If you’re looking for a Harry Potter tour, modern art, or world heritage site recommendation, this might not be the place for you.
Sure, the Tower of London, Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey, and Saint Margaret’s Church on the abbey grounds are all UNESCO World Heritage sites, but that’s not why they’re included.
But, if you’re looking for practical information, ideas for day trips, and interesting things to do in London, you’ve found the right article.
London is a fabulous city. I was lucky enough to attend King’s College, London, for my doctorate, so my American viewpoints are blended with the benefit of multiple extended stays there.
It’s the ancient Roman city of Londinium and the former capital of Britannia. Fast forward about two-thousand years, and you have a thriving metropolis on the River Thames that still feels like a small town.
Yes, I just described London as a small town.
That’s because central London, known as Zones 1 and 2 on the Tube map, is walkable from end to end. If you include the suburbs of north, south, west, and east London, then, yes, it gets much larger.
But the average tourist doesn’t visit the London suburbs while they’re in town. That’s because, nearly everything you’ve heard or read about London, is in or close to central London.
And there are so many things to do in London!
Getting to London
Here I go again with a Tripmasters recommendation. This time though, I’m going to walk you through booking your trip to London.
I just clicked the link and now I’m on the Tripmasters main page. I plugged in leaving from Huntsville, going to London, coach, staying five nights, and arriving on September 19, 2022.
The price per person was $1,528.
Now I’m going to check a day to the left and right to see if there’s any price difference. Arriving September 18 is $1,496, arriving September 20 is $1,547.
I do this by clicking on the “arrive on” dates at the top of the page before modifying the trip.
Not much difference this time. But if you have a little flexibility, now and then, you’ll find it’s hundreds cheaper to shift a day or two. I chose the 18th to save $100.
Sometimes we stay longer if we moved the date left and saved money, especially if there isn’t any difference in the original price.
Our new example itinerary has us leaving on a Thursday. When possible, I don’t like to fly out of London on the weekends because of holiday travelers and Tube maintenance.
Now that we know our dates, I click on “browse all flights” to make sure the computer isn’t turning a 10-hour flight into 20 hours. The example itinerary did exactly that!
I also tweak the departure and arrival times if necessary.
You can sort the available flights by duration, departure, or price. I changed the flights and we’re back to $1,542 per person. The $46 per person extra means 10 hours of travel time instead of 20!
Where to Stay in London
I’ve stayed on every side of central London and out on Canary Wharf. Most places in central London are fine, but I like to stay north of Hyde Park in the Bayswater area.
On the south side of Hyde Park, the Kensington area is fine as well. They have quite a few hotels near the Gloucester Road Underground Station, so don’t be surprised to see this area recommended.
In London, you’ll find hotel chains and boutique hotels in antique buildings when you search for accommodations. That preference is up to you.
Back to our example itinerary. It’s time to browse hotels. This is the most daunting part of the Tripmasters process, especially if you’ve never been there and don’t know one location from the next.
In general, four- and five-star hotels and apartments are normally better than the three-star options.
Luckily, the Ashburn Hotel came up on our itinerary. We’ve stayed there a couple of times and it’s a very nice four-star boutique hotel in Kensington. Whew, the Tripmasters website just saved me an hour!
That means the price per person based on double occupancy is still $1,542 for international flights and five nights in London.
Then I click “continue” a few times and save it for later or book. The save feature doesn’t last very long, so if you need to get someone’s approval, hurry before the prices change and you have to start over.
Fast forward to September and you just landed at Heathrow Airport.
Collect your bags and follow the Underground signs to the trains/Tube. You can see a clerk or use a machine to buy an Oyster Card. The clerks are usually very nice, so if you’re unsure, start with them.
Once you have the card, put about £20 on it and then buy the seven-day unlimited Zones 1 and 2 pass for London.
The £20 gets you from and to the airport, and the Zone 1 and 2 weekly purchase allows you to hop on and off the Underground for your entire trip.
It was just under £40 for the week the last time we were there during the Queen’s Jubilee. If you’re super worried, they’ll even mail you a pre-loaded Visitor Oyster Card if you plan ahead.
Nowadays, I normally don’t exchange money. You can use your credit card to pay for nearly everything.
