A Carefully Curated Guide to the Best London Points of Interest for Your Itinerary
For first-time travelers and old-time lovers of the city, London is a diverse, thriving metropolis steeped in culture, history, and modernity. Before you hit the streets, make sure you've got an itinerary that includes these London points of interest, which span from the popular and must-do sites like Tower Bridge to the lesser known hidden gems like Strawberry Hill, Two Temple Palace, and a secret spot that offers the best up-close-and-personal view of St. Paul's Cathedral (without the crazy crowds). Onward, traveler: these interesting sights in London cannot be missed.
The official residences of the royal family are something of a pilgrimage for anyone who wants to say they've visited major London points of interest. Its prominence is not the only reason why it's the first on our list: The palace interiors, its 775 rooms, including the beautiful State Rooms, coupled with its grounds and guided tours can easily take any entire afternoon, if not the whole day. This is especially true if you wait for the changing of the guards ceremony.
Once you've toured the entirety of its interiors, including the stunning Queen's Gallery, an opulent room decorated in a glowing red and alive with art, head to the garden. The largest private garden in London, its 40 acres house a helipad, a lake, and a tennis court. The Royal Mews are adjacent the palace and also warrant a visit. When heading back to the palace, consider using The Mall, a route that was previously used for cavalcades and motorcades of the visiting heads of state. It runs from Admiralty Arch, across St James's Park to the Victoria Memorial.
Perched magnificently atop the River Thames, Tower Bridge has become a veritable symbol for the city. No list of London points of interest could be complete without the modern-day experience this iconic and historic attraction offers visitors. Built first in 1886 and finally complete in 1894, the entire construction is made of two bridge towers bound by two horizontal walkways at their peaks. It also includes a suspension bridge, which has a bridge deck used by vehicles and pedestrians alike. The Tower Bridge Exhibition, however, focuses on these two upper-level walkways - and what an experience it is.
The Exhbition features the original steam engines that historically powered the bridge's bascules. From here, visitors enter from the west side of the bridge deck, heading to the northern tower and then take an elevator to level 4, finally crossing the famed and much-anticipated walkways. The walkways, with their glass encasing and floors, allow visitors a stunning panoramic view of the city London, along with what's directly below them
The London Eye
If a giant Ferris wheel - think, 443 feet tall and 394 feet wide - on the South Bank of the River Thames seems like it would be a ridiculous eyesore, think again. If Tower Bridge hearkens London's beginnings and historical significance, the London Eye is its modern day symbol. The London Eye, like the massive pyramid at the Louvre, was touted as a monstrosity by some, but after its opening in 2000 became a much-beloved attraction by locals and visitors alike. London points of interest like the Eye freshen the city's image and allow travelers as well as residents a new perspective on an old but thriving city.
Even with its 32 pods offering a holding capacity of up to 25 people you may have to wait, so expect a line when you do arrive. While there is plenty of seating inside each pod, you're free to get up and roam, getting a 360-degree view of the city. The wheel takes its sweet time, moving at a speed of 10 inches per second, allowing you to bask for a full 30 minutes aboard. Helpful tip: if you can wrangle it, this London points of interest is best viewed at twilight.
One of the four Royal Parks that comprise London points of interest, Hyde Park has a rich history in public as well as private life. While plenty of park-goers come for the ambiance, the natural setting and the great activities, the park continues to be used as a grounds for free speeches and demonstrations - to the point where it has a designated "Speaker's Corner."
Today, however, it's more popular for its free outdoor music concerts that dominate the list of interesting things to do in London during the summertime and lush grounds that offer park activities. Besides the sculptures and memorials within its grounds, Hyde Park also features several football pitches and even a tennis court. Don't be surprised if you see equestrians alongside cyclists, as horse-riding is alive and well in the park.
Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square
Okay, Piccadilly Circus is not really a circus. But Leicester Square really is a square. These London points of interest are a hub for many more activities. Piccadilly Circus is an open public space in the shape of a circle, located in London's west end. Together, these London points of interest draw crowds much like Times Square in New York City. Bright lights, big screens, tons of people and many more pigeons keep this public space alive 24/7. It links directly to Leicester Square, where, rain or shine, you'll see major stars premiering their movies.
