45 Essential Things to Do in London (London Bucket List)
Truer words have never been spoken: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” London is one of the world’s most popular destinations, and draws travelers from across the globe. Each year, London receives 30 million visitors, and starting in 2011, I was eagerly one of them. Since then, I’ve visited many times – and even moved to London from 2012-2013 because I love it so much.
On my first trip, I wrote a list of experiences I wanted – my London bucket list – and tried to do it all. (I’m still working on that list! Plus so much more I discovered!)
I’m not sure if you can tell from the picture on the right, but I had the most insanely detailed itinerary possible – down to travel times and every single thing I wanted to see. Needless to say, I didn’t see it all – I don’t think that it’s possible to see all of London in a lifetime.
But over the years, from living in London to visiting repeatedly, I’ve slowly honed what I consider to be a London bucket list anyone will love. It includes tourist experiences you’d expect, and some ‘local’ ones I discovered on my own. You can use this London bucket list to plan your first trip to London – or your fiftieth!
London Bucket List: 45 Best Things to Do
While – obviously based on the quote I started this post with – I believe that there is a lifetime (and more) of things to do in London, it helps to start somewhere right? Here are 45 items to put on your London bucket list to get started planning your first (or tenth!) trip.
This post was originally written in January 2021, and was updated in January 2023.
1. See the Houses of Parliament
There’s no sight more iconic in London than the Houses of Parliament. It includes the Elizabethan Tower and the Big Ben bell that rings out over the city. You can see the Houses of Parliament from all over Westminster, the neighborhood they’re located in. However, my favorite view is across the Thames on the southwestern underside of the bridge.
2. Admire Westminster Abbey
I’ll admit: I’ve never been inside Westminster Abbey (aka the place where Will and Kate got married). It seems excessively expensive to enter a church, and I really admire the architecture on the outside even more than the inside. By day or night, Westminster Abbey is a beautiful building with sweeping turrets and flying buttresses (my fave!) – and it’s well-lit for photos!
3. Wave to the Queen at Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace is the most famous of the royal residences in London (others include Kensington Palace and Kew Palace); even if you don’t pay to tour the public portion of the building it’s worth stopping by.
If you see the Union Jack flag flying, that means King Charles isn’t there currently. However, if you see the Royal Standard flag (it’s yellow, red, and blue), wave to the windows, as he may be looking!
4. Watch the Changing of the Guard
Speaking of the king, his guards are pretty well-known too – you’ve probably at least seen the emoji: 💂♀️💂💂♂️
Every day at 10:45am, crowds line the streets in front of Buckingham Palace to watch the Changing of the Guard ceremony, which officially happens at 11am. This is a fascinating peek into the traditional ceremonies that still dictate royal life in London.
5. Ride a Double-Decker Bus
There isn’t an emoji for this, but there should be: London’s bright red double-decker buses are famous – and effective for getting around town. Once you’ve topped up your Oyster card, use the Citymapper app to plan your route, and flag down a bus at one of the many stops across the city. (Transport for London says there are 19,000 bus stops, so you have plenty to choose from!) Try to grab a seat on the top deck right up front – it’s the best free bus tour in town!
Pro-tip: The 38 bus has a fantastic route, from Victoria Station past Hyde Park and Green Park to Piccadilly Circus and Covent Garden. The 15 is another good option: from Trafalgar Square past St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London into Poplar.
6. Master the London Underground
As you explore London, there are two main ways to get around long distances: the buses and the tube. The tube might seem daunting at first, but it’s not too difficult to get the hang of – and you can always use a transit app like Citymapper to help.
Pro-tip: The easiest way to master the tube quickly is to understand whether you’re headed north, south, east, or west. Tube lines have names (like “Central” and “Jubilee”) and primarily run along one of those axes. So if you know you’re headed west and catch the District line, just pop onto the westbound District line then confirm which stop you’ll get off at once you’re on the train (rather than standing at the signs and causing a traffic jam).
7. Experience History at the Tower of London
When I lived in London, I used to go for runs past the Tower of London. I remember one day realizing that recorded history had happened at this one place on the planet for over 2,000 years. We know who ruled and who died here for two millennia. What better place to learn about London, untangle the web of the royal family lines in Britain, or see the crown jewels?
8. Cross Tower Bridge
How many times can I say “iconic” in one blog post? So far, this is only the second time – which is pretty impressive considering how many of London’s landmarks are instantly recognizable all over the world!
