London is the most iconic and visited city in the United Kingdom, and with the vast variety of things to do in the British capital, it’s easy to see why. There are so many epic things to do in London that it can be pretty overwhelming for a first time traveler. I’m not from London but I’ve lived in this beautiful city for seven years, and proudly call myself a Londoner. I know my way around the city, I know what’s worth visiting and what you can skip. In this ultimate London bucket list I’ve listed, conveniently divided by area, all the most awesome things to do in London, from the most touristy to some hidden local gems. If you’re planning an epic trip to London, this is the bucket list for you!
Before you go, have you booked your London hotel already? If not, check out my Londoners guide to the best areas to stay in London
- 1 Central London bucket list
- 1.1 See Buckingham Palace
- 1.2 Visit the British Museum
- 1.3 See a musical in the West End
- 1.4 Shop in Oxford Street
- 1.5 Explore Piccadilly Circus
- 1.6 Walk around Carnaby Street
- 1.7 Explore Leicester Square
- 1.8 Wander around Chinatown
- 1.9 See Covent Garden
- 1.10 Visit Trafalgar Square
- 1.11 Visit Platform Nine and Three Quarters
- 1.12 Visit St Paul’s Cathedral
- 1.13 Enjoy the view from Madison’s Rooftop Bar
- 1.14 Visit Westminster Abbey
- 1.15 See the Houses of Parliament & Big Ben
- 1.16 Ride the London Eye
- 1.17 Explore the nightlife in Soho
- 1.18 Enjoy the view from Sky Garden
- 2 South East London bucket list
- 3 West London bucket list
- 4 East London bucket list
- 5 North London bucket list
- 6 Cool activities to add to your London bucket list
- 7 Where to stay in London
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Central London bucket list
See Buckingham Palace
There is no London bucket list complete without a visit to Buckingham Palace. Iconic for being run by the Monarch, the United Kingdom’s British Royal Family has its administrative headquarters in the Buckingham Palace.
This palace boasts 17thcentury Old English architecture, as well as a full garden that spans all around the main building. If you time your visit well you’ll also be able to witness the world famous changing of the royal guards, which happens every day at 11AM sharp in the morning.
Visit the British Museum
Ironically enough, the British Museum will allow you to immerse yourself deeper into the history of various ancient civilisations, but not so much in the English one! The British Museum houses collections from all over the world, including Egyptian artefacts such as the Rosetta Stone.
I find it hilarious that it is named the British Museum when most of the displays and cool things to see are actually from different cultures, and there isn’t much that is related to British history or culture. I was pretty baffled the first time I visited it.
Entrance fee is free for anyone from anywhere. There are also paid exhibitions that regularly change according to the time of the year and holiday that is currently being celebrated.
See a musical in the West End
West End in London is the home of various iconic operas. Lined up one after the other you will find plenty of theatres where you can go watch a musical, just make sure to book beforehand!
It’s pricey, but it’s definitely worth the experience. All the musicals are epic – I’ve seen Aladdin, Lion King, Wicked, Billy Elliott and Phantom of the Opera, and they were all so good it’s hard to pick a favourite. The costumes, production, acting, singing and dancing were incredible in all of them.
Shop in Oxford Street
Known for being one of the main shopping districts in London, the shopping experience in Oxford Street is definitely like no other. It houses all the big brands such as Zara, Topshop and Brandy Melville but at very affordable prices. However, this shopping centre can get extremely busy during weekends with all the tourists looking to shop during their visit to London (you’ll find very few Londoners shopping on Oxford Street)! That’s why I advise to go early in the morning or during the week, when there will be fewer shoppers around.
Explore Piccadilly Circus
The British equivalent of Times Square in New York, Piccadilly Circus is located in the heart of London and is an fun place to wander around. The hustle and bustle of Piccadilly Circus, with its street performers, large LED screens, flashing lights and millions of people is quite something for those who aren’t used to the chaos of London.