If you want a few British Pounds in your pocket, use an ATM, like you would in the States. Don’t withdraw too much or you’ll lose money converting pounds back to dollars when you leave.
Riding the Underground
You’re in luck, because the London Underground goes all the way to Heathrow Airport, and is laid out in an easy-to-use manner.
Nearly everyone rides the Tube in London because driving is slow, expensive, and extremely annoying. Remember, it’s an old city that wasn’t designed for bikes, cars, and buses.
With your Oyster Card and luggage in hand, follow the signs to the Underground.
Scan your Oyster Card and take the Piccadilly Line towards Cockfosters. It’s represented in blue, but no one refers to the line colors. Look at the bottom right of this Tube map to see the different lines.
If you look at the map, you’ll also see Zone 1 in the center and then a shaded Zone 2 around it. You can ride anywhere in those two zones for the week if you bought the seven-day unlimited pass.
If you travel outside Zones 1 and 2, the trip will be deducted from the original £20 you added to the Oyster Card. If you go over, your card will be frozen.
Don’t panic, you just need to add more money at one of the automated machines at any station to unlock it.
Things to Do in London
If you’ve been to London before, you’re probably thinking, finally! If you haven’t, you’re welcome.
Generally, you’ll arrive before check-in if you’re flying from the East Coast. The check-in time doesn’t matter, go to your hotel and see if your room’s ready.
If not, drop off your bags. I like to walk in Hyde Park, so that’s one of our first stops upon arrival, especially since we’re normally operating on very little sleep.
If you’re following along on our fictional trip, the Ashburn Hotel is the Gloucester Road Underground Station on the Piccadilly Line.
That means you’ll go straight there from Heathrow without changing trains.
You’ll follow the exit signs, scan your Oyster Card, and come out of the Underground facing Gloucester Road.
Turn left and walk to the intersection with the larger Cromwell Road. Turn left again and walk until you run into the hotel at the corner of Cromwell Road and Ashburn Gardens.
The walk from the corner is just over 200 yards. You’ll find walking through the Waitrose supermarket building is faster, but on your first try, take the slightly longer route.
Now, get ready to explore all the interesting things to do in London!
I guess you could compare Hyde Park to a smaller Central Park, but cleaner and with less crime. It’s definitely one of the things to do in London that you should try to fit into the schedule.
It’s relaxing to walk through the park on the different trails, swing by Kensington Palace, visit the Albert Memorial, watch the wildlife along the Serpentine, or take in the activity up at Speakers’ Corner.
If you’re staying at the Ashburn, you’ll leave the hotel and walk east along Cromwell Road towards the Natural History Museum.
On the far side of the museum, you’ll see Exhibition Road with the Victoria and Albert Museum on the other side.
Turn left and walk north on Exhibition Road. You’ll pass Imperial College and then end up in Hyde Park. The walk to Exhibition Road is about 800 yards, and another 750 yards from the turn until the park.
If you want to save your walking for the parks, hop back on the Tube at Gloucester Road and ride two or three stops on the Piccadilly Line towards Cockfosters.
The Knightsbridge and Hyde Park Corner stations will drop you off at the southeast corner of Hyde Park.
When you’re finished, you can head to the Queen Elizabeth Gate near the Hyde Park Corner Underground to cross over into Green and St. James’s Parks by the Wellington Arch.
These parks are an extension of Hyde Park that surround Buckingham Palace.
You’ve only been in London an hour and you’ve already figured out a lot of fun things to do in London.
Next is Buckingham palace. Not bad for a first-time visitor!
London always seems quite small. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the old architecture. But even Buckingham Palace looks small.
I guess the same can be said for the White House, but the scale in London is just different.
As you walk towards the palace, you’ll be on the backside. If you walk around to The Mall, you’ll see how it lays nicely at the end of the street.
If you’re a royal family enthusiast, you can book tickets to visit the inside of Buckingham Palace at certain times of the year. Tip, check the dates in advance.
One note on the British Royal Family. Most Brits have a favorable opinion of the royals, so mind your P’s and Q’s when you comment.
People you meet in London are polite, but there’s no need to test the waters of how they feel about the royals. Especially the Queen, who is extremely popular.
We last visited London during the Platinum Jubilee by accident. A nice lady named Laura asked us if we were there for the Jubilee, to which we replied, “What’s that?”
