London excels at establishing its brand of iconic architecture, posh accents, and afternoon tea, with or without a royal wedding to remind us of all its charms. There’s plenty to see and do across the dozens of neighborhoods, so much so that the concentration of restaurants, stores, and attractions may seem at first glance as overwhelming as its roundabouts.
We’ve pared London down to the essentials—the top places to see, eat, and explore—so that you arrive equipped with a primer of the city and never at a loss for what to do next.
London's Must-See Sights
The most visited museum in the United Kingdom is also its most comprehensive: from the Mediterranean to East Asia to central Africa, you’ll find countless priceless artifacts here. Among the British Museum’s most famous holdings is the Ancient Egyptian collection, the largest in the world. Don’t relegate the museum to a rainy day, when crowds are densest; come instead when the weather is pleasant and the sun fills the Great Court with light. If Western art, rather than history, is more your cup of tea, the National Gallery and Tate Modern are without a doubt the places to visit.
Houses Of Parliament
Even if your knowledge of British politics is confined to Brexit, you’ll want to tour the Houses of Parliament. Formally known as the Palace of Westminster, the building is a stunning example of Gothic Revival architecture and includes the iconic Big Ben tower, a symbol of the city. Attending both a guided tour and a live debate when Parliament is in session offers a unique perspective on the development of the United Kingdom government over the centuries. Just next door is Westminster Abbey, site of every coronation since 1066 and resting grounds for thousands of the nation’s greats.
You may not be privy to a meeting with Her Majesty, but that shouldn’t stop you from visiting the Buckingham Palace, the centerpiece of British cultural life. The changing of the guard, which begins at 10:45 a.m. most days, is a bucket-list item for first-timers in the city; arrive well in advance to secure a good viewing spot. On sunny days, take a leisurely stroll around St. James Park, one of London’s most beautiful.
Tower of London
A history of violence and the site of the kingdom’s most valuable jewels contribute to the mysterious aura of this castle, one of the most important landmarks in London. Since the establishment of the White Tower in 1078, the Tower of London has served at various times as a fortress, prison, execution grounds, armory, and treasury. Note that the complex is vast, so budget at least two hours if you want to see everything thoroughly.
When it comes to attractions, Ferris wheels are a dime a dozen, but the London Eye is one standout that breaks the mold. For several years the largest Ferris wheel in the world, it remains Europe’s tallest and most iconic. You’ll be competing with plenty of other visitors—the London Eye is the city’s number-one tourist draw, thanks in no small part to its frequent appearances in pop culture—but the trip to the top is worth the wait: there’s no better vantage point of London.
London's Must-Eat Food And Drinks
Beloved by locals, Odette’s serves seasonal plates with a heavy tilt toward Welsh cooking, a nod to the owner’s roots. Expect dishes like crispy pig’s head and crackling or lamb with potato terrine. Both à la carte and tasting menu options are available.
Come here for British classics done right: everything from Scotch eggs to marmalade pudding to fish and chips is on offer. You have a choice of dining in the wood-paneled dining room or at one of the street-side tables, depending on your mood (or, more likely, the weather).
Part-tea room, part-restaurant, part-art space, Sketch resists categorization. Afternoon tea in the millennial pink gallery is the most popular experience, but be sure to peek into as many of the other rooms as you can, including the stark-white bathrooms illuminated by rainbow lights in the ceiling.
OXO Tower Restaurant
From high noon to late at night, this establishment offers a classy dining experience, be it a sumptuous lunch or post-dinner cocktails. An eclectic modern menu spans a variety of cuisines, so there’s something guaranteed to match your palate. Angle for a table on the garden terrace perched just south of the Thames, the restaurant offers spectacular views.
London's Must-Visit Neighborhoods
The piazza at the center of Covent Garden is also its spiritual heart: crowds gather at all hours to partake in the food stalls and street entertainment. Chances are you’ll find yourself in Covent Garden several times over the course of your stay, whether it’s while waiting for a performance at a theater or opera house in the area or en route to the multitude of bars that bleed into neighboring Soho. Neal’s Yard, arguably the cutest alley in the city, can also be found here. Some of the dining establishments in Covent Garden are admittedly geared toward tourists, but you can get an excellent meal of tapas at Barrafina, followed by superb drinks at Mr. Fogg’s Tavern.
Old-world elegance, top-notch museums, and upscale retail and food collide in this much-loved neighborhood in the west of London. The Natural History Museum, Science Museum, and Victoria and Albert Museum form a triumvirate to the north of the South Kensington Underground station; just beyond is Kensington Gardens. In the mood for a shopping spree? Walk along Brompton Road to reach the neighboring Knightsbridge, where you can admire the rows of luxury stores, including the iconic Harrod’s. When you’re hungry, head to lunch at Muriel’s Kitchen, a cozy bistro serving seasonal dishes.
Beautiful Victorian homes line the cobblestoned streets that wind through this quaint neighborhood, a favorite of filmmakers. In spite of its polished appearance, Notting Hill retains a playful feel, epitomized by the at-times provocative street art that pops up on various walls.
Café culture is de rigueur here: try the cinnamon and cardamom buns at Fabrique Bakery or grab brunch at Granger and Co. For your best Instagram shots, take a stroll along the picture-perfect properties of St. Luke’s Mews. If you’re in the neighborhood on a Saturday, head to Portobello Market, the largest antiques market in the country, to hunt for any curios that might strike your fancy.
The creative set has brought new energy to the once-gritty Shoreditch, now home to dozens of fantastic coffee shops, art galleries, and vintage stores. If you only have time for one stop, Brick Lane Market offers the best distillation of the neighborhood. You should budget plenty more time, though, to appreciate the outdoor street art and live music at Village Underground or the dining and shopping at Boxpark, a mall made of shipping containers. Blitz, which stands in what was once a furniture factory, offers some of the best vintage finds in the city. Eating in Shoreditch doesn’t require you to shed the hipster vibes either: Rochelle Canteen, a popular choice for lunch, is housed in a former bike shed, while Smokestak, which serves barbecue and cocktails, started as a street food stand.