The Tower Bridge (not London Bridge!) is one such sight: there’s no bridge as beautiful or ornate anywhere in the world. (If you know of one – tell me in the comments!) You can cross it on the street level, or pay to ascend one tower, cross an upper walkway, and descend the other tower; the museum teaches you about London history and the construction of this architectural masterpiece in 1886.
9. Visit St. Paul’s Cathedral
If this is your first time on my site, you might not know that St. Paul’s is my favorite building in London. I fell in love with St. Paul’s Cathedral on my first trip to London in 2011, and still love to visit at least once on every trip. I have dozens of photos from almost every angle I can find – and never get tired of trying to find new ones.
You can choose to admire the building from the outside, or pay to enter and admire it inside too. I heard recently that you can also now take photos inside St. Paul’s (that wasn’t allowed on my last trip back in 2019) so I’m keen to get back and shoot some more photos of the inside too!
10. Climb the Monument
I love climbing weird towers and buildings for a good view. The Monument is one such quirky relic from a time when London was a lot smaller than it is today. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren to roughly mark the origination point of the Great Fire of London in 1666, you can climb 311 steps to the top of The Monument and admire the view of the City of London.
11. Stand on the Prime Meridian in Greenwich
When you step off the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) in Greenwich, you’ll immediately get the sense that Greenwich once was – and in some ways still is – it’s own community within the Greater London area. Atop the high hill in Greenwich, you can visit the Royal Observatory and Prime Meridian. This marks the official center of Greenwich Mean Time, from which the time zones of the world are based!
Pro-tip: You can pay to access the courtyard and marker (left) or go to a path below the courtyard for a free marker on a stone wall (right).
12. Ride the London Eye at Sunset
I get asked a lot whether riding the London Eye is worth it. I always say it is… but only if you do it this way: book your ticket for 30 minutes before sunset on the day you want to ride. You’ll board the Eye while the sun is still up, get to watch sunset, and see the city light up beneath you before you disembark. It’s the best way to take advantage of this admittedly spendy tourist trap.
13. Admire Buskers on the Southbank
Not far from the London Eye, Southbank is London’s answer to Paris‘ left bank. Here you’ll find booksellers and buskers, food stalls and fair rides. It’s a place for people-watching and strolling among the crowds – and a fun spot to support city-permitted artists trying to earn a few pounds for their work.
(The photo above is a street poet who will write you a poem on the spot if you give him a word of inspiration.)
14. Watch Street Performers in Covent Garden
Covent Garden is another spot to enjoy street performers. There are set locations near the market where they’re allowed to set up to show off acrobatics, magic, or whatever other art they perform. You can start at one end of the market, watch some performances, stroll through the market for a pint or snack, then catch a different act at the other end of the building.
15. Watch the Ads Flash & Buses Pass at Piccadilly Circus
There are many active spots in London, but none feels quite as frenetic as Piccadilly Circus – probably because of its round shape. Red buses whirl around day and night, and massive digital billboards flash colorful ads for the latest whatever-you-supposedly-need. It can be a bit overwhelming, but it’s also a very particular place in London – sort of like the bullseye from which the crazy energy of the city spreads out.
(Actually the unofficial center of London is Trafalgar Square, which has a similar vibe with fewer eye-catching advertisements. Also very worth a visit! Maybe that’s #41 for my London bucket list…)
16. Go People Watching in Leicester Square
You can people-watch pretty much everywhere in London, but Leicester Square is a fully pedestrian part of the city and almost every tourist travels through here. As such, you’ll see starry-eyed travelers trying to snag theatre deals, jet-lagged journeyers – including perhaps a few locals – trying to get to a hotel/home from Heathrow, and loads of tour guides hawking other experiences that aren’t on my London bucket list. ?
17. See a Theatre Show in London’s West End
London’s theater scene is globally renowned – so it’s no surprise that you can see some incredible shows in London. Most of the famous (and some not-so-famous) theatres are located in an area called the West End – it includes parts of Soho, Covent Garden, Westminster, and even Victoria. Be sure to check showtimes and ticket prices before your trip to try and snag seats… You can also get last-minute discounts if you want until the day-of.
(Fun fact: Do you know the difference between a ‘theater’ and a ‘theatre?’ Theatres show live shows; theaters do not – like a movie theater. There are some great movie theaters in London too, let me know in the comments if you want a recommendation!)
