What to see in London as a First Time Visitor
London holds a special place in my heart because it was (and still is) the first European city I’ve ever visited. I got very lucky because one of my best friends lives there and him and Claudia were incredible hosts. They were probably the best hosts in the history of hosting! The week-long trip to England was one of the best ones I’ve ever taken!
I am dedicating this blog entry to the must-visit spots in London for those first-time visitors! London is, by far, one of the most popular city destinations in the world. The city is quite big, so my recommendation is to at least spend 5 full days here. I think that five days will give you enough time to visit museums, well-known landmarks, and its historic architecture!
GETTING AROUND LONDON
Public transportation for the win! To make the most of your time in London, pick up an Oyster Card (or a Visitor Oyster Card). You can purchase one at the airport or at one of the London ‘tube’ stations. Word to the wise: bring comfortable shoes! My brand of choice: All birds.
This is my (maybe kind of long) comprehensive list of must-visit spots in London! I tried to group them into zones so that you may split them into the 4 to 5 days.
OK! Let’s get started.
Westminster Abbey is definitely one of the most impressive and historical churches in England. The church has been the site of all English and British coronations since the year 1066 as well as the site of over a dozen royal weddings, including Prince William and Catherine Middleton in 2011.This is a popular place so be sure to leave some time to get in and explore. The included audio guide helps give you a lot of background on the church and points out all the highlights.
Tickets: £20.00 / adult.
St James’s Park
By far, one of my favorite spots in the city to visit. Take a walk through St. James’s Park while you walk towards Buckingham Palace. The park is one of eight of the city’s Royal Parks and has over 50 acres of green spaces, flower beds, and a lake. There is a small café here and it is a great place to take a short break.
Buckingham Palace is probably the most famous palace in England. You can tour the palace but only during the late summer months. You can get a good view of the palace from outside the gates (with the large crowd of people). You may also get a chance to see the Changing of the Queen’s Guard ceremony at the front of the Palace. The ceremony usually takes place at around 11 am, so be sure to arrive early!
Piccadilly Circus is a famous road junction and a popular public meeting spot in London. It’ll probably remind you of Times Square in NYC. The area is famous for its large neon signs and video advertising as well as the Shaftesbury Memorial with its statue of Anteros. The spot is well-located for an easy walk to the West End theaters and Regent Street, one of London’s major shopping streets.
Trafalgar Square is a popular public plaza in central London known for its monuments, architecture, street artists, and surrounding museums. The square itself is home to Nelson’s Column and the famous stone lion statues. Around the square, you’ll also find two of London’s top art museums, the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery. If the weather isn't the best, and you want to spend some time with art, I highly recommended them.
Parliament Square & Houses of Parliament
Parliament Square is a public square where you’ll find a number of statues of famous people, including Winston Churchill, David Lloyd George, Abraham Lincoln, and Nelson Mandela. The square is surrounded by famous buildings, including Westminster Abbey and St. Margaret’s Church. On one side of the square you’ll see the iconic Houses of Parliament with Elizabethan Tower which contains the famous Big Ben bell. (I learned that during my trip, hehee).
Tower of London
The Tower of London is a UNESCO world heritage site that has served as a fortress, prison, armory, Royal Mint, and place of execution among other uses during its long history. There is a lot packed in here and highlights include the Crown Jewels, White Tower, and Tower Green. This is a popular place so I’d strongly recommend trying to get here around opening, head to the Crown Jewels first, and plan to spend at least 2 hours visiting here.
Tower Bridge and London Bridge
Take some time to appreciate two of London’s most famous bridges, the London Bridge and Tower Bridge. Both bridges have exhibitions you can visit, although in terms of time I would choose to visit only one exhibition or just admire them both from the outside.
St Paul’s Cathedral
Visiting this iconic Cathedral is a must. If you’ve ever seen the London skyline, I am confident you’ll see the St Paul Cathedral. You can see incredible views from the top of the dome and if you want, you can go down below to see the crypts. Tickets to enter: 16 pounds.
This pedestrian footbridge is one of the coolest bridges in the city.I recommend crossing it at night, the views of the city are really nice. Bonus! This bridge was featured in the Harry Potter movies!
Tate Modern Museum
This was one of my favorite spots in London. It is right across St Paul’s Cathedral, walking the Millennium Bridge. The museum is free to enter its main galleries. They do feature certain exhibits and that cost may vary. I got very lucky when I visited and saw the work of Georgia O’Keefe. The museum features an extensive collection of modern art dating from the 1900s to present day. Go to the top of the museum to see amazing views of the city!
I really loved reading Shakespeare’s plays in high school. To me, this was a must-visit spot. I recommend doing the guided tour to learn some great historical facts about the theatre. The current theatre was reconstructed three times.
If you’re in London, you MUST visit its many markets. You can start at Borough market – one of London’s most popular markets featuring more food stalls than you can imagine. This place really does have something for every eater. It is home to some of the best British and international produce and dishes. I will dedicate a future post about London's markets in a future post. Stay tuned for this :)
The British Museum is a museum holding a vast collection of artifacts from cultures around the world, ancient to modern. Established in 1753 with the collection of just one man, it has grown to be one of the largest and most comprehensive collections in the world with about 8 million objects in its permanent collection! If you are going to only visit one general museum in London, this would probably be my recommendation as it holds a wealth of treasures from mummies to vases, with the Rosetta Stone, and Parthenon sculptures being some of its most well-known treasures.
Camden Market is not a single market, but consists of several different markets within walking distance of each other. Market stalls sell just about everything including food, clothing, crafts, art, and souvenirs. In addition to the market stalls, you’ll also find restaurants, bars, and dance clubs. It is a popular tourist destination as well as a meet-up spot for Londoners. Great place to find something to eat. More to come on Camden market soon!
If you’re into museums, visit the National Gallery. It is among one of the most visited art museums in the world, after the Louvre in Paris and The MET in New York city. It’s free to visit so I recommend you go first thing in the morning when it opens to avoid the crowds.
If the weather is nice, I’d spend some time exploring Kensington Gardens and adjacent Hyde Park. Within this large green space, you’ll find a number of gardens, sporting area, statues, biking trails, and boat rentals (seasonal). Some of the notable places to see or visit include the Serpentine Gallery, Serpentine Sackler Gallery, the Princess Diana Memorial, Peter Pan statue, the Elfin Oak, and the ornate Albert Memorial. An easy place to spend an hour or two.
Greenwich Park is yet another of the large royal parks in London.My favorite attractions in this park are rose garden, the Ranger’s House which houses the Wernher Collection of art, and the Royal Observatory Greenwich. The hill in the park is a bit steep but you should definitely climb it to get some awesome views of London!
Greenwich Market has been in existence since the 18th century and is one of London’s best- covered markets. I honestly really loved this one, and I think it’s a bit under-rated! The market sells food, clothing, flowers, antiques, crafts, souvenirs, art, and more. There are also a number of pubs and restaurants nearby. A great area to grab a snack!
The list could truly go on and on. The key to London is walking, you can discover so much if you walk all around the city. Take advantage of their awesome ‘tube’ system and just enjoy!
Is there a spot I missed that you think I should have included? Tell me in the comments!
Thank you for reading!