Things to Do in London
One of London’s most atmospheric Victorian shopping arcades, Leadenhall Market has a history dating back to the 14th century, making it one of the capital’s oldest covered markets. Restored in the early 90s, the majority of Leadenhall’s current design dates back to 1881 and is the work of architect Sir Horace Hones - a striking mix of Portland stone pillars, gabled red brick entryways and exquisite paintwork, capped with dramatic glass and iron vaulted ceilings.
Today, Leadenhall hosts a small meat and fresh produce market during the week, but is best known for the many shops, cafes and restaurants that line its cobbled lanes, as well as making a popular stop for fans of the Harry Potter films – the distinctive arcade was famously immortalized on screen as Diagon Alley in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
Today one of the largest wholesale meat markets in all of Europe, Smithfield Market has been buying and selling meat and poultry for over 800 years. Also known as London Central Markets, this is the largest historic market still standing in the City of London.
Early risers can still witness some of Britain’s finest meats being hand-picked by London restaurateurs, or purchase their own meats, poultry, olive oils and cheese. The structure itself is known for its bright colors and Victorian architecture, and many visitors combine their visit to the market with a stop at one of the trendy Farringdon-area restaurants.
If you only visit one store in London, make it Harrods. Established in 1834, it's now world-famous with good reason. It's a place to explore and be amazed by, more than just a department store. With seven floors of retail, the garish Egyptian escalator, sometimes a live opera singer performing in the stairway, memorials to Princess Diana and the renowned Food Hall, you'll be lost in Harrods for hours.
In fact it's such an iconic part of London, it even has its own range of souvenirs! Harrods also has a wonderful specialized range of tea, designer fashions, luxury accessories, cosmetics, furniture, books, and a number of tea rooms and restaurants in which to regain your strength.
Kings Cross was named after a monument for King George IV but the area was settled much, much earlier. St Pancras old church originated in 4BC. These days it's most famous for its train station: Kings Cross/St Pancras. From here trains go all over England, including to Hogwarts if you can find Harry Potter's Platform 9 3/4. It's also home to Eurostar, which whisks you to Paris and Brussels.
The surrounding area is slowly edging its way out of being one of the seediest parts of London. The magnificent St Pancras building is coming back to life as a posh hotel, the British Library is just down the road, and of course, the station redevelopment is full of shops and restaurants.
Running from Regent’s Park at the north end all the way to Oxford Street at the south end, Baker Street is one of Marylebone’s main thoroughfares, but for fans of Sherlock Holmes, it’s much more than just a shopping destination! Immortalized by author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as the home of fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, Baker Street has now become one of the most famous addresses in London literature.
Fans should make a beeline for 221b Baker Street, the detective’s fictional home – a grand Georgian townhouse, which now houses the Sherlock Holmes Museum. Next door, you can shop for souvenirs in the official Sherlock Holmes gift shop, then pose for photos with the nearby Sherlock Holmes Statue.
Few London addresses are as famous as 10 Downing Street, a Grade I listed Georgian townhouse and the official residence and office of the British Prime Minister since 1735. Centuries of government meetings, important decisions and more than a few scandals have taken place behind the property’s iconic black door (which can be opened only from the inside and even the Prime Minister is not given a key) and former residents have included everyone from Winston Churchill to Margaret Thatcher to Tony Blair.
For security reasons, access to Downing Street is limited to government officials only and visitors can do little more than peek through the police patrolled iron gates, but it’s still a popular inclusion on visitor’s itineraries, and there’s always the chance of spotting the Prime Minister himself. Those wanting to get a closer look can follow the video tour on the Downing Street website or, if you’re lucky, join one of the Open House London tours.
It might be the grand centerpiece of the Southbank Centre, Central London’s renowned cultural hub, and among the capital’s most famous classical music venues, but the Royal Festival Hall is also an impressive landmark in its own right. Located in a Grade-I listing building on the banks of the River Thames, the concert hall first opened its doors in 1951 during the Festival of Britain and now boasts a newly restored 2,500-seat auditorium and the lavish Clore Ballroom.
The Royal Festival Hall is best known as the home of the prestigious London Philharmonic orchestra, and the venue is used throughout the year for a host of classical music recitals, pop concerts, operas and ballets, including a number of annual music and cultural festivals.
