A Canuck married to a Brit, I spent 7 years in London - living, working, and imbibing the majesty of this iconic city.
Year to year, London attracts over 12 million visitors from all parts of the globe. With its many theatres, galleries, and museums, world famous landmarks, lively nightlife, and culturally rich and diverse environment, it’s no wonder it's such a popular holiday destination. London is a city with a pulse, and its huge international appeal is more than understandable.
However, most of these 12 million yearly visitors will only get a glimpse of what London really is and has to offer. Many will stick to the cliché tourist traps in order to snap photos, collect souvenirs, and send off mass-produced postcards. Often, that’s all time allows. But if you have the time and the desire to really immerse yourself and absorb the true essence of this majestic city, then below is a suggested itinerary (including those aforementioned hot spots – of course they have to be done too!) that will help you to discover the real London.
1. Arrive on the train from Heathrow at Paddington Station, which was designed by the illustrious architect Brunel in 1854. Or, if you’re coming from Gatwick Airport, you’ll arrive at Victoria Station, built circa 1851. If arriving anytime near 9 a.m. or 5 p.m. (give or take an hour), then you’ll experience firsthand the madness that is the commuters’ rush. Welcome to London!
2. Imbibe the breathtaking views of London (and up to 25 miles of its surrounding vicinity) from the comfort of a capsule on the London Eye Ferris wheel. But unlike a funfair ride, those capsules are fully enclosed - at a staggering height of over 440 feet you’d want them to be!
3. Comedy or tragedy? Take in a theatre production in the West End’s Theatreland, the British equivalent of Broadway. Try a classic favourite such as Chicago, Les Miserables, or Phantom of the Opera. Or if you fancy something more upbeat, try one of the newer hits like Grease, Billy Elliot or Mama Mia.
4. Indulge your inner voyeur by people-watching from the balcony of The Punch & Judy Pub, overlooking the busy shopping crowd in Covent Garden (which has been in existence since Roman times).
5. Stop in at Selfridges and treat yourself to a new outfit whilst exploring the 300+ shops of Oxford Street.
6. More expensive tastes? Splurge on a Hermes handbag or a Gucci gown while exploring the many designer boutiques of Bond Street.
7. Reinvent yourself - become ‘a lady who lunches’ (or gentleman, for that matter) on the Kings Road in Chelsea. Don’t forget to pack a small dog in your shoulder bag for good measure.
8. While you’re in the Royal Burroughs of Kensington and Chelsea, might as well stop by Kensington Palace, the 17th century sanctuary that was once Charles and Diana’s home.
9. Have a picnic and feed the geese at St. James’ Park, London’s oldest Royal Park. Situated directly across from Buckingham Palace, you can say that you’ve lounged in the Queen’s backyard and truly mean it.
10. And when you’re done there, make your way across the park to watch the Changing of the Queen’s Guard outside Buckingham Palace.
11. Retrace the steps of England’s most notorious serial killer and join in on an organised Jack the Ripper Walk in the East End’s Whitechapel. Then find your nearest Jimmy Carr and go for a few Britneys or Wynonas. Get Oliver Twist up, or just brush up on your cockney instead.
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12. Afterwards, replenish your energy stores at one of the many Indian restaurants on Brick Lane – curry is undeniably one of Britain’s favourite dishes. Remember, bartering at the door before accepting a table is customary.
13. Observe England’s tallest building, One Canada Square in Canary Wharf, a dizzying 800 feet high.
14. Indulge your aesthetic desires at the Tate Britain Gallery, home to the works of some of the world’s most famous artists, including Sir Frances Bacon, William Blake, John William Waterhouse, Monet, Gaugin, and many more.
15. If their work doesn’t suit your tastes, try the Tate Modern instead, for the works of Paul Klee, Jackson Pollock, and Pablo Picasso. For your convenience, the Tate Boat runs every forty minutes (during gallery opening hours) along the Thames, to take you to and from the Tate Britain and Tate Modern.
16. Examine real life dinosaur bones or inspect the millions of preserved specimens in the Darwin Centre of the Natural History Museum. If science isn’t your thing, simply admire the stunning Victorian architecture of the building itself.
17. Take in a music concert or comedy performance at the world-famous Royal Albert Hall. Observe the beauty of the Grade 1 listed building, whose oval circumference is adorned by an impressive frieze dedicated to “The Triumph of the Arts and Sciences”.
18. Catch a London Philharmonic Orchestra performance at the Royal Festival Hall.
19. Explore the world’s largest museum of art and design, the Victoria & Albert Museum – home to over 4.5 million artefacts.
