One of the most visited cities on the planet, London has a to-do list for travellers that's as long as its storied history. The UK capital never stands still, bursting at the seams with innovative modern art galleries, world-renowned museums, expansive parks and huge theatre and nightlife districts that promise to keep you up from dawn to well past dark. But London also wears its past with pride, and there's something to see in every corner of the city. Here are the top things to do in London.
Explore World History at the British Museum
The unmissable British Museum houses an enormous legendary collection of artefacts from all corners of the globe, including the remarkable Rosetta Stone and a whole host of mummies from ancient Egypt. Opened in 1759, the museum is one of the oldest in the world, and today it's among the most-visited tourist attractions in the entire country, with close to six million visitors a year. Best of all, admission is free (you just have to pay for special exhibitions). The site is divided by civilisation and geography (Ancient Egypt, Europe, Americas, etc.), making it easy to navigate and prioritise - just know that you'll never get through it all in a single visit.
See a Show at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre
Although Shakespeare himself never saw this theatre, the Globe is as authentic as can be, painstakingly researched and rebuilt from huge timber beams, thatch, plaster and, er, goat hair in 1997. The middle section of the theatre is open-air, meaning that as a 'groundling' with a standing room-only ticket, which costs just £5, you get a front-and-centre vantage point - but you're also at the mercy of London's weather. Even if you're not into Shakespearean theatre, there's a diverse programme of performances showing throughout the year.
Visit Iconic Westminster Abbey
Still a working church, Westminster Abbey has been the nation's stage for celebrations and commiserations for nearly 1,000 years, from the coronation of William the Conqueror in 1066 to the location of William and Kate's royal wedding in 2011. Thousands of famous names have been buried below Westminster Abbey's floors, including famous monarchs, poets, scientists and politicians. The imposing Gothic facade dates from the 13th century, and the abbey's interior houses a forest of sky-high pillars surrounded by spellbinding chapels and ancient tombs. Take a tour of the abbey and you're taking a tour of British history right in the heart of London.
Tour the Houses of Parliament and Stop for Afternoon Tea
The grand Gothic-style Houses of Parliament are the epicentre of British democracy, where the House of Commons and the House of Lords debate the country's policies. The building stretches out along the shore next to the River Thames, one side bookended by the 96m-high Elizabeth Tower, better known as Big Ben (incorrectly - Big Ben is the bell). Prepare to be dazzled by the sumptuous interiors, tinted green or red depending on whether the area is designated for the Lords or the MPs. Visitors can even enjoy afternoon tea overlooking the river.
Get inside the Tower of London
Constructed in the 1070s, the Tower of London has worn many hats over the course of its lengthy history, from a palace fit for royalty to a grisly prison where King Henry VIII's second and fifth wives were famously beheaded. The Crown Jewels are still kept in the compound, visible to visitors during the day and then locked up tight during a nightly ceremony that has never once been cancelled in its 700 years. Don't miss a tour with the jolly, spiffily dressed Yeomen Warders, better known as Beefeaters, who guard the property and still live on site.
Walk around Hyde Park
Hyde Park is central London's largest green space, and there's enough paths and space to wander for hours. Rent a paddle boat and drift along next to swans on the Serpentine lake, or let the kids play and cool off in the waters of the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. Londoners ride bikes around the park's perimeter and even horses on the dirt trails. Hyde Park has enough space to fit it all in, and it hosts events all year round, from big-name music festivals in summer to the joyful Christmas markets of Winter Wonderland.
Ride a Boat down the River Thames
One of the most novel ways to get around London is to take a boat straight through the city's heart along the River Thames, chugging past landmark after landmark with a primo vantage point. Sightseeing boats ply the river between Westminster and Tower Bridge to take in the main sights, but others extend even further to the wonderful museum district in Greenwich in the east and out to Hampton Court Palace in the west.
Climb to the Top of St Paul's Cathedral
An icon of London's urban fabric, St Paul's Cathedral has stood as a symbol of the city's resilience for centuries. The current structure was designed by beloved architect Sir Christopher Wren, but a place of worship has been located on this site since the 7th century. The majesty of St Paul's is impressive from ground level, but what will take your breath away are the views from the upper galleries inside the towering dome, and of course the few hundred stairs required to get there. So precious is this building to London that views of it are protected by law, ensuring that it remains visible from lookouts around the city, despite the ever-crowded skyline.
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