We were informed that there was a half-term, bank holiday. Translated, school summer break and federal holiday to celebrate Queen Elisabeth’s 70 years on the throne.
That meant nearly everyone was off. Luckily, many of them went abroad and didn’t impact our plans.
But a lot of people were very excited about the queen’s milestone. So, take in the royal sites and sounds, and tread lightly on any republic opinions you might have as an American.
The British Royal Family has resided at numerous castles throughout history. See the Historic Royal Palaces website for details.
Westminster is the seat of the British government and home to several must-see things to do in London.
Schedule some time to visit Westminster because there’s a lot to do.
Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Palace of Westminster, House of Lords, 10 Downing Street, Churchill’s War Rooms, the Changing of the Queen’s Life Guards, and parks, gardens, and memorials are all there.
You come out of the Tube station by Big Ben and Westminster Bridge. If you look across the River Thames, you’ll see the Giant Ferris Wheel known as the London Eye on the left.
The Florence Nightingale Museum is just to the right on the other side of the bridge as well.
Big Ben, actually named Clock Tower, then Elisabeth Tower, was built in the mid-19th century. It’s over 300 feet tall with clocks on four sides.
This attraction won’t take you very long, because you’ll only get to see it from the outside.
Big Ben sits on the corner of the Palace of Westminster, where the British parliament meets. The House of Lords is there as well, so you’ll be able to check two tourist attractions off your list.
The palace is a stunning, imposing building, especially when it reflects off the Thames.
If you turn around, you’re already at Westminster Abbey. This is where British Monarchs have been crowned since the Norman Invasion of 1066.
I think the double tower architecture looks similar to Notre Dame Cathedral if you’ve ever visited Paris.
If you want to go in, you’ll need to buy a ticket, preferably in advance. Luckily, you can buy one online up to two months ahead of time.
If you enjoy world heritage sites, the Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey, and Saint Margaret’s Church on the abbey grounds are all UNESCO World Heritage sites.
More London Attractions Around Westminster
When you’re done in this area, for more things to do in London, walk up to 10 Downing Street, Churchill’s War Rooms, and the Changing of the Queen’s Life Guards Horse Guards Parade.
10 Downing Street is where the British Prime Minster lives, so you’ll only see the famous black door from the outside.
But prepare to spend some time if you want to visit Churchill’s War Rooms and the Changing of the Queen’s Life Guards. These two London attractions are very popular and fun things to to in London.
You have to buy tickets for Churchill’s War Rooms as well.
But the war rooms will transport you back to the 1940s. It’s as if, when World War II was over, they stood up, walked out, and never returned. A pretty cool experience.
The Changing of the Queen’s Life Guards Horse Guards Parade is another throwback event.
You’re able to stand on the parade grounds while the Queen’s Household Cavalry changes out the guards. Yes, this includes lots of majestic horses and spit and polished cavalrymen in historic uniforms.
I don’t recall needing tickets, but check the times so you don’t miss it or have to wait.
But I do recall a 4 pm dismounted punishment parade. This 100-year punishment dates back to the late 19th century when Queen Victoria caught the house guard drinking and gambling on duty.
Queen Elizabeth later extended the punishment indefinitely because she liked the parade.
Westminster Station is four stops away from Gloucester Road on the Circle Line towards Hammersmith or District Line towards Upminster.
London from Above
If you’re tired of walking around London and want more relaxing things to do in London, take a ride on the London Eye, or better yet, the Emirates Air Line Cable.
Both will give you a bird’s eye view of the city, but you’ll see more on the Air Line Cable that hangs 90 feet in the air.
The Air Line Cable is by the O2 Arena, so you’ll take the Jubilee line to get there. From Gloucester take the Circle Line towards Hammersmith or District Line towards Upminster to Westminster.
Then transfer at Westminster to the Jubilee Line towards Stratford and get off at the North Greenwich Station. It’s on the outer edge of Zone 2.
Tower Bridge and the Tower of London
There are quite a few touristy things to do in London, and Tower Bridge is one of them. It serves as an iconic background for pictures to let your friends and family know where you are.
Luckily, it’s beside the Tower of London, so you can knock out two must-see things to do in London on one day trip.
