Things to do in London outside Buckingham Palace

The Great Big Bucket List of Things To Do In London

What is the Big Deal About London?

If you are wondering if you should plan a trip to London and IF there will be enough things to do in London, England to keep you busy, wonder no more.

There are so many cool and epic things to do in London that deciding what to see and do might be a little overwhelming. London is a vibrant city with major landmarks and tourist attractions all over the city.

If you are visiting for the first time, pick a few of your favorite sites to see. You probably won’t get to everything.

This makes London the perfect city to visit again and again and again. There’s always something more to explore.

First, Getting Around the London Underground AKA the Tube

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The Underground is London’s subway or metro and is also known as the “Tube”. It is clean, convenient and an easy way to travel about the city.

No doubt you will hear and see “Mind the Gap” throughout your visit.

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1. Oyster Card

Purchasing a Visitor Oyster Card and is one of the best things to do in London if you want to travel like a local. It can be used on most London public transport: Tube, buses, tram, DLR (Docklands Light Railway), Overground and National Rail services in London.

There is a £5 non-refundable fee required when your first activate your card. After that, when you run out of credit, easily top up using any of the ticket machines in any station or in many shops around London. Once you buy an Oyster Card, be sure to keep it for your return trip.

2. Travelcard

This paper copy of a London travel pass can be validated for either a single day or seven days.

Choosing between the two pass options—Oyster Card and Travelcard—may depend on your length of stay in London, the zones you plan to use and what you want to see in London.

3. Apple Pay

Paying for journeys on the Transit options in London is pretty slick with Express Mode on Apple Pay using your iPhone or Apple Watch.

“Simply select a card for travel in Wallet. Then just tap your iPhone or Apple Watch on the yellow card reader and go.” Apple

Our family did this on a recent trip to London. It was more economical for us to do this than to purchase 3 additional Oyster cards. My husband topped up two of his Oyster cards when we arrived in London for him and our youngest daughter to use.

My older daughters and I handily used Apple Pay on our watches each time we entered and exited the Tube.

Take advantage of a travel credit card with perks and rewards.

The Great Big Bucket List of Things To Do in London

Having had the opportunity to visit London a number of times now, Chris and I have found something new to explore each time. Our most recent trip with our daughters in the summer of 2022 included a taking a river cruise, visiting The Mall for the Queen’s Jubilee, exploring Trafalgar Square, and visiting the National Gallery.

The weather in London often features rain. Be prepared with a foldable rain jacket that fits neatly into your backpack. You may even want to tuck in a backpack cover to protect your camera and other essential electronics.

>> Related: My Favorite Crossbody Bag for Travel

Big Ben

Big Ben is one of the things to do in London

Check out the world’s most famous clock. Big Ben is one of the most instagrammable and recognizable landmarks in London and throughout the world. Did you know that Big Ben is actually the name of the biggest bell in the Elizabeth Tower?

Currently undergoing a massive reconstruction and restoration project, Big Ben is slated to reopen to public tours in the Spring of 2023.

>> Related: 27 Instagram Worthy Insanely Colorful Destinations Around the World

Buckingham Palace, The Changing of the Guard and The Mall

You will be amazed with the throngs of people surrounding Buckingham Palace and filling all available sidewalk space when it is time for the Changing of the Guard. 

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On our first visit to London, Chris and I claimed a spot high above the crowds on one of the bridge posts and claimed it for over an hour to watch the guards. We had a lot of fun people-watching and hearing a variety of different languages being spoken as well. 

There were policemen stationed at the crosswalks overseeing crowd control. They had their jobs cut out for them. People would never stopped crossing. As it was, the policeman we were most entertained with had to keep yelling out, “The light is red. Stop crossing. STOP crossing!” 

After awhile he would start going after the thoughtless souls, turn them around in the middle of the street and send them back to the sidewalk. After all, cars were coming. The people had no sense whatsoever.

So, word to the wise, stop crossing so you don’t get yelled at!

The King’s Guard is the name given to the guards responsible for guarding Buckingham Palace and St James’s Palace (including Clarence House) in London.

