Visiting London, but don’t have weeks to see it all? Here you’ll find the second half of my “must-see” list of London attractions. For part 1 of My Favorite Sights in London blog post, click here.
Open: Unfortunately, tours are suspended until 2021 due to refurbishment.
Big Ben is one of the most recognizable attractions in London. Located on the north end of the Palace of Westminster, Big Ben is the name people use to refer to the tower, clock, and bell; however, the name was actually given to just the tower’s bell that originally rang throughout London. In 2012, the tower was officially named Elizabeth Tower, for Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee. Unfortunately, Big Ben is not currently open to tourists. In August 2017, refurbishments to repair the clock and tower began. They will conclude in 2021. Fortunately, you can still get great photos from the outside! Click here for more info.
Palace of Westminster/Houses of Parliament
Hours: Self-guided and guided tours of Parliament are only available on certain days. Click here for more information on guided tours. If you’re interested in self-guided audio tour information, click here.
Self-guided audio tour for adult: £18.50 (advance purchase) or £20.50 for same day tickets
Guided tours for adult: £25.50 (advance purchase) or £28 for same day tickets . See website for additional information on ticket prices.
The Palace of Westminster, also known as the Houses of Parliament, is where the legislative body for all of the United Kingdom meets. The current building, built in the mid 1800’s, was constructed with limestone in perpendicular gothic architectural style. It is an impressive building to see in person! There are many different tours of Parliament available – you can take a self-guided audio tour, a guided tour, a family tour, or even sit in on debates or committee hearings in the House of Commons or House of Lords. TIP: It’s recommended to buy your tickets online ahead of time to save yourself both money and time. Find out more information on visiting here.
If you have additional time to spend, be sure to check out Parliament’s Jewel Tower, across Abingdon Street (next to Westminster Abbey). Built around 1365, this tower was built to house Edward III’s treasures, but now houses historical exhibitions. Click here for Jewel Tower information.
Tower of London
Open: Tuesday-Saturday: 9:00am – 4:30pm, Sunday-Monday: 10:00am – 4:30pm
Admission: Adults 16 and up: £21.50, children 5-15: £9.70
The Tower of London brings medieval England to life! Come visit the castle that was once a prison, a royal residence, an armory, a treasury, and is the current home to the Crown Jewels. Be sure to check out the White Tower, which sits in the middle of the compound; it is the oldest building here, built in 1078. With a slightly confusing name (it’s not just a tower, but a fortress of sorts with a tower in the center), the Tower of London is a collection of various artifacts and historic buildings. Here are just a few things you can see during a visit:
- A torture exhibit, displaying various tools of torture once used
- The Crown Jewels and other royal regalia including plates, jewels, crowns, swords, and sceptres
- An artistic menagerie of exotic animals that were once kept at the Tower
- The infamous ravens that reside here
- The Beefeaters/Yeoman Warders and the locking of the Tower every night at 9:53pm
- See the Traitor’s Gate, where prisoners once entered the Tower via the River Thames
- The White Tower, which holds the Line of Kings, showcasing royal armor of ages past
It’s probably best to allow at least half of a day here. TIP: Arrive here first thing when the Tower opens and head to the Crown Jewels first. If you do, you’ll avoid waiting in an enormous line and seeing the jewels with several hundred other people! Note that there are places to shop and eat within the Tower walls. I recommend you buy your tickets online before you visit to save a bit of money and avoid standing in an extra line.
TIP: After exiting, stop by the river to get a great view of Tower Bridge. It’s a great stop for a photo op! Click here for more information and to go to the Tower’s website.
The London Wall
Across the street from the Tower of London, you can see a piece of the original stone wall that once surrounded London. Built by the Romans around the late 2nd or early 3rd century, this wall protected “Londinium,” an important Roman port town. Upon exiting the Tower of London, cross the Tower Hill Road and head towards the Tower Hill tube station. Here you will find Tower Hill Garden and a statue of Roman Emperor Trajan. The wall isn’t very big, so be sure not to walk past it!
