Must see attractions in London

  • Top ChoiceSights in The West End

    Westminster Abbey

    A splendid mixture of architectural styles, Westminster Abbey is considered the finest example of Early English Gothic. It's not merely a beautiful place of worship – the Abbey is still a working church and the stage on which history unfolds. Never a cathedral (the seat of a bishop), Westminster Abbey is what is called a "royal peculiar", administered by the Crown. Inside Westminster Abbey At the heart of the Abbey is the beautifully tiled sanctuary, the stage for coronations, royal weddings and funerals. Architect George Gilbert Scott designed the ornate High Altar in 1873. In front of the altar is the Cosmati Pavement, dating to 1268. It has intricate designs of small pieces of stone and glass inlaid into plain marble, which symbolize the universe at the end of time (an inscription claims the world will end after 19,683 years). At the entrance to the lovely Chapel of St John the Baptist is a sublime translucent alabaster Virgin and Child, placed here in 1971. The most sacred spot in the Abbey is the shrine of St Edward the Confessor, which lies behind the High Altar; access is restricted to guided tours to protect the fragile 13th-century flooring. King Edward, long considered a saint before he was canonised, was the founder of the Abbey, and the original building was consecrated a few weeks before his death in 1066. Henry III added a new shrine with Cosmati mosaics in the mid-12th century where the sick prayed for healing – and also chipped off a few souvenirs to take home. The Quire dates from the mid-19th century © Dean and Chapter of Westminster The Quire (choir), a stunning space of gold, blue and red Victorian Gothic above a black-and-white chequerboard tiled floor, dates to the mid-19th century. It sits where the original choir for the monks' worship would have been but bears little resemblance to the original. Nowadays, the Quire is still used for singing, but its regular occupants are the Choir of Westminster Abbey – about 30 boys and 12 "lay vicars" (men) who sing the services and evensong. The impressive Lady Chapel is at the eastern end of the church © Dean and Chapter of Westminster Henry VII's magnificent Perpendicular Gothic–style Lady Chapel, with an impressive fan-vaulted ceiling and tall stained-glass windows is at the eastern end of the church. Opened in 2018, the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Galleries are a museum and gallery space located in the medieval triforium, the arched gallery above the nave. Among its exhibits are the death masks and wax effigies of generations of royalty, armor and stained glass. Highlights are the graffiti-inscribed chair used for the coronation of Mary II, the beautifully illustrated manuscripts of the Litlyngton Missal from 1380 and the 13th-century Westminster Retable, England's oldest surviving altarpiece. The Unknown Warrior was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey in 1920 © Dean and Chapter of Westminster At the western end of the nave near the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, killed in France during WWI and laid to rest here in 1920, is St George's Chapel, which contains the rather ordinary-looking Coronation Chair, upon which every monarch since the early 14th century has been crowned (apart from joint monarchs Mary II and William III, who had their own chairs fashioned for the event in 1689). Apart from the royal graves, keep an eye out for the many famous commoners interred here, especially in Poets' Corner, where you'll find the resting places of Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Alfred Tennyson, Samuel Johnson and Rudyard Kipling, as well as memorials to the other greats (William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters etc). Another set of illustrious stones is in Scientists' Corner near the north aisle of the nave, including the final resting places of Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and the ashes of Stephen Hawking. The octagonal Chapter House dates from the 1250s and was where the monks would meet for daily prayer and their job assignments, before Henry VIII's suppression of the monasteries some three centuries later. To the right of the entrance to Chapter House is what's claimed to be the oldest door in Britain – it’s been there since the 1050s. Used as a treasury, the crypt-like Pyx Chamber dates from about 1070 and takes its name from boxes that held gold and silver to be tested for purity to make coins. Westminster Abbey is the resting place of many famous people © Grzegorz_Pakula / Shutterstock History Much of the Abbey's architecture is from the 13th century, but it was founded much earlier, in AD 960. Henry III began work on the new Abbey building in 1245 but didn't complete it; the Gothic nave was finished under Richard II in 1388. The Lady Chapel was completed after 13 years of construction in 1516. For centuries, the country's greatest have been interred here, including 17 monarchs from King Henry III (1272) to King George II (1760). Every monarch since William the Conqueror has been crowned here, with the exception of a couple of Eds who were either murdered (Edward V) or abdicated (Edward VIII) before the magic moment. It has also hosted 16 royal weddings, the most recent being that of Prince William and Catherine Middleton in 2011. Tickets and other practicalities Sightseeing visitors must book their tickets in advance via the website. There is an additional charge for a multimedia guide. The Abbey is open for worship and individual prayer, and there are daily services. Check the website for the schedule. Evensong is 5pm on Tuesdays and 3pm on weekends. Photography is allowed inside the church, but beware that there are restrictions on what you can photograph and when.