Want to know more about the interesting black hats that the guards wear? Click the link.

Christmas in London

If you happen to be planning a visit to London around Christmastime, you’re in luck. There are so many festive things to do in London and magical things to see. You’ll be sure to find the Christmas spirit during your visit.

Covent Garden

Covent Garden is a must-see location if you are looking for one of London’s most trendy shopping districts, stylish beauty salons, and hip eateries with grab-n-go lunch spots and a top restaurant scene. It’s a foodie’s dream destination.

The Garden spreads across nine streets and one historic piazza. Be sure to stop at the Apple Market for a little shopping or Neal’s Yard and Neal Street for the quaintest shops, boutiques and cafes.

London Eye

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Who doesn’t recognize the iconic London Eye?

The London Eye has been attracting guests for more than a decade and has spun to the top of the most popular tourist activity in London. Enjoy 360° views over London in one of the high-tech glass pods.

While riding the London Eye may be one of the best things to do in London with kids, it may set your finances back a bit.

The London Eye is located on the south bank of the river Thames. Be sure to pre-book your tickets online as guests receive a timed entry ticket. 

London Theatre

Chris and I attended a performance of Rock of Ages at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London ten years ago. While Rock of Ages may not be currently running, you may be able to see classics such as Les Miserables, Wicked, Mama Mia, Hamilton, Phantom of the Opera, Grease, Lion King, and Moulin Rouge.

Book your tickets early

Meridian Line at the Royal Observatory

“The historic prime meridian or Greenwich meridian is a geographical reference line that passes through the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, in London, England.” Wikipedia

The meridian line, at Longitude Zero (0° 0′ 0″), represents the Prime Meridian of the world. Every place on earth (almost) uses this measurement in terms of its angle east or west from this line. You can at least say you’ve been there.

Notting Hill

You might identify Notting Hill with the 1999 romantic comedy starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, but if you want to visit the real Notting Hill along with the Portobello Market while in London, you’re in luck. It is a vibrant and charming neighborhood in West London.

Parliament

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The magnificent Palace of Westminster, or House of Parliament, is centrally located in London, England. It serves as the meeting place for both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

If you are wanting to see the Parliament building on the London cityscape, look first for Big Ben. Parliament can be seen on the north bank of the River Thames in the City of Westminster.

Adjacent to the House of Parliament is another famous London landmark—Westminster Abbey.

River Cruise on the River Thames

Chris and I have walked along the River Thames, but taking the river cruise offered a whole new perspective and was definitely a fun thing to do in London with kids. Starting at the Westminster Pier, the river cruise makes a few quick stops along the way to pick up passengers… including a stop at the London Eye.

You will cruise under a number of bridges—London Bridge and Tower Bridge to name a few—until reaching the Royal Borough of Greenwich. You can also take the return trip back to the Westminster Pier if you wish.

We hopped off the cruise in Greenwich and explored the Docklands Museum, hiked to the Royal Observatory, and feasted on pizza at Franco Manca.

St. Paul’s Cathedral

St. Paul's Cathedral in London

Beyond marveling at the beauty of St. Paul’s Cathedral, you can also plan for a Guided tours led by expert volunteers to learn about the history and architecture of the building.

Check out the What’s On calendar for special performances, workshops, lectures, and services.

Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square is usually hopping with tourists, pedestrians, and museum-goers—it is one of the most vibrant and lively areas in the city—and definitely offers unique things to do in London during your visit.

You’ll find museums and galleries, quaint cafes, chalk artists, rallies and demonstrations. There is always something fun to see in the square. You may even encounter cultural celebrations, sponsored events, or filming and photographic shoots.

Trafalgar Square in London

Westminster Abbey

Many identify Westminster Abbey with royal weddings—think William and Kate. As a living working church, you can visit the Abbey most days on guided tours.

You may be interested to know that the Abbey is the final resting place or memorial of many notable individuals: Charles Darwin, Alfred Lord Tennyson, William Shakespeare, Sir Isaac Newton, King Henry VII, Mary Queen of Scots, and George Frederic Handel to name a few.