The Tower of London is well preserved. If you’re not familiar with its history, it’s a notorious royal prison that houses the crown jewels.
The jewels are protected by the Yeomen Warders, better known as Beefeaters.
While you’re over in this area you might want to swing by Saint Paul’s Cathedral. The cathedral was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and has hosted numerous events since it was built.
One famous event that made it across the pond, was the Royal Wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981.
Take the Circle Line towards Hammersmith or District Line towards Upminster from Gloucester to Monument or Aldgate Stations.
I’m not necessarily talking about viewing the exhibitions, but they’re nice as well.
No, after countless hours sipping coffee and typing my doctoral thesis in the courtyard, I’m talking about the beautiful architecture and vibrant surroundings to take in at Somerset House.
Like much of London, there’s a lot of history surrounding the Strand and it’s a personal favorite among the things to do in London.
The Strand is only five or six stops away from Gloucester Road on the Circle Line towards Hammersmith or District Line towards Upminster.
You can exit at Embankment or Temple Stations and walk along the River Thames and walk up the stairs at Waterloo Bridge to get to street level.
If you’re going to a show at one of the theaters closer to Covent Garden, you can also use that Tube station.
In London, there’s an iconic London Pub on nearly every corner, but sometimes you have to search for the type of food you’re craving.
Covent Garden is unique, in that it has something for everyone within a few blocks. It’s another nice stop on your list of things to do in London.
We once had a Londoner, yes, he was a bit drunk, walk us from the Strand to his favorite restaurant in Covent Garden. It happened to be Rules, London’s oldest restaurant dating back to 1798.
Rules isn’t for everyone. It serves heavy, traditional British cuisine, including wild game. It also has the decor of a bygone era. But it’s a very cool place, even if you just want to have a drink.
To get there from the Gloucester Road Underground Station, take the Piccadilly Line towards Cockfosters. The Covent Garden Station is where you’ll get off.
Piccadilly Circus and SOHO
Think Times Square billboards and that will give you an idea of what you’ll see in Piccadilly Circus.
It has tourist attractions like the London Pavilion, the Shaftsbury Memorial dedicated to “the Poor Man’s Earl,” theaters, and shopping.
Piccadilly sits at the bottom of SOHO.
SOHO is known for arts and culture. Many of the big-name music groups from the 1960s and 70s have ties to the area.
There are pubs, restaurants, and the SOHO Theatre, but SOHO has transitioned more into a residential area in recent decades.
Piccadilly and SOHO might not be your cup of tea, but they’re worth seeing once and it’s still on many people’s lists of things to do in London.
Take Gloucester Road Underground Station on the Piccadilly Line towards Cockfosters. The Piccadilly Circus Station is where you’ll get off.
If you ask me, the real Notting Hill doesn’t look anything like the movie. It’s still a quaint area where they have street markets, but just not the same as Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts led me to believe.
There’s a busy main street by the Underground, colorful houses on the way to the older Portobello Road Market area, and plenty to do and see. But I’ve never bumped into Hugh or Julia when I’ve been there.
You might see the Brick Lane Market, Columbia Road Flower or Road Flower Market in the East End recommended elsewhere, but I prefer the nicer area of Notting Hill.
In Notting Hill, you can look at picturesque surroundings and strike up conversations with market vendors from all over the world at the Portobello Road Market.
My wife even met a fellow Swede expat there before and subsequently purchased a few extra tapestries from her.
At Gloucester Station take the Central Line in the opposite direction you’re used to, towards Edgewater. Then exit at Notting Hill Gate Station.
Harrods is probably the most famous department store in London.
There are several other shopping options close by, but if you haven’t been to Harrods, do go, it’s one of the iconic things to do in London.
They’ve maintained high standards in an era where online shopping is impacting brick and mortar. You’ll be impressed by the architecture, orderliness, products for sale, and just the size of the operation.
We also like the surrounding tea shops, cafes, and, restaurants, including Harvey Nichols Café on the 5th floor of the department store in Knightsbridge. They’re perfect to grab lunch, or coffee and dessert.
You can walk to Harrods from the Ashburn Hotel. It’s past the museums and after Cromwell merges with and becomes Brompton Road.
The closest Underground station is Knightsbridge. That’s two stops from Gloucester Road on the Piccadilly Line towards Cockfosters.