18. Peek Inside a Red Phone Booth
To be honest, I wouldn’t go into a red phone booth – they’re usually filled with porn ads. (Just being honest!) However, you can find these iconic symbols of London (there’s that word again!) all over town, and can certainly pry a door open for a photo shoot.
Pro-tip: The one above I’m posing with is located along Great George Street not far from Churchill’s War Rooms.
19. Visit Churchill War Rooms
Speaking of, Churchill War Rooms is a must-visit during your trip to London. Sir Winston Churchill was a crucial figure not just in British history but in world history, having been key to the defeat of fascism in Europe.
The Churchill War Rooms is a museum located in the bunker where Churchill managed the war from. While the exhibits focus on WWII, the museum gives insight into the British leader’s life. You’ll learn about his post-war years, youth, and the ‘wilderness’ years.
20. Visit Platform 9¾ at King’s Cross Station
It’s hard to believe that one little brick wall in a train station could be so popular, but heck – it’s #1 on my Harry Potter bucket list too! Platform 9¾ is the Harry Potter experience to have in London (if you can have only one), and it’s popular enough to draw a crowd pretty much all day, every day.
Pro-tip: If you want to visit Platform 9¾ without a queue for a picture (or any of the props like robes and scarves that you see in most people’s pictures), head there late in the evening. You can usually walk right up and snap as many photos as you like!
21. Solve the Mystery of 221B Baker Street
The game’s afoot! If you’re a Sherlockian (yes, that’s what fans of Sherlock Holmes are called) – whether it’s the books, the BBC, or the Robert Downey Jr. version (I really tried to come up with an alliteration!), there’s one place you must visit: 221B Baker Street.
Yes, it’s a real place – no, it’s not actually where Sherlock Holmes (or even Arthur Conan Doyle) lived.
Today, 221B is a Sherlock Holmes museum and gift shop. People queue up on the sidewalks to explore rooms that evoke a sense of Victorian-era London and the city’s best detective.
22. Stroll Across Abbey Road
You’ve seen it – we’ve all seen it: the cover of The Beatles’ Abbey Road album, shot as the foursome crosses an iconic “zebra crossing” across the road and in front of the studio that share the same name. (It’s all called Abbey Road!)
Today you can visit, cross Abbey Road, and get your own photo thanks to a webcam that constantly records everyone’s iconic crossings at the landmark.
23. Find the Tardis… If You Can
Okay, one last London bucket list item for you pop culture fans: did you know there’s a Tardis somewhere in London?
True Whovians know where it is (or how to Google it) and unfortunately you can’t go inside to see if the proportions are true to life. It is a fun reminder of bygone London days when blue police boxes were a more common sight.
24. Try Indian Food
You might be surprised that the first food I recommend as a must-try in London isn’t British food… actually, maybe that’s not a surprise!
(British food has actually had a renaissance in the last decade, so I’ve included some recommendations for that too.)
To understand why London is home to some of the world’s best Indian food, it’s important to remember that culture has always transferred both ways. During the British Empire, countless Indians and a number of cultural aspects came back to the U.K.: Indian food, India Pale Ale, and even tea (#31) are just some examples. You can find spots across London with epic Indian cuisine from across the Indian subcontinent; I love Tayaabs in East London.
25. Admire Street Art on Brick Lane
While you’re kicking it in East London, don’t miss out on the city’s greatest area of street art (and plenty of other Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi restaurants to choose from). Brick Lane – which stretches from hipster haven Shoreditch in the north to the edgy and still immigrant area of Whitechapel in the south – is the epicenter for street art in London. You’ll find works by some of the world’s most famous street artists.
26. Take a Jack the Ripper Walking Tour
One last ‘East London’ item for your London bucket list before we jump back into food and drink: take a Jack the Ripper walking tour! This is a fascinating, dark chapter in London history and you can explore some of the exact spots where the gruesome murders occurred. Here are my favorite Jack the Ripper walking tours.
27. Find ‘Your’ Local & Enjoy a Pint
Coming back to food experiences for your London bucket list! If you’ve never experienced having a local pub, there’s nothing quite like it in North America. To complete this bucket list task, you need to choose a pub in the area around your hotel or Airbnb, then go to it as much as possible.
As for me, when I lived in London I had a local near my school building: The Clerk & Well in the Clerkenwell neighborhood. They’ve gotten a lot posher since I graduated business school in 2013, but I still like to stop in sometimes for a pint when I can.