  • Top ChoiceSights in South Bank

    Tate Modern

    One of London's most amazing attractions, Tate Modern is an outstanding modern- and contemporary-art gallery housed in the creatively revamped Bankside Power Station. A spellbinding synthesis of modern art and capacious industrial brick design, this gallery has been extraordinarily successful in bringing challenging work to the masses, both through its free permanent collection and fee-charged big-name temporary exhibitions. The original gallery lies inside what was once the boiler house for the power station, now called the Natalie Bell Building in recognition of a local community activist. The stunning Blavatnik Building, with a panoramic 10th-floor viewing terrace, opened in 2016, increasing the available exhibition space by 60%. Use the Holland Street entrance to go straight into the vast Turbine Hall © Tom Eversley / Shutterstock The Turbine Hall The first space to greet you as you pour down from the side entrance at Holland Street into the Natalie Bell Building is the astounding 3300-sq-meter Turbine Hall. Originally housing the power station’s huge electricity generators, this vast area has become the commanding venue for large-scale installations and temporary exhibitions. The annual commission aims to make art more accessible and has led to popular and often interactive pieces, such as Kara Walker's Fons Americanus, a 13m-tall working fountain that highlights the history of the slave trade; a full-on playground of three-person swings installed by Danish art collective Superflex; and a maze of geometric gardens called Empty Lot by Abraham Cruzvillegas, which took soil from parks around London and watered it for six months to see if anything grew. Note that if you enter from the riverside doors, you’ll end up on the more muted level 1, but stairs lead down to the main floor of the Turbine Hall. Tate Modern's permanent collection is spread across both buildings © Mark Chilvers / Lonely Planet Permanent collection More than 60,000 works of the permanent collection are on constant rotation, and the curators have at their disposal paintings by Georges Braque, Henri Matisse, Piet Mondrian, Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock. Installations have included works by Joseph Beuys, Magdalena Abakanowicz, and Ai Weiwei, along with films by Rebecca Horn and photography by Zanele Muholi. The collection is arranged by both theme and chronology on levels 2 and 4 of the riverside Natalie Bell Building and on levels 0, 3 and 4 of the Blavatnik Building. A great place to begin is the Start Display on level 2 of the Natalie Bell Building: this small, specially curated taster features some of the best-loved works in the collection and gives visitors useful pointers for understanding modern art. The Blavatnik Building increased exhibition space by 60% © 4kclips / Shutterstock Architecture The 200m-long Natalie Bell Building, made of 4.2 million bricks, is an imposing sight, and was designed by Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron, who scooped the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2001 for their transformation of the former power station. Significant achievements include leaving the building's central 99m-high chimney, adding a two-storey glass box onto the roof and turning the cavernous Turbine Hall into a dramatic exhibition space. Herzog and de Meuron also designed the new 10-story Blavatnik Building extension. Head for the 10th-floor Viewing Level © vladimir zakharov / Getty Images Viewpoints Don't miss sublime city views from the 10th-floor Viewing Level of the Blavatnik Building and the view of the River Thames and St Paul's Cathedral from the 6th-floor cafe in the Natalie Bell Building. Head to the level 4 bridge connecting the two buildings to get a lofty view of Turbine Hall. Tickets and information Tate Modern’s permanent collection is free to visit, but timed tickets are required for all visitors, including Members. Tickets for special exhibitions start from £15. Book online in advance. Free guided tours of the permanent collection may be available – check at the information desk when you arrive. There are three stations located within five to 10 minutes' walk of the gallery: Blackfriars (rail, District and Circle Lines), Southwark (Jubilee Line) and London Bridge (rail, Jubilee and Northern Lines). To visit the sister museum Tate Britain, hop on the RB2 riverboat service from Bankside Pier.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Kensington & Hyde Park

    Natural History Museum

    Why you should go With its thunderous, animatronic dinosaur, riveting displays about planet earth, outstanding Darwin Centre and architecture straight from a Gothic fairy tale, the Natural History Museum is astonishing. Kids are the target audience, but adults will be equally mesmerized. Go on a journey through the times of dinosaurs with a visit to the Dinosaurs Gallery in the Blue Zone, an absolute must for those traveling with children. It's packed with specimens from tiny fossils to a colossal triceratops skull, but it's the animatronic T-rex that steals the show. The T-Rex is a highlight of a visit to London's NHM © Kotsovolos Panagiotis / Shutterstock Also in the Blue Zone you can learn all about Human Biology, and stroll the Mammals gallery, which is lined with life-size creatures from hippos to horses. A model of a blue whale is suspended dramatically from the ceiling. Adults will love the intriguing Treasures exhibition in the Cadogan Gallery (Green Zone), which displays a host of unrelated objects, each telling its own unique story, from a chunk of moon rock to a dodo skeleton. Also in the Green Zone, the Mineral Gallery is a breathtaking display of architectural perspective leading to the Vault, where you'll find the Aurora Collection of almost 300 colored diamonds. In the Orange Zone, the vast Darwin Centre focuses on taxonomy, showcasing 28 million insects and six million plants in a giant cocoon; glass windows allow you to watch scientists at work. Travel through a sculpture of Earth in the Red Zone, where you'll learn all about the natural forces that have helped shape our world. A blue whale skeleton is the centerpiece of Hintze Hall © ExFlow / Shutterstock At the center of the museum is Hintze Hall, a huge room resembling a cathedral nave. The blue whale skeleton you see on entering the hall was unveiled in 2017, replacing the famous cast of a diplodocus skeleton (nicknamed Dippy), who has gone on a long tour of the UK. The transfer itself was a painstaking engineering project, disassembling and preparing the whale's 4.5 tonnes of bones for reconstruction in a dramatic diving posture that greets museum visitors. Seasonal treats at the NHM include the beautiful Wildlife Garden (April to November), next to the West Lawn, which encompasses a range of British lowland habitats, including a meadow with farm gates and a bee tree where a colony of honey bees fills the air. From Halloween to January, a section of the museum by the East Lawn is transformed into a glittering and highly popular ice rink, complete with a hot-drinks stall. The NHM's ice rink is very popular through winter © Gordon Bell / Shutterstock Tickets and other practicalities It's free to enter the museum, although donations are welcome. There is a charge for special exhibits. Book well ahead for Wildlife Photographer of the Year and ice-skating. The best time to come to the museum on weekdays is after 2pm when school groups leave; at weekends arrive as soon as it opens. More than five million visitors come each year, so lines can often get long, especially during the school holidays. If the main Cromwell Road entrance is looking congested, head to the Exhibition Road entrance round the corner. Entrances at Queen's Gate and Exhibition Road are wheelchair-accessible.