One of London’s most celebrated royal parks, Regent’s Park was first laid out by John Nash in 1811, as a hunting ground for Henry VIII and remained a private royal retreat until 1845. Today the 410-acre public park offers welcome respite for the residents of North West London as well as housing the hugely popular London Zoo, where visitors can get up close and personal to an incredible 760 animal species.
The park’s highlights include a boating lake; the recently opened Hanover Gate treehouse playground; the Queen Mary’s Gardens, an exquisite rose garden containing over 400 varieties; and the formal Victorian William Andrews Nestfield’s Avenue Gardens. Perhaps the most famous spot is the idyllic peak of Primrose Hill, as renowned for its many celebrity residents as it is for its expansive views over London, making it one of the city’s liveliest picnic spots.
More Things to Do in London
The one-time monumental gateway to Buckingham Palace might have been moved to Hyde Park in the 1960s, but Marble Arch hasn’t lost its regal poise and it remains one of central London’s most eye-catching landmarks. Designed by architect John Nash and unveiled in 1827, the triumphal arch is a masterpiece of gleaming Carrara marble, inspired by Rome’s Arch of Constantine and featuring fluted Corinthian columns and three archways, cordoned off by bronze gates.
As well as being one of central London’s most recognizable landmarks, Marble Arch has unofficially given its name to the small area surrounding it, including an underground tube station on the central line.
A striking example of Palladian architecture with its imposing Corinthian columns and regal façade, the Mansion House makes a fitting residence for the Lord Mayor of London. The official residence and head office of the Lord Mayor since 1752, the house remains an important political center, hosting numerous civic meetings, fundraising events, receptions and dinners throughout the year.
The Mansion House is open to the public for guided tours (weekly or by appointment), allowing visitors to admire the opulent drawing rooms, peek into the Old Ballroom and marvel over the Egyptian Hall, actually designed in a classical Roman style. Highlights of a visit include the 18th-century Hallkeeper's Chair; the glittering crystal chandeliers in the Salon; and the Harold Samuel art collection, which features notable paintings and sculptures by 17th-century Dutch and Flemish artists.
Located in the district of East London, this historic neighborhood was named after a tiny chapel that crumbled during World War II. And while its unassuming name may not entice the typical traveler, this London destination is filled with history and sites that make it worth a visit.
From old-school breweries like the White Heart Brew Pub, to abandoned slaughterhouses and famous foundries (including the one that cast Big Ben!), Whitechapel is as unique as UK neighborhoods come. And while these oddities make it worth a wander, it’s former residents like the notorious murder, Jack the Ripper, and the much-stories Elephant man who put this community on the map.
Making a name for itself in the 16th-century as the center of London’s printing and publishing industry, it seemed fitting that Fleet Street would be the birthplace of London’s first daily newspaper, the Daily Courant in 1702, and the street quickly became the de facto home of the British Press. Dozens of the country’s major newspaper offices and publishing headquarters once resided on Fleet Street, including Reuters, The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Express and the Metro, and although few remain, ‘Fleet Street’ is still used by Londoners to reference the city’s press.
Fleet Street’s most notorious former resident, however, is the fictional Sweeney Todd, the ‘Demon Barber of Fleet Street’ and the villainous star of several musical productions and films, including Tim Burton’s 2007 hit. If you believe the tales, the murderous Todd owned a barber’s shop at no. 186, where his victims were killed, then baked into pies by his neighbor Mrs. Lovett.
Camden Market is actually a group of markets including Camden Lock Market, Camden Stables Market, and Camden Canal Market. It's the largest street market in the UK and has been going since the 1970s. Here you can find everything and anything from books, to clothing, to designer jewellery, CDs, food, and alternate fashions. You might even see a few famous musicians, and you'll definitely see some unique fashion statements!
Camden is a lively area full of cafes, pubs, and live music venues. Camden Market is a place to wander and follow your eyes, your ears, and your nose.
The Royal Albert Hall in London was opened in March 1871 by Queen Victoria and was named for Prince Albert. Its original purpose was to serve multiple functions as a central hall to promote the understanding and appreciation of the arts and sciences. The building hosts concerts, exhibitions, public meetings, scientific conversations, and award ceremonies. It is also registered as a charity held in trust for the nation, but it receives no funding from the government and is financially self-sufficient.