Open: Daily 10am – 5:30pm (closed Fridays at 8:30pm)
One of my absolute favorite places to visit in London is the British Museum. If you’re a history buff, you will fall in love here. You can find so much ancient history down every corridor. Here’s just a small sampling of what you’ll see:
- The Rosetta Stone – Greek, hieroglyphs and demotic Egyptian language carved on a stone from 196 BC
- Lindow Man – the preserved body of a man found in a bog, dating from 2 BC- 119 AD
- The Elgin Marbles – Friezes and statues that once adorned the Parthenon in Greece
- Hoa Hakananai’a – an Easter Island Statue
- Sutton Hoo Helmet and Ship Burial Collection – 7th century AD
- Mummies from the 4th century BC, as well as Egyptian statues and paintings
Interestingly, some of the artifacts in the British Museum are controversial because they were taken from their original locations and brought to England in the 1700-1800’s. The museum defends its ownership by stating that it acts as curator and protector of their artifacts, offers free viewing by the public, as well as promises to preserve these artifacts for future generations.
TIP: I recommend arriving early if you are here during the summer months. Also, do your research so you know what you want to see! (To be even more prepared, know where these artifacts/exhibits are in the museum so you don’t waste time wandering or getting lost.) Even though the museum is free, some exhibitions do cost extra. Check out the British Museum’s website for more information.
Trafalgar Square is a public square in central London, complete with a central pool, decorative fountains, and statues. Named for Britain’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, the square sits just in front of the National Gallery Art Museum. If you’re in the area, it’s a good place to just sit and enjoy the historical and architectural beauty of London. If you’re visiting during the Christmas season, be sure to stop by and glimpse the yearly Christmas tree that comes from Norway. A ceremonial lighting and other holiday activities can also be found here during the holidays.
The National Gallery
Open: Daily 10am – 6 pm (open Fridays until 9pm)
Located right behind Trafalgar Square, sits London’s art museum, the National Gallery. With over 2,300 pieces of art, this gallery should be on every tourists’ list. Even if you aren’t a huge fan of art, you can appreciate famous or historical paintings and the National Gallery has both. Expect to spend a couple of hours here, unless you’re an art enthusiast and want to see it all.
TIP: Be aware that some exhibitions require a fee. Some pieces in the permanent exhibits include:
- Titan’s Bacchus and Ariadne
- Van Gogh’s Sunflowers
- Holbein’s The Ambassadors
- Velázquez’s The Toilet of Venus
- Self-portraits of Rembrandt
- Georges Seurat’s Bathers at Asnières
- Michelangelo’s The Entombment
- Venus and Mars by Botticelli
If you have more time in London, other great places to visit include:
- The theater district (catch one of many amazing performances here!)
- Abbey Road Studios (although the studios are not open to the public, you can still walk the infamous crosswalk and add your own graffiti to the entrance wall of the studio)
- St. Paul’s Cathedral (where Prince Charles married Diana Spencer)
- ArcelorMittal Orbit, the world’s longest and tallest tunnel slide
- Walk London, Tower, and/or Millennium Bridges (check out the glass floor walkway high above Tower Bridge!)
- The Olympic Village from the 2012 Summer Olympics
- Clarence House and Hampton Court Palace
- St. James Park (London’s oldest park and once home to King Henry the Eighth’s hunting grounds)
- Shakespeare’s Globe Theater
- The Borough Market
- The Roman Baths
- Victoria and Albert Museum
- The Churchill War Rooms
Be sure to click here for part 1 of My Favorite Sights in London blog post, if you’re looking for more attractions.
Enjoy your visit to London! What are your favorite places to visit? Let me know in the comments!
sources: royalcollection.org.uk, wikipedia.org, freetoursbyfoot.com, changing-guard.com, londoneye.com, royalparks.org.uk, westminster-abbey.org, english-heritage.org.uk, hrp.org.uk, untoldmorsels.com