  • Top ChoiceSights in South Bank

    Shakespeare's Globe

    Seeing a play at Shakespeare's Globe – ideally standing under the open-air "wooden O" – is experiencing the playwright's work at its best and most authentic. You can also join an informative guided tour, which takes you around the theater and gives access to an exhibition about Shakespeare, theater in the 17th century and life in Bankside. The original Globe Theatre The current Shakespeare's Globe is located just 160m from its original location on Park Street from 1599, its footprint marked on the ground but partially covered by apartment blocks and Southwark Bridge. In 1613, the thatched roof caught fire after a theatrical cannon explosion during a performance of Henry VIII, and the theater burnt to the ground. The Globe was quickly rebuilt, and it remained the home of Shakespeare's company until 1642 when all theaters were closed by the Puritans. It was demolished a couple of years later. The reconstructed theater resembles the original as closely as possible © Doug McKinlay / Lonely Planet The reconstructed Globe Theatre Despite Shakespeare's worldwide popularity, the original Globe Theatre was almost a distant memory when American actor Sam Wanamaker came searching for it in 1949. He began fundraising for a memorial theater, and work started in 1987. Sadly, Wanamaker died four years before the theater opened in 1997. Unlike other venues for Shakespearean plays, Shakespeare's Globe was designed to resemble the original Globe as closely as possible, from the materials used in construction to the open-air stage that exposes viewers to London's changeable skies. It's built with 600 oak pegs, specially fired Tudor-style bricks and thatch from Norfolk. The plaster contains goat hair, lime and sand, as it did in Shakespeare’s time. Shakespeare wrote for both outdoor and indoor theater, and outside the Globe's April to October season, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse – an indoor candlelit Jacobean-style theater similar to what Shakespeare would have used in winter – puts on year-round performances. Standing tickets are sold for as little as £5 © Kamira / Shutterstock Tickets and tours Plays run in the Globe from April to October, and tickets can be bought for as little as £5 if you're willing to stand throughout. During the season there are fewer tours, especially during afternoons when matinees are showing, so make sure you visit in the morning. Tours are on foot (including steps) and last around 50 minutes. Plays and tours take place whatever the weather – be sure to dress appropriately.

  • Top ChoiceSights in The West End

    British Museum

    Why you should go With almost six million visitors trooping through its doors annually, the British Museum in Bloomsbury, one of the oldest and finest museums in the world, is Britain’s most visited attraction. Through the varied (and occasionally controversial) collection, you'll see some of the world's greatest treasures, and learn a little more about how England sees the world today. You could spend a lifetime navigating this vast and hallowed collection of artefacts, art and age-old antiquity and still make daily discoveries. If you're not sure where to start, join a tour or pick up a Highlights map, a self-guided hour-long tour, for a precis of the museum’s treasures. Whatever your approach, there are several blockbusters you don't want to miss: the Rosetta Stone, the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics (head upstairs for the Egyptian mummies); the controversial Parthenon sculptures , taken from Athens' Acropolis by Lord Elgin (British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire); and the vast Etruscan, Greek, Roman, European, Asian and Islamic galleries. Other must-see items include the Anglo-Saxon Sutton Hoo Ship Burial relics and the winged bulls from Khorsabad. Be sure to visit the Ancient Egypt galleries © Jaroslav Moravcik / Shutterstock History Begun in 1753 with a "cabinet of curiosities" sold to the nation by physician and collector Sir Hans Sloane, the collection mushroomed over the ensuing years through acquisitions, bequests and the indiscriminate plundering of the empire. The grand Enlightenment Gallery was the first section of the redesigned museum to be built in 1823. The light-filled Great Court, restored and augmented by architect Norman Foster in 2000, has a spectacular glass-and-steel roof. In the center is the Reading Room where Karl Marx researched and wrote Das Kapital; Virginia Woolf and Mahatma Gandhi were also cardholders. Tickets and other practicalities It's free to visit the permanent collections at the British Museum, but there are charges for special exhibitions. In order to control visitor numbers, you need to book a timed slot online ahead of arrival.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Kensington & Hyde Park

    Hyde Park

    One of London’s best parks, Hyde Park spreads itself over 142 hectares of neat gardens, wild expanses of overgrown grass and glorious trees. As well as being a fantastic green space in the middle of the city, it's home to a handful of fascinating sights, and hosts live concerts and events through the year. The eastern half of the park is covered with expansive lawns, which become one vast picnic-and-frolic area on sunny days. The western half is more untamed, with plenty of trees and areas of wild grass. If you're after somewhere more colorful (and some shade), head to the Rose Garden, a beautifully landscaped area with flowers year-round. A little further west, you'll find the Holocaust Memorial Garden, a simple stone marker in a grove of trees. You won't want to miss the Serpentine or the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain either. Once you've found the perfect spot in the park, hire a deck chair (one/four hours £1.80/4.80, all day £9). They are available throughout the park from March to October, weather permitting. Hyde Park is central London's largest green space © Andrew Holt / Getty Images The Serpentine Hyde Park is separated from Kensington Gardens by the L-shaped Serpentine, a small lake once fed by waters from the River Westbourne. Between June and September you can swim at the Serpentine Lido, where a swimming area within the lake is ring-fenced. There is also a paddling pool for children. If you'd rather stay dry, rent a paddle boat from the Serpentine Boathouse. Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain This memorial fountain is dedicated to the late Princess of Wales. Envisaged by the designer Kathryn Gustafson as a "moat without a castle" and draped "like a necklace" around the southwestern edge of Hyde Park near the Serpentine Bridge, the circular double stream is composed of 545 pieces of Cornish granite, its waters drawn from a chalk aquifer more than 100m below ground. Unusually, visitors are actively encouraged to splash about, to the delight of children. The Serpentine SolarShuttle Boat ferries passengers from the Serpentine Boathouse to the fountain on weekends from March to September (every day from mid-July to late August). Deck chairs are available for hire through the warmer months © Doug McKinlay / Lonely Planet Speakers' Corner Frequented by Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, George Orwell and William Morris, Speakers' Corner in the northeastern corner of Hyde Park is traditionally the spot for oratorical flourishes and soapbox ranting. If you’ve got something to get off your chest, do so on Sunday, although you’ll mainly have fringe dwellers, religious fanatics and hecklers for company. It’s the only place in Britain where demonstrators can assemble without police permission, a concession granted in 1872 after serious riots 17 years before when 150,000 people gathered to demonstrate against the Sunday Trading Bill before Parliament, only to be unexpectedly ambushed by police concealed within Marble Arch. Some historians also link Speakers' Corner with the nearby Tyburn gallows, where condemned criminals might speak to the crowd before being hanged. The Serpentine Gallery is one of two galleries in Hyde Park © Ron Ellis / Shutterstock The Serpentine Galleries Constituting some of the most important contemporary-art spaces in town, these two galleries are a major draw. South of the Serpentine lake is the original Serpentine Gallery, in which Damien Hirst, Andreas Gursky, Louise Bourgeois, Gabriel Orozco, Tomoko Takahashi and Jeff Koons have all exhibited, set in a 1930s former tea pavilion in Kensington Gardens. Sister establishment the Serpentine Sackler Gallery can be found within the Magazine, a former gunpowder depot, across the Serpentine Bridge. Built in 1805, it was augmented with a daring, undulating extension designed by Pritzker Prize–winning architect Zaha Hadid. The galleries run a full program of exhibitions, readings and talks. A leading architect who has never previously built in the UK is annually commissioned to build a new "Summer Pavilion" nearby, open from June to October. The Rose Garden has colorful flowers all year round © irisphoto1 / Shutterstock History Henry VIII expropriated the park from the church in 1536. It then became a hunting ground for kings and aristocrats, and later a place for duels, executions and horse racing. The park was the site of the Great Exhibition in 1851, and during WWII became a vast potato bed. Hotels near Hyde Park To the northside of Hyde Park, around Lancaster Gate, Queensway and Bayswater Tubes, there are some decent budget accommodation choices. Kensington is packed with high-end hotels near the park. The best options there are: 37 Trevor Square Knightsbridge Hotel Lanesborough

