I was born and grew up in London and, aside from my travels and university, it’s where I’ve lived my whole life. It’s an amazing city with a huge number of iconic buildings, beautiful parks and a fascinating history.
I always enjoy sharing my home city with people, so here is a list of some of the many things that London is known for.
London was originally established as a Roman city – Londinium. With over 2000 years of history, it’s not surprising that it is a mix of old and new. Many of the famous buildings in London are hundreds of years old and played significant roles in the country’s history.
1. Tower of London
The White Tower at the heart of the Tower of London was built in 1078, and has been used both as a palace and a prison. It’s where the Princes in the Tower were held until their mysterious disappearance. Elizabeth I was held prisoner there before she became Queen during the reign of her sister Mary I.
Some of the final prisoners held there included the infamous Kray twins. It’s a fascinating place to visit, and you can even see the British Crown Jewels at the castle.
2. St Paul’s Cathedral
St Paul’s is one of the most famous buildings in London. Although several churches have been constructed on the same site over hundreds of years, the current building dates back to the early 1700s, after the previous cathedral was largely destroyed in the 1666 Great Fire of London.
You can attend services for free, but if you are visiting the cathedral for sightseeing rather than a service you do have to pay for a ticket.
3. Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace is perhaps the most famous palace in the world. Its use as the primary royal residence is relatively recent, dating back to Queen Victoria’s reign. The palace is open for tours during the summer each year when the monarch is traditionally at other residences such as Balmoral Castle.
4. Houses of Parliament and Big Ben
The official name of this site is the Palace of Westminster. The term Houses of Parliament is the common name as it the the location of the two legislative chambers – the House of Lords and the House of Commons. However you refer to it, the building is one of London’s landmarks.
It is also known for its clock – the famous clocktower is the Elizabeth Tower, and Big Ben is the bell inside. The best place to get views is either standing on the pathway on the South Bank, on Westminster Bridge or even on a river cruise.
5. Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey has been the site of several internationally televised events, such as a few royal weddings, the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, and the coronation of King Charles III. It’s a stunning building and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
6. Kensington Palace
For several hundred years, Kensington Palace has been the London home of members of the royal family. It is the official London residence of the Prince and Princess of Wales and a few other members of British royalty.
Parts of Kensington Palace are open for tours, so you can see for yourself the birthplace of Queen Victoria and some of the State Apartments.
River and Bridges
7. River Thames
The heart of London is the River Thames – snaking its way directly through the centre of the city. For hundreds of years, it was used to transport people and goods throughout the city. These days, I recommend taking a walk on the south bank of the river between Waterloo and Tower Bridge to get great views of some of the city’s most iconic buildings.
8. Tower Bridge
London has many bridges, but Tower Bridge is the most famous one. With its towers and drawbridge, it is an icon of London. The bridge opens around 800 times per year for ships to pass through.
9. Millennium Bridge
London’s newest bridge had some (literal) instability when it first opened, but it’s now both useful and attractive, offering a solely pedestrian path across the river. The best thing about this bridge is that it lies directly in front of St Paul’s Cathedral, offering some amazing photo opportunities.
Museums and Galleries
10. The British Museum
The British Museum is somewhat controversial, I have to admit. Many items in its collection were obtained in somewhat dubious circumstances. Nevertheless, it is free to visit with an excellent collection of items from around the world. It’s also a lovely building in itself. If you are looking for things to do, especially if you are in London alone, this is a great option.
11. Natural History Museum
I think the Natural History Museum is probably London’s best museum. It’s also free and has an outstanding collection. From the dinosaur exhibition to displays of precious gemstones, there’s an enormous amount to see.
I don’t think it’s possible to see everything in one day, and if you are going to try just make sure you are wearing comfortable shoes!
12. Victoria and Albert Museum
Founded in 1852, the V&A was named after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and is primarily focused on art, fashion and design. The museum houses a vast collection of over 2.3 million objects spanning 5,000 years of human creativity.
The collection includes ceramics, furniture, glass, metalwork, photographs, sculptures, textiles, and paintings.
13. National Gallery
The National Gallery, located in Trafalgar Square, is a renowned art museum established in 1824. It houses a collection of over 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th century to 1900, including works by Van Gogh, da Vinci, Renoir, and Titian.
The building itself, with its neoclassical façade, is a popular tourist hotspot, with Nelson’s Column and the famous lion statues just outside the building.
14. Tate Modern
Tate Modern, housed in the former Bankside Power Station on the banks of the Thames, is a leading modern art gallery. Opened in 2000 this building, with its famous industrial architecture including the iconic Turbine Hall, houses an extensive collection of modern art. It showcases works from 1900 to the present, including pieces by Picasso, Rothko, Dalí, and Warhol.