20. Refresh your history knowledge by visiting the Museum of London in the Barbican area of the City. Cast your eyes upon remains of the Roman London Wall, which surrounded early ‘Londinium’, and was believed to be built in the late second century AD.
21.Take the Metropolitan Line on the London Underground, the oldest of the system (opened in January 1863) from Barbican. Alight at Great Portland Street for Regents Park. Have a walk in the park, or stop by ‘The Hub’ - the largest outdoor sports area in London – for a game of rounders, cricket, rugby, netball, softball, etc, etc, etc.
22. Still in Regents Park, stop byand visit the London Zoo – the world’s oldest scientific zoo whose gates have been open to the public since 1847.
23. Have a drink or a bite to eat while taking in the amazing view of Big Ben from the decks of the Queen Mary or Tattershall Castle ships, moored permanently along the shores of the Embankment. Then speculate on whether your increasingly unsteady gait is due to sea legs (and the slightly tilted position of the boats) or from one-too-many Pimms & Lemonade.
24. Meander along the Thames down the South Bank and watch the buskers, who are often quite talented, unlike those you see in other areas of the city who perch outside tube stations with a traffic cone in one hand and a can of extra-strong lager in the other.
25. Check out the Andy Warhol exhibit at the Hayward Gallery in the Southbank Centre, or one of the other visual arts, dance, literature and spoken word performances.
26. Or if you prefer something even a bit kookier, take a surreal trip through Dali Universe in the County Hall Gallery.
27. Take a stroll around the City of London, also known as ‘the Square Mile’. A small city in the centre of Greater London, it is nearly one square mile exactly, and is the core of ancient London. One of the world’s leading financial centres, it is known as the richest square mile in the world.
28. Take a trip to Greenwich to visit The National Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory, where you’ll find a collection of over 2 million objects associated with sailing and the sea, astronomy and time. Speaking of which, you could also jump across the Prime Meridian while you were there if you felt like it (though I'm not quite sure why you would...)
29. Take a look at the Cutty Sark (docked at Greenwich), the legendary clipper, or what’s left of her since the fire in 2007.
30. Walk, cycle or rollerblade around one of suburban London’s many expansive parks, such as Clapham Common, Hampstead Heath, Finsbury Park, or Black Heath. Though be warned: leave before sunset or you're likely to end up in a tabloid newspaper.
31. Take a spin on a peddle boat on the lake in Battersea Park or have a quiet moment at the Japanese Buddhist Peace Pagoda. If you have wee ones with you, take a detour through the Children’s Zoo.
32. Visit the Florence Nightingale Museum and peruse the artefacts, archives and library collection either personally owned by the nation’s heroine or connected to the Crimean War from which her reputation arose.
33. Check out The Old Operating Theatre & Herb Garrett, the oldest of its kind in England, dating back to 1822. Located in the garret of St. Thomas’s Church (Southwark), it displays instruments of surgery that were used before the age of science (not too dissimilar from the modern NHS, then).
34. Learn about the history of world conflict through exhibitions at the Imperial War Museum – including a permanent display dedicated to the Holocaust.
35. Take a tour of the HMS Belfast – renowned for the part she played in transporting the Allied Troops to France’s beaches on D-Day – 6th June 1944.
36. Spend an afternoon lounging in the luscious Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew.
37. Next on to Hampton Court Palace, one of only two surviving palaces built by Henry VIII. Take a walk through the maze in the 60 acres of gardens, or tour the palace itself to view his collections of fine art and furnishings dating from the early 1500’s onwards. Be careful not to stay too late – it is believed that the ghosts of Jane Seymour, Catherine Howard, Anne Boleyn and even Henry himself haunt the palace. Imagine being stuck for eternity with 3 ex-wives! But then if you’re Henry – that’s probably just what you deserve!
38. Put on your walking (or running) shoes and set out on a London Ghost Walk, where you’ll chance upon ethereal spots such as the supposedly cursed St. Mary Le Bow, where endless tragedies have struck over the centuries – including the roof being blown off the original cathedral in 1091, the Great Fire of London burning it down in 1666 and parts of it being destroyed in the Blitz. Beware the ‘Blackdog of Newgate’, whose origins are said to date back to the reign of Henry III, when famine forced the prisoners of Newgate Prison to turn to cannibalism.