  • Top ChoiceSights in Kensington & Hyde Park

    Science Museum

    The Science Museum will mesmerize with its interactive and educational exhibits covering everything from early technology to space travel. Take the family along to nurture a wide-eyed fascination for the complexities of the world and the cosmos. Here are the most popular galleries and displays at the Science Museum, along with all the practical information you need to plan your visit. The Garden The basement at the Science Museum is home to the Garden, an incredible sensory play zone, perfect for children under the age of six. Here they can play with water, light, sound, and work on their construction skills. Take a waterproof apron or a spare set of clothes for the water-play area, which is usually besieged by splashing tots. Making the Modern World Gallery The Making the Modern World Gallery on level 0 is a visual feast of locomotives, planes, cars and other revolutionary inventions. Objects on display here track progress from industrialization in the 1750s through to the present day. See real modules that have been into space at the Exploring Space gallery © Science Museum Group Exploring Space Also on level 0 and a perennial favorite is Exploring Space, a gallery featuring genuine rockets and satellites. There's a full-size replica of the Eagle, the lander that took Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon in 1969, and the real Soyuz module that transported astronauts Tim Peake, Yuri Malenchenko and Tim Kopra back from the International Space Station in 2016. Information Age Gallery The fantastic Information Age Gallery on level 2 showcases how information and communication technologies – from the telegraph to smartphones – have transformed our lives since the 19th century. Standout displays include wireless messages sent by a sinking Titanic, the first BBC radio broadcast and a Soviet BESM-6 supercomputer. Mathematics: the Winton Gallery Also on level 2 is Mathematics: the Winton Gallery, designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, is a riveting exploration of maths in the real world and how it can impact on all aspects of everyday life. Explore the medical world in the Wellcome Galleries © Science Museum Group Medicine: the Wellcome Galleries The Medicine Galleries, which opened on level 2 in 2019, look at the medical world using objects from both the museum's collections and those of Sir Henry Wellcome, pharmacist, entrepreneur, philanthropist and collector. See the world's first MRI machine, a prosthetic arm, and robotic surgery tools, alongside more recent developments such as vials from COVID-19 mass vaccination campaigns. Flight Gallery The Flight Gallery on level 3 is a favorite place for children, with its gliders, hot-air balloons and aircraft, including the De Havilland Gipsy Moth airplane Jason I, which Amy Johnson flew to Australia in 1930. There are also various flight-simulators to try out (additional charge): have a 3D flights with the Red Arrows; replicate a low-level mission aboard a Typhoon fighter jet; and take part in a virtual-reality experience with (a digital) Tim Peake, British astronaut, on Space Descent. Wonderlab, with hands-on exhibits and live experiments, is an absolute must for inquisitive children © Science Museum Group Wonderlab Also on level 3, Wonderlab: The Equinor Gallery (adult/child £11/9) explores scientific phenomena in a fun and educational way. Kids will love the hands-on exhibits where they can recreate sound waves, sit by a model Earth as it orbits the sun, run test flights of their own paper plane creations over a giant fan, experiment with pulley systems, and challenge their engineering skills by building a bridge with curved blocks. Daily shows include live experiments with – occasional explosions – and knowledgeable "Explainers" are on hand to chat you through anything in the gallery that piques your curiosity. Tickets and other practicalities General admission to the Science Museum is free, but must be booked online in advance. Visitors wanting to go to a specific gallery should check if tickets need to be booked in advance, and beware that your visit may have strict time restrictions (for example, visits to the Garden are for 20-minute slots only). There are charges for tickets to the IMAX, virtual-reality experiences, flight simulators, Wonderlab, and special events. There is a cafe and snack bar within the museum. Lifts and toilets are accessible throughout, and it's possible to borrow a wheelchair.

