I have spent the last 4.5 months living in London. Sure, I've done a lot of traveling, but I have spent 13.5 weeks out of those 18 weeks in London, so I have that I have a pretty decent grasp of the city. I haven't done everything, and there's so much more for me to do when I come back one day, but looking back on my time here, here's a list of my favorite 20 touristy things that I highly recommend doing if you come to London (in no particular order).
1. Tour the Houses of Parliament- This was seriously one of the coolest tours I have taken in London. I went to do this because my friends asked me if I wanted to come. I had no idea it was even a thing before the invite, but I said sure, why not? I am so thankful I did this! The audio tour was roughly an hour and a half in length and being able to stand in the House of Lords and the House of Lords was awesome. Westminster Palace has so much history to it which was super fascinating to hear about, and the rooms were so ornate you walked into some and your mouth just dropped. I adored every second of it. Pro tip: if you do this, get the audio guide and not the guided tour. It is cheaper, and we kept passing the guided tour which was so large half the tour couldn't here what the guide was even saying.
2. Hyde Park- There is nothing to say but Hyde Park. Grab a book and read for a day while you picnic, go for a jog, rent a boat and peddle along the water, go for a bike ride, grab a bite along the Serpentine, hunt down the Peter Pan statue, people watch, beg people to let you pet their dogs, tan on the rare sunny days with everyone else, study, play football. Just go to Hyde Park, explore it, breathe it, love it. Bask in its beauty. I am going to miss it so much.
3. Warner Brother's Studio Tour- A tour that takes you through everything Harry Potter. It lasts roughly 3.5 hours at the very least depending on how much time you choose to spend there (we were there for nearly 5.5 hours). It's a quick train into the further zones out of central London, and it is so, so worth it even though it is a wee bit expensive. Need I say anything more?
4. Climb Saint Paul's Cathedral- The views are so gorgeous, and the climb isn't that killer. It is totally doable! I would recommend going early in the morning (and by that I mean around 10 because that is when the dome opens) to avoid a ridiculous amount of tourists. Also, if you had a relative that fought in line with the Brits in Vietnam or WWII they have a book with their names in it that they can ask to see! My friend, Lindsay, found a relative in there.
5. The Globe- There are so many things to do here! Firstly, I recommend taking a tour. Our tour guide was absolutely hilarious because most of the guides do have a background in theatre, and it made it all the more enjoyable. However, one of the coolest things I have done while in London was see an actual Shakespeare play performed at The Globe. A Midsummer Night's Dream was superb! I recommend getting the five pound groundling tickets (less than 10 American dollars). Sure, you have to stand, but it's so easy to forget you're standing when you're wrapped up in the performance, and it's a super cheap ticket for something so amazing.
6. The Tower of London- A bit on the expensive side, but definitely worth it. My friends and I spent a full six hours here because there is so much to do. We only left because they were getting hungry. Truth be told, I probably could have explored for another hour or two. It is a full day's activity and it is most definitely a day well spent. If you like history, you can't miss this opportunity.
7. Camden Market- SO MUCH YUMMY FOOD! SO CHEAP! They've got everything you'd want and more. There's also great tourist items, clothing shops, and clubs to satisfy anything you want. I prefer the food stalls--their homemade pasta station, Indian cuisine, and halloumi stands are among my favorite, but The Cereal Killer Cafe deserves a special shout out too! Just make sure you've got cash since most vendors do not have credit card machines.
8. Hampton Court Palace- My friends make fun of me because Henry VIII is one of my favorite historical figures. I mean, the dude sucks, but he is ridiculously fascinating because of that. Hampton Court Palace is in Zone 4 London, meaning you need a train that is part of the Oyster system to get there, but it's only a few pounds and it's so worth it. You can spend a solid day here exploring his family history, hearing about his wives, seeing his rooms, wandering the gardens, and getting lost in the maze. It's not built like traditional palaces either, which makes it all the more pleasing to the eye.
9. Tour Churchill's War Rooms- I feel like this is something that is seriously underrated because most people don't even know they still exist. As a history nerd, this was super fascinating to me and you can spend anywhere from an hour and a half to three hours down there depending on how much you choose to explore the museum portion of it. Churchill is such a respectable and important figure in world history--I remember learning about him in high school--so this was definitely really cool to me.
10. The British Museum- My favorite museum here in London! There is so much stuff here that you can't find anything else, such as the Rosetta Stone, but the museum is so big you can visit it multiple times and still probably not find your way through every exhibit. I am so blessed to have it located a short fifteen minute walk away from my residence hall.