39. Embark on a pub crawl or have some nosh at one of the many trendy cafes, bars and restaurants of Upper Street in Angel. Try the Bierodrome – a Belgian bar/restaurant that serves over 60 different types of beer. The Mort Subite (cherry beer) comes highly recommended, especially if you prefer your lager to taste like pop.
40. Sample the fresh food on offer at Borough Market, one of the world’s largest and oldest food markets, believed to date back to Roman times. Then make your way over to Spitalfields for more shopping.
41. Not sick of markets yet? Visit Camden Town on a weekend where you can pick up untold treasures at the market, have a drink at the Worlds End (a pub that has been open since 1778) or take in a gig at the Roundhouse, London’s centre for ‘alternative culture’ since the 1960’s.
42. Take in a gig at the 100 Club, London’s oldest live music venue (circa 1942); whose past guests over the last 7 decades have included the likes of B.B. King, The Who, The Sex Pistols and Oasis. No matter who you see, with a capacity of only 350 patrons, it is sure to be an intimate affair.
43. Laugh you’re a&% off at one London’s many comedy venues such as Jongleurs, the Comedy Store, or Comedy Café.
44. Take a guided sightseeing tour London on one of its many open top, double-decker buses such as the Original Sightseeing Tour.
45. Or, for a different vantage point, take a cruise a long the Thames where you’ll see most of the famous landmarks from the open deck or the saloon of a river boat.
46. Alternatively, if you’re looking for something livelier, embark on a London Showboat cruise, where you can see the London sights lit up against the night sky, combined with a four course meal, a cabaret, and a dance to follow.
47. Have a pint at the Sherlock Holmes Pub in Charing Cross, where you can an impressive collection of items associated with the legendary sleuth himself. Or, try the Sherlock Holmes Museum at the legendary 221b Baker Street.
48. No trip to England is complete without partaking of the quintessential afternoon tea – which usually consists of a variety of fruits, elegant finger sandwiches, and dainty cakes and pastries. This, of course, alongside a pot of tea or coffee, and even (hopefully) champagne. Try Claridges in Mayfair or Grosvenor House on Park Lane fora lovely spot...
49. After tea, walk over to Hyde Park and stop by the Diana Memorial Fountain and soak your feet.Then have your say at the world's first Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, where previous orators have included Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and George Orwell. It is located in the northeast corner near Marble Arch. Coincidentally this is also near the location where the Tyburn Tree hanging gallows were located until 1783.
50. Shop at the world’s largest department store, Harrods, which boasts over 330 departments spread over 4.5 acres in the posh Knightsbridge area of London.
51. Visit the Charles Dickens Museum (near Russell Square) , set in the only surviving London home where he lived from 1837 to 1839. It was here he completed and published Oliver Twist.
52. Fancy a taste of the highlife? Take a trip to the quaint area of Hampstead, where the average home costs £1,183,507, but many of the larger homes are upwards of £20,000,000. Locals include Gwyneth Paltrow & Chris Martin, Hugh Grant, Sienna Miller, Jamie Oliver, Kate Winslet and Liam Gallagher. Grab a coffee and take a walk on the Heath – who knows who you will spot.
53. Later, visit the Freud Museum (near Finchley Road Station). Set in the home where Freud and his family lived after they escaped Nazi-occupied Austria, you will find Freud’s library and study, his amazing collection of antiques and his famous psychoanalytic couch!
54. Indulge in a feast for all the senses and book in at one of Gordon Ramsay’s exceptional eating establishments. Try the taster menu – a seven course sampler that ends up being more like ten; each bite pure perfection. Just make sure to book well in advance! Oh, and you may need to call your credit card for an extension on your limit, but it is definitely well worth the price.
55. Visit the Handel House Museum, where the famous composer lived from1723 until 1759, in London’s most exclusive district, Mayfair.
56. Take in a football (known as soccer across the pond) match at one of London’s many clubs – such as premiership clubs Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea, Fulham or West Ham, in addition to many other lower league clubs. If you faniced that, then later take a tour of Wembley Stadium, home to England’s National Football Team.
57. If football’s not your game, instead visit Twickenham Stadium, home of Rugby Union Football, or Lord’s, the home of Cricket.
58. Cycle around London’s largest Royal Park, the expansive Richmond Park, set over 2500 acres. Watch the red and fallow deer graze, whose ancestors have lived there since the time of Charles I in 1625.
59. Walk, run, cycle or blade the Thames River Path, which extends roughly 45 miles from Hampton Court to the Thames Barrier and River Darent.
60. Book a day trip outside of London to Bath, Brighton, Salisbury, Stone Henge, Canterbury, or visit the historic university towns of Cambridge or Oxford.
