London is the capital of England and the United Kingdom.The area was originally settled by early hunter gatherers around 6,000 B.C., and researchers have found evidence of Bronze Age bridges and Iron Age forts near the River Thames.
Ancient Romans founded a port and trading settlement called Londinium in 43 CE, and a few years later a bridge was constructed across the Thames to facilitate commerce and troop movements. But in 60 CE, Celtic queen Boudicca led an army to sack the city, which was burned to the ground in the first of many fires to destroy London.
The city was soon rebuilt, but burned again about 125 CE. More rebuilding occurred, and within a few generations the population exceeded 40,000 people. After the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 CE, however, the city was attacked numerous times by Vikings and other raiders, and soon London was largely abandoned.
The city’s fortunes began to change in 1065, when Westminster Abbey was established. One year later, after his victory at the Battle of Hastings, William the Conqueror was crowned King of England. During his reign, the Tower of London was built, and in 1176 a wooden London Bridge that had repeatedly burned was replaced by a bridge of stone.
As the power of the Tudor and the Stuart dynasties grew, London expanded in size and importance. By the time Henry VIII was king, the population of London was at least 100,000.
Tensions between Protestants and Catholics, however, darkened the otherwise prosperous reign of Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth I. In 1605, Catholic sympathizer Guy Fawkes tried and failed to blow up the entire British House of Parliament in the infamous Gunpowder Plot.
Real disaster struck in 1665, when London was hit by the Great Plague, which killed about 100,000 people. One year later, the city, which had swollen to about a half a million in population, mostly housed in wooden structures, was again reduced to ashes in the Great Fire of London. In the wake of that inferno, many notable buildings were constructed, including Buckingham Palace and St. Paul’s Cathedral.
The Bank of England was founded in 1694 and was first governed by Huguenot John Houblon, who helped turn London into an international financial powerhouse. By 1840, the city had swollen to 2 million people, often crowded into unsanitary hovels, which helped create epidemics of cholera and other diseases.
During the reign of Queen Victoria, London was well established as the prestigious seat of the vast British Empire, and while Big Ben rose above the city in 1859, the London Underground opened in 1863 as the world’s first subterranean railway. But in the shadows of the great metropolis, Jack the Ripper stalked the city’s women in 1888, killing at least five in one of history’s most notorious murder sprees.
Air raids caused about 2,300 casualties in London in World War I, and during the Battle of Britain in World War II, the city was bombed relentlessly by the German Luftwaffe, the London Blitz eventually killed about 30,000 residents.
Three years after Second World War, the 1948 Summer Olympics were held in Wembley Stadium and the Festival of Britain in 1951 lifting people’s moods after a depressing period during the war. In the 1950s and 1960s tower blocks were built as a solution to the lack of housing as many homes were destroyed by the bombing.
Since most people heated their houses with coal in the 1950s, London was enshrouded in thick smog leading to the Great Smog of 1952 which lasted for five days and led to 4,000 deaths. The Clean Air Act of 1956 created smokeless zones which helped the problem.
From the 1950s and onward, the rise of immigrants moving to London made it the most diverse city in Europe, these people mainly came from Commonwealth countries like Jamaica, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Tensions due to mass immigration led to the Brixton Riots in the 1980s.
In the 1960s London became a home of the Swinging London subculture and attracted many youth to areas like Carnaby Street; London continued being a centre for youth culture in the 1980s with the new wave and punk cultures and even into the 1990s with the Britpop culture.
London became a target for terrorist attacks by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) throughout the 1970s to the 1990s.
In 1965 the County of London was abolished and Greater London, administered by a new Greater London Council was established along with 32 London boroughs formed from the older metropolitan ones.
At the beginning of the 21st Century London continued to grow rapidly. The Greater London Authority was created in 2000. The same year the Tate Modern opened in a former power station. Furthermore the London Eye opened to the public in 2000. In 2012 a new building was opened in London called the Shard. Also in 2012 the Olympics were held in London, confirming its status as one of the world's greatest cities. In 2016 the number of visitors to London hit a new record of 37.3 million, making it one of the most visited cities in Europe. Today the population of London is 8.1 million.But the city has continued to grow and prosper, hosting the 2012 Olympics, while establishing itself as the preeminent cultural and financial center of Europe.
It is little wonder London, England is one of the world's top tourist destinations, attracting upward of 20 million visitors each year from around the world. Britain's capital city is a vibrant arts and entertainment center, its theaters are always busy, and 50 years after The Beatles, the country's music scene still rocks.
London also offers one of the planet's greatest concentrations of cultural attractions. From royal palaces to the people's parliament, from museums and cathedrals to riding a giant Ferris wheel for breathtaking views over the River Thames, you could spend endless days exploring London's best sightseeing locations without ever running out of unique things to see and do.
