Since moving to London I’ve frequently been asked by friends visiting the city what are the best attractions they should see while they are in town. There is so much to see and do in London it’s hard to narrow down the options but here is my list of top things to do for first time visitors to London.
Get an Oyster card
London has one of the best public transport systems in the world, so forget about those overpriced tourist buses. An Oyster card is your ticket to getting around London - a blue credit-card-sized contactless smartcard that you credit with money which then gets deducted each time you use a bus, Tube, DLR, tram, or the London Overground.
Oyster cards are easy to come by - you can purchase them from newsagents, tube and train stations, or online. You will have to pay a £5 deposit for the card but you can return it to a tube station at the end of your London visit for a full refund. Simply top up your card at a newsagent or tube station, tap your card on the card reader and away you go! It’s more than 50% cheaper than buying a paper Travelcard or single tickets with cash, plus there is a daily price cap which is significantly cheaper than those tourist buses.
In Westminster you will find some of London’s most famous attractions all within short walking distance - Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, London Eye, St James Park and Buckingham Palace. You can also head down Whitehall to Trafalgar Square, passing 10 Downing Street along the way.
Closest tube station: Westminster
Visit in the morning to witness the Changing Of The Guard. Daily in the summer time but only every other day the rest of the year so be sure to check the schedule before you go. The Palace State Rooms are open for tours during the summer time and are definitely worth a visit - it’s best to book this in advance.
Closest tube station: St James Park, Victoria, Green Park and Hyde Park Corner
Take a Ride on the London Eye
My favourite view in London because it allows you to see all the city’s key sights in 30 minutes. Book online in advance for the cheapest tickets.
Closest tube station: Waterloo and Westminster
Tower Bridge and Tower of London
No trip to London would be complete without seeing the iconic Tower Bridge (people often mistake the name for London Bridge). For something extra you can also visit the Tower Bridge Exhibition, which allows you to walk through the high level walkways of the bridge, offering panoramic views of London. You’ll also get to see the Victorian Engine rooms.
Right beside the bridge on the north bank of the Thames you will find the Tower of London, one of Britain’s finest historical attractions where her Majesty’s Crown Jewels are on display.
Closest tube station: Tower Hill
The View from The Shard
At 800 feet, The Shard’s viewing platform is nearly double the height of the London Eye. It offers unparalleled views of London icons such as St Paul’s Cathedral and Tower Bridge, however it is a bit of a distance from Westminster so don’t expect amazing views of Big Ben.
Closest tube station: London Bridge
St Paul’s Cathedral
Guided tours of the cathedral are included in the admission price and it’s worth taking one for a more informative visit. The interior of St Pauls’ is stunning, unfortunately though photographs are not allowed. The climb to the top is 528 steps but worth it for the view.
Closest tube station: St Paul’s
See a West End Show
London’s West End is famous for its fantastic range of theatres, tourist attractions and shopping. Alongside Broadway in New York, West End theatre represents the highest quality theatre in the world. There are around 40 theatres in this area of London so you can choose from a wide range of shows: musicals like Wicked, Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera, as well as plays and comedies.
Go Shopping at Harrods
Window shopping may be more accurate, as Harrods is the world’s most famous luxury department store. There is a gift shop on the ground floor though if you are looking to pick up a souvenir. The food hall is the highlight, practically every food you can imagine is display here including an amazing selection of sweets, sushi, chocolates, teas, coffees, fresh meats, cheese and fish.
Closest tube station: Knightsbridge
Harry Potter Studio Tour
While it is a bit outside of London, the Warner Bros Studio Tour is a must for any Harry Potter fan. This unique walking tour takes you behind-the-scenes and showcases a huge array of beautiful sets, costumes and props. You will get to step inside the Great Hall, explore Dumbledore’s office, walk down Diagon Alley and see other sets from the film series including the Gryffindor common room, the boys’ dormitory, Hagrid’s hut, Potion’s classroom and Professor Umbridge’s office at the Ministry of Magic.
If London feels a bit too busy and noisy, then Hyde Park is the perfect place to escape to (as long as the weather is good!). You can explore on foot or hire one of the many available Barclays Bikes. In summer you can row a boat in the Serpentine Lake and in winter Hyde Park becomes home to Winter Wonderland, a festival of amusement rides, ice skating and Christmas markets.
Closest tube station: Hyde Park Corner and Knightsbridge
For even more things to do, check out my London Bucket List.