Walk around Carnaby Street
Carnaby Street is a colourful pedestrian street parallel to the chaotic Regent Street. With the lights and colourful buildings, walking down this road feels like you are the main character of a romantic movie! Aside from the interesting architecture and design of this street, there are lots of cute shops and restaurants that you can explore as well.
Explore Leicester Square
A buzzing square located in the West End of London, Leicester Square offers a lot of activities to do and enjoy. You can visit cinemas, eat out at restaurants or shop at the street market during Christmas.
Bonus points if you visit during the night as they turn on the colorful lights and it feels like walking through an enchanted forest!
Wander around Chinatown
Located just right next to Leicester Square, London boasts its own Chinatown. Here you can find lots of Chinese restaurants that offer a great and authentic Chinese dining experience, plus lots of Chinese shops where you can buy antiques or Chinese food. If you’re visiting London during Chinese New Year you can also expect to find the area in full party and with beautiful decorations.
See Covent Garden
Covent Garden is a very popular area of London. It used to be the central market for fruits and vegetables but is now better known as a shopping district. The central covered area of Covent Garden, known as the Apple Market, is full of cool shops, bars and restaurants and a few touristy but quirky market stalls. You can often find street performers displaying some cool tricks too. Covent Garden is a busy part of London at any time of year, but you can expect to find lots of people sat outside enjoying food and drinks especially in summer, or at Christmas time under the decorations.
Visit Trafalgar Square
Located close the Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square is home to the National Gallery, most known for having on display all the best masterpieces of European art. There are lots of iconic pieces of art that can be found inside the museum, such as The Baptism of Christ, Venus at her Mirror and Diana and Actaeon. Entry to the National Gallery is free, but if you’re not feeling a museum you can also just soak in the atmosphere of the busy square and snap pictures with the lions.
Visit Platform Nine and Three Quarters
If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you have to visit Platform Nine and Three Quarters in Kings Cross station. Who am I kidding, it’s a must visit even if you’re not a Harry Potter fan. While you can’t see the actual spot on the platform with the arches, there is a dedicated spot inside Kings Cross Station with the trolley half inside the wall where you can take picture. There might be a little bit of a queue of people waiting to take photos at busy times of day, but considering everything in London is busy it’s a small thing to wait for!
Visit St Paul’s Cathedral
The Dome of the St Paul’s Cathedral is visible from pretty much anywhere in London, and is a distinct part of London’s skyline. Considered as an icon for London, St Paul’s Cathedral is well known for its grandiose and stunning architecture reminiscent of Anglican interior décor. The Cathedral has its doors open for anyone, so you can go in for free, attend a service and you also have the option of visiting the crypts and the rooftop, from which you can see the streets of London from high up above.
Enjoy the view from Madison’s Rooftop Bar
Situated right across from St Paul’s Cathedral, Madison’s Rooftop Bar is as good as it gets. It offers the best views of the Cathedral’s dome as well as the London skyline in all of its majestic glory. The drinks are pricey, but the location and views are definitely stunning. Especially a sunset, when you have the opportunity to see the golden light wash over the roofs of London and the skyline light up against the darkness.
The view is open also if you’re not a customer of the bar. There are two separate lifts, one for people going to the bar and one for those going just for the view, but they will take you to the same spot, which makes it great for those looking to save money or who don’t like alcohol.
Visit Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey is one of those iconic spots in London, famous for being the site of daily offerings and services to many British worshippers. It is a historic site that stores within its walls the history of thousands of years. Visitors must pay in order to visit, while worshippers can go in for free. Please note that sightseeing in the Westminster Abbey is not allowed on Sundays. Important British people are buried here, amongst whom Stephen Hawking, Charles Darwin and others.
See the Houses of Parliament & Big Ben
The House of Parliament is a very important location, as it serves as the meeting place of the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Aside from the main building itself, it oversees another iconic tourist attraction, River Thames.
A lot of people will be surprised to find out that Big Ben isn’t the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament. Big Ben is actually the name of the grand bell in the clock tower, but it’s commonly used to refer to the whole structure. The tower itself is actually named Elizabeth Tower. At the moment it’s currently under renovations and isn’t as pretty as it usually is, but still, it’s a must visit on any London bucket list.
