Visiting London any time soon? You'll be busy beavering away looking for the best attractions the nation's capital has to offer, no doubt.
You've got your work cut out, especially if you plan to work through the thousands of suggestions on TripAdvisor.
If you're a seasoned visitor then you'll already have a good idea of what's hot and what's not. But if you've never visited London before, you'll want to make sure you see the highlights. There's no shying away from them, the city's main tourist attractions are a must for first-time visitors.
After checking-into your hotel, here's what I'd suggest checking out on your first visit.
The London Eye
Since it was built in 1999, the world famous London Eye has had over 49 million visitors. If you haven’t been one of them (or even if you have), then one of the London Eye experience days will be the perfect outing for you. Combine riding on the London Eye with a variety of exciting, romantic, or downright daring activities that will leave you with great memories, great photos, and a great appreciation of the City of London itself – from 135 metres in the air, there is a lot to see.
Riding the London Eye has become one of the must do activities for tourists and locals alike, and now you or a loved one can have the chance to get on board for the flight of your life. Step into the special capsule and you'll love the way it gracefully rises from the ground and gently rotates, giving you the chance to see everything. On a clear day, that's nearly a 25 mile view!
Food for thought:Combine a flight on the Eye with a classic British afternoon tea.
The Shard, the epic and instantly recognisable new London landmark that rises above all of its neighbours in a fabulous glass tower of light and beauty, is the product of 10 years’ worth of designing and discussions. Renzo Piano’s wonderful architectural design stretches high into the sky, and from its great position near London Bridge, it is easy to access and stunning to see.
It’s likely you have seen it from the outside, perhaps on a postcard, on the TV, or even from a train window, but have you ventured inside The Shard yet? Because you can. There’s a lot to see, including office space, restaurants, apartments, and even a hotel.
With the View from The Shard experience day, you can go right to the top and experience something that most people won’t ever get to do; you’ll see possibly the best view in London – after all, The Shard is the tallest building in Western Europe! Take the incredible and really rather clever lift (with two different speed settings) up to the 72nd floor, and on the way you’ll be able to enjoy the view since the lift is glass, just like the rest of the building.
Once you’ve reached the top, you’ll be able to see as much as 40 miles in all directions, with a 360 degree of the city.
Try this one:Pair a visit to The Shard with an afternoon tea experience at the 5* Luxury Shangri-La Hotel. Head up to floor 72 for the views and down to the GONG Bar on the 52nd floor of this expensive-but-swanky London hotel for the afternoon tea experience.
Freefall Abseiling at ArcelorMittal Orbit
There are many great memories from the London 2012 Olympic Games. One was when the country breathed a collective sigh of relief when Danny Boyle pulled off an opening ceremony to remember. Another was the collection of fantastic new buildings in and around Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, London. The weirdest looking installation is the 114½-metre-tall, bright red, ArcelorMittal Orbit.
Part-public-art and part-attraction, this tower offers two distinct experiences. The first is the opportunity to view the entire Olympic Park from two observation platforms. Expect stunning views, especially on a clear day.
A top choice:See the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park from the observation tower.
But if you're visiting the tower, you'll really want to ride the slide. The what, you cry? In 2016, what's dubbed the world's tallest and longest tunnel slide was installed. Now you can fly down a 178-metre slide and feel like a big kid again.
Try this for size:Slide down the slide at the ArcelorMittal Orbit like a big kid!
If that all sounds a bit tame, try abseiling from the tower instead. Just make sure you've got a head for heights! From an 80-metre-high platform you'll freefall abseil, touching only the ground when you get there. It's scary and a real adrenaline rush.
Try this one:Take the leap from the ArcelorMittal Orbit and descend 80 metres in a chilling experience.
Join a sightseeing tour of London
Seek out London's best kept secrets on a tour of the city. Opt to travel by bus or on foot to learn about the fascinating history of the nation's capital, or head skywards to get the best views of the city.
There's a lot you can do on a bus. Not convinced? It’s true! Bus enthusiasts the world over will tell you that there is a lot more to buses than just being a mode of public transport – they are fun, interesting, and they can double up as an adventurous day out too! Just add a bit of excitement, and a bit of something unique to your bus journey, and all of a sudden, you’ve got the City Sightseeing Bus Tour – ideal for those who enjoy getting out and seeing the sights!
If you’re a Beatles fan (who isn’t?), then the Ticket To Ride Bus Tour will be right up your Abbey Road. This two and a half hour evening tour around London includes over thirty-five different Beatles’ themed stops and sights, such as Paul’s house, and the Abbey Road studios. It’s all there for you, along with information and anecdotes!