1. Buckingham Palace & the Changing of the Guard
Buckingham Palace is a jewel of Britain’s heritage. Built in 1703, it has served as a royal palace and administrative headquarters. The 830,000 square feet building has 775 luxurious rooms. Buckingham Palace has gone through numerous renovations and what stands today is an architectural marvel. It became home to the royals since Queen Victoria’s rule. Ceremonies and functions are hosted on a regular basis.
Buckingham Palace Tour is a must do and should be on every tourist’s bucket list. The palace has 42 acres of Royal garden, the Royal Museum that has thousands of paintings.
When the Queen's away at her summer palace in Scotland, visitors can purchase tickets for tours of the State Rooms, the Queen's Gallery, and the Royal Mews.
One of the best ways to tour the palace, see the Changing of the Guard, and experience a traditional afternoon tea, is on a 4.5 hour Buckingham Palace Tour Including Changing of the Guard Ceremony and Afternoon Tea. This tour is a very efficient way of seeing the highlights in a short period of time, and having a knowledgeable guide to explain the history makes the whole experience that much more enjoyable and relevant for first time visitors.
2. British Museum
One of the most famous tourist attractions in London, British Museum in London is one of the largest and most renowned museums in the world. The museum was built in 1753 and opened for public in 1759. The museum covers an area of 92,000 square metres. It has more than eight million objects from different eras. Even if just a minimal part of it is open for public, the public display covers 2 miles of the exhibition space and has numerous galleries.
British Library was once a part of the museum. But in 1973, a separate building was built for it. The collections in the museum are divided into various departments like Department of Middle East, Department of Prints and Drawings, Department of Asia, Department of Greece and Rome, etc. The gallery of Egypt has the world’s second finest collection of Egyptians antiques outside Egypt.
3. London Eye
One of the largest Ferris wheel in the world. Originally named as Millennium Wheel, it opened in 2000, becoming the largest Ferris wheel at that time, and has been a major tourist attraction ever since then. The wheel has 32 air-conditioned capsules, each of them having a capacity to have 25 passengers. One ride usually goes for 30 minutes as the Ferris wheel moves at a slow speed.
The London eye is 443 feet (135 meters) tall and 384 feet (117 meters) in diameter. Situated on the bank of river Thames, it provides a panoramic view of the beautiful city. People can move inside the capsules or choose to sit while enjoying the view and seeing major landmarks of London. It is listed as one of the most popular tourist attractions in London.
4. St. Paul's Cathedral
St. Paul’s Cathedral is counted among London’s national treasures. The Cathedral is situated at the highest point of London, on Ludgate Hill. The 365 feet (111 meter) tall cathedral dates back to 17th century and was designed by Sir Christopher Wren. While the original church was seat to Paul the Apostle.
Built in a restrained Baroque style, both the interior and exterior of the cathedral have unique architectural marvel. Visitors can see the tombs, artworks and memorials along with the 167 feet (50 meter), in length, choir.
St. Paul's Cathedral
5. Shakespeare's Globe
The Globe Theatre was built in 1599 and used to be associated with William Shakespeare. Owned by various actors, the theatre caught fire in 1613 during the performance of Henry VIII. Even if it was rebuilt in 1614, the Puritans closed it down in 1642. The present day theatre was built in 1997 and named Shakespeare’s Globe.
It is situated 750 metres away from the site of the original theatre. The reconstruction resembles the original structure to great extent. Shakespeare’s Globe not only hosts plays every day but also serves as a major tourist attraction as it gives an insight into the life of William Shakespeare. Visitors get a guided tour and see the museum.
6. Big Ben and Parliament
Nothing screams "London" more emphatically than the 318 foot (96 meter) tower housing the giant clock and its resounding bell known as Big Ben. It is as iconic a landmark as Tower Bridge, and the tolling of Big Ben is known throughout the world as the time signal of the BBC. A UNESCO world heritage site, Big Ben is the largest of the five bells placed in the clock tower of Palace of Westminster. Built in 1858, it is a neo-gothic architectural masterpiece that was designed by Augustus Paul. The bell weighs 13.5 tonnes and the dials are set in an iron frame of 23 feet (7 meters) in diameter.
Below it, stretching along the Thames, are the Houses of Parliament, seat of Britain's government for many centuries and once the site of the royal Westminster Palace occupied by William the Conqueror.
Tours of the parliament buildings offer a unique chance to see real time debates and lively political discussions. From Parliament Square, Whitehall is lined by so many government buildings that its name has become synonymous with the British government.
Big Ben and Parliament
7. Madame Tussauds
Born as Marie Grosholtz, Madame Tussauds, a wax sculptor held her exhibition in Britain and ever since then it became a fashion to showcase the wax figures of famous personalities. Today, Madame Tussauds has numerous small museums in several countries, the main museum being in London. The museum has live size wax figures of famous personalities from the field of art and culture, films, sports, music, political leaders, etc. It also has the figures of Royal families.