Ride the London Eye
The London Eye is both one of the main tourist attractions and landmarks in London. It’s considered to be a “picture worthy” spot, perfect for the ‘Gram (if you want to find all the most picture perfect spots in London, check out this London Instagram guide)!
It’s very touristy, for good reason, as it offers an incredible view over London. Despite living in London for seven years I’ve only actually been there once, but can assure you that it’s a great experience. If you are planning to ride the London, I suggest that you book your ticket beforehand in order to avoid queuing for too long.
Explore the nightlife in Soho
Soho, a neighborhood in the City of Westminster, is best known for its risqué scene. It is home to the various burlesque shows, gay and lesbian bars, crazy nightlife and the centre of fashion. There is no better way to discover a city than to explore its nightlife, and that is true also for London. If you are a fan of the nightlife scene, you should definitely visit Soho, bar hop and enjoy a few drinks with your friends.
Enjoy the view from Sky Garden
Sky Garden is an indoor garden and bar at the top of what is known to Londoners as the “walkie talkie”, one of the highest buildings in London that offers one of the best 360 degree views over London, and has a funny walkie talkie shape.
The entrance is free but you have to book a time slot online beforehand! Be sure to do it in advance of your trip as slots usually sell out very fast. If you forget to book online before, they do free walk-in entry after 6PM, but keep in mind that there is a business casual dress code so dress appropriately.
Drinks are expensive, but it’s well worth the beautiful views! Aside from being an indoor garden, bar and restaurant (do you even need any more reasons to visit?) they also offer some cool activities like sunrise yoga.
South East London bucket list
Eat at Borough Market
Borough Market is the perfect place to go on a street food adventure. There are lots of stalls that offer international street food coming from a whole variety of places and cultures! Normal operating days are during Mondays to Saturdays. Be sure to get there as early as you can in order to beat the crowds as the number of people visiting Borough Market at meal times can get pretty overwhelming. One of the most visited and iconic stalls is the scotch egg one (it doesn’t get more British than that)!
Enjoy the view from The Shard
The Shard, named after looking like a broken shard of glass from a distance, is a tall building considered to be London’s highest viewing gallery, designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano.
The viewing platform is located on the 70thfloor and tickets cost between 24 GBP and 32 GBP, depending on how far back in advance you book for the tickets.
Instead of queuing to see the view from The Shard with an empty hand, you could visit one of the bars, get a drink, and feel luxurious as you enjoy both your drink and the view (for free, if you get a drink).
Cocktails can range from 15 GBP to 20 GBP, which is expensive. But considering that you are in one of the highest peaks of London, the price could be much worst. Ordering a drink is much cheaper than the viewing platform, but you’re getting a drink with it, so why not?
Plus, the bars are only located a few floors below the viewing deck so the view does not change that much.
Have food and drinks in the Scoop at More London Place
This activity can only be crossed off your London bucket list if you are visiting London in summer. It’s located outdoors with a semi-circular theatre type of set up, right next to Tower Bridge. There is a pop up food and drinks shack with sun beds where you can chill and enjoy the summer heat.
There are also regular scheduled activities during the evening like mass karaoke, movie screenings and more. I used to work in More London when I had an office job (did you read about how I quit my corporate job?) and I was always very jealous of people that could sit there during the week and enjoy the summer sun. It’s more of a local insider addition to this London bucket list!
Visit Tower Bridge
Another iconic London landmark, the Tower Bridge is a combination of a tower and a bridge in one, hovering over the River Thames. You can walk across it or visit the towers and be able to marvel at the beauty of the River Thames. Walking across it is free; however, if you wish to view the Tower Bridge exhibition, you would have to buy a ticket.
Visit the Tower of London
The Tower of London is London’s most iconic castle that tells the history of London through its walls. In 1988, it was declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO for being culturally valuable to London’s rich history and heritage.