If music in general is your love (as well as buses, of course), then you can experience the Rock ‘n’ Roll Legends tour! You’ll get to see some of the Beatles’ sights, but you’ll also be able to enjoy the places made famous by The Sex Pistols, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, and so many more. This is a truly magnificent experience day for those who have music in their souls. And you get to travel by bus with a knowledgeable tour guide – a definite bonus!
Food for thought:Grab a ticket to ride the magical mystery tour bus. Perfect for Beatles fans of all ages.
Getting out and about and exploring the places in which we live (or those new to us) is exciting and exhilarating, and when we could do it on foot, making the most of what’s around us, then it is even better. No peering through car windows, or buying expensive train tickets; walking is the ultimate way in which to enjoy the world at large, and everything in it.
Food and drink, for example. There are numerous walking tour experiences that will take you around the most wonderful, interesting, and taste bud tempting areas of the city, no matter what you are into. There’s the chocolate walking tour, a Covent Garden gastro tour, a tour of Borough Market, and many more.
Food for thought:Explore the food scene in Covent Garden with Celia Brooks. She'll navigate beyond the tourist traps and show you the best eateries.
Perhaps you prefer a nice sit down whilst eating. Well, a Soho or Mayfair restaurant tour could be just the activity for you. Have your starter in one fine restaurant, your main course in another, and dessert and cocktails in a third! Or perhaps skip the meal completely, and take part in a walking pub tour! During this tour you will be shown some of the oldest, the most well known, and the hidden gems of pubs throughout London, stopping in at least 4 (but usually more) in order to have a well deserved drink!
Which reminds me… did Jack the Ripper frequent any notorious ale houses during his murderous Victorian rampage? That’s just one of the questions that could be answered if you were to take a Jack the Ripper walking tour. Travel back in time to 1888, when all of London was on edge. Just who was Jack the Ripper? Where would he strike next? Follow the murder’s path of destruction, and learn as much as we know about the man who was never caught…
Try this for size:Join an expert tour guide and investigate the background of the famous Whitechapel murders. This takes place in the evening because, you know, the tour wasn't scary enough!
Not content with pounding the streets of London? Climb above it all on an experience that will take you atop the O2 Arena. The O2 is a fantastic music and live show venue in Greenwich – it's huge, and it hosts events throughout the year, and entertains millions of visitors. Now you can take the opportunity to climb to the top, to experience the extraordinary views of the Thames, of London, or the unforgettable, unmistakeable skyline. You'll be able to spot the Greenwich Observatory, Tower Bridge, and the Shard amongst other landmarks.
Food for thought:Head up The O2 and enjoy a three course meal and wine at Frankie and Benny's.
For a bird's eye view, book a London helicopter sightseeing tour. See London and its famous sights from above.
Believe it or not, there's a world of fun hidden beneath London's streets. Take part in a quiz that uses the London Underground Tube network to get around, seeing London's subterranean sights along the way.
Starting at Green Park tube station, you'll receive a treasure hunting pack and be split into teams of between two and six people. Take on intellectual and physical challenges along the way. Place 1st to 4th to win a prize.
A great idea:Head out on a treasure hunt with a mate on the London Underground.
Warner Bros. Studio Tour London
Enter the wonderful world of wands and wizardry in the Warner Brothers The Making of Harry Potter studio tour. Find out where the magic really happens as you wander around the intricate sets, taking in the fabulous costumes and famous props as well as a few never revealed to cinemagoers - until now. Enjoy a behind-the-scenes walking tour and learn all the juicy facts, secrets and trivia that went into a decade of making these magical films. Some tours include a return journey on the Double Decker bus, and you can also round off the experience with a tasty afternoon tea, lunch or dinner. What better way to celebrate this very British day out?
Muggle by day, wizard by night? Then this studio tour will be right up your street. Get a taste of the Accio action and immerse yourself in the magic of Hogwarts, where you’ll get to savour the props and trinkets of the film studios in this behind-the-scenes walking tour. You could take the return Double Decker bus journey, get up close and personal with the character’s costumes, and even throw in an afternoon tea too. This is your chance to walk into the world of Wolfsbane and Whomping Willows - so why not get into the spirit? Practise your ‘Leviosa’ charm, stupefy the bus driver or plant a hex on an unsuspecting passer-by. Whatever you do, remember the golden mantra: "I solemnly swear I am up to no good…"
Something to consider:Find out how the legendary Harry Potter movies were created, and enjoy a delicious afternoon tea experience at the nearby Mercure Hunton Park Hotel.
Enjoy dinner and a West End show
Come to the house of thrill repute and live it up in the Big Smoke with this fabulous theatre and dinner experience. It’s certainly one of the best ways to enjoy the sights and sounds of London. Whether you’re into tales of star crossed lovers, high-octane acrobatics or murder most horrid, you’re bound to find something that’s right up your street. Enjoy a two-course meal in the buzzing West End before heading over to take your seats. If you’re a sucker for the spotlight, you’ll love this fantastic entertainment package which raises the curtain on show business in all its shimmering glory.