More than 350 events are held in the Hall's main auditorium each year including classical music, jazz, folk and world music, rock and pop concerts, circus, opera, dance, comedy, tennis, awards ceremonies, and film premieres. Many of the world's greatest artists have performed here, from Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, and the Beatles, to more modern acts. The Hall also hosts events of national significance such as the Royal British Legion's annual Festival of Remembrance.
Just west of London’s famous Hyde Park, the exquisite Kensington Gardens are one of London’s most historic Royal Parks, once forming the private grounds of Kensington Palace. Stretching over 275 acres, the garden’s principal features include the snaking Serpentine lake, an ornamental round pond and an idyllic Dutch garden, dating back to early 18th-century designs by Henry Wise and Charles Bridgeman.
A number of attractions are interwoven by a series of formal avenues, lined with trees and ornamental flowerbeds. A beautiful statue in tribute of Prince Albert (husband of Queen Victoria) takes center stage at the Albert Memorial, a six-meter tall Roman sculpture known as ‘The Arch’ stands proud on the north bank of the pond and the 150-year-old Italian Gardens feature a striking white marble Tazza Fountain.
Opening its doors back in 2002, the glass-fronted, semi-spherical London City Hall marked a new dawn of London’s governance, providing a sleek, modernist façade for the London Assembly. The building alone is impressive, a geometrical masterpiece designed by architect Sir Norman Foster (who also designed the nearby Gherkin) and featuring eco-friendly natural ventilation, lighting movement sensors and solar panelling, as well as a dramatic transparent spiral stairwell that dominates the interior and climbs all ten stories.
The landmark building now not only serves as the official headquarters of the Mayor of London, but as a public exhibition and meeting space, including an open-air observation deck and free Wi-Fi to all visitors.
From the awe-inspiring dinosaur skeletons to the fascinating creepy-crawlies gallery, London’s Natural History Museum is a trove of curiosities sure to impress all ages. The gigantic museum dates back to 1881 and houses some 70 million specimens, organized into four color-coded discovery zones and hundreds of interactive exhibitions.
As well as learning about human biology and evolution; marveling over fossils and rocks; and seeing a life-size model of a blue whale, visitors can experience an earthquake simulator, challenge themselves with interactive quizzes and get up close to birds, flowers and insects in the wildlife garden. Notable highlights include a huge Diplodocus skeleton and an animatronic T-Rex in the Dinosaurs Gallery; the mind-boggling taxonomy collection in the Darwin Centre; and the Human Evolution Gallery, home to the first adult Neanderthal skull ever discovered.
Portobello market is world renowned for its antiques market with over 2,000 specialist dealers and vast crowds of bargain hunters, but the two-mile long sprawl includes a plethora of other goods. Vintage clothing, local designers and handcrafted accessories make up the fashion section of the market, with an array of unique and trend-setting pieces on offer, and plenty of incognito celebrities scouring the clothing racks. Hoards of eccentric retro memorabilia, one-of-a-kind furniture and second-hand household items, a wide range of bootlegged music and vinyl and a sprawling fruit and vegetable market, make up the rest of the stalls.
The street market is open six days a week but the Saturday market (which includes the main antiques market) is the most popular and crammed with vendors. There’s plenty to keep you occupied when you’ve finished shopping too – a number of independent art galleries, vintage clothing boutiques, bars and chic cafés.
The vibrant heart of central London, Leicester Square is among the capital’s most important navigational landmarks, located at the center of the West End Theater District, on the cusp of Soho and Chinatown. Leicester Square is always buzzing with activity during the evening hours and has long been renowned as the center of the capital’s film industry, home to 5 of the city’s biggest cinemas and regularly rolling out the red carpet for star-studded European Premieres.
Recent renovated, Leicester Square remains one of the top destinations for an evening out in London, with dozens of bars, nightclubs, casinos and restaurants, including favorites like the Häagen-Dazs restaurant, M&M World, Wagamama and Pizza Hut. Also on the square is the Trocadero shopping and entertainment center, a number of ticket booths offering cut-price West End theater tickets and several of the city’s most luxury hotels.
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