If you’re planning a trip to London, no matter the length, there are some sights you just need to see. I’ve been to London on half a dozen trips and lived there for a year… so I’ve curated this list from my own experiences.
I’ve broken this list of must-see sights in London down into several different categories; you can add them all to your London itinerary, or choose the ones that interest you most. Read on to learn about all the top sights in London, according to… well, me!
Iconic London Sights
Starting out, there are some sights in London you just need to see. This section focuses on the most iconic, postcard-worthy places in London.
The Houses of Parliament
Easily the most recognizable sight in London, the Houses of Parliament looms large of the banks of the Thames, and are beautiful in any weather, any season, and at any time of day.
If you want the best view, don’t take your pictures from Westminster bridge. Instead, head across the river and down the set of steps on the right (east) side of the road. You’ll find a quiet enclave most visitors miss — and a beautiful view of the building.
St. Paul’s Cathedral
St. Paul’s Cathedral is my favorite view in London. I know it’s not the most popular, but this building captivated me from my very first visit, and I could easily write about it and share all of the many photos I’ve taken each time I’m in London…
…Oh wait, I already did that!
From every angle on the outside, St. Paul’s is beautiful, and I love climbing up the dome to see the Whispering Gallery and the view from the top of the dome.
My favorite view of my favorite view in London is from the One New Change building – you can take the elevator up to the top of the building, grab a cocktail from the bar, and look out over the city at a view unlike any I’ve found in the world.
The Tower of London
Like so many other London sights, the Tower of London is deeply steeped in the history of London. The Tower of London dates back to 1066 and the Norman Conquest of England; it has been used as a castle, royal residence, and prison over the centuries.Today, you can visit the Tower of London to learn about the history of London, get a tour from one of the famous Beefeaters, or see the Crown Jewels on display.
Not to be confused with the far less flashy London Bridge, Tower Bridge is one of London’s most well-known sights. This iconic bridge was built between 1886 and 1894 during the reign of Queen Victoria. Spanning the River Thames on the east edge of Central London, it’s pretty unmissable – you’re going to see the Tower Bridge whether you intend to or not!
The London Eye
Another unmissable sight, the London Eye is a new addition to the banks of the Thames.
The London Eye is one of my favorite touristy sights of London. It’s well worth doing at least once during your visit, and you should definitely admire the view as you spend time exploring the other sights along the river.
Pro-tip: If you’re going to ride the London Eye, book your ticket to span the 30-minute window on either side of sunset. You’ll start your ride in daytime and end in twilight, giving you a view of London by day and by night.
Red Telephone Booths
It seems cliche, but there really are red telephone boxes all over London. I wouldn’t recommend using one unless it’s an actual emergency though (they’re typically plastered with porn ads… You’ve been warned!).
One of the best – and least dirty – spots to get a photo of/with the red telly boxes is near St. Martin-in-the-Fields church on Trafalgar Square. This row of four pretty-clean boxes is popular for anyone wanting the cheesy telephone booth photo. There’s also another good one down the street from the Houses of Parliament.
Historical Markers & Museum Sights in London
London is great for many reasons, but one of my favorites is that all the museums are free. This includes the National History Museum in West London, the Tate Modern on the banks of the Thames, and the British Museum in the heart of Central London. Unsurprisingly, these museums are filled with pretty amazing things. There are also interesting markers around the city that are worth seeing too.
The Rosetta Stone
Since the British Museum is free – and houses some of the most amazing artifacts the British “collected” (often “took” or “stole”) from around the world, you can see truly wondrous sights. One such sight is the Rosetta Stone.
There’s no “best” time to go to the British Museum – every day there are crowds, and you’ll always have to fight through them to see popular sights like the Rosetta Stone. It’s worth it though, to stand among such impressive testaments to human history.
The London Stone
Speaking of human history, an oft-missed must-see London sight is a small stone housed behind an inconspicuous grate in the City of London. The Stone was previously located at 111 Cannon Street, a main thoroughfare through the City of London, but it is currently housed at the Museum of London while the old building is demolished and a new one constructed.
The Monument to the Great Fire of London
The Monument was a more popular attraction in London in days past; now it’s overshadowed by towering skyscrapers that dominate the landscape of the City of London. It was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, who also designed St. Paul’s Cathedral, to commemorate the Great Fire of London in 1666, which started about 200 feet from this monument and leveled most of the city.
You can pay a small fee to climb the 311 steps of the Monument. At the top, you’ll have good views of the City of London and London Bridge (though admittedly not as impressive as other viewpoints). I recommend it for a different perspective and a quick history lesson.