61. Marvel at the crown jewels that dwell within the stone walls of The Tower of London, Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress. The original tower in the fortress (the White Tower) was built by William the Conqueror in 1078. It was in the Tower Green of the fortress that Anne Boleyn, along with two other Queen Consorts, was executed.
62. Walk across Tower Bridge (adjacent to the Tower of London), one of London’s most famous landmarks, often mistaken as London Bridge.
63. Drop by the famous Abbey Road and the studio at number 3, in St. John’s Wood (Westminster).
64. Spend an afternoon shopping in the world famous Portobello Market in Notting Hill.
65. Become a singing legend (at least among your mates) after renting your own private karaoke room at the Karaoke Box or Lucky Voice bars in Soho.
66. Quiet your stomach rumbles with a mouth watering meal in the West End’s Chinatown.
67. Afterwards, pop over to Leicester Square for a drink at one of the many bars (admittedly, some are just too touristy or plain rough), or for some red carpet celeb-spotting before a movie premier.
68. Have lunch in the courtyard of Somerset House on the Strand, the impressive Neoclassical palace built between 1776-1796 which is now used for government offices and scholastic arts. Check in advance for live music performances or open air cinemas on summer evenings. In the winter, don your ice skates and go for a spin around the outdoor rink. In either case, the palace provides a most impressive backdrop for any event.
69. Between the Strand and Embankment, you’ll find Gordon’s Wine Bar, London’s oldest wine bar established in 1890. At arrival, proceed directly downstairs into the cellar where you can find a tucked-away table to drink your wine in a dimly-lit bar with relaxed tones, or venture outside to the noisier beer garden (or wine garden, should I say), which backs on to Embankment Gardens. The building itself was once inhabited by Samuel Pepys and Rudyard Kipling. Just make sure to go early – it is a popular haunt for after-work bevies.
70. Climb the 311 steps of The Monument, a Doric column designed by the great Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke, constructed between 1671 and 1677. Erected in remembrance of the Great Fire of London, its height (202 ft) symbolises the monument’s distance to the site of the baker’s shop in Pudding Lane where the devastating fire started in 1666.
71. Visit the Science Museum in South Kensington, est. 1857, which contains over 300, 000 items related to science and discovery.
72. Drop by Christopher Wren’s masterpiece – St. Paul’s Cathedral. Built between 1675 and 1708, it is the fifth cathedral of St. Paul to stand on this site - the original dated back to pre-Norman times and was destroyed by fire in 675 AD. The current cathedral’s predecessor was destroyed by the infamous Henry VIII in the 16th century. While there, visit the tombs of John Donne, The Duke of Wellington, Lord Nelson, Sir Winston Churchill, Sir Alexander Fleming, Florence Nightingale, and William Blake (amongst many others) in the crypts.
73. Relax in Gabriel's Wharf – a riverside retreat scattered with a blend of arty shops, bars and restaurants where you can enjoy the fantastic views of St Paul's.
74. Visit The London Aquarium, one of Europe’s largest, home to over 500 living species of sea life.
75. Take in a performance at The Old Vic theatre, est. 1818 (previously known as the Royal Coburg Theatre). It is currently under the artistic direction of Oscar-winner Kevin Spacey. Located on The Cut, there are several good restaurants and bars you can go to afterwards.
76. Have dinner and drinks overlooking the Thames from the 8th floor of the iconic OXO Tower building.
77. Take a tour of the Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament) where the House of Commons and the House of Lords meet. Of course while you’re there, have your photo taken in front of the Clock Tower, often mistakenly referred to as Big Ben (which is actually the bell in the tower).
78. Soho is one of London’s liveliest areas for nightlife. Its streets are lined with a mixture of trendy bars and upscale restaurants, wine bars and lounges, cafes and bistros, karaoke haunts, pubs, and a few strip clubs and sex shops remaining from its ropier days. Also in this area are the gay-friendly establishments of Old Compton Street. With such diversity in one area, it is never fails to host a great night out.
79. If you haven’t seen her yet, stop by and visit the Queen at Windsor Castle, the largest occupied castle in the world. Over a thousand years old, it dates back to the times of William the Conqueror and is nearly 500 000 square feet in size.
80. Walk up Whitehall, past Downing Street and finally on to Horse Guards Parade – where the annual Trooping the Colour ceremonies take place, and the future venue for beach volleyball at the 2012 Olympics.