28. Nosh on Fish & Chips
As I mentioned before, British food is on the rise – thank goodness! I love dishes like bangers and mash, Scotch eggs, and fish and chips… but I also love to be snooty about what I eat and want it to be delicious. London in the 2020s offers both.
Fish and chips is probably the most quintessentially British dish and you can find amazing options at restaurants and pubs across the city. The photos above are from The Lady Ottoline, another pub near where I went to school in London.
29. Explore London’s Markets
London has several markets – Camden, Portobello Road, Borough, and Spitalfields, just to name a few – and each one has something unique to offer. That’s why I strongly recommend visiting at least one, if not several during your London trip. You can shop arts and crafts souvenirs in Spitalfields, get amazing food at Borough, or grab a bouquet to brighten up your hotel room at Portobello Road. Most London markets are open every day, though it’s worth checking before you head out.
Pro-tip: My favorite market is the foodie’s market; Borough Market near London Bridge station. It gets slammed at lunchtime but is perfect for a mid-afternoon snack.
30. Try the Full English Breakfast
While we Americans certainly have some amazing breakfast and brunch dishes, we don’t have anything as ubiquitous as the Full English Breakfast. This dish includes eggs, tomato, sausage, bacon, potatoes, mushrooms, beans, and toast – basically everything you need to fuel up for a day of adventure!
31. Savor Sunday Roast
If your trip to London includes a Sunday, this London bucket list item is for you! Sunday Roast is a tradition that dates back centuries; today it’s a great time to gather with friends or locals for a hearty meal and subsequent food coma… I mean ‘day of rest.’
My favorite area in London for Sunday Roast is Richmond in the far west. This community is part of London (like Greenwich) but has its own village vibe – and it’s right along the Thames where you can stroll to burn off some of those Yorkshire pudding calories.
32. Treat Yourself to Afternoon Tea
Another uniquely British tradition, tea dates back to the 18th century when the East India Trading Company began importing dried goods from India. It quickly became a sign of class and wealth to take a break each afternoon for a snack and sip.
There are great tea experiences across the city at every level of society: you can have a casual tea at Bea’s of Bloomsbury (their website is no longer online, so double check when you go!), go for the standard afternoon tea at Fortnum & Mason, book a funky experience at art-house restaurant Sketch, or splurge for high tea at the Dorchester.
33. Sip Champagne Atop the Shard
Going to the top of the Shard is a splurge to begin with – so why not do it right? Virgin Experiences offers a day tour that takes you to the 72nd floor of the Shard (tallest building in London) where you can sip Möet & Chandon and gaze down at the ant people below. Definitely a bucket list experience!
34. See the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum
It’s funny: for years I’ve said I’m not really a museum person, but I actually love visiting museums and recommend them a lot. (I just don’t spend very long in them – I’m more of a museum sampler than a glutton.) If you only visit one museum in London, it has to be the British Museum.
Yes, I know the museum is a testament to the harm of British colonialism and all of the artifacts should be returned to their original countries, but for now, it’s still one of the most diverse collections on the planet.
Specifically, be sure to visit the Rosetta Stone if you plan a trip to the British Museum. This helped archaeologists decipher the ancient Egyptian hieroglyph language – which has unlocked a huge chapter of human history!
35. Find Roman Relics in London
I’ve been hunting Roman relics in London since my very first trip in 2011: on that trip I made a special visit to the London Stone in its old grate at 111 Cannon Street. On more recent visits I spent time working to create an accurate and up-to-date post about the London Wall Walk, which follows the route of the old Roman fortifications around Londinium.
Today, it’s somewhat easy to discover some of London’s oldest relics by visiting these sites: the London Stone has a new home at 111 Cannon Street, the London Wall runs from the Tower of London (also a Roman site) to the Museum of London (which has Roman relics).
36. Watch the Horse Guards Parade
If you enjoyed watching the Changing of the Guard and want a little more, head over to the Horse Guards Parade to see the changing of the guard there – unsurprisingly, horses are included! The ceremony takes place at 11:00 am daily and 10:00 am on Sundays.
37. Go Rowing on the Serpentine in Hyde Park
London has many lovely parks – it’s pretty impossible to choose my favorite one – but the most must-visit of them all is Hyde Park. In Hyde Park, you can see a number of London sights, including Kensington Palace, the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, and the Serpentine – a pond in the park where you can rent a rowboat and paddle around. A friend of mine got engaged while on a rowboat in London, so it’s a heck of an experience!