The "Circus" is essentially a plaza which connects to Trafalgar Square, Shaftesbury Avenue, the Haymarket, Coventry Street, and other major shopping and entertainment areas in the west end. Piccadilly is also surrounded by major buildings like the London Pavilion and Criterion Theatre.
Hampton Court Palace
Nestled in the borough of Richmond-upon-Thames are the beautiful Royal Palaces of Hampton Court. As far as regal London points of interest go, this space rivals Buckingham. It was opened in 1514, when Henry VIII reigned, though it was for Cardinal Thomas Wolsey rather than a monarch. In those days, however, monarchy and the church rested at the same level, if not one superseding the other, so Hampton Court Palace is as resplendent a residence as they come.
Just like London points of interest such as Buckingham, Hampton Court Palace offers tours of the interior as well as the exterior and one could easily spend an entire day exploring both. The beautiful interiors include such rooms as the Queen's Mary II's bedchamber, complete with an ornate and intricate ceiling mural and the King's Guard Chamber, which features a number of armament items such as muskets, pistols, swords and daggers. When you're ready to head outside, you'll want to take in the "King's Beasts", a collection of 10 "heraldic" animals that stand in line at the moat leading to the gatehouse, the elegant stained glass windows of the Great Watching Chamber in the Chapel Royal, the famous maze, tennis courts, and the largest grapevine in the world.
Up at The O2
Bring on the adrenaline-pumping London points of interest! For 90 minutes, you'll get to undertake a guided expedition, which is essentially a roofwalk" suspended nearly 7 feet above the actual roof of the O2. The domed walk, running 1247 feet long and hovering a breathtaking 170 feet above ground level, comes with its own set of challenges - you know, besides the whole, "I'm on the top of a roof!" thing: the walkway, at its steepest point, has an incline of 28 degrees going up and 30 degrees heading back down. Oh, and here's the best part (as if none of this was enough): it has a slight "bounce" to mirror the surface of a tent. These kinds of London points of interest will make you realize adventures in this city are par for the course.
Connected to another of our places of interest in London, Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens are one of the royal parks in the city. Once a private green of 270 acres for Kensington Palace, the park is today publicly accessible and a serene, picturesque place to settle down for a nap, take a stroll, and view its gorgeous flora or stroll by the Long Water looking across to the majestic Kensington Palace.
London points of interest like Kensington Gardens give visitors a chance to see the evolution and progress of British history. Its vast, rolling grounds are decked with such landmarks as the Italian Garden fountains, The Serpentine Bridge, sculptures such as "Physical Energy" by G. F. Watts, the Albert memorial and the Peter Pan statue. For an added hidden gem to these London points of interest, check out the Kyoto Gardens in Holland Park, within the Kensington borough.
Viewing the Shard
A major theme of these London points of interest is not only experiences but also views: how to view the city and from where. So far, we have Tower Bridge and the (in)famous Eye. But the view atop the Shard is an entirely new way to view London. The journey through the Shard begins on Joiner Street near London Bridge Station. Within its lobby are several interactive and animated maps and video screens that detail the historical context of the U.K.'s tallest building at 1017 feet (and Europe's fourth tallest).
The elevators that shuttle visitors up its dizzying 69 floors is a whirlwind experience in itself, traveling at a speed of travels at a speed of 20 feet per minute. While the building itself comprises 95 stories, the first of the two viewing decks is on the 69th floor while the second is on the 72nd level. Once you've cruised the indoor viewing platform and checked out the outdoor gallery on the 72nd floor, check out the The Sky Boutique on the 68th floor.
Two Temple Place
Right by the Somerset House and only recently opened as a gallery, the interiors of this tucked-away mansion are as notable and majestic as its exterior. Yet, this unique spot is often missed for other London points of interest. Time to shine a spotlight on its carefully curated public art collection from various private collectors, its stunning chandeliers, large and cavernous ceilings, and incredibly detailed wall carvings.
Not for nothing, this was once the house of the richest man in the world, William Waldorf Astor, of Waldorf Astoria fame in New York City. It's that same level of detail, opulence, rich use of tapestry, carpeting, and heavy wood that today commands such a grand atmosphere within the residence. These are the London points of interest that reflect a connection between the "Old World" and the "New World."
Shakespeare's Globe Theatre
For a little drama, history and theatricality injected into your list of London points of interest, your next stop has to be Shakespeare's Globe, a reconstruction of the original Elizabethan Globe Theatre, destroyed in 1644. It reopened in 1997, with a pioneering production of Henry V, accommodating 1400 visitors, down from its original 3000 person capacity.
