away art and antiquities, curiosities and beautiful buildings that don’t appear on traditional tourist itineraries for London attractions.
Just as its name suggests, Little Venice is London’s answer to the famous Italian city. Home to various waterside cafes, pubs and restaurants, the area comes alive in the summer months as Londoners jump on canal boats or walk along the riverside to nearby Camden or Regent’s Park.
Tucked behind Upper Street in Islington, Camden Passage is a real treasure trove of cute cafes, independent boutiques, vintage shops – where you’ll find everything from exquisite one-offs to fun party outfits – as well as an antiques market selling furniture, curios, war memorabilia and various bric-a-brac.
Pie and mash shops
It doesn’t get much more traditional London than a plate of pie, mash and the classic green liquor; maybe with a side of the cockney favourite, jellied eels. Here are seven of our favourites, from East End pie and mash shops to some more gastronomic takes on the classic.
The Thames Path
The Thames is home to many of London’s treasures, not many of them hidden, but the 40-mile-long Thames Path has many quieter spots to be discovered. The best way to explore is to hire a bike and cycle the length of the path, with public beaches, one of Charles Dickens’ favourite pubs (The Prospect of Whitby) and the village of Rotherhithe just some of the highlights to discover.
Chin Chin Labs’ liquid nitrogen ice cream
Indulge in an ice cream like no other at Chin Chin Labs in Camden. The original concoctions of this unusual ice cream parlour come to life thanks to the freezing properties of liquid nitrogen. You can see the process as you wait to be served, amid chemical clouds in the shop’s laboratory. Chin Chin Labs’ delicious creations come in quirky flavours such as watermelon and red velvet.
Wilton’s Music Hall
A traditional Victorian music hall in London’s Tower Hamlets, Wilton’s Music Hall has been fully restored in recent years to its former glory. Book tickets to a variety of performances, drop by for a drink in the impressive Mahogany Bar or simply take a tour of this wonderful, historic venue.
Kyoto Gardens in Holland Park
The Kyoto Japanese Garden is a hidden gem wrapped in another hidden gem: Holland Park. The beautiful park is tucked away in smart Kensington and has plenty of its own hidden corners, with winding paths, statues, peacocks, an opera house and an orangery, alongside the tranquil Kyoto Gardens.
Sir John Soane’s Museum
The former residence of Sir John Soane, architect of the Bank of England, is one of London’s finest public museums. More than 20,000 architectural drawings and antiquities, including the Egyptian Sarcophagus of Seti, sit alongside works by Turner, Canaletto and Piranesi at Sir John Soane’s Museum, where everything is left in much the way Soane wanted.
Dennis Severs’ House
One of London’s stranger tourist attractions is Dennis Severs’ House. Visitors are invited to wander around the artist’s former home, which is presented as if it has just been left by an 18th-century family, with food uneaten and beds recently slept in, making it one of the capital’s original immersive experiences.
The unusual blend of a medieval palace and an Art Deco mansion makes Eltham Palace one of the most unique historical properties in London. Once a favoured hunting spot of Henry VIII, the royal palace fell into decline until the 1930s when millionaires Stephen and Virginia Courtauld turned it into a glamourous home for entertaining leading society figures.