London is a city of endless wonders – to me, anyway. I fell in love with London during my first international trip over a decade ago, and was so moved by the city that I later attended grad school there just to have more time in the city. Now, I visit once per year on average, and relish the chance to explore old haunts and discover new-to-me sights and what’s changed.
There are some things in London that you just have to see though – whether it’s your first trip or your latest of many. Some of these are historic and timeless, whereas others are relatively recent – in the multi-millennia lifetime of a city like London, anyway!
To help inspire your London itinerary, I’ve put together a list of what I consider to be the essential things to see in London. This is different than my list of things to do London, which focuses more on experiences rather than just admiring the view (in this list). As you’ll see, the items on this list run the gamut from phone boxes in various colors to buildings spanning centuries of architectural style.
Ready to explore all that London has to offer? Dive into this list and soon you’ll know exactly what to see in London – no matter your interests or how many times you’ve visited before.
This article was originally published in September 2014, and was updated most recently in November 2022.
What to See in London (Map)
I always find it helpful to have a map handy before jumping into a list of places across London, whether that’s a list of pubs or parks, museums or markets. I recommend opening the map above in a new window, so you can reference it as you work your way through my list of must-see London sights in the rest of this post. Let’s get right into it!
1. The Houses of Parliament
There are several buildings in London that one might call iconic; I’m starting with one that everyone should recognize: the Houses of Parliament. This building, also called the Palace of Westminster, dates back to the mid-19th century; an older palace stood on this site but was destroyed by fire in 1834. As its common name suggests, the two houses of Parliament (the Lords and the Commons) meet in this building to serve as the political machine of the United Kindom – think of it as the equivalent to the U.S. Capitol.
The Houses of Parliament – or the Palace of Westminster, whichever you prefer – is especially known for its striking Gothic Revival clock tower. The Elizabethan Tower, with its huge clock face, houses several bells that toll time throughout the day – including the largest, called Big Ben. Many people just refer to the tower as Big Ben, though it’s not strictly accurate.
Speaking of many people, you’ll often find folks standing and taking pictures on both sides of Westminster Bridge which runs across the River toward the Palace; if you want the best view, don’t take your pictures from the bridge. Instead, head across the river and down the set of steps on the right (west) side of the road. You’ll find a quiet enclave most visitors miss – and a beautiful view of the building.
2. Westminster Abbey
Located a (long) stone’s throw from the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey is a major tourist sight, and one of the principal sites of the Church of England, for whom the King serves as protector and leader.
Over the decade+ since my first visit, you’ve probably seen Westminster Abbey on your television a few times; Prince William and Princess Kate were married there in 2011, and the official funeral for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was held there in 2022.
I’ve actually never been inside, but I have admired the Gothic exterior from every angle available for free. Head round toward the Houses of Parliament to the side of the building to get an equally amazing view – and a whole load of flying buttresses!
While Westminster Abbey has historically not been part of any access passes or discount schemes, they are – as of now – part of the London Pass. It was my intention to (finally) visit during our September 2022 visit, but the Queen’s death postponed that.
🎟 Recommended Tour: Westminster Abbey Entrance Ticket
3. The London Eye
When shooting photos of Parliament across the river, you can’t miss the London Eye, a modern addition to London’s cityscape.
The London Eye is one of my favorite purely touristy things to do in London. While it’s definitely overpriced and most Londoners tell you to skip it, I think it’s one of those bucket list items, and something you should do at least once. The view from the Eye is magical, and it’s an engineering marvel.
If you decide to spend the money and ride the Eye (as I suggest!), my best advice is to book the very last available time slot on the day you plan to visit. The Eye used to stay open later than it does today, and the best way to see the city in the golden/blue hours (great for photography) is to be among the last to board on its rotation. (If you’re visiting in winter, you may even see the city lit up as the sun sets so early!)
🎟 Recommended Tour: London Eye Standard or Fast-Track Entry Ticket
4. The Shard
When I first started visiting London, its skyline looked very different than it does today. The Shard was one building that was basically brand new in the early 2010s as I began to explore the city; today there are a dozen new skyscrapers that have redefined the city’s profile.
In any case, the Shard is one of those must-see – and perhaps unmissable – London sights. Rising 1,016 feet to its sharp tip, The Shard is the tallest building in the U.K. and Western Europe, and the 4th tallest building in all of Europe. When it was completed in 2009, it was among the 20 tallest buildings in the world, though it now doesn’t even make the top 100.
While most of the Shard is used for offices and luxury residences, there are a few restaurants you can visit as well as the observation deck – The View from the Shard – on the 69th floor (of 73). That should probably count as another must-see London sight – both viewing the Shard and the view from the Shard.
5. Tower Bridge
Not to be confused with the far less flashy London Bridge, Tower Bridge is one of London’s most well-known sights. In some ways, Parliament in the west and Tower Bridge in the east sit as the bookends of Central London and are helpful landmarks as you plan your trip and navigate the city. It’s also geographically “right next to” the Tower of London, so it’s easy to visit both in a single day. (Access to climbing the towers and learning about the bridge is also included in the London Pass.)