81. Plant yourself at Trafalgar Square – the heart of London. Have your photo taken in front of Nelson’s Column, or one of the four statue lions that guard it. Feed the pigeons – known to locals as ‘flying rats’ – if you dare.
82.Take a tour of the astoundingly beautiful gothic church that is Westminster Abbey – originally built around 1045-1050 (with additions made later) but was predeceased by earlier versions dating back to 960. It is the place of coronation and burial site for the monarchs. It is also the home of Poets’ Corner, where Geoffrey Chaucer, John Milton, William Wordsworth, Thomas Gray, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Robert Burns, William Blake, and T. S. Eliot are buried.
83. Visit the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms, used by Sir Winston and his Cabinet during World War II.
84. Have your photograph taken with your favourite ‘celebrities’ at the famous waxwork museum, Madame Tussauds.
85. Stop by The National Gallery, home to 2300 paintings that date from the 1200’s to the 1900’s. See masterpieces such as Vincent Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Botticelli’s Venus and Mars, Da Vinci’s the Virgin of the Rocks, or Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait of the Age of 34.
86. Visit the Trocadero Centre, the largest indoor entertainment centre in Europe. Located in the centre of Westminster – Piccadilly Circus – it includes such attractions at the IMAX, Sega World, an interactive cinema called Emaginator, and various rides and games.
87. Listen to classical music by candlelight in the crypts of St. Mart-in-the-Fields, the "Church of the Ever Open Door" most noted for the aid it provides to London's homeless.
88. Reel in a bargain on seafood and fresh fish at Billingsgate Market, est. 1699, in East London.
89. Dance the night away at one of London’s clubs or ‘superclubs’, such as Fabric or the world-famous Ministry of Sound. If you fancy chancing upon a star (occasionally even A listers!), try clubs like Bouji’s, Chinawhite’s, or the Groucho Club.
90. Forget your run-of-the-mill court drama on primetime TV - stop by the Central Criminal Court, aka. Old Bailey, and watch the real thing in live action. Rebuilt in 1674 after the first one was burned down in the Great Fire, it is one of the most recognisable courthouses in the world.
91. Scare yourself silly at the London Dungeon, near London Bridge station. A sort of ‘haunted house’ type attraction, it recreates macabre events from London’s history and displays torture methods that were popular in the past. The only place where you can find Sweeney Todd, Jack the Ripper and the bubonic plague all under one roof.
92. Catch some of today’s most popular or up-and-coming bands at one of London’s fantastic live-music venues – the Brixton Academy, Astoria, Shepherd’s Bush Empire just to name a few. All smaller venues, you will get a much better vibe and view at the gig than at any stadium hands down.
93. No doubt you’ve read the Da Vinci Code, or at least seen the movie. See the 12th century Temple Church, built by the Knights Templar, which featured so prominent in the story’s plot.
94. Watch an open air play at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, a modern reconstruction of William Shakespeare’s original London amphitheatre, which burned downed in 1613.
95. Saunter around the Carnaby Street area, and have a look at the many different shops, boutiques, and bars. While very little remains that is reminiscent of the times when this was hippest place to go - the Swinging Sixties – there is still a good atmosphere and great shopping to be done!
96. Take the District Line down to Wimbledon– home to the oldest tennis tournament in the world - to have a tour of the grounds or visit the museum.
97. Visit one of the Magnificent Seven Victorian cemeteries - Kensal Green, West Norwood, Highgate, Abney Park, Nunhead, Brompton, and Tower Hamlets. In these eerie but serene spots, you will find gothic tombs, Victorian mausoleums, grade 1 listed buildings, and according to some – the Highgate Vampire.
98. If vampirism is not your thing, then try the Archipelago Restaurant in Soho, whose specialties include kangaroo, crocodile, or peacock. Still not to your palate? Then maybe your should go for the zebra, wildebeest or frog’s legs instead…
99. Or just go for a pint at London’s oldest pub (arguably) – Lamb & Flag (Rose St., WC2) which has been licensed since 1623. Okay, at this stage in the list you may be noticing a theme here, but I can’t help it. The British like to drink and when in Rome (or London) as they say… Whatever you do afterwards, make sure to find the busiest Kebabish (shop selling Turkish kebabs, similar to Donairs) and scoff one with hot sauce and garlic mayo. The perfect hangover prevention (or well, it helps anyway).
Well there you have it, the exhaustive list. Of course there are many more hidden treasures and fabulous things to do in London, but these 99 will be more than enough to get you started. I hope it comes in useful, and more to the point, that you fall in love with London, however you choose to do it!