Today, Madame Tussauds is not only a wax museum but also offers the tourists to experience 4D movies, behind the scenes, interactive theatrical experience, among other attractions.
8. Warner Bros. Studios
If you are a Harry Potter fan, then this will be your paradise. The Warner Bros. Studios in Leavesden, London is where Harry Potter series was filmed. Over time, 588 sets were created in the studio. The costumes, props and sets were preserved. Visitors get to walk through the iconic Great Hall, Platform 9 3/4, Diagon Alley, Forbidden Forest and live their moment. That’s not all; they will get to see the costumes, art department, special creature and VFX and SFX effects. Best part, you can buy yourself butterbeer. The rest has to be discovered by you.
Warner Bros. Studios
9. The London Dungeon
The London dungeon ensures the visitors a thrilling and nerve chilling experience through the 1000 years to notorious past of London. There are 18 shows with 20 actors who enact the villains and infamous characters like ‘Jack the Ripper’, ‘Sweeny Todd’, ‘ Mrs Lovett’, etc. Popular rides and shows include ‘Drop ride to doom’, ‘the torture Chamber’, ‘the great fire of London’, ‘Sweeny Todd’ and numerous other spooky things on the list. We dare you to book your ticket for the scariest dungeon and survive the scary elements.
The London Dungeon
10. The Shard
Earlier known as the London Bridge Tower, The Shard is a towering tall skyscraper. It is considered as the London’s highest viewing platform. At a height of 800 feet (243 meters), tourists can have a view up to 40 miles (65 kilometers). Tourists can go to ‘The View’ and enjoy a 360 degrees view of the city, along with enjoying Virtual Reality experiences and capturing the moment. The Skyscraper has bars and malls where tourists can enjoy and shop. One more attraction of The Shard is the Silent disco.
11. The Tower of London and Tower Bridge
From prison to palace, treasure vault to private zoo, the magnificent Tower of London has fulfilled many different roles down the centuries. One of Britain's most iconic structures, this spectacular World Heritage Site offers hours of fascination for visitors curious about the country's rich history, after all, so much of it happened here.
Inside the massive White Tower, built in 1078 by William the Conqueror, is the 17th century Line of Kings with its remarkable displays of royal armaments and armor. Other highlights include the famous Crown Jewels exhibition, the Beefeaters, the Royal Mint, and gruesome exhibits about the executions that took place on the grounds.
The adjacent Tower Bridge, its two huge towers rising 200 feet (60 meters) above the River Thames, is one of London's best known landmarks.
There are fascinating behind the scenes tours available. For the best use of your time, especially during the busy summer season, purchase the Tower of London Entrance Ticket Including Crown Jewels and Beefeater Tour in advance, to bypass the ticket office lines. This ticket guarantees the lowest price, helps avoid the crowds, and saves time and hassle.
The Tower of London and Tower Bridge
12. National Gallery
Ranking among the top art museums in the world, London's National Gallery represents an almost complete survey of European painting from 1260 until 1920. The museum's greatest strengths are in its collections of Dutch Masters and Italian Schools of the 15th and 16th centuries. Among its highlights are a preliminary sketch of the Madonna and Child by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo's The Entombment, Botticelli's Venus and Mars, van Gogh's Sunflowers, and The Water-Lily Pond by Monet.
13. Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square
Two of London's best known tourist spots, Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square lie not far apart and mark the gateways to Soho, London's lively theater and entertainment district. Trafalgar Square was built to commemorate Lord Horatio Nelson's victory over the French and Spanish at Trafalgar in 1805. Nelson's Column, a 183 foot granite monument, overlooks the square's fountains and bronze reliefs, which were cast from French cannons. Admiralty Arch, St. Martin-in-the-Fields, and the National Gallery surround the square.
Piccadilly Circus marks the irregular intersection of several busy streets, Piccadilly, Regent, Haymarket, and Shaftesbury Avenue, and overlooking this somewhat untidy snarl of traffic stands London's best known sculpture, the winged Eros delicately balanced on one foot, bow poised. "It's like Piccadilly Circus" is a common expression describing a busy and confusing scene.
14. Westminster Abbey
Another location with a long association with British royalty, Westminster Abbey stands on a site that is been associated with Christianity since the early 7th century. Officially known as the Collegiate Church of St. Peter in Westminster, Westminster Abbey was founded by Edward the Confessor in 1065 as his place of interment.
From his burial in 1066 until that of George II almost 700 years later, most sovereigns were not only crowned here but were buried here, too. More recently, it is become famous as the preferred location for Royal Weddings.