15. Globe Theatre
The current building is a recent reconstruction of the original theatre, a short distance from the original site. The UK’s most famous literary figure is undoubtedly William Shakespeare, and a fantastic place to see some of his work is at the Globe.
The original theatre was demolished within 50 years of its construction in 1599. The Globe features both Shakespearean and modern plays. You can get relatively cheap standing tickets if you are willing to forego a seat for the performance.
16. Royal Albert Hall
The Royal Albert Hall in South Kensington is famous for the range of musical events it hosts, as well as its Victorian architecture. You’ll find classical music, ballet, pop concerts and even films with live orchestras playing the soundtrack.
17. Royal Opera House
The Royal Opera House is next to Covent Garden Market in central London and is known for both ballet and opera performances.
They also have a streaming service with a 14-day free trial if you want to see incredible performances of classics such as Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, La Bohème and The Magic Flute.
18. Red Phone Boxes
I used to work near Westminster, and every day would walk past a couple of these phone boxes, directly opposite Westminster Abbey. I hadn’t realised how many people associated the red phone booths with London until I regularly saw people taking photos with them.
On several occasions, I even saw people doing wedding photo shoots, posing in bridal gowns. These days it’s rare to see anyone actually use them as we all carry phones with us, but they still seem to be very popular for a photo op.
19. Greenwich Mean Time
The Prime Meridian, marking the division between the Eastern and Western hemispheres, is symbolized by a line which you can visit at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. This line has historical significance in defining global time zones.
The current standard for international time, Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), aligns with Greenwich Mean Time. As a result, time zones worldwide are measured based on their deviation from Greenwich’s time.
Aside from the historic buildings further up the list, London is also famous for a number of more recent architectural icons.
20. The Shard
The Shard now dominates the London skyline as the tallest and most obvious of London’s skyscrapers. I have paid to go up to the viewing level – View From The Shard, but if you are on a budget it’s probably one to skip. Alternatively, you could visit one of the bars or restaurants.
Given that I live in London it is absolutely unnecessary for me to use the Shangri-La Hotel in The Shard, but it is still on my bucket list to stay for a night and wake up to spectacular views. I have had dinner at one of the restaurants.
Unsurprisingly it was very expensive, but I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the food. I was concerned it would be one of those places where they rely on the view to make up for mediocre food, but the meal I had was excellent.
21. The London Eye
The London Eye is a giant Ferris wheel on the South Bank of the River Thames. Each rotation takes about 30 minutes, with views of landmarks like Big Ben, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the Shard.
The Eye has 32 capsules for visitors, representing the 32 London boroughs. It’s a very popular tourist landmark, although there are many other places where you can get excellent views of London without the hefty price tag, for example, Skygarden and the OXO tower.
22. The Gherkin
The London Gherkin, officially known as 30 St Mary Axe, is a striking piece of contemporary architecture and stands at 180 meters tall. Its unique shape, not only gives it its nickname but also contributes to its energy efficiency.
The Gherkin is primarily an office building, with a restaurant and bar at the top that are available only for private hire rather than as a standard public restaurant. In a previous career, I was once lucky enough to attend a dinner at the Gherkin which was an amazing experience, but you can get better views from the public restaurant at the Shard anyway.
23. Sky Garden
Sky Garden is set atop the Walkie-Talkie building at 20 Fenchurch Street (we do like to give things nicknames, just check out the whole ‘Boaty McBoatface situation’)!
Sky Garden is a public space offering spectacular 360-degree views of the city. Spread over three floors, Sky Garden includes an open-air terrace, observation decks, and an expanse of Mediterranean and South African flora. It is free to visit but you must book your free ticket in advance as capacity is limited.
24. O2 Greenwich
The O2 in Greenwich, formerly known as the Millennium Dome, is a large entertainment complex on the Greenwich Peninsula, one of the most obvious landmarks along that stretch of the river. Originally constructed to house the Millennium Experience, it has since been transformed into a multi-purpose venue.
The O2 Arena, its centrepiece, frequently hosts concerts and shows. It’s not particularly a tourist destination although you can book to climb the iconic white dome.
In practice, it’s pretty convenient for locals with shopping, a cinema, a bowling alley and lots of restaurants. I used to meet friends there for dinner fairly often as it was convenient for us all on the Jubilee Tube line.
Food and Drink
25. Afternoon Tea
It’s well known that the British like our tea. Most of us don’t partake in the meal known as Afternoon Tea very often, but it is a fun thing to do when visiting London. As well as cups of tea, you’ll generally also be given a selection of sandwiches and cakes.
You could go all out for tea at one of the fancier hotels (I’ve had tea at The Ritz and it was fantastic but not in my budget for a regular activity!), or a more affordable option such as Boulevard Brasserie. You do generally need to book – locations such as the Ritz and Claridge’s can book up weeks, if not months, in advance.