On your visit, be sure to discover Poet’s Corner, the Coronation Chair, the Lady Chapel, Royal Tombs, Pyx Chamber, Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, Cloisters, and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries.

Places to Eat in London

Using Google Maps and selecting the Restaurants Tab, you can find popular restaurants and choose options according to location, price, type of food, and ratings. The current top-rated London, England best restaurants are:

  1. Brawn – Mediterranean $$
  2. Padella – Bistro $
  3. Iyoki Restaurant St. James – Fine Dining $$
  4. Twist Connubio – Tapas $$$
  5. Launceston Place – Modern European $$$
  6. Hide – Modern European $$$$
  7. Murano – Italian $$$$
  8. Inamo Covent Garden – Asian Fusion $$
  9. Bob Bob Ricard Soho – French $$$$
  10. BRAT Restaurant – Grill $$

While not on the top ten list, Franco Manca is a great place for pizza. And if you are like my girls, you know that pizza is a good choice anytime and anywhere in the world.

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Bridges

There are dozens of bridges within the city of London. Whether beam, arch, box girder, or suspension, you may recognize a few of the more iconic structures that span the River Thames.

  • London Bridge
  • Millennium Bridge
  • Tower Bridge
  • Waterloo Bridge
  • Westminster Bridge
  • Vauxhall Bridge
  • Chelsea Bridge
  • Hammersmith Bridge

Markets

Portobello Market

The main market day for Portobello Market is Saturday with a little something for antique-seekers and bargain hunters alike. You’ll even find fresh produce, vintage treasures, and second-hand goods. Perusing the market is one of the best things to do in London on a Saturday afternoon.

Apple Market in Covent Gardens

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Covent Gardens is a fashionable shopping destination in London, but the Apple Market, once a world-famous fruit and vegetable market, is home to a variety of stalls selling hand-made crafts, jewelry, soaps, art and prints each day from Tuesday to Sunday.

Monday is antique and collectables day. You’ll also find the East Colonnade Market and Jubilee Market at Covent Gardens.

Additional Markets in London

Everybody loves a good market. London is home to many that are must see and offer a little something for everyone. Round out your list of top things to do in London with a visit to a market or two!

  • Borough Market next to London Bridge
  • The Brick Lane Market open on Sundays
  • Brixton Village
  • Broadway Market
  • Camden Market

Museums & Galleries

Imperial Museum: Churchill War Rooms

You could spend hours walking through the top-secret corridors of the Churchill War Rooms where you can see a small glimpse of what life must have been like during the Second World War. If you are a history buff, and especially have an interest in World War II, visiting the war room will rank among the unique things to do in London.

Location: Clive Steps, King Charles Street, London, SW1A 2AQ

Imperial War Museum: The Holocaust Galleries

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Chris and I were deep in thought and silent throughout our three-hour visit to this Holocaust exhibit as we read through the personal stories and tragedies of the victims of the Holocaust. View over “2,000 photos, books, artworks, letters and personal objects ranging from jewellery and clothing to toys and musical instruments”. The Holocaust Galleries

You can also explore the Second World War Galleries at the Imperial War Museum.

Location: Lambeth Road, London, SE1 6HZ

>> Related: 10 Inspiring War Memorials Around the World

Museum of London Docklands

The Museum of London Docklands was a FREE, fun and interactive museum. It detailed a history of London with the slave trade, the spice trade, growth of industry, and politics. It had a lot of fun hands-on areas for younger children to enjoy.

Location: 1 Warehouse, West India Quay, No, Hertsmere Rd, London E14 4AL

National Gallery

Located in Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery is FREE to visit. It highlights works from Paul Cézanne, Bellini, Monet, Michelangelo, van Dyke, van Gogh, Rembrandt, just to name drop a few famous painters.

The museum is open daily from 10 am to 6 pm and 9 pm on Friday evening. It ranks high among the FREE things to do in London.

Location: Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DN

Tower of London

Take a tour of the Tower of London where you will learn about the Bell Tower, see the crown jewels, read the history of the Kings being in favor and out of favor (it must have been a crazy time to live), view the the horses, the weapons, the cells, and the torture devices. 

