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.
And with London’s skyline constantly shifting, we have updated this guide for 2017 with more than 25 new attractions, events and places to stay to make the most of your luxury London stay.
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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, at the Sanderson Hotel.
After some spa time, a visit to The Shard is in order to view the latest in luxury – from above. As Western Europe’s tallest tower, the cloud-reaching skyscraper by Renzo Piano promises 40-mile views from its observation deck. Home to offices, apartments, a Shangri-La Hotel and upscale restaurants, make a twilight dinner reservation to get the best of both views from sunset to dusk.
Move over the London Eye, as there is a new view in town. The Emirates Air Line offers gondola rides over the Thames, it connects the ExCeL exhibition centre at the Royal Docks with the O2 arena. Stretching over half a mile and at 300 feet high – it’s a more luxurious way to travel across part of the capital.
History and heritage
One reason thousands visit London each year is to experience its history and heritage. And there are many places to go 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 a 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. Tours are currently suspended for refurbishment works, due to be completed by early 2020.
The Postal Museum opens its doors in July 2017, revealing more than 500 years of key history. View telegrams sent the night the Titanic sank, an original copy of Ulysses by James Joyce and a whole host of commemorative stamps issued throughout the decades.
The best places to go in London for shoppers
If shopping is your bag, you’ll find bespoke tailoring in Saville Row, London’s luxury labels in Bond Street and Sloane Street, while trendsetters hit the King’s Road. Dover Street Market features six stories of luxury label heaven, including Balenciaga and Paul Smith, in amidst some upcoming designers and labels.
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.
Boxpark is earning itself recognition as a place for trendsetters and hipsters in the East end of London. Located in the heart of Shoreditch, it is home to pop up shops and restaurants which allow you to experience the capital’s best food and fashion within refurbished shipping containers.
Places to go in London for families
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 Museum 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.
The Sea Life London Aquarium, on the South Bank of the Thames, is now home to a shark reef encounter featuring 16 different shark species. Marvel at their prowess along a 15-foot glass walkway and get a good view of them from all angles.
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.
The Harry Potter Studio Tour is perfect for fans to immerse themselves in the magical world of the wizard. Fans both young and old will love browsing through props and costumes used over the ten years the movies were produced here. And in the Great Hall, visitors can sample non-alcoholic Butterbeer, before hunting for a Golden Snitch.
At the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is the UK’s tallest sculpture, and here you can also ride on the world’s longest, fastest, tallest tunnel slide. The ArcelorMittal Orbit is an iconic looping structure which will enthral the whole family.
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).
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.
Serious culture fans will love the Serpentine Sackler Gallery. A gallery and social space for art and culture, it’s built on the site of a 206-year old gunpowder depot in Kensington Gardens. With nearly 10,000 feet of gallery and social space, and a restaurant, the gallery also hosts regular talks and poetry sessions.
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. For lunch, opt for an afternoon tea – the city overflows with options from traditional spreads to quirky fayre.
Beach Blanket Babylon is one of our firm favourites judging by its approach to quirky interiors. A cross between a manor house and a chateau, the eclectic venue makes an intimate setting for a romantic dinner or quirky surroundings for cocktails in Notting Hill.
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.
The newest addition to London’s green spaces is the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, the former site of the London Olympics 2012. With 247 acres of lawns, flower gardens, and a riverside promenade, there’s plenty of space to relax and enjoy nature, plus wildlife habitats have also been introduced.
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London events for hipsters and culture vultures
London is made for hipsters, and as trends come and go, so do attractions, leading to a rise in pop-up and one off events across the city to entertain different cliques. Here’s some of our faves for 2017, but you can also check out Visit London and The Nudge for the latest events and pop-ups for the month from cheese clubs to gin tours at secret locations across the capital.
Taste of London, 14-18 June – watch the city’s top chef’s flaunt their skills and serve up delectable dishes in Regent’s Park.
Art Night, 1 July – discover contemporary art and performances for one night only in a range of the capital’s iconic venues.
Notting Hill Carnival, 27-29 August – join the city’s most colourful carnival as more than one million partygoers take to the streets for two days of music, dance and parades.
Rooftop Film Club, throughout Summer – catch a classic and enjoy the views from four locations across London this summer.
Totally Thames, September – A month long event with events staged along the river. Observe art installations and performances, or join a guided walk to learn more about the city.
London Fashion Weekend, 21-24 September – Attend the main event, or look out for pop-up designer shops to stay ahead of the trends.
Museums at Night, October – experience the enchantment of museums after dark at one of the city’s participating museums and galleries for a fix of history, art and heritage.
London Jazz Festival, 10-19 November – a genre enjoying a bit of renaissance, don’t miss the London Jazz Festival to stay abreast of the trends
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.
Four Seasons Trinity Square – trademark luxury served up within neo-classical, spacious surroundings and modern comforts.
The Piccadilly London West End, Soho, London, United Kingdom– a stylish urban hideaway in London’s West End.
ME London by Melia, St James, London, United Kingdom – a central luxury stay plus a rooftop bar offering spectacular views of the metropolis.
St Martins Lane A Morgans Original, Covent Garden, London, United Kingdom – unravel the charm of this boutique hotel in Covent Garden.
The Arch London, Marylebone, London, United Kingdom – a five star sanctuary built on laid-back luxury.
Conrad London St James, St James, London, United Kingdom – a prime location for the city’s main attractions, exuding chic design and intuitive service.
The Montcalm at the Brewery London City, City of London, London, United Kingdom – elegant and informal all at once, this five-star option offers period features at every turn.
The Marylebone Hotel, Marylebone, London, United Kingdom – a striking and vibrant hotel home to a cafe society, enveloped in a glamorous urban village.