  • Top ChoiceSights in The West End

    Buckingham Palace

    Built in 1703 for the Duke of Buckingham, Buckingham Palace replaced St James's Palace as the monarch's official London residence in 1837. Queen Elizabeth II divides her time between here, Windsor Castle and, in summer, Balmoral Castle in Scotland. If she’s in residence, the square yellow, red and blue Royal Standard is flown; if not, it's the Union Flag. The 19 lavishly furnished State Rooms are open to visitors when Her Majesty is on vacation from mid-July to September. The State Rooms inside Buckingham Palace The self-guided tour starts in the Grand Hall at the foot of the monumental Grand Staircase, commissioned by King George IV in 1828. It takes in architect John Nash's Italianate Green Drawing Room, the State Dining Room (all red damask and Regency furnishings), the Blue Drawing Room (which has a gorgeous fluted ceiling by Nash) and the White Drawing Room, where foreign ambassadors are received. Admission includes entry to a themed special exhibition (royal couture during the Queen's reign, growing up at the palace etc) in the enormous Ballroom, built between 1853 and 1855, and these displays are often the main reason for a visit. The Throne Room is rather anticlimactic, with his-and-her pink chairs monogrammed "ER" and "P". If the Royal Standard is flying above Buckingham Palace, it means the Queen is there © Tetra Images / Getty Images The Palace Garden Wandering the gardens is another highlight of a visit to Buckingham Palace – in addition to admiring some of the 350 or so species of flowers and plants and listening to the many birds, you’ll get beautiful views of the palace and a peek at its famous lake. Picnics are allowed, but with some restrictions. Tickets and other practicalities Buckingham Palace is open to visitors in the summer months when the Queen is on vacation. It can also sometimes be visited in winter (December to February), but only on select days. Entry is by timed ticket, which is best booked online in advance. The self-guided tour, using excellent audio-guide commentary, takes about two hours. Security is airport-style and unsurprisingly strict. Large bags are not permitted inside. Ask staff to stamp your ticket before you leave for free access for a year. The State Rooms are fully accessible, but it's a long tour involving lots of standing and with few places to sit down. Have a snack and use the toilet before you enter. There's a cafe and toilets but only at the end of the tour, and it's not easy to get there and then back to where you left off. The closest Underground stations to Buckingham Palace are Green Park on the Piccadilly, Victoria and Jubilee Lines and St James's Park on the District and Circle Lines. © David Steele / Shutterstock Changing of the Guard If you're not able to tour the Palace itself, you may want to see the pageantry of soldiers in red uniforms and bearskin hats parading down the Mall and into Buckingham Palace. The 45-minute Changing of the Guard ceremony swaps out the Old Guard (Foot Guards of the Household Regiment) with the New Guard on the forecourt, and ends with a full military band. The pomp and circumstance can feel far away when you're near the back trying to watch through a forest of selfie sticks, so get here at least 45 minutes before the main event. It's free to attend – check the calendar online as the ceremony is sometimes cancelled due to bad weather or road closures.

  • Top ChoiceSights in The West End

    Houses of Parliament

    Both the elected House of Commons and the House of Lords, who are appointed or hereditary, sit in the sumptuous Houses of Parliament, officially called the Palace of Westminster. This neo-Gothic building dates from the mid-19th century – its oldest part is 11th-century Westminster Hall, one of only a few sections that survived a catastrophic 1834 fire. A visit to the Houses of Parliament is a journey to the very heart of British democracy. The iconic Big Ben (Elizabeth Tower) is undergoing restoration © Sara Lynch / EyeEm / Getty Images Big Ben The palace's most famous feature is its clock tower, Elizabeth Tower (better known as Big Ben), covered in scaffolding until restoration works are finished. Big Ben is actually the 13.7-tonne bell hanging inside and is named after Benjamin Hall, the first Commissioner of Works when the tower was completed in 1859. Westminster Hall One of the most interesting features of the Palace of Westminster, the seat of the English monarchy from the 11th to the early 16th centuries, is Westminster Hall. Originally built in 1097, it is the oldest surviving part of the complex; the awesome hammer-beam roof was added between 1393 and 1401 and is the largest medieval timber roof in northern Europe. The only other part of the original palace to survive the devastating 1834 fire is the Jewel Tower, built in 1365 and used to store the monarch's valuables. Westminster Hall was used for coronation banquets in medieval times and served as a courthouse until the 19th century. The trials of William Wallace (1305), Thomas More (1535), Guy Fawkes (1606) and King Charles I (1649) took place here. In the 20th century, monarchs and Prime Minister Winston Churchill lay in state here after their deaths. The House of Commons and the House of Lords sit in the Palace of Westminster © Mirek Osmera / 500px The House of Commons and the House of Lords Parliament is split into two houses. The green-hued House of Commons is the lower house, where the 650 elected Members of Parliament (MPs) sit. Traditionally the home of hereditary blue bloods, the scarlet-decorated House of Lords, with around 800 members, now has peers appointed through various means. Both houses debate and vote on legislation, which is then presented to the Queen for her Royal Assent (in practice, this is a formality; the last time Royal Assent was denied was in 1707). At the annual State Opening of Parliament in May or June, the Queen takes her throne in the House of Lords, having arrived in the gold-trimmed Irish State Coach from Buckingham Palace (her crown travels alone with equerries in Queen Alexandra's State Coach). Visiting Parliament Currently all visits to Parliament are suspended, but virtual tours and workshops are available. Once tours resume, book your slot in advance (usually only available on a Saturday), and be prepared for lines and thorough security checks before you're allowed access to the building. UK residents can also approach their MPs to arrange a free tour. When visiting restrictions lift and Parliament is in session, visitors are welcome to attend debates for free. It’s not unusual to have to wait for hours to access the chambers. The best (and busiest) time to watch a debate is during Prime Minister’s Question Time at noon on Wednesday. The debating style in the Commons is quite combative, but not all debates are flamboyant argumentative duelling matches – many are rather boring and long-winded.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Richmond, Kew & Hampton Court

