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Things to Do in London

Cultured, cosmopolitan, and effortlessly cool, London is a city that needs no introduction. The British capital is not only one of the world’s most visited cities, but it’s also one of the most diverse, and there’s something to suit all tastes. Those looking to discover England’s traditional charms can stroll through Westminster Abbey, watch the Changing the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace, or take a red double-decker bus tour around the city. Art and history lovers can check off famous institutions such as the British Museum and the National Gallery, while foodies can tuck into artisan delicacies at Borough Market, indulge in afternoon tea at the Ritz, and grab dinner on Brick Lane’s Curry Mile. Those with kids in tow can ride the London Eye, pose with celebs at Madame Tussauds, and discover the magic of Harry Potter at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London. Central London boasts a roll call of iconic sights—Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, St. Paul’s Cathedral, London Bridge, the Tower of London, Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden—all within walking distance of the Thames River. Alternatively, a ride on the London Underground will take you to East London’s hip neighborhoods, the pretty waterfront district of Greenwich, or the colorful markets, music venues, and bars of Camden Town. There are also endless options for day trips, including the magnificent Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, the historic cities of Oxford, Cambridge, and Bath, Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, and even Paris.
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London National Theatre
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Both an iconic landmark and a prestigious performance venue, the National Theatre is one of England’s most renowned performing arts centers and a mainstay of London’s theater scene since it opened back in 1963. Even from the outside, it’s an imposing sight, looming over the waterfront of London’s Southbank, and its unmistakable yet rather unattractive concrete façade has long divided public opinion. The National Theatre boasts four purpose-built auditoriums (the Olivier, Lyttelton, Dorfman and Temporary theatres), as well as an open-air performance space in the forecourt, a bookshop and a collection of bars, restaurants and cafés open to the public. The theatre’s ever-changing roster of shows includes over 20 new productions each year, with past hits including West End favorites like 'War Horse' and 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time'; classic plays like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Tempest; and contemporary musicals like Wonder.land.

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Gabriel's Wharf
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With its picturesque riverside promenade, colorful shopfronts and terrace cafés, Gabriel's Wharf is the ideal spot to soak up the atmosphere of the Thames riverside. Located on London’s lively Southbank, the redeveloped wharf lies just a short walk from the landmark OXO tower and the waterfront Bernie Spain Gardens, and is buzzing with life both day and night.

As well as browsing the many independent designer boutiques, handicraft stores and art galleries, visitors to Gabriel's Wharf can choose from a diverse range of cafés, bars and restaurants. Be sure to snag a table with a waterfront view – the wharf looks out over St Paul’s Cathedral, Waterloo Bridge and Somerset House.

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London National Gallery
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The National Gallery started out quite small. In 1824, the British government purchased a collection of 38 pictures from a wealthy banker and put them on display in his townhouse, but it didn’t take long for private donations to come trickling in. The early directors dreamed of something bigger, and a larger site was soon needed to house everything the gallery would contain.

Today, the collection is kept in an impressive pantheon-style building raised on a terrace atop Trafalgar Square, with its round fountains and double-decker buses flowing by below. More than 2,300 masterworks have found their home behind the columns of the National Gallery, dating from the Middle Ages through the 20th century and including pieces from big names such as Monet, van Gogh, da Vinci, Holbein, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Ruben and van Eyck.

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Carnaby Street
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Earning renown as an alternative fashion Mecca during the 1960s, Carnaby Street was once the hippest place to shop, home to iconic boutiques like Mary Quant, Lord John, Marion Foale and Sally Tuffin, and frequented by music icons like The Who and the Rolling Stones. In fact, the famous shopping street has become so synonymous with Swinging London that it’s been name-checked in pop hits like The Kinks’ ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’ and TV shows like The Simpsons, and even inspired a musical of the same name.

Today, Carnaby Street is decidedly more demure, but the pedestrianized shopping district still retains its left-of-centre attitude, as well as its distinctive yellow arches and two plaques commemorating mod fashion pioneer John Stephen and The Small Faces (outside no.1 and no.52 respectively). Of course, the main reason to visit Carnaby Street is the shops and there are plenty to choose from, including many independent fashion.

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Regent Street
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Lined with grand Victorian buildings and big-name shopping boutiques, Regent Street was London's first dedicated shopping block, dating back to the early 19th century. Running for just over a mile (2 km) between Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Circus, the historic boulevard is now both a major traffic thoroughfare and one of London's busiest streets, welcoming more than 7.5 million annual visitors.

Regent Street is well-established as a shopping Mecca, with over 75 flagship stores including Liberty department store, Hamley’s Toy Store and one of the world’s largest Apple stores, plus designers like Burberry, J.Crew, Anthropologie and COS. Above the dazzling shopfronts, the street is also home to an impressive array of Grade II listed buildings, including the All Souls Church, built by acclaimed architect John Nash, and an eye-catching collection of contemporary street art.