11. Day Trip to Stonehenge and Bath- I love London, but I traveled outside of it a lot. Not just in Europe, but within England too. One of my favorite day trips will be discussed in a future travel diary, but it was a combination trip of Stonehenge and Bath. Stonehenge is a place that you can really only spend about an hour or 90 minutes at because it is rather straightforward, but it is a sight I am thankful I got to see. And Bath is Bath...gorgeous, home of Jane Austen, land of smelly Roman Baths. Just so worth it.
12. The West End- As a huge theatre geek, I have seen 12 shows while abroad, 10 of which were West End productions. There is something so charming about the West End and I totally think it is worth seeing a show here. In my experiences, most tickets are cheaper than theatre tickets in New York City. And while many shows are similar to those in New York City (though with a British twist, of course!), there are also many shows that are UK only. I would recommend spending an evening out on the town exploring your show options because the British sense of humor is quite fantastic. Plus original staging of Les Miserables. Could you ask for anything else?!
13. Changing of the Guards- This is just so fascinating to me because we don't have a monarchy in the states, thus we don't have something like this. Buckingham Palace is only tour-able in the summer because the Queen vacates the premises permanently for one of her other accommodations. Because of this, I didn't get a chance to tour it, but I got a chance to watch the guards change which is a nice way to spend a morning before grabbing some brunch. If you do want to tour one of the Queen's residences and the palace is closed when you visit like it has been for me, I would recommend taking a day trip up to Windsor and touring Windsor Castle instead.
14. Borough Market- Very different from Camden market because it has more foreign foods. I can now say I have had Ethipoian food thanks to this lovely market. It's also a great place to go food shopping for fresh cheese, produce, olive oil, meats (if you're into that), tea, fish, and more. One of my favorite falafel stands is here, too! Also remember to bring cash if you choose to visit this place.
15. Kensington Palace- William, Kate, and Harry live here, so there's that. But there's also the actual house. About two hours is perfect to work your way through this awesome fashion exhibit with some of Diana's dresses, the history of the palace, and the very famous love story of Victoria and Albert. It is located in Hyde Park, in Kensington Gardens, right across the way from The Round Pond, so it is a great place to wander and read as well. Most people visit Buckingham, so this one is slightly underrated, but I happen to love Kensington.
16. See a Show at the O2 Arena- I am not a ridiculously musical person. I haven't seen many concerts, but I made it a point to see a concert here because it is an awesome ex Olympic venue and I thought it would be an awesome experience and it totally was! Ellie Goulding was amazing, the venue was awesome, and it's something to cross off the bucket list.
17. Westminster Abbey- I did this more out of duty than anything else. I had an open morning and nothing to do, so I thought why not? Firstly, it is gorgeous inside and, I mean, I walked where so many royals have walked before. But my favorite part was the Poet's Corner! I had no idea this existed, and was pleasantly surprised when I stumbled into it. They have an entire area dedicated to the burials of writers. Everyone from Wordsworth, Lord Byron, Dickens, C.S. Lewis, and more can be found there as well as dedications to authors like Jane Austen. It was definitely a very interesting thing to see on a random morning!
18. ZSL London Zoo- The zoo is located in Regents Park, so it's so fun to have apark day and wander in there. Tickets are a bit expensive, so I'd commit to spending a day there, but to each their own. I went with my friend and it took us about six hours to make it through the entire zoo minus the bug exhibit (ewww!!!) and including lunch. We hit up The Reptile House first because it has the famous scene where Harry accidentally breaks the glass and lets Nagini out of the cage, and then we wandered our way through the rest of the zoo. We went on a rainy day because we got most of the zoo to ourselves. Sure, it was downpouring on our way there, but it was totally fine afterwards and made avoiding too many tourists super easy.
19. The British Library- So pretty! It's easy to obtain a library card if you're long-term staying in London, but if you're just there to visit it is totally worth a visit because they have some cool exhibitions. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed. They've got awesome exhibits on Shakespeare, but my favorite is the one where you can find the original Magna Carta and Jane Austen's writing desk. It is just a quick stop and worth checking out, especially on a rainy day.
20. The London Eye- Super touristy and super cliche, but it is worth doing once. Purchase a ticket in advance online so you can skip the line and it's all good, just cross your fingers and hope you have a nice day out. London is a beautiful city, and seeing it from so high gives it such a killer view.
Have you ever been to London? Have you done any of these activities? Do you plan on attempting to do any of these one day? Share your thoughts in the comments below!