Big, bold and buzzing: London has thousands of cultural and historical sights to explore, as well as world renowned theatres and opera houses, ancient landmarks, diverse museums and plenty of outdoor adventures and activities thanks to the Olympic legacy. These are just some of the many things to do in London;
The Courtauld Gallery
In a city bursting with cultural highlights, one real standout sight is the impressive Courtauld Art Gallery. For one of the smallest museums going, it certainly packs a lot in. With pieces from the early Renaissance period right through to the 20th century, don’t miss the spectacular collection of Impressionist paintings of which there are 530. Founded in 1932, the Courtauld sits on the Strand in central London. Highlights include pieces from Vincent Van Gogh, Thomas Gainsborough and twelve pieces from Paul Cézanne. There are also 26,000 prints and drawings to browse.
If the film version has caught your imagination, then it’s definitely time to see Les Miserables as it began: on the stage. The longest running musical in the world, Les Mis celebrated its25th anniversary last year and population continues to rise. Cameron Mackintosh’s production is on at the Queens Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue in the heart of London’s West End.
As much a part of London history as Big Ben and Buckingham Palace is Harrods; the luxury department store. Located on London’s Brompton Road, the annual highlight has to be the opulent Christmas department which opens each July! The signature green containers of cookies and English tea make great gifts too.
The British Museum is absolutely vast with over 8 million pieces, so prioritise your visit. Located on Great Russell Street, the British Museum is housed within a Greek revival building which opened in 1753. Focussing on human history and culture, the museum’s highlights are the ancient Egypt, Prehistory and Greece and Rome exhibits. A great option for a rainy afternoon (this is the UK after all), the British Museum is also FREE to explore.
St James Park
Located in central London in the City of Westminster is St James Park. One of the oldest London Royal Parks, established in 1603, St James Park is the perfect chill-out location in a bustling city. With lakes, islands, vast lawns and visiting birdlife, this is the perfect summer’s afternoon hangout.
One of the most legendary London attractions has to be the handsome Westminster Abbey. Millions watched as Prince William married Kate Middleton at this very spot. The abbey is also where English monarchs have traditionally been crowned and buried since it opened in 1090. The exquisite Gothic architecture towers over Westminster at 225 feet (69 meters) tall.
Head to London’s Trafalgar Square to experience the best European painting collection on display at the National Gallery. Pieces range in date from 1250 right through to 1900. Highlights include Sandro Botticelli’s ‘Venus and Mars’, John Constable’s ‘The Hay Wain’ and Vincent van Gogh’s famous work ‘Sunflowers’. The collection belongs to the public and as such the gallery is FREE to enter.
Free Things to do in London
London is embracing the here and now with a clutch of outstanding modern landmarks making an appearance on the skyline; the shard, eye and gherkin to name just three! All are must-see sights in London but do carry an entrance fee. But it’s not difficult to find lots of free things to do in London. From the galleries and museums mentioned in this post, there is also the Tate Modern which showcases Damien Hirst’s work. The Tate Britain, Southbank Centre and Bank of England Museum also all have FREE entry.
Houses of Parliament
Originally built in the middle Ages, the present-day Houses of Parliament are instantly recognisable. This where laws have been passed over many centuries when Britain ruled a quarter of the world. The significance of the Palace of Westminster (to give the building its correct title) cannot be understated. Rebuilt after fire in 1834, the modern incarnation is in gothic style and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
London’s SE1 is the setting for the rebuilt Globe Theatre which features regular performances of Shakespeare’s works. Built in a replica Jacobean style, a visit is worth it just to catch a glimpse of the unique architecture. Catching a performance of The Tempest, Taming of the Shrew or Macbeth turns this experience into one of the best nights out in London.
Churchill’s War Rooms
An absolutely must for all World War II history buffs is a visit to the war rooms of former British prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill. The museum is where Churchill executed his war strategy and today forms one of the five Imperial war Museums within England.
Tower of London Jewel House
In a city bursting with unmissable attractions, it can be difficult to prioritise. One recommended thing to experience is the Tower of London jewel House where the Queens’ exquisite collection is displayed. 2013 is the year of the Coronation so expect it to be busy. The highlight is Queen Elizabeth’s absolutely exquisite royal crown which is encrusted with diamonds, rubies and sapphires.
Maritime Greenwich is a one four UNESCO World Heritage Sites in London. The site comprises sing the National Maritime Museum, Royal Observatory, Cutty Sark and Queens House. The Maritime Museum is the largest of its kind in the world and the Royal Observatory is home to ‘Greenwich Mean Time’. The magnificent Cutty Sark is the last remaining tea clipper remaining in the world, which has just undergone complete restoration. And the Queen’s House is a 17th century Palladian style masterpiece.
Notting Hill Carnival
Get to the annual Notting Hill Carnival which takes place each August and you’ll be in for a real treat! The most famous festival in the UK promises lively street parades, delicious food and lively music.
Battersea Power Station
The former coal powered electricity station in south west London is an imposing sight. Opened in 1933, Battersea Power Station is the largest Art Deco structure within Europe. Decommissioned in 1983 and Grade II listed, the station is now being converted into accommodation following years of disuse. Music fans will recognise the handsome profile from The Beatles ‘Help’ movie from 1965 and Take That’s ‘The Flood’ music video!
The newest skyscraper on the block is The Shard, which dominates the London skyline. Towering in at 310 m (1,017 ft) tall, the viewing decks have been offering curious travellers panoramic city views since February 2013. Book early and pray for a clear day!
As we wait patiently for the 2016 Brazil Olympic Games, there’s always the main London Olympic stadium to visit in Stratford. With a capacity of 80,000 spectators, billions tuned in to watch records being made and broken.
London is home to several notable modern landmarks including the Eye, Millennium Dome and the City Hall. The Gherkin is a personal favourite thanks to its curious design at the very heart of the financial district of east London. With 41 floors it’s not the tallest building in the city, but it’s certainly one of the most beautiful.
Trooping The Colour
Each year the Queen’s Official Birthday is celebrated in the traditional pomp and pageantry of the Trooping The Colour. Each year in June (16 June in 2013) members of the household cavalry take park in an elaborate and distinctly-British parade. The Queen travels down The Mall in procession and then watches the 41 gun salute and RAF flypast from the Buckingham Palace balcony. Watch the official video above for a fascinating insight into this historic spectacle.
St Paul’s Cathedral
The original cathedral was founded on this site in 604 AD but has since been totally rebuilt following the devastating Great Fire of London. Constructed in English Baroque style by architect Christopher Wren, St Pauls is one of the most endearing and icons historical sights within London.