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Albert Memorial
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With its ornate spires, elaborate friezes and 53-meter-high central cross, the Albert Memorial surely ranks among London’s most impressive monuments, and it’s impossible to miss, standing proud over the south entrance to Kensington Gardens, opposite the equally grand Royal Albert Hall.

Inaugurated by Queen Victoria in 1872, the striking memorial is dedicated to her beloved husband, Prince Albert, whose untimely death of typhoid fever in 1861, at just 42 years old, had left her grief-stricken. Devoted not only to Prince Albert, but to all his passions and achievements, the masterful Gothic design is the work of Sir George Gilbert Scott and features a central gilded statue of Albert, holding the catalogue of the 1851 Great Exhibition. Surrounding statues represent the Prince’s main areas of interest - engineering, agriculture, commerce and art, while the intricate frieze at the base of the monument features images of 178 artists, poets and musicians.

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Somerset House
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Overlooking the Thames in central London, Somerset House was originally built at the behest of Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and lord protector of England. In its original incarnation it was a grand Tudor palace, and one of the first examples of Renaissance architecture in England. Over the years Somerset house served as residence to Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Anne of Denmark, and General Fairfax. It was even used to display Oliver Cromwell’s body after his death in 1658.

Over time the original Tudor Palace fell into disrepair, and by the mid-19th-century Somerset house had been demolished and rebuilt as a grand and imposing neo-classical “national building,” housing various public offices. Today Somerset House functions primarily as a public space and cultural hub. Inside you can find the acclaimed collection of the Courtauld Gallery, cafes and restaurants, and visitors can enjoy free historical guided tours.

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Baker Street
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Running from Regent’s Park at the north end all the way to Oxford Street at the south end, Baker Street is one of Marylebone’s main thoroughfares, but for fans of Sherlock Holmes, it’s much more than just a shopping destination! Immortalized by author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as the home of fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, Baker Street has now become one of the most famous addresses in London literature.

Fans should make a beeline for 221b Baker Street, the detective’s fictional home – a grand Georgian townhouse, which now houses the Sherlock Holmes Museum. Next door, you can shop for souvenirs in the official Sherlock Holmes gift shop, then pose for photos with the nearby Sherlock Holmes Statue.

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Diana Memorial Fountain
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Few British royals were as universally adored as Princess Diana, the affectionately nicknamed ‘People’s Princess’, and the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain is just one of the many tributes and memorials erected in her name after her untimely death back in 1997.

Opened by Her Majesty The Queen in 2004, the unique water feature is the design of Kathryn Gustafson and represents Diana’s life, quality and openness, a continuous circle of flowing water, crafted from Cornish granite and crossed by three bridges. The memorial fountain lies on the route of the Princess Diana Memorial Walk, an 11km circular trail running through five of London’s royal parks and linking sights like Kensington Palace, Buckingham Palace and the Princess Diana Memorial Playground.

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More Things to Do in London

National Portrait Gallery

National Portrait Gallery

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From legendary royals to pop culture icons and famous public figures; strolling the halls of the National Portrait Gallery is like taking a walk through British history. There are works dating from as early as the 13th century; Tudor portraits including Sir Thomas Cromwell, Richard III and Henry VIII, along with his six wives; and Victorian-era portraits of Queen Victoria, Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde and the Brontë sisters. The modern era is well represented too, including royals like Diana Princess of Wales and the Duchess of Cambridge, actors like Alan Rickman and Helen Mirren, and instantly recognizable faces like The Beatles, Richard Branson and J.K.Rowling.

Opening its doors in 1856, the National Portrait Gallery was the first of its kind in the world and it’s now home to the world’s biggest portrait collection, featuring over 11,000 works.

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Paddington Station

Paddington Station

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Forever synonymous with the lovable Paddington Bear, star of Michael Bond’s iconic children’s books, Paddington Station ranks as one of London’s most famous train stations. Located in west London, the busy station serves both national railway and London underground trains, making it an important transport hub, as well as offering a high-speed train link to Heathrow airport.

The grand Victorian-era building dates back to the 19th century, but today it’s a modern and bustling station, crammed with shops, cafés and fast food restaurants. Paddington Station is also a key stop on Paddington Bear tours of London and fans can snap a photo with Marcus Cornish’s Paddington Bear statue or shop for official toys and merchandise at the Paddington Bear shop.

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Royal Academy of Arts

Royal Academy of Arts

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Wellington Arch

Wellington Arch

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Royal Opera House

Royal Opera House

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Westminster Cathedral

Westminster Cathedral

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Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum

Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum

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Known to many as the home of the most famous tennis tournament in the world, the Wimbledon grounds also house the world’s largest tennis museum. Numerous onsite galleries and exhibitions allow visitors to experience the evolution of the famous sport.