    Kew Gardens

    Why you should go Where else in London can you size up an 18th-century 10-storey Chinese pagoda and a Japanese gateway while finding yourself among one of the world’s most outstanding botanical collections? Kew Gardens is loved by Londoners for its 19th-century Palm House and other Victorian glasshouses, its conservatories, tree-canopy walkway, architectural follies and mind-boggling variety of plants. The 121-hectare gardens at Kew should not be missed. Don't worry if you don’t know your quiver tree from your alang-alang: a visit here is a discovery for all. The Great Pagoda is one of Kew Gardens' architectural icons © Alexey Fedorenko / Shutterstock Highlights include the enormous, steamy early Victorian Palm House, a hothouse of metal and curved sheets of glass; the impressive Princess of Wales Conservatory; the red-brick 1631 Kew Palace, formerly King George III's country retreat; the celebrated Great Pagoda, designed by William Chambers in 1762; the Temperate House, the world's largest ornamental glasshouse; and the very enjoyable Treetop Walkway, where you can survey the tree canopy from 18m up in the air. The Hive is a 17m-high lattice fashioned from thousands of pieces of aluminium illuminated with hundreds of LED lights, which mimics activity within a real beehive. The arboretum covers two-thirds of the gardens at Kew and includes more than 14,000 trees, which are often gathered together according to genus. You can find everything from eucalyptus trees to giant redwoods and ancient Japanese pagoda trees. Hive is an immersive installation at Kew Gardens © Mark Chilvers / Lonely Planet Opened in 2016, the 320m-long Great Broad Walk Borders is the longest double herbaceous border in the UK. The idyllic, thatched Queen Charlotte’s Cottage in the southwest of the gardens was popular with "mad" George III and his wife, queen consort Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. Stop by here in sprint to enjoy the beautiful carpets of bluebells. Kids will have a blast in the play areas including the huge interactive Children's Garden, which has the span of 40 tennis courts. As well as being a public garden, Kew is a pre-eminent research center, maintaining its reputation as the most exhaustive botanical collection in the world. Kew is a Unesco World Heritage Site © iLongLoveKing / Shutterstock History Kew was founded in 1759 by Princess Augusta, mother of King George III, as a botanic garden with pleasure grounds. Botanists began rummaging around the world for specimens to plant here and they never stopped collecting. The gardens, which have bloomed to 121 hectares, provide the most comprehensive botanical collection on earth (including the world's largest collection of orchids). Kew Gardens became a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2003. Tickets and other practicalities Tickets should be booked in advance online, with discounts available for family groups and concessions. Victoria Gate is a five-minute walk west from Kew Gardens Tube station. If you're traveling by train, alight at Kew Bridge station and cross Kew Bridge south to Kew Gardens. From April to October you can sail to Kew from Westminster with Thames River Boats. There is limited parking at the site. You could easily spend the day here, but the Kew Explorer train will help you tick off the main sights in half that time. Seasonal events are held at Kew through the year, including Christmas light shows and summer concerts.

  • Top ChoiceSights in South Bank

    Borough Market

    For a thousand years, a market has existed at the southern end of London Bridge, making this still-busy ancient gathering point a superb spectacle. Overflowing with small shops, food stalls and wholesale greengrocers catering to London's top-end restaurants, Borough Market makes a delicious lunch stop, afternoon grazing session or pure dinner-party inspiration. The market is committed to sustainability and supporting small-scale food producers. There are small shops and stalls throughout the market selling fresh produce © Mark Chilvers / Lonely Planet Gourmet stalls The market specializes in high-end fresh (and often local) products. You'll find an assortment of fruit and vegetable stalls, cheesemongers, butchers, fishmongers and bakeries, as well as delis and gourmet stalls selling spices, nuts, preserves and condiments. This gastronomic ensemble makes for an eye-catching and mouth-watering display, and plenty of visitors stroll through with their cameras at the ready. Many specialty food stalls offer free samples © Alex Segre / Shutterstock Food stalls Once you're too hungry to continue window-shopping (and sampling), grab some grub from one of the many takeaway stalls. Choose anything from sizzling gourmet German sausages to Ethiopian curries, Caribbean stews, falafel wraps, and raclette cheese melted over cured meats and potatoes. Save room for dessert from the cake stalls; walking out without a treat will be a challenge. Many of the takeaway food stalls cluster in Green Market, the area closest to Southwark Cathedral. The market is surrounded by places to eat and drink © Mark Chilvers / Lonely Planet Restaurants, pubs and bars If you'd rather eat and drink indoors, there are a whole host of options in and around the market. Padella, the eternally busy pasta restaurant, operates a virtual line so you can sign up in advance or on the door and return when your table is available. Tucked under a railway arch is Arabica, which serves delicious Middle Eastern mezze dishes that are perfect for sharing. Get a pint at the Market Porter, where most people seem to spill out onto the street to watch the market in action. The Rake, a tiny bar with an outside area, stocks an exceptional range of beer. Opening times and other practicalities The market is open from 10am Monday to Friday, and from 8am on Saturday, but not all traders are there every day. It's heaving on Saturdays; arrive early for the best pickings or embrace the craze at lunchtime. If you can't find a spot in the stepped seating area in Jubilee Place to enjoy your takeaway, walk five minutes in either direction along the Thames for river views. Water bottles can be refilled at the water fountain on Stoney Street, not far from Maria's Cafe. The market is right next to London Bridge rail and Underground station (Jubilee and Northern Lines). The public spaces of the market are all on one level and are wheelchair accessible, but there are some old cobbled stretches and narrow alleys to contend with. Some of the surrounding restaurants and pubs are on multi-levels.

  • Top ChoiceSights in North London

    Hampstead Heath

    Sprawling Hampstead Heath, with its rolling woodlands and meadows, feels a million miles away from the city – despite being about 3.5 miles from Trafalgar Square. It covers 320 hectares, most of it woods, hills and meadows, and is home to about 180 bird species, 25 species of butterflies, grass snakes, bats and a rich array of flora. It's a wonderful place for a ramble, especially to the top of Parliament Hill, which offers expansive views across flat-as-a-pancake London. You could visit Kenwood House, a grand 18th-century house with lovely landscaped gardens, or lose yourself in the West Heath. Signage is limited, but getting a little lost is part of the experience. The Heath is also home to three swimming ponds, which are among the capital's best open-air swimming spots. There are three swimming ponds on the Heath © photocritical / Shutterstock Hampstead Heath Ponds The Heath's three bathing ponds (men's, women's and mixed) offer a cooling dip in murky brown water. Despite what you might think from its appearance, the water is tested daily and meets stringent quality guidelines. The men’s and women’s ponds are open year-round and are supervised by a lifeguard. Opening times vary with the seasons; check online in advance. Swimming slots are limited and, at peak times, you will need to book in advance. The men's pond is popular with gay men and the surrounding lawns are a prime sunbathing and posing spot whenever the sun's out. There's also a nude sunbathing area within the changing-room enclosure. The women's pond is the most tucked away and has a particularly rural feel. The mixed pond closes in winter; it's the least secluded of the three and can sometimes get crowded in summer. Getting lost in the Heath is part of the experience © C Oates / EyeEm / Getty Images Places to eat nearby Once you’ve had your fill of fresh air and/or culture, do as Londoners do and head to one of the wonderful pubs around the Heath for a restorative pint. The Garden Gate has an atmospheric beer garden for summer tipples and a working fireplace in winter to warm you up. The Stag is famous up and down the heath for its Sunday roasts and pies. If you're watching your budget, Hampstead is the perfect place for a picnic. You'll find plenty of shops to buy supplies around Hampstead Heath station. Getting there The best transport links are in the southwest corner; the northeast corner is poorly served. Gospel Oak and Hampstead Heath stations, located at the bottom of the heath, are on the Overground. Hampstead Heath is steep, and huge, so to optimize your energy, make sure you plan where you want to exit and what transport options you'll have there.