38. Admire Harrod’s Window Displays
I’ve sorta skipped over one of the main things people love to do in London: shopping! This London bucket list item, and the next, have to do with that, for those of you who love to bring home a whole suitcase of London souvenirs.
Harrod’s department store is known for its beautiful window displays. The holiday season is a highlight, but you can stop by and window-shop year-round. You can also head inside to browse the highest-end goods on display or have tea in Harrod’s tea rooms.
39. Shop on Oxford Street
The other place you must shop in London if that’s your jam is Oxford Street. You’ll probably spot shops you recognize and a few European brands and shops you won’t know if you’re from North America. Personally, I love to stop by UNIQLO and Primark just to stock up on wardrobe essentials.
40. Take a Walking Tour in Central London
These last two items on my London bucket list didn’t really fit anywhere else in the order of experiences… so I stuck them at the end. ??♀️ I think, after all of the other items on this list, it’s still worth finding an interesting walking tour through Central London that will show you even more of what the city has to offer.
I’ve already recommended London Walks for doing a Jack the Ripper tour. They also offer tours on tons of other subjects, like a pub tour, a Beatles tour, and ‘Classic London.’ You can also find great walking tours on Airbnb Experiences – when I visited London in October 2019, I did a great Harry Potter walking tour.
41. Explore Chinatown
Last, but certainly not least, here’s the final item on my London bucket list! London’s Chinatown is a fascinating microcosm in the heart of the city. Within a few blocks, you almost feel as though you’ve been transported right out of London entirely! This is a good experience to encourage you to visit other London neighborhoods too; so many London neighborhoods have a unique character and you really can spend a day or more in each.
There are fantastic Chinese restaurants in this neighborhood (including some that serve insanely good Xiao Long Bao, my favorite dumpling) and really nice cocktail bars (Opium is especially nice for a bucket list-worthy drink).
42. Peek at 10 Downing Street
10 Downing Street is the official residence and office of the UK’s Prime Minister. Famously known as “Number 10”, the residence is quite busy with tourists as well as protesters; however, if in London, it is a must-see.
In case you enjoy random tidbits, the chancellor lives in Number 11.
Just to avoid future disappointment, keep in mind the residence is fenced and heavily guarded, so you’ll only be able to get a glimpse of the famous black door from the distance.
43. Hail a London Black Cab
I doubt there’s another city in the world where the means of transportation are tourists attraction in their own right. Just like riding the Tube and a double-decker bus, hailing one of London’s iconic black cabs is something you must experience on your trip.
Becoming a taxi driver in London is no joke. These drivers know the city as the back of their hands. They literally know the name and location of every street and the shortest or quickest route to it. Amazing, right?
44. Visit the Lions at Trafalgar Square
Sooner or later, everyone who visits London makes their way to Trafalgar Square. But while you’re wandering around the square, it’s impossible not to feel drawn to the four bronze lions at the base of Nelson’s Column.
You’ll see loads of tourists climbing up the giant lions – which, by the way, is way more challenging than you think. Join them and take a picture for your Insta and that frame that’s waiting back home.
45. Unwind in St Dunstan in the East
St. Dunstan-in-the-East is a hidden gem between London Bridge and the Tower of London. The church was first built in Saxon times. It was partially destroyed Great Fire of London and then again during the Blitz.
From the moment you step into the ruins, you can feel the history and heritage around you. There’s also an enveloping sense of serenity in this place that counteracts London’s hectic energy. Photographers will have a treat with the gorgeous architecture as well.
I could definitely continue with more items for this list… It’s almost impossible to know when to stop! Counting them up, I’ve completed 39 of 45 items… sounds like I need to plan another trip! How many of these London bucket list items have you completed? Let me know in the comments or any questions you have.
Thank you for this! Unfortunately, this year, I haven’t been able to travel to London and it hurts!
I feel the same way, Márcia! Hopefully we can visit soon!
Gloria A Hartman
I’m so happy I found your information on London. I’m planning a trip in March 2022. I’m arriving on the morning of March 16th 2022 and staying in London until the morning of 19th. I’m then meeting up up for a Sanditon/JaneAusten tour lasting March 19 – 25th, then back to London. Leaving on March 27th. Hoping to pack in a much as possible. Your itinerary is very helpful.
Glad to help, Gloria!! It sounds like you’ll have an amazing trip!