Despite being in London for seven years I haven’t actually visited the Tower of London myself, but it’s on my London bucket list and I will eventually pay it a visit. Aside from the main palace itself it also houses artifacts significant to the British culture such as the crown jewels.
West London bucket list
Shop at Portobello Market
Portobello Market is the world’s largest antique market built in 1850. It still retains much of its mystery, magic and romance even today.
There are lots of cute and colourful houses all along Portobello Road, even if you’re not interested in the vintage market and shops it’s still a very pretty area to walk around. On weekends there is also a very cool street food market with lots of variety.
It’s open from 8AM to 6:30PM from Mondays to Saturdays. Opening hours can vary depending on the weather, so be sure to check the weather forecast before your visit!
Wander around Notting Hill
Allow yourself to be transported to the Victorian era of the 1800s through the streets of Notting Hill. As you walk through the streets lined with white Victorian houses you will feel transported in an old, black and white film. Plus, it’s the backdrop of the famous movie Notting Hill, so kind of a must-see on any London trip right?
Relax at Holland Park
Take a break from the city’s chaos by visiting and relaxing at Holland Park, filled with tall trees and beautiful gardens. There are also peacocks that are freely walking around the park which are quite an unexpected thing to see in London.
Holland Park is also well known for having a Kyoto garden designed to emulate an authentic Japanese garden complete with the waterfalls. There is also a playground in the park if you are visiting with your children.
Relax in Hyde Park
Another great park to relax is central London’s biggest park, Hyde Park. It’s really wide and has a lot of monuments and gardens, complete with small man made ponds to complement the flower arrangements.
Visit the Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum is definitely my favourite museum in London to visit. Entry is mostly free, but you will have to pay for special displays and exhibitions. The dinosaur and underwater exhibition are the coolest as there are lots of interactive games for children (which are great also for adults). If you’re visiting London around Christmas time you will also find one of the best ice skating rinks in London at the Natural History Museum.
Visit the Science Museum
The Science Museum comes in a close second to the Natural History Museum. The Science Museum is futuristic, boasting displays illustrating principles of physics or setups that showcase the results of a recent research study. With flying cars, optical illusions and lots of cool and interactive games, the Science Museum truly feels like a portal to an alternate universe.
Visit the Victoria & Albert Museum
The Victoria & Albert Museum is an art and history museum that showcases artefacts and art significant to London’s culture, as well as imported art pieces from other countries.
While it’s not as fun and interactive as the first two museums I listed above, it’s definitely a must visit if you are passionate about history and culture as there are lots of interesting things to see.
Go shopping at Harrods
Harrods is an iconic shopping spot in London. It’s very expensive, which why it’s not really the ideal place to do your souvenir shopping, but it’s a very stereotypically London spot and you will want to visit it during your trip. Lots of high end, luxurious brands can be found here at Harrods.
Even if you don’t actually buy anything it’s still cool to wander around, do some window shopping and explore the food hall. The interior of Harrods is very expensive and luxurious. You might even spot a couple or two interesting new products (that you can then search for a cheaper equivalent of online)!
Wander around Kew Gardens
Kew Gardens is a bit farther out than the other items in the West London subdivision of this bucket list but it’s well worth the visit.
It is a large botanical garden with greenhouses that was built in 1299 by Edward I when he moved his court manor house to the neighbouring Richmond. It eventually became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2003.
There are lots of cool features in this botanical garden such as a treetop walkway that is 200 meters above ground, the Sackler Bridge made of granite and bronze, and the various plant houses in cool shapes and sizes. It’s the perfect spot to visit during a cool summer day, and wander around the gardens.
East London bucket list
Explore the nightlife in Shoreditch
Shoreditch is considered the “new Camden”. There are lots of cool restaurants and bars in this neighbourhood, and it’s very well known for its lively nightlife. Come here at night and enjoy the nightlife culture it has to offer. If you drop by during the day there are still other cool things to do like visiting the old Spitafields Market and taking pictures through the pretty houses of Wilkes Street or Princelet Street.