The tower, once best known for its torture and murders, apparently was a grand place to attend an afternoon beheading. It is much more tame in the 21st century but should be a must see on your list of things to do in London.

Location: Tower of London, London, EC3N 4AB

Take Pictures of Iconic British Symbols for Instagram

Red Telephone Booths

Red phone booth in London

Double Decker Bus

Did you know that if you stacked 21 double decker buses on top of each other, the height would equal the height of Big Ben?

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Guard at Buckingham Palace

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The Best Day Trips from London

Bath

This is one of the day trips in London for families that will be intriguing for everyone. The Roman Baths are located in Bath, a historic city about 2.5 hours outside of London. Beyond a tour of the Roman Baths, you can also see the Bath Abbey, the Circus (a historic street that forms a circle filled with unique townhomes), Pulteney Bridge, and the River Avon.

Roman Bath in Bath, UK

A Circus in London often has nothing to do with clowns. “Circus” comes from the Latin root “circ” (meaning circle). It is a round open space at a street junction, ie., Picadilly Circus.

In Rome, a “circus” often refers to an arena that was used for chariot races, gladiator competitions, mock battles, and other blood sports, ie., the Circus Maximus.

Bristol

While in Bristol, my husband and I toured the SS Great Britain. You could spend a few hours here touring the hull, learning about the workings of the ship, and then exploring the inside of the ship with first class accommodations, lower class accommodations, the cooking area, bathrooms, etc.

The berths were about a foot wide and barely long enough for my 5’2″ height.

Take the Cross Harbor Ferry to transport back and forth across the river.

Other things to do and see in Bristol on day trips from London are the Clifton Suspension Bridge, a River Cruise along the River Avon, and guided walking tours.

Cambridge

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Cambridge, less than one hour from London, is a lovely town to visit for one of the best day trips from London by train.

Chris and I visited on a rainy day, but still enjoyed meandering along the Backs and the River Cam, touring King’s College Chapel, and standing on the Bridge of Sighs. While the day was a little too wet for a punt tour, we saw plenty of the small boats docked along the river.

Cotswolds

The Cotswolds cover an expansive area of almost 800 square miles. You could spend days exploring delightful Cotswold villages with their charming markets and golden hued country homes.

I would classify the Cotswolds as one of my best day trips from London… ever!

Roads for driving in the UK and best travel apps to use

During our recent visit to the Cotswolds, Chris and I noted that there were not a lot of transportation opportunities for getting to the Cotswolds and then between the villages. I would recommend that you rent a car.

>> Related: 13 Tips Americans Should Know When Driving in the United Kingdom

A few of the amazing villages to add to your must-see list:

  • Bourton-on-the-Water
  • Broadway
  • Chipping Camden
  • Cirencester
  • Lower Slaughter
  • Snowshill
  • Upper Slaughter

Dartmoor National Park

“Dartmoor really does have something for everyone; history lovers can explore castle ruins and learn about local myths and legends at our museums or on a guided walk, families have plenty of exciting attractions to choose from, while there’s lots of opportunities for rambling over tors, cycling up challenging hills and staying active in the great outdoors.” Visit Dartmoor

I loved seeing the Dartmoor ponies, photographing the sheep, and hiking to Bellever Tor (a tor is a hill or rocky peak). While seeing Highland cows was high on my list during our day trip from London, I was disappointed to not see any.

Ponies at Dartmoor National park

Paris on the Eurostar

Want to enjoy train day trips from London to Paris? It is possible on the Eurostar. It takes less than 2.5 hours by train and offers you a wonderful day in the “City of Love”.

>> Related: Plan the Perfect Disneyland Paris Day Trip

Southampton

Did you know that Southampton is the location where the Titanic set sail. Today, many cruise ships depart from Southampton for European destinations.