26. Brick Lane
Brick Lane, in East London, is a local foodie favourite, famous for its curry houses and beigel shops. The most well-known of its eateries is probably Beigel Bake, serving beigels 24/7 including its famous salt beef beigel.
The Truman Brewery, a former brewery now converted into a venue for markets, bars, and events (including my favourite – the annual London Coffee Festival) is also on Brick Lane.
I admit, this one isn’t just London. Pubs are a British institution and have historically been a key part of local life. There are many pubs still in operation that are hundreds of years old, serving traditional pub fare like fish and chips, pies, and Sunday roasts. Many of them also host small events such as live music, and pub quizzes.
I absolutely love pub quizzes, more than might be considered reasonable, and they are a fantastic way to spend an evening with friends. Apart from the time when I went to a pub quiz with some friends not realising it was themed around football. We had to rope in some random guys playing pool to even attempt to answer any questions.
If you want a very British experience, dinner and a drink in a pub is ideal. At many of them, you have to order food and drinks at the bar as they aren’t the same as restaurants, but there are some truly stellar pubs in every part of the city.
Shopping and Markets
28. Oxford Street
Oxford Street is the UK’s most famous shopping location, ranging from high-street fashion to department stores like Selfridges. It is particularly popular during the festive season when its famous Christmas lights illuminate the area.
As a local, I avoid it at the weekends as it becomes extremely crowded, but it can be relatively relaxed on weekdays when most people are at work or school. One of my favourite London cafes, Kaffeine, is just a few streets over so pop in there to grab a flat white before you start a marathon shopping expedition.
Harrods, in Knightsbridge, is one of the most famous shops in the world, spanning over 1 million square feet. Founded in 1849 by Charles Henry Harrod, Harrods has a reputation for high-end products and exceptional customer service. The Food Halls are particularly renowned (and really the only department within my budget!), offering an array of delicious foods and gourmet eateries.
30. Camden Market
I spent many Saturdays during my teen years in Camden Market, checking out the various food stalls and buying clothes and accessories. There are several adjoining markets, including Camden Lock Market, Stables Market, and Buck Street Market.
The area is known for its diverse array of goods, from vintage clothing and handmade crafts to unique artwork and quirky souvenirs. Camden is also known for its music scene, and there are several venues nearby including the Dublin Castle and Electric Ballroom.
31. Borough Market
Borough Market is one of the city’s oldest and most popular markets. It is famous for selection of fresh produce, gourmet foods, and international delicacies.
Any foodie visiting London should make sure that they stop by Borough Market. The market is open six days per week from Tuesday – Sunday, on the south side of the River Thames by London Bridge.
32. Covent Garden
Covent Garden is famous for several reasons – the market, the theatres, the shops and more. The market itself has several restaurants and independent shops, as well as classic market stalls.
The area is also well known for the street performers, who take spots on the path from the Tube station down to the market, as well as in the market square. You can find musicians, living statues and magicians all of whom have a licence to perform from the local council.
If you are exploring London it is worth passing by, but the Tube station can become packed so it is generally better to use Leicester Square station and then take a 3-minute walk over to Covent Garden.
33. Columbia Road Flower Market
Columbia Road Flower Market, in East London, is a colourful and fun Sunday market famous for its stunning array of flowers and plants. Operating since the 19th century, this vibrant market transforms Columbia Road every Sunday, drawing both locals and tourists alike.
The vendors sell a variety of flowers, plants, herbs, and shrubs. From exotic orchids to classic roses, the selection is vast and always fresh.
The market is also surrounded by independent shops, art galleries, and cafes, making it a perfect spot for a leisurely Sunday stroll. Unfortunately, it is a bit more effort to get to than some of the other markets as it isn’t close to a Tube station, but there are nearby buses and Overground lines.
34. Hyde Park
Hyde Park is one of the more famous London parks, with events such as Winter Wonderland within the grounds each year. The park is divided by the Serpentine, a large lake popular for boating and swimming. Speaker’s Corner, a traditional site for free speech, draws crowds every Sunday, and the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain is also a notable feature of this 350-acre park.
35. The Regent’s Park
The Regent’s Park spans about 410 acres, another very large green space. The park is home to London Zoo, one of the oldest zoos in the world. The park’s rose garden is beautiful in spring and summer.
There is also an open-air theatre at the park. Just make sure you dress for the weather. I once went unprepared to a performance of Into The Woods and got rained on during an unexpected shower.
36. St James’ Park
St James’s Park, the oldest of London’s Royal Parks, lies between Westminster and Buckingham Palace. It’s known for its stunning lake, which is home to a variety of waterfowl, including the famous pelicans.
The park is also notorious for its very tame squirrels. You will even see people feeding them with the squirrels literally eating out of their hands – not something I would recommend from a hygiene perspective. I used to work in a building near the park and would visit during my lunch breaks – there were almost always people trying to interact with the squirrels!