  • Top ChoiceSights in North London

    Camden Market

    Eclectic and alternative, Camden Market attracts millions of people each year and is one of London's top places to visit. What started out as a collection of attractive craft stalls beside Camden Lock on the Regent's Canal in 1974 now extends most of the way from Camden Town Tube station to Chalk Farm Tube station. There are now two main market areas – Camden Lock Market on Regent's Canal and Stables Market further west – although they seem to blend together with the crowds snaking along and the more mainstream shops lining the streets. You'll find a bit of everything: vintage designs, clothes (of variable quality), bags, jewelry, arts and crafts, candles, incense and myriad decorative titbits. Check out the side streets too, such as Inverness Street south of the canal, which are lined with stalls selling cheap clothes and accessories. In Stables Market there's a bronze statue of Amy Winehouse (1983–2011), the late and much missed singer-songwriter who lived in the neighborhood. There are food stalls throughout the market © Marco Prati / Shutterstock Food at Camden Market From cafes to terrace bars, fresh food stalls to bakeries, there are many different eating options to be found across the market. The West Yard of Camden Lock Market is a good place to start, offering every imaginable cuisine – from French and Argentinian to Japanese and Caribbean. Quality is generally pretty good and it's affordable. You can eat at the big communal tables or by the canal. Opening times and getting there Each individual trader may set different times, but generally speaking, the market is open from 10am daily. The market can get uncomfortably crowded at the weekend; come on a Thursday or Friday if you don't fancy crawling along. The nearest Tube stations are Chalk Farm and Camden Town.

  • Top ChoiceSights in The West End

    Madame Tussauds

    Why you should go Packed with waxwork likenesses of celebrities, Madame Tussauds is kitschy and pricey, but makes for a fun-filled day. There are plenty of personalities to ogle, from past and current politicians to sportspeople, actors, singers and movie characters. It's selfie heaven, so for that perfect shot with your favorite look-alike, don't forget your selfie stick. The museum covers A-listers from Bollywood stars to the Royal Family. In the Music area, you can grab photo ops with top current singers, including Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran, Rihanna and One Direction, and legends such as Bob Marley and Freddie Mercury. In the Film zone, sit in the director's chair next to a standing Steven Spielberg and get up close with E.T. Don't miss the heroes and villains in the immersive Star Wars experience. Beware that the whole place is pretty commercial, with shops and spending opportunities in each of the dozen rooms. History The museum has a long and interesting history, which started when the French artist and model-maker Marie Tussaud (1761–1850) made death masks of people guillotined during the French Revolution. She came to London in 1803 and exhibited around 30 wax models in nearby Baker Street, providing visitors with their only glimpse of the famous and infamous before photography became widespread. Tickets Book online for much cheaper rates. If you're interested in visiting a partner sight such as the London Eye or London Dungeon, you'll make good savings by buying a London Combination Ticket. Check the website for seasonal opening hours. Madame Tussauds is fully accessible to visitors with reduced mobility.

  • Top ChoiceSights in The West End

    Temple Church

    The magnificent Temple Church was built by the secretive Knights Templar, an order of crusading monks founded in the 12th century to protect pilgrims traveling to and from Jerusalem. Today, the sprawling oasis of fine buildings and pleasant, traffic-free green space is home to two Inns of Court: Inner Temple and Middle Temple. History and architecture The Temple Church has a distinctive design and is in two parts: the Round (consecrated in 1185 and believed to have been modelled after the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem) adjoins the Chancel (built in 1240), which is the heart of the modern church. The west door and elaborately moulded porch are outstanding examples of Norman architecture. Both parts of the church were badly damaged by a bomb in 1941. The church's most obvious points of interest are the life-size stone effigies of nine 13th-century knights lying on the floor of the Round. In 1214–15, it was the site of vital negotiations for Magna Carta. It's one of just four round churches left in England. The Da Vinci Code A key part of the book The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown was set at Temple Church, and scenes from the 2006 movie of the same name were filmed there. Visiting Temple Church Temple Church is closed to visitors currently, and all services are livestreamed on the church's YouTube channel.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Greenwich

    Greenwich Park

    Greenwich Park is one of London’s loveliest expanses of green, with a rose garden, impressive playground, a 6th-century Anglo-Saxon burial ground and astonishing views of Canary Wharf – the financial district across the Thames – from the crown of the hill. There's even an enclosed deer park called The Wilderness at the top of the hill, with several viewpoints from which you can spot the red and fallow deer that call this park home. Covering 74 hectares, it's the oldest enclosed royal park and is partly the work of André Le Nôtre, the landscape architect who designed the palace gardens of Versailles. The park is bisected by the imaginary meridian line and is also home to the Ranger's House and the Royal Observatory. The Royal Observatory, Greenwich Park © mkos83 / Shutterstock Opening times and access The park opens at 6am every day to pedestrians. Parking, which opens at 7am, is available at the south end of the park, accessed through Blackheath Gates. Many bus routes serve the park; the nearest train stations (Blackheath, Maze Hill, Greenwich) are about a 20 minute walk away; Cutty Sark DLR station is closer.