This iconic bridge was built between 1886 and 1894, during the reign of Queen Victoria. For you engineering and architecture nerds, it’s considered a combined bascule and suspension bridge; if you’re lucky, you might see the central panes raise to allow boat traffic through during your visit.
6. The Tower of London
Like so many other must-see London sights, the Tower of London is deeply steeped in the history of London. The Tower of London dates back to 1066 and the Norman Conquest of England; it has been used as a castle, royal residence, and prison over the centuries. The Tower is comprised of many different parts built throughout the past millennium, from ruins of the ancient Roman wall to modern fortifications and the White Tower at the center.
Today, you can visit the Tower of London to learn about the history of London, get a tour from one of the famous Beefeaters, or see the Crown Jewels on display; it’s included in the London Pass, too.
🎟 Recommended Tour: Tower of London and Crown Jewels Exhibition Ticket
7. The London Wall
If you’re curious about London history, there’s an essential sight that is partly located near the Tower of London – but actually stretches around the entire City of London: the Roman Wall.
Long ago, I walked the entire self-guided London Wall Walk and put together a helpful guide to all of the sites where pieces of the London Wall still stand; there are also loads of other sites from Roman Londinium in the city that are worth a visit if you get as nerdy about ancient history as I do.
8. The Monument
The Monument was a more popular attraction in London in days past; now it’s overshadowed by towering skyscrapers that dominate the landscape of the City of London. It was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, who also designed St. Paul’s Cathedral, to commemorate the Great Fire of London in 1666, which started about 200 feet from this monument and leveled most of the city.
You can pay a small fee to climb the 311 steps of the Monument (also included in the London Pass). At the top, you’ll have good views of the City of London and London Bridge (though admittedly not as impressive as other viewpoints). I recommend it for a different perspective and a quick history lesson.
9. Leadenhall Market
I’ll be completely honest: I had heard about Leadenhall Market many times before I finally stumbled upon it during a visit in 2019; it’s one of those London sights that you need to seek out or you’ll easily miss it. (Knowing how beautiful it is, I made sure to plan my Flytographer shoot to end at Leadenhall Market so I could capture it for keepsakes – though somehow didn’t get any solo photos of me there!)
Leadenhall Market is London’s most beautiful market, and dates back to 1445. Underneath some of the shops, there’s evidence all the way back to Roman times, though the modern structure and style dates to the late 19th century. Inside, you’ll find shops and pubs, and plenty of crowds of City workers enjoying a pint at the end of each business day.
10. The London Stone
Speaking of human history, an oft-missed must-see London sight is a small rock, housed in a minimalist display sticking out from the side of a building in the City of London. This is The London Stone, and its origins – and importance – are mysteries whose answers are still lost to time.
You can find the London Stone at 111 Cannon Street, which has long been the general site where the stone was set and protected, dating back to at least Roman times. To learn more about the London Stone, you can visit the Museum of London – the place for all things history and culture within the City of London.
11. St. Paul’s Cathedral
One fascinating aspect of architecture is that – like other forms of art – each person has their preference for different styles. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren in the late 18th Century, St. Paul’s Cathedral is my favorite building in London – and a must-see sight.
I know it’s not the most popular, but this English Barque building has captivated me since my very first London visit in 2011. From every angle on the outside, St. Paul’s is beautiful, and I love climbing up the dome to see the Whispering Gallery and the view from the top of the dome.
While St. Paul’s is beautiful from every angle (in my opinion!), my favorite view is from the rooftop of the One New Change building. You can take the elevator up to the top of the building, grab a cocktail from the bar, and look out over the city at a view unlike any I’ve found in the world.
🎟 Recommended Tour: London: St Paul’s Cathedral Entry Ticket
12. The Rosetta Stone
Since the British Museum is free – and houses some of the most amazing artifacts the British “collected” (often “took” or “stole”) from around the world, there are many incredible things to see within its hallowed halls. One such sight is the Rosetta Stone, which was discovered in 1799 and helped experts learn to read Egyptian hieroglyphs.
There’s no “best” time to go to the British Museum – every day there are crowds, and you’ll always have to queue (or crowd around) to see popular sights like the Rosetta Stone. It’s worth it though, to stand among such impressive testaments to human history.
13. St. Pancras Hotel
Most people know that St. Pancras because it’s part of the King’s Cross/St. Pancras train station – and may pass through the station without realizing that one of London’s most fascinating and beautiful buildings is right above their head!
With its weirdly curved facade and beautiful Byzantine stonework, St. Pancras Hotel is one of my favorite buildings – enough that I’ll hop off the train just to see it!
It’s also worth pointing out that if you want to see the parts of this train station where Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was filmed (say, as part of visiting Platform 9¾ – #TK on this list), you’ll actually visit St. Pancras Station under the hotel, rather than King’s Cross Station across the street.
14. King’s Cross Station
As mentioned, King’s Cross Station is literally right next door to St. Pancras Hotel/station; it’s easy to visit these two sights on one trip, then catch the Tube elsewhere in the city to continue your London sightseeing.
After extensive improvements both inside and out, King’s Cross Station is an architectural marvel in its own right, but for more modern sensibilities. This is a beautiful train station to walk through because the West Concourse’s iconic metal roof is a modern interpretation of the classic metal train station roofs – and looks quite similar to the British Museum.
