With thousands of years’ of history, a royal heritage and thriving multinational culture, there are many great places to go in London.
I grew up in London and adore it. It’s my favourite city in the world (I usually discount it as ‘home’, but if I were to include it on my list, it would come top).
So I’m really excited to be starting this new series of guides to the best places in the world with London.
England’s capital will keep visitors busy for days. So much so, one trip will never allow you enough time to see it all, least of all get a feel for everything that makes London one of the best cities in the world.
So where to begin?
This guide to London’s best attractions is sectioned into our favourite destinations to visit in London by interest; and for those still planning a visit to the city, we highlight some of London’s best hotels.
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Places to go in London for luxury
London loves luxury. It’s a world capital that has become synonymous with luxury experiences and upscale hotels.
Those looking for luxury in London can take their pick of 64 Michelin-star restaurants, including Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester, The Ivy, two branches each of Hakkasan and Nobu, and fab little brasseries.
If you enjoy the spa, you’ll find a place to relax even in the heart of the city – most of London’s five-star hotels have spas, but if you prefer independents don’t miss Eve Lom, in Spanish Place, W1.
History and heritage
One reason thousands visit London each year is to experience its history and heritage. And there are many places to visit in London to discover its past. The Tower of London is one historical star with more than 1,000 years’ history, which has seen it act as a palace, a prison and place of execution, arsenal, jewel house (its home to the Crown Jewels) and zoo.
Buckingham Palace is a must visit for anyone intrigued by the Queen and royal life. The Queen’s London residence opens its doors to visitors each summer from late July to the end of September – check the Royal Collection website for details.
For hundreds of years Britain’s government has debated and passed laws at the Houses of Parliament. Also known as the Palace of Westminster, it contains two chambers – the green-seated House of Commons and the House of Lords distinguished by red leather seats.
Elizabeth Tower, more commonly known as Big Ben, is the more than 150-year-old clock that towers above the Palace of Westminster. They make for an unmissable photo opportunity. UK and overseas visitors can attend debates in the House of Commons, but tours of Elizabeth Tower are restricted to UK residents.
Also don’t miss other historic sights like Kensington Palace, Tower Bridge, St Paul’s Cathedral, and Trafalgar Square for Nelson’s Column and Admiralty Arch.
The best destinations in London for shoppers
It may be a cliché but few visitors can leave London without a trip to the world-famous Harrods. This grand department store built in 1849, is recognised for its over-the-top grandeur and luxury merchandise.
Oxford Street is well-trodden but can’t be beaten for having all the big chain stores in one place. Nearby Carnaby Street found fame in the 1960s with bands such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, cementing its reputation as the coolest place in London. Today it has a thriving cluster of boutiques, some specialising in vintage clothing and 1960s memorabilia.
Westfield Stratford has cornered the market in London shopping malls fighting off competition from stalwart Brent Cross and even the original Westfield London. With a good mix of designer labels, department and chain stores, and independent boutiques it’s worth heading east for.
Markets too are great London places to add to your list. Visit Covent Garden, Portobello Road, Spitalfields, and Camden to find some of the city’s coolest and best buys.
There are so many great family attractions in London it’s difficult to know where to begin. To start with something educational, the Science Museum is an inspiring place of discovery. It has just about everything on how the universe works.
The V&A Musuem of Childhood isn’t only one of the top museums in London for kids but it’s fabulous for adults seeking a trip down Memory Lane. The museum has activity stations with Lego and board games, plus collections of rag dolls, teddy bears and dolls’ houses dating from the 1600s.
Discover Children’s Story Centre, in Stratford, is an exciting adventure story experience for children aged 0-11. A magical place where stories come to life through role-playing, it’s not to be missed.
Hamleys may be a toy shop but it’s also one of the most fun venues in London for children, with toys that can be played with throughout the store.
Explore the weird and wonderful at Ripley’s Believe It or Not! with more than 700 artefacts celebrating the beautiful and the bizarre. Exhibits include a life-sized knitted Ferrari, eight-foot Transformer, and a mirror maze.
London attractions for culture vultures
London is one of the world’s great centres for entertainment with more than 65 theatres and a thriving Theatreland with some of the best shows and musical productions in the world. A night at the theatre is not to be missed (tip: get discount tickets to shows at the TKTS booth in Leicester Square).
For high brow entertainment head to the London Coliseum, Royal Opera House and the Royal Ballet, or Sadler’s Wells Theatre for classical and modern productions.
If you’re looking for attractions to visit in London for culture you’ll be well served by museums and galleries too. The Museum of London helps visitors get to grips with secrets of the metropolis, while the likes of the British Museum, the V&A and the Natural History Museum are home to a host of fascinating artefacts.
There’s something for every art lover in London’s galleries. Post modernists are well served at Tate Modern, fans of impressionist art at the National Gallery or the Courtauld Institute, and you can see works from 1500 to the modern day at Tate Britain.
Destination London for foodies
London is a foodie paradise. It’s not just traditional foods that are good here. In fact, that’s just the point – traditional London foods are as varied as the people who live in the city.
So expect to find curries as good as those in Dehli, beigels better than in Tel Aviv, and Chinese food that gives Beijing a run for its money, in every corner of London.
There are of course very many fine dining eateries and Michelin-starred restaurants so you’ll never be challenged to find a good restaurant.
London is also big on foodie events like the Urban Food Festival and tempting Chocolate Festival.
If you’re self-catering don’t miss Borough Market for the tastiest farm-fresh produce and exciting imports.
For a breath of fresh air
London is a busy city, but head to one of its seven Royal Parks and you’ll find a peaceful green corner. Green Park, Hyde Park, Regents Park, St James’s Park, Kensington Gardens, Bushy Park, Greenwich Park and Richmond Park each offer something different. From the rose gardens of Regent’s Park to the red deer of Richmond.
The final Royal Park is unusual – Brompton Cemetery has been featured in films such as GoldenEye, and has historic monuments, wildlife, and incredible stories of the remarkable people buried there.
Kew Gardens, is a little out-of-town, but worth the trip to discover plants from around the world and take the treetop walk.
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Places to stay in London
There’s a bountiful supply of great hotels in London. Here’s some favourites:
Ham Yard Hotel – one of the most popular hotels in London with great beds and cool design in the heart of Soho.
citizenM London Bankside – affordability and luxury go hand in hand at this Bankside hotel.
41 Hotel – boutique and very chic, we love the 41 Hotel for its hi-tech suites and excellent location.
The Ampersand – individual style is the order of the day in The Ampersand’s boutique rooms in swish South Kensington.
The Goring – follow in the footsteps of the Duchess of Cambridge – Kate Middleton stayed here the night before marrying Prince William.
The Hoxton – a cool budget option (prices from £69) in the eternally trendy area of Hoxton/Shoreditch.
The Langham – what’s not to love about a hotel with its own shade of pink and more than 150 years of history?
Flemings Mayfair Hotel – a stylish boutique close to the excitement of Piccadilly.
St Ermin’s Hotel – we love the rococo public spaces here and the rooms and suites are good too.
The Cumberland – original artworks welcome you in the lobby of this hotel, while cutting-edge, contemporary design emanates from every room.