  • Top ChoiceSights in South Bank

    London Eye

    It’s hard to imagine South Bank without the London Eye (officially named the lastminute.com London Eye after its current sponsor), the world’s largest cantilevered observation wheel, which began twirling in 2000 to mark the turn of the millennium. It was originally a temporary attraction, intended to be dismantled after five years, but its unceasing popularity has ensured its longevity. Standing 135m tall in a fairly flat city, it has fundamentally altered London's skyline and is visible from various viewpoints. Views from the top of the London Eye can stretch as far as 25 miles © FenlioQ / Shutterstock A ride – or "flight" as it is called here – in one of the wheel’s 32 glass-enclosed eye-shaped pods takes a gracefully slow 30 minutes and, weather permitting, you can see 25 miles (as far as Windsor Castle) in every direction from the top. Don't let poor weather put you off: the close-up views of the Houses of Parliament, just across the river, are the highlight of the ride. Interactive tablets provide multilingual information about landmarks as they come up in the skyline. The London Eye is the focal point of the capital's New Year's Eve fireworks, for which it is rigged with thousands of fireworks. There are 32 glass pods on the London Eye © Tasan Phatthong / Lonely Planet London Eye tickets and other practicalities Tickets must be pre-booked to ride the London Eye. If you're planning to take a river cruise or visit other sights, such as Madame Tussauds or the Sea Life London Aquarium, you're likely to save money by buying a combination ticket. Tube stations Waterloo (Northern, Jubilee and Bakerloo Lines) and Westminster (Jubilee, Circle and District Lines) are both within five minutes' walk of the London Eye.

  • Top ChoiceSights in The West End

    National Gallery

    With more than 2300 European masterpieces in its collection, this is one of the world's great galleries, with seminal works from the 13th to the mid-20th century, including masterpieces by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Titian, Vincent van Gogh and Auguste Renoir. Many visitors flock to the eastern rooms on the main floor (1700–1930), where works by British artists such as Thomas Gainsborough, John Constable and JMW Turner, and Impressionist and post-Impressionist masterpieces by Van Gogh, Renoir and Claude Monet await. The modern Sainsbury Wing on the gallery’s western side houses the oldest paintings, from 1200 to 1500, in rooms 51 to 66. Here you will find largely religious works commissioned for private devotion (such as the Wilton Diptych in the alcove of room 51), as well as more unusual masterpieces, such as Sandro Botticelli’s Venus & Mars (room 58) and Jan van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait (room 63). Leonardo da Vinci's stunning Virgin of the Rocks (room 66) is a stroke of genius. Works from the High Renaissance (1500–1600) embellish rooms 2 to 14, where Michelangelo, Titian, Raphael, Correggio, El Greco and Bronzino hold court; Rubens, Rembrandt and Caravaggio grace rooms 15 to 32 (1600–1700). Notable are two self-portraits of Rembrandt (at age 34 and 63, in room 22) and the beautiful Rokeby Venus by Diego Velázquez in room 30. Before you leave, don't miss the astonishing floor mosaics in the main vestibule. The comprehensive audio guides (adult/family £5/10) are highly recommended, as are the free one-hour tours that leave from the Sainsbury Wing foyer at 2pm Monday to Friday. There are also special trails and activity sheets for children.

  • Top ChoiceSights in North London

    British Library

    Consisting of low-slung red-brick terraces and fronted by a large piazza with an oversized statue of Sir Isaac Newton, Colin St John Wilson’s British Library building is an architectural wonder. Completed in 1998, it's home to some of the greatest treasures of the written word, including the Codex Sinaiticus (the first complete text of the New Testament), Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks and two copies of the Magna Carta (1215). The most precious manuscripts are held in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery, including stunningly illustrated religious texts, Shakespeare's First Folio (1623), a Gutenberg Bible from 1455, a copy of The Diamond Sutra in Chinese dating to 868 – the world's oldest block-printed book – as well as handwritten lyrics by the Beatles and the score to Handel's Messiah. Book a one-hour guided library tour (adult/child £10/8) for an eye-opening glimpse into the inner workings of the library and its treasures. Tours can be arranged on the website.

  • Top ChoiceSights in The West End

    Sir John Soane's Museum

    This museum is one of the most atmospheric and fascinating in London. The Georgian building was the beautiful, bewitching home of architect Sir John Soane (1753–1837), which he bequeathed to the nation through an Act of Parliament on condition that it remain untouched after his death and free to visit. It's brimming with Soane's vast collection of art and archaeological purchases, as well as intriguing personal effects and curiosities. The house-museum represents his exquisite and eccentric tastes, persuasions and proclivities. A famous neoclassical architect and professor of architecture at the Royal Academy, Soane was a country bricklayer’s son, most famous for designing the old Bank of England (most of which was demolished by another architect in 1925) and the Dulwich Picture Gallery. His work drew on classical ideas picked up while on an 18th-century grand tour of Italy. In 1792, he purchased No 12 Lincoln's Inn Fields and then 15 years later bought No 13 next door, where he repurposed the stables into a museum space. A visit to the house starts in the basement, where a canopy dome filters light down to the crypt, illuminating a treasure of the collection, the translucent limestone sarcophagus of Egyptian Pharaoh Seti I. The rest of the catacombs, which used to be storage for coal and wine, are also themed around death – the dingy corridors packed with urns meant to invoke the burial chambers of ancient Rome. Above is a colonnade filled with statuary, as well as the Picture Room, where Soane’s choicest artwork is displayed. The paintings are cleverly stowed behind each other on folding wooden panes, which are opened by a caretaker every half-hour, and include pieces by Canaletto and the original A Rake’s Progress, a set of satirical works by William Hogarth detailing the rise and fall of a man who inherits his father's fortunes and then squanders it. Brilliant works of art continue in the 1st-floor Drawing Rooms. History buffs would be advised to book a tour to fully appreciate the collection, or exhaust the wonderfully helpful curators for background. Soane's precious Model Room, located in his private apartment on the 2nd floor, houses original architectural models of classical buildings. The hour-long Highlights Tour (£15) includes the private apartments and Model Room, and can be booked online. Also look out for info on the 'Soane Lates' evening candlelit tours on the website. They are very popular, so arrive early to avoid the long queue. As Instagrammable as this place is, photography is not allowed.