In 2016, London hit a big first-time tourism mark -- 19 million visitors in a single calendar year. It’s clear travelers are flocking to the capital city and are looking for things to do. We’ve compiled a list of amazing experiences in London that you just can’t miss. From touristy tours to attractions that are a bit more under-the-radar, our list will provide travelers with a diverse and engaging trip to London.
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1. Tour Buckingham Palace.
Buckingham Palace has been the home of the monarchy of the United Kingdom since 1837, and today, it still houses the Queen. Tours are only available in the summer, and they include exploring the lavish State Rooms, which house prized artwork by artists like Rembrandt. To see the Queen’s Gallery and the Royal Mews, you’ll have to pay a little more, but it’s worth it. As there are limited tickets, be sure to book in advance, as you don’t want to miss a chance to visit this palace, and maybe even glimpse the Queen!
2. Dive into the magical world of Harry Potter.
With more than 400 million Harry Potter books sold worldwide, it’s no wonder that London, which played a key role in the books, has become a hot spot for Harry Potter enthusiasts. Warner Bros. has a studio tour called “The Making of Harry Potter” that takes guests through some of the films' iconic sets. There are also walking tours that highlight spots in London used in the films, as well as places that inspired J.K. Rowling. Don’t forget to head to King’s Cross station to take a picture at Platform 9 ¾. And to top it off you can stay at the Georgian House, a bed-and-breakfast in London with a Harry Potter-themed room.
3. Ride the London Eye.
Set on the South Bank of the Thames is the London Eye, a 443-foot high and 394-foot wide Ferris wheel. It provides some of the best views of London and has been included in many popular films over the years. On average, the London Eye receives more visitors per year than the Taj Mahal and can hold 800 people on each rotation in the 32 capsules (which are representative of the 32 London boroughs). For a bit of an upgrade, you can enjoy champagne, chocolate, or wine as you take in the London cityscape from high above.
4. Take a boat ride in Little Venice.
Did you know that London is home to a canal system? Many people don’t! There's a neighborhood known as Little Venice, a tranquil area home to canals and waterways that are lined with cafes and pubs, and visitors can tour it via boat. You can also take a 45-minute boat ride from Little Venice to Camden Market via Regent's Canal.
5. Witness the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London.
Visiting the Tower of London during the day is fine and all, but we suggest taking the opportunity to visit it at night to witness the Ceremony of the Keys. For 700 years, the Yeomen Warders have conducted a nightly gate closing ritual that is spectacular to see -- not a day has been missed during that entire time. Only 40 to 50 people are admitted to watch this wonderful London tradition each night. While the Tower of London is no longer home to the monarchs, this ceremony is important to the country, as the tower still holds the Crown Jewels, among other important items to British history. Take note that tickets are free, but should be booked in advance, as they are often hard to come by.
6. Shop like a Londoner.
Shopping in London is an amazing experience, and we're not talking about the souvenir shops. London is home to popular shopping areas and markets that have made their way into popular culture and literature over the centuries. Portobello Road Market has been around since the 1800s and today offers an eclectic mix of food stands and antiques peddlers. Camden Market is famous for having more than 100 shops and stalls filled with food, art, and clothing. You might recognize the Covent Garden neighborhood from many films: Restaurants and specialty shops are quite popular here. And we mustn’t leave out Savile Row, home to some of Britain's finest tailors, which is still thriving today.
7. Try to solve an infamous serial killing spree.
London is filled with spooky stories and legends, but perhaps none more eerie than the case of Jack the Ripper. Delve into London’s murderous past with a bone-chilling Jack the Ripper walking tour. It begins at night and follows the path of Victorian police as they hunt one of the world’s most infamous serial killers in the East End. The murders were never solved, and the serial killer never caught.
8. Whisper at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
St. Paul’s Cathedral is often on many travelers’ lists of places to visit in London. The Anglican Church is the seat of the Bishop of London and features a beautiful dome and lovely interiors. However, there’s more reasons to visit St. Paul’s Cathedral than just to learn about its history or admire the amazing work of art inside and out. Climb 259 steps into the dome to the Whispering Gallery for a neat experience. Stand on one side of the gallery and whisper something. You’ll be amazed to discover that it can clearly be heard 98 feet away on the other side. Cool, right?
9. Have a pint and cheers to literary greats.
There’s no denying that the U.K. has produced some literary geniuses, and that London has attracted many of them over the years. A trip to London wouldn’t be complete without visiting some of London’s oldest pubs, many of which were frequented by these authors. Grab a pint at The Dove, which dates back to the 1730s and once hosted such writers as Ernest Hemingway and Graham Greene. Or make a trip to The French House, which differs from other pubs in that wine and champagne reign here, not to mention its no technology rule -- so keep your phone in your pocket and imagine what went on in the minds of Francis Bacon, Charles De Gaulle, and Dylan Thomas as they sat in the pub drinking. Last, but not least, don’t leave The Spaniards Inn off your list. It was established in 1585 and made famous by Charles Dickens’ “The Pickwick Papers,” and it is also known as the spot where John Keats produced “Ode to a Nightingale.”
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