Enjoy a night out at Bounce
If you’re looking for a bit of a unique night out, Bounce is the place for you. Start out your night with food, drinks and a ping pong game! You’ve read that right, a ping pong game! Bounce has a number of ping pong tables the you can book and play with your friends. It’s a great location to visit for travelling couples or friends looking to do some alternative recreational activities while hanging out together.
Wander around Spitalfields
Expect to see lots of cool graffiti and vintage designs in this market. The market is well known for selling cheap but delicious street foods, pop up markets selling merchandise like clothes and bags and so much more! Try to visit early in the morning though, as it can get very busy later in the day or on weekends.
Ride the Emirates cable car
The Emirates cable car was the OG and authentic way of crossing the River Thames. Nowadays, it serves a tourist attraction that brings you high up over the Thames River, where you can see the stunning views below you. Bonus points if you visit at sunrise, sundown or nighttime as the reflection of the sun is very beautiful against the water of the river.
North London bucket list
Eat and shop in Camden Market
Camden Market is one of my favorite street food markets in London thanks to the huge variety of cuisines from all over the world. It’s like a one stop trip to go over the world.
Not only is it known for street food, but there are also shops that sell all sorts of souvenirs, clothes and jewelry as well. Amy Winehouse, singer of Back to Black used to live here in Camden, which used to be the “punk” and “edgy” area of London.
Relax in Regents Park
Regents Park is much smaller than Hyde Park but it’s still definitely beautiful and relaxing. It more of a hang out spot for locals than it is a tourist attraction for visitors. Primrose Hill, at the Northern end of the park boasts a beautiful view of the London skyline. For a genuine Londoner experience make sure to visit Primrose Hill in summer, maybe with a few snacks and beers.
Cool activities to add to your London bucket list
Afternoon tea bus tour
It doesn’t get any more British than afternoon tea. This is a meal where tea is served with sandwiches, cakes and cones. If you want to give this leisure British activity a special London twist, why not experience it while touring around London on a double-decker bus tour! This way, you can enjoy your tea time while being able to see all the main tourist landmarks from the streets of London.
Where to stay in London
I’m a Londoner but over the past seven years I’ve stayed in a number of hotels throughout London, whether with family when they came to visit (and couldn’t fit in my tiny student halls room) or more recently with blog collaborations and I can recommend some hotels in London for every budget.
More than a specific hotel I want to suggest areas of London where you can stay, that will allow you to have the best London experience. Regardless of how long you have in London you will want to stay very central or you will waste time travelling around. If you’re not super central make sure to be within 5 minutes walking distance to a tube station. Personally I would recommend staying either in Camden, Angel or even more central around Holborn and Bank.
There are tons of hostels in London. I’ve never personally stayed in one but have heard great things of Wombats. There are also loads of hotel chains with numerous properties around London like Holiday Inn or the Travelodge that are more affordable than independent hotels. The more central ones are a bit more expensive but usually still offer good value for money.
Just like there are budget chain hostels and hotels, there are also a number of mid-range chains you can go for like Hilton or Marriott spread all over London. My parents stayed at the Hilton in Angel back when I used to live in the area and loved it, Angel is also a great area to stay as its a bit outside the tourist chaos of London but still within easy reach of all the main attractions. These options are a bit fancier than the previous budget suggestions but at more reasonable prices than the luxury properties in London.
I spent one night at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel for a blog collaboration and that was the fanciest place I have ever slept at in London. The property is beautiful, the service excellent and the location perfect as base to explore London, especially if you only have 2 days in London. I also spent an afternoon at Cheval Three Quays where a friend of mine was staying and can highly recommend it, the apartments are new, have a great view of the Thames and are in a great location to explore London.
Have you been to London before? How did you find it? Let me know in the comments below! I was lucky enough to live in London as a student which meant I got to explore some of these tourist hotspots in the middle of the day during the week, without the crowds. Nonetheless, everything I’ve included in this ultimate London bucket list is in my opinion as a Londoner, a must-see for any first time visitor to London. I hope you find guide useful and that you enjoy this city I’ve come to call home!
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