This masterpiece of Gothic architecture not only has the highest Gothic nave in England at 102 feet (31 meters), it is also one of London's most popular tourist attractions, drawing well over a million visitors each year. Highlights of a visit include seeing the more than 600 memorials in the Nave, including the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior; Poet's Corner in the Transepts, with its memorials to the likes of Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Dickens; the Westminster Abbey Museum; and the attractive gardens.
15. Churchill's War Rooms
Among the most fascinating and evocative of London's historic sites is the perfectly preserved nerve center from which Prime Minister Winston Churchill directed the British military campaigns and the defense of his homeland throughout World War II. Their Spartan simplicity and cramped conditions underline the desperate position of England as the Nazi grip tightened across Europe.
You will see the tiny cubicle where Churchill slept and the improvised radio studio where he broadcast his famous wartime speeches. Simple details, such as Clementine Churchill's knitting wool marking the front lines on a map of Europe, bring the era to life as no other museum could possibly do. Audioguides are available (a thorough self-guided tour takes about 90 minutes), and a café, including a bookshop are located on the premises.
Two other related London attractions worth visiting are also operated by the Imperial War Museum. Located a short distance from the popular Southbank cultural district, the Imperial War Museum London can easily occupy the best part of a day with its fascinating exhibits and collections of military vehicles, weapons, and aircraft. The other must see, HMS Belfast, is a well preserved WWII era cruiser that served during D-Day and can be explored as part of a guided or self guided tour.
Churchill's War Rooms
16. Hyde Park
Covering 350 acres, Hyde Park is London's largest open space and has been a destination for sightseers since 1635. One of the park's highlights is the Serpentine, an 18th century man made lake popular for boating and swimming. Hyde Park is also where you will find Speakers' Corner, a traditional forum for free speech and heckling.
Another Hyde Park landmark is Apsley House, former home of the first Duke of Wellington and purchased after his famous victory at Waterloo. Now a museum, it houses Wellington's magnificent collections of paintings, including Velázquez's The Waterseller of Seville, along with gifts presented by grateful European kings and emperors. England's greatest hero is also commemorated at the Wellington Arch.
Another lovely London green space to explore is Regent's Park. Just a short walk away from Westminster, this 410 acre attraction is a delight to stroll around. If you are traveling with kids, be sure to visit London Zoo, located within the grounds of the park and one of the most popular things to do for families visiting the city.
17. Covent Garden
The market halls of Covent Garden are only the beginning of the neighborhood, which encompasses the shops and restaurants of Long Acre and other adjacent streets, those of Neal's Yard and Seven Dials, as well as the Central Square with its street performers. The halls and arcades of Covent Garden Market are lined with specialty shops and kiosks selling everything from fine handcrafts to tacky souvenirs. Housed in the former flower market, you will find the London Transport Museum, filled with historic buses, trolleys, and trams. This area is also where you will find the Royal Opera House.
18. Hampton Court Palace
Another great Thames side attraction, Hampton Court is one of Europe's most famous palaces. Its Great Hall dates from Henry VIII's time, two of his six wives supposedly haunt the palace, and it is where Elizabeth I learned of the defeat of the Spanish Armada.
Other interesting features include the Clock Court with its fascinating astronomical clock dating from 1540, the State Apartments with their Haunted Gallery, the Chapel, the King's Apartments, and the Tudor tennis court.
The gardens are also worth visiting, especially in mid May when in full bloom, and include the Privy Garden, the Pond Garden, the Elizabethan Knot Garden, the Broad Walk, an area known as the Wilderness, and of course, the palace's famous Maze.
Hampton Court Palace
19. Kew Gardens
Kew Gardens, officially called the Royal Botanic Gardens, is situated in southwest London on the south bank of the Thames and is a wonderful place to visit as you enjoy the numerous plants grown amid its 300 acres. Laid out in 1759, the gardens became government property in 1841. In 1897, Queen Victoria added Queen's Cottage and the adjoining woodland. A variety of tours are available free with admission, and many musical and cultural events are held here throughout the year.
20. Greenwich and Docklands
For centuries the hub of Britain's naval power, Greenwich is best known to tourists as the home of the Cutty Sark, the last of the 19th century tea clippers to sail between Britain and China. The ship is located adjacent to the Discover Greenwich Visitor Centre with its exhibits showcasing more than 500 years of maritime history, and the Palladian mansion known as Queen's House.
The impressive collections of the National Maritime Museum, the largest of its kind in the world, illustrate the history of the Royal Navy. And one of the most unusual things to do in London is standing with one foot in each hemisphere, astride the Meridian Line in the Meridian Building in the Royal Observatory.
The revitalized Docklands across the river has been transformed into an international place of business and recreation, filled with some of London's smartest new restaurants. The excellent Museum of London Docklands, in the old Georgian warehouses, brings to life the river, port, and its people from Roman times to the present through hands-on displays that are especially interesting for children.