The Prime Meridian
Technically, the Prime Meridian is in Greenwich, not London, but it’s within easy reach from Central London, and I’m going to count it!
There are several ways to see the Prime Meridian, but the most common way is to pay for access to the Royal Observatory of Greenwich, take the tour, and end in the courtyard where you can take a picture along the thin brass line laid into the ground (I’m not sure that big metal structure in the above picture is there anymore).
You also used to be able to go along a path below the courtyard where the brass line continued down the hill and take pictures for free there. On yet another path down from the courtyard, there are two sets of tick marks on the side of the trail that seem to follow the line of the Prime Meridian out into the sloping field. I made a video on Facebook to help you find it.
Architectural Sights in London
London is a dream for architecture lovers, full of beautiful old buildings in a variety of architectural styles. While this list barely scratches the surface of the buildings you can see and the different types of architecture they represent, here are a few of my favorite.
Westminster Abbey is a major tourist sight, made even more popular when Prince Will and Princess Kate were married there in 2011. I’ve actually never been inside, as I’m not willing to shell out the £20 pounds they want for an entry fee – but I have admired the Gothic exterior from every angle available for free.
Pro-tip: Head round toward the Houses of Parliament to the side of the building to get an equally amazing view – and a whole load of flying buttresses!
St. Pancras Hotel
Most people know that St. Pancras because it’s part of the King’s Cross/St. Pancras train station – and may pass through the station without realizing that one of London’s most fascinating and beautiful buildings is right above their head!
With its weirdly curved facade and beautiful Byzantine stonework, St. Pancras Hotel is one of my favorite buildings – enough that I’ll hop off the train just to see it!
King’s Cross Station
Next door to St. Pancras, King’s Cross Station is an architectural marvel in its own right, but for more modern sensibilities. This is a beautiful train station to walk through because the West Concourse’s iconic metal roof is a modern interpretation of the classic metal train station roofs – and looks quite similar to the British Museum.
Pop Culture Sights in London
For pop culture fans, London is a great destination for you too. London has been the home for many popular characters and filming location for countless TV shows and movies. If you want to take in some of these sights, here are some of the ones I don’t think you can miss.
Street Art in East London
It’s easy to visit London and forget there’s more than just posh neighborhoods, historic museums, and high tea. London has a vibrant, pulsing, young side to compliment the old charm, and most of that youth can be found in the “East End.”
The most popular neighborhood in East London is Shoreditch, where you can wander basically any street and find amazing art on the walls, doorways, sidewalks… you name it! Street art often depicts pop culture interpreted through the artist’s eyes, and this is the place to see their work. If you’ve ever admired a Banksy, Dal East, or Shepherd Fairey, you can probably find their work here.
221B Baker Street
Love Sherlock Holmes? There’s one place you must visit in London: 221B Baker Street. No matter which Sherlock Holmes you prefer, he always lives at this address. 221B Baker Street is now a museum to commemorate London’s most famous detective and a gift shop for those who love a good souvenir. If you want to visit the museum, be prepared to queue up on the sidewalk; you don’t have to pay to access the gift shop.
Platform Nine and Three-Quarters
When I first visited London, King’s Cross station was under construction, and they had moved Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. Outside. NOT EVEN NEAR PLATFORMS NINE AND TEN. Now, the permanent display (near platforms 9 and 10), paired with the quaint little Harry Potter bookshop are a must-see in London for any true Harry Potter fans.
If you prefer to geek out about a different British hero, finding the Tardis near Earl’s Court station is a must. It’s literally right outside the station, but I somehow managed to miss it on my first several visits there.
Unfortunately, one can’t go inside to verify whether it’s bigger on the inside, but Whovians are known for taking their photos by this now unique blue telephone box. Oh, and you can go inside by using Google Maps.
Jack the Ripper’s Haunts
London’s most famous serial killer has been depicted in many movies, and generally focus on the places we know Jack the Ripper committed his gruesome crimes. If you want to follow in his footsteps, the City of London and the East End are where you can.
You can do a self-guided Jack the Ripper walking tour (I grabbed a cheap guide while visiting the Sherlock Holmes museum at 221B Baker Street, mentioned below), or you can go with a guide. I also highly recommend the Jack the Ripper tour by London Walks if you can figure out a night when Donald will be guiding… he literally wrote the book on Jack the Ripper and is considered an expert. The tour typically starts at Tower Hill and works through the City of London to Whitechapel, highlighting Jack the Ripper’s deathly deeds in East London.
Admittedly, there are loads more sights to see in London than just these… but these 18 are among my favorite and will certainly show you the best London has to offer.
This article was originally published in September 2014, and was updated in January 2017 and November 2018.