And because I know why you’re really here…
15. Platform 9¾
Despite the author’s medieval opinions on gender, Harry Potter fans still love the universe she created and many make the pilgrimage to King’s Cross Station to see the gateway where Harry Potter became a boy wizard: Platform 9¾.
When I first visited London, King’s Cross station was under construction, and they had moved Platform 9¾. Outside. NOT EVEN NEAR PLATFORMS NINE AND TEN.
Now, the permanent display (near platforms 9 and 10) is a huge tourist draw; you can expect to queue up to take a photo with the permanently mounted push-cart half-way through the wall. Afterward, reward yourself with a Wizarding World treat from the nearby shop – known for its unique souvenirs you can only find at this location.
16. 221b Baker Street
London has been the setting many great stories with fascinating characters, the first one that drew readers from every walk of life was penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle over 135 years ago. Sherlock Holmes is still beloved today, with new shows and movies being made every few years.
If you’re a fan of the world’s first super-sleuth, there’s one place you must visit in London: 221b Baker Street, of course! (Couldn’t you deduce that?!)
No matter which Sherlock Holmes you prefer, he always lives at this address. 221b Baker Street is now a museum to commemorate London’s most famous detective and a gift shop for those who love a good souvenir. If you want to visit the museum, be prepared to queue up on the sidewalk; you don’t have to pay to access the gift shop.
17. The TARDIS
Don’t be fooled by Google Maps, it’s trying to put you off finding this next English hero’s primary accommodation. Google “Earl’s Court Police Box” and you’ll see an iconic sight from British pop culture: a giant blue phone booth. Yep, it’s the Doctor’s TARDIS, currently resting just outside Earl’s Court Station in West London. It’s literally right outside the station, but I somehow managed to miss it on my first several visits there.
Unfortunately, one can’t go inside to verify whether it’s bigger on the inside, but Whovians are known for taking their photos by this now-unique blue telephone box. Oh, and you can go inside by using Google Maps.
18. The Prime Meridian
Technically, the Prime Meridian is in Greenwich, not London, but it’s within easy reach from Central London, and I’m going to count it!
There are several ways to see the Prime Meridian, but the most common way is to pay for access to the Royal Observatory of Greenwich, take the tour, and end in the courtyard where you can take a picture along the thin brass line laid into the ground (I’m not sure that big metal structure in the above picture is there anymore).
You also used to be able to go along a path below the courtyard where the brass line continued down the hill and take pictures for free there. On yet another path down from the courtyard, there are two sets of tick marks on the side of the trail that seem to follow the line of the Prime Meridian out into the sloping field.
🎟 Recommended Tour: Royal Observatory Greenwich Entrance Ticket
19. Red Telephone Booths
You’ll see it plastered all over kitschy souvenirs, but London’s iconic red phone booth really in ubiquitous, even if there aren’t many that function as actual phone booths anymore. In fact, most have been left in conspicuous places for tourist photos, such as the ones in my photos above.
In terms of photographing these icons, here are a few places I recommend:
- There’s one red phone booth on Churchill Square with the Houses of Parliament/Elizabethan Tower in the background. That’s a primo spot except you’ll likely have to queue (wait in a line) to get a photo and have lots of people in the background.
- I recently discovered a lovely photogenic red booth under the subway from the Tower of London on the east side of Tower Bridge. During my visit, it was adorned with flowers and was a perfect photo spot.
- There’s a bank of red phone booths at St. Martin-in-the-Fields near Trafalgar Square. This is your spot if you want a series of them together.
- Someone converted the red phone booth on the southeast corner of Russell Square into a tiny sweetshop selling tiramisu; it’s called “Walkmisù” if that sounds like a match made in heaven.
20. Street Art in East London
It’s easy to visit London and forget there’s more than just posh neighborhoods, historic museums, and high tea. London has a vibrant side to compliment the old charm, and most of that youth can be found in the “East End.”
The most popular neighborhood in East London is Shoreditch, where you can wander basically any street and find amazing art on the walls, doorways, and sidewalks… you name it! London’s street art often depicts pop culture interpreted through the artist’s eyes, and this is the place to see their work. If you’ve ever admired a work by Banksy, Dal East, or Shepherd Fairey, you can probably find something by those artists – and countless others hoping to make a mark in this particular world of art – here
21. Jack the Ripper’s Haunts
London’s most famous serial killer has been depicted in many movies, and generally focuses on the places we know Jack the Ripper committed his gruesome crimes. If you want to follow in his footsteps, the City of London and the East End are where you can.
You can do a self-guided Jack the Ripper walking tour (I grabbed a cheap guide while visiting the Sherlock Holmes museum at 221B Baker Street, mentioned below), or you can go with a guide. I have a list of recommended Jack the Ripper walking tours if you’d rather have a guide to this dark and twisted mystery; they will give more nuance to the gruesome nature of his still-unsolved crimes.
And there you have it: 19 of the most essential things to see in London. Which of these must-see London sights is at the top of your list? Let me know in the comments or ask it in my London Travel Tips Facebook group!