37. London Underground – The Tube
London’s public transport system is one of the best in the world, and the London Underground, commonly called the Tube, is the best of the bunch. Given the narrow streets and amount of traffic, the best way to get around the city is on the Tube. It is the world’s oldest underground railway system and covers a huge amount of the city.
38. Black Cabs
You’ll find these official taxis all around the capital, although some are covered in adverts rather than the traditional black livery.
Black cabs are famous for having a very tight turning circle, apparently so that they can navigate the small roundabout at the front of the Savoy without needing to reverse. I was sceptical whether this was true, but the official standards guide for these taxis does specify a turning circle requirement of the same measurement.
Black Cab drivers have to pass The Knowledge, which requires them to know all of London’s streets and navigate the most efficient route between any two points in the city without SatNav. They used to be cash-only, but are now fitted with card machines so it is easier to pay.
39. Double Decker Buses
Matching our bright red phone booths and post boxes, the double-decker buses are another crucial part of the London transport system. London has more than 19,000 bus stops so you’ll never be far from a double-decker in the capital city.
Seasonal Events and Festivals
40. Notting Hill Carnival
The Notting Hill Carnival is an iconic event in London’s cultural calendar, celebrated annually on the last weekend of August.
The event originates in the 1960s during a particularly difficult period in the history of race relations in the UK. Following several racially motivated attacks and riots, a Caribbean Carnival was organised for children in the area around Notting Hill to try and ease tensions in the area.
Since that time it has grown into Europe’s largest street festival, a vibrant celebration of Caribbean heritage, arts, and culture. The event attracts over a million visitors each year, transforming the streets of West London one weekend every August.
The carnival is famous for its spectacular parade, featuring elaborate floats, flamboyant costumes, and dancers moving rhythmically to the beats of calypso, soca, and reggae music. Steel bands and sound systems line the streets, creating an electrifying atmosphere. Food stalls offering a variety of Caribbean delicacies like jerk chicken, curry goat, and fried plantain are also festival highlights.
41. The Proms
The BBC Proms, typically just called The Proms, is an annual eight-week summer season of daily orchestral classical music concerts and other events held predominantly in the Royal Albert Hall in London. The concerts are broadcast worldwide, reaching millions.
Central to The Proms’ ethos is the aim to make the best in classical music accessible to the widest possible audience. It features performances by internationally acclaimed artists and orchestras, alongside ‘Promming’, a tradition where a limited number of inexpensive standing tickets are available on the day.
The Last Night of the Proms is particularly popular as a more light-hearted concert, that features well-known classical favourites.
Wimbledon, officially known as The Championships, Wimbledon, is the oldest and arguably most prestigious tennis tournament in the world. Held annually at the All England Club in London since 1877, it is one of the four Grand Slam tennis tournaments, the others being the Australian Open, French Open, and US Open.
The tournament takes place over two weeks in late June and early July, culminating with the Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s Singles Final. Wimbledon is renowned for its strict dress code for competitors and its consumption of strawberries and cream by spectators.
It attracts the world’s top players and millions of viewers globally, making it one of the most widely known of London’s annual events.
The tournament is also known for strawberries and cream – each year almost 2 million strawberries are consumed at the event.
43. Chelsea Flower Show
The Chelsea Flower Show, organised by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), is the most famous flower and landscape gardens show in the United Kingdom, perhaps even the world. Held annually in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, London, since 1913, it’s a prominent event in the British social calendar, attracting visitors, including royalty and celebrities.
44. Somerset House Ice Skating
Somerset House, next to the river in central London, hosts a variety of events each year, but the best known is the winter open-air ice skating rink. The rink at Somerset House is known for its stunning backdrop, as the courtyard is turned into an ice rink directly in front of the building.
The atmosphere is enhanced by a large Christmas tree and festive decorations. In addition to skating, Somerset House often hosts a range of seasonal activities, including DJ nights, skate lessons, and club nights.
The rink is surrounded by food and drink stalls, offering warm beverages and treats, adding to the festive experience. If you do want to go skating here you do need to book in advance as it’s a very popular winter activity for both locals and visitors.
In conclusion, what London is known for extends far beyond its iconic skyline and royal heritage. London, not just my favourite city but also my home, is an amazing city to visit.
Between the famous buildings, shopping destinations, annual events and cultural hotspots, it is one of the best cities in the world. Regardless of what visitors look for in a destination, London undoubtedly offers something to suit every taste and interest.
What is the best time of year to visit London?
The best time to visit London is generally between April and June. The weather is mild and good for walking around the city, and it is less crowded than in the height of summer.
What are some free or low-cost activities in London?
A lot of museums and galleries are free to visit. London is also great for exploring on foot to see the landmarks and architecture.
Is London safe to visit?
London is a very safe city. Just keep an eye on your belongings in crowded spaces and exercise the same awareness as you would in any other place.