The collection of tennis memorabilia contains artifacts dating back to 1555, as well as interactive multimedia such as touch screens, a 3D cinema and a holographic John McEnroe. Items on display include championship trophies, film and video footage, championship player mementos and the Wimbledon library. An interactive gallery called CentreCourt360 presents visitors with a viewing experience of Centre Court.

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London Film Museum

London Film Museum

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The London Film Museum, tucked away in a quiet part of Covent Garden, was founded and created by Jonathan Sands in 2008 following the success of Star Wars, the Exhibition. It is entirely dedicated to the British film industry and hosts regular, big-ticket film-themed exhibitions featuring original props, costumes and sets of all kinds. Past exhibitions include Bond in Motion, Charlie Chaplin - The Great Londoner and Ray Harryhausen, Myths & Legends.

The museum was once voted the best family attraction in Britain by the Telegraph. It also features a permanent exhibition (50 percent of which is from Sands’ personal collection) which contains cinema artefacts, photography, films and multimedia tools, taking visitors on a journey through the history of the seventh art, the democratization of its techniques and the story behind today’s blockbusters.

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Cenotaph

Cenotaph

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The Cenotaph is a war memorial that stands on Whitehall Street in central London. It began as a temporary structure built for a peace parade at the end of World War I and in 1920 was replaced by a permanent structure made of Portland stone. It is now considered the United Kingdom’s primary war memorial, also commemorating those killed in World War II and other wars in which Britons fought and died. King George VI unveiled the memorial for the second time in November 1946 following the end of World War II. The design of the Cenotaph has been replicated elsewhere in the U.K., as well as in Australia, Canada, Bermuda, Hong Kong and New Zealand.

Standing 35 feet high and weighing 120 tons, the memorial has the words “The Glorious Dead” inscribed on it twice. It is the site of the annual National Service of Remembrance, held on Remembrance Sunday, the Sunday closest to November 11.

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Royal Mews

Royal Mews

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Portobello Road

Portobello Road

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Portobello market is world renowned for its antiques market with over 2,000 specialist dealers and vast crowds of bargain hunters, but the two-mile long sprawl includes a plethora of other goods. Vintage clothing, local designers and handcrafted accessories make up the fashion section of the market, with an array of unique and trend-setting pieces on offer, and plenty of incognito celebrities scouring the clothing racks. Hoards of eccentric retro memorabilia, one-of-a-kind furniture and second-hand household items, a wide range of bootlegged music and vinyl and a sprawling fruit and vegetable market, make up the rest of the stalls.

The street market is open six days a week but the Saturday market (which includes the main antiques market) is the most popular and crammed with vendors. There’s plenty to keep you occupied when you’ve finished shopping too – a number of independent art galleries, vintage clothing boutiques, bars and chic cafés.

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Old Spitalfields Market

Old Spitalfields Market

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This indoor market on the outskirts of the City of London has historic roots that date back to the 17th century. Today there are a variety of stalls and surrounding shops selling food, clothing and designs with different themed stalls on various days as well. With many eclectic items on display—from jewelry to retro designs and vintage clothing— the market is a trendy place for Londoners to explore.

The General Market stalls are open Monday to Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., while the Antiques and Vintage Market stalls are there on Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Fashion and Art Market is open Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday is a themed market day, open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. There are even pubs and restaurants in the surrounding area and a record fair that takes place on the first and third Friday of each month.

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Banqueting House

Banqueting House

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The Banqueting House is nothing short of one of London’s finest establishments; it is, in fact, the only remaining component of the Palace of Whitehall –the main residence of London-based English monarchs between 1530 and 1698, including prominent members of the Tudor and the Stuart families like Bloody Mary and Henry VIII. At 1500 rooms and 23 acres in surface, it had grown to be the largest royal palace in Europe before it was destroyed by fire.

The Banqueting House actually played a significant role in English history: it is where King Charles I’s was executed and where the Declaration of Rights was read to new King and Queen William and Mary, before it was granted to the Royal United Service Institute for use as a museum by the philanthropic Queen Victoria in the late 1800s.

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St. Katharine Docks

St. Katharine Docks

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The St Katharine Docks are located in the London district of Tower Hamlets. These docks were once the commercial docks serving the north side of the River Thames east of the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge. Today the docks serve as a yachting marina, and the area has been turned into an urban living and leisure area. There are public and private housing options, office buildings, a large hotel, retail shops, restaurants, pubs, and other recreational facilities.

Several commuter river boats, river ferries, and scenic river cruises pass St Katharine Docks and stop at St Katharine Pier. The area also hosts special events throughout the year. There is a food market every Friday from 11am to 3pm featuring local and international food options. Occasionally there is a cinema at sea event. The docks also host clipper races and boating festivals.

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