The second most famous department store in London is Selfridges & Co. on Oxford Street. Selfridges has most of the characteristics of Harrods, but with more shoppers.
Be warned, Oxford Street is a major shopping area packed with wall-to-wall people. If you don’t like crowds, it might not be the place for you.
Bond Street and Marble Arch are the closest stations.
At Gloucester Station take the Central Line in the opposite direction you’re used to, towards Edgewater. Then transfer to the Central Line towards Epping at Notting Hill Gate.
The Underground can be a bit of a maze, in the beginning, so follow the transfer signs instead of the exit signs.
There are a lot of free museums and other things to do in London.
The following examples are just a sample of my favored museums. I’m sorry if you prefer the Natural History Museum, but I think there’s plenty of natural history just walking around London.
The National Gallery
This museum is exactly what the title implies, the United Kingdom’s National Gallery. It’s very well done and has seemingly endless works of art hanging on the walls.
Depending on when you’re there, you’ll probably see young artists copying the masters when you visit.
I can’t help it, but I like to peek over their shoulders to see if they’re any good. Occasionally, I’m amazed at the talent just sitting quietly in a museum perfecting their craft.
Also, among the things to do in London is Trafalgar Square and The National Gallery. Luckily, it’s right outside.
You have two Underground Station choices to visit The National Gallery. Piccadilly Circus is a little further walk, but you don’t have to switch trains.
Take Gloucester Road Underground Station on the Piccadilly Line towards Cockfosters. The Piccadilly Circus Station is where you’ll get off in that case.
If you want to use a slightly closer stop, take the Gloucester Road Underground Station on the Piccadilly Line towards Cockfosters.
Change to the Bakerloo Line towards Elephant and Castle at the Piccadilly Circus Station and get off at Charing Cross.
Victoria and Albert Museum South Kensington
I’m not a museum person, but this is probably my favorite museum in London. They have all kinds of exhibits and a fantastic courtyard to sip coffee and watch people.
A word of caution, their website isn’t very good. I’ve been to the museum and don’t recognize anything they’re promoting.
It’s an enormous building with artifacts, sculptures, paintings, etc. from around the world. There is something for everyone at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and it’s one of the nice things to do in London.
The Victoria and Albert Museum is on Cromwell Road.
The closest Underground is South Kensington Station. One stop from Gloucester Road on the Circle Line towards Hammersmith or District Line towards Upminster.
In my opinion, the British Museum is a lot like the Victoria and Albert Museum.
If I had to summarize the difference in a single word, it would be, ancient. The Egyptian, Assyrian, and Greek collections make the British Museum feel much older.
The British Museum is surrounded by four Underground stations, but none is closer than the other.
The easiest route from our example hotel is Gloucester Road Underground Station on the Piccadilly Line towards Cockfosters. Holborn or Russell Square is where you’ll get off.
Imperial War Museum
I rarely go to south London, but I like the Imperial War Museum. They have the normal army or military-type artifacts that you’d expect.
They also have an exhibit dedicated to Trench Life in the First World War that’s extremely well done.
If you want to visit this museum, you’ll need to head south of the River Thames. The closest Underground to the Imperial War Museum is Lambeth North or Elephant and Castle.
Either way, you’ll need to take the Circle Line towards Hammersmith or District Line towards Upminster from Gloucester to Embankment Station and change to the Bakerloo Line towards Elephant and Castle.
I know, I didn’t recommend the Royal Botanic Gardens, known as the Kew Gardens. They’re beautiful, but you have to travel to Zones 3 and 4 to get to them. The end of the District Line.
And there are so many things to do in London closer to the center of town.
OK, so we’ve just seen a lot in London. To get home, hop on the Tube at Gloucester.
Take the Piccadilly Line to Heathrow Airport and you’re all set. There are several stops at Heathrow, so check your departure terminal before leaving the hotel.
In the end, London’s a great foreign travel destination where a version of English is the primary language. Ultimately, I hope you found the example booking, routes, and things to do helpful.
This article only provides a few highlights for novice travelers. There are a ton of things to do in London. So much so, that numerous books have been written about the topic.
So, if you’re tired of going to the beach every year, or just looking for a nice getaway, there are plenty of things to do in London.