All the world’s a stage, but no stage does it better than the West End. Come and experience the thrill of theatreland in this fabulous experience for a night of pure entertainment. Start off with a dish fit for the gods in a central restaurant, then take your seats in the beating heart of the West End for your chosen show. Will you opt for the high jinks and crashing dustbin lids of Stomp? The edge-of-your-seat 39 Steps, or the spooky Woman in Black? Whatever you’re into, this is a terrific experience that will live with you long after the final curtain has fallen.
Something to consider:If you want a wide selection of musicals to choose from, this is a great option. It includes tickets for one of around half a dozen shows, plus a three-course meal for two with a glass of wine at either Prezzo or Zizzi.
Sail on the Thames
Open-top buses are so last year. What better way to get up close and personal with the capital than cruising down the Thames? Wave to the walkers as you glide serenely down the famous meandering river, ticking off London’s key sights as you go. Take in the magnificent Tate Modern, the timeless view of St Paul’s and the sprawling Houses of Parliament. And why not add a flight on the London Eye or entry into the Tower of London too? This is how sightseeing should be done. It’s a hop on, hop off tour which gives you the utmost flexibility to spend your day any way you like.
Forget flag-waving tour guides and weary feet. Get on board this leisurely Thames cruise and take the strain out of sightseeing. Glide past some of London’s most famous landmarks and enjoy all the fun of the fair from the comfort of a river cruiser. In this hop on, hop off tour you’ll get to see the best of London without battling the crowds, all from a unique vantage point. It’s London like you’ve never seen it before - relaxed, unhurried and without a tube train in sight. Whatever floats your boat, this is one sightseeing tour that really does fit the bill.
Food for thought:This rover ticket lets you hop-on and hop-off City Cruises boats for up to 24 hours. It's sightseeing and a means to get around the city, all in one.
Dinner, lunch, or afternoon tea
Little can be more romantic than a gentle cruise along the river Thames while dining on a delicious dinner. A Thames dinner cruise is definitely an experience not to be missed, and is great for injecting some romanticism into your short break.
If you already have dinner plans, opt for the lunch cruise instead. This could be a perfect opportunity to enjoy some down time in the middle of a busy day hitting the shops or attractions.
Little escapes the afternoon tea twist, and river cruises are no different. Combine a Thames sightseeing cruise with an afternoon tea experience on the ship. It's a quintessentially British tradition in the heart of London on the River Thames.
Ride the one they call RIB and have the time of your life in this wet and wild Thames RIB cruise. Start off with a leisurely tour on the famous meandering river, snapping iconic sights and learning about London’s juicy side from your witty tour guide. Then prepare to get plastered to the back of your seat as the skipper opens up the throttle and whisks you away across the waves. You’ll have plenty of bumps, tilts and laughs as you blast from one swell to another, kicking up a storm and leaving London’s famous landmarks in your wake. Put yourself on fast spin and create fantastic memories that will live with you long after you return to shore.
See London in a new light in this wet, wild and witty excursion. With entertaining tour guides who love nothing more than good banter and bad jokes, you’ll have a raft of laughs from the RIB as you’re treated to London’s famous sights from the Thames. Then it’s time to get serious. Down the guidebooks, hide the cameras and hold on tight as the skipper takes speed to the extreme in the rowdy RIB. Be prepared to get wet, let off some steam and have an absolute blast in this awesome watery adventure. It’s the perfect way to see the city and promises plenty of fast and furious fun.
Try this for size:Like your sightseeing fast, to the point, and thrilling? This nippy RIB tour on the Thames ticks all the boxes.
A bus that thinks it's a boat
If you get the chance, take a Duck Tour of London. 'Seas' the day and get on board this quirky amphibious vehicle for the ultimate road and river adventure. It's London like you've never seen it before: from a historic WWII landing craft that tackles the city streets before making a splash in the River Thames. Enjoy a vroom with a view in this barmy 'duck tour' where you'll see all the famous sights and discover the juicy side of London in a fun-filled expedition, complete with cheerful guides who know all there is to know about the Big Smoke. You'll be qwackers to miss it!
First you'll travel by road, passing all the main sights such as Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace and The Ritz. Then the vehicle will drive straight into the River Thames where it transforms effortlessly from bus to boat. You'll see many more famous sights from the water before emerging back onto the city streets and returning to your starting point (normally the London Eye).
Escape London for the day
London is hectic. It's buzzing. It's full-on and it's non-stop. If you're planning a short break to the city but want to plan something different in the middle of your trip, consider a day-trip to Paris. Eurostar's service from St Pancras International Station means it's easy to hop across to Paris for lunch and be back in London in time for a West End show.