Don't let this deter you, however: viewing a Shakespearean production at the Globe is like experiencing the playwright's art the way it was intended. The galleries, stage, and large skylight overhead give the Globe the feeling of a Roman ampitheatre rather than an enclosed space. When you're done, make The Sackler Studios your next destination on your list of London points of interest, as this educational space acts as a rehearsal studio complex and includes on "the bard's" life and work.
BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir
If you thought that majesty, opulence and regal design was reserved for London points of interest like Buckingham and Hampton Court Palace, the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir will have you reconsidering. Owing to its Raj of India, there's a strong Indian - and specifically Hindu - population within the city which greatly influences its arts, culture, and diversity.
This stunning temple is like something out of northern India, with its whitewashed facade, intricate stone carvings, detailed woodwork, shining spires and incredible displays of art, architecture and shrines within. The "mandir" - Hindi for "temple" - rests apart from the rest of the "haveli" (mansion) and features a large-scale gymnasium, assembly hall, and souvenir shop.
Strawberry Hill House
This red herring of a white elephant palace makes this list of London points of interest partially for just how easy it is to miss. Tucked away in the London borough of Twickenham-upon-Thames, the interior of the house is as ornate and red as the outside is Gotchic and stark white. Designed and worked upon between 1748 and 1790, it's no wonder this mansion is a hidden gem: it was intended as a summer villa for the first British Prime Minister's son. Clearly the family (or the lad) demonstrated an eccentric taste for the theatrics because each room is slightly different and eclectic in style.
While you're delightedly standing on the GMT Meridian Line at the Royal Observatory, you may like to know that there are a few other London points of interest in Greenwich worth visiting. Of these, don't miss the Queen's house, yet another royal residence with a foreign twist: this particularly austere and classically-designed residence was commissioned by Queen Anne of Denmark. While its gorgeous gardens and beautiful exteriors are as beautiful up-close as from a distance, its the intricate work within that is a jewel to behold. Particularly notable are the famous Tulip Stairs, the first centrally unsupported helical stairs that are both a design and engineering marvel.
What's crazy about many London points of interest like Strawberry Hill and now the Banqueting House at Whitehall is the fact that you can rent these historic spaces out for private ceremonies or as a special venue. Not that you might want to, however: this was the site of the execution of King Charles I and the only piece that survives of the original Palace of Whitehall.
Perhaps, however, simply viewing London points of interest is enough for you. In this case, go ahead and check out the standard opulence you may have come to expect of British palaces - but don't miss Banqueting Houses's piece-de-resistance, the painted ceiling by the great master Peter Paul Rubens.
Maltby Street Market
London points of interest are chock-a-block full of markets and it's hard to pick just one (Borough Market, anyone?). And, yet, the Maltby Street Market is a lesser-known but even-better-loved-by-locals street market. Venture here on a lovely Saturday morning and you'll see everyone out and about, browsing through the various, open-air food stalls, pop-up bars, cute little sidewalk coffee shops and impromptu seating. Helpful tip: do not leave without trying St. John's doughnuts!
One New Change
Did you think that any list of London points of interest could be complete without spectacular shopping and eats? You can find both of these, tons of creature comforts, and cocktails at One New Change. Besides its restaurants and cafés, the rooftop terrace of One New Change is the one spot in the city that offers the best views of St. Paul's Cathedral from up on high - sans the crazy crowds and all the beautiful breezes.
Houseboats, trees and a charming little canal close to Camden and Regent's Park complete the image and atmosphere that is Little Venice. Of all the London points of interest, this is the one that makes ample use of the waterside (besides the Thames Walk, of course), with various restaurants, shops and cafes lining its watery banks.
The Little Yellow Door
Looking for a weird, secret-society, skull-and-bones, password-only kind of spot for your list of London points of interest? Then head to this creative and eclectic Notting Hill pop-up on either Wednesday or Thursday for some great music, Mexican eats, and funky furnishings. In the summer, you'll be able to enjoy its indoor outdoor garden and, make no mistake, the Little Yellow Door attracts the weirdest and best guests in the city. You'll find them with their feet up on a deck-chair, sipping a cocktail. Strike up a conversation and get in touch with the locals of London!