If you are in Southampton preparing for a cruise or just exploring the area, you might be interested in:

  • Shopping along High Street along the QE2 Mile.
  • Exploring the fortress walls
  • Enjoying some high adventure at “Go Ape” as you climb trees, zip line, cross suspended platforms, and swing like Tarzan
  • Trying a dessert or two at Heavenly Desserts

Stonehenge

Stonehenge may fall into the category of otherworldly. This world-famous monument was built over 5000 years ago in the Neolithic period. Who, What, Why are all questions that historians seek to answer.

Most people visit Stonehenge to view the Stone Circle, but this UNESCO World Heritage Site also has five Neolithic houses to explore designed after remains that were excavated in 2006.

As there are no direct trains to Stonehenge, the best way to visit this popular tourist site is by car or with a tour.

Weston-super-Mare

Grand Pier in Weston-super-mare, United Kingdom

Weston-super-Mare, or Weston for short, is a seaside town in North Somerset, England. It makes the perfect summer getaway when you are looking for day trips from London.

  • Walk along the beach
  • Visit the helicopter museum
  • Explore the Grand Pier
  • Visit the Lambretta Museum of scooters
  • Try scones with clotted cream and jam at Mr. Fox’s Tearoom (In the United States, clotted cream would technically be called… butter)
  • Ride the Ferris Wheel
  • Surf

Windsor Castle

Located just 20 miles outside of the city center, a visit to Windsor is a perfect day trip from London. Windsor Castle is one of the official royal residences. Wander the castle grounds and discover the chapel where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were married.

Be sure to book your Windsor Castle tickets in advance.

After exploring the Castle and the grounds, you can stroll along the Long Walk, a 2.5 mile path that connects the castle to The Great Park.

London Instagram Captions

  • From London with love.
  • London is calling, so I must go.
  • On top of the sky on the London eye.
  • London on a sunny day is my kind of heaven.
  • All you need is love and a little bit of London.
  • There’s no time to be bored in a place as great as London.
  • When in doubt, stand up stretch, and book a flight to London.
  • Stay calm and visit London.
  • London. You had me at “allo”.
  • London is my cup of tea.
  • I travel continuously, and I see many cities, but there is nowhere like London. ~ Norman Foster
  • In London, everyone is different, and that means anyone can fit in. ~ Paddington Bear
  • If you’re curious, London is an amazing place. ~ David Bailey

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Final Thoughts on The Great Big Bucket List of Things To Do In London

Ahhhh London. If you are a first-time traveler from the United States, London is a perfect introduction to international travel. The language isn’t too different and there is plenty to keep you busy if you are looking for awesome things to do in London.

If you only had a few days to explore, these are my recommendations on the 6 best things to do:

  1. Experience the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace and walk along the Mall
  2. Walk across Tower Bridge and take lots of pictures
  3. Take pictures with a red telephone booth
  4. Ride the London Eye
  5. Visit the Imperial War Museum
  6. Nevermind, you should do them all!

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Sanika
1 month ago

There is always something fun going on in London, I love how lovely the city is😊

Linda (LD Holland)
1 month ago

For a long time we really had no interest in visiting London. But when we finally got there, we were glad we did. We have seen a few of these great spots. But still have many of spots on your list to visit on a return trip. I am sure visiting at Christmas would be magical. Love all the day trip options.

Tanya T
Tanya T
1 month ago

This is a great list. I see there are a few that I should add to my next visit in London

Jenn | By Land and Sea
Jenn | By Land and Sea
1 month ago

We just bought tickets to return to London after a hiatus! This post is super helpful for planning and visiting new spots!

Jenn
1 month ago

Ah London! This is a great, comprehensive list, and includes some of the best spots for sure! Two more that I would include (if they’re still open) are the Sherlock Holmes museum at Baker Street, and the Shakespeare Globe theater. Great tips about the payment options too!

Rachel - Rays of Adventure

Great post! I’ve been to London many times but I still haven’t done all of these things! I love how many different things there are to do in London. Thanks for giving me some new ideas for my next trip!

Carrie
1 month ago

This is a great list! I only spent a few hours in London on a layover, I’d love to go back and see more of the city.

Denise
1 month ago

What a great list of things to do in London! I’m